Thursday, July 23, 2015

Jane's Birthday


During my visit there was also another birthday celebration in Leh. Jane’s birthday is October.  But every year because I am usually traveling that month, I miss her Florida birthday party. I decided this year that would not happen and gave her a birthday party here in Leh in July.  I also decided that she had not really experienced some of the cultural arts of Ladakh so I hired a Ladakh music and dance troop, ordered a pineapple cake, and we had a Ladakh family birthday party for Jane.  There is no cake left, but please enjoy some pictures from Jane’s party.

The  musicians

Male dancers

The ladies

warrior dance

Beautiful movement

Jane draped in her birthday blessing scarfs
Just a thought

Wednesday, July 22, 2015


Hemis Monastery Cham dancing monk with drum

Mask with a skull on top for protection from evil

Monks in ceremonial dress

Another great mask

Movement is slow and beautiful. Costume is very old. Check out the shoes


Recently my friend Mark ask me ‘Why do you go to Ladakh so much? Do you have lover there?  Are you leading a double life?  Now isn’t that a question?  I will only say that in both Ladakh and Nepal, I have families who have adopted me as one of their own?  How can I not go and visit these loving people who have come to mean so much to me.  How’s that for your answer Mark??

Flying into Ladakh
Ladakh is probably one of the most starkly beautiful countries in the world.  This moonscape environment on the edge of the Tibetan plateau is a vision of contrasts; barren mountains interspersed with small hamlets of greenery and barley fields accentuated by Himalayan streams of melting snow.  
Ladakh landscape

A Himalyan community with mountains behind

Another view of a countryside community from a monastery

Although it is legally part of the Indian state of Jammu-Kashmir, Ladakh was a separate protectorate of India until the Partition of India and Pakistan in 1947.  Ladakh still has its royal family, and a totally different society. It also has many cases sets of laws that are different than most other parts of India.  The population mix of about 300,000 is two-thirds Buddhists and one-third Muslim.

These are peace loving people.  Everyone gets along; a mixed community taking joy in each other’s weddings and births, and sorrow in each other’s loses  Helping each other in both happy events and sadness.  Ladakh is an example of how we all should be living together in friendship and love.  The kindness of these people not only to each other but to animals as well takes my breath away. 

They obviously have an astute local government that is not corrupted by wealth, but rather by sensible planning.   Along their new streets they are creating a walking street area, located where Ladakhi ladies dressed in their traditional clothes, line the streets to sell their vegetables.  Where new and old town buildings are being designed or redesigned in the traditional Ladakhi style of architecture giving the village streets a charming continuity. The main street will be ‘eye candy’ for the tourist and give the locals a real sense of self as they view the loveliness they have created. 

Ladakh ladies selling their veggies on the street

There is a new government hospital, which from my experience has excellent medical practitioners.  The cost to see a doctor is equal to 5 cents US and the cost of an x-ray is equal to one US dollar.  When a tourist tries to pay more, they say, “Oh no!  You are a guest.”

There are no plastic bags in Ladakh, they are against the law. There is excellent garbage pickup, and the whole of Ladakh, both the town and countryside has a theme of ‘plant more trees.’ 

The people are just as kind as their governmental philosophies are sensible and realistic.  They are incredibly kind to animals and it is not unusual to see a cow, dog or donkey wander through the streets unimpeded.  Cars are more careful to stop for all animals, both two and four legged. 
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There is a donkey sanctuary (or as the sign says “Home for helpless Donkeys”).  t

Within the town and the countyside there are many dogs, known as 'skanky (street) dogs', most of whom are fed by local restaurants in the summer, and in the winter by individual families. However, a volunteer veterinary service needs to go to Ladakh during the summer and give aid to these dogs, many of whom desperately need medical assistance.
Jane making a new friend

friendly fellows making friends with me

A donkey recieving a 'Donkey Sanctuary' donation for the group

Both the donkeys and I want to find the carrots

Jigmet with the love sign

Coning to Leh for me is like arriving at a family reunion.  The Jigmet Guesthouse family has over the years adopted me.  When I arrive they are all full of hugs, blessing scarfs and welcomes home. The my main center of my social life and where I stay most often is Jigmet’s Guesthouse, but when they are overflowing with tour groups, I enjoy an occasional stay at Jigmet’s sister, Disket’s guesthouse OLDEN HOUSE which has always been a favorite of mine.  It has five rooms; two are ensuite, while the others have a shared bath down the hall.  There is always hot water for a shower .If we wish, tea, coffee or a flask of hot water served to our rooms every morning during our stay.  I always like coming here because of the warm and cozy room and bath in the back, which is always so quiet with a lovely view. The beginning of this trip was no different, than usual.  Jigmet's was groaning at the seams with trekking groups in and out during our first three days, so off Jane and I went to OLDEN HOUSE for a very pleasant but brief visit.
My favorite room at Olden House

The bath

Note: For readers interested in OLDEN HOUSE; The owners are extremely nice, it is very clean, and the rates for the shared-bath rooms start at 500 rupees a night with 60 rupees to one US dollar, it is extremely cheap. 
Disket's mother in law working in her garden

Under the apple trees at Jigmets

Very early in the morning I often gaze out to see Disket’s mother-in-law down on her hands and knees working diligently in her garden.  This is typical of Ladakhi women, up as early as 4:30 in the morning creating a natural feast for the eye as well as year around sustenance for their families.  These gardens found through out Leh and the whole Ladakhi countryside are the major source of their diet during winters during which at least three sometimes four months a year the temperature remains as low as -22 Celsius. 

Every morning Jane after her initial cup of coffee, would at 7:30 head up the road from OLDEN HOUSE to OPEN HAND restaurant, which she said served amazing Cappuccino and wonderful cakes.  I, who am not a coffee drinker,  cannot attest to its taste, but I consider Jane an authority in the coffee area, so it must be good.  

After three days of OLDEN HOUSE hospitality, off we went to Jigmet’s, and I to my comfortable old room.  While Jane bask in one of the lovely rooms in the newest of the three wings of the hotel.  

Jigmet Guesthouse built in the Ladakh architectural tradition

During our visit in Srinagar, I had received phone calls from my friend Nazir complaining of how unseasonably cold the weather was in Leh for June. By the time we arrived the temperatures had increased to a high 50 degrees F in the daytime and around 32 F nights. I had plans to take Jane to Pangong Tso (lake) but with the weather so cold, there was no way I was going to travel over six hours on very curvy, extremely bumpy Himalayan roads to sleep in a tent with no heat in these temperatures. This kind of travel was for more hearty types then me.  During my last three visits, each time I had planned to visit this lake which is owned three-fourths by Tibet and one quarter by Ladakh, however, I have been hampered either by the weather or some other misfortune; last year it was a fractured elbow. 
The music

Two dancers

The Black Hat Dance

We had come to Leh a bit earlier than I usually would so Jane could see the Hemis Monastery Cham Dances held on June 26th and 27th.  The Tibetan calendar dictates the dates of monasterial events; last year the dances were July 14th and 15th. 

A mask

Another mask

Video of The beginnings of the Black Hat dance

Inside the monastery with the crowd


One day, Jane and I took Jigmet’s mother, Dolma, his sister Disket and the two little granddaughters, little Disket and Amo with us to visit monasteries.  We had already visited Hemis for the Cham Dances and because all the many monasteries are difference in some way, we gave Jane a taste of the uniqueness of three more; 
Amo and Disket with their Grandmother Dolma
by the Stoke prayer wheel

Exterior of Stoke Palace Monestary

Stoke prayer room - framed pictre of the Hemis Monastery Rimpoche

Stoke Palace Monastery is not only a museum but also the home to Ladakh’s royal family. Thikse Monastery is described as most like the Dalai Lama’s beloved Potala Monastery in Lhasa,
Thikse Monastery

Tibet.  Matho Monastery is rather strange, somewhat guarded when it comes to 'outsiders.' I have been told it has museums that only Ladakhis are allowed to view.  However, we were accompanied by a well-known Ladakhi family,  so the head monk of Matho gave us permission to visit one museum.  I understand Matho has three museums the one we entered, a religious festival costume museum and one that only Ladakhi men are allowed to enter.  I was thrilled that we could see at least one. The thing that impressed me most were the hats worn by the monastery’s Oracles. I ask is there a postcard, but no.
Matho Monastery is built out of a red clay or stone
of its particular area of Ladakh

Steps up to the prayer room in the inner courtyard

Front: Little Amo and Litttle Disket
Back: Big Disket and her mother, Dolma

Once a year, generally in March, Matho has one or two Oracles do prdictions. These are Matho monks chosen to meditate alone for three months prior to the ceremony at which time they make predictions about monastery and Ladakh for the coming year.  Much of the Ladakhi citizenry come to watch as the Oracles dressed in elaborate dress and head gear, are stuck with pins or nails to prove   they are indeed in a trance (no signs these punctures have ever been found on their bodies afterwards). Then they run around the ramparts of the monastery blindfolded and make their predictions.  I am told it is an amazing event and I would love to see it. But Ladakh in March, I’m not as yet that brave to experience the cold, although I am weakening.
View from a window at Matho Monastery

One of Matho Monastery's prayer rooms

Some of the monks at the entry to one prayer room

Small monk passing out snacks for monastery guests

Jane and I also went off on a five-hour drive to see the Drogpa community of Dha-Hanu.  These people are considered the last race of Aryans ‘confined to this valley.’ Their features are Indo-Aryan, which they have maintained over the centuries. I understand their religion is pre-Buddhist called Bonchos.

I have been told there are many of their villages in the valley, which of course allows them to remain pure, but only two are open to tourists.  As we neared the village, we found the road washed out so we had to walk about an eighth of a mile in to get to the village.  
Just one of the rather rickety bridges we drove over

Part of the path

It was out of our car and with our driver,  we walked this
rock covered road to the village

Once there, we climbed over a stream (crossing it on the way back I did get my shoes wet but had none of my standard misshapes) and rocks to enter.  

Woman sifting barley and behind her another stirring the cooking grain

Entry to some kind of building

One of their buildings

Jane walking among the rocks leaving the

A place to store things

Another entry???

An Aryan lady

And her friend

Near the entry of the village, lady sifted grain. I suspect barley, as that is what grows best in these mountainous Himalayan areas.  The houses were much more primitive than the ones in greater Ladakh, and the ladies, although dressed much like others in the country wore bouquets of artificial flowers on their heads –quaint.  
Sharing a moment with an Aryan lady

Because Dha-Huna is a tourist venue and the children of this village attend a government school, outside influences were already creeping into this little enclave.  However it was interesting to get just a glimpse of this isolated society. Another plus was the scenery both coming and going.  That is spectacular.
Along the highway


In a mountain valley

Warning sign along the road

Mountains behind the Indus River

The rest of our time was spent perusing Leh’s many stone walled countryside walkways of which there are many, visiting with my friends, shopping, attending a celebration for the Dalai Lama on his birthday, July 6th, and spending time with my Ladakhi family. 
Field of family tents, like a rock festival

The dias

Famous Rimpoche

Speeches and entertainment

Tibetan ladies serving Butter Tea to the

Typical ladakhi Tent

Even a goat came

There were birthday parties; both little Disket’s, she was three, and Naro’s (big Disket and Sangay’s son) who became 12. We are talking about real parties, this year both were in restaurants with around thirty guests of family and friends, dinners, cakes and dancing.  At Naro’s party, I again lead the group in the Hokey Pokey, always a hit with everyone.   Getting a gift for Disket was easy, give her a doll (we also gave a doll to her little cousin Amo who is only two and a half), but for Naro, a gift was a problem.  What do you give a twelve-year old boy?  Jane solved that problem with the suggestion of money.  So I gave him 1200 hundred rupees, one for each of his years.  His uncle Jigmet and wife Amo followed Jane’s suggestion and also give Naro money.  Amo’s brother did the same.  Naro received enough cash to buy the inline skates he craved, with some extra for his parents to put aside in his account. 
The birthday girl.  I am Disket, I am three!

Disket and her cousin Amo

Naro with cake frosting on his face

Naro (blue shirt in the middle) with his father and his friends
  Every year for two days before I arrive, I take Diamox to stave off altitude sickness. Once I arrive, I continue taking for at least three more days.  One must be careful with this medication as it can mask altitude sickness particularly among trekkers who are going into ever-higher altitudes.  This year I noticed that because the air becomes thinner as the weather warms, I was having harder time breathing – I am asthmatic.  Fortunately at the government reception and information center, people with any breathing problems can go in and get oxygen. 

Dorge in the Jigmet garden

Cousin Pinky, her little daughter and Disket and Dorka

Dolma with Jigmets's wife Amo

Jane and Dolma

A last lunch with old friends Dolma and Nazir

If I had of extended my stay, I would certainly have taken advantage of the oxygen facility.  Fortunately I was off to the lower climes of Kathmandu, which was only inundated with and extreme amount of dust from the earthquake demolished buildings.  

Travel can be somewhat dangerous to your health but never so much so that it is not more than equally rewarding.  I’ll take my chances with travel anytime.  How about you?