A lesson in simplicity from the land of Julley-Leh.

20160529_072308
The first sight of the mountains from the plane-close enough to touch!

Nestled in the midst of a ring of mountains, belonging to the Kunlun region of the Greater Himalayas, is a land whose landscape and ethos are startling different from what we are.-Ladakh.Watching these people makes me feel a tad jealous- because they have mastered the art of living in the most barren and difficult of places without a complaint. Infact, with a smile and a julley(which is hello).

To say that the landscape is barren, would be an understatement. There are barely any trees or water bodies around. For around six months of the year, there is hardly anything to do, but bear the brunt of the weather. Children do not have school for almost four months, in lieu of the winter. Travel is tedious and fraught with the danger of avalanches and bad weather.

20160531_090316

But once you set foot into Leh, you are swept away by the magic that Ladakh is. I have always been a conformist –my idea of nature has been green, lush and abundant. Never in the wildest of my dreams had I imagined that I would include barren, rugged, and stark under the list marked beauty! But then, Ladakh does that to you.

20160530_103350

 

A place where monasteries dot craggy peaks, the sun shines blindingly bright and all you can see are mountains in varied hues of brown!

20160530_112437
Monasteries right on top of the mountains
20160603_114413
Higher than the monasteries are the living quarteres of the monks

Amidst all this, are the people who are so unassuming, simple and endearing. Going around, we found that there are no glamorous displays of wealth that we are so used to seeing around. All houses looked the same-boxed with wooden windows-basic and minimalistic.

20160529_162526

Most food is barley, cooked in different forms-as bread, stew and beer! Most people rely on tourism for their livelihood. There are no mobile networks for large stretches of land and hardly any hospitals around. But going by the happy pink cheeked faces, you would hardly guess that people lived in such hardship.

20160530_124800

We had the opportunity to visit a Ladakhi home for dinner. The hosts had kept their ancestral home intact-built of mud, stone and wood. The house was three storied, but mainly because of necessity. One floor for living, the one below for storing (you guessed right-barley) and the one above for praying! Apart from the rudimentary but sturdy apparatus for cooking, there was hardly any furniture around.

The only excess was seen in the prayer room which was filled with huge masks, head gear, cymbals and conches- as though the simplicity of their life was compensated for, by their extravagance in praying. Maybe because they have to live at the mercy of nature, they tend to invoke the Gods with as much vigour as possible.

20160531_162429

Apart from this world of difference, the basic concerns of the people seem the same. The lady of the house was taking in tourists to support her children’s education. Huddled in her living room, with hot cups of butter tea, we watched, as her daughter performed a traditional dance for us (albeit in her PJs).Her face glowed when we clapped and praised her child’s performance. She spoke about the long commute her children had to undertake to reach school, and how despite this, her daughter comes first in class.

Experiencing Ladakh does many things to you at a visceral level. You come back changed imperceptibly outside, rather deep inside. You learn to be comfortable with silence. You learn to accept life, as it is without frills and fancy. You learn to calm down. You lose the unnecessary sense of urgency cultivated with years of hurried living. Mostly, you learn a lesson in simplicity. That come what may, you can be happy with the bare minimum that life gives you, and the happy sound of Julley.

20160602_180743

 

Advertisements

Memories of kashmir.

Every time I visit a new place, there are a few things about it that I end up storing away between the folds of my brain. These memories are unique, customized and last me forever. There may be things which everyone remembers, important monuments  which I may forget, but these special memories stay with me and make my experience unique. Thanks to digital cameras, (the old ones meant that I lost quite a lost of my pictures because of over or under exposure) and now smart phone cams, most of what I want to retain comes easier to me. Kashmir gave me many such favorite moments which I wanted to share.

A few of the photographs have been borrowed from our friend Dr. Deepak, courtesy a better camera to capture the same scene as compared to my phone cam.

1.This photograph was taken early in the morning from our houseboat on the first day of our trip. It was a cold chilly day, and we saw this couple start their day of work as usual. They seemed oblivious to the scenery around them, concentrating steadfastly on their work of fishing. They worked in harmony, no words needed. The mountains in the back, the bluish light of dawn and still waters made for a beautiful click.

kashmir 203

  1. On the way to Pehelgaum, we spotted a roadside stream and stopped for a photo shoot. There were some girls from nearby villages watching us curiously. We were reluctant to approach them at first, wondering how they would react. Finally when we did ask them, they were really excited and did an entire photo shoot with us! I love the smile on the first girl’s face. Such happiness!

20150503_123556

  1. This was a lovely sunset at Nishatbag, Srinagar. All of us tired after a long day. We were supposed to go to a Kashmiri friend’s home for dinner. There was a little bit of unease owing to the fact that, the area we were venturing into was a little unsafe, within the old city of Srinagar. Most of us were worried, but had no energy to think of an alternative. So we just sat and stared. And then came across such a lovely sunset,that it left me spell bound.
  2. 20150504_190840Well, the old city did come across as a scary place. There were no street lights, small gullies, houses packed against each other, and an eerie silence. There were broken down dust coated maruti cars, old scooters and small joints where boys stood smoking cigarettes and staring at people passing by. But, on the plus side, we got to see an authentic kashmiri house, which is so different from the ones we live in. There are huge completely opaque gates in front of every house. There are innumerable neat glass windows, but all are firmly shut.Even if a few of them are, they hide the innards of the house with gossamer thin lace curtains from which you can see some partly hidden faces peering out! On the first floor of this house, there was a small kitchen cum bedroom. Then on, upstairs a room with a single light bulb and huge pillows to lean on to while sitting on the floor. The floors are made of wood and carpeted. Food is served on a mat, and we need to pick whatever we want sitting around it. But the food compensated for any fear that we might have experienced. Our hosts, in an attempt to make us feel comfortable told us that they had stopped eating non vegetarian fare three days ago, to prevent us from feeling uncomfortable when we ate from the same china! Though we had not even thought about this, we were touched that they had been so thoughtful and hospitable!Each dish was finger licking tasty and we felt royal washing our hands from a huge samovar (a kettle like apparatus made of silver).
  3. 20150504_211601This photograph is my favorite. It looks like the snow is starting to form a wave and trying to move on. It almost seems alive to me.
  4. DSCN0384We trekked on to a mountain about 7000 feet above sea level at Sonmarg. We were out of breath, cold and out in the open with frozen nose tips.Though it was beautiful, there seemed to be a hidden element of danger lurking somewhere. A sudden thought came unbidden that if we were actually trapped on to this mountain with no one around, it would have been really scary. This was when, as if on cue, we happened to spot a small hut across the expanse of snow. Our guide informed us that it was both a mosque and a temple for people who had strayed to pray for their survival. Unfortunately it was closed, but the image stayed.
  5. 20150505_151350This is a Chinar tree up close and personal. The leaves resemble maple trees and the color is a vibrant green belying the fact that the tree is at least 400 years old according to the board stuck on it. It feels so new and so old at the same time.
  6. DSCN0358 Kashmir is such a photographers paradise that you cannot help clicking away continuously. It is one place where you wish your eyes had inbuilt cameras to film what you saw continuously to remember for a later day. Choosing these few were a difficult task, so I hope you enjoy it and feel a little whiff of kashmir inside you:) .