Express News Service
Her knees gently brush mine. I know they’re unfamiliar. Her elbow finds the comfort of my thigh. I am assured it’s a stranger. I turn my head gently and her innocent eyes meet my curious glare. We don’t know each other but our hearts meet instantly. Perched on the edge of a noiseless hill, we meet a girl who flawlessly personifies the charm of the mystical land of wonder that Ladakh is. Her all-embracing warmth gives us a glimpse into the place she calls home. It isn’t long before she departs, but in her last words to us she says, “Ours are mountains with beauty abound. See it through your heart, instead of your eyes.”
That’s how we set out to explore Ladakh, our first stop being Rumbak in the largest nature reserve in India, the Hemis National Park. It greets you with fluttering prayer flags, holy sounds of “Om mani padme hum”, whispering winds through its deep craggy valley, occasional flocks of grazing urials and lots of little white chortens.
While there are many trekking routes here, the one we took was from Zingchen to Rumbak that takes five hours. With a cold water stream accompanying you on and off, the landscape changes every few metres till Rumbak, that welcomes you with numerous sacred mani stones with Sanskrit mantras. Spending a day here should suffice unless you visit in the winter to spot snow leopards. The road from here stretches out in different directions, but our journey took us to an amusing place, Yurutse, a one-house village, 15 km from the nearest motorable road.
A long walk and a short ride in a local bus the next day brings us to the next leg of our journey, a once-in-a-12-year experience at Naro Palace near the Hemis monastery. Decked up in bountiful colours of Buddhist festivities to celebrate the Naropa festival, likened to the Kumbh Mela, locals here honour the millennial birth anniversary of Naropa, a Buddhist Mahasiddha who attained enlightenment and flew with six bone ornaments offered by dakinis (tantric priestess). September is their holiest of holy months.
A congregation of half-a-million people had gathered at Hemis. As the present leader of the Drukpa Order, His Holiness Gyalwang Drukpa, said to be the reincarnation of Naropa, donned the scared 11th century bone ornaments. Devotees huddled together in the dusty grounds of the Naro Palace to see a fleeting glimpse of the ornaments. Many believe that by just seeing them they will attain enlightenment.
We committed ourselves to exploring the spiritual grandeur of the festival that wasn’t a regular one with voracious preaching and mantra-reciting. Here, people dance to music, there is theatre, fashion parades and even Bollywood nights from dawn to dusk for five days.
On the sixth day, it was time for us to get moving again. About a kilometre from Naro Palace is the Hemis Gompa, an 11th century monastery that is part of the Drukpa lineage. Saffron clad monks, some of whom are Tibetan exiles, greet you on the way. While most tourists make a dash for the statue of Guru Rinpoche (Padmasambhava) in the Gompa, we suggest you keep that for the last. Visit the basement museum that documents the places’ history with a display of relics and artifacts, some being 1,400 years old. The sporadic spread of ancient Buddhist art on its walls are great story-tellers.
A scroll hidden somewhere in the Hemis Monastery, we’re told, is a lost gospel and proof of the visit of Jesus to India in his ‘lost years’. A room, they claim, which Jesus visited, has now been transformed into a deluxe guest room that goes for `400 a night.
Our final exploration took us to the Gotsang Meditation Caves, an hour’s hike from Hemis. This was as close as we could come to finding peace. The art depicted through the gorgeous frescos bring alive life in the 12th century. We walk up to where Padmasambhava Rinpoche’s footprint are. Taking his holy blessings, we move out of the quiet, dark caves to the light of day, hoping for it to bring many more adventures.