Leh, Lady, Leh
Ok, big apologies for bashing the title around like a red-headed stepchild. Last time, I promise.
We’ve been having an incredible time here in Leh. Everyone is healthy, the weather is perfect and there seem to be hidden bits hiding around every corner. Today we found an ancient Stupa in the middle of the Changspa valley that doesn’t appear to be in any of the guidebooks. But before I get into that, there are a few questions to answer, I guess!
1. What is the food like here?
The food in Ladakh is much different than what people think of as Indian food. It’s closer to Americanized Chinese, actually – lots of soupy stews and grains. The main staples around here are buckwheat pan bread (chipaty) cooked from the local brown wheat. Dhal is also common, being a soup made from various different pulses – something like lentil soup. Momos are also common – they’re (usually) steamed dumplings with either veggies, chicken or lamb inside and they’re delicious. There’s also a VERY heavy soup with wheat pasta and veggies. On top of everything, the Tibetans and Ladakhi people love butter. Love it. Can’t get enough. We’re eating very well.
2. What do they carry in the trucks?
Well, as best we could tell, nothing! Every last truck that passed us seemed to be empty. That’s probably because Leh was self-sufficient before the rise of tourism. Tourists up here consume an incredible amount of food, water and other garbage. Sadly, most of the shops have been set up by Indians, who are frankly obnoxious, and Kashmiris, who would sell their grandmother if they thought they could make a buck off of her. Paired with the overwhelming number of tourists from a certain “friendly” middle-eastern nation who seem to do nothing but shout at each other and smoke hash, most of the Ladakhis can’t wait for winter. Can’t say I blame them – a winter up here would probably be fantastic.
The Stupa we spotted from the Shanti Stupa (built by the Japanese in the late 80’s as part of their peace stupa initiative). We climbed up to shoot a time-lapse of the sunset last night and spotted the older Stupa on the valley floor, surrounded by cottonwood and poplar.
The Stupa is not really a temple, but a place for meditation. It is normally built with seven levels, each representing a level of life attainment. The pic above is the Japanese Shanti Stupa at sunset, this one below is our little secret stupa.
Also as requested, here are a couple of photos from the Leh Palace and the Yellow Hat Gompa. The Palace is truly astounding – not least in the sense that they allow tourists into the site. “Under renovation” is a soft way of describing the 8 or 10 story structure. Reed and mud daubed floors cave in, ancient wooden beams (the palace was built in the 17th century) creak under the weight of countless tons of stone and mud. The views from up top were spectacular, and climbing around inside was like something out of an Indiana Jones film.
In the center of the palace, we found a temple attended by a monk who must have been there for a good half a century. The mandalas painted on the walls were faded with age, but there were three statues inside, including one golden Buddha of Infinite Light. The prayer scrolls lining the walls looked so ancient that they might dissolve into dust if removed from their cubbyholes. We felt as though we’d walked out of the world completely and ended up in the dark, dusty center of some distant cloud. Video will be up one day, but we didn’t dare take photos in there because of the possibility of damaging the paintings. The painting below is a detail from one of the palace’s supporting pillars.
The Leh Palace is actually under repair right now. The work is being financed by the Dalai Lama, who actually showed up in town today for the beginning of his Ladakh tour! The men repairing the building are, oddly, working from the top down, replacing every damaged beam and sagging floor using imported cedar wood hewn and decorated with hand tools. More pictures soon, I promise, but the non-upload policy is still in effect.
Finally, a photo of the Yellow Hat Gompa. It’s on a peak outside of town, and we hope to climb it this evening. All is well!