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The Ladakh life

A trek through slippery snow. Photo: Shubham Mansingka  

The road goes from Leh to Spituk and then to Zingchen, an hour’s drive from Leh, after which one has to trek to Markha Valley in Ladakh.

I am warned by locals that wild dogs had eaten up a woman just a week ago on the same trail. A good-hearted Samaritan agrees to accompany me till Rumbak, which is a three-hour trek from Zingchen. Huffing and puffing and marvelling at the incredible landscapes, we receive a surprise when we spot a wild yak. Manoeuvring our way through frozen waterfalls, we reach the timeless Buddhist village of Rumbak (at a height of 4050m). It is bitterly cold, even during the day.

There are eight or nine houses in Rumbak, all of them homestays, their rates fixed at Rs. 800 per day, including all meals and endless cups of cha-cha (butter tea). I am ushered into the first one, straight into the warm confines of the kitchen. All homes in Ladakh have a bukhari, to burn wood for warmth, and food and tea is made on top of it. Three cute children peer at me shyly as cha-cha is served. The women in Ladakh work hard, the men mostly tend to chores outside the home. Handheld prayer wheels are rotated and the sounds of ‘ om mane padme hum’ reverberate across the valley.

I am wearing eight layers of clothing to combat the (-)30 degree temperatures that the evening brings. The children take me along to walk around the village and meet everybody; there is no other outsider to soak in this tranquillity. Other children join us and it starts snowing, making my heart sing. We rush home as the entire landscape turns white and slippery.

The government has provided Rumbak with a generator and fuel, so electricity is available from 5.00 p.m. to 9.00 p.m. Each family takes turns everyday to ensure that the timings are maintained.

We talk about wildlife while a special Ladakhi dish is prepared. It’s called Timokh — steamed Ladakhi bread in the shape of a croissant, to be eaten with daal and vegetables. Cha-cha is savoured in copious quantities to keep the body warm. They say a snow leopard comes sometimes at night and tries to take a goat or sheep away.

Chhota Bheem plays on television and we watch, as riveted as the children. Dinner is served and is sumptuous. The mother asks me to take the village children to Yurutse next day to keep me company.

Yurutse is a two-hour walk along a frozen river. The morning is sunny and the full splendour of the valley is laid out before us. We have breakfast and set off, my companions being Nyima, Tundup, Stanzin and Norbu. Within no time we spot blue sheep on a nearby hillock. Fresh footprints of wolf and wild fox are identified in the snow. Nyima, the eldest of the three, tells us that a snow leopard must be around.

They regale me with fascinating children’s tales about the landscape and the various colours of the mountains. We build a snowman, enjoying the simple pleasures of life. Yurutse, at a height of 4200m, is a one-home village on the way to Ganda La (4920m), the altitude taking its toll on me by the time we get there. The family welcomes us with lunch and the ubiquitous cha-cha. They refuse to take money when offered. It is a very old house, prayer flags flutter amid azure skies and a pristine barren landscape, with a frozen river completing the pretty picture.

Yak butter is bought, so are hand-made socks and gloves, from the family. They are colourful, delicately woven and cheap. A piece of iron to skate on is found from somewhere as we head back to Rumbak. The kids walk effortlessly and take turns to skate on the frozen river. I fall flat on my face with a thud on my first attempt. Slipping is a part of the game here, as everybody laughs at my misery. We reach Rumbak before night sets in.

The family gives me a glass of chhang (local barley beer). Even the five-year-old drinks it with biscuits; they say it is good for health. I make a quick phone call home from the village’s one satellite phone As the generator is switched off and everything becomes pitch dark, I wander around for a bit, gazing at the clear night skies.

I leave next morning after breakfast. I gift my hosts a bottle of Sea Buckthorn jam. Nyima and Stanzin come halfway down the road, and I almost run the rest of the way down, reaching Zingchen in an hour. Luck is on my side and I get a ride back to Leh for free.


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Printable version | Sep 26, 2021 5:06:02 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/magazine/shubham-mansingka-on-visiting-ladakh/article7512437.ece

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