LEH & LADAKH: ROOF OF THE WORLD

An abhorrent, dark soul ventures out to take in the brutal, blistering truth. Amid vast plains of rugged and rocky deserts, surrounded by ridge-filled mountains, grey mountains, dull mountains, mountains covered with luscious snow and mountains speckled with rare vegetation, which shouldn’t be trampled on as their number is low like the breathable air, I venture out.

The blazing wind cuts my hopeless face, my dusty black jacket lumbers with it and my hands are tightly stuck to the handlebar of the motorcycle. With each passing mile, the glow on my face and cut of my mouth widen into something I haven’t felt before. A warm, tender and ticklish liquid flows through my heart. Spurring me alive. As I traverse past clever obstacles made by nature, the topsy-turvy roads cutting through the unending mountains, the sudden turns, the treacherous slopes, the on-coming traffic, the military convoys, nature greets my eyes with glorious sights.

With conquering every enriching barrier, comes the tranquility of resting upon ancient jutted hills, the vast landscape, a mixture of various colours splashed upon the god-trusting land that meet the horizon and shower its beauty on each and everything it lays its eyes upon. As my throat becomes dry and barren, one of the many rivers observing me burbles and offers herself.

Credit: Anand Jhaveri
Credit: Anand Jhaveri

Once I soak in the beauty of the natural sights, come the near-perfect man-made ones. Sand-coloured brick huts, with aged red wooden roofs, jut out from the hills where the Buddhist monks stay, away from civilization, in a sort of a retreat, a place to meditate without any of the distractions of the Internet era.

Amidst those huts and dwellings, everywhere around the city, I found the nucleus of Ladakh: the monasteries, some older than half a millennium, some new, but each distinct with its own special characteristics. They maintain their styles and none look out of order. A 40ft statue of Buddha, with only his face visible, is enough to send me into a surreal state. And that state is maintained when I see again a large Buddha statue sitting alone, atop a hill overlooking the city, forever in the eyes of its people who feel safe knowing that he’s watching over them. Some monasteries are hidden away. They are only for seekers, not for casual observers. I trek and climb 14,000ft to reach one of them. I’m on the roof of the world. From where I was standing, I could see a monastery tucked away inside the ridges of a peak. Beside me were two temples – a few monks, one cave and that’s it. Cut off from humans, I decide to sit with them, contemplate and share philosophies over pints of butter-tea, until I feel rejuvenated, even if it’s for a short amount of time.

Credit: Anand Jhaveri
Credit: Anand Jhaveri

Back down, the white light flakes fall on me, prodding so one can remain detached but enlightened at the same time. This city with its distinctive aura was giving me space and time to remain still. It sent me into a meditative state to come up with such thoughts.

The normal world called me back and I answered. I went to a local cafe and had atta, which in literal sense means flour, but it was their version of pasta made from vegetables sourced from outskirts of the city, and wheat flour balls boiled together in water. I had some more.

It was time to rest my body. I sat on my trusty motorbike and made my way to a gigantic lake nestled between the dry snow-capped mountains. As turquoise as your eyes can believe, the lake separates two adjoining countries. I lay there on the rough ground, beside a bonfire, and admired the enchanted water body that extended to the sky, poked with a diadem of celestial objects above or below, of that I still wonder.

WORDS: ANAND JHAVERI

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