04-Aug-2008

Ladakh - Hemis, Thikse, Shey and Stok


The plan was to leave at 8.30 after breakfast at 8 a.m. It was 8.45 before the guys could manage to get into the dining cum TV hall of our guesthouse. The Man Friday, Mohan, took everyone’s orders (choice was omelette and toast or toast). Our travel agent, Qayoom had arrived with a brand new Innova to give us a send-off. We munched on breakfast, drank our tea and finally ventured onto the roads at 9.30. Clearly, days which involved very early mornings would be bit of a challenge.

Abdul, the teenager who had accompanied us the previous day was also the guide for the day. At our first stop, Hemis, we realised that while Abdul was enthusiastic, he knew zilch about what lay inside the monastery. We walked around the partially dilapidated building and took snaps. It was at the Hemis museum that we got some insight into the way Tibetan Buddhism was organised. The monk in charge of the entry fee informed us that there are four primary orders of Tibetan Buddhism. The Dalai Lama heads the Geluspa sect. The Hemis monastery belonged to the Drukpa order, whose top gun was called Skatsang Raza. Founded in the 16th century, Hemis’s Skatsang Razas had been fairly active in seeking help of the local rulers and other sects to add to the monastery buildings.

The museum had been cobbled together with various exhibits that had been found in the monastery. There were rows upon rows of cooking utensils. One of them proclaimed ‘a twin pot – rare piece’, suggesting vaguely that the rest of the pieces would be found in your average kitchen. Then there was a lovely Thangka (art on cloth) depicting ‘Sidharth contesting to win his bird’. It was Sandeep who realised that Sidhartha was actually contesting for his bride – clearly a more important historical event than Buddha’s ornithogical/hunting interest.

After Hemis, we headed to Thikse. This was better maintained than Hemis. But we still had no clue how many avatars the Buddha had, or what was Guru Rinpoche’s role in the general scheme of things. Finally a monk in one of the rooms informed us that we were looking at a giant statue of the future Buddha – Maitreya.

The previous night’s excesses had upset Aswath’s gentle gastric systems and he decided to consult the in-house doc at Thikse, who turned out to be a practioner of traditional medicine. He took Aswath’s pulse and nodded his head gravely in the manner of Bollywood doctors announcing that the hero’s unwed sister was pregnant. He then prescribed a few pills. Despite our healthy sceptism of non-Western medicine, Aswath did get better.

The next stop was the old ruins of the Shey Palace. The Namgyal dynasty had ascended throne in the 16th century. Then around the 18th century they were deposed. The current generation of the erstwhile rulers, lived in the newer and more exciting Stok Palace. The guards at the Stok Palace opened various rooms containing royal jewellery. A group of Rajasthani men who were also visiting, immediately began to loudly proclaim that the jewellery in Rajasthan was much prettier and you had to come there to see what palaces looked like. Clearly, for some people, travel is a way of reaffirming that you already live in the best place in the world.

Stok Palace had a lovely café on one of the roofs. We ordered tea and muffins and sat down to enjoy the absolutely ravishing views.

Leh’s bright skies and brown mountains were really beginning to grow on us.

After the authentic repast of the past day, we decide to locate ‘Pumpernickel’ a much publicised German bakery. Leh is full of them. Unfortunately for us, after quite a search, we were told that Pumpernickel had shut down. Disappointed, we ate at Gesmo, which was not bad either.

1 comment:

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