Shey and Thiksey, India
Every day in India has been rich with beauty and culture in a way that I never imagined existed. Today was no exception. The morning began early with breakfast at Gesmo’s and a short trip to the internet cafe. Then we headed back to Dolma’s Guesthouse to pack up our things to move over to Jigmet Guesthouse (although Dolma’s was only 300 Rs and Jigmet is 600 Rs, we felt that staying warm through the night and hot showers were worth the 200% increase). After we were packed, we looked for Dolma so that we could pay, but we couldn’t find her. We passed the time reading, playing cards, kicking around the little wicker ball….still no Dolma. After 3 hours of waiting, we had to get on with our day, so we asked the other lady that lived in the house to give Dolma our payment and we were off.
We quickly dropped our things at Jigmet and walked to the center of town where we hired a taxi to take us south to Shey, a small town that was once the summer capital of Ladakh. The Royal Palace (built in the early 1600’s) was our primary destination, so the driver dropped us at the entrance where we began meandering through the ruined mountainside monument to an earlier time. Like all buildings in the Indus River Valley, the palace was built of earthen bricks so that you could barely tell what was natural and what was built by man. The continuity is stunning and when I walked through doorways, I felt as though I was walking through the earth.
We finished around 12:30pm and I was anxious to eat lunch. There was a restaurant along the main road, so I suggested that we go there, but Nik had other plans. He wasn’t hungry and he said that our next destination, Thiksey Gompa, was only 2km away, so we could have lunch at the big restaurant in the big hotel when we got there. I insisted that I needed food, and he insisted that we eat in Thiksey, so we compromised and picked up a few snacks and started our 2km walk.
The main road in this area is narrow and has quite a bit of traffic, so we opted to take an alternate route that we had seen from the top of the palace. It looked like it might even go along the Indus River, which we were very excited to see. The journey took us along several small streams, through large pastures where cows and donkeys grazed, past mud fields where bricks were cut out of the ground, past “Mani” which are large walls made of stones inscribed with prayers, and beside small farm houses with vegetable and flower gardens, but no Indus River. Regardless, it was a beautiful walk that took my mind off of my hunger and ended up extending for 5km instead of 2km.
As we approached the Thiksey Gompa, Nik and I were both in awe as we saw the most stunning building/complex of buildings we had ever seen. The Gompa, or monastery, is situated on the Eastern slope of the mountain and its white-washed earthen buildings were glowing with the soft southern light of the afternoon sun.
In my mind, this was not only the most amazing place on earth, but it was also the place where Nik had promised me food. 3 hours ago, he said that there was a big hotel with a big restaurant. Well, there was a hotel and there was a restaurant. Neither were big, and both were closed. Curtains drawn, gates locked, closed for the winter. I don’t know about you, but I enjoy having three full meals a day when I know that I will be exerting myself in the hot sun. It was almost 4pm, and all I had eaten since 8am was a small bag of the Indian equivalent to trail mix and a couple cashew cookies from the snack stand. We also hadn’t had water all day. I was hungry and thirsty and the restaurant was closed. If we hadn’t been in the most beautiful place on earth, I would have been frustrated. But I couldn’t stop staring and smiling, so I didn’t have a chance to get mad. However, I did learn a lesson: Never let Nik dictate my eating habits. If I am hungry, we will stop. He doesn’t have to eat, but I bet that he will!
After the food disappointment, we bought a bottle of water and made our way up to the gompa. Since the gates closed at 6pm, I decided I could curb my hunger for another two hours in order to take advantage of our time here. We walked through the prayer rooms, climbed the stairs to the roof, and sat in the old library. The buildings are as beautiful and simple on the inside as they are on the outside. We were satisfied after an hour, so we finally sat down for dinner at the Chamba Restaurant near the entry gate for Mater Paneer and Paneer Butter Masala with roti.
At this point we weren’t sure how we were going to get back to Leh. There weren’t any taxi stands and our waiter told us that the last bus left at 6pm. It was 5pm, we had just ordered dinner, and the walk to the main road takes at least 20 minutes. Luckily, our dinner was served quicker than expected, and we ate quicker than normal (since we hadn’t eaten all day). As we finished at 5:30, I saw a British woman walk by who arrived by hired car at the same time we had arrived by foot. Nik paid the bill, and I went outside to see if I could catch her before she left to hitch a ride into town. She wasn’t going to Leh, so I asked if we could at least ride to the main road with them to cut out the 20 minute walk. She was more than happy to help us out, so we climbed in, rode down the hill, and caught the last bus of the night.
Today was a wonderful adventure that had its frustrating bits, but that’s what travel is about! If we can’t overcome the unexpected and appreciate the unique opportunities we have, then we won’t make it very far.
PS. I have back dated this entry so that it appears that I actually posted it the day that it happened, although I am posting it 4 days later!! Sorry for the confusion, but I just can’t keep up. There is too much good stuff to tell, and I want to do it justice. I may even wait to post a lot of the India stuff until we are back in Thailand because I rarely want to spend 2 hours on the computer at night.