Saturday, July 24, 2010

Juley! We Have Arrived in Leh

After the harrowing journey over the Himalayan mountains, we arrived upon the capitol city of Leh. We came into a dirty bus station at about 11pm, and after 4 days of traveling, we were quickly suckered into the first guest house we were offered. We had no reservations, which is the way it usually works, you get to a place and a guy comes up to you and says, "come look at my house, very nice place." Sometimes it is, but in the case of our first night in Leh, this was not so. I think when we arrived to the guest house it was only a matter of moments before Seth announced to me, "we are leaving in the morning." The first thing we found out was that there was no water, so if you want to bathe they bring you a bucket, which may or may not be warm, and they might not bring the bucket at all!

In the morning our pseudo tour guide, Glenn, announced he had found a much better guest house about 15 minutes away. So Seth and I packed up our stuff in a flash and, still hungover from the bus journey, found ourselves walking through the cobble stone village paths of the real Ladakh - the Ladakh that we had imagined through all the stories and movies we have seen and heard. The new guest house turned out to be a beautiful traditional Ladakh home, white walled, hand made bricks, thatched roof, beautiful green vegetable garden, streams running through and around the property, and my favorite Poplar trees lining it all. Our room is surrounded with big windows, facing in all directions the snow covered Himalayan mountains. Our little Ladakhy mother brings us fresh mint tea in the morning, and there is an actual toilet, unlike most places in the area which just have a hole in the floor.

Check out the picture below of the view from our bathroom!

Heaven. Suddenly the journey here started to feel like a distant memory as we fell in love with the city of Leh.

Here in Ladakh we have learned one word, "Juley" pronounced JOO-LAY. It is one of those amazing words that means: Hello-Goodbye-Thank You- Please-Excuse Me-Peace-and HEY YOU ALMOST RAN ME OVER! We must say Juley at least 100 times a day.

We have spent our days here in Leh in preparation for leaving for the Nubra Valley, which is located in the heart of Ladakh, about 5 hours from where we are. A place that requires permits, tents, bus tickets, and all the usual travel commodities.

Leh has an influx of westerners, and therefore the restaurants offer a selection of Indian, Ladakhy, Chinese and Israeli food, which we partake in, always saying, "Well...this may be the last time we will be able to get a falafel."

The valley that Leh sits in is surrounded by peaks that host an assortment of buildings, from monasteries, peace stupas, old forts, and the famous Leh Palace that was supposed to be the reproduction of the Potala Palace in Lhasa, Tibet.

Before coming here I had read the anthropological studies of the Ladakhy people done by Helena Norberg Hodges, in her book "Ancient Futures" (thank you Daruka). Which was written over 25 years ago, when she had become one of the first Westerners to come to this part of the word. She started an organization called the Ladakhy Woman's Alliance, that supports the self sustainable lifestyle and culture of the people. Everyday this organization shows a documentary film based on "Ancient Futures" which we went to watch one afternoon. You can all probably imagine the themes addressed in the film, a culture completely self-sustainable, producing no waste, strong community, being destroyed by the influx of globalization. People moving from the farm lands of no poverty to live in the dirty ghettos of the "big" city of Leh. Food production no longer local, grains shipped from Southern India, rather than grown in Ladakh.

Really sad, the day we watched the film, I had actually taken an hour walk, with my two girl friends, to buy bus tickets at the the very dirty bus station. Although we were staying in the image of beautiful traditional Ladakh life, to get to the bus station we had to through the nasty, dirty, garbage heap projects of Leh. Shops slanging crap, western paraphernalia, guns, sex and rock and roll, feces everywhere, no fresh water, no vegetable gardens, all in all pretty gross. I was thankful to get back to the other side of town, and to the sound of the streams running past my bedroom window, but a great perspective none the less.

Now off for a five hour journey deeper into the mountains, over the highest road pass in the world! to the very small town of Sumuur, where we will receive two days of teachings from HH the Dalai Lama.

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