A TASTE OF TRADITIONAL LADAKHI HOSPITALITY.
On the plane from Delhi I met a local woman. Her seat was next to mine and it was conducive to start a conversation. Though you probably know from experience that sitting next to someone does not necessary leads to open a pleasant conversation. Sometimes people are shy or self-censoring to start exchanging some small bits of information that reveal their view of the world.
But in my case from the moment she gently placed her small frame in the next seat, I was aware of many questions I’d like to ask her. She was a good-looking young local Ladakhi woman dressed up in the ochre robes of Chinese Buddhist nun.
I gambled and uttered my satisfaction that we are finally boarding and therefore will be flying to Leh. It is because yesterday the flight was cancelled and all of us had to cope with the consequences. She supportively confirmed the sentiment in a very good English and that served as a conversation breaker.
Dolma (her Dharmic name) was flying back home to Leh form Taiwan where this time she spent two years studying Buddhist philosophy. She was flying home to the family that lives in Basgo village 40 kilometers outside of the capital of Ladakh. She pointed to a group of very cheerful Thai women escorting two orange-robed monks – “They are flying with me to see monasteries around Leh”.
After our hour-long levitation in a belly of the Airbus above stunningly delicate and surreal terrain populated by endless snow-covered pinnacles, we made a turn above the shiny silver strip of Indus River. Dolma said that I should visit her family home after few days to continue our conversation about what is subjective and absolute reality and how not knowing the nature of subjective reality leads to anguish. That was a great opportunity to see authentic traditional Ladakhi life.
The Airbus made a quick turn around the orange granite mountain and now was aiming at the Indian Airforce landing strip that is leased by the civic aviation. We gently made a touchdown and I promised to make a visit.
Few days later I rented a motorcycle and rode across the pass by the confluence of Zanskar and Indus rivers and arrived in the green narrow valley holding the Basgo village. There was no address, all I had was only a family name.
I couldn’t resist visiting remarkable ruins of Basgo Gompa precariously perched on top of a red cobalt clay hill. The Monastery architectural ensemble has three temples – Chamba Maytreya (with Image of Maitreya on clay), Serzang Gompa (with imposing large Copper image of Maitreya) and Cham Chung temple that in the beginning was built as a Mosque but later transformed to the Buddhist gompa.
The road to the monastery and the ruins of Basgo castle cuts its way from behind dropping you on the grounds shielded from the valley. There was absolutely no visitors when I came except a teenage monk who was holding a key to the Maitreya temple housing giant statue and the murals.
I opted to explore the monastery complex with its alluring network of small covered passages leading to the top of a structure. At some point I came through an opening in the wall with unlatched gate that let me enter an upper courtyard offering a sheer vista of the valley.
A few minutes later when I was retracing my entry, I came to the portal with the gate — now it was locked.
My disbelief settled after I tried to push and pull at the tightly latched door. There was no one here I reasoned, therefore finding a climbable route over twenty feet of vertical space became the option. Finally a skill of climbing the rock could find a practical use, I thought. I was about to lunge for the upper hold when the gate suddenly open and there was a tiny man with a shocked look as if he was seeing an apparition. We exchanged greetings as I hurriedly passed through the opening while he was standing stunned motionless.
The color of the clay had very unexpected hue and I wandered into eroded slopes above the castle.
A shopkeeper at the store gladly showed me directions to the little house in a middle of a lush field. I followed a muddy trail under the cottonwood trees and as soon as I entered a mud-walled house with floors covered with hand-woven carpets, was absorbed into a feeling of a family.
Father who is seventy years old has no traditional education, but he is a very knowledgeable traditional Tibetan doctor called amchi. He receives a stream of visitors nearly every day and directs them to herbal procurers in Leh for remedies.
With his wife they have nine children — five lamas pursuing education in Buddhist Philosophy and a nun. Two of them are Geshes – an equivalent of a PhD in philosophy.
Only the oldest son and the oldest daughter are married in order to continue family line according to Ladakhi tradition.
The youngest daughter Wangmo just returned to the village life after receiving her education in Bangalore and is very happy to be home in dynamics of a loving family.
The parents don’t leave any time to ruminate on any mishaps or complain — they are always busy reciting mantras, either with a prayer wheel or mala — thus always keeping cheerful.
Dolma invited me into a larger room lined up with windows, traditional Tibetan carpets on the floor and hand-carved tables. We seamlessly picked up our philosophical exchange right where we left on the plane, until her older brother, whom she reverentially called Geshe-La joined us and the conversation just gotten richer.
Mother sent us traditional Tibetan salted butter tea from the kitchen and kept my cup filled every time I’d managed to finish this slightly unusual beverage.
After spending a day sharing stories, it was time to ride back to Leh. Rain was gathering above accompanied by a frequent rolling thunderstorm. Lobsang was looking out for a break for me to start off the journey back while his father Tsering was walking across the house continuously turning the prayer wheel of Cherenzig. It was getting dark. In accord father and the youngest daughter huddled for moment around a giant family storage sack of wheat wishing for my safe journey back on through the inclement weather. And soon there was a small break for me to get to the pass safely.
The road back up to the pass was wet, but empty. Occasional bursts of rain cloud would hog the road. I was riding to Leh completely surrendered to the fullness of this moment, feeling fulfilled and free of hurry.