Join our Mailing List

"We Tibetans are looking for a legitimate and meaningful autonomy, an arrangement that would enable Tibetans to live within the framework of the People’s Republic of China."

Flashbacks from Here and There: A Ladakh journey -- Part One

August 25, 2009

August 23, 2009

Editor's Note: This is the first of two parts
abridged from a Gina and Nick Ellena article published in Travel Magazine.

Our bus rounded the shaded base of the hill and
suddenly the monastery was revealed in brilliant
sunlight. It was a dazzling sight.

The huge monastery rose in tier after tier of
bone-whitewalls on the side of the mountain in
the Indus Valley of Ladakh in Northern India.

Several young school boys passed by shouting
"Jooleh!" at us, the friendly Ladakh greeting that is delivered with a smile.

Gina was an instant hit with her phrase-book
knowledge of Ladakhi. The children clustered,
laughingly, around her. We left them behind
waving to us when we started to climb to the
monastery. We paused frequently for breath in the
thinning atmosphere of 11,500 feet. Below us the
Indus River plunged into the terrible Himalayan gorges.

A deep band of green and gold lined the river. It
was harvest time. In the fields families stooped
over barley, cutting it with sickles. Their songs
kept rhythm with their movements.

A hum of voices drifted down from the monastery.
The murmur grew louder as we approached the stone
stairs at the main entrance. A lama in a burgundy
robe appeared at the top step. He waived for us
to approach. We climbed, somewhat in awe, and
took off our shoes. We followed the lama who,
with clasped hands, led us inside. We entered a
huge prayer hall, lit by two bright shafts of
sunlight, which revealed massive carved red pillars that

held up the ceiling. A senior lama was passing
around, distributing money that the lamas happily
received. It was payday at the monastery.

Ladakh, the land of lamas, who seek freedom from
endless reincarnations, is set in an environment
of raw and hostile beauty tucked into one of the
most remote corners of the globe.

It is sometimes called Little Tibet because of
the influence extended there by Tibetan Buddhism.
It is flanked by Pakistan to the west, China to
the north, Tibet to the east and India and
Kashmir to the south. All around tower some of
the highest mountains in the world.

The monasteries play an important part in the
life of the country. Almost every village has
one, each with two head lamas -- one for
spiritual and one for temporal affairs.

With the Muslim invasions of the Seventeenth
Century, the influence of Allah was extended to
Ladakh, and Buddhism and Islam have existed side
by side. With the treaty of Armitsar in 1846,
Ladakh and Kashmir passed over to India.

Ladakh has seen conquerors come and go through
the centuries. These upheavals have left few
scars in a land that never dips below 8,000 feet
and most of its scant population lives, toils and
dies between the giddy elevations of 11,000 and 15,000 feet.

The seasonal cycle, limited almost exclusively to
the pursuit of food, shelter and endless rounds
of prayer, has gone on virtually unchanged amid
the roaring technology of the 20th century.

(Part II on Sept. 6)

Nick Ellena, a retired reporter with the
Enterprise-Record who covered Butte County
government for decades, shares his memories of
his world travels in this column.
CTC National Office 1425 René-Lévesque Blvd West, 3rd Floor, Montréal, Québec, Canada, H3G 1T7
T: (514) 487-0665
Developed by plank