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.