Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Ladakh Trip: Day Eleven. Lamayuru, Shanti Stupa

It's early morning - really early - the sun just about came up a little while back. Perched up there is Lamayuru Monastery.

Lamayuru's surrounded by an expanse of really weird rock formations - some kind of soft rocks, carved and shaped by the wind into disturbingly organic shapes. They have a soft, melted look, and a very... fleshy color. I keep expecting them to start undulating, conveyering us into a giant waiting maw...

They call it a 'moonscape'. Coincidentally enough, the real moon puts in an appearance as well, floating dreamlike over the crags.

The Buddhist Flag -

The five colours of the flag represent the six colours of the aura that emanated from the body of the Buddha when he attained Enlightenment.
Blue (Nila): Loving kindness, peace and universal compassion
Yellow (Pita): The Middle Path - avoiding extremes, emptiness
Red (Lohita): The blessings of practice - achievement, wisdom, virtue, fortune and dignity
White (Odata): The purity of Dharma - leading to liberation, outside of time or space
Orange (Manjesta): The Buddha's teachings - wisdom.

Lamayuru probably comes the closest so far to the classic Tibetan Monastery that I'd imagined - based on, mostly, what I'd read about in Tintin in Tibet. Remote, high, silent, yet also sunny, bright, social... the bustling hub of the surrounding villages.

Inside, we came across a very unique event - a group of monks creating a mandala. It's about four feet across, composed of multi-colored grains of sand sifted in a fantastically detailed pattern, concentric designs narrowing to a core... Mandalas are a key part of meditation practices. Plus, they're employed for focusing attention of aspirants and adepts; as a spiritual teaching tool; for establishing a sacred space; and as an aid to meditation and trance induction.
This one is a part of a ceremony coming up in a few days - it will take about a week to make, last for about four days, and then be wiped clean after the ceremony. Transcience.

We also had a chance to sit in during the morning prayers, for a while. Chanting, drumming, rhythmic cymbals, incense... but most of all, the monk's voice, rolling out sonorously across the hall, word-perfect, never hesitating or stumbling or even pausing for breath... a sense of age-old continuity. An oral tradition's live demonstration.
In some way, also a brief reminder of Sharmaji.

By late morning, we leave, after spending some more time in the shade at the monastery, and a quick breakfast at a roadside cafe downstairs where Yg met a tourist and evoked much merriment with his name.

A long drive back, to the Shanti Stupa at Leh by late afternoon.

The Shanti Stupa is a recent construction, all brand-new spotless white plaster and paint, a giant white egg-like dome perched on top of a small hill overlooking the capital. In fact, the resemblance to a decorated easter egg is quite uncanny, the dome being ringed with colorful friezes showing incidents from Buddhist history.

There are layers of walkways around the central construction, and a large open courtyard in front. And a classic demo of how the mountain-dweller's mindset differs from the plains-dweller; the guy born and brought up on flat ground will put a railing around any surface over six feet, to stop people from falling off. The Ladakhi will look at a six-hundred-foot drop right under his toes and not see anything out of the ordinary.
Which is why the courtyard, and the bordering precipice, has no guardrails at all. It makes for awesome views, a sense of being a part of the scenery instead of just an observer.

It's back to the Kaal, a lazy book-reading-in-the-shade, playing-with-boisterous-alsatian-pup, dozing-waking-reading-dozing kind of afternoon.

In the evening, we head back to the market, where I suddenly find myself the designated guide for all the new arrivals, pointing out interesting shops, best bargains, souvenirs, negotiating deals, and bargaining. Discovered an army surplus store, where I picked up a super-tough, skin-tight, awesomely warm army sweater. It's not for the pot-bellied or out-of-shape; it's designed to keep you warm, not make you look good. Sticks to your body like glue, squeezing... and super-warm. Also picked up some boots and an original thangka.
Yg aquired a bike, and spent many happy hours ferrying all the girls back and forth, heading off for rides; the return-to-college emotion was shining off his beaming face like sunshine.

Decided to skip the hotel dinner in favor of mutton roechowtses at the Summer Harvest in the market; why come to Ladakh and then eat Delhi food?

The night draws on, but we aren't sleepy. At all. We're instead ringing in Yg's birthday, smashing cake on face, and getting into a full-on daru session that continues till 1:30 at night, complete with emotional speeches, the works. St gets royally smashed and has to be navigated back to room without waking up the rest of the hotel; later in the morning we heard from the roommate the horror stories of puked-in bathrooms, nearly puked-in beds, puked-in shoes, and other such fun and games that are such a part & parcel of Saturday night hostel life...

This has been the best holiday ever, so far. And it's not even halfway done yet!

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