We reached Kargil town at around 6 pm. Kargil is the second largest town in Ladakh after Leh. Having an average elevation of 8780 ft., it has a temperate climate. As we reached our abode in Kargil, we were greeted by the hotel staff (Zojila Residency) and the beautiful cotton grass which filled up the air with the music of a charismatic evening.
The ambiance of the town, in general, was very refreshing and people seemed to lead a simple life. In this part of the country, the Sun takes a tad bit more time to say goodbye in the evening and hence we got some time in daylight, to walk around the charming place. We walked and went near the banks of the Suru River and experienced a surreal moment, the whole Kargil town at a glance as if a panoramic image was being captured. The rays of the setting sun kissing tenderly the calm waters of the Suru and slowly fading away behind the barren mountain range to keep us yearning for years to come to see that sunset again.
Walking through the rustic beauty of the ruins we came across a cafe. Our urban mindset conceptualizes a roadside cafe in a particular way but this was a totally different and exciting experience. An open cafe on the bank of the Suru river. The seating designed in the form of a ‘Baithak’. We let go of our urban consciousness and responded to the call of the raw and rustic way of life. In that beautiful setup, we sat and ordered mutton momo and chicken keema paratha along with a cup of flavored tea. We played softly on our Bluetooth speaker ‘Taj dare haram, nigahen karam’. We were having the best time of our lives.
Next morning we got prepared to leave for Leh. As we moved out of Kargil, I had this feeling of leaving behind a close friend and I realized that it did not take much time for the Himalayan town to take my heart away. As the car sped away onto the highway, we realized that the natural and the religious landscape are new to us. The structure of the houses, the absence of greenery, the small Buddhist prayer flags attached to the houses, the physical features of the people made us realize that we have stepped into totally new and unknown territory and perhaps our first real taste of the enigma called Ladakh.
First stop at Mulbek Monastery. Suddenly the cars stop and we turn to the right and see a huge Buddha statue carved out of the rocky mountain. It was such a thrilling experience. Later, we went inside the monastery and read that the statue is of the Maitreya Buddha (the future Buddha). Mulbek Monastery or Mulbek Gompa is said to consist of two gompas, one Drukpa and one Gelugpa Buddhist monastery.
We were on the road again. This area the mountains totally arid, rough and rugged, the road through the mountains amazed us every moment of the drive. After some time we reached the Lamayuru Monastery. Lamayuru Monastery is a Tibetan Buddhist Monastery. Standing tall at an altitude of 11520 ft., the monastery is one of the most interesting places to visit in Ladakh. The oldest gompa is also one of the largest monasteries in Ladakh famed as Tharpa Ling which means the ‘place of freedom’. Nearly 150 monks belong to the monastery and 30-40 still reside at the gompa belonging to the Red-Sect of Buddhism.
While I was walking around the monastery and exploring, something strange happened. There was an area with a lot of large stones with inscriptions on them. The language was not familiar so I could not read it, but I was intrigued by the colour, the designs and the way they have meticulously preserved it for so many centuries. I was fiddling with the stones, suddenly below a heap of stones, I could see a paper. I removed the stones and to my surprise found a book lying in the dust.
I was tremendously excited and caressed my fingers on the pages with words which I could not comprehend but had this feeling of touching thousand-year-old history. I was completely lost in the complex web of time and space and fell in love with everything around. The next part will start with the journey from Lamayuru Monastery. Till then, go green! Safe and responsible travel!
Photos: Gargi Chowdhury & Pratyay Raha