Ladakh Festival Parade& Donkey Hugs & Groovy Music

Trip Start Sep 29, 2007
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Trip End Dec 20, 2010


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Where I stayed
mountain view guesthouse

Flag of India  , Jammu and Kashmir,
Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The gorgeous dark blue and sunshine sky greeted us when we woke up in our Upper Karzoo guesthouse in Leh. The clouds were all whipped up into fluffy bits. We had views of the snow capped Himalayas and the ruined Royal Palace and even a terrace to roll out the yoga mats for the morning session. Yoga Himalaya style. Tulasi and Tenzin were living the dream! The weather was perfectly divine. We were laughing when we discovered that Leh was beautiful and full power Shanti. After the chaos of New Delhi, the silence here was deafening. Bliss is. We slept in and recovered from our insane bus journey on the Manali to Leh Highway then took off to slowly explore the town which sits at 3500metres and where are short walk can leave you breathless. We were going to need a few days to buy maps, consult locals, plan an independant trek to the Markha Valley region and to acclimatize a bit before we went, it's a harsh and remote environment out there and we were taking a punt organizing a cheaper way to walk it. I never let Nadsy in on the fact that there were alot of variables that could have gone wrong on this one but i wanted to challenge myself and plan the whole thing from scratch. It isn't an entirely untrodden trail, many have been before us and the idea of going where there were not so many footprints, into the wild, into the unknown mystery of it all was extremely seductive and exciting.

The town is touristic being full of trekking agencies, restaurants and souvenir stores but it was a good wander around the old town amongst the mud brick houses and also in the Tibetan area where there were lots of maroon and orange robed monks (they love to wear brightly coloured Crocs shoes under their robes). In Leh some of the more traditional Tibetan ways of living were being played out in the daily life and it was lovely to see that most local Tibetans were dressed in their own traditional clothing. They give a lot of respect to the roots of their dress codes as they always love the way it portrays and reflects what people feel, think and believe. The clothing is both practical and beautiful. Both men and women wear long dark robes of many layers made from hand woven tweed, sheepskin, or wool. The women also wear a long woollen apron called a chuba that is covered in bright horizontal stripes woven like a barcode and sometimes some metal accessories are attached. The shoes are hand weaved from wool or leather. Women never cut their hair, instead they wear long braids and plaits in them and often weave jewelry, stones, and precious gems into the braids. Some of the men wear a  funky hat with fur and silk brocade. One of the most distinctive traits of the Tibetans is their affinity for beautiful jewellry. Jewellry is  handed down amongst Tibetans for generations. Turquoise and coral are two of the most loved stones and we saw flashes of the striking red and blue all over Leh. Jewellery is considered so important that the women believe that if they forget to wear their earrings out for the day that they will return to Earth as a donkey in their next life. We were lucky to see the Tibetans dressed in all their best costumes during the Ladakh parade a couple of days later.


Speaking of donkeys, there are lots of street donkeys, asses and mules in Leh that have been injured or are old or disabled and no longer able to work so they are abandoned in the street after an already hard life and forced to eat garbage. We have a definite soft spot for them and donkeys have become nadine's porn, donkey porn.... fabulous. One of the first things we saw in Leh was a creatively painted sign for a donkey sanctuary with an invitation to visit. One day Nadine followed the friendly signs on foot for miles out of town until she reached the "Home For Helpless Donkeys" set up by South African photojournalist Joanne Lefson and run by caretaker Padma Dorje where the cute donkeys recieve medical care, food and a sanctuary away from Leh's vicious dogs. It's a good life for a donkey here eating, mating and playing with a warm space to sleep. What a wonderful idea. Nadine left a whole lot of hugs and a healthy contribution and we bought bunches of carrots to feed to any other abused donkeys we found in the street.

What's hot? Donkey sanctuaries and it is possible to sponsor them.

Next we hit up the second hand clothing stores where the best of Leh's used fashion was on display. It was difficult for me to decide between a pink cheerleaders sweatshirt with a giant velvet letter "A" on the front or the alpine Xmas knitted snowflake design sweater but i ended up going for a quality fleece for 120rupees. I also bought a white puffy, sleeveless down vest that reminded me of rapper Eminem and some red woollen socks that remind me of Santa Claus plus some long socks to cut the toes out of and use as arm warmers. Tulasi scored the sale of the century by winning a shining bright blue, hooded, 80's style arctic Kath and Kim design, retro ski jacket (no matching pants unfortunately) and turtle necked skivvy for the trek. Gold to Tulasi! she had won the Op shop Olympics.

For the trek we were keen for more of a wild wander in the Himalayas  than a packaged tour and after a little digging around and talking to people we decided it was possible to do a trek on our own by carrying our own gear and staying with Ladakhi families and buying food from them. It was a bit of a gamble because most people take ponies, a guide and camp in tents but we wanted the freedom that comes from being on our own and going where and when we wanted to. A good decision but it meant we had to be prepared with full medical kit and emergency food plus without the donkeys in tow we would have to carry heavier loads at altitude. It was greatd to run into Australian Beccles and Tim who had just climbed the difficult Stok Kangri mountain and who provided inspiration for our own trek after filling us on with the details of their climbing experience. They had a few difficult days in bad weather yet their persistance and motivation held them together. These two have spent alot of time travelling to wild and exotic places and spaces and are a beautiful pair of souls.

We had made it to Leh just in time for the "Ladakh Confluence" music festival which was set on the banks of the Indus River, surrounded by mountains and celebrated music, art, heritage, culture and nature. Despite some bad organisation there was an impressive lineup of global musicians playing percussion, folk, fusion, acoustic and experimental styles. We were well impressed with a guy called Davide Swarup from Amsterdam who is a Hang-drum maestro jamming with the Israeli guy we met on the bus to Manali, Ortal Pelleg as they brought in the sunset. Another band we were impressed to hear was Jaipur’s energetic and engaging group Rajasthan Roots with star performer Kutla Khan demonstrating his unbelievable mastery of the morchang (mouth-harp) and khartal (Rajasthani wooden castanets) and band leader Adi Bhasin Post singing up a storm. The band all wore flowing kaftans that were blowing in the breeze as they performed, adding to the magic. Donkeys were wandering around the sight and there was also a rogue goat involved who hoofed it around the dance floor.  We shoved momos into our mouthes, drank endless cups of tea and watched a glorious vision of the sun setting with a mystic pink glow cast over the Himalayas. There was a trashy Tibetan rock band who gathered a mosh pit and a drumming and a sacred fire circle to finish.

Another day we went to the Main Bizarre street to meet Beccles and Tim and Yamuna to watch the start of the colourful Ladakh Summer Festival which begins with a parade through town that ends at the polo ground where various dances, songs and traditional performances are done by cultural groups. It was a full power tourist palava with pasty packaged tour groups and papparazzi taking over the scene and behaving badly but it was a great chance to see all the wonderful costumes and also the very special headpieces worn by the young girls. The pieces which are encrusted with turquoise, silver and red mountain coral are given from mother to daughter and worn on special occasions. There were monks, archery contestants, polo horses, drummers, horn blowers, masked dancers and ladies with elaborate jewellery and flower arrangements. 

That afternoon i fell extremely ill with the dreaded swine flu symptoms again...... and i spent the next 3 days staring at a set of horrendous orange curtains as my body fought off an intense chest infection and associated fever. Nasty.

We have to get moving on our trek or we're going to miss the Dalai Lama who is giving teachings in McLeod Ganj on September 15-17 and the last piblic bus down the mountain We wanted to make it in time to celebrate Tulasi's 40th birthday. So, i rolled out of bed in a weak state and made the final preparations for the trek, packing, tweaking the route, sorting out the medicinal supplies and stocking up on dried fruits. There's a wonderful store in town that sells fantastic Apricot kernal cream which is perfect for protecting your facial skin in this Himalayan air.


Rain, hail or shine, we leave tomorrow for the Markha Valley trek.






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