Celebrating the Dalai Lama’s Birthday in Changthang
Julley, Julley (Ladakhi for hello, please, thank-you) – and Tashi Delek (hello in Tibetan) –
We are back from an incredible week in easternmost Ladakh, Changthang, which is geographicallly and culturally Tibet. We camped for five days on the shores of Tso Kiagar (tso=lake), at 15,000+ feet, pitching our tents alongside those of nomads who had gathered from around the area in honor of the birthday of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. needless to say, our time these was unlike anything any of us had previously experienced.
Getting there (and back) meant 7 hours by jeep up the Indus River, through canyons of thousands of feet of orange, purple, red, and brown walls, interspersed by thin green strips of agriculture – the highest in the world – where glacial melt enables irrigated terraces of barley. We were hosted by the teachers of a tiny Tibetan Children’s Village school in Sumdo, serving 37 nomadic children ages 3-7, who stay at the school and occasionally return to their families, where they are able to continue to acquire the skills of herding yaks, sheep, and goats (including those yielding the incredibly soft, and lucrative, pashmina wool). Nomadic headmen provided some of the meals, of mutton stews, milk tea, butter tea (note: not tea, but high-fat drink that provides sustenance in such a high desert environment. One day was taken up by many horse races, with rugs serving as saddles; exciting! Two days saw us at another lake, Tso Moriri, where earth meets the sky. We tested lungs and limbs, climbing to 17,000 ft, with the clear blue lake far below, the crystal blue sky above, and snow-capped peaks all around – including Chinese-controlled Tibet in the distance.
Today we are back in Leh – traffic, tourists, and welcome beds and showers – where we have wonderful hosts at the summer residence of the Dalai Lama, a wooded oasis next to the isthmus. Everyone there, and throughout our journey, has been generous beyond measure. We have also been accompanied by Lotan, whose name means intelligent and kind-hearted, perfect for someone who exemplifies kindness, humor, wisdom, and living simply. He, and so many others teachers (men, women, children, the glory of nature), have been models for each of us – humbling us, and challenging our sense of what is necessity or normal.
Tomorrow, at dawn, we set out for Zanskar (two 10-hr jeep rides), a valley that has been called the last Shangra-la. While there, we will be in homes in remote villages, in monasteries and nunneries, working alongside families – and communicating as best we can: limited common words, as well as through smiles and shared activities. The anthropologist in each of us is sure to continue to thrive. We are also seeing culture change – nomads in yak tents, with a motorcycle outside, for example. So it is possible that internet has already reached Zanskar; if so another communication will be forthcoming during the next two weeks. If not, we will be back in touch after a 6-7 day trek out of the valley, literally over the Himalaya range.
To all, greetings & reminders that each of us keeps different ones of you in our hearts & minds –
James & Charlie (et al.)