Friday, February 2, 2018

One More Roadtrip Back to Leh. Thiksey Monastery.

Ayşe posing with two of the young monks we had lunch with at Thiksey Monastery.

Original Post Date: July 2, 2017.

It wasn't the best night's sleep last night but apparently I fared much better than my two travel companions who were so well encased inside their Silk Cocoon mummies that they basically could not move around in bed.  Poor Ayşe complained she was so sardined (is that a verb?) in that couldn't even roll over from one side to another!  I just had to laugh at her.  To top it off, I was worried that the girls would be too cold at night so I piled all the extra blankets on to top of them.  It seemed they didn't need the extra blankets because it turned out they were too hot!  Why didn't they just throw off a blanket?  I just had to laugh at them!

On the plus side, it was an absolutely picture perfect morning at Pangong Tso.  Once we were all out of bed and ready to head out, we took a short walk down to the water's edge.

From the lake looking back towards our homestay which is hidden somewhere behind those tents.

It was so serene out here.  Barely another person around.  Then I saw something that completely shocked me.  A car drove by us and stopped a short distance away, parked right at the edge of the water.  A man got out and literally started to wash his car using the water from the lake!  I am giving him the benefit of the doubt that he did not know that this lake is considered be sacred to Tibetans and therefore, you do not taint the water with the dirt from your car.  But even setting aside that his actions were disrespectful to a whole community of people, I had to wonder why he was even bothering trying to clean the car given the fact that he would be driving it car across more dusty roads where it would just get more dirty? Why bother cleaning it now?  Sometimes, I really don't understand people's actions.

I should've walked over and said something but today, I just wanted to enjoy my view and not engage in discussion with anyone else other than the two women I was traveling with.  So, I have now written my peace.  Time to move on.

It was here that I saw my one and only bird.  Supposedly, Pangong Tso is home to quite a few bird species but since we've been here, I've not spotted a single one except for this lone one.

I have no idea what kind of bird it is but it was just soaring with the wind.

We skipped breakfast this morning.  The thought of going back to the pop up place that we had dinner at last night was not at all enticing to any of the three of us.

Before leaving, Ayşe went to pay the bill and we had a brief chat with the  man who owns the place.  He's Tibetan and his wife is Ladakhi and they live here full time though I can't imagine how they survive in the heart of winter.  I would not be surprised if they go elsewhere for a short time period.  In any case, their home and the homestay are pretty much all in one complex, so to speak.  He was a nice man.

Though we had offered to pay for a room for Dorje, he opted to spend the night elsewhere.  Given how well rested he looked, we had to all laugh when we all agreed it was probably nicer accommodations!  He probably thought we were crazy stupid to stay here.

In any case, it was barely 7:30a when we all piled back into the car and hit the road for our journey back to Leh!  It was more of that incredible scenery which I think I will never forget the sight of.  I truly want to come back to Ladakh one day! 

This time, we didn't even stop at Chang la Pass.   Four hours after leaving Pangong Tso and I saw a structure, perched high atop a hill, that I recognized from my pre-trip readings - Thiksey Monastery.

There is no way that you can come to Leh and not visit this place so I was certain that was our next destination.

Unlike all the other monasteries that we had visited so far, the road up to Thiksey is wide and well paved.  After all, this is one of the most popular attractions for visitors to Leh so not surprised at how well maintained it is.

The parking lot was pretty filled with cars.  No surprise.  We got out and it was very obvious which way we had to go - plenty of signage to guide you.  So different from the more off the beaten path places we've been to. In some ways, I miss those places as undeniably, Thiksey is very touristy.  So much so that it was here that I saw more non-Indian tourists walking around than I've seen the entire time that I've been in Ladakh so far!

Pass through the entrance arch to the other side and you're greeted by a restaurant and a few shops which definitely cater to the the tourists.  We weren't interested in any of that so we just walked on by.

Several of the main temples were pretty crowded, relatively speaking, with tourists but Thiksey is big enough that you can wander around and not see people.

The monastery is perched high up enough that view of the valley is gorgeous.  However, with it being located so close to Leh, you do see more manmade structures here than say, at Basgo or Lamayuru.

Compared to the other monasteries we've visited, Thiksey is VERY well maintained and I think one of the more nicely decorated ones.

The main courtyard is ringed by several temples which were open to visitors so like everyone else, we took off our shoes at the base of the steps and headed on up.

The last temple we visited was a very small one.  Two monks, presumably doing watch duty to make sure tourists were *behaving* themselves appropriately, stopped me for a brief chat.  They were just curious where I was from etc.   Ayşe and Chantale joined me after they exited the temple.  Then, we heard the loud sound of a bell ringing.  According to the monks, it was the lunch bell.  One of them went off to lock the temple door while the other one invited us to join the monks for lunch.  Well, how could we say no to that?  He told us the way to go to get to the dining room so we thanked him for the invitation and headed off in search of the dining room.

I didn't think we would find the place but really all we had to do was follow the monks.  Typically, monasteries are closed to visitors over the lunch hour but in this case, we were invited to lunch so what the heck.  Let's go!  Worse thing that could happen is that the monks tell us that we can't join them.

We had passed the dining hall sign on our way to the temple so it was just a matter of getting back to that sign and following the arrow.

It really wasn't hard to spot the place - monks were scurrying in and out of a door that led to the kitchen.  We just walked right in and monks started to welcome us in.  I think anyone can come.  Inside the kitchen, it was a buffet lunch.  When there was a gap in monks, I made my way forward.  A nice monk handed me a big plate and waved me over to the pots holding the rice and dal, veggies.  For dessert, it was slices of canned pineapple.  No doubt a very simple lunch and there was no limit on the food.   Perhaps you only get one plate because some of the monks walking by me had plates piled sky high with rice and dal.

It seemed liked most of the monks were heading outside to eat.  I noticed Chantale walking into an adjoining room so I followed her.  At the far end of the very large room was a table of young monks....and Chantale.  She had chosen to eat with the kids.  The oldest was a teenager and the youngest....oh so very cute, was just five.  A baby really.  They were shy but surprisingly, spoke a bit of English.  As we ate, we asked the boys some simple questions in English.  A few were shy to answer but the oldest was more than happy to chat with us.

It seemed to me that visitors don't come often and when they do, they probably don't eat with the boys.  We were definitely unexpected company.  Technically, they are monks and therefore, are expected to behave with some degree of decorum but deep down, they are just loving ones.  Out of respect, I did not take a single photo once I stepped inside the kitchen and then the dining room.  I felt like they deserved some privacy so it was strictly a no photography allowed session for me.  I didn't notice Chantale taking any photos either.  She probably badly wanted to but also refrained.

Once we finished up our  meals, we took our plates back into the kitchen.  I noticed each monk washing their own plate so we did the same.  We also noticed that the oh so very cute five year old monk that we had shared our table with was now sitting at a small table in the kitchen.  An older monk was checking on him.  Here, you have to eat every morsel of food on your plate.  There is no wasting so that poor kid was going to have to sit there til he devoured his whole meal and the adult monk was overseeing him.  I'm guessing they know how much he can consume in one sitting and were making sure he ate his plate clean.  To me, it was a lot of food but boys can eat a lot!

On the way out, we left our donation with what I would describe as the Banker Monk.  I think he's the one that counts up all the money that has been dropped into the various collection boxes around the monastery.

The moment I stepped back out in to the sunlight, I started taking a few photos, especially when the boys that we had shared our lunchtime with emerged.

While we could've easily shared step space with the adult monks and eaten our lunch outside, I really enjoyed my interactions with the boys.

After lunch, we decided it was time to leave Thiksey.  Poor Dorje probably wondered what had happened to us as I am sure he was planning to drop us off somewhere for lunch.  When we told him we had already eaten with the monks, he was a bit surprised by hey, we had and it was fun!

Before arriving back into Leh, we made a brief stop in the village of Shey.  Here, there is a palace which is situated up on a hill.  Dorje dropped us off at the base and I have to admit, I had no interest in going to see the place.  Neither did Ayşe so while Chantale went on her own to explore, Ayşe and I headed to one of the local restaurants - to get a drink.  The place had a lovely garden out back and a few tables and chairs.  We just relaxed, enjoying the wonderful weather and soaking in the view of this gorgeous valley.  A short while later, Chantale joined us.  The palace turned out to be very uninspiring and as she made her way towards the car, Dorje intercepted her and told her where we were.  Eagled eyed guy.  He had kept watch on us.

From Shey, it was a very short drive back to Leh and our beloved Hotel Kidar.  Nice to be greeted back to a familiar place by friendly and friendly and familiar of whom is one of the youngest members of the family.....the darling Amun whom we've all fallen in love with but especially Ayşe.

It's a fuzzy photo but I'll let it be the one to close this blog posting.

Tomorrow is a big day.  It's the Hemis Festival.  It's THE reason why I came here and why I dragged my two friends to come along.  Tonight, Ms. Chantale will have to figure out what camera gear to take with her tomorrow morning.  I will just have an easy rest and try to not think about the fact that in two days, we will be leaving Ladakh.  I cannot believe our time here, which has truly been memorable, is about to come to an end.  I shall mourn later but for now, I need to get a shower!

Goodnight from Leh!