Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Aspirin and kora

A week in Leh now , all too easy to settle in to a comfortable pace : breakfast with kombish, homemade apricot jam and Yongchens yummy spiced mint-tea.

On arrival I was fit to wrestle a yak , second day (after stopping the gingko ) I was down to a small dog. Today : maybe a donkey.

Went to Thikse monastery yesterday , on a crammed, shallow breathing only, minibus. Later I met four of the ladies ( in traditional Ladakhi gos plus Calvin Klein handbags) in the upper story of the lhakhang, where the top part of the Buddha statue projects. A monk was giving a long explanation of the paintings, statues and more , richly interspersed with the ooohs! and aaahs! from the ladies. One of them held the green personal health record book from the Men Tse Khang , the Tibetan traditional hospital , and made notes in it. Yes. Health - all aspects.

Same ooohs! and aahs! later on in the clay modelers studio, where the artists were busy making a statue depicting the yabyum sexual position , from the same ladies that probably never would dream of showing their legs.

Later I had a nice talk with a monk in the new dukhang ( assembly hall). Talked about changes since I was here : the new , glassfitted windows dukhang : warmer in the winter... but also the changes from the outside : the pressure from tourist groups that has resulted in a series of locked rooms and signs : please dont drink alcohol, curse or sit on the abbots throne...
" Not many real monks today" - competition has crept into the mindset of many Ladakhis today. A book* I recently finished argued - with a lot of convincing stories behind it - that the social qualities of the Ladakhis were as much a product of the trading that practically every ladakhi family had to engage in to make ends meet. This trading involved the need to be able to make verbal agreements that would span over long time , up to a year, and crosssed distances fro a coupe of days march to other countries : the salt plains of Tibet and the trading houses of Yarkand. The chang of todays tourist driven economy saps this fabric because the relations are much shorter , and with the increased number of tourist involved, more impersonal .

A nice talk as I said , and without the setting of the sadly necessary signs I would have asked if I could take a portrait of the monk. Now it feels uncomfortable taking photographs of anyone I've met the first day.

Back on a even more crammed minibus , where it was easy to see that Ladkhi life still works : every time new passengers were let on an intricate dance takes place to make sure that those that need a seat really gets it.

Will hopefully get a Inner Line Permit today, onwards to Nubra tomorrow.

*Janet Rizvi. Trans-Himalayan Caravans: Merchant Princes and Peasant Traders in Ladakh

Sunday, September 25, 2005

over the top

... and past the last police checkpoint. Lightheaded and -hearted as we reach Baralacha La , sprint up to the top lartse with the prayerflags. Beyond Baralacha La the Moray Plains, with wonderful cream colored streams of sand running down from the top, mixing with grays , ochre reds ...

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Waiting ...

for the last (?) bus in to Ladakh : Anka , Cristophe, Alberto, Pavel - the bus finally arrived two hours late with only us as passengers. Had to stop in Darcha tent camp (alt. 3400) , which probably was better , acclimatisationwise. Tightly stacked beds , with Chhemid , the daughter in the family, doing homework in the middle. Learned my first Lahauli words : gonche (goncha) gda (vulture) kau kau (raven)


…wasn’t too happy about that , not the part where the wooden pole went under the water, but the stability of the upper support beam. Went upstream, and having seen no-one for the past hours did as home : stripped down to the waist and went in to the stream to find a fording place. No go , so I return to the wooden pole – and of course , the moment I look up from my first trial run without the pack I look in to the eyes of a disapproving Kinnauri lady. (note to self : kurta is the preferred fording costume) .She then shames me a second time by lightly flitting over the stream , hands barely touching the support beam. I bend over the pack , turn again –
freezeframe as she leaps for a boulder on the far side , hands outstretched like a bird , shopping bag wrapped around her left hand , back leg tucked in… poised like a ballet dancer. After the ford some nimble footwork in the landslide area, a big boulder starting to roll sluggishly just after I’ve jumped on to it. Everything is in a fluid state, and when I finally reach the bank of the trail ( throwing up the pack before me) the bank breaks again and again – just like trying to get out of a hole in the ice.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

along the way

.. of the Hindustan-Tibet Road. This track is the original bridlepath, the trail that the lama in Kipling's Kim would have followed. Alternating between steep forest path and galleries cut in the rock. Lower down the 1930's road, even further down the present national highway.

Sitting for a applebreak where the trail curves around the edge. An -eagle?- -lammergeier ?- soars and finally lands heavily on an outcropping futher on. Three ants engage in techical climbing on the wet rock behind me, dragging a flower petal over sheer inclines, the top ant scaling negative inclines backwards while still dragging the petal upwards.

Old Kinnauri women , chirping voices and huge loads of cut hay , the vermicelli grass I've spotted on the steep slopes before I guess.

Butterflies : huge loads of what I've dubbed sergeants butterflies : dark brown wings with a single white chevron , pale blue ones, chockingly yellow ones. Crickets everywhere (probably happily munching away at the butterflies) , but not to be seen.

Nettles along the trail , also bigger than life, effortlessly stinging thru clothes.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Interesting explosion

...that might have been , I thought with the match in my hand as I noticed that the fuel line to the stove was drenched with kerosene all the way up to the burner.

Backtrack x 2 :

First I arrived in Sarahan , which was intriguing. The balcony of the temple guesthouse , filled with angrezis, made a double stage : we watching them , them watching us. Partly from the litterature around ( The Yogins Autobiography, Paradise Lost) it gave a flashback feeling of Kathmandu in the early 80's (yes kids, I was there - gather around my feet and I will tell you) . Serene athmospere in the daytime (enforced serenity, beggars being bluntly pushed out) which by night turned into .. Kaliland as the stagelights on a high pillar came on and the music blared out over the whole valley.

Had chai with the sadhu in the forest : black polished soot on the roof of his cave as he made the tea on an electric hotplate.
" Good social life - nov no-one wants social life, everyone wants action life"

Started walking from Sarahan ( yellow gate at hairpin bend, minimal teastall, Shabaleg Rain Shelter) : guard lets me thru after I told him my route and brief conference with other guard. First road thru Army camp , then gently transforming to a nicely defined trail.Deodars , smell of junipers and then a deafening surr of crickets like in a 50's B-movie.
Three girls call out to their mother , and then come running to a gate to their field : " Good morning , Sir !" " Namaste , little sister ! "
Nepali flashback again.
I'm still shy of using the camera , but it begins to wear off. This makes me realise two things : the first is just how much I've been affected by the theme of intrusive photography in Ladakh, the other is the big difference when you can show the image directly afterwards. This really makes it in to communication : Look , this is how we look, this is how you look at us . Paging back the pictures puts you in a perspective : oh you came that way , did you meet .. yes you did.

Late start , late arrival in Chaura resthouse which I promptly almost blew to bits.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Back in 'netland

The Pare Chu floodvawe ripped a lot more than houses, bridges and the road : no internet beyond Shimla. Just back in the lowlands (shimla) , will backpost my diary later.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005


..arrived in Shimla with the morning narrow track railway : 100+ tunnels and bridges across the valleys. Felt the altitude, oddly enough. Met with dahannajay , the first 'miker I 've met in the flesh and had a good talk re the trek from Kafnu. Maybe the bus to Sarahan tomorrow.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

The fan rules

..fell down from the sky , rattled thru the morning landscape of Delhi (highway construction and breadbaking on the side of the road , newspaper reading under the trees)and eventually arrived in Manju.. or ? couldnt recognise - and then way in to the shadows I saw a sign with the conch, familiar names : Gomang , Sera Jey..

Naked under the fan, shower. Collected tomorrows train tickets at Potala Tours, bought Ladakh Melong and Tibetan Review in a bookstore , more panting time under the fan. Woke up to the call of pani-pani-panile ! and the din of the fan - bought my water in the guesthouse instead : banana curd, lime soda.

The fan rules totally : gripping money , drowning out conversations .. but actually it is better than the last time here : less crakling from the wires overhead, cooler.
The guests at Wongden House have been complemented by a number phyipas , outsiders : french and british travellers . Not better or worse : change.