Flying over the Himalayan mountain range to reach Leh in itself is a exquisite experience. You can touch mountain peaks just by extending your hand. Down below you can see deep ravines and glaciers. Simply while crossing that about 400 kilometer stretch you can find no inhibition…there can not be…at that height and with no possibility of creating even pathways! Reflections of sunrays simply blinds you. Only snow or deep-ash color debris of sea-bed that have been risen in form of a mountain range fells in your site. No greenery. No woods. Very scarce animal life. And yet you not for a moment would like to avert your gaze. Himalaya is a spellbinding creature that makes you feel these moments stay forever.
I was sitting besides the window and was appalled at the natures magic. Real thrill was waiting on me. When plane began descending to land upon Leh airstrip I could not trust ever plane could be landed. At both sides were terrifying mountains and below was a narrow stretch with scarce greenery. Wings of the plane seemed to me any moment would collide on the ruthless high walls of mountains. Heartbeats grew faster and yet eyes were transfixed upon the unfolding scene I never could have imagined. My colleagues seemed lost in themselves. I was no exception. Thanks to Pilots, plane landed safely.
The moment we stepped down the plane to climb again a bus, minus eight degree cold bite us. But it didn’t bother me. District collector Basharat Ahemed had warned me not to visit Leh in winters and I was adamant enough to do whatever was up my mind in difficult times. It was 14th November 1998 and I was to conduct music concerts for Jawans and civilians and launch my music album.
Close sight of the region was mesmerizing. Beside the airport flows sacred Indus towards Kashmir valley. Sky was deep blue…as clear as eyes of a newborn infant. Serene mountain peaks as if were lost in deep penance wearing white caps of snow. Army bus dropped us at Moon land rest house. Yes…Laddakh is called Moon land. I wonder how masters of ancient past could compare lands of Laddakh with real surface of moon! Here everywhere you see sandy lands. Mountains too are made of sands and huge washed boulders. You fear the mountains may collapse with a small thrust. The moment I was settled in rest house I rushed out neglecting the instruction to have a full days rest to accommodate ourselves with low air pressure at that high altitude.
I had studied that Himalaya was world’s youngest mountain and that too was created by a unique natural phenomenon. The experts say that about 25 million years ago continents were not positioned the way they are today. Gondavana land was separated from main continent and between heaved a vast sea. They say continents keep on moving though so low is the speed to notice it takes millions of years. There was collision between two continents and as a result entire seabed rose high to make todays Himalayan range. I never did believe it and when I looked at the tiny fractions and huge boulders that you only can see either at the seashore or at riverbanks were yelling at me…yes…they really did belong to seabed. That makes Ladakh as close in look as of the moon.
It is said that Ladakh is roof of the world. Yes, how true it is. In biting cold I was standing upon a halfway mountain and looking at the world outside I felt this could not be upon earth. This must be heaven or realms of a dream seen by celestial bodies in early dawn.
Next day we were performing before sixth guards. Faces of the soldiers weren’t shining in expectation of melodious euphoria. They rather seemed as cool as ice and as sad as people awakened from graves. Artists were doing their best but they were not laughing at the jokes or dancing on the famous tunes. I was disappointed. I asked Major Warrior why could be this lack of excitement. He said, the soldiers here are either has returned from death-glacier Siachine or those who are going to reach that difficult glacier where nature and Pakistani army together are enemies to their life. Only last night one soldier was attacked by snow leopard and had shredded his body. A gloom was hanging in that thin air of Ladakh. But our artists were patient enough to bring them back to life that they had deserted months ago. Slowly, as the sun begun touching a high peak at western horizon, a sardar got up and began dancing. Slowly others too joined and then suddenly there was a charged atmosphere. All soldiers and lieutenants and captains got up and shattered the freezing atmosphere with their steps and excited songs. I sitting upon a step was watching this scene with my soul in my eyes. This was first time ever people from main lands had approached them to entertain them, to share their difficulties in harsh weather and to make them feel they were part of our life. A bond of brotherhood gotten so stronger in that evening that many soldiers wept. They embraced us, they thanked us and invited us to come again.
Nights of Ladakh always are celestial. That night was no exception. Cold was rising to minus forty. I with Arjun, my collegue stood in front of the Moon Land rest house and watched the star studded sky. Actually there was no sky. Just extend your hand and you could pluck a star or whole constellation with little effort. Under the starlit night serenity of the mountains was at its supreme height. Smooth wind that carried ice-cold in its friendly warmth.
People of Ladakh are very friendly and concerned about their guests. No winds of our modern ugly nature have reached that height as yet. They don’t cheat you. They are intelligent people and one wonders at the vast gap between our understanding of them and theirs for us. Many people on mainland even don’t know Ladakh is in India. So-called Indians hardly visit Ladakh. If at all economy of Ladakh is breathing that is due to the foreign tourists, who visit Ladakh not for pilgrimage or for easy-time-pass, but to explore Himalaya and its exquisite beauty. (This year I know after 11 September tragedy there would be worried atmosphere.)
We performed before Indo-Tibetian Border force next day. True that overall concert didn’t go the way we had expected. Expectations of soldiers and anticipation of our artists didn’t match. They simply hooted us out and we had to wound up concert in short time. We were disappointed. It was …..
Who had climbed Mount Everest without oxygen, he was furious at his soldier’s behavior. He took charge of the stage and the way he addressed his soldiers was another experience.
That night was special. Celestial fireworks were destined to happen that day. We were awake till late night in freezing cold. Gathering of the stars too was in eager wait for that unique incident. And then suddenly hundreds of stars shoot overlapping the images of bright stars. As if from the heart of sky a spring of stars was leaping down. When we reached back Delhi we came to know due to the bad weather Indian’s were unlucky to witness it. Imprints of those moments still are alive over my mind.
Taking journey towards valley is a thrilling experience. At left hand flows Indus in its ancient pace. It has cut the earth enough to make sufficient space for her. Road running along side it is terrifying. You climb up hundreds of feet and have to dart down through narrow passage with horrifying crevasse at left and sky scraping mountains at right and road so narrow that you fear what if vehicle plunges down. I am sure no remains ever can be found…but drivers are so expert, they allow having a sense of fear and then sense of relief the moment you are on an easy path.
In my recent visit I traveled down as long as 80 kilometers and then I approached a stream near a village. The stream rushes down from not less than 800 feet in wild roar to meet Indus. Beside that stream is a bar where you can sip beer. My this visit was during summers so I had no problem with beer or I know in winters only icy flakes must be rushing down the mountain with bar closed. And I can imagine this too must be a spellbinding experience.
Ladakh is a wonderland. There are lot many miracles. Pangaung lake is 45 kilometers wide and 120 kilometers long. Khardungla pass is a worlds highest road…hot water springs that can boil you in terrible colds, ancient forts that stand high upon the lose mountains, huge Buddhist monasteries where your eyes are bulged looking at its marvel and in a sight you can not even capture whole image of Buddha statue. Total populace is not more than 150, 000. Army is greater in number than local populace. Army has been in an attempt to facilitate local populace as well as tourists. They have great food joints as well as shopping sites on the main road and they serve real great food. Army, contrary to its rude image, has proved how artistic they can become given a chance.
Ladakh has about 90% Buddhist population. Buddhism here reached not from India but via Tibet. Tibet has been closest friend for this region due to the geographical reason. Except Maharaja Gulabsingh, no Indian political contact was there in past. British too established supremacy on this region for its geographical reasons. In 1962 Indo-China war China nibbled about 28,000 square kilometer land of Ladakh. Some part is too have been occupied by Pakistan. This is because not that enemy was powerful, but psyche of we the Indians is responsible for this. Including Neheru and all the Prime Ministers of later times neglected this region. There also are no historical bonds or racial bonds or religious bonds or political bonds with this region of rest of India in even recent past, i.e. hundred years back. History of Ladakh is unique in it and hardly is known by even so-called masters of Indian past.
If one really wants to be an Indian must visit Ladakh once in his lifetime. There are no Hindu pilgrimage sites…but is Indus river upon whose banks ancient sages were inspired to chant Vedic verses. Upon this lands everywhere you feel existence of Lord Shiva and purity that you hardly ever can experience anywhere on this globe. Here you are closest to the nature. Here you are close with the sky and earth. Here distinction between life and death seem so meaningless. Here you rise above yourself.
Here you witness astounding natural phenomena that keeps you wonder how the earth today we live upon have formed its final elegance. It is real sacred pilgrimage without an idol to pay respect at. Here entire nature becomes an idol of sacred entities that we have created out of our imaginations.
One day I will reach this land again with a zeal to establish permanent ties. I shall establish power plant as well as fruit processing units and may be again that I will conduct a sacred music ceremony over here.
When on 16th November 1998, my cassette was to be launched in a general ceremony on Polo ground, down a huge mountain, I could see about 18,000 ladakhi’s had gathered. On a natural stage artists began stringing guitars and beating the drums and whole atmosphere was charged. While addressing the crowd I was weeping. I was choked. Mr. Chewang Thupsten, Chairman of Ladakh Hill Council patted upon my shoulders and I only could speak few words. Then the excitement exploded in euphoria. Valley was reverberating in sounds of music. People were dancing…mountains were dancing forgetting for a moment their ancient serenity. Sky had stooped over me. I was living a moment making me feel there could not be better moment to die.