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CRAFT YOUR JOURNEY
A Life Closer to Nature
BEHIND THE SCENES

A Life Closer to Nature

A KAMALAN PRODUCTION JOURNEY
WITH ANOTHER ESCAPE
Another escape map

KAMALAN X ANOTHER ESCAPE, SEPTEMBER 2017

There was a time when humans led a life full of reverence and respect to Nature. Somewhere along the line, we faltered, stumbling off path. This journey, for Another Escape’s Altitudes volume, was an attempt to trace our way back to harmony. We travelled through the diverse terrains of Ladakh to understand the way of life of a people – town settlers and nomads, who have been living in harmony with Nature, embracing extreme conditions with grace.
PROMINENT THEMES
  • Cuisine

  • Religion & Community

  • Nature & Wellness

Leh

Zangskar

Chang-thang

Nubra Valley

Leh

Ladakh has never failed to spellbound us. 11,480 ft from above the ground, the town was in sight as the clouds dispersed – an uneven spread of mountains with irregular strokes of snow. Landing at such a high altitude, one needs more than a few minutes to acclimatise themselves. Past the disorientation, we took a few minutes to let the humbling grandeur of the region sink in. A few decades earlier, this region was closed to the outer world barring the established military operations. The construction of a road and the allowing of commercial airlines to ply connected this region with the outside world.

The streets of Leh had a fair amount of people but there was a sense of calm that is a trait specific to small towns and villages. We walked down the markets and were welcomed by a silence so unfamiliar to Indian markets. We ambled past the old Leh Palace as the town carried on its regular life. The distant mountain ranges were disturbed by the fluttering prayer flags that decorate almost every street. The houses, with their flat roofs constructed from locally available materials, made the town look like an extension of nature itself.

The palpable sense of calm could be attributed to the wide prevalence and age-old influence of the ideals of Buddhism. One of the last few regions were Tibetan Buddhism is practised, the towns are outlined with stupas, domed Buddhist monuments scattered along the fringes. We headed to the Hemis Monastery, perched atop elevated rocks. They remind one of those magic castles that we read about in fables. We removed our shoes and placed our feet on the cold stone floor smoothed by time.  Crimson red or maroon coloured robe-clad monks or lamas kept strolling in and out of the monastery, mumbling prayers. The sunlight was failing and the monastery was filled with a soothing silence. At some distance, we heard a mild hum. Piqued by curiosity and drawn towards the magnetic sound, we stumbled into a yard of the monastic school, where young monks were religiously reciting their prayers. Feeling blessed, we walked away silently.

Zangskar

Trailing through the curving river banks, we reached the confluence of Zanskar and Indus where pockets of oases seemed to have sprouted from all the silt deposited over the years. Bright terrace fields, orchards of apple, apricot and the iconic poplar trees, reminiscent of a pleasant spring, greeted us. These rustic villages comprised of white-washed, flat-roofed buildings typical of Tibetan style. These flat-roofs play an integral role in the lives of the Ladakhis; grains, fruits and hay are spread out on the roofs to make the most while the sun shines.

Struggling up the elevated pass, the gaudily decorated trucks choked up fumes of smoke - a hard sight considering the region’s delicate ecosystem. We were travelling to the furthest reach of Ladakh to meet with a small community of Drokpa people. The 2500-odd residents scattered across four tiny hamlets claim to be the last descendants of the Aryan race and some claim to be of the bloodline of Alexander’s army.  It was a day of celebration for the drokpas; the thumping and chaotic sounds of drums, pipes and hoarse singing resounds through the silent village of Hanu. A procession of traditionally dressed locals with floral headdresses and bright ribbons danced its way to the central square celebrating their unique way of life.

Amidst the imposing mountain ranges stood tall grasses of barley crops, spreading into acres. Barley fields provide the mountain folk with the staple of their diet, tsampa, a necessary ingredient in their high-calorie diet to survive the gruelling circumstances. Watered by the glaciers, these small pockets of barley fields shined in the glimmering sun as a testament to the pact of mutual respect that the people and nature had for each other. Everywhere we went, we were offered with a warm smile, kholak and butter tea, two of the few staples of the region. Kholak are dumpling-like balls made from kneading barley or tsampa with butter tea or chang.

Nights in Ladakh are an affair of magic. Snuggled into our warm rugs on a rooftop,  we were lying down under a starlit sky shining down upon us – an occurrence that has been rare off late in the artificially lit, pollution intense cities.

Chang-thang

On the last leg of our journey, we travelled to a large high-altitude plateau stretching from western Tibet to Ladakh, Chang-thang. The sublime magnificence of the view, of the great mountains carving an irregular silhouette on the horizon, was not the only thing. We were at the mercy of nature – the cold biting winds wheezed throughout, pricking our bodies like needles. It is in this desert of a land that the nomadic tribes of chang-pa live and have lived for the last 1000 years.

We made sure that the first few rays of the demure sun warmed our freezing bodies as we walked towards the scattered settlements of the Chang-pa tribe. Early mornings stirred the sleepy settlements to life. People were walking out of their tents and the goats were scurrying together for their morning routine.

The goats play an integral part in the lives of the Chang-pa tribe. The goats are reared and the wool called pashm is sold mainly to Kashmir from where the world gets it Pashmina shawls. The wool also keeps the tribes warm in this biting temperature that can go down to -35 C during winters. Another animal that holds an important relationship with the tribes is a Yak. Yaks are raised and revered by the tribes for its milk, fur and the hairs. Yak meat is a byproduct.

Their makeshift camps and rebos, huts traditionally made from yak hair, helps them withstand the ruthless climatic conditions. A strange smell burnt our noses when we entered a rebo of one of the families. It was the smell of dried dung of the livestock that is used as fuel to cook and keep themselves warm. The tribes are bound to the land by the extreme nature and the limited resources available. Yet there prevailed a deep sense of respect in their interactions with nature- a sense of understanding that eludes most of us.

Nubra Valley

We were welcomed by a board that read, ‘Border Roads Organisation welcomes you to the top of the world.’  Traversing through the narrow mountain roadways, we reached the Khardung la of Nubra Valley, one of the highest motorable passes. Khardung La was crowded, with the prayer flags faded with sunlight fluttering rapidly. Unlike the rest of Ladakh, Nubra valley evoked a warmer feel, partially due to its lower elevation and less demanding conditions. The confluence of rivers has ensured an alluvial plain. We arrived at a farm boasting a rich medley of colourful flowers. The farmer, in his soiled clothes, reminded us in an affable tone of Nubra’s old name Ldumra that translates into ‘the valley of flowers’. Our time in Nubra valley was spent with an amicable and a well-informed host. Walking through his farms and orchards, he shared with us the deep sense of respect that the traditional Ladakhi farming methods have towards their ecology.

After a tiring but enriching journey through the valleys, we were back in Leh’s old town sitting on a rooftop owned by the Ladakh Arts and Media Organisation, listening to the local Ladakhi artists, who have embraced new elements and combined it with their local music. On the other side of the town, locals were playing Polo, a cherished traditional pastime that was introduced to the region sometime between the 15th and 17th century. The ambient sounds of electronic music and the mesmerising landscape lulled us into a state of pleasant euphoria as the last ten days and the experiences flooded our minds. We left a bit of ourselves behind in Ladakh.

 

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