Monday, June 26, 2017

On The Road to Lamayuru. Lunch and Alchi Monastery.


Our next destination unknown on today's roadtrip to Lamayuru was the small village of Alchi where we had lunch.  It's also home to a monastery by the same name.  More of pretty Ladakh scenery along the way.  This has been such a refreshing change of view from the chaotic and congested cities we've spend the past two weeks in.



Somewhere along the way, Dorje veered off the main road.  We had been on the Srinigar-Leh Highway.  Soon, a small village came into view.


Alchi is a pretty small place and even so, it was packed with tourist vehicles.  The narrow streets were so crowded with cars, it wasn't easy for Dorje....who was determined to get us as close as possible to where ever it was we needed to be....to find a space to park our car.


He pointed us towards a path and that was it.   Off we went while he stayed behind.  There were a few shops and restaurants catering to tourists so it's obvious this is a popular place and the Alchi monastery must be a popular attraction.


The one thing that was nice about Alchi is that the village is nestled in the heart of an oasis.  We were surrounded by greenery and there was even a small stream running alongside the path we were on.


The path took a bit of a meandering route.  I have to admit, it was a lovely stroll.  It's very peaceful and calm here.  Unfortunately though, that tranquil space was often punctuated by sections of the path being flanked by souvenir vendors selling all sorts of items aimed at tourists.  I could've done with more trees and stream and less commercial stuff.  But, overall, they do leave you alone unless you are paying attention to something they are offering for sale so it's bearable.


We had absolutely no idea where we were going but given that it was past 1p, I suggested we keep our eyes out for a place to eat.  We took the path to pretty much where it ended and there we found what I would describe as a Tibetan run guesthouse or hotel.  The tables set outside were indication that they also served food here and indeed that was the case.   Turned out it was just a restaurant....not a guesthouse.  Based on the menu, which was in English, the Alchi Kitchen serves up a variety of Ladakhi, Kashmiri, Indian and Tibetan fare.


It was a beautiful day for an al fresco meal.  We kick started things with glasses of fresh watermelon juice which I have been enjoying quite a bit of since I've been in India.



We each ordered up our own dishes - I had skyu which is a Ladakhi pasta dish.  It was a sizeable bowl of pasta and a nice change from all the rice, naan, dal, and curry I've been eating.


Dorje had only given us about an hour or so for lunch.  Not that it took that long to order our food and eat but we still had a monastery to visit.

The main attraction in Alchi is the monastery.  We walked past it to get to the restaurant so we just retraced our steps.  Most Tibetan monasteries I've visited are large complexes that have been situated atop a hill.  Yes, that's a bit of a sweeping generalization but I think it's quite true.  There was no such place here.  The Alchi monastery complex or as it is officially called, Alchi Choskor is not like that at all.  The very small and modest complex also happens to be Ladakh's oldest - dating back to the 10th century.  It's also unusual in that its style is a blend of both the Hindu and Buddhist religions.

The monastery was built by Rinchen Zangpo, who was a translator of Sanskrit Buddhist texts into Tibetan back in the 1st century AD.  To build the monastery, he brought thirty two sculptors and wood carvers from Kashmir.  The result is five shrines containing impressive artwork.  Unlike Phyang and Basgo monasteries, Alchi no longer functions as religious activities were shifted over to nearby Likir monastery.

If there was any time when I had wished we had had a knowledgeable guide with us, it was at this moment.   Photography is strictly prohibited so I only have a few pictures.



If you have no idea where to go, just follow the people. In the case of Alchi, everyone was gathered around Sumstek Temple which appears to be one of the main buildings in the small complex.  There were enough people here that we actually had to wait our turn to get inside.  It was a small room, very dimly lit.  The artwork is quite impressive and well preserved.




We walked around a bit and peeked inside a few doors here and there but for some reason.....maybe we had already seen enough monasteries today, none of the three of us was really inspired to spend much time here.  As I said, a guide really would have been helpful here as I think we probably overlooked a very special place in the history of Tibetan Buddhism in Ladakh.





I think we were about a half hour or so late meeting back up with Dorje.  He didn't seem too concerned.  I had a feeling he had already factored in a bit of grace time.....he's ferried enough tourists here to roughly know how long it takes for lunch and Alchi monastery.

We headed back on to the Srinigar-Leh highway and continued our journey towards Lamayuru.  It would be about an hour and half long drive to get there.  More of Ladakh scenery along the way.


Stupas!



Aside from those and seeing a LOT of military bases on our road trip today, the other eye catching feature were all the green road signs that were posted up alongside stretches of the Srinigar-Leh Highway. There must have been more than 100 from Leh to Lamayuru. I managed to take photos of a few. Believe it or not the 18 photos in the collage below were taken in a time span of just 12 minutes! Some were common sense messages, others were humorous and some were just lost in translation to us.



All along the highway, construction was happening as well.  This is India where labor is cheap so no fancy equipment to move rocks or shape the road.  It's all done manually.  We drove past a lot of groups of laborers who not only work on the roads but also pretty much live in makeshift tents near their work site.


In the case of groups of women, many of them also had their children with them....some were even babies.  In many ways, it's a heartbreaking to think of a mother having to breastfeed her baby, while working hard labor, on the side of a highway.


A military launcher of some sort.  How did it get atop the boulder and what is it doing there?  What's it directed to?


We did have to make one pitstop. At a security checkpoint near Khaltsi.  Ladakh has a heavy security presence and permits are required to travel through some parts of the region....even in areas that are popular with tourists.   In our case, Ju-Leh Adventures handled all the paperwork.  We gave our passports to Dorje and he headed inside the office building to take care of our clearance to travel to Lamayuru.



It didn't take long for Dorje to do his deed.  Just enough time for us to stretch our legs a bit and to say no thank you to a local woman who had come by to sell small bags of dried fruits and nuts.   Seems like the checkpoint is her spot and no one else's as she was the only vendor around and she moved from one car to another to try and make a sale. The van, full of people, behind us did buy a couple bags of dried fruits from her.

Leaving Alchi behind, we also left all signs of greenery behind.  I always wonder, how back in the *old* days, people actually survived living in places like this.  In fact, the Srinigar-Leh Highway is closed to traffice for six months of the year so I guess if you live here, you have to be pretty much self sufficient.






By late afternoon, we arrived into a valley, a small and lush oasis.  I spotted the monastery in the far distance - perched high up on the edge of a mountain.  I immediately recognized it from all the pre-trip reading I had done.  It was Lamayuru!  We had finally arrived at our destination.



Dorje stopped the car just short of arriving into Lamayuru so we could take in the view of the area.  All I could think of was that I could not wait to get to the monastery - the view of the mountains from there must be magnificent!




The stark landscape in this part of Ladakh, around Lamayuru, is nicknamed Moon Land though I am certain that whoever came up with that moniker has never stepped foot on the moon to know what it looks like.  No doubt the landscape here is quite unusual.



I had to map out the route we took today just so I could put our road trip into perspective. Of course, on Google Maps, the route is a series of straight lines which is not accurate but at least it gives an idea of where we started and where we ended up on our trip today.


We passed through the small village of Lamayuru on the way to our hotel.  I would say that sizewise, Lamayuru is smaller than Alchi.  Barely a handful of commercial establishments here.

We are booked into Hotel Moonland.  I didn't see many hotel options, if any, as we passed through the village.


The hotel was expecting us so we got our rooms very quickly.  We gave Ayşe her own room and Chantale and I shared the one next door.

Open door is our room;  Ayşe's room is on the left.

Our room is very modest but clean and comfortable.  Best part is that it has a view of the hotel's small garden and in the far distance, Lamayuru Monastery.



Once we got settled in, we headed downstairs to the garden area where a couple of non-Indian tourists had settled down to sip on cups of tea and to read.  It's a very nice place here.....very peaceful.

The view of the hotel's property from the balcony next to the dining room.

From here, we had much better view of the monastery and of the road that we would have to walk on to get us there.


As nice as it was to linger in the garden, we didn't want to spend much time here.  We all wanted to have time to explore the monastery before sunset and perhaps before it closes to tourists for the day so it was time to scoot.


Greetings from Lamayuru!