Describing the indescribable- Pangong Tso

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There are times in our life, when we are left searching for words to fill in a near adequate description. And failing. Pangong Tso, is one such experience. Whether to call it a lake or an experience is confusion enough. No adjective is adequate enough to describe the sight of it or the over whelming feeling that goes with it. Yet, let me try my best to tempt everyone to get rid of any inhibitions and get going on the next flight to Leh, before you get too old to combat the altitude sickness!

Not a journey meant for the queasy or soft bummed, a five hour drive on one of the scariest and weirdest roads lead you to Pangong Tso (by the way, ‘tso’ is lake in Ladakhi- and I really love the way it sounds, so Tso it is!). Weirdest because, the landscape changes from one extreme to the other within the span of a few kilometers.

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You just get used to seeing endless barren brown mountains, when with the sudden flick of nature’s fingers, you see really rocky ones (the kind that scare you of an avalanche). This is followed by snow capped peaks near the Changla pass, which is then replaced by dusty ones which blow sand storms. Suddenly, from nowhere are green closed valleys with boggy streams, which are home to handsome, sleek stallions –right in the middle of nowhere leading to nowhere! The valley then turns into a grey sandy desert followed by another green stretch filled with half mongoose half dog like creatures called marmots!Phew!

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Marmots!

 

 

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Boggy streams, with the horses far away!

 

The weather is equally quirky- as if playing with us! One moment you are huddled in sweaters with the windows of the car drawn up to the next, when you are fanning yourself hard with the sleeve of your sweater and then suddenly you are wishing fervently that you have not left your windcheater behind in the hotel!

The only solace all through the journey is provided by the driver stopping over at a small joint for some very much needed and equally yummy honey ginger tea near the Paagal Naala bridge( apparently called so, owing to the difficulty in assessing  the moods of the stream!).

Just when you are resigned to watching the whole spectrum of browns around you-BAM-you are zapped with a sudden sparkle of vibrant blue visible from between the mountains. A blue that is so dazzling that it blinds- the first sight of Pangong between the mountains.

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Pangong means “High Grassland Lake” in Tibetian. Situated between three lands, India, China and Tibet, we get only one third of the lake which then flows into Chinese territory. The line of Control runs somewhere in between the 134 kilometer long lake which is almost five kilometers at its broadest and situated about 14270 feet above sea level.

Seeing Pangong lake can turn an atheist into a staunch believer in God. I say this because, though most things appear to have a scientific backing, there are things which are so extra ordinary that they almost seem impossible.

Take for instance the fact that it is a SALT water lake! Apparently because there is no outlet for the water,  and so salt deposits have built up over the years.

Or the fact that though there are almost NO fish or aquatic creatures in the lake, there are hordes of Brahminy ducks, geese and sea gulls cackling around  looking extremely well fed and healthy! What do they even eat???

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Or the fact that the lake even got formed, because Ladakh gets almost no rain! So how did so much water happen to be?

And the best  lies in the changing colors of the lake which very much looks like the shade card of asian paints. Suddenly vibrant blue to suddenly green to turquoise and then a moody angry grey in a span of two hours –a visual feast.

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I can count atleast five shades of blue in this pic!

You suddenly realize that you are really miniscule in nature’s scheme of things, and begin to understand the vastness of the universe! Though there were a minimum of two hundred tourists around, there was such a sense of tranquility. The others seem so far away and no sound reaches you apart from the soft lapping of the crystal clear waters on the shore.

The only regret about the trip was that we could not stay back to see the sunrise or the sunset, which are supposed to be spectacular! And the fact that, at the beginning of the summer, the lake is still frozen enough that you can have dinner sitting on it (if you are willing to risk a frost bitten back side).

Nevertheless, Pangong Tso, seems as close to heaven as it gets…or probably is actually a small piece of heaven that God sent for us as a sample! Truly, the indescribable!

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A confused Indian, hindu, mother, human, me?…

Let me confess at the outset, that I do not even know whether I am qualified or deep enough to write this piece. My defense is that there may be an equally large number of people out there who feel like me, and are also not completely well read in all matters history, religion or politics. And I also confess that being a mother,  I tend to dwell a lot on the premise of what kind of a world is it that I am letting my children wander into?A world where you have to be scared of belonging to a faith? Or one where you wear it like a badge!I feel it needs to be neither.

This year has been all about a feeling of unease about religion. I have never big on either politics or religion, but this year has pushed me into thinking a lot about it for various reasons. A few to be mentioned are- the recent spate of killings by the ISIS, a few videos that I watched on whatsapp of a close up of beheading done in cold blood in some Arab country, “Aavarana”, a book by S.L. Bhyrappa that I read with mixed feelings, a few statements made by our seers which claimed that Hindu women needed to procreate with greater speed and intensity to save our religion and finally culminating with an experience that I had this afternoon- a ‘Pathasanchalana’- a march of thousands of RSS swayam sevaks held in my hometown.

Growing up, I was brought up in a family which held our country’s values of democracy and secularism in high stead. My home town, though rich in history was not too communal. And the street I lived in had people belonging to almost all religions and caste. Hence, the idea that something really deep could divide us only struck me during the Babri Masjid riots. I remember huddling in my school waiting for someone from home to come and pick me up. I also remember the fear on my Muslim friend’s face during the wait. It was a little more complicated for her. She was waiting to be taken home safely by someone hopefully arriving to pick her safely! After this, there was again a sense of peace which prevailed for the next so many years. Slowly, I pushed these disturbing memories to the remotest corner of my mind.

I have always felt that religion should be something very personal. Something which gives you a sense of peace, a feeling of security and belief that if something goes wrong,the Almighty(with a capital A) was there to protect you. And some place you send your prayers to. But why is it not so simple? Why do people then try to publicize it? Or propagate it? Probably because then you get the power of numbers? And then politics enter into it? And jumble it up further? And make you smile at people and want to stab them in the back at the same time? But still want to stick to the book and pretend to be a pious human being who does no wrong? And so many more questions that I have, which will fetch me more confused answers!

So I decided to read up (at least a little) about what drives these religions. And I came upon Aavarana, a book which sort of describes the history of Islam and the Mughal rule in detail. Lets say that it was not all complimentary to Islam, but the book does claim to have its research done from books written by Mughal rulers themselves. Which is the reason why, we can understand having a right wing which claims to set right these wrongs and protect the Hindus. And we have, in between all this, the British who tried to stay back and rule by dividing the already divided, further! And our politicians, who have tried to cash in on this divide, for votes. Now, how do we ever disentangle this mess?

Reading further and deeper into this topic is guaranteed to make you more and more depressed. There are so many avenues, nuances, dead ends and a general insensitivity which make the situation worse. Where do we start smoothing the creases? And revert back to the basic concept of getting comfort from your choice of faith? Because, now it scares!

Standing on the road today, watching the procession, I was eves dropping on the conversations going on around me. And generally observing everything going on around.Two women discussing the number of ‘holiges’( a sweet preparation) which were cooked for the swayam sevaks’ feast. A fully sozzled guy, trying to clearly voice out ‘vande mataram’. Two girls obviously tickled about his inebriated state and giggling away constantly every time he managed to get it right. A lady trying her best to edge into the front row, using her husband’s paralytic limb as an excuse.  A policeman, trying his best to control an undisciplined crowd.  Swayam sevaks in the march capturing images on their mobile phones. Two boys sitting on roof top, emptying Nandini milk packets on to a huge hoarding of Shivaji! Our grocery store, uncharacteristically being closed owing to the fact that it belonged to a muslim and there was a RSS march going on. Basically, life was going on as usual a midst all the hype about faith. This reassured me, that deep down, all that we want is food, a roof, some security and an opportunity to have some harmless fun.

Abraham Maslow, a psychologist, famously gave his pyramid of hierarchy of needs. The pyramid claims, that unless basic needs of food and security are met, you cannot move on to the next level , and later push yourself on to achieving  self actualization- ‘nirvana’ in the end.

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In this respect, we in India, at least vast majority of the population, are still grappling with stage one and two! Then why should we confuse issues, instead of providing for the first two levels?

Why should we inculcate religion like a discipline, rather than teach our children to grow into a faith of their own creation? Based on what is needed for the day, rather than what had happened many hundreds of thousands of years ago? Some place where the need of this day is discussed, rather than vengeance? Where we can discuss religion freely, rather than impose it upon others or worse, behead them?

History tells us about how different faiths have tried to come up each, by putting down the other. Why not make it better now rather than ruffle feathers?We have always been taught that all religions are good. lets now learn to accept the fact that there is some bad too. And move on.

I know that this post contains more questions than answers. It is because these questions have been there for a long while without finding answers that pacify me. And leaving me confused as to what I should be first- a mother who teaches secularism, a hindu (just because I happen to be born one), who upholds ideals dealt out by our seers, an Indian or just simply, plain old me????