Thursday, September 28, 2006

Thursday Funnies

Before I start with Day 6, sample these roadside warnings about speeding on various highways in Ladakh, all courtesy the BRO. Some are funny, while some are plain howlarious!!
I admire the humour and the attempt at rhyming to get the message across. :)

“Darling I want you but not so fast”

“The journey of life is long and the path unknown.”


“Whether you’re African or American, we’re all human.”

“Life is precious, avoid speed.”

“Make today an accident free day.”

“Peep, peep, don’t sleep.”

“If you’re married, divorce speed.”

“Accidents are prohibited on this road.”

“Do your dozing in bed.”

“AAAA = Always Alert Avoid Accidents.”

“Please drive slowly, someone is waiting for you.”

“Take heed, don’t speed.”

“No race, no rally, enjoy the beauty of the valley.”

“Don’t be a gamma (Indian wrestler) in the land of the lama.”

“Drive on muscle power, not rum power.”

“After whiskey, driving’s risky.”

“If you drink bourbon, you’ll lose your turban.”

“Mountains are pleasure if you drive with leisure.”

"Drinking scotch, you’ll hit the rocks.”

“Be gentle on my curves.”

“Arrive in peace, not pieces.”

“Be a Mr. Late, not a Late Mr.”

“Be a careless overtaker and you’ll meet the undertaker.”

“Drive like hell and you’ll be there.”

“Enjoy the beauty even when on duty.”

“Impatient in road, patient in hospital.”

“Danger creeps when safety sleeps.”

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

# 12

....blue skies mirrored
in the still lake,
confined together
occasional whirlpools..liberate.....

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Leh Logs: Day Three

We started day three hovering over Leh in a helicopter. Father had made this arrangement so that we would have the best sights. We traversed the Indus through the sky and I got some great shots at extreme angles. The pilot indulged all my requests to hover the craft at different angles so that I could get my shots. The chopper’s sides almost kissed a few pinnacles in that process. We got so carried away during these stunts that we almost reached the Kargil army camp further up the Indus. Since that area is a no-fly zone, they actually though we were an intruding aircraft and trained guns on us. Things started going crazy just then. Before the pilot could even establish our identity, one of the missiles zoomed towards the chopper blades ……..

Do I have your attention? (Tee hee hee!!..I know.. that’s a mean trick to play…and yes, maybe I should be a full time writer. Just my 2 cents of fantasy.)

Ok..now to the real travelogue.

August 22nd was going to be a long day. We were going to travel 125 km west of Leh towards Lamayuru Gompa. This road further goes on to Kargil and other areas along the LoC. In addition to the long route, we had other spots to cover on the way too.

Mohammed Ghaus was already at the hotel with his sturdy Toyota Qualis. Another lavish (he! he!) breakfast later, we left the hotel at 7.00 am. It took us about 5 minutes to leave the city precincts and hit the highway. The road was narrow and a lonely one too. For an hour we had passed only a couple of vehicles. The Indus was our constant companion. As we headed towards the mountains the water gathered force. Convoys of army vehicles passed us now and then. The smaller vehicles and jeeps had to make way for the convoys or reverse back to a suitable point on the highway which was wide enough to permit both vehicles to pass each other. It was amazing to see the coordination with which the drivers did this without speaking a word.
We alternated between spectacular wine-red gorges and crater-ridden mud coloured mountains and plains. Sometimes we could see further up where the road lead to, others, we weren’t even sure if a road existed beyond that point. There were purple mountains and green ones, some were covered in dusty soil and others had fragile rocks fragments to show. Due to the tectonic origins of the Himalayas, the whole range is very brittle. High above the road we could see overhangs of rock which looked ready to give way at the sound of the horn. The soil nearest to the river was yellow and brown. The topography there showed signs of constant erosion.

We frequently passed herds furry goats that yield the famous Pashmina wool. Those hardly animals can climb impossible heights in search of fodder which is hard to come by in Ladakh. We had yet to see any yaks though.

Suddenly, Mohammed stopped the SUV. He put it in neutral gear and turned off the engine. “Look behind us” he said, “Do you see the decline on the part of the road we just passed?” We nodded. Then unexpectedly, he let go of the brakes and we were rolling up the slope…..wait a minute……up a slope????? He answered our puzzled looks by pointing to a board on the side of the road. It said “Magnetic Hill”. It is believed that the hill located right behind that board has magnetic properties that can pull vehicles up the gradient. We decided to try if the vehicle would experience a pull if we had it facing the other way. We attempted this successfully on our way back. I guess that makes us magnetic personalities now.

Further down the road we passed the Patthar Sahib. It’s a Gurudwara built to commemorate Guru Nanak’s visit to Leh. The Army manages and controls this holy site and we got some really tasty sheera as prasad there.

There is a legend associated with this gurudwara about which you can read
here.

The Indus, which had disappeared for a while among the many mountains, reappeared as we made our way to the Sangam – The confluence of the Zanskar and the Indus rivers. It was suddenly upon us as we rounded a bend in the roads. Another vehicle had stopped there as well and the tourists looked really impressed. The view was awe inspiring. The grey Zanskar joins the muddy Indus and together they flow downstream as the Indus. As the rivers snake through the terrain they form interesting patterns and contours in the landscape. It’s a marvel to look at.
The Rivers are popular venues for adventure sports and ice trekking. In the winter when they freeze over, hikers can walk over the snow/ice up to the origin of the Zanskar River. Kayaking is popular on the Indus, but the grade of the
rapids is not as high as those found in rivers of the Char Dham region or in Nepal.

Ladakh is a trekker’s paradise. They have such a choice of mountain ranges to trek on. There is the Ladakh range with medium difficulty level. Then there is the Zanskar and the Karakoram ranges with medium to very high difficulty levels. Some peaks in the Karakoram Range specially, can be really challenging, and the lack of oxygen makes it even more so.

As we passed small villages and big ones, we found one feature common to all these places. They all have well equipped schools! We were thrilled to see kids in smart uniforms walk along the route to reach there. This is a very reassuring sight.

Further up, we stopped to let a military convoy pass. On the other side of the valley, I saw a precariously perched structure on a cliff side. Mohammed told us that it’s was a dilapidated citadel called Bazgo. I managed to get some fantastic shots of Bazgo. It’s a wonder even that it still exists today. I think I quite managed to capture this vulnerability in print. There is a Gompa near Bazgo but we did not visit it.

Our route for that day would end at the Lamayuru Monastery, from where we’d start on the drive back. From where we were, the monastery was about 2 hour away. Nothing in the world would have prepared us for what we were about to see on the route. Such are nature’s wonders that we came upon this beautiful patch of yellow brittle rock in the midst of nowhere. This is the only recorded existence of such a formation and it virtually looks like a scene out of “Mackennas Gold”. They call it the Moonland at Lamayuru. Whether it is phosphorous deposits or any other mineral, we were not sure, but the collective effect was amazing.

Eventually, we reached the Lamayuru monastery. This sits at the top of a hill, riddled with caves where monks meditate. I found it to be the most delightful of all the monasteries. It is a place to linger, to regain one’s soul, to lie back in spiritual induced bliss. As we stepped in the daily prayer was in progress. Mystic chants were alternated with the loud beating of drums and blowing of high pitched trumpets while the Buddha looked on.

The most interesting feature of this monastery is the very proportionate statue of the Buddha installed in an alcove within the inner sanctum. Lama Norbu traveled to Lamayuru in 1610 and sat in meditation in this alcove, which was then a cave. The Monastery was built on top and as a result the cave was absorbed within the structure. In most of the Gompas, there is no light in the sanctum except for the sacred oil lamps that burn within. As a result the very interesting frescos, or Thankas, are hardly visible. Yet Lamayuru’s Thankas are painted at location where everyone can admire them in all their glory.

One of the oldest, is the low-lying Alchi Monastery, with a cluster of chortens, and five small whitewashed temples with wooden doors. The frescoes here—multiple images of the Buddha—have preserved their rich blues and reds. But again it’s too dark to appreciate them enough. From within the monastery garden, the aroma of fermenting apricots wafts up. Although guesthouses surround the place and there is no village visible nearby.

By the time we reached Alchi from Lamayuru on our way back, it was almost 3.00 pm. We stopped at a roadside dhaba for a late lunch. These quaint dhabas dot the landscape and serve gastronomic delights of all kinds. YUM!

We passed all those now familiar sight again on our way back; the Sangam, the Magnetic Hill, colourful mountains, the herds….we were so much at home with all of that.

Back at the hotel, Guru as usual tried to tempt me to sample the dessert. Whether it was due to constant travel or the altitude, I am not sure which; I managed to lose my appetite. “Now that’s a first!” Mother exclaimed tongue firmly in cheek when she saw me, ME… refuse food.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

13 years and six months......still counting.

Sorry to interrupt the travelogue but this post cannot wait.

The right honourable P. D. Kode pronounced the court's verdict on 4 of the 123 accused who faced trial in the 1993 Mumbai Serial blasts case.

  • 257 Dead
  • 700 Injured
  • 13 years and 6 months of trial
  • 123 Accused
  • 4 Convicted so far
  • 4 Acquitted so far
  • 686 Witnesses
  • 13,000 pages of evidence
  • 1 Court
  • 1 Act (TADA)

Statistics pregnant with a lot of possibilities.

So have we learnt our lessons?

Mumbai Riots - 1993
Gujarat Riots - 2002
Ongoing blasts in J and K
Blasts in Varanasi - 2006
Mumbai train serial blasts - 2006
Malegoan serial blasts - 2006

And these are just the milestones....

Year 2056: Court to finally give verdict in the 2006 Mumbai trains serial blasts case.......

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Ladakh landscape

Shanti Stupa

Leh Palace

The City from the Leh Palace window

Stok Palace

Leh Logs: Day Two - Noon

A fulfilling meal later, we were back on the circuit. The Stok Palace was the first location we drove towards. It is a bit further from Leh and on the way we encountered a dilapidated bridge. Mr. Jolly Driver, in his inimitable style and heavy accent described how the original bridge was washed away in the floods this year. Leh experienced more than its normal share of rainfall and as a result the predominantly mud structures came crashing down. One of those was the bridge. The wonder that our Army is, they restored it in a day using girders and heavy forks. Behind the well maintained network of roads in that region is the Army’s need for reach and rapid communication. They need to move supplies, equipment and men at a moment’s notice.

The structure of the Stok Palace is not as attractive as the museum it houses. The Royal belongings are preserved there. The typical finery, articles of daily use like pouches, padlocks, paintings and other works of art are displayed in well lit rooms within the palace. The descendants of the dynasty currently live away from Leh.

Overlooking main entrance to the palace building was a quaint ‘U’ shaped gallery and a little bench stood at the farther end. This bench was my quiet little world for some time while Father was busy clicking nice pictures. The view was amazing to say the least. I’ve been to the mountains enough to know now that they have a nameless effect on me. In Leh specially, every sight that your eyes can take in at a time leaves its mark. The landscape talks to you. I hear it often in the wind that roars by, or in the streams that flow ….pre ordained, the sunlight that filters through the thick foliage…..as if reaching out…covering you in a surreal glow in that lush darkness…there is just you and them….and it is a complete circle.

Mother came over to let me know that it was time to move on to our next destination, the Leh Palace. This palace is situated on a summit overlooking the main bazaar. Due to the rains, restoration work was in progress when we went. Inside, it was a veritable labyrinth of rooms and passages leading to nowhere. The staircases had collapsed and makeshift ladders had been installed. Since the base of the palace is narrow, the floors are steeper. Due to this it appears as if the structure is seamlessly emerging right out of the mountain. The doors are typically low and I banged my head on one while trying to balance the camera and the lens. To recover, I sat hunch kneed in one of the window and was able to get a wonderful shot of the Leh city.

Ascending the swaying ladders to get to top seemed no problem. Now it was time to go back down. The enthusiastic fool that I am, I had forgotten the camera case and now had my hands full of equipment. How on earth was I to go down without holding the sides of the ladders? I believe there are angels watching over yours truly and one such came to my aid. This Italian knew no English, but understood my predicament through sign language. He first went down the ladder himself to hold it steady, then came up half way and relived me of all my fragile burdens. Finally free, I climbed down in all the style that I could conjure up in that situation. Thanking him in the only Italian word I knew, Grazie, I made my way down. Mother had seen enough shaky structures from within that day to enter the Leh palace. She stayed put in the car looking at her watch now and then, awaiting my return. Father came up to the main entrance and generally strolled around.

On the road again, we were now making our way to the Shanti Stupa. This would be our final destination for the day. It’s a great place to watch sunsets from. The Japanese have built this Stupa for peace and therefore the name, Shanti. This holy place is a huge white and regal construct with a giant courtyard opening up on three sides. It’s simple, neat and clean. The entire Ladakh range is visible from here as well as the Leh city in all its glory.

As we sat on the steps letting the scene wash over us, the cloud cover suddenly broke and the right before our eyes the city was lit up like the Golden Lanka. The distance gave us wide angle view of a bustling city, cupped in barren mountains which looked like they would collapse anytime. The distant snow capped peaks were brilliantly sunlit. This was the daddy of all moments. Other people who had come for a visit too sat silently in the courtyard. I managed to get a few panoramic pictures as we watched the sun go down.

We hardly spoke during the drive back. At the Hotel, the ever attentive Guru was waiting to ask after our day and quietly described to me the dinner menu. Just so that I knew! We were going to be served Italian fare. What timing, I thought. So under Mother’s watchful eyes I sampled the pasta soup, the spaghetti and sauce.
As my eyes closed for the last time that day, I wished I’d dream of all the things I had seen and relive those moments again and again….until the next day. For tomorrow was a new day and a new adventure.

Ladakh landscape

Shanti Stupa

Leh Palace

The City from the Leh Palace window

Stok Palace

Monday, September 11, 2006

Leh Logs: Day Two - Noon

A fulfilling meal later, we were back on the circuit. The Stok Palace was the first location we drove towards. It is a bit further from Leh and on the way we encountered a dilapidated bridge. Mr. Jolly Driver, in his inimitable style and heavy accent described how the original bridge was washed away in the floods this year. Leh experienced more than its normal share of rainfall and as a result the predominantly mud structures came crashing down. One of those was the bridge. The wonder that our Army is, they restored it in a day using girders and heavy forks. Behind the well maintained network of roads in that region is the Army’s need for reach and rapid communication. They need to move supplies, equipment and men at a moment’s notice.

The structure of the Stok Palace is not as attractive as the museum it houses. The Royal belongings are preserved there. The typical finery, articles of daily use like pouches, padlocks, paintings and other works of art are displayed in well lit rooms within the palace. The descendants of the dynasty currently live away from Leh.

Overlooking main entrance to the palace building was a quaint ‘U’ shaped gallery and a little bench stood at the farther end. This bench was my quiet little world for some time while Father was busy clicking nice pictures. The view was amazing to say the least. I’ve been to the mountains enough to know now that they have a nameless effect on me. In Leh specially, every sight that your eyes can take in at a time leaves its mark. The landscape talks to you. I hear it often in the wind that roars by, or in the streams that flow ….pre ordained, the sunlight that filters through the thick foliage…..as if reaching out…covering you in a surreal glow in that lush darkness…there is just you and them….and it is a complete circle.

Mother came over to let me know that it was time to move on to our next destination, the Leh Palace. This palace is situated on a summit overlooking the main bazaar. Due to the rains, restoration work was in progress when we went. Inside, it was a veritable labyrinth of rooms and passages leading to nowhere. The staircases had collapsed and makeshift ladders had been installed. Since the base of the palace is narrow, the floors are steeper. Due to this it appears as if the structure is seamlessly emerging right out of the mountain. The doors are typically low and I banged my head on one while trying to balance the camera and the lens. To recover, I sat hunch kneed in one of the window and was able to get a wonderful shot of the Leh city.

Ascending the swaying ladders to get to top seemed no problem. Now it was time to go back down. The enthusiastic fool that I am, I had forgotten the camera case and now had my hands full of equipment. How on earth was I to go down without holding the sides of the ladders? I believe there are angels watching over yours truly and one such came to my aid. This Italian knew no English, but understood my predicament through sign language. He first went down the ladder himself to hold it steady, then came up half way and relived me of all my fragile burdens. Finally free, I climbed down in all the style that I could conjure up in that situation. Thanking him in the only Italian word I knew, Grazie, I made my way down. Mother had seen enough shaky structures from within that day to enter the Leh palace. She stayed put in the car looking at her watch now and then, awaiting my return. Father came up to the main entrance and generally strolled around.

On the road again, we were now making our way to the Shanti Stupa. This would be our final destination for the day. It’s a great place to watch sunsets from. The Japanese have built this Stupa for peace and therefore the name, Shanti. This holy place is a huge white and regal construct with a giant courtyard opening up on three sides. It’s simple, neat and clean. The entire Ladakh range is visible from here as well as the Leh city in all its glory.

As we sat on the steps letting the scene wash over us, the cloud cover suddenly broke and the right before our eyes the city was lit up like the Golden Lanka. The distance gave us wide angle view of a bustling city, cupped in barren mountains which looked like they would collapse anytime. The distant snow capped peaks were brilliantly sunlit. This was the daddy of all moments. Other people who had come for a visit too sat silently in the courtyard. I managed to get a few panoramic pictures as we watched the sun go down.

We hardly spoke during the drive back. At the Hotel, the ever attentive Guru was waiting to ask after our day and quietly described to me the dinner menu. Just so that I knew! We were going to be served Italian fare. What timing, I thought. So under Mother’s watchful eyes I sampled the pasta soup, the spaghetti and sauce.
As my eyes closed for the last time that day, I wished I’d dream of all the things I had seen and relive those moments again and again….until the next day. For tomorrow was a new day and a new adventure.

# 11

....lazy gulls scattered on the beach
waves crash

palms glow crimson
keep time....

Thiksey Monastery















Thiksey Buddha

Stone pillars

Shey Buddha

Shey Palace

Sindhu (Indus) Ghat

Juxtaposed!












Thiksey Monastery















Thiksey Buddha

Stone pillars

Friday, September 08, 2006

Leh Logs: Day Two - I

Ah beautiful morning! Overhanging mist, sunrays filtering through clouds....it was perfect! Our first real morning in Leh.

Transport for the day was coming over at 9.30 am. We were taking it easy today. Sites and places around Leh had been chosen for the excursion. Nothing strenuous.


So far, none of us had felt light headed or had a hangover due to the rarified air. I took to Leh like a fish to water. Father concluded that my well being was due to the fact that there was nothing in my head to begin with.

It’s great to have indulgent parents like mine. I was the last one up and had a leisurely bath. Breakfast was even better! I remember having close to 4 toasts, with a thick omelette and tossed in a few pancakes as well! Mother chided me for the extravagance. We were, after all, returning for a lunch break in between the tours. I gave her a pained look. To wash it all down finally, I had excellent black tea. Its fairly common to drink this along with hot water in those parts. Since milk is hard to digest they prefer it black and sipping hot water helps digestion. I did not notice the staff, particularly Guru, mark my love for culinary delights.

Soon the car arrived. The driver was there alright, with his Maruti van all spruced up and ready. He had a ready smile and addressed me as ‘Baby’. (Now that, I have not been called for a very, VERY long time.) The van’s interiors were tastefully done up. The seats were covered with locally made soft carpets which we found very comforting. There were sacred symbols hung, drawn and stuck to various areas of the vehicle. He reiterated the itinerary for the first half of the day and we set off.

Leh is spread over a large area. Pockets of greenery are separated by huge barren mountains. (see Juxtaposed!) All areas are well connected by roads. The main bazaar in Leh is limited to a few streets and most of the hotels are located near-abouts. The civil lines, the airport, shops and residences make up the rest of the locality. The other green areas are mostly fields and residences. In between all these are the ubiquitous military establishments.

Our first halt was at the Sindhu River. This is the Indian name for the Indus River, the lifeline of the
Indus valley civilization . This civilization flourished circa 3000 to 1700 BC on the river valley. The Sindhu flows northwest through Ladakh into Gilgit (Pakistan) , just south of the Karakoram range. A beautiful Ghat has been constructed at the location for convenience of the worshippers. The Sindhu Darshan Festival, to celebrate the River, is held annually every June at Leh and Ladakh.

It was just the three of us at the Ghat and the scene was mesmerizing. The water was turbid and cold. The river flowed silently since we were on the plains. The stillness was audible. We spent a good 20 minutes taking in the landscape. As far as eyesight reached, all we could see were barren mountains and a criss-cross pattern of dusty roads. Around the river bed was a jungle of thorny shrubs called Seabuckthorn. Its little orange fruits yield a vitamin rich juice. This is supplied to the troops on duty in Leh and elsewhere due to its nutritious nature and long shelf life.

Back on the road, out next stop was at the Shey palace. This is the ancient capital of Ladakh (now it is Leh). The Namgyal dynasty that ruled Ladakh has a few palaces in that region. The palace is situated on a small hill and also houses a Gompa (monastery). We reached the top after a 15 minute climb. A part of the palace was under repairs and therefore inaccessible. A huge wooden figure of Buddha is installed in the Gompa and polished in gold to perfection. Decorative and sacred symbolism is apparent in the woodwork and the tapestry. This was common to all the other Gompas we saw, with a few differences in the structures.

A common feature at all places of worship is the little stone pillars. About 7 to 8 stones are carefully balanced on top of one another to make the pillar so that in afterlife, you can come back to rest in its shadow. How very practical!

Mother insisted that she would need a menhir to accommodate herself if it came to that.

A visit to the Thiksey monastery warped up our pre-lunch tour. This is one of the ancient and grandest monasteries in the Ladakh region. They have constructed a new monastery near the old one at the summit. The seated Buddha is resplendent in all his finery and the serene face reflects the ancient wisdom.

As a student of history I've often observed that if you want to know the temperament of a people, just study the dominating religion of that region. Buddhism preaches peace and lays down a practical code of conduct. The simple lives of the people and their straightforward ways can take you back a couple of centuries. They do what comes naturally to them and with all their heart. Agriculture and tourism are the principal means to earn a life and they never forget this.

Thiskey offers a beautiful view of the surroundings and the residences of the monks are scattered all around. We prayed in peace for sometime before a group of tourists entered the sanctum. It was nearing lunch time, so we left to return to the city.

A friend had recommend the Tibetan Kitchen if we wanted to sample the local fare. We headed straight for it. This restaurant is popular with tourists and has a variety of Momos on offer. We had some of those with tangy hot soups.

It was siesta time. Our jolly guide would be back by 3.00 pm to take us to the rest of the places.


Leh Logs: Day Two - I

Ah beautiful morning! Overhanging mist, sunrays filtering through clouds....it was perfect! Our first real morning in Leh.

Transport for the day was coming over at 9.30 am. We were taking it easy today. Sites and places around Leh had been chosen for the excursion. Nothing strenuous.


So far, none of us had felt light headed or had a hangover due to the rarified air. I took to Leh like a fish to water. Father concluded that my well being was due to the fact that there was nothing in my head to begin with.

It’s great to have indulgent parents like mine. I was the last one up and had a leisurely bath. Breakfast was even better! I remember having close to 4 toasts, with a thick omelette and tossed in a few pancakes as well! Mother chided me for the extravagance. We were, after all, returning for a lunch break in between the tours. I gave her a pained look. To wash it all down finally, I had excellent black tea. Its fairly common to drink this along with hot water in those parts. Since milk is hard to digest they prefer it black and sipping hot water helps digestion. I did not notice the staff, particularly Guru, mark my love for culinary delights.

Soon the car arrived. The driver was there alright, with his Maruti van all spruced up and ready. He had a ready smile and addressed me as ‘Baby’. (Now that, I have not been called for a very, VERY long time.) The van’s interiors were tastefully done up. The seats were covered with locally made soft carpets which we found very comforting. There were sacred symbols hung, drawn and stuck to various areas of the vehicle. He reiterated the itinerary for the first half of the day and we set off.

Leh is spread over a large area. Pockets of greenery are separated by huge barren mountains. (see Juxtaposed!) All areas are well connected by roads. The main bazaar in Leh is limited to a few streets and most of the hotels are located near-abouts. The civil lines, the airport, shops and residences make up the rest of the locality. The other green areas are mostly fields and residences. In between all these are the ubiquitous military establishments.

Our first halt was at the Sindhu River. This is the Indian name for the Indus River, the lifeline of the
Indus valley civilization . This civilization flourished circa 3000 to 1700 BC on the river valley. The Sindhu flows northwest through Ladakh into Gilgit (Pakistan) , just south of the Karakoram range. A beautiful Ghat has been constructed at the location for convenience of the worshippers. The Sindhu Darshan Festival, to celebrate the River, is held annually every June at Leh and Ladakh.

It was just the three of us at the Ghat and the scene was mesmerizing. The water was turbid and cold. The river flowed silently since we were on the plains. The stillness was audible. We spent a good 20 minutes taking in the landscape. As far as eyesight reached, all we could see were barren mountains and a criss-cross pattern of dusty roads. Around the river bed was a jungle of thorny shrubs called Seabuckthorn. Its little orange fruits yield a vitamin rich juice. This is supplied to the troops on duty in Leh and elsewhere due to its nutritious nature and long shelf life.

Back on the road, out next stop was at the Shey palace. This is the ancient capital of Ladakh (now it is Leh). The Namgyal dynasty that ruled Ladakh has a few palaces in that region. The palace is situated on a small hill and also houses a Gompa (monastery). We reached the top after a 15 minute climb. A part of the palace was under repairs and therefore inaccessible. A huge wooden figure of Buddha is installed in the Gompa and polished in gold to perfection. Decorative and sacred symbolism is apparent in the woodwork and the tapestry. This was common to all the other Gompas we saw, with a few differences in the structures.

A common feature at all places of worship is the little stone pillars. About 7 to 8 stones are carefully balanced on top of one another to make the pillar so that in afterlife, you can come back to rest in its shadow. How very practical!

Mother insisted that she would need a menhir to accommodate herself if it came to that.

A visit to the Thiksey monastery warped up our pre-lunch tour. This is one of the ancient and grandest monasteries in the Ladakh region. They have constructed a new monastery near the old one at the summit. The seated Buddha is resplendent in all his finery and the serene face reflects the ancient wisdom.

As a student of history I've often observed that if you want to know the temperament of a people, just study the dominating religion of that region. Buddhism preaches peace and lays down a practical code of conduct. The simple lives of the people and their straightforward ways can take you back a couple of centuries. They do what comes naturally to them and with all their heart. Agriculture and tourism are the principal means to earn a life and they never forget this.

Thiskey offers a beautiful view of the surroundings and the residences of the monks are scattered all around. We prayed in peace for sometime before a group of tourists entered the sanctum. It was nearing lunch time, so we left to return to the city.

A friend had recommend the Tibetan Kitchen if we wanted to sample the local fare. We headed straight for it. This restaurant is popular with tourists and has a variety of Momos on offer. We had some of those with tangy hot soups.

It was siesta time. Our jolly guide would be back by 3.00 pm to take us to the rest of the places.