Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Images of Ladakh

Monastery on a mountain side
Typical momastery entry


Me, Dolma, Dora, and the artist, Ruth
Stupas along the road

During a trekking visit to Ladakh, Ruth Bleif drew these numerous sketches of the country.  
A Ladakh mounain scene

The full mountain scene

A branch of apricots 

Apricots are a major crop in Ladakh.    
During apricot season, they are so plentiful, local shopkeepers hand them out to customers in their shops. Often offered with a cup of tea. There is also a wonderful apricot drink one can buy for twenty or thirty rupees in shop at the end of the main street.   This is also where one goes to refill water bottles for about 7 rupees.  Between the woven paper bags and reusing of water bottles the Ladakhis are mindful of their environment.
A  stupa and monastery windon 

A yak  

You will never see a yak in a zoo, because they can only survive above ten or twelve thousand feet or higher.  They are wonderful Himalayan pack animals, and Tibetans and other mountainous people give their yaks names groom them and treat them like members of the family.  Yaks are obviously much loved animals among Himalayan people.

If you are interested in Ruth's work, please contact her at ruthbleif@gmail.com 

Friday, September 19, 2014


Me, Dolma, Dora and her friend Ruth

Dolma, my friend who sells me jewellery whenever I come to Leh, invited me on a very pleasant day out. Yet, a day I found to be an odd experience.  

Landscape along the way
 It seems her German friend, Dora with a friend named Roland, I assume both Buddhists, during one of their treks, wandered upon an antique, crumbling monastery out in hillsides west of Leh not far from Likir, a large Monastery  founded in 1088 AD.

Our first view of Ney Monastery in the distance

side wall of Ney Monastery

Here, they felt the magical powers of the area, and decided to build a new monastery on the this mystical ground.  After 12 years, they have finished Ney Monastery, but there are as yet no monks living there.  Ney has become affiliated with Likir Monastery and the monks from Likir come and have pujas (prayer sessions) at Ney but none have yet moved in.  “They will come.”  Dora believes.  But my friend Jigmet, at my hotel, says fewer and fewer young Ladakhis are becoming monks.  “We are importing monks from Nepal,” 
he claims.
Interior monastery art 

Interior monastery art

All the exterior and interior art in Buddhist Monasteries have either religious meaning or depicts an important individual or event in the religion's history.  In the prayer room of 1000 Buddhas, there are actually one thousand little statues of Buddha.

Poplar tree ceiling found in most Ladakhi monasteries and houses

Monastery room of a thousand Buddhas

Lady who cares for Ney Monastery

- The neighbour

Interior Monastery art

Travelers come and stay at Ney Monastery (I met a German lady, who with her husband and daughter were in residence for three weeks), but even now fewer travellers have come for extended  stays.  You too, could come and stay at Ney for an extended time.

After being served a satisfying vegetarian lunch, and taken a pleasant country side walk down the mountain road which leads to Ney, home we drove, back to Leh and our respective hotels.  
A local getting her water from a mountain stream

A migrant worker.s home 

One of many streams running down from the Himalayan Mountains

A field of Barley

A local house
Old stupas along the road

 A view of Ney Monastery from the distance


Thursday, September 4, 2014

Recently the sister of my dear Ladakhi friend, Dolma (Disket’s mother-in-law), died.  I  was quite humbled to be allowed to attend the Ladakhi funeral on August 17th, and even more so, to be allowed to take pictures. 

Well to do Ladakhis send to the monastery for a large number of Lamas to come to the deceased’s household and pray over the body for as many as five to seven days until the day the body is cremated.  After the cremation, at the monastery, morning prayers continue to be said for forty-nine days.  

The home

The yard

I was invited to attend on the day of cremation. Dorje and I walked together to the deceased’s home at 12 PM.  The rather big  two story house had a large room on each level in which sat women mourners around the edge of the each of these two rooms (I suspect about 20 women in each) from which, I would hear occasional soft chants and prayers.  

Upon my arrival, Dorje gave me a box of cookies to take in as an offering to the family.  Disket directed me into the lower room where her mother-in-law, my friend, and the sister of the decased was sitting. I bowed to her as I gave my offering.  Then I returned outside, to a large lawn area, where I was given a chair, cookies, and a cup of milk tea. Although there were a number of women sitting on the grass drinking tea or wondering about with small children, most of the people sitting around in groups on the lawn were men, drinking tea and chatting.  Occasionally, I would hear the brief faint of drums,symbols, and horns in the distance.  

praying monks 

At one o’clock exactly, Dorje came to me, “Hurry,” he said and quickly led me behind a cloth screen, then pushed me through the crowd so I had a front row view.  There before me sat a tent with at least 30 monks and Lamas, who had begun chanting prayers to tibetan liturgical music in unison.

For about twenty minutes the monks and Lamas repeated their religious mantras for the deceased. Then suddenly, Dorje was at my side again, “Come, he said, “Hurry.”  He grabbed my arm and hustled me past the house, up the drive to a location at the edge of the main road. “Wait here.” he advised me, and he disappeared into the crowd.   

prqying, while walking  to the cremation

A famous family member walking to the cremation

As I turned and looked back toward the house, the religious came in single file up the drive accompanied by their music and chanting prayers.  As they came, they tuned left up the road toward the cremation platforms on the hill just below Shanti Stupa.  Behind the monks and Lamas came the coffin, and following behind, all the men, including Dorje.  It was then that I learned that only the men attended cremations; most of them carrying stcks of burning incense in honour of the deceased.  While the women stayed behind, softly chanting prayers.   

Shanti Stupa

the funeral pyre

The next day, in a comforting gesture, I went with my young friends, Dorje’s daughters, to visit Dolma, Diskit’s mother-in-law.  Others came and went, and during chats and teas we shared together in our everlasting friendship.   


Sadly also on august 17th, our dear friend Carmen died surrounded by her loving family. Carmen, Joan and I have been friends for well over fifty years.  Like the three musketeers, we were always there when ever one of us was in need.  In times of joy, we laughed together, and in sadness we shared in each other’s sorrow. Joan and I miss you greatly Carmen, and we send you all our love upon your future path.