Wednesday, September 8, 2010


I did do a lot more writing about the Kailash trip that was sent to Isha, and mailed a copy to the ashram...we'll see if I get any response. I don't feel that I need to blast negativity onto this blog, so I won't post specifics, but if anybody wants to read the 7-page single-spaced letter, I can send it on no problem.

I need to do a lot of writing in the coming weeks, but for now...

I have no words that can even come close to expressing the gratitude that I feel for the Nepalese and Tibetans that were part of the trip at Kailash. It breaks me that we had to leave the Tibetans at the border and that because of current security regulations in Tibet, I will probably never see any of them again. Thoo-jay chay big time my brothers.

The Nepalis - thank you for providing me exactly what I needed, without fail, for my time in Kathmandu following the trip. Giving me what I needed, when I needed, just like how it was during the Kailash trip - space, resting place and space, distance, affection, food, listening ears, smiles, laughter, and always, always, acceptance and unconditional love. You were my Gurus for this past month, and the lessons that have been shared will not be forgotten. New lessons are being discovered daily. Dhaanyawad from every ounce of my being.

I was definitely in a major funk after the trip, and struggled during the days in Nepal, and spend a lot of those days just sort of lying around, getting up to eat good food and wandering a bit, and then sleeping for many hours on end. The last day in Kathmandu, it all came together though. Over the course of the afternoon until the following morning until I arrived at Tribhuvan airport, there was a whirlwind of a mini-hike up to a Kapan monastery, shu-chiya (my favorite Tibetan yak butter salty tea), veg chow mein, the cutest dog ever in the tea shop, rounds of raakshi and chhang and that innocent, wise smile coming from the most beautiful people I have ever met. It ended with Jony, Rajendra's beautiful, shy but naughty (in a good way) wife, cooking Japanese food with Jasmina, my Bosnian friend who I connected with 6 months ago in Tamil Nadu, India, and myself - we did some ginger soy chicken (I was the only vegetarian there) - tofu and eggplant, green beans in sesame (goma-ae), some ferns, daikon oroshi (grated radish dish) etc...I was totally surprised by how elaborate of a delicious Japanese meal we could make with the limited ingredients. And of course, it was dere mitosa - very delicious - because it was all prepared with so much love.

30 hours in Delhi, thank you thank you thank you Iona for your perfect blend of groundedness and hilarity and everything else. Psychedelic aura, I love you.

Then the crazy journey began - Delhi - Dubai - JFK - Port Authoriy Bus Terminal - Lenox, MA - White Mountains, NH. Exhausting. Utterly.

And the funniest thing...I was so stressed about coming back to the US, all the culture shock and tensions with various people from the past etc...and it's like, all of them got wiped away as soon as I landed. For sure the culture shock is there, in so many ways, but the friction I anticipated largely isn't present (yet, at least). So that's nice and refreshing...we'll see how it all unfolds...

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Aftermath Intro

So I have been back in Kathmandu for about 5 days now, and have thought (lots and lots) about writing since before we even came back to the city.

The task seems huge and daunting, and I don't know where to begin. I think writing about it all in one go is really a huge endeavor and it makes more sense that it will come in installments.

The yatra was NOT what I expected. What did I expect? To be tossed and turned and have emotional upheavals for sure, but beyond that I tried not to expect too much - perhaps the only tangible concrete expectation I allowed myself to have was that Sadhguru, in his physical body, would be the one conducting the 'processes' - the initiations - both at Lake Manasarovar, and then at Mt. Kailash. He did neither.

It's hard to explain the emotions that came along with this - especially because they sound so silly coming from a grown woman who has never had a real conversation with her Guru - but what I felt that day, coming down from Kailash, was an engulfing, overwhelming, devastating feeling of abandonment, disappointment, hurt, betrayal, and the feeling that a huge, massive, tremendous opportunity had been allowed to let slide - and that I had really done everything in my miniscule power to make it happen. It was like leading up to that moment on the mountain, all discomfort, all emotional ripples, I was able to say, it's ok, it'll all be worth it because he'll be at the top. And he wasn't.

And so I felt shattered to a million pieces - me, who had kept it together the whole trip, supporting the ill and always coming with a smile to the Sherpas (who actually only a fraction of them were Sherpas, damn we're so ignorant) - sobbed like the world was going to end, for a full 24 hours. Which of course caused enormous worry with the Tibetan drivers who held my hand and force-fed (how do you say? force-drank?) me my bo-cha comfort butter tea...and then the Nepalis who buried my snot-covered face in their necks...

And now it's been more than a week since we left that holy granite mound, and I feel confused and disoriented and lost and unsure. Of everything. Actually, I don't even know what I feel unsure of. Maybe that's what he wants. Hahah I really sound psychopathic these days and I know it...

Oh, one more thing to keep in mind - at our sathsang at Kailash, Sadhguru made us promise that we had to leave something behind at Kailash. Anger we can't control, but he made us promise to leave behind angry words. So this is really something I'm taking to heart and going to try very hard to stick to. So it will be more than a bit challenging to relate the events that took place the past few weeks without transferring even a bit of the anger that went along with it, but I really, really, will try my best.


At the beginning...

I am notoriously bad with medication, and Diamox is no exception. Tingly limbs and extremities, and a kind of dozy headachy feeling. Well, it was good to take a day off and just chill and prepare mentally and physically for the journey that begins in just a few hours.

I went to the Jet Airways office with Nivvi, and came back, stepped out of the cab, totally ready to just roll into bed, and see a grinning white man waving excitedly at me. PRIMOZ?!? This lovely Slovenian man had been in my Inner Engineering in January!! Huh?!? So big hugs, laughter (too much noise, as usual) and an introduction to his gorgeous wife. It was SO NICE to catch up with someone who had been there at the very beginning with me on this psychedelic journey. Thank you.

I had a wonderful conversation with Linda over lunch, talking about how I ended up on this Kailash trip in the first place…and took it easy for a few hours before sathsang.

Sadhguru came in to give us our abhaey sutra – Nathalie from Lebanon was one of the women tying the string on the ladies – as the string was looped around my wrist, I could feel this electric charge emanating from it. We went up to him and bowed to him as he handed us a marigold…oddly enough, leading up to it I had strong energy movements but when it was my turn to be directly in front of him, everything stopped and I couldn’t really respond to the situation. Probably not a bad thing. We were in his presence for nearly 2 hours, and it was really powerful. It was like he was creating the energy of linga bhairavi in that room – he started off with the mantras associated with Devi, and it was so powerful, it was the same as being in that temple. He spoke about how this abhaey sutra would give us fearlessness, not directly, but because we would become less attached to the physical dimension, thus losing fear that we normally have in association with the body…and it was like you could feel the fear melting away by the second. I don’t know, it’s just too outrageous, this man, this being, this thing in front of us.

I headed to dinner, and was getting second servings of amazing falafel and vegetable shawarma which was pretty much paneer shawarma…mmm!! With babaghanoush and lovely hummus…and I hear a voice behind me say, shawarma..? I turn around while simultaneously saying it’s so deli..cious! (the … is when I realize it’s him)…how fitting…the first words I ever directly speak to my guru are it’s so delicious. Anyone that knows me knows why this is so hilarious. So we laugh and grin at each other, I am instantly re-falling in love with him, and I head back to my table, a bit spellbound and speechless. He sits down at Rathika and Linda’s table, which has now fallen completely silent (what do you say to him? Good palak paneer eh?) and I’m sort of jealous but think, well, I wouldn’t say anything anyway. But Rathika, always gracious, gets up and gives her seat to Manjiri who is another of the group for our Land Cruiser. And within minutes Manjiri gets us and beckons me over telling me to sit. So I sit empty-handed, no plate, no food, no words. And he smiles, looks directly at me and says don’t you need more food? And I just don’t know how to react and nervously pick a piece of fried okra off of Michelle’s plate. Yup. Awkward. And then there’s a random chitchat of Japanese and Chinese and how Japanese can’t say l and stupid stupid stuff…I’m basically relieved when he leaves, but am electrified at having spoken to him and being so near him.

After a few minutes Linda says, why don’t you go sit in his chair for awhile…and I do, and it is positively vibrating. Wow.

So we have our wakeup call in less than 5 hours – tomorrow we head to the Friendship Bridge on the China border. Oh, it’s on. Challoh yaar?

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Isha Kailash Manasarovar Sojourn - Kathmandu (5-8 August 2010)

Wow. What the hell is going on? What the hell has happened to my life and who I thought was me? Sadhguru happened. Isha happened. Truth happened. Is happening. Constantly happening.

I am sitting in the lobby of the Soaltee Crowne Plaza Hotel – the first time in my life (I think!) that I have paid to stay in a 4 or 5 star hotel. My belly has been full for the past 36 hours eating 5 star buffet hotel food. 6 months ago I would have thought this to be unthinkable, much less enjoy it, but my constant giggles are a telltale sign that things have changed. Drastically.

I first came into contact with Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev and Isha Foundation in January by a strange series of coincidences which I won’t go into now – and took the intro course, Inner Engineering, at his ashram near Coimbatore, in Tamil Nadu, South India. I hated it. I’ve never hated anything as much in my life. But I realized early on that for me to react so strongly, negatively, to something, meant something was going on. Something deep. So I stuck around; and within days of experiencing nightly darshans with the Guru, my body began reacting physically to him. Strongly. Oh, all those people convulsing and making funny noises and acting possessed are um, not faking it. I’m having it too.

Since then it’s been a true roller-coaster, a psychedelic drug, the most potent substance yet the intoxication comes with complete clarity, no hangover, and the deepest sense of fulfillment I have ever experienced in my years of seeking, urgently, desperately, around the planet. And so here I am, in the first group this year headed to do a pilgrimage of Mt. Kailash and Lake Manasarovar. So much resistance came in joining this trip; the cost, my prior commitments in the US, the idea of being with a group of Isha people for 2 weeks, so many things…but some crazy signs in April, with very strong effects, showed me it had to be done. So here I am.

What is going on, though? I know we’re not supposed to talk about the content of Isha programs, and I totally understand why; but – the closest thing I can say to describe what I’m going through right now is how I felt during BSP when we thought we were going to die in a matter of hours. Really. I don’t think we can experientially know what that feels like unless we actually are in that situation, or you go through BSP. But now – it’s like it’s that same situation, so strong, so real, so urgent. And what is the reaction? Supreme love, gratitude, and joy. No fear. Well, that’s not true, there’s a bit of terror.

I arrived in Kathmandu a day early; I wanted a bit of time to acclimatize to the situation, not the altitude, and it was a good choice. It seems not like a coincidence to me that Dries, the couchsurfer I stayed with, is somehow aware and respectful of the ideas of energy and yoga and healing, yet in some way is critical and one of those ‘investigators’ and doubters – which I don’t criticize – but he had 3 Belgian girls over at the same time, 2 of whom are reiki and energy workers, which resulted in a very very interesting debate and discussion about spirituality, medicine (Dries is the head of the Belgian Red Cross support in Nepal), and pretty much anything in that spectrum. I was fascinated to see my reactions (or lack thereof) when challenged, criticized, doubted…I used to be the fierest debater. Way too much pitta (don’t worry, people that have known me forever, all that agni doesn’t disappear overnight) – but now – I don’t know – it’s like my faith and certainty in Him and the path are unshakable. In 7 months?!?

Friday I spent the afternoon with Pempa, Dries’s driver and got some errands taken care of. My first Isha lunch, the full-on buffet, was wonderful and I sat alone, giggling as I ate baked Alaska. Somehow pilgrimage and 5-star hotel just don’t go in the same sentence. But if they’re going to do it this way, I might as well be 100% present and love it, no? I was terrified that the whole group would be Isha-drones. I was scared there wouldn’t be that explosive joy and laughter, that I would once again be the loudest person here (hmm I still might be the loudest…sigh) – but I have been refreshingly surprised. Many of the people here have only done Inner Engineering, and openly say they never do the practice. Yes, some are Samyama veterans – but it doesn’t feel as heavy and serious as the other Isha stuff. A total wide spread of age, nationality, religious background – it’s really amazing what this man touches.

Friday evening we had a sathsang where we watched videos of Sadhguru talking about the pilgrimage, Nepal and mysticism in Nepal, and so forth. Halfway into the rules, people in the back of the room gasp, some start shaking, uttering Shambho – and there he is. He is a living paradox; so graceful and elegant yet so laid-back and relaxed; he sits and says, I thought I would surprise you. Yup, you know how to do it. When he speaks, it’s really enrapturing. I can’t take my eyes off of him, and it’s like every cell in my body is fully fixated on him. The energy is fully flowing; fingertips are pulsating.

So I know my body is physically tired but the past few days I find it nearly impossible to sleep. The mind is going 1000km/hr. And the energy in the body is just at such a high frequency.

Saturday the Indians were taken to Pashupatinath – this is where Shiva’s head is, when his body came up in 5 different places as 5 different body parts (I don’t know enough about this to say more). Well, this is THE epitome of insane Hindu temple. I snuck in with my Indian clothing and trying really hard to be invisible (although um, I look really Nepali) – everything you can imagine; cows with red vibuthi smeared on them, a dozen pujas with a dozen different intentions and sounds accompanying them happening at the same time; a huge gilded nandi (the cow at the entrance of the temple); a huge Hanuman, a gorgeous Ganesh at the entrance downstairs; a constant flow of people coming through with burning ghee offering bowls; the smash of coconuts being cracked as offerings; so much different drumming; funeral pyres…sensory overload x 10000%. The energy here, from my experience, is diffused in so many different directions it would almost be possible to not feel it. But find as quiet a corner as possible, close your eyes, and BAM! It’s on.

It was, however, exhausting and after a nice afternoon break I spent some time in Thamel with two awesome women I’ve connected with. But back to the inner situation. I feel like I’m about to die. And I guess in some way it’s just like that. So many different traditions say so many different things about Kailash and Manasarovar – the Hindus say that you take a dip in the water and 108 lifetimes of karma are washed away…hope the water’s not TOO cold! ; ) I keep having this sense of wanting to tell everyone in my life how much I love them and how grateful I am to have been able to experience life with them, through them, and I am just like overflowing with this gratitude and love. It’s kind of bizarre though, no, to write to someone you may not have spoken to in months or years, even, and tell them you love them so much? I guess though, maybe that’s the intensity and love and gratitude and bliss that we are aiming to be at. I don’t know. I don’t know anything anymore.

All I know is this trip has to happen. I MUST go to Kailash Manasarovar. I MUST break myself before it. I must disappear. I must cease to exist. My likes, dislikes, my attachment to my body, my mind, my intellectual capabilities and sensibilities – they must all become non-existent – to let this mountain happen to me. I pray with 100% of my mind, body, and soul to let this happen. Kailash calls you, and when it’s time, it’s an intense burning inside of you. It has to happen, it’s a mission that won’t leave you for a moment until you JUST GO.

I’m on my way.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Leh to Manali to Mcleod Ganj (July 16-21)

11.30pm. I struggle to stay awake. I walk through the dark streets with my flashlight and get to the parking lot where 100 Oceans Bar is. There are about a dozen other foreigners already there, waiting. The Leh-Manali Road is only open, technically, from July to October each year. The rest of the time it is covered in snow and ice, and then there are frequent landslides. The departure time is set as midnight, and we are supposed to arrive by 7 or 8pm the following day. Roughly 20 hours. On a bumpy Indian road. Great.

Right around midnight, the 3 minibuses appear, swerving around the corner and pulling into the parking lot. We have been told the license plate numbers of our drivers, and mine ends in 9595. And here he comes, this Buddha-belly possessing piercing gazed, disarmingly smiling driver. I love him. It’s pretty cold since we’re on a road that goes up to over 5000m and it’s the middle of the night, but I manage to sleep a good amount with the rocks, twists and turns and open windows. The whole drive is stunningly beautiful, winding through glaciers, boulder-strewn valleys, bizarre rock formations of all colors – I have a great little connection with two Polish boys and the hours just pass. Of course, though, at the end of 18 hours we’re all ready for the ride to be over. It’s amazing, approaching Keylong, in Himachal Pradesh where many people break the journey for the night, we just emerge onto this pine-studded mountainside and from then on the GREEN was back. Not quite to the same shocking hues as in Kashmir, but after a few weeks in Zanskar and Ladakh, with the barren granite, harsh rock faces – awe-inspiring but so extreme – it felt like there was new life being taken in with each inhale.

Manali – what a trip. New Manali, at the bottom of the hill, is a small, crowded, dirty, noisy Indian city; go up the hill to Old Manali and it’s ‘hippie’ pothead heaven. It was, though, nicer than I had expected. So I spent about 20 hours rejuvenating, hanging with the Polish boys, and then took the night bus to Dharamsala.

Which is when I finally slipped off to sleep with my window open, letting in the pleasant mountain breeze, and woke up to liquid on my face. Foul-smelling liquid. The lady in front of me was violently motion-sick and vomiting out of the window, which was splattering onto me, as well as about the next 6 rows of passengers behind me through their respective windows. A true travel moment. Wow.

I arrived in Dharamsala at 4am in POURING rain. I thought I would get there at 5.30am, and told Tashi that so I thought, hm, what am I going to do?! I step off the bus and there he is, standing right in front of me in perfectly dry maroon robes and the ubiquitous rainbow umbrella. I love you. So I sleep in his room until my accommodation will let me in at 6am. The monks in his house were probably a bit surprised to see some random Japanese girl show up and pass out in the monk’s dormitory. Ah well.

The next several days were amazing with Tashi, lots of long walks, talks, meals, just perfect. It’s funny how multi-faceted India is and how I have really grown to love certain parts of it so much and feel so at home here now…would never have thought that could happen based on how I first saw it when I got here for the first time in 2009.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Stok-Leh-Pangong (July 11-15)

I have a few hours before the bus, so I go chat with Gyatso at Vajra, go have some apricot juice at the Ecological Organic Products store (or something like that) – where the lovely girls now call me Ladakhi Didi – something along the lines of Ladakhi big sister, since the first time I went to the shop they assumed I was Ladakhi (I was wearing a kurta and had no bag with me) and spoke Ladakhi very quickly to me, and were so embarrassed when I told them I was Japanese/Chinese. I head back down to the bus stand and off I go to Stok. Kalden Guesthouse is directly underneath Stok Palace, and lovely Sonam and I have a nice chat, I go for a wander through the village, and it’s the perfect unwinding alone time that I need before I head back to Leh.

The next day, all this intense travel finally catches up to me and I head back to Leh, then take it easy for most of the day. Leh still retains a lot of charm, despite the crowds of tourists, honking, and the slowly but surely gathering rubbish. I book my trip to Pangong Tso with Gyatso, and the rest of the time I spend lounging around. Lots of apricot juice. Great.

Gyatso deserves a medal simply for how gracious he is with me and all the other tourists that demand so much from him. The story for Pangong changed each time I went to speak with him; first it was a price based on 3 people, then 5, then 4, then one night, then daytrip, then…who knows. In the end, I was with an American couple and got to ride shotgun the whole way, but since he had quoted me the price for 5 people, he stuck to it. Amazing guy. The ride to Pangong is beautiful for about the first 2-3 hours, then the rest, unfortunately for me, starts to get a bit repetitive. Not to mention the altitude is really kicking in – I think this was the most I felt in Ladakh, other than at Khardung-la on the way to Nubra Valley. The lake is certainly beautiful, constantly changing hues of blues, turquoise, and green, constantly mutating with the sunlight. It is an enormous lake, with more than half of it being in Tibet – we were very close to the border with China. In fact, Chinese citizens cannot go to Pangong Tso! The government doesn’t issue permits for them…

I found a lovely little basic homestay and spend the afternoon sitting by the windy lake, reading, strolling a bit, and then had a great dinner and off to bed. The next day sunrise was serene, and then we pretty much headed straight back to Leh. In Leh, it’s really quite endearing how even though there are such masses of short-term tourists passing through here, certain individuals in the town still really embrace you and take the time to get to know you. Saleem, from Srinagar, has a shop up in Upper Changspa and we have had some great long chats ranging a huge variety of topics, and are always laughing throughout. Now I have spent a lot of time with so many of the Kashmiri shopkeepers in Ladakh. They love that I’ve been to Kashmir. Not one of them has ever tried to sell me a single thing in their shops, not even a postcard. I love them for this – more than one of them has said that if they did try to sell me something, I would end up buying something. I tell them I have no doubt and thank them for sparing me from their (in)famous marketing. They really do seem to somehow categorize people; who to sell to, and who to befriend. And once they befriend you, it’s with that same fierce loyalty that I experienced in the Middle East, Kashmir, and what Mortenson talks about.

Tonight I leave Ladakh and head to Manali. It’s easy to see how so many people fall in love with Ladakh and Leh and stay here for a long time, but I feel like it’s time for me to move on.

Nubra Valley (July 10-11)

Thomas recommended Gyatso from Vajra Voyages to me, so I walk in the door and the first face I see is this instantly endearing Ladakhi boy with a Brasilian bracelet. Bingo. He is super friendly and I ask him to help me organize a trip to Pangong Tso, the most visited lake in Ladakh, famous for its unreal blue hues. Somehow, we managed to have a miscommunication and I end up with a Nubra Valley permit. Umm.

Well, I guess that’s a sign that I’m supposed to go to Nubra and will arrange Pangong when I get back, I decide, and 6am on Saturday I’m at the bus stand. The road from Leh to Nubra Valley is famous for the pass at Khardung-la – at 5329m, it’s the world’s highest motorable road. As we ascend from Leh the air gets thinner, colder, and we are immersed in a wonderland of snow that never fully melts. My breathing is shallow, my head is spinning, I feel like my brain is a cotton ball. Thankfully, we start descending at a pretty rapid rate and things go back to (relatively) normal relatively quickly.

Then we stop. I had been dozing off, and I thought this was a chai or food stop, and since I’m famished I jump up with a smile and get off the bus. Oh wait. There’s like, at least 20 vehicles here. And we’re on the side of the road. And there’s no food stall or dhaba or…anything. There was a truck that had somehow fallen over sideways (it looked like no injuries) but we were going to be here for awhile. I had met a lovely Czech couple the day before on the bus to Phyang and they were also headed to Nubra so luckily I had some company. After about an hour and a half, I decided to ditch the bus and see if I could hitch a ride with people that were taking a pretty precarious alternative route, going straight down the side of the mountain. The first people I ask agree, and they are a family from London now living in Bombay. So we make it down the hill, then find out that they are going to the Panamik side and I am headed to the Diskit side. I figure worst case scenario if I don’t get a ride where the road splits, the bus should pass within a few hours anyway…so they let me off at the turnoff to Diskit, and within 30 seconds a jeep stops, and is going all the way to Diskit! Wonderful. He is a guy from Diskit who is normally a taxi driver but refuses any sort of payment from me, taking me all the way to the bus stand. I am starving; it’s nearly 3pm, I left Leh without breakfast on the 6am bus…so stop in a dhaba and scarf down some dhal. No roti is available, and I need a break from rice. So I gather my few belongings and start on the road down to Hundar, which is 7km away (in actuality I think it is more like 9 by the time you descend from the main road and follow the twists and turns that takes you into the village). As luck would have it, another lovely man stops and takes me about 5km to the army checkpost where he is headed, then I continue walking until another man takes me all the way to the village.

Except I have no sense of direction and I think, wow, this beautiful flowing stream surrounded by towering willow trees, I guess I should follow that…and don’t see a single person for over half an hour. I’m pretty blissed out though, in the shade of the trees with the gentle music of flowing water, and suddenly, a person appears and cheerfully says joolee. Ladakhi is great – joolee means hello, goodbye, good morning, thank you, you’re welcome, good night, and probably a dozen other things…anyway, I indicate that I’m headed to Hundar village and a look of alarm crosses his face, as he tells me I’m going in the complete opposite direction and I am nearly at the next village. Figures. Sigh. All good though, since the walk back towards Hundar is of course, very very beautiful. When I make it back, I ask the next human I see (2 in over 1 hour!) where there are guesthouses and he points to the house that I’m standing next to. Certainly doesn’t look like a guest house…but of course, it is, and within 5 minutes I am situated in a lovely home and go for a stroll.

Hundar may be the most photogenic picturesque village I have seen in Ladakh. It just feels so quaint and so right. I hadn’t brought anything with me, the packing and unpacking on an almost daily basis had really started to tire me out so I decided to just go with my camera, book, and towel and see what happened. Turns out no transport is allowed on the road on Mondays, due to road maintenance and repairs (yes, the road is still in a condition which requires weekly maintenance) – so I would have to leave Sunday, the next day, or stay until Tuesday. I felt something tugging at me to leave the next day so it was decided. As I wandered around the village, around the corner came Marketa and Radek and the other foreigner from the bus! I had been in Hundar (and nearly the next village) for about 2 hours, wandering around, gotten a room, everything, and they were just arriving! Turns out the bus got started about 45 minutes after I jumped ship, but then it stopped along the way for food, and another half hour in Diskit…I brought them back to my guesthouse and soon we were all settled.

The daytime is extremely painfully sunny and hot for me in Ladakh (at least from the time I’ve been here), so I find it most pleasant to be up and about before 9am, and after 5pm. We decided to take advantage of the evening’s lovely weather and go for a stroll. The sand dunes, we were told, are 2.5km from our guesthouse so we go down that path, and emerge onto a field with a wide stream/river, and on the other side are the small but very pretty sand dunes. We stay on our side of the water and slowly head back, going through mustard fields which give the appearance of being completely yellow, framed by purple lupine and other wildflowers. The surrounding mountains are glowing red with the sunset.

We have a lovely local dinner prepared by the family, and shortly thereafter I fall into a deep sleep; I am planning an early morning the next day. 4am and I’m up. I want to make it back to Diskit via the sand dunes, walking and/or hitching, and I want to get started before the hot sun is awake. I set off and it is serenity at its finest. I walk to the sand dunes, and the angling with the sun isn’t the best for getting the red glow, but nonetheless the shadows are gorgeous. It’s not even 6am and already it’s warm. I get back to the main road and about a kilometer further get a lift to the Diskit bus stand. It’s 6.30am. It’s hot. I decided I should go to the gompa since I’ve come all the way here. So another 2km down the road, I turn off and go straight up the mountainside to get to the gompa. Actually, I took the wrong road (How was I ever a tour guide with this sense of direction?!) and go up to the chamba – a huge Buddha, out in the open, on top of the mountain. I can see the gompa on the other side of the cliff. I think, no, I won’t go. But somehow when I descend to where the road splits, my legs go up the other side. It is a tough, steep climb but I fall in love with Diskit Monastery. Most of the monks I see are elderly, with smile lines that start at the edges of their eyes and mouth and meet in many intersections on their faces. The main hall sends shivers up my spine. And of course, the views over the Nubra Valley are priceless.

It’s 8am now, and it is really hot. I start my way back towards Diskit, and there doesn’t seem to be much road traffic. Finally a compact car whizzes around the corner, descending from the chamba, and pulls over for me. He is on the phone when I get in so I just smile, and after a few minutes when his call is over, we start chatting. He is an engineer from Leh who is here to work on drinking water pipelines because His Holiness the Dalai Lama is going to be here in less than 2 weeks. He is pure loveliness. I tell him I left Hundar at 4.30am and retraced my steps for him, and he is surprised and amazed (mostly at the 4.30am start), and after a brief pause, worriedly asks, but what about breakfast?? So I tell him it’s ok I have some dried apricots and muesli and he looks at me with a mildly scolding look. We go to the taxi stand, and the jeep is waiting for one more passenger, after me, to start down the road to Leh. The engineer organizes with the driver to come get me at his base when he finds the next passenger, and insists that I go back to his place to have breakfast. We arrive at the makeshift camp, I guess you could call it, where…the guy who gave me my last ride the previous day, all the way to Hundar, is leaning outside on his car. It’s his brother! So we all have a good laugh about that, then I go in and we eat delicious veggie scrambled eggs and Kashmiri bread. Just as I’m finishing off my chai, the jeep driver arrives and I jump in. Amazing Ladakhis. Thank you.

The jeep ride is exponentially more pleasant than the bus ride and I get great views out the window. It takes us nearly 5 hours to reach Leh since we stop a few times, particularly for some engine trouble, but no big deal. When I get back to Leh, though, I feel like I am really not ready to stay there. The honking, the masses of tourists (it’s relative, though, compared to anywhere in Rajasthan there are no tourists and it is very quiet) – so I decide I’ll go to Stok for the night.