Friday, July 31, 2009

Leh(Ladakh) - Day 2 - Leh Palace

31st May 09

I woke up and walked to that edge of the balcony where there was sunlight and absorbed it’s warmth. The occupants of the neighbouring room, a German lady and an American gentleman were having breakfast. I had a conversation with them and requested my host to give me breakfast.

Home-made Ladhaki bread and apricot jam. It was soooooo yummy… I had many spoonfuls of the jam just like that…and then tea and omlette.

By the time I oiled my hair and finished my bath (hot water was supplied in buckets by the kind host), it was noon. I set out.

The plan was to cover the Leh palace, Shanti Stupa, Nyamgal Tsemo and Shankar Gompa in one day.

I first went to Wonderland restaurant. I went to the terrace this time. I had Mix Veg Thukpa with French fries for lunch.

After lunch I had slight body pain and I knew I would need to rest immediately if I did not want to upset my plans for the next few days. So I walked back to my hotel room and tried to sleep. By about 5 in the evening I set out again.

I just could not get enough of these pictures.

At the market circle, I took a left, went past the mosque complex and entered a narrow alley. After a few steps, the climb to the palace began. The alley became a mere passage as I climbed further. There was dirt, plastic, the smell of urine, stray dogs, mean looking hovels and dilapidated buildings…This is something that has befallen every tourist place in India. Rishikesh, Haridwar, Kedarnath, … Much more than anything else, these places offer one thing in abundance. Disillusionment.
Like a glimpse of hell that Yudhishthira had to compulsorily see before he entered the gates of heaven.

And then after a stretch, I rose above men and their mean dwellings. I could see the 9 storey palace looming before me but I stopped every few steps and turned behind… to face the vast expanse of land, mountains, snow and the greenery of poplar separated by an eternity of space.

Facade of the Leh Palace

Entrance to the palace – an intricately carved wooden porch standing on fluted columns with snow lions carved on the cornice. It is called the lion gate.

From the travel guide that I bought the previous evening,
“This is Ladhak’s most imposing edifice. One of the best examples of Tibetan secular architecture. Ladakh’s greatest king Sengge Namgyal 1616-1642 built this in early 17th century. It was damaged in 1685 by invading forces of Tibetans and Mongolians and wrecked by conquering soldiers of Zorawar Singh’s Dogra army in 1836, forcing the Ladakhi royal family to abandon the palace and move to Stok, a village across the Indus. The structure has no foundation. Its soaring walls taper a little to give the building the required stability. Also lending stability is the way the walls were constructed, following the traditional system adopted across the Himalayas of alternating stone with timber... neatly dressed stones with a layer of timber every 3 meters. This arrangement helps the structure to absorb shock and survive earthquake. Upper walls of palace constructed with mud bricks. Edifice is in advanced stage of decay and archeological survey of India (ASI) is restoring parts of it. Many sections of castle are closed to tourists”

The Chamba Lhakhang (Maitreya temple), Chenresig Lhakhang (Avalokiteshwara temple) and Soma Gompa at the foot of the palace, that I was so eager to enter, were closed :-(

You can see the temple tops just outside this courtyard at the foot of the palace. As I take this picture, the palace is behind me.

I entered the dark and gloomy palace not feeling good about it at all. Ruins hurt. Especially the ruins of a palace.
There was a staircase inside and I climbed to the floor above. Long, uneven muddy dark corridors led to openings in the palace outer wall through which you could get a view of the town below and the faraway mountains.

Along the corridors were enclosures that were perhaps rooms and quarters for members of the royal family once upon a time...
I entered these enclosures, dry, dusty, muddy and broken down… walked past all the debris to the balcony or window that gave another splendid view…

I continued to climb and then came to a rickety old wooden stair and after that I found myself on a landing that was in the open

The 360 degree panoramic view was breathtaking.

My visit to various parts of the Himalayas last May, all of them differing in landscape, vegetation and water content had confirmed my preference for greenery and fresh water over any other kind of landscape.
The only reason I chose Ladakh, knowing that it was arid was this. Abhishek had mentioned the Sindhu river many times and that had appealed to my heart and my soul – the river that gave its name to our civilization, our country and our religion… it was like the memory of a solemn past that I had never seen, ‘like the smell of a house that I had never lived in’.
Further, from whatever I had read about Ladhak (which was not much), I had gathered, to my disappointment that, it was a desert, dry, dusty and hot. There was no water and no greenery. When I came across the phrase ‘beautiful lunar landscapes’ in an article about Ladakh on the net, I smiled at the cleverness of the writer.

When I landed at the Leh airport and saw mountains all around that were stark naked, I did not jump with joy. Later on, patches of poplar here and there had given me some respite.

But standing now on the roof of the palace, I could not believe my eyes when I looked down and saw a carpet of greenery that spread out over the plains

It was rather queer… brown jagged dry mountains with not a blade of grass on them and a lush green carpet of greenery between the plains separating them…like a god made collage… a landscape that was ‘assembled’.

The red and white building on top is Namgyal Tsemo…
Ok… look below now… can you see me by the ladder?

You see the horizontal line on that snow mountain, kind of dividing the mountain into halves… that’s the road leading to Khardongla pass…the highest motorable road in the world.

It was getting dark. I walked back …

As I continued down, I stopped by this roadside jewelry shop put up by two women. They were selling stones…Jade, Turquoise, Carnelian, Onyx, Coral…Bracelets, Necklaces, Finger Rings, Ear Rings…

I bought two necklaces…one with Jade and black onyx, for which I will have to find a matching dress now…and another one made of carnelian stone… for 600 bucks…after dignified bargaining.
Now it was really dark… I entered wonderland. I did not want to try different restaurants; I wanted to try out different things on the menu from the same restaurant :-)

Tonight I order Veg Momo with soup and French Fries… it was good…just as I was going through the desserts in the last page, the waiter said “Waise aaj Banoffee pie bhi hai”. What more could I ask for? :-)

Monday, July 27, 2009

To Kill A Mocking Bird - Harper Lee

Another award winning book. It won the Pulitzer Prize.

I picked it up at the book exhibition in palace grounds in Nov/Dec 2008.

I will say it s a good book.
“Published in 1960, the story is loosely based on the author's observations of her family and neighbours, as well as on an event that occurred near her hometown in 1936, when she was 10 years old.”

Set in Maycomb County, Southern Alabama, USA, the story is narrated by Scout Finch, who observed, absorbed and reacted to the events and happenings in her town.

The narrator is one among the characters of the story and a child and therefore, it is the world of a young girl, her town, her experiences, her people as seen through her eyes and of matters that mattered to her.
Although the blurb will tell you the book is about racism in America, it is not entirely true. Only a third of the book deals with racism, but for most part, it is about the six year old Scout, her brother Jem, her friend Dill, her guardian Calpurnia and her father Atticus Finch.

...Of what happened in school, of what they did in their afternoons, of how they sneaked into the formidable and eerie neighbourhood which housed a weird, mysterious Boo Radley whom they so yearned a glimpse of... Of the hole in the tree trunk where they discovered during their walks, little objects and curios left for them by someone they did not know… of their father Atticus who was their hero, of the special relationship they shared with him...

For the most part, the story sails casually, leisurely and unhurriedly through the lives of these children. Towards the end, the mockingbird of the story, Tom Robinson, makes an entry. Without much effort, the book succeeds in emphasizing the pitiable position of Tom Robinson, a Negro accused of raping a white woman.

Atticus Finch, a lawyer by profession decides to defend the Negro’s case much to the disgust and resentment of the town folks. The ensuing court case, as explained by Scout is a simple affair and yet riveting.

The sketching of the character of Atticus has done justice to the conception of the character.
The other characters like Jem, Dill and Scout (narrator) have also been well sketched. It is a book written with sincerity.

There was one thing I did not like – the language – full of colloquial and slang and very American. I hated it. I had to refer the dictionary too often – it was a criminal waste of time in this case as I don’t intent to include any of those words into my vocabulary. I understand that it was only warranted as the story is set in America, but the knowledge of the fact did not improve my reading experience by as much as an iota.

There were many lines I underlined with my pencil as I read. They appealed to me. Don’t ask me why…

Describing the hot season...
Men’s stiff collars wilted by nine in the morning; ladies bathed before noon, after their 3 o’ clock snaps and by nightfall were like soft tea cakes with frostings of sweat and sweet talcum

I never loved to read. One does not love breathing. Reading was something that just came to me, as learning to fasten the seat of my union suit without looking around, or achieving 2 bows from a snarl of shoelaces.
I particular like the phrase “a snarl of shoelaces”

The Dewey Decimal System consisted, in part, of Miss Caroline waving cards at us on which were printed ‘cat’, ‘rat’, ‘man’ and ‘you’. No comment seemed to be expected of us, and the class received these impressionistic revelations in silence.
The humour in the last sentence :-)

Some more humour

…Nothing is real scary except in books…
…In Maycomb county, it was easy to tell when someone bathed regularly as opposed to yearly lavations…
…This was a group of white shirted, khaki trousered, suspended old men who had spent their lives doing nothing and passed their twilight days doing the same on pine benches under live oaks…

He seemed to be working himself into a bad humour, so I kept my distance…

Mr. Avery said that when children disobeyed parents, smoked cigarettes and made war on each other, the seasons would change. Jem and I were burdened with the guilt of contributing to the aberrations of nature thereby causing unhappiness to our neighbours and discomfort to ourselves…
Innocence :-)

Shoot all the bluejays you want if you can hit them, but remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird…

Did you know?
Widow's walk - a platform or walk atop a roof, as on certain coastal New England houses of the 18th and early 19th centuries: often used as a lookout for incoming ships.

What the Sam hill was he doing?
It means what the hell was he doing?

Most folks seem to think you are wrong …
Before I can live with other folks I’ve got to live with myself. The one thing that does not abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience…

…He was standing behind the pulpit, staring the congregation to silence…

…There was indeed a caste system in Maycomb, but to my mind, it worked this way: the older citizens, the present generation of people who had lived side-by-side for years and years, were utterly predictable to one another: they took for granted, attitudes, character shading, even gestures, as having been repeated in each generation and refined by time. Thus the dicta No Crawford minds his own business, Every third Merriwater is morbid, The truth is not in the Delafields, all the Bufords walk like that,... were simple guides to daily living; Miss Maudie Atkinson’s shoulder stoops because she was a Buford…

He preferred his own twilight world, a world where babies slept, waiting to be gathered like morning lilies. He was slowly talking himself to sleep and taking me with him, but in the quietness of his foggy island, there rose the faded image of a grey house and sad brown doors...

…The judge kept his eyes on him as if daring him to make a false move…

…Never on cross examination, ask a witness a question you don’t already know the answer to…do it and you will often get an answer you don’t want, an answer that might wreck your case. ..

…He took delight in corrupting child…

…Lost in fruity metaphors and florid diction…

…Peculiarities indigenous to that region…

…Greek revival columns clashed with a big 19th century clock tower housing a rusty unreliable instrument, a view indicating a people determined to preserve every physical scrap of the past…

…Decaying record books mingled with old damp cement and stale urine…It was necessary to turn on the lights during daytime. There was always a film of dust on the rough floorboards. The inhabitants of these offices were creatures of their environment: little grey faced men, they seemed untouched by wind or sun…

…If enough people, a stadium full may be – were to concentrate on one thing, such as setting the tree afire in the woods, the tree would ignite of its own accord. I toyed with the idea of asking everyone to concentrate on setting Tom Robinson free…

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Leh(Ladakh) - Day 1

29th May 2009

Major Abhishek Dimri whom we met last May in Badri (on our way to Vasudhara falls, to be precise), was posted in Leh (Ladakh) during March-April this year. He would call me every day and describe vividly, the beauty of the place, the Sindhu river, Padum valley, glaciers, snow and what not… he said it was the right time for me to plan a trip to Ladakh and he would take care of accommodation…

That’s how it all started. I booked my tickets. A week before I was to fly, I got a message. Abhishek had been recently transferred to Rishikesh! I would be all by myself in Leh!

I decided to fly anyway. On the 29th of May 09, I flew to Delhi. My flight to Leh would leave at 6 in the morning. I enquired with all sorts of staff in the airport if there was some place I could lie down for the night. None. Such a hopeless airport! So much glamour and glitter… for what joy? Like Shakespeare said, all sound and fury, no significance!
I found a raised platform at a corner, made a bed for myself out of my shawl, a pillow out of my towel, jacket, jeans and a sweatshirt and tossed and turned over it all night.

30th May

The kingfisher seats were all non-reclining and uncomfortable. I had an aisle seat. To my surprise, the plane was full.

As we approached Leh, someone with a window seat excitedly pointed to a snow mountain that suddenly loomed out of the mist and fog that had otherwise obscured the picture below, with the result that half the people in the vicinity of the uninteresting windows shifted to the interesting side of the plane. There were exclamations, excited cries from children and women, a lot of movement as people took turns to view the spectacle… I was hoping this would not affect the balance of the aircraft! I missed the snow mountains but managed to take a few snaps as we came closer to landing.

From the airport, I took a taxi to Gomang guest house, in this area called Changspa. Thanks to Ranjana for recommending this place.

It was a short walk from the road to the guest house. A muddy path in the midst of short walls made of stone and mud and there were white Chortens or Buddhist Stupas, 4 to 5 feet tall all around.

I was shown to my room by Nyamgel, the man of a Buddhist, Ladakhi family. 150 rupees a day was quite cheap and I was relieved.

My solitude and directionless-ness combined with the stillness of the place caused some heaviness in my heart. I decided to just rest for sometime and venture out in the evening.

The afternoon was quite hot, though the cold winds made me keep the sweater on.

This is a picture I took from the balcony. You can see a white chorten below. This is just one of the several views.

The old man in the housemade some polite enquiries through a small window that overlooked my room on first floor balcony and I took the opportunity to have myself invited to the house, curious as I was about Ladakhi life and homes.

This was the hall combined with kitchen

The old man had been in the army and fought either the China war or the Pakistan war!
What you see right at the centre is a stove used for heating! This is the most ornamental heater I have ever seen.

We climbed to the second story and we were on the terrace that had a Pooja room

This is a picture of the family

It was time to step out…and explore

This was the picture that welcomed me as I stepped out on to the connecting road. This was the view at about 4 in the evening

I had taken the same picture at 9 in the morning as soon as I landed… the beauty of the place, as you will see from my pictures is, every time you look, the scenary is different.

These are poplar trees, a characteristic feature of the place. Their greenery, their freshness is as true, as striking as the aridity of the region.

Beautiful, isn’t it? I am as charmed with these as with the Devdars and the Pines that I saw in the Himalayas last year.

As I walked on the main road towards the market, it was not my fatigue that took away the spring in my step, but these sights, marvelling at which, I stood still for moments of eternity.

The unaesthetic electric wires were all over the place. Imperfect blend.
I climbed to the terrace of a hotel and found a smile of satisfaction on my lips.

This is the Shanti Stupa

And that’s me :)

That’s the Leh Palace.

And the smaller edifice you see topmost of the hill to the right is Nyamgel Tsemo.

All along the market road there are interesting shops, restaurants, curio shops, travel agencies and many internet browsing centers. There were lots of people; Indian tourists, foreigners, Ladakhis and many more… and there was the annoying violence of huge, noisy vehicles. Imperfect blend.

I was looking for a travel guide. I found a bookshop down the market square. I found two books, spent five minutes in a dilemma and finally bought one for seven hundred bucks. It proved to be a good purchase. Once again, I am pleased with my good judgement. Or was it good luck?

I entered many shops and enquired the agents about the places nearby, taxi fares, road maps, discounts and came out completely confused. And that was good. Because clarity always follows confusion.

It was beginning to get dark. But there was enough light at 7 in the evening for me to take these last pictures. That’s another thing about this place. Late sunset. At least during this time of the year.

On my way back, I bought a jade green fleece coat that had a hood. I also bought a pair of gloves.
I entered this restaurant called wonderland, recommended by the family with which I was stationed. Earlier in the evening, when I had passed this shop, I had peeped inside to ask if they had Banoffee pie. This was something I had had in McLeod Ganj last year and would have loved to have again. The owner had said he would make the delicacy for me. But when I returned for dinner with anticipation, he said it had all been sold.

I ordered Mix Veg Tofu. It was delicious. And then I had French fries. They were the best I have had so far. For dessert, I had something that had the word Queen in it’s name. It was bad.

It was really dark outside. But it was not long before my eyes saw that my path was washed with light from a waxing moon. As I walked alone in the stillness of the night, my solitude had the company of the silhouette of the poplars, a clear sky embellished with many many stars and the white stupas that were all the more white in moon light. There was direction to my journey now and my heart was light.