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.