Friday, May 14, 2010

Guest Traveller

In Làdakh a young actor gawks in wild surmise...

When I received the script for the film `Veettilekkulla Vazhi' (way to home) written by Dr Biju, glancing through its visuals and sequences, my mind was filled with sweet imaginations of a dreamy journey. My heart bloomed when I heard that its picturisation would be in Ladakh. The Himalayan peaks are one of my favorite destinations and when it comes to Ladakh, it is full of Buddha viharas.

For all these reasons that I chose Ladakh when 'Mathrubhumi Yathra' invited me for a journey. The film'Veetilekulla Vazhi 'is a doctor's investigation journey. Its inner essence is the war of love against terrorism. So before its shooting, I thought there would be definitely some relevance for the journey through the country sides of Ladakh and its Budha viharas.

Though I am not in an age for spiritual hunt, the thoughts bestowed by the legends and their writings have great influence in my life. It was my father who first told me the story of prince Siddhartha who sacrificed his home to heal the agony of the world. From then onwards Buddha and his teachings occupied greater influence in my readings. It seems to me that majority in Ladakah live their life abide by Budha teachings. My mind was craving for a journey touching the culture and village lives. A journey through the merciful paths of Buddha.

Leh is not alien to me. Some times back my journey though Kulu-Manali to Himalayas in a motor bike was extended up to Leh. It is one of the snow deserts of Himalayas. But even if the mercury plummets to any low, there will be the heat of life beat in its each corner and the real wonders crafted by the nature. When we began our journey from Delhi aiming Leh, it was actually a journey leaving behind all the concrete jungles to the mountain forests. Crossing the lush green Kerala… touching Indraprastham (Delhi) which is now a concrete jungle, which stood wearing the air of city pollution like a hat ….. to the crown of India, the Kashmir. It was in all sense a sky view of the divergent India.

When our flight was nearing Leh, the window scenes from the air craft is beyond description. Mountain valleys looked like milky ways, in some places the snow has penetrated like veins in the leaves. Some places you can see mountain paths and in some small lush green patches of villages. The leaves of the trees have adorned the yellow shade. They all will defoliate soon. The branches will be covered with snow.

My bike journey to Himalayas was in December. Now it is the beginning of the winter season. Closing their shops, many of the traders and hotel owners in Leh would have began their journey to Goa and other parts of India. Then there will be only the soldiers, some villagers and countable number of tourists will be left. All the roads will be blocked by the snow.

Our accommodation was arranged in Lasermo hotel in Leh. The first direction which is being given to the flight passengers when they alight at Leh is that they should take rest for at least 36 hours. It is called acclimatization. The problem of acclimatization in Ladakah is faced by majority of the people who visit this place for the first time. This is because it is situated at quite an altitude and has low atmospheric oxygen. So if you are going there, first give yourself sometime for acclimatization and then only, resume with your sightseeing and other plans. This is the place where a man sitting in the sun with his feet in the shade suffers from sunstroke and frostbite at the same time.

The best time to visit Ladakh is in the months of June, July, August and September. The Ladkah festival during September is a colorful occasion. But I chose December for my earlier journey where the rush will be low and that was too convenient for me as I like privacy a lot. In that journey which began from Chandigarh, up to Leh we used the bike. The journey was an adventurous one in the road which turned slippery in the heavy snow. Though officially the road was closed, we rode with special permission. Border road organization will clear the road from snow to facilitate the movement of army vehicles. Owing to that we were also able to ride the bikes.

This time our first aim was Thikthey Monastery a Budhavihara very near to Leh. When the vehicle was on its way from Leh to Gompa, I drank a glass of juice from Gulam Jeelani's shop which is on the way. Though no one will feel thirsty in the cold, drinking lots of water is necessary. The body needs so. In front of a house, the snow was cleaned up and accumulated from the courtyard to form a pile. White snow flowers were blossomed in the cabbage garden and flower garden in the court yard. The people here are very hardworking; they cultivate potato, carrot and barley. They live their life depending on the water they get when the snow melts. They won't have much work to do on winter till the month of March. They will live the rest of the month with cereals and beef meat which they accumulated like ants.

When the vehicle crossed the Leh market, driver Norbu stopped the car before the prayer wheel. He alighted after seeking our permission. He rotated the wheel for three times and came back to us. Why does he do so? The wheel contains bells in which lakhs of prayers are immersed. The people here believe that when the wheel rotates for a time, such lakhs and lakhs of prayers would reach to the God in such a short time. Here things are such simple than counting the rosary.

Norbu drove the car to the road which is said to be the highest motorable pass, the way to Khardung La pass. It is through this way that essential commodities are being supplied to soldiers who are in keeping vigil in Siachin Glaciers, which is known as the crucial war zone in Karakoram Mountains.

Driver stopped at Gompa view point, which is13, 000 feet above sea level. What's more interesting is the locality around. Its one part is covered with snow capped peaks. The valleys in the other parts are full of vast fields post harvest and conifer trees and widely extended row land. When the colour shades of sunlight reflects in the snow filled mountains, a photographer will stood bowed before that mountain ranges, deeply smitten by its beauty.

`Which are those trees'? I asked pointing at the conifer trees. In Ladakh they call it Yulat tree. While constructing a house, they use its woods to roof across upper part of the house. Above it the woods of Malchang trees will be placed diagonally and then over it the template will be made. During winter season piles of yatsis grass will be placed as to save the house from snow fall and cold. All the mountains in roadsides in view point are now filled with snow. The fume pillars placed to welcome Dalai Lama are still standing high in the road side.

Norbu drove the car to the peace pillar founded by Jokyo Nakamuro from Japan. A humble effort to reach out the messages of peace to the world. When we were standing there enjoying the warmth of sunlight, one helicopter was roaming over our heads, yes, for the surveillance . While experiencing the strict caution exercised by soldiers who are keeping vigil without splashing their eye, the harmful thoughts pertaining to borders reach even near to this peace pillar. The Kargil war in which hundreds of soldiers lost their lives for the country pops up in memory as a pain.

While passing from peace pillar to Leah through the Kulu-Manali high way and Indo-China friendship route, the sincerity and truthfulness of Lakdakhis was our topic of discussion. I began to wonder seeing my mobile phone still intact in the car which was fallen from my hand. 'The Ladakhis are known for their truthfulness. You can go outside by keeping the door open to anywhere', Norbu said. In this our attention stuck to a board- Leh District Jail. Oh! a jail in a land where there are no thieves and criminals? Norbu replied, there are only four or five people sir, and all of them are either Kashmiris or Nepalis you will never find a Ladakhi there, he said.

We reached Chokamslager and Norbu veered off the car to the right direction. We crossed a bridge under which Sindhu was meandering in peace between the mountains. The water out of melting snow has the purity of crystal clarity. Our journey was to the Stok village. Many were signaling for lift in the road side. As per the custom here, if there is a seat vacant in your vehicle you should accommodate them. Norbu drove the car without stopping, may be thinking that the travellers in his vehicle may not like it. But I said to him, `we have no objection in accommodating one'.

Norbu drove us to Stok saying that there we can see museum with pictures reflecting the life sketches of Leah. He sat in car itself directing us towards the route. A museum adorning the aroma of ancient culture. One man was sitting their being pampered by the sunlight to escape from chill. Though the charge for ticket was written there, we saw no one to give it. A board containing the notice- Photography not allowed-was placed with big bold letters . We got in and walked upward towards a door. Some one was inside. We knocked in the door. A Ladakhi girl opened the door. 'Can't we get ticket here?. , we asked. Sorry sir, due to winter season the museum is not open. It will be open after March only, she replied.

After roaming in Sushuth village and having a Ladakhi tea (a mix of milk, butter and salt) we reached Sindhudarshan point. Sindhudarshan point is the place from where you can have a view of Sindhu from road side which originates from Tibet. On its shores I saw flowering reeds (attuvanchi) like in the banks of Bharathapuzha and the scene was marvelous. I touched Sindhu and my hands sans gloves immersed in full cold.

Our next destination was Shey palace. It looked like a typical Budha vihara. All the scenes have a touch of Budha teachings here. The main attraction is bronze budha statue which is covered with gold. It was the summer palace of king of Leah palace. A palace which seems like glued tightly to the up of a hill. A small pond was in front of the palace. 'By next month the pond will be filled with snow pieces. Then the pond will be used as field for ice hockey' , Norbu said.

In the middle Ladkah , Tiksey monastery is the biggest and the most attractive Budha vihara. It is a 12 storied building situating in stratas in the upper part of hill with snow filled mountain in its back ground. When we reached the peak through the zig zag road, the scene from the heights of the road we covered amused us. Though we are standing in one of Budha viharas which preach for salvation (moksha) over desires, we can't escape from these beautiful scenes. The river far is Sindhu, and the villages and fields surrounding the river seemed like a picture before our eyes.

There was a feast of beautiful sights in inner part of Budha vihara. Mithraya Budha temple, wall sketches which unveils the life history of Budha, prayer flags. The building is in the model of Pottala Palace in Lasa which is the official residence of Dalai Lama. It is the biggest library in Leah too with an extensive collection of Tibetan books.

When I reached there I had a wish to take photo in Lama's attire. (My girl fans please don't doubt, I never became a Lama who lost all ambitions.) though the dress was with me I don't knew how to wear it. I sought the help of a young Lama from monastery. (He was reluctant at first. He then agreed when the people introduced me as film star.)

While returning from there, I asked Norbu to stop the car seeing a deserted place, thinking that it will be perfect location for our film of 'Veetilekulla Vazhi', I was amused by the uttering of Malayalam words behind me' Hey look Prithviraj is here'. Those were Malayalee soldiers riding to us in a bullet. Biju from Kayakulam and Sabarinath from Palakkad. Seeing the nice road and the beautiful climate here, I was unable to escape from a wish to ride the bullet. When started riding it, I was not able to leave that joy so fast. The memories of my old bike journey began to accompany me.

When I was back from the ride, the number of Malayalees rose. They are from the army camp very near. The moments with those brave soldiers were very precious for me. They invited me to their barrack when I will be here for shooting and I accepted the same. If I would have continued the study in Army school, I would be a soldier like them. When we were going up, we spotted a shamiyana in barley field. When we were returning, people still flowing there. 'What is there?, I asked. 'A marriage', Norbu said. `Hey it's a chance for having a look at Ladakhi marriage '. I made a wish to see the same. Norbu was ready. There was a ritual progressing for inviting the bride. They welcomed us wholeheartedly. In those marriages Chang –a liquor, will also be served which is a major custom here. The liquor made of barely has the same effect as of a beer. When we asked for some just to taste it, they gave us two bottles. It tastes like toddy. Here there is no dowry for marriage. The man has to give jewelleries and dress for the bride. We retuned from there after wishing new couple.

'By next month the whole road will be covered with snow and there will be difficulty in taking the car to the road. After heating the diesel tank with fire that we start the vehicle . Some gives winter rest to vehicle after removing the tank. If the car is out in the road for any emergency a cycle chain will be attached to the tyres, a local tanker facility as not to slip in snow', Norbu detailed pointing at the snow piles near the road side.

While moving ahead, one waved hands for lift from the road side. Norbu knows him, a cinema director in Ladakh. His name is Rigsin. Norbu invited him to the vehicle and introduced to us. I felt happy that I was able to make acquaintance with a person here from the film field. We played his latest Kashmir album in my laptop. Beautiful visuals accompanied by relevant thoughts and ideas.

It says, 'People making this paradise a worrisome hell. We are waging war in the name of countries. We die in the name of freedom. We are suffering for years and years. Many are living dead losing their tomorrow. Are there no solution for all these? And answers for all these? We have beautiful mountains and lakes but still….' The messages forwarded by the album go like this

Rigsin canned it with visuals that make a deep feeling in the heart. Guru Jokyo Nakamoro from Japan wrote the lines and gave music too. Nakamoro came to India in his 20's, changed himself to spiritual life after that. An engineer cum guitarist, who left all those and became a Budha saint. He is the one who constructed peace pillars in Ladakah and Himachal Pradesh. He again took his guitar seeing the plight of people who are victims of terrorism. A music album hoping to renew the minds here through music.` I am fortunate that I became a part of it, Rigsin said.

Though Rigsin left us after having a tea, the thoughts in his albums were with us. My mind was fluttering in those messages. Here a war in the name of Kashmir, clash in the name of Arunachal Pradesh. Oblivious to all these Sindhu is flowing peacefully, originating from Tibet and soaking the north -south lands of India, and touching Pakistan then to the Arabian sea. The contradiction lies in the fact that the banks of this great culture had became a land of fights. When will those days come, where the money which is being spent for war , will be utilised for the welfare of humanity. Is there will be a time when the people here with hand -in -hand would travel through the silk route from China to Mediterranean. Is the paths guided by Thathagathan will be brightened? I cherish a wish to have a bike ride through those roads to China when peace and normalcy is back here . That would be my dream journey. So good bye for short time. Julay Ladakh (Goodbye Ladakh.)

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