Nervous excitement for our three-member team – Naveen, Ani & me - had set in the moment our plane touched ground on the inconspicuous Leh airstrip. We had a day to acclimatize, wait for our guide (who was to come from Manali) and the next day travel to Lamayaru (five hour drive away from Leh). The day went by quickly with last minute gear shopping, specifically buying… ahem fake North Face gear.
It was dinner time and our guide hadn’t turned up yet, and we were worried. Will he or won’t he come? Did he find a group that would pay better? Thankfully, he turned up. At 3 in the night! Turns out he had had a harrowing, long drive from Manali.
It was dawn soon, and we were already bundled off in a rather derelict of a bus with all our gear secured to the carriage on top. A five-hour bumpy drive later we were in the Buddhist town of Lamayaru. The monastery in the town is one of the largest and oldest (founded in 956 AD) Tibetian Buddhist gompas in Ladakh, and lucky us, they were having a special prayer that evening. While our guide’s assistants set up the tents and got busy with making dinner, we shook off the cramps of our bus journey by taking the steep road to the monastery. When we quietly padded into the prayer hall, the monks were already chanting and singing, the monks-in-training aka little monks aka boy monks were proudly displaying their musical skills on cymbals, trumpets and drums, and curious tourists/spirituality-bums sat flanking the outer edge of the hall. We felt as if transported to another realm, and it all seemed surreal until a boy-monk came along with a tea flask and a carton of apricots. The older monks enthusiastically filled their cups to the brim and filled their laps with the fruit between mouthing the chants and singing.
Back at our tents, incredibly, we can smell mutton. Whoa! Since it was the start of the trek, our guide and his entourage of a cook and assistant, have decided to treat us to a rich meal. For the next ten days, we may not even get a whiff of meat.
Lamayaru campsite. Pic by Aniruddha Das