Thursday, July 15, 2010

Zangla and Stong-de, Zonkhul and Karsha (July 4-5)

Breakfast in the dhaba. A makeshift brilliant chapatti machine attaches a gas canister to an iron dome, creating soft chewy chapattis that go perfectly with the chana – chickpeas – or sabzi – mixed vegetables, in this case green beans and potatoes.

We meet our driver, a local from a nearby village, Salapi, and he is friendly, super considerate, and has great energy. He tells us he was a former national ski champion and went to compete in China and Korea, where he failed miserably, but at least he was in front of Pakistan…

We head off to Zangla, a small village with an old fort and a Buddhist nunnery. When we arrive at the nunnery, a few of the nuns are up on the roof making their version of cheese. As far as I understand, they take curd (yogurt), add salt to it, and I think ghee as well, and then they dry it in the intensely strong Ladakhi sun. They spread the mixture with their fingers so the cheese is in strips that have the smearing of fingers left on them. We meet an elderly nun who was absolutely adorable, who said she didn’t want to be photographed because she wasn’t young and pretty anymore, but we did anyway.

Afterwards we went back on the road towards Padum and went to Stong-de Gompa. This was a gorgeous monastery set on top of the hill – the monastery locations in Zanskar are superb – and as we arrived there were lots of young monks running around. The interior of the gompa was breathtaking, with wall paintings dating back hundreds of years, with brilliant bright colors. We were invited to have lunch at the monastery and we had a great meal of rice, dal, and potatoes and aubergine. Really tasty. The youngest monks had the duty of serving the others and they came around carrying big buckets, just like at the Isha ashram, and served us.

The next morning, we headed off to Zonkhul. This monastery is not written about in Lonely Planet, and I think there are less visitors to this location that screams isolation. As we approached, we saw that the roads were blocked by large sheets of ice, which groups of workers were meticulously chipping away at. So we got out maybe about 500 m before the monastery and walked up the jutting rocks coming out of the Cliffside. There is currently one monk residing at Zonkhul. He told us there were 24 but they were in different places at the moment. Solitude. Big black birds circling overhead. We were taken to the cave where Naropa supposedly meditated. The other rooms of the monastery were gorgeous, so many beautiful Tibetan artifacts, clearly being used on a daily basis, were placed around the room. Butter lamp bowls, mandalas, drums, scrolls and scriptures…

On the way towards Karsha from Zonkhul, we stopped at our driver’s sister’s house for lunch. This was the epitome of idyllic – she had a small grove of trees behind her house, had a few dzos – cow and yak hybrid – and two beautiful children who were not shy at all. The interior of her house was clean and well-lit, with great window light. Her view was of snowcapped mountains and green fields. Our meal was phenomenal, spinach and tomato in a mustard (I think) sauce, aubergine and potato and tomato, and rice.

Karsha has the largest monastery in Zanskar, and it seems to occupy the entire Cliffside which it is precariously built upon. You go up, up, up, on windy staircases and each room and structure of the monastery structure unfolds in front of you in a labyrinthine structure. The views of the lush green fields below, beneath the snowy Himalayan giants, framed by prayer flags and prayer wheels…wow. We had a hilarious time, as we think the younger monks were sent to literally pose for us, and they did so with varying willingness and hilarity, some patiently performing tasks with 5 tourists jamming cameras in their faces, while others cracked up laughing and ran into their quarters and engaged in hide and seek with us, giggling the whole time. The monastery was simply stunning, with patches of gardens alongside the paths, with blooming purple wildflowers…

A full day of sightseeing finished, we did a quick stop at Pibiting, just 2km from Padum, and ended in Padum, where Lenny and I set off on our adventure to try to use the internet. Electricity is irregular at best in Padum, and supposedly comes on at 5pm for the entire evening but for the 3 nights we were there, it never lasted for more than an hour at a time (perhaps after midnight, but we were fast asleep…) Anyway, our internet fiasco involved 2 days of asking around for the owner to use her generator, which turned out to be broken, when she was finally located, and a whole other slew of dramas which was finally resolved our final evening when we were able to get connected for a few minutes.

What Padum and the trip to Zanskar did for me was really appreciate a lot of the things that I take for granted. Electricity; hot water; internet; access to things to do and activities; I guess what I’m trying to get as is I saw just how much my internal situation is related to my external situation. This is what I’ve been trying to work on for the past 6 months since I arrived at Isha, but this was a good reality check. On the afternoon that we got back from Stong-de, it was very windy, overcast, and chilly, and I saw just how quickly my spirits began to sank. A bit of bad weather and I get depressed and unhappy?? Doesn’t sound like internal peace and stability…anyway, it was really good to experience this. Lenny and I had great chats at night about our thoughts and feelings about our personal experiences in India and the region, in particular regarding Kashmir, and of course, Zanskar. We shared a lot of the same insight regarding both Kashmir and Zanskar, including that of the internal situations that came up for both of us in Zanskar, and I was extremely grateful to have met him and have him along with us in Zanskar. I think the way Kashmir struck a chord very deeply in me is something that may be difficult for people who haven’t seen the magical land and the disarming people to understand, and it was great to experience Zanskar together. Thank you Lenny.

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