Skip to main content

Featured Post

2023 - The Year That Was

Places impact you for a variety of reasons. And the same place impacts different people in different ways. This is especially true when it comes to spiritual experiences, where every single person’s experience is unique. And personally, every spiritual experience is unique, the same person can have different deeply spiritual experiences at different places, at different times. This thought has emerged because of my own experiences over the years, but especially so this year, with different and unique experiences at various places I have visited recently. I began this year with a visit to Baroda (Vadodara) with friends. It was meant to be a relaxed trip, a touristy trip, with our sons. We enjoyed ourselves to the hilt, but the highlight of that trip was a visit to the Lakulisha temple at Pavagadh. It was the iconography of the temple that I connected with, and I spent a few hours simply lost in the details of the figures carved around the temple. There was an indefinable connect with

Ladakh Diaries Part 5: The Nubra Valley

The Nubra region lies north of Leh, two scenic valleys formed by the Nubra and Shyok rivers, between the Ladakh range and the Karakoram mountains. The region is part green, part rocky and barren, and part desert, sand dunes and all. This was our destination for the next couple of days of our Ladakh tour.

Mountains, rivers, trees and sand, together at 10,000 ft!

Setting off quite early in the morning, we had our first experience of what a traffic jam looked like here! We found ourselves in a line of vehicles behind a convoy of army trucks, and it was slow going, allowing us to not only enjoy the landscape, but also appreciate the difficulties the terrain posed to the army, and the efforts that must go in to maintaining these roads.

The KhardungLa pass, said to be the world’s highest at 5,602m (18,380ft), was filled with tourists clicking away. We halted for a while at the insistence of our driver, but moved on as quickly as possible!

We also visited the monastery at Sumur en route, at our driver’s suggestion. This monastery appears to be relatively new or newly renovated, but very similar to the other monasteries we had visited, in terms of paintings and images. The location, on the banks of the Nubra river, close to where the Nubra and Shyok rivers merge, is the highlight of the monastery.

Monastery at Sumur

View of the Nubra river from the monastery

Had I known better, I would have skipped this monastery to visit the one not too far away at Diskit, which dates to the 15th century. We realized this as we passed Diskit on our way to Hunder, which was our destination for the day. We did not have time to halt at Diskit, which would have taken up the rest of our day. 

Monastery at Diskit

Instead, we made a short halt at a 105ft tall statue of Maitreya Buddha that has recently been installed here. Among the huge images we had seen so far, this was the one I liked the least. First of all, it felt out of place, built for decoration, not for worship. The garish colours added to this, and I thought of this statue, out in the snow in winter, and wondered what it was like, then. My favourite was the one at Shey, of course, but the Maitreya at Thiksey was so beautiful and serene. This particular one, in my opinion, stood out only by size.

Maitreya Buddha at Diskit

Once we passed Diskit
, the sand dunes began to appear. Till then, we had seen sand, but not dunes like these….

There is no way I can do justice to the sight with words, but here, let me quote a section from my diary… with my photos, you will hopefully be able to get a more visual idea of our experience.

It has been a day of stunning landscapes once again. From KhardungLa to the Nubra valley, the ever-changing landscape had me exclaiming all the time! From the sheer rock to the sand dunes, it has been unbelievable.

The sand dunes of Nubra are spread over a small area, and they share space with streams and greenery, which, for lack of better adjectives, is yes, stunning and unbelievable. It is a desert, but it is so much more! This juxtaposition of high altitude (the average elevation here is about 3,000m or 10,000ft), and cold desert, along with rivers flowing down from glaciers (the Nubra is a tributary of the Shyok river, which originates in the glaciers of Siachen) is certainly unique.

The Bactrian camels, however, are over-hyped, since they are here only for the tourists. They might have lived here in some bygone times, but certainly don’t now. The place is filled with tourists either squealing while getting on to one of the camels, or cooing as they pet them. We opted instead, to wander far from the noisy hordes, and enjoy the landscape in whatever solitude was possible.

We stayed the night at a guest house at Hunder. The original plan had been to relax and enjoy more of the sand dunes the next morning before heading back to Leh. However, one sight of the crowd changed our mind and we modified our plans based on conversations with people we met. More about that later, but for now, here’s another entry from my diary –

Today might have been a day of stunning landscapes, but the highlight was, however, giving a lift to a Russian tourist, named Nikolai. Why am I talking about this? Because he was unlike any tourist we had ever met, and deserves a mention. We saw him as we left KhardungLa, by the side of the road, trying to hitchhike. There were others like him, most of them young. He stood out not only because he was middle aged, but because he was on crutches! Turns out that he suffers from a form of arthritis, and is in India for ayurvedic treatment. Apart from the fact that the man was travelling alone, to highest pass in the world, on crutches, the coming to India for treatment didn’t seem odd, but his story made it so much more interesting. Apparently, he had first visited India 8 years earlier, and made an Indian friend. Then, 6 years back, he developed arthritis, and was bed-ridden. He had been in touch with his old friend from India, who, hearing of his situation, turned up in Moscow, helped him cope, and eventually convinced him to try ayurvedic treatment, bringing him back to India. Nikolai had been in India for 6 months when we met him, and in this period, had improved to the extent of exploring the country on crutches, using public transport when possible, hitchhiking otherwise, on a shoestring budget. He is a photographer, and his camera was the only valuable thing he had on him. We dropped him off at Hunder village, hoping he had found some affordable accommodation. We saw him the next afternoon, on our way back to Leh. He was waiting for someone else to give him a lift in the opposite direction.

We meet many such people on our travels, but we rarely manage to stay in touch. We are, as they say, ‘ships passing in the night’. But every such meeting, I believe, changes is in some way, or leaves a lasting impression on us. Nikolai did too. We often talk of travel as something that can only be done by the fit. I myself hesitate to strain myself, knowing my limitations, and when it comes to older people or people with disabilities, we often discourage them from exploring, especially on their own. But our encounter at Nikolai showed me that anything is possible, if only we have the will.

P.S. Shankar, on reading this, adds – I wonder what our experience would be, if we ever went solo travelling, in Russia! 

  • Ladakh Diaries Part 6: Turtuk


Popular posts from this blog

Gokarna Part II – The Five Lingams

We continued our Gokarna trip by visiting four other Shiva temples in the vicinity, all connected to the same story of Gokarna. The story of Gokarna mentions the Mahabaleshwara Lingam as the one brought from Kailas by Ravana, and kept at this place on the ground by Ganesha. (See my earlier post- Gokarna – Pilgrimage and Pleasure). However, the story does not end here. It is believed that, in his anger, Ravana flung aside the materials which covered the lingam- the casket, its lid, the string around the lingam, and the cloth covering it. All these items became lingams as soon as they touched the ground. These four lingams, along with the main Mahabaleshwara lingam are collectively called the ‘ Panchalingams’ . These are: Mahabaleshwara – the main lingam Sajjeshwar – the casket carrying the lingam. This temple is about 35 Kms from Karwar, and is a 2 hour drive from Gokarna. Dhareshwar – the string covering the lingam. This temple is on NH17, about 45 Kms south of Gokarna. Gunavanteshw

Rama Temple, Gokarna

To my right , the waves rush to the shore, eager to merge with the sand. To my left, the same waves crash against the rocks, their spray diverting my reverie as I ponder over the beauty of nature, and wonder what first brought people here. Was it this beauty that encouraged them to build a temple here, or was it the fresh, sweet spring water flowing from the hill here that made this place special? No matter what the reason, I am glad my auto driver brought me here. We are at the Rama temple in Gokarna, just a few minutes away from the Mahabaleshwara Temple, yet offering so different a perspective.

Pandharpur Yatra 2023

The first time I visited Pandharpur was back in 2007 . The names Vitthal and Pandharpur, were just names to me. I had heard of them, but that was about it. Seeing the lord standing on the brick, hands on his hips, was memorable, but more memorable was the sight that greeted us as we walked out of the main sanctum of the temple. In the mandap just outside were a group of devotees singing abhangs , and dancing. This was the first time I had heard abhangs , and even almost 15 years later, I can remember the welling of feeling within me, listening to the songs, and how fascinated I was by the sight of the devotees dancing, lost in their love of the Lord. Over the years, as I have read more about Vitthal, and participated in Ashadi Ekadashi programmes at Puttaparthi, that first experience has stayed clear in my mind and heart. Every time I tell my Balvikas students of the saints who sang of Vitthala, it is that experience that I re-live. I visited Pandharpur again, in 2010, but that experie