Friday, November 25, 2011


A ladakhi Wedding

 Kashmir Jammu state is in the northwest fist shaped section of India, bordered by Pakistan and on the west and Tibet on the east.  In the southeastern part of this state on the Tibetan border is India’s autonomous region of Ladakh, a mountainous moon-like landscape geographically part of the Tibetan Plateau.  It has about a four month summer, then it gets progressive colder until it is minus 34 digresses Celsius in the winter with no access to the out side world except by air.

A Ladakhi Wedding is more than the joining of two wonderful young people.  It is the coming together of a community for the common good of the charming young couple in effort, mind, and spirit.

In Ladakh, like much of India, most marriages are arranged. *  In Ladakh, once a couple is introduced, they court for a year.  If they feel theirs is a good match, the marriage ensues.   My friends, Jigment and Angmo had crushes on one anther since grade school, which developed into love.  Unlike most Ladakhi couples, they asked their families to arrange a marriage between the two of them, and both families agreed.  Angmo is 27 and Jigment 29, and yet he giggled with happiness throughout most of the ceremony, and she, although extremely serious during the entire event, told me that yes, she was as madly in love as he, and that even in grade school, “he was the smartest boy in the class.”  Now that’s true love.

As soon as I was emailed the date (September 19th), I cashed in my train ticket to Bangalore and rushed back to Delhi to search for the perfect gift.  Previously, I had decided upon a bed cover. After much searching, I bought a hand blocked somewhat geometric design on hand spun material in red and black at The Shoppe, but I wasn’t quite satisfied with my choice.  Then Ajeed, my favorite auto rickshaw driver dropped me at one of the stores that give drivers a gas chit if they bring a patron who spends at least fifteen minutes in their shop. The very first coverlet I saw was an emerald green silk, imbedded on the sides with two bands of gold design and on the top yellow cornflowers with musically shaped embroidered red stems. Previously, I had seen Angmo, the bride, wearing these exact colors at a party, and she looked stunning.  This was it.  But I let them show me a few more covers so I would not seem too eager.  Finally I stopped my charade and negotiated the price. 

Because of concern for cloud cover over the mountains, most flights in and out of Leh are in the early morning, so my arrival at Jigment Guesthouse at 7:00 AM was not surprising.  I had arrived two days early, so I could adjust to the altitude.   But this time, I had taken altitude sickness medicine two days before flying, so I had very little need to be inactive for the first two days like I did during my visit earlier in July. 

When I arose midmorning from a much-needed rest, I went down, greeted everyone, and had butter tea with the family.  After Tering Dalkar*, Jigment’s sister went off to work, Disket Tsomo, his other sister, his mother, Tsewang Dolma and I went up to decide if either of my gifts was adequate.  If not, I would have to go to the market with Disket and find something more suitable.  This was the moment of truth.  I had brought both covers.  I opened the hand printed cotton one and there was an obvious lack of enthusiasm.  Then with baited breath, I opened the emerald green silk.  It was a smash hit.  Disket wanted to know the price, and Dolma exclaimed that even with all the lovely Kashmiri items found in the Local shops, there was nothing quite like it for sale in Leh.  Later in the day Jigment’s sisters told me to give him the gift at 7 PM on the evening of the wedding.

Now that my anxiety about the gift was abated, I got out of everyone’s way and went to the post office to mail home the rejected bed cover to be used in my own home as a summer substitute. The local post office computers were down because of no electricity, so I trekked off to the main local market, crowded into a jitney taxi for ten rupees (about 20 cents) with the locals and headed for the main post office on the edge of town.  There, they boxed and mailed my package. Then I returned to town and stopped by to see my friend Karma Dolma in her shop.  Ever enthusiastic, she was thrilled to see me and ordered tea.  The rest of my day was spent wandering through Leh, where I found many shops were already shuttered for the season.  Finally, I went to the local’s market and bought a new backpack.   There I could get a great pack for 500 Rps, around $10 dollars. Whereas on main street where the tourists shopped, I could buy nothing for less than 1800 Rps, about $36, and most backpacks were much more expensive. 

The next morning when I got up, the garden was abuzz with activity. All of Jigment Guesthouse’s friends, neighbors and relatives were already hard at work preparing for the big day.   Religion was not a barrier, as both the Christian and Moslem neighbors were there working with this Buddhist family.  Jigment was one of the neighborhood children whom they had watched grow and mature from small tot to adulthood. Besides it was going to be a big party of 250 people with all the neighbors invited. 

 As I was a guest, I was not allowed to help.  But I watched as vegetables were being chopped, veggie treats, called Pakada, were being fried and Pappadrums, and Ladakhi bread were cooking in the back kitchen.  Five or six women had come the day before and made hundreds of cookies, and all of this food were just the pre- dinner snacks.

Several men were butchering a sheep in one of the grassy gardens, which would be part of the main dinner.  Dell, Tering Dolkar’s husband, had already begun preparing doe the main buffet at the outdoor kitchen in another part of the garden. Men were stringing lights outside, and moving small tables and Tibetan rugs into the new hotel dining room.  Meanwhile on one side two ladies were squishing water out of strips of newly carded and crushed wool, and in another back garden an old man was stomping sheep’s wool and water in a bucket much like the bare foot crushing of grapes in a tub.   I wandered off again.  After my daily visit with Karma and her shopkeeper neighbor Nazir from Kashmir, I headed out on a long country walk past Shanti Stupa, and ate a late lunch at a charming bistro on the edge of Leh.  When I returned Jigment and his best man, Shakya, were trying on Jiggie’s wedding togs, first one and then the other tried on the royal purple robe.   A sound system had been installed, and then during the late afternoon all work stopped.  A monk* had arrived and everyone sat on the rugs in the new dinning room and listened to his teachings. 

A Ladakhi wedding consists of two separate events.  The marriage evening, which is centered around a small family event/party of 250 at Jigment’s home and a party of about 350 at Angmo’s home.  She had the bigger family, I was told.   Then on a later date in October, the groom’s family will have a larger dinner for 1500 guests with dancing all night in an open field nearby. Although invited, I missed this event, which when described to me sounded much like a village scene from a Breughel painting.  Each of these events must happen only on an ‘Auspicious’ day determined by a ‘monk’ oracle.   Jigment and Angmo’s wedding was on September nineteenth, and their second party was to be held on October thirteenth.  This was the same auspicious day as Bhutan’s king Wangchuk (the meaning of his name is ‘king’) married his new queen.  Obviously ‘Auspicious’ days are declared yearly for the whole of the Tibetan Buddhist world; the form of Buddhism the Ladakhis follow.

On the wedding evening at exactly 7:00 PM, I gave Jegment his present.  A half hour later the party began.  Everyone was dressed in classic Ladakhi clothes, including me.  The women guests and most of the young people were either eating pre-dinner snacks in the new dining room or dancing and socializing in the garden.  It was in the traditional old Ladakhi kitchen, a large charming room with an ancient stove and shelves stocked with old cooking and serving utensils, where the ceremony would eventually take place.  Around the edges are low seats, where all the family members sleep in the dead of winter when the temperatures reach minus 34 degrees Celsius.  Yet tonight, this old kitchen was a room of ceremony, where about 20 men of the Jigment’s family were seated cross-legged on the low cushioned Tibetan style rugs.  On low tables placed in front of them, they were served the local bread and butter tea, sustenance obviously for the laborious evening ahead.  Soon the family patriarch, who wore a peaked white hat, began a ceremony in which two children held significant mementos of importance. After, the men enthusiastically sang a number of times what I was later told was the traditional wedding song.  Then they rushed off, jumping into cars and driving to the bride’s party to eventually pick up Angmo, the bride, and bring her back to the groom’s abode after much drinking, partying, and eating at her family’s party.  Meanwhile, the party got into full swing at Jigment’s with food, dancing and the consumption of lots of chang, the local beer made from fermented barley, which is reputed to be extremely potent.

 Dinner was served around 10:00 PM at both parties, but they were still serving at 2:00 AM at Angmo’s.  The partying never stopped and some of Jigment’s young friends got happily drunk on chang, which actually made them more fun. At both parties everyone ate, drank and danced. They danced both modern and Ladakhi dances.  All of it was fun, and because of the cold of the evening, I was glad I had bought a winter wool ladakhi dress instead of one made of the lighter materials used in summer.

As far as I could see from the videos of the two parties, the bride and groom just hung around, appendages of the whole affair waiting for all the brue ha ha to end, so they could finally be married.  Eventually it was time for each to dress in their traditional wedding ‘attire.’  Angmo told me it took her only a half hour to put on the layers of wedding clothes she was required to wear.  As she had on two beautiful dresses, one her bridal dress and over that a lovely dress which was a gift from the groom’s mother, a mass amount of beautiful gold and diamond jewelry and a monstrously heavy turquoise and gold headdress, called a Payrak, which is passed down through the families from mother to daughter.  With all that she was wearing, it seemed to me that getting dressed would certainly have taken much longer. 

As the time neared to bring the bride to her new home, the men of the groom’s family passed out 50 rupee notes to the well-wishers at the brides home then carried her off to the groom’s (by car of course.)  Upon arrival at the Jigment’s, Angmo was seated in a chair outside in the street and a monk (there were four monks from Tsemo Monastery at the wedding ‘to do prayer’) read to her the dates of auspicious days in the future. 

Meanwhile the men of the wedding party passed out 50 rupee notes to the well-wishers greeting her if they were holding an auspicious item; something with butter swiped on top.  I had an empty liquor bottle box marked with butter on top and acquired three 50-rupee notes.  Later everyone laughed that my box was really empty, and I was told I did very well in the rupee department.  Long reach, I guess. 

By now Jigment was in his long purple wedding robe and waiting for his new bride.  She was then led into the traditional kitchen.  The men again sat in their low seats. Jigment’s father summoned me to a front row seat. Except for the one picture I got, of a somber Jigment, he giggled with happiness throughout the whole ceremony, while Angmo, who was told to be serious, looked so serious I thought she was scared, which wasn’t the case at all.   And as the couple knelt before a small Ladakh table, the family patriarch stood behind and recited a few words in Ladakhi and the wedding was almost finished.  The guests went back to their dancing, drinking and eating, while Angmo and Jigment were squired to a small upstairs temple where he genuflected two times before the altar of Buddha and she bowed her head.  With the weight her clothes and headdress, Angmo would never had been able to get up if she had tried to kneel down.  Then the two were taken to the Buddhist temple in Leh for what I was told, was a brief, ceremony and the deed was finally done.  The time was about 4:00 AM.  All the guests had left and the bride was taken to Jigment and Angmo’s new private apartment at the far side of Jigment Guesthouse.  It had been recently designed especially for them.  There, her Aunt, who had come as a representative of the her family helped her remove her Payrak, jewelry and her outer layer of clothing, while about five of her close girl friends chatted and watched.  By now all the gardens were quiet and as we all left, the groom entered.  About 8:30 the next morning, a band of four were seated in the garden and played their drums and flutes until the bride was awakened and joined the family for breakfast. 

During the next few days, Angmo’s Aunt stayed to see that all was well. On the second day after the wedding, about 12 oversized gunnysacks of gifts were opened from well-wishers and each gift with the giver’s name(s) and address was recorded.  It took a whole morning even with the help of everyone in the family. In four days, there would be a small dinner of the two families at the brides’ home.  Then life would return to normal until the big night on October 13th

After hugs and Jigment’s father’s and my secret handshake, I headed off over land (something I said I would never do – see previous blog entry: Leh to Srinagar) to Srinagar.   My instincts of course were correct and I doubt I will ever take that road again. After Srinagar, I returned to Dharmsala and McLeod Ganj, for four days of teachings by the Dali Lama.  Then I headed off to Delhi to meet Nancy Jo, a Boca Raton, Florida, friend for a three-week travel adventure in India and Nepal.  How good is that?   Wonderful.   What is also really great is that Angmo and Jigment are planning a trip to visit me in Florida, in the winter of 12013.

*Indian marriages:  Up until recently all Indian marriages were arranged.  Of late, because of higher education causing more women to enter the workplace, there has been a change, mainly among this more highly educated group.  As couples make their own choices, there has been a rise in detective agencies hired by families to check the credentials and background of their child’s future mate.

*Name note:  Each Tibetan Buddhist child can bbe given their two names by their family but generally at least one and often both names are given to them by a famous Lama/ Rimpoche (religious lama leader), Karmapa, or in my case the office of the Dalai Lama.  This means there are no last or what we call family names.  There is no Smith or Jones family as we have in the west.  But just a distinctive combination of two names that relate to their individual person at their time of birth.  I cannot tell you what each name means but I do know that Jigment is actually Jigment Stobgais and Angmo is Sonam Angmo.  Disket’s name means someone who is happy, and she is. 

*Family monk: Each Buddhist family in Ladakh is assigned a monk from a local monastery who must visit the family for mandatory teachings in Buddhists at least once a month for a two-year period.  Then a new monk is assigned to the family and the other one moves on (I think to another family).  The family is required to pay the monk in some tender.  The Jigment Guesthouse gives their visiting family monk clothes and food, where as Angmo told me that her family gave their visiting monk money.

This program of religious education is somewhat resented by some (but not all) of the Buddhist families as they feel that their donations to the Ladakh Buddhist Monasteries should be enough support toward their religious community.  I have been told the Rimpoche who is the religious head of the Ladakh ‘Red Hat’ Monasteries is enormously rich and has a house in New Delhi, the Manali area, and also in Europe.  Is this truth or hearsay?  I got the information from a truly excellent source, but would like to recheck it.  Catch you later on this last bit of information.

Sunday, October 16, 2011


Sorry no posts recently, I've had the flu.  Feeling somewhat better - new blog soon.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011


When the US and UN leave, it looks like the Hagganis Crime family, part of the Zadrai Tribe, may be taking over Afghanistan They get their money from exhortation, kidnapping, smuggling, protection money, and it is thought from wealthy contributors from the Gulf States.  They invest in legitimate businesses such as car dealerships, schools to create a steady stream of young radicals and have a private army of fifty or 60,000 warriors.  

Meanwhile the King of Saudi Arabia is giving the women not only the right to vote, but also the right to run for public office.  Yet the woman who recently drove the family car, is getting ten lashes for breaking the Saudi law that states woman are not allow to drive.  The Saudi King overuled the Courts and has just revoked the female driver's sentence.  Ah!  One bit of sanity in the world.

Gold has plunged to under $1600 an ounce, a 6.6% drop since September 22nd.  While the Chinese have installed gold vending machines because the demand is so high.  As for the smart money and major hedge funds, they are investing in US treasuries and Dollars.

It was also suggested by a follower, that a look at the US Republican Party canididates might give one pause to think, as well.

And James Bond, who could save us all from each and every one of these disasters, has gotten cold feet during the making of his latest movie, about doing stunts on India’s rickety old trains. 

Looks like it’s well over time to cash in our Swiss Francs, which are now being tied to the Euro –heaven forbid – and go buy a Greek Island at wholesale prices.  A little ouzo and Baklava sounds pretty good to me right now.  

Tuesday, September 27, 2011


Leh to Srinagar

Ok, I know! I said I’d never do it, but here I am on the road from Leh through Kargil to Srinagar.  I am doing this because my friend Carol’s perfect new house-warming gift is in Mcleod Ganj.  I didn’t buy it while I was there before because of the rain.  It is only sold on sunny days.  Also, I missed the Dali Lama’s previous teachings so maybe during this visit; I can gain at least a drop of his wisdom.  It will also give me a chance to see my friend Wangchuk again.  McLeod Ganj can be very complicated to get to from Ladakh, so this overland route seemed the best travel choice. (We will see.)

 It was supposed to be a leisurely little drive to Srinagar in a vehicle described as a luxuriously comfortable car.   My idea of a luxury car is a Cadillac or Mercedes limo with over stuffed velveteen seats, a window between the driver and the passengers’ areas, a flowerpot, a carafe of champagne and petit fours.  (Of course, I have yet to see a Cadillac in India, and have seen only one Mercedes during any of my travels throughout the country, although Chevrolets are quite popular here).  The car turned out to be a quite new, perfectly acceptable four-wheel drive six-seater Toyota.  Although Nazir Budoo, my friend, and I had the middle seats, my body felt battered and my back was aching and racked with pain after the first two hours.  This trip that was suppose to take 12 hours and ended up to be fifteen.  This was influenced by tea stops, and buying out of a whole village’s Ladakhi turnips (“they’re very tasty you know” I was told and, “only 12 rupees here instead of 20 in Leh.”), and we carried away bushels. We also stopped on a grassy knoll by a river bank and out came a five tier Tiffin box filled with a lovely lunch of chicken curry, vegetables, and kashmiri bread that Nazir had made for everyone on the trip the evening before. After lunch we still had half way to go, and upon our arrival in Srinagar I felt like a damaged, cruelly treated rag doll that had been left limp in a corner no longer loved or cherished by its owner.      
The road went through two mountain passes, and moonscape landscapes; actually some of the mountains have the look of an elephant’s skin, some the moon’s surface, while others are shale-like, some with craggy, jagged peaks and some as smooth as a new baby’s bottom. This goes on for miles with some of the road paved, and parts covered with small rocks, sand, and gravel.  Besides the quality of the road surface, the road itself has more circuitous curves and switchbacks, bumps and grinding gears than a whore on a Saturday night.   The mountain hues are a cacophony of colors. Lavenders, soft greens, ginger, clay, sand, and grey tease the eye and makes one swallow hard at the very majesty of this rare unusual landscape. Having traveled throughout Ladakh visiting monasteries, it is exactly what I had expected, an unbelievably uncomfortable ride. 

My five traveling companions were five Kashmiri men who unlike the Nepali bus drivers who could listen to that screechingly high-pitched female singing, i.e. Indian movie music for six to eight hours at a time, these guys played Kashmiri music which is delightful but frenetic.  Occanisonally one or more would sing along and once in a while one even added exotic arm dance movements.  The music was played for almost the whole 15 hours. Their music and antics were really quite entertaining and passed the time, But after the first two hours, I wanted to scream shut that darn thing off!  For me, who prefers quiet classical music, NPR, or an occasional little Buddhist chanting, this had become damn wearing.  I have always hated elevator music but could really have used some at this point.

On the way we passed through dreary little villages with the locals wrapped in blankets, long sweeping wool coats and other winter attire; dressed against the chilly weather.  What must they do during the really cold weather of the winter; like  - 34 Celsius?  Not go out?  But some one has to feed the livestock and do the basic chores.  Get the water from the pump outside.  These are questions that whirled around in my head and, again I thought there but for fate go I.  Thank heavens I could just pass through these rather dreary villages of squat, square little houses with straw fodder on their roofs for heat and livestock, rather then be forced to live here a lifetime as a daily participant.  One village, Drass, India, we passed through had a sign, “second coldest place in the world.”  Seems the temps went down to  -60 digresses Celsius, once.  I am sure once was enough.  It was be too cold for my vitals even as we drove, and I was in a warm Chevrolet six seater.   

It was pitch dark when we reached the second high pass and for eight Klms the road became bumpy gravel, with large boulders, and the largest, longest ruts we had experienced on the whole road, NH 1, and they made the drive shear hell.  Across the valley below was a river and on the other side was landscape that is reputed to look much like Switzerland.  But in the pitch black I could not see.  Later talking to Peter and Claire, who covered the same area in the daytime, they said that in some parts in looked like Switzerland and in others more like the Rocky Mountains.  No matter, they said, it was jaw dropping beautiful.   At eleven P.M. we arrived at Sunflower Houseboat, where I was ushered into a room with a private bath (and bath tub), which had the look of a worn out Arabian nights movie set.  It was lavishly decorated with a cornucopia of bright colored prints, a tall mirrored old-fashioned carved head board at the end of the bed, an old dressing table, a brocade covered chair and small seat, and a shower with incredibly hot water.  “Heaven, I’m heaven” I started humming, as I took my shower then snuggled into my cozy bed. 

The next day, Nazir organized a trip by boat through the canals to the most extraordinary store, which was really in a house.  There I saw Kashmiri rugs and beautiful vases with a paper Mache lacquer finish being made.  If I were richer, I would have walked away with at least two or three rugs, but actually the experience of learning about the making of the rugs and seeing this wonderful workshop was a real pleasure I shall not soon forget.

 The first night was incredibly cold but after I got some extra blankets the second night, I was toasty warm.  But ‘hell,’ I had to get up at 4:30 A.M. for the vegetable market, and Claire, Peter and I sat on deck and waited for the elderly boatman, who did not arrive until 5:20.  Truth be known, Peter snuck off back to bed, while Claire and I, wrapped in heavy blankets, lay on the deck cushions on guard for the arrival of the old man and his boat. 

Once he arrived, it was about an hour misty ride to the market in the Shirikara (boat) as the old man paddled from behind, and we sat on comfy colorful cushions wrapped in our blankets against the morning cold. Upon our arrival, long skinny hand paddled skiffs swirled around among each other, full of mostly green vegetables, flowers, saffron, chilies, and Mr. Delicious. His boat had two very large green metal boxes full of chocolate, coconut honey and almond cookies, chocolate nut bars that were really fudge, round lemon, coconut, vanilla, and chocolate balls, all as his sign says, Delicious.  Mrs. Fields, move over, there is a new kid on the block and he has unbelievably Mr. Delicious Cookies.  One could get very fat on these fair tasties and not even care, they are so, well delicious.  

The vegetable market closed about eight A.M. but we left early, and headed back to our tucker tucks to catch up on some well-needed sleep.  The rest of my day was spent taking a two-hour walk along the waterfront and the back road, a stop at the Internet and writing this blog.  Tomorrow morning at seven, Claire, Peter and I will ride off into the sunrise down the big road to the city of Jammu. There we will each catch buses to our different destinations, they to Amritsar, the Golden Temple and the changing of the guard at the Pakistani/Indian border, and I back to McLeod Ganj.

What Happened Next? 

After a tearful good bye with Nazir, not quite, but we were all sad to leave each other.  Peter, Claire and I boarded a hired car, arranged by Nazir – I must say that if you ever decide to go to Srinagar, Sunflower Houseboats is the way to go.  They have an excellent reputation, have been in business for three generations, and the service is excellent.  Look on line or in the section The Best of the Best, for more info, but I digress.  

On the route from Srinagar to Jammu, at least the road was paved, although it too was a winding ride bordering a river, which meant lost of curves and some scary moments.  Claire and I were thankful for good old Vomiford to stave off nausea, while iron stomached Peter muscled through without a whimper, even doing a little reading as we went.  Along the route, we were delighted to see the goat herders squiring massive numbers of goats down the mountain, much like the Swiss do with their cows, heading to their winter grazing areas near Jammu.  During the ride, cadres of soldiers were stationed at measured distances along some of the route, in the country and in some of the villages.  There are some places within the state, with hotbeds of independence rebels, and maybe this was one.  I know that in the past buses had stopped traveling because of these individuals.  Yet the ecomony must be good as there is building everywhere.  We passed many shops that sold only cricket bats.  The more south we traveled the many monkeys lined the road. 

There were also numerous groups of nomads.  Yes, you read correctly, there a many nomads in India.  A family caravan of people, pack horses, occasional goats or a cow, and big, furry, healthy looking muscular dogs on leashes; like migrant workers around the world, they follow the work and the weather.  A number of years ago, I saw a group of nomads, who were actually performers. This merry troop walked along with their goat riding on the back of one of their horses, like a standard bearer for the group, the goat stood nobly on the horse’s back as they meandered forward toward their next destination.

During the ride, I shared my train catalogue with Peter and we all decided to take trains instead of buses to our different destinations.  Peter and Claire to Amristar, and I to McLeod Ganj.   After seeing the Jammu bus station, which can only be described as a ‘hell on wheels’ for three innocent westerns to traverse, we realized the train was an excellent choice.  Upon our arrival at the train station we found our respective trains with the help of a foreign tourist office employee, and after entering three different buildings, we finally got our tickets.  My train to Chukii Bank was leaving almost immediately so Peter raced back to the car and got my luggage, while their train was not until 9:30 in the evening.  So our driver invited them to a marvelously gigantic Indian dinner at his house. 

Upon boarding the train, I found my traveling companions were five very strangely behaving men.  I decided the very obese one, who paid off the conductor for something was the leader of this motley crew, a Sikh, a big burly man who I would not like to tangle with night or day was the enforcer, a ‘suit’ who must have be the front man or their accountant, and two flunkies, who were young boorish and took all the orders they were given.  They all had orange sodas, in which they added whiskey.  Shaking their closed soda pop bottles gave the liquor and the soda a good mix, and then they swigged it down. After that some of them looked glassy eyed, somewhat aggressive.  Captain Hook and his hordes seemed like gentle giants next to these guys.  And they were real.  They talked among themselves, and although it was obvious they spoke English, particularly the two head honchos, they only spoke to me in sign language.  They directed their ‘go fors’ to help me with my bags, but as I wasn’t really sure my bags would get off the train (Chukii Bank is a very short stop), I declined their offer. Did the Indian mafia, or a Bagger King and his peons surround me?  I didn’t know, but I was certainly glad, I was not going to spend the night with these goons. 

I arrived in Chukii Bank  (don’t you love that place name – it just rolls of the tongue) at around 8PM.  I got a taxi for about $30 bucks (1500 rupees) and headed for McLeod Ganj.  We arrived around 11 PM and found everything closed except for the two restaurants that serve liquor.  Taking a chance, we drove up the hill above the temple to Pema Thang, my favorite guesthouse and miraculously the office was opened.  The desk clerk, Tenzin (named after the Dali Lama – by the Dali Lama) said we have no rooms.  Then my waiter friend, Sandwich, yes that is his name, seems it’s a very famous name in Burma, the home of his grandfather, popped out of the back office, gave me a welcoming hug and all of a sudden they found they had one room just for me.  How good is that? So I am here to hear the four-day teachings of his holiness, See Wangchuk, and get Carol’s present, which is only sold on sunny days, and what does it do on my first day here, during the dry season, it rains torrents.  Carol at least I tried!

Thursday, September 15, 2011


Delhi Again

I’m back in my old stamping ground, Delhi.  I was on my way to Bangalore after seeing the Ellora and Ajanta Caves, when the date for the Ladakhi wedding came to my email.  So back to Delhi I came.  If I had continued with my original travel plan, I would have spent a few days in Bangalore and then traveled on to Chennai.  Thank heavens for that wedding email, as the train to Chennai on which I was to have traveled was in a terrible train accident.  It ran into a stationary train.  Several people were injured and I think a few died. 

During my absence from Delhi, the Indian High Courthouse was bombed.  11 people died and there were many injured. I ask do the powers that be know who did it and the answer I received was, “Only those who did it, know who did it at this time.”   I, unlike Forest Gump, seem to never be where the action is happening, thank heavens.  Knock on wood. 

Currently after the bombing of the courthouse, the city is on high alert.  There are many more military personnel out and about.  More vehicle barriers, and the Metro are full of soldiers with those 156 repeating rifles.  Female soldiers ride on the Ladies Only Metro cars and male soldiers ride on some of the cars for mixed riders.  Festival venues and shopping bazaars are particularly protected as they are regarded as natural targets for perpetrators of these awful events.  (Here again, I was told, “This is only window dressing.  The real work is behind the scenes, even the Americans are helping.”

After a week here, it is time to leave.  During my search for a wedding present, I end up clothes shopping for myself.  I bought ten items for 113 US dollars.  Designer India cotton nightgowns for 11 dollars.  Laura Ashley shoppers, eat your hearts out.  Little liberty cotton dresses.  And white cotton top and pants for $6.  How could I say no???

Finally I found a wedding gift but am not sure it will work. I’ll show it the groom’s sisters.  It they say no, I’ll send it home and get something traditional in Ladakh.  I am arriving a few days early to acclimate to the altitude.  It will be cold so I will borrow some clothes from the girls. 

Before I leave I am making another pit stop to the India Post.  Although they insist on wrapping most packages in gaze and hand stitching it up.  They must also sew on a customs sheet and have the sender write in a book, who they are and where the package is going.  India airmail seems to work just fine and a lot cheaper than DHL, etc.  I have sent so many packages that the postman at the desk introduced himself, Winson.  He took my packages, we shook hands and off I went.

  I’ll catch you later with pictures and a description of a Ladakhi wedding. 

Friday, September 9, 2011


Kashmir and Dalhousie

It’s off to Kashmir.  As I refuse to ride on the Leh to Srinagar road, which is a two day trip and somewhat hazardous, I am flying to Delhi.  Upon my arrival, three hours later, I board a plane to Srinagar, the summer capital of Kashmir.  This area is referred to as the Switzerland of India.  It’s a place I have always wanted to go but because of the unrest, I have avoided. I admit, as I’ve gotten older, I have become a ‘chicken livered’ traveler.  Self-preservation has become a high priority.

 The Leh –Srinagar road is just great for the young and even travelers my age if they have lots of stamina and a great immune system.  But even though I am very healthy those are my two weakness health areas.  If I could afford private transportation that would allow me to stop whenever I wished, I would be inclined to travel many of the mountain roads I unfortunately miss.  But for one person it is pricey, and on a bus or in a four-wheel drive, in which the suspension is gone to shreds, these trips can be highly uncomfortable, and personally, I need a week to recover.  That’s why – and I’ll put my ad in here now – if you are young and have the travel gene, go!  If I had come to India when I was 25.  I’m sure my life would have been entirely different (not that I’m complaining).  Even if your urge is not India  - wherever it is, go!  Travel is never a mistake. 

But I digress.  It has been my experience that the Leh and Srinagar airports are the most heavily secured in the whole of India.  As these areas of the northwest of India are bordered by China, which is constantly trying to encroach on Ladakh’s borders, and Pakistan with continuous big and small eruptions either by the incursions of Pakistani Islamic terrorists groups crossing the border, or small independent movements within Kashmir, one can be in the wrong place at the wrong time and the Indian government because of this, takes strong steps to ensure the safety of all travelers, visitors and locals.

Upon leaving Leh, there are three luggage checks, one x-ray machine check upon entering the airport.  Then another x-ray of your bags is done by the individual airlines on which you are traveling.  A traveler may have only a purse and or a computer and camera as carry ons. Every other piece of carry on type luggage is placed in cargo with the rest of the bags.   When my standard carry on backpack was to be shunted off to baggage, I said,  
     “But it has no locks.”
      “We have locks,’ they stated and they did.  So with every zipper locked up with plastic locks, my backpack went off to cargo.  But before any luggage was placed in the hold, there is a third check.  Each owner is charged with pointing out his or her individual luggage at a loading point.  An official then marks the tags and then it is loaded on the flight. One’s personal effects as well as body checks are done three times and at three different locations, the last just prior to boarding the plane. This process is exactly the same when leaving Srinagar, Kashmir. There are lots of military and they are vigilant. The government at these airports is taking no chances.

Viewing Srinagar from the air, it appears to be a pastoral ‘Leggoland’ paradise of small precise hamlets surrounded by trees, gardens, green valleys and hills; a countryside encapsulated by verdant piedmonts and pine covered mountains.   The airport is about ten miles from Kashmir’s s summer capital, Srinagar, which wraps around Dal Lake.  The main road runs along the lakefront and for about a mile and a half it is riddled with shops, hotels, and a military base on the landside. While on the other is a long sidewalk along the lakefront.  On the opposite shore of the lake is an enormously long ghetto of elongated stationary houseboats with their stern porches pointing out toward the street shore.  Small boats hug the sidewalk shoreline ready to take passengers from the tourist-trap shoreline back to the boat on which they are staying, or for a cruise around the lake.  Travelers can rent an individual room on a houseboat or a whole boat. 

India’s drivers live by the horn.  I was recently in a taxi in Delhi in which the driver ran a red light by just using his horn.  In Srinagar car horns are king creating an unbelievable din. Between that and the noise of the hawkers who line the waterfront, the idea of staying on a houseboat was abhorrent to me.  One traveler told me that being on the houseboat immersed them in the local life; a boat stuck in the mud without the rhythm of the water, and constant horns and shouts? No thank you.  I chose the quiet of the Swiss Cottage Inn on the back street, recommended by a well-known travel website as well as a tourist guidebook’s best budget pick. Although I was given a mildewy room with hot water and TV for 800 rupees, it wasn’t too bad.  If I wanted a nicer room in the main building the price increased to 1500, although a lovely Indian lady was given one of the nicer rooms for 1250. One brother had told her he would discount the room to 1250 and the other later quoted her 850; she was charged the 1250 – 44rp to the dollar - rate when she left.  I watched as the owners sized up the guests as they arrived, and then decided the price. (This is standard procedure in many of the guesthouse through out India).  Swiss Cottage Inn certainly didn’t seem a great value, but I didn’t price other guesthouses in the area, although there were many.  I also felt an under current by the older brother, that I, as a western woman traveling alone, who because I talked to the men as well as women guests, must be of ill repute. The younger brother was the much more kind and friendly of the two.  Keeping in mind this is a strict Moslem community, I ignored the insinuation.  But if I had stayed longer, I might have considered a more desirable environment in which to stay. But I was only there four nights because of my foot foible (see Oops, I did it again: Ladakh, and Hospitals), so I didn’t move.

(Note: In McLeod Ganj I met a lovely Italian Lady who had the same feeling about the male Kashmiri hospitality toward single western women travelers.  She visited a lovely lake resort north of Srinagar – one I had hoped to visit – and she told me that in the evening, she was not allowed to go out unless the manger went with her.  She too was treated unkindly, with the same behavior extended to her by the Kashmiri men that I had I received at Swiss Cottage Inn, but on a much more unpleasant scale. After three nights she left, vowing never to return to Kashmir.  A dear friend had much the same attitude bestowed upon her during her one visit to Kashmir a number of years ago. All three of us adhere to the local dress codes; modest clothing and headscarves if necessary, and we are all over 55 years of age.  The only way any of us care to return to Kashmir is with a male companion, so we can be treated with dignity, which is certainly a sad commentary on this lovely travel venue.

May I add, that all Kahmiri men do not behave in this way.  Some are very decent fellows.   If that were not the case, I might still be standing in a drain hole in Leh.  I am highly indebted to those two Kishmiri gentlemen who pulled me out.

While in Sringar, two tourist ventures I indulged in were a city tour by auto rickshaw and a cruise around Dal Lake with four other companions.  Once we cruised off the main part of the lake, where the houseboats are lined up cheek to jowl and the shore noise wraps around your head like a torpedo blast.  As we cruised along, we passed a bevy of houseboats anchored together in a center of the lake.  It was after that, that we began cruising through beautiful little arteries of this body of water lined with a watery shopping mall of interesting shops full of clothes, antiques, artifacts and rugs.  Boatmen docked at whichever store appealed to their passengers and waited while they browsed among the various lovely items and junquey for sale in these different venues.  Whereas Srinagar’s main waterfront street full of horns and hostelries along the lake has a rather trashy feel, the shop-lined waterways are the real and charming tourist shopping areas for the city.

 Further along these magical avenues of water, there are private homes, some simple shacks and others upscale to almost elegant. The five of us cruised along in the dusky cool.  As the evening came upon us, our boatman was guided by the sparkle of lights of the private houses and small local businesses along the shore.  Occasionally a boat full of fresh produce passed on the way to the main market.  The farmer traveled to the market with his goods in the late evening, and docked his boat into its little produce market slot, where he slept in his boat until 5 am, when the fruit and vegetable market opened and he could sell his produce to the early morning shoppers.  There were also fishermen, who with the help of family members were preparing their nets for a night of fishing in the lake.  The entire boat ride was a mystical event that changed my whole attitude about the area.  Off the ‘main drag’, as with so many tourist venues, there is a vibrant community just waiting to be explored.

The city tour was quite different.  It mainly included numerous gardens and mosques and barely touched on the old city. The Chaska Shahi Gardens were certainly pretty with fountains, and both tourists and locals were enjoying them. But I found the Pair Mahal Gardens much more interesting.  High on a hillside on multiple levels with high walls between each, the garden became a lookout for marvelous views of Dal Lake.  Unfortunately on each level there was a small army barricade with soldiers snuggled down in bunkers holding 156s, the automatic weapon of choice among the Indian military in both the metro and country areas, at the ready.  Some sections of these gardens were quite nicely cared for, yet they were scruffy in others.  Having experienced gardens like Tivoli outside of Rome, which is perfectly maintained and full of magic fountains, some mysteriously spouting at odd times, these partially maintained so called Mogul Gardens with their phlegmatic fountains were something of a disappointment. The Botanical Garden, although small, was somewhat more interesting in that it has a great variety of trees; an Oak, Plane trees, Willows, Maples, four or five different kinds of Pines and Bottle Brush trees, as well as bushes of Oleanders, which created for me, a short but very agreeable walk.  

In the noontime heat, after four so called Mogul gardens and the Botanical garden, I said,  ‘enough,’ and we were off to see mosques, most of which I found not only interesting but also quite beautiful.   The Hazratbal Shrine or The White Mosque, which is incredibly photogenic at a distance, is featured on postcards and pictures at every vender’s stall.  Even though it is a constructed in beautiful white marble, upon arrival I found it was the least interesting of the four mosques I visited.

 Hazratbal Shrine has a lakefront location and visitors relaxed on the grassy area along the water.  The main prayer room entrance, for men only, had a see through metal grid, which I peered through at a distance, but was not allowed to enter.  On the waterside of the building was the women’s prayer area.  To get to it, women had to of course take off their shoes, and then walk across hot tiles.  These tiles were scorching hot and my feet burned with every step.  I actually did not go the distance to the women’s enclosure, but hurriedly returned to my shoes.  The Moslem women who attend that mosque must have much tougher feet than I, or maybe they just don’t go to the mosque.

 But my only thought at the time was, ‘why must Moslem women have to suffer this way?’ Upon visiting Sikh, Buddhist and Sufi Moslem Temples, I had noted that everyone’s, men and women’s, comforts were considered in the design of their religious environments.  Why couldn’t the Moslems take women’s comfort in consideration too?  I recalled at Beijing, China’s Mosque, the women’s prayer area was a walled ‘pen’ with no roof.  What kind of discomfort must those women experience in the winter months or during inclement weather.  

At the White Temple, when I had finally put on my shoes, I leaned toward the smaller of the men’s covered and enclosed prayer rooms – I was about twenty feet away from the door – when what I would consider a radical Islamic man came rushing over and began shouting.  So I moved over toward the larger prayer room, the one enclosed by the grill and again maintained a respectful distance away from the actual entry.  The obnocuiously rude man again hurriedly moved toward me. 
      “Don’t look in there,” he said.  “That is not for you. All of us can pray anywhere.  Under a tree.  Women can pray under a tree.  Women do not need that or any building.” You can be assured I hot tailed it out of there.  After all, I was only a visitor, behaving in respectful good taste, taking an interest in this man’s culture and religion.  Fortunately, at the other mosques I visited, I was made to feel far more welcomed. 
 Jamia Masjid, built in the 15th century is located in the heart of the old city.  Its towering presence is built around a lovely courtyard with a pool in the middle.  370 magnificent wooden pillars enhance the interior prayer rooms.  These interiors were divided into four sections one on each side. The women were afforded one large section designated to them, almost exactly the same as the men’s three other prayer areas.  Here, at Jamia Masjid, young Moslem men who genuinely wanted me to see their mosque and also learn where I was from greeted me.  They seemed pleased I chose to visit Kashmir, and also their particular house of worship. 

The Khangah Mosque is the oldest in Srinagar and an architecture delight, built of all wood around the 13th century.  Situated between two bridges along a long river that flows from Afghanistan down through Kashmir, its rich dark stained edifice with peaked roofs of different levels and curly queued wooden banisters leading to different prayer sections for the women evoked in me scenes of Norwegian landscapes, ice princesses and ancient fairy tales.  Although I could not enter the men’s section of this lovely little mosque, I did circumnavigate the exterior and on the backside and on the opposite side from the women’s prayer area, I found some magnificent ceramic tile pictures, which only added to its charm. 

Then it was off to the Pir Dostgir, the Sufi Mosque. Sufi Moslems are exceedingly friendly.  The exterior of welcoming green and white tiles makes one want to see what’s inside, which upon entering I found was full of life.  The main focus of the mosque was a glassed mausoleum where the body of the original Sufi leader’s son was laid to rest.  Two large prayer rooms, one for men and the other for women sided this glass encased shrine.  Sufi women sat on rugs surrounded by their children.  Men sat in their section, but some sat on the edge so they could indulge in whispered conversations with the women in their designated section.  Both milk tea and little cakes were there for every one to enjoy.  A Sufi woman brought me a small cake and a Sufi man and woman briefly chatted with me about their religion.  Sufis impressed me as a happy clan who took delight in their God, religion and each other.  (Read Nine Lives by William Darwymple – one chapter discusses how more radical Moslems in Pakistan are trying to wipe out the Sufi sect of the Moslem religion).

Down the street from the Sufi Mosque is a Christian church where Jesus Christ is reputedly buried.  A few years ago it had so many visitors, the Srinagar government closed it down.  Although it has been reopened, I did not go in.  I am not sure why.

My last excursion was to Sri Pratop Singh Kashmir’s main Museum. To get in, I had to pass along a barred wire dirt path past a military barricade with more soldiers holding those guns again, while another group staying at my guesthouse told me that when they to visited the museum on the same day, and they had to wait twenty minutes during prayer time before they could enter.

 A new museum building had been built and was sitting shiny and fresh in the distance but has not yet opened. The museum I entered was old and badly organized.  Much of the artifacts were either poorly labeled or not labeled at all. As usual, there was a room full off old guns, left over from the British and their Sepoy legions labeled ‘guns,’ and military implements.  The cloth and material section from the British Colonial Era was the most enjoyable, and I wondered where the artists were who could be making a fortune copying and selling these wonderful patterns?

Although Ladakh has many army bases and one even has to pass through some to get to different monasteries in the Ladakhi area, Kashmir was the most militarily guarded place I have ever been.  There are small barricades in the metro in Delhi (with soldiers carrying guns) and one must go through a metal detector ever time you enter, and have your bags go through a machine, but in Srinagar there were soldiers everywhere even strategically placed along the back street where my hotel was located every evening until about 11 p.m.  The place was fortified, except at the mosques and on the lovely back waterways, military was everywhere. 

After an over night train ride to Pathencot, I got on a bus to Dalhousie, a hill station that I had heard a great deal about.  Had to go!  Unlike the bus drivers in Nepal, this bus driver not lonely drove sanely, but also did not unindate his passengers with insanely loud Bollywood music. Unfortunately it was the rainy season.  I mean almost constant rain! I had booked a guesthouse which was recommended as number 3 on a highly respected website and found it had paint peeling off the walls, and it was so poorly insulated that the bedding was wet to the touch.  Also n the morning on the inside pane of the window, I wrote my name in the condensation.  Dalhousie is a lovely place for long walks and magnificent views, but not much else seemed to be happening there.  Although I did check the price of better quality guesthouses/hotels, these ranged from 70 or 100 dollars a night (I was within my budge at 600 rupees), in the monsoon season.  What must their prices be during their regular tourist season if they were too pricey for my blood during the monsoons?  So I decided to leave.  After one night, the next morning, I took an incredibly expensive four hour ride in a private car back down the beautiful mountain to Mcleod Ganj, known as the rainiest location in India, to the Pema Thang guesthouse (my favorite), which I knew was at least well sealed from the rain, at a rate I could afford with a view that would indulge my soul. 

Note:  Coming up – Dharmarsala/Mcleod, home of the Dali Lama
                                 Elora and Ajinta Caves, outside of Aurangabad, India
                                A Buddhist Ladakhi Wedding


Monday, August 8, 2011



Prior to my leaving for Ladakh, I stopped in at Max Hospital because one of my ‘kindergarten tubes’ had fallen out of my left ear (where it went, I am loath to wonder – did I swallow it? who knows).  Anyway I was concerned, so Max, which is the best private hospital in Delhi, got paid a visit.  Max is a wonderful place - if you like hospitals, which for me are much, like indulging in mud wrestling, if you get my drift – all clean and shinny like the western hospitals I am use to. 

Then in Leh, as you may recall, I fell into a very deep water run off drain hole by the German Bakery.  There I was taken to the Out Patient Casualty Department (MOT) of the local government hospital.  Once I arrived I was directed to a window where I was ask the reason for my visit, given a small form with my name, age, and my problem written on it and was then sent to room 19.  I walked down the dreary grey walled hallway lined with wooden benches looking for the proper sign, 19, Orthopedics.  Overhead were signs directing patients to little spider ante ways where their particular specialist could be found. Mine was at the second leg and the benches around it were packed with patients young and old waiting to be seen.

‘Had they too all fallen into the same drain hole?’ I wondered, as I sat down, knowing I was in for a long wait.  After a short while, the young Ladakhi girl sitting next to me pointed to my slip and then toward the doctors’ closed door and said, ”There, you take it there.”  Getting up I took my paper to the door and when it opened I handed it to a woman dressed in an Indian sari who took it, looked at me, then at the paper and ushered me in. 

Inside were two desks, the front sides forced together, and a doctor sat at each desk with a stool at the side of each.  After one of the doctors had finished with his current patient, I was directed to sit on the stool.  The doctor examined my left knee and foot, and the abrasions running from above my elbow down my right arm almost to my wrist.  “X-ray,” he decided, “x-ray on your knee.”  Wouldn’t you know it would be my left knee?  That was the one I put the most weight on during quick stops in tennis.  That was the one that received the most pressure when I danced.  Damn!  My left Knee. My weakest link. 

Then I was sent off to pay 60 Rupees for the to x-ray service.  When I reached x-ray, armed with my payment slip, there were a number of people ahead of me, but three men cut into the line (one had what looked like a hole in his head), and after that I was taken in ahead of everyone else.  When the deed was done and the film processed, it was handed to me by the corner; a still dripping wet x-ray, and I was send back to the doctor.  Again I was taken in immediately and told I had torn Ligaments on the inner side of my knee.  Hindu instructions were written on my paper and I was then sent to the MOT, Minor Operations Theatre, a big grey cement room with bits of dried mortar running down from in between the molten looking rock squares.  Inside were a desk and three chairs on one side, two examination tables behind a green curtain and one metal and two plastic stools sat in a qusai line opposite.  Along the wall were wooden tables with sterilized gauzes, scissors, cotton batten, and red antibiotic strips of medicated material.  They sat me on the metal stool.  Rinsed my arm with saline solution and placed a couple of the red medicated strips on my wounds.  Then they covered the strips with cotton batten and over that a whole role of gauze tightly attached with a piece of tape.  A World War II bandage, if I ever saw one.  “See you tomorrow,” they explained, “and we’ll change the dressing.”

Well that certainly interfered with my plans to see the Indus river valley, Zankar, and Lake Pangong Tso, where I had planned to stick out my tongue at the Chinese soldiers on the Tibetan side of the border, who try to encroach on Ladakhi/Indian soil and lakes).

After the initial next day visit, I had to go to the MOT every other day. Depending on the number of patients and amount of help available, some days they dressed three people’s wounds at a time, and sometimes just me. Occasionally there was an emergency, a man on a stretcher brought in with what looked like a hole in his abdomen, a young man carried on the back of a male family member with his foot and leg in a caste, a sick child with a cute on his forehead.   But most days, it was just the usual line up of cuts and scrapes.  Every day that I went, a different practitioner often greeted me.   But I seemed to be getting better with no infections – I am deathly afraid of infections in out of the way travel venues.  As the cuts on my arm had not quite healed, and I was leaving the next day for Srinagar, Kashmir, I was told to go to the government hospital when I arrived and have the bandage changed there. 

Srinagar’s Government hospital seemed much more of a hodgepodge of confusion then the one in Led.  After being pointed toward the proper door for out patient services, I was then sent to a window to pay five rupees for service.  That’s about eight cents US, and with my payment slip as proof, I was sent to see the doctor, a charming young woman who decided that I needed an x-ray on my still swollen left foot.  But first my arm was re-bandaged.  Then I was sent to another window to pay 60 Rs for the x-ray.  With that slip in hand off I went to x-ray.  ‘Hospitals are fun.’ 

Across from the hospital were a large number of locals sitting on the grass behind a chain link fence eating their lunches. As I walked back and forth from building to building, as if at Wimbledon watching a match, their eyes snapped in unison, watching my every move. How strange to see a western at their hospital.

  When the x-ray was done, I was handed my dripping wet result, and sent off to the orthopedist.   Again I was pushed ahead of other patients.  It is amazing that after being treated as a superior patient in every previous situation in India’s government hospitals, how I had a momentary feeling that it was my due. Bad Bobbie! 

Upon entering I was told to lay down on an examining table, no matter that there was another doctor as well numerous people in the room.  First, the doctor looked at the bandage on my arm, ripped it off and threw it aside.  Then he looked at the x-ray and my foot.  “You have chipped a bone on the upper top of your foot just below the ankle.  You will have to go in a caste for four weeks.  We can put you in a regular caste for free or you can go to the market and buy a walking caste, bring it back and we well also put that one on for you free.  Any doctor anywhere can take it off, so it will not stop your travels.” 

“I think I need to think about this, before I do anything,” I said.  At that point, the doctor turned to the tall, lanky, thin-faced man in a yellow shirt, who had ushered me in, and said, ”Take her.” And the yellow shirted man led me away, down the stairs toward the entryway of hospital.  As we neared the door he stopped and turned to talk to a friend. That’s when I made my escape.  There was no way a man in a yellow shirt, a yellow shirt mind you – I have always hated yellow shirts, something unsavory about them – was going to take me to my walking death for four weeks without a second opinion.   

So after only four days in Kashmir, a place I had always wanted to see, I had to leave.  Within two days I had a flight to Delhi, and even though the next day was Sunday, I headed out to good old Max, where they were waiting for me with nurturing arms.  An appointment no problem, the next day at 11 a.m.  On Monday morning with all my x-rays, of both my foot and my knee in hand, I was squired into the office of a lovely orthopedist, Dr. Singh.  As I handed him all my x-rays, I explained my situation, and about my escape from the Kashmiri Government Hospital.  Dr. Singh smiled and sent me off for four more x-rays.  Upon my return with dry pictures in a proper medical sleeve, the doctor carefully studied them on his back-lighted screen. 
“Do you want the good news or the bad news first?” He asked with no hint of what was to come. 
“The bad news,” I responded, after all, although he spoke in a monotone, his voice did not have the sound of major concern.
“You’re old.”  He said.  Like this was news? “And the good news is that you have nothing broken.”  I clapped like a child
‘Thank heavens,’ I thought, ‘no caste for four weeks.’
“But you do have old age osteoporosis and you need to start taking some pills now.” 
‘Hurray nothing’s broken. Yek more pills.’ I thought.  “Ok, sounds good to me.”  He wrote some prescriptions and off I went to the hospital pharmacy. 

Altogether, the x-rays were $32, Dr. Singh’s fee was ten US dollars and the medications, around  $20.  Added together the whole medical cost was a little over $63 US dollars and I was told that Max hospital had the most expensive x-rays in town.  I was also told that 85% of the orthopedic department patients at Max were from Afghanistan.  Amazing!   Not really, with the sad situation in that country.  European, American and Canadian patients who go there for the hip polishing procedure (the best hip polishing procedure Doctor in the world is at Max Hospital - instead of having the standard hip replacement, which is done in the United States and Canada), are rare medical birds in this hospital.  I was certainly a rare event and again, I was treated as such, with a young nurse to squire me around through the whole Max process. 

Since my celebrity visit to Max, I am still taking it somewhat easy, but am thankful that Max Hospital is here for me in India.   Yet even now that I am in Macleod Ganj, a place with reasonably well taken care of streets and roads, I watch my feet. After falling in two ‘holes,’ a pavement or drain hole could sneak up on me any time and I want to be ready.  


Monday, July 25, 2011



It’s raining in Leh.  This means it’s snowing on Khardong La Mountain.  Seven thousand feet below I can see the crystal bluish sheet of snow falling on the mountain peak.  It began yesterday afternoon and snowed through the night. Buses, in fact all transportation will have to wait until the snow melts or is removed and the Manali to Leh pass is no longer blocked. The snow has created enough condensation so that a slight chill prevails, and a misty rain fills the air.  My friend Disket loves this weather.  She pulls her long Indian scarf over her head and basks in the rain, while I shiver in the chilly dampness. Except that I have to go to the MOT (Medical Operations Theatre) at the hospital this morning, the rest of the day I am cozy in my big sumptuous room at Olden Guesthouse surrounded by continuous windows on two sides. Here, like in so many countries outside the US, the first floor is what we call the second, so in my first floor room I am among the Poplar trees, with a view down on the garden patio below, the guesthouse next door and the snow covered mountains in the distance. In a day it will be warm and sunny again and I will again be happy with the weather. Ever since the great flood of 2010, a once every hundred years event (so I am told) created by thunderous half hour storms in seven separate locations around Ladakh, Led being one, the electricity is an on and off affair (becoming more on than off lately), but the Internet is intermittent. 

Ladakh is a land where fairy tales can be created with its whimsical Ladakhi architecture, and the many ladakhi men and women who still wear their local dress daily.  Middle aged and elderly women in their everyday native clothes spread out material along the main street and sell vegetables from their gardens. Most of the laundry is still done in the rivers and heaps of beds sheets from the guesthouses as well as personal laundry can be seem piled along the river and stream banks that flow through out Leh.  ‘Julay’ is the Ladakhi greeting which has many meanings ‘good morning, hello, thank you, and goodbye.   The loving kindness of the ladakhis is remarkable.  They still maintain a strong sense of family. There are arranged and semi-arranged marriages, with the new brides moving in with the husband’s in-laws creating extended families within a household.  No mother daughter conflicts, no need for old folks homes, or day care centers, here.  At a ladakhi family birthday dinner party, I attended recently; the cake was eaten first and the dinner much later in the evening. It is the women and the children who are served first, then the men.  ‘Always ladies first,’ I was told.  There is also equality of the sexes, ‘that has always been our way,’ a man told me at the ATM.  No need for women’s libbers to tell these peoples how to treat women; it’s their way of life.  Everyone works hard.  And they care for each other ‘hard.’ Although they may have a television and/or a washing machine, the old Ladakhi life style is still in tack. 

The houses in the city of Leh and the surrounding villages all have lovely green vegetable and flower gardens each surrounded by high stone walls.  Narrow paths lined with little streams and poplar trees wind between the walls among these properties, where one might meet a family cow, a donkey or two, or a friendly dog on their daily outings.  Yet, most of the land is a mountainous moonscape, in which numerous monasteries (or Gompas as they are called) are built on mountainsides or into the rock faces, in desolate countryside venues.  Known as the land of a hundred monasteries, once you a have arrived at one of these amazing architectural feats, there is always a hike necessary to get to the actual gompa.

 In the summer, the high season for tourists, the weather is anywhere from the high sixties to the high eighties.  They have about a four-month season with government transportation going through the pass from June 15th (weather permitting) to September 15th, unless of course snows come. Then traffic stops in both directions from Manali and Ladakh. I have heard tales of travelers having to wait on their bus as many as 19 hours for a landslide or snow fall to be cleared before the traffic could proceed again across the mountain pass into or out of Led. That is why I fly even though I have been told that the landscape is exceedingly beautiful on the overland route. 
Currently the Indian Government is building three tunnels just outside of Manali at Solang that will allow traffic to go in and out of Led even in the dead of winter. It is said this is for the Ledakhis’ benefit, but with the large military presence and the Chinese threat, I assume these tunnels are more for the Ladakhis’ protection by the military then just for travelers and food stuff to come in and out of this landlocked mountain haven. 
 In the winter the temperature goes down to minus 34 degrees Celsius, and no one gets in or out unless they fly. During the school year, besides math, science, and history, children study Ladakhi, Hindi, and English. They also learn many Mother Goose Rhymes and Western Fairy Tales.  Schools close December 15th and do not re-open until March 15th.  In preparation for the extreme cold, families cover all the windows in their houses with plastic to keep in the heat, and they heat only a few of the rooms in their houses on the ground floor level; staying cozy until the worst of the cold abates.  

Many tourists come in July for the Cham dances at Hemis Monastery (the two day Hemis Festival) and trekking, while others come for the Ladakh Festival from September 1st until September 15th.  The Ladakh Festival begins with a delightfully entertaining parade the first day, which concludes with Ladakhi dances and entrainment at the main field, both in the daytime and evening, Bow and Arrow contests, a series of Mountain Polo contests (the locals against the military), a day of Cham dances at one of the monasteries, and camel rides and yak butter tea tents in the Nubra Valley. 

There is a large military presence, which does not impede on the locals or tourists except at the ATMS, where everyone, tourist, locals and military alike join long cues daily to get cash.  The Chinese military is often trying to encroach, particularly at Pangong Tso    Lake, on the Indian/Ladakhi border and the military is here to protect the land and lake borders as well as maintain the roads in this mountainous fairyland.  As Ladekh is located in the Indian State of Kashmir-Jammu, the Indian Army is also here to help stop insurrections by Kashmiri militants as well as border skirmishes with Pakistan. 

Although Jigmet Guesthouse was my first choice, because I could not reach them this year by email or phone, I have stayed in three different guesthouses during my stay.  The first, Saimam was lovely, very clean but expensive.  It had wood floors, which I like a great deal because of my asthma, and every morning tea was brought to my room, which was a really nice way to start my days.  The second was Olden House owned by Jigmet’s sister Disket’s, husband’s family, which is on the other side of the hill. Here I had a big cozy room, hot showers from seven to eight every morning, and Disket kindly brought me hot water for tea every morning.  Besides running the guesthouse Disket also works at the hospital as a lab Tech and she and Sangay, her husband, would take me with them on the mornings I had to go to MOT for my arm dressing (see lower paragraph).  They also had a wonderful birthday party for their niece Kunsal and me, with dinner dances and presents.  I taught them all The Wheels on the Bus and The Hokey Pokey, which were big hits, and the girls did Indian and Ladakhi dances for everyone, which were beautiful as well as fun to watch.  Sangay’s mother and I formed a warm relationship during which she decided I was her other sister.  Often during my eight-day stay she would have me down for tea.  Disket too would decide my food intake was too ‘light’ and insist I eat a late dinner with them.  I was sorry to leave, but I was off to my old haunt, Jigmet’s, my favorite guesthouse in Ladakh (although I love being in Olden House as well).  Not only is Jigmet (the guesthouse is named after their only son, a likeable efficient young man who keeps the guesthouse running like clockwork [with the help of his parents, two cows and a whiny cat]) a great guesthouse, the location just off the beaten path, is excellent in relation to Leh’s main street and to local site seeing venues like Shanti Stupa and other local walks through out the area. I have a lovely room here in the newer building with two sides of floor to ceiling windows giving me both a garden as well as and an expansive view across the mountains, a sitting area, and all day hot water showers. Additionally, they also serve breakfast on the premises, which I find a great plus. (See Chapter: Sleeping Around for contact information for Jigmet and Olden Guesthouses), 

The relationship within Ladakh between humans and animals is a very kind and interesting one.  In Leh city there are lots of stray dogs.  Although some are black, most are ginger brown with thick furry coats.  ‘Skanki dogs’ or street dogs are mostly friendly fellows, who trustingly take their daily naps everywhere, on doorsteps, parking spots, sidewalks, and people just walk carefully around them.  In summer they forage for food from restaurants (although I know some dogs still don’t get enough to eat) and in winter the locals feed them so they don’t starve.  This symbiotic relationship seems to work but unfortunately I’m told that in the winter when the dogs snuggle together for warmth their little sex rims go zing, zing, zing and more puppies are born in the spring.  There are also small groups of donkeys that travel together, two donkeys in particular hang out daily in the middle of main street dabbling along with cars carefully driving around so as not to harm them or cause them any stress. When humans are crossing the streets drivers just honk their horn and go barreling through.  There are also the cows with tags in their ears that take their daily walks wandering in and out of traffic and on footpaths. Secure in their safety, they saunter home at the end of the day for their dinners and daily milking. (Disket actually named one of their family cows after me i.e., Bobbie the Cow. How good is that? The Ladakhi community is mainly Buddhist; they are vegetarian and only eat mutton in the winter when no vegetables are available.  So it is the natural belief of this community that it belongs to both the animals and the humans and that everyone, both two legged and four legged members have a right to all exist happily together within its confines.  Just another one of the fairyland aspects of Ladakh.  

Even though it is at such a high elevation (over 12000 ft) and is so dry that I have a constant bloody nose, scaly crocodile skin and straight wispy hair that sticks out like the scarecrow’s in The Wizard of OZ, I love visiting Ladakh.  The last time I was here, I enjoyed the Ladakh Festival, and took a number of trips to many of the monasteries. It is amazing how each one is somewhat different.  This year besides meeting my English friend, Carol, I had planned to visit Pangang Tso Lake on the Ladakhi/Chinese border, and the Indus Valley, but unfortunately I did it again.  I fell in a drain hole by the German bakery.  Unlike the one I fell in Ubud, Bali, this one was too deep to climb out of, and two very strong Kashmiri gentlemen lifted me out as if I was weightless and set me in a chair next to the uncovered offender.  I did not break any bones, but did tear some ligaments around my left knee and have a very swollen left foot.  I also scraped my right arm and have to go the MOT at the hospital numerous times to have what looks like  ‘WWII’ dressings changed to heal my wound, but they work.  Seeing the orthopedists at least three times as well as having arm dressings changed every other day for two weeks and an x-ray on my knee has cost me 60 Rupees – 43.5 Rupees to the dollar.  Do the maths, less then $2 US dollars.  When I asked, ‘don’t I owe you more?’  The answer was, ‘you are our guest.’
Note: (I have been thinking about my new talent for falling into holes and realized, I have a real circus clown ability.)

Shopping in Leh is also great fun.  I had never really spent time in the Leh shops before but my friend Carol, an avid shopper for both jewelry and beautiful materials, introduced me to some great Tibetan/Ladakhi shops packed full of the most beautiful and amazing stuff.  One could go crazy with the choices here and Carol walked away with at least ten necklaces (now she’s in the Manali area buying emerald earrings) all in interesting Tibetan or Ladakhi styles. I, not as avid a shopper or maybe more thrifty, bought a few of things but, I have many more months of travel then Carol, and wonderful Jewelry like clothes can be found in many places around the world.  As for the shopkeepers, I buy local Ladakhi/Tibetan. 

Many Kashmiris open shops here during the summer and although they are very nice people, they have a habit of hanging outside their shops and accosting tourists as they pass by with their ‘come inside, have a look, I give you best price, [and] looking is free’ spiel which is not only annoying but also distracting.  Once inside it is my experience that these men never stop talking.  It gives one no time to think or contemplate the many beautiful items they have on display. It’s almost like a stateside teenager’s continuous rap that bores into your head and never stops.  On and on they go like a carnie spiel, until after telling them politely no many times and it doesn’t seem to sink in, I have to use the same line that worked so well with those aggressive high IQ gifted kids with whom I spent so my of my life; “What is it you don’t understand about the word no!”  Although I never like saying it, they are surprised at my response, and that stops the Kashmiri shopkeepers in their tracks without a retort. Sometimes it’s a nod, sometimes a sheepish smile but at least I am left alone to gaze in their window.  After all like any shopper if something really catches my eye, I would certainly enter their shop without all that annoying prodding.

Hemis Monastery is the Ladakhi center of the Red Hat sect of Tibetan Buddhism.  Interestingly, unlike the Dai Lama’s Yellow Hat sect, the Red Hatters do not shave their heads.  Their leader is Rampoche Gyalwang Drukpa who spends his summers in Ladakh.  Where he spends his winters, I have yet to ascertain.  The Cham dances here like at Rumtek (reminder: Rumtek is Black Hat Sect) begin with the Black Hat Sect dance, which I am told is traditional during most Cham dance festivals.  These presentations also include the Skull Dance, which is generally preformed by the younger monks, because there is lots of running around and in some instances stealing small items from the audience, such as a hat or shoe.  Part of the earlier performance of the day includes gifts to a deity, the fighting off evil spirits (that’s why you see so many skulls on the costumes and the Skull Dance as these are deterrents to evil) and in the end the chopping up of the cake of evil to ensure a good next year.  Many Local people come to observe the demise of evil, the cake, as its death bodes well for their future year.  I have seen Cham dances three times and although the dances, pomp, and ceremony are much the same, the masks and costumes, some many hundreds of years old, each are often quite different from another monastery.  Also each time I have seen the Skull dance it has been presented quite differently yet always with a great deal of fun.  

Although I had to limp up the final path to the Hemis Gompa, this year I rode the forty klms to see the Cham dances at the Hemis Festival with my new friend Alexei. We were the only westerners aboard the local bus and it was refreshing not to be inundated with the high-pitched Indian movie music usually played on Indian and Nepali buses.  Rather, on this bus, the driver played Buddhist chants, or mantras.  Alexei was in heaven, as a Hari Krishna, and like the Ladakhis who surrounded us; he could say his mantras to the sound of the real thing, as I sat silently enjoying the spiritual aurora that filled that old rickety bus. As we rode along, I also basked in the wonderful stratifications of the mountainous rock faces.  Depending on the sun’s placement, the mountains had variegated lines of color; pinks, greens, and browns, purples and hints of grey.  The mountainous beauty, just as it did three years ago, again took me by such surprise that my eyes welled with tears and I felt a joyful burst of pleasure.  Although earlier in my travels I thought I should go to Mount Kelish in western Tibet, as it is revered by Buddhists, Hindus, Jains and Bons alike, just to check; being in Ladakh again made me absolutely sure, that ‘Yes, Ladakh is the Soul of the World’ and I would come here every summer for the rest of my life if I could.