Drive from Tso Moriri to Leh
After this incomparable high mountain interlude, today we will head from Tso Moriri to Leh. The 220km drive takes six to seven hours and, only in comparison with your journey so far, is not much to write about. Leave after a leisurely breakfast, stop at Tso Kiagar and if you spot the nomads camping in their unique yak-hair yurts, called ‘rebo’, stop by for a visit. These nomadic herdsmen live in tents the yearlong and move according to old, established custom based on the season, following occasional streams and in constant search of rich pasture for their animals.
At Sumdo/Puga turn right and follow the 20km dirt track till you hit the tarmac surface at Mahe Bridge. En route, you can make a brief stop at the Chumathang hot springs renowned for their medicinal properties. After Upshi, you are in Gompa land and can visit one or more, time permitting.
The Gompa, or Solitary Place, is the building where the monks could isolate themselves from the world further their meditative process. Gompas were therefore mostly built in remote locations. Their concept can be traced to the caves, hollowed out of sheer rock, which were used by monks for retreat and meditation. The growing acceptance of Buddhism, and the patronage it received from the state, led to Gompas evolving into large, magnificent edifies that served both as places of worship for devotees and also as residence and teaching centers for monks. Each gompa held its own treasure of holy relics. According to a scriptural couplet, the gompa should be built with its back to hill face and the front facing a water body. The approach to all gompas is lined with rows of fluttering player flags, gleaming white chortens and mani (medong) walls.
To this day people choose mani stones, preferably beautiful and unusual ones, and etch them, in the graceful Tibetan calligraphy, with mantras – the most common being “Om Mane Padme Hum”. The stones are piled on each other and form walls of prayer. Local belief holds that picking and carrying away one of these offerings of prayer brings bad luck.
Inside a gompa, one first enters the ‘Dukhang’ or assembly hall, where monks are found engaged in various rituals or in chanting prayers. The most sacred area of the gompa is the ‘Gokhang’, literally ‘god’s room’, where the central deity with his attendant images is enshrined. Butter lamps provide beautiful, soft illumination and the walls are adorned with painting and thangka. The interiors are vibrant with rich colours and the glowing images of Lord Buddha and the Bodhisattvas. Being centers of learning, most gompas have extensive libraries, with xylographs of the ‘Kanjur’ (holy book of the Buddha’s teachings) and the ‘Thanjur’ (commentaries on the teachings). Depending on the time of day, a gompa can be a beehive of activity but the overall aura is one of peace and tranquility.
Note: Visibility may be low in the older sections of the gompas – a flashlight could prove handy to view the intricate details of murals.
Get to know about Leh
Leh, with a population of approximately 30,000, lies at an altitude of 11,000ft/2250m.
This was the historical capital for centuries after the shift from Shey and continues to be the administrative hub, and the only town in the region. Being a major trading center in the past it was an extremely busy city and a melting pot of cultures. Today it is much quitter, with a considerable army presence and droves of western tourists, particularly in July and August.
The town is set amongst dramatic surroundings; in a fertile side valley of the Indus River and ringed by high mountains of the Stok and Ladakh range in the East and West. There is not much to see within the actual town of Leh but it is pleasurable to walk around the historic bazaar. Soak in the atmosphere, observing the interesting mix of people bustling around the streets or step into one of many side walk restaurants for a cup of coffee or a meal.