Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Visiting Stok.

The first thing we had to do this morning was say goodbye to Ayşe who left us early to return to Turkey to spend more time with her family before returning home to the US. I was fast asleep until I heard her alarm go off.  I waited for her to get ready to literally walk out the door before I got out of bed to give her a big hug and to wish her a safe journey.  Tashi had arranged for a car and driver to take her to the airport so I told her to let me know if her ride did not show up.

I crawled back into bed and never heard from her so I assumed all was okay.

I really hadn't put together an itinerary for today as originally we were going to be attending a second day of the Hemis Festival but since we opted out just yesterday afternoon, there was no time to come up with an itinerary.  I told Tashi we would just hang around town.

Chantale had also decided that she wanted to return to the Ladakh Cafe first thing this morning so she could check in on her father so we told Tashi to have Dorje meet us there.  We quickly ate our breakfast at the hotel, dashed back to our room to get ready for the day and then headed out the front gates of the Hotel Kidar.  This was our last day in Leh and I was going to relish every minute of it!

It was another picture perfect summer's day in Leh when Chantale and I headed out to the Ladakh Cafe.  We had done this walk so many times by now but even so, the world looked a bit different in the morning.  The animals were out feeding and many of the shops and restaurants were still shuttered up.  I just hoped the Cafe would be open.

It was early in the morning, too early for most shops to be open for business.  It also meant little to no traffic on the road; it was nice to be able to just stroll along and not be worried about being hit by a car.

Thankfully, our favorite cafe was open and ready for service.  In the past couple of days, they've had issues with electricity (brownouts) which meant they could not cook anything and also meant no WiFi for cyber starved customers like us.  One day, they even had no water which meant having to go out and buy some.  The cafe is owned by two young men - one of them is the nephew of the man who owns the travel agency next door.  It's actually the agency's WiFi hotspot that the cafe's customers aka us are using.

Dorje popped his inside the door, looking for us.  It was time for us to pack up and leave and so we said our goodbyes to the friendly owners of the Ladakh Cafe.  Who knows if we will be back though I would love to do so one day.

We had driven on the road leading to Stok several times this past week so the sights were somewhat familiar.  Leh is not a pretty town.  It's a mix of new buildings, crumbling old buildings and buildings in some stage of being constructed.  There is no attention to architectural style or design here.....it's about building something functional with whatever amount of money you have to build it with.    Many of the streets are still not paved and sidewalks are well....sometimes there are and sometimes there aren't.  Oddly enough, I don't recall seeing any stop lights in town.   This morning, I decided to capture some video of our ride out of town.

We did make one pitstop, at a pharmacy.   Chantale wanted to buy another face mask.  The dust here is horrible and since she rides with the window down, she is sucking in a lot of dust.  I don't do the mask thing so if anyone were to look at my lungs at the moment, they would be some horrible shade of dirt!

Apparently, there weren't all that many masks to choose from so Chantale ended up with one that is recommended for motorcyclists.  It really is a heavy duty thing.  Makes her look like a giant bug!

Stok is where Dorje calls home.  It's about a half hour's drive from Leh.  So basically, this morning, Dorje drove a half hour to come pick us up and then another half hour to take us back to where he lives 😁.  If we could have saved him the time and effort we would've!

The road to Stok took us across the Indus River.

I had absolutely no idea what we were going to be seeing in Stok but surprise, surprise, the surprise....there are plenty of stupas here!

The large golden Buddha was a sure sign that a monastery visit would be on our agenda today.

Dorje veered off the main road on to a narrow road that wound its way through a lush valley made green thanks to several streams running through it.  It's pretty here and I can see why Dorje would prefer to call this place his home rather than living in Leh.   Dorje pointed off to his home....somewhere in the distance to the left of our car.

Dorje deposited us off near the entrance to a very imposing building.  At first I thought it was a monastery but it turned out to be a place that is now called the Stok Palace Heritage Hotel.  Built in 1820 by King Tsepal Namgyal, the palace was originally the summer home of the royal family of Ladakh.  Today, it is a small heritage hotel with six guest rooms and a cafe.  Also, there is a small museum on the premises, showing royal family treasures.  There was a fee to enter the museum and not knowing what was inside, we opted to not visit the museum.  So we just did a quick walk about the place and then left.

Leave it to Chantale to not want to leave the palace the same way we arrived.  Where there is a door, she will go.  Somehow, we ended up on a set of steps leading down rocky hillside.   I felt like we were exiting out the back door.  I wasn't sure we were suppose to be on this path but there were no barriers preventing us from going forward so we kept going.  I was wondering how the heck we would get back up the hill to the parking lot that Dorje had left us off at.  On the plus side, there were great views from here.  I know I've already said this many times before, but I am really going to miss the scenery in Ladakh!

When we were at the palace, there were barely a handful of people around.  Leaving the palace, we encountered exactly zero people.  It's so peaceful here.  While the palace had obviously been well restored, the same could not be said of some of the small buildings located at its foothill.  Pretty much everything was in ruins.

The steps led down through a stupa.  I've never passed under one before.

The underside of the stupa was beautifully painted.  You could see that the murals had not been restored.  I read somwhere that stupas are never restored in Ladakh; that the Buddhist religion dictates that they should be allowed to decay *naturally*.  I paused to admire the paintings, imagining that back in the day, royalty who walked along the same path did exactly the same thing.

Passing through the stupa, we ended back up on the same road that we had just driven over.  From here, we knew we had to walk back up the hill the parking lot to meet back up with Dorje.

At some point, we recognized the parking lot area but the road seemed to continue its winding path up the hill.  We spotted what we thought was a short cut - took us through a fence.  On the other side was a lot on which a building stood.  I think we had just crossed the fence that was put up to keep intruders i.e., folks like us, out.  We were walking as normal until we heard the sharp bark of a dog.  No doubt a guard dog.  So we picked up our pace....like started running.  We then slipped through another opening in the fence and made our way to our car and Dorje.  Whew!

From here, we went by car to the monastery.  Probably no more than a 5 minute drive - we could've easily walked.

Stok Monastery was founded by Lama Lhawang Lotus in the 14th. Next to the monastery is the 22 meter (71 feet) tall seated Gautama Buddha statue and temple that was constructed between 2012-2015 and consecrated by the 14th Dalai Lama on 8 August 2016.

I don't know if Dorje already read our minds but a visit to yet another monastery was something we could do without.  Or else, he felt that Stok Monastery wasn't worth our time so instead he took us right to the Buddha statue and temple.

Buddha's got a phenomenal view of the valley and mountains beyond.

I followed Dorje inside the temple, slipping my hiking boots off next to his sneakers.

Inside was one small, nicely decorated room with small prayer altar at the front.  Prayer books and offerings were piled up on the table. 

The pristine condition of the wall murals reflected the newness of the place.  Had we come just two years ago, this temple would not have likely been open to the public yet.

Our time at the Buddha statue and temple was understandably very brief - not exactly a lot to see here.  Just a short time after arriving and we were back in the car off to our next destination....Dorje's home!