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On a trip to Ladakh a few years ago, a plan was made to visit Zanskar.
On account of my family group joining me back in the capital city of Leh in a week’s time, the journey to Zanskar had a ‘return-by’ date – which is not usually the case in my travels.
And so we set out in the most difficult road trip I have ever taken. Difficult road trip could mean many things… in this case it meant that in many sections there was no road at all and we drove on large loose pebbles all scattered there on the Himalayan paths created by flows of rivulets of melting snow in summers. The path was between 200-300 metres wide cutting through two ranges of mountains on either side. With every turn of the wheel, the passengers swung from one side to the next and we all needed to hold on to something to remain stable. It was truly hard on the body. Already, I was a clumsy mess with all those heavy jackets and boots and this added one more feeling of being confused about managing my human form.
The journey to Zanskar was to last two days with a night halt at Rangdum and an early start the next day.
So we arrived at Rangdum, in battered bodies – looking forward to a good rest, some hot maggi and maybe a hot bath.
Fortunately we found a little hamlet, a little guesthouse in that and little rooms in that. And we settled in for the night.
The hamlet had a dozen families scattered across a large geography, a monastery, a police post and a guesthouse.
The beauty of such places is that there was nothing to do. Absolutely nothing. No phone connectivity except DSPT satellite phones. And no entertainment.
So we all sat in the little dining room of the guesthouse and talked.
Until it was time to sleep at 8 pm. We planned to wake each other up by 6am and get on with our drive to Zanskar by 8 am. And retired for the night.
The next morning arrived.
And the first words I heard were “Madam – look what’s happened’ (in Hindi).
We were in the midst of a snowstorm. Everything outside the window was white and visibility was poor.
As there was no possibility of moving out, we gathered again in the little dining room and filled up our day with bowls of hot maggi and cups of hot tea and coffee. At lunch and dinner the menu changed to dal rice. We all talked as much as we could have and then bore the silences by staring at the snow. Every now and then someone made an inane prediction about the snow.
That day of near-nothingness is etched in my memory as if it was the most eventful day of my life!
Evening came. Night came and we slept again.
Next morning came and the snowfall had lightened but it wasn’t light enough to move onward into the next segment of the journey to Zanskar.
By the afternoon it was clearer – but was now too late to drive up to Zanskar and reach before sunset. So to make some use of the rest of the day, we decided to take a short trip to the monastery that we could see in the distance from the little guesthouse.
Again through a rocky road, we drove through the snowfall and made it up a little hill.
And reached Rangdum monastery.
Here are some photos:
There was a single monk present there – and my Ladakhi companions chatted with him and he opened up the main hall for viewing. No matter how many monasteries I see, I am always overwhelmed with the first step I take inside the room. It feels as if the building has captured peace and held it safely within the walls for us to breathe in. The stillness, the silence wouldn’t be the same if the air were not as crisp and chill…..
That day I saw something I hadn’t ever seen in any monastery in Tibet, Sikkim or Ladakh: Weapons. Rifles. They told me that this being in an isolated area – protection from raiders was required in the olden days. And so these monasteries were up on a hill always – to have the highest vantage point. These seats of spiritual refuge also acted as seats of physical refuge in the olden days. Hence the presence of weapons. [naturally I was forbidden from photographing these].
There’s so much to be learnt from just travel…
After an hour of absorbing the atmosphere we left and returned to our guesthouse – our sanctuary for the night.
Rangdum was in my life for 3 days and each day gave me a story to remember it by.
Will share the next story in another post.