Saturday, May 09, 2009

delhi / leh

india international center

this time delhi was different. we lived at the iic -for some reason this detail provokes great ‘oohs’ from all who know delhi. lovely building - 60s modernism from stein- lovely light filled corridors and screens of tiles and a lovely porch.

lodhi gardens

the persistence resistance film festival for which i was there as part of the majlis contingent making a cinema city presentation on the last day. for the first two days though i spent all my time listening to filmmakers argue away about ‘framing’ vs ‘seeing’ through the lens; or about the lack of screening spaces, the problems of funders and funding. in between these we did manage to catch a few films as well. ‘notes on man capture’ nandini bedis film on marriage rituals in the north east which was fascinating; arghya’s ‘ listener’s tale’ with its meditative take on the mythology and landscape of sikkim, ‘every good marriage deserves some tears’- a film by an englishman on a group of bangladeshi sisters and their marriages; ‘nusrat has left the building’ where the spirit of nusrat is evoked through drawings and the city of lahore as his journey is followed from early sufi to pop.

india international center

india habitat center

with the fabulous infrastructure delhi has every evening was spent in some kind of art opening. the first was a mega show like none i have seen at gallery espace where neelima was showing. beautiful delicate work. later on a dinner party in one luxurious bungalow in an delhi enclave. the building designed by hussain- the main door too and the false ceiling. inside every wall an art work by contemporary and modern indian art. the next day we were at lado sarai where kaushik and archana had an opening in one of the galleries that are infiltrating this old village. on the way there mukul and me got lost and spent time wandering the dark alleyways asking the locals for an art gallery receiving only quizzical looks as responses. the cinema city presentation went well i was told.

gallery espace

lado sarai

kausik at lado sarai


the post presentation party

the last day in delhi (or at least what was supposed to be the last day) we decided to take a drive to gurgaon, which neither of us had seen in its new avatar. the malls lie desolate and dark even as the new metro line is being made while the glass towers gleam in the hot glare of the sun. aniket’s devi art foundation building was fascinating, metal clad warehouse. unfortunately it was closed. would have loved to walk in.


devi arts

later that evening it was great to meet guddu mama at the meridien where we had dinner with him in his hotel room. it was so good to finally meet him.


guddu mama

after our flight to leh was cancelled on the first day we were (after a gujarati family created a rightful ruckus about the service) put up for a day in a hotel in mahipalpur – another small village, this time near the airport. this old town has become a sponge for all the services that the airport needs but cant find space in the rigid planned city. carrier services and hotels to cater to the airport thrive amidst older dhabas and farmlands. running parallel to the road to gurgaon are neon lit signs for restaurants and hotels while within the older village has become home to migrants from all over the country. this place was a planet away from gk2 where mukul and me met faisal.

delhi airport


one day less in leh because of the delayed flight turned out to be quite a dampener as it turned out. i think we would have loved to spend more time in the rarefied air. it was cold as hell and dry. the flight in was a spectacular ride over peaks of mountains.
the city lay separated by a plain from the indus perched on a hill. from our hotel room at the oriental guest house we could see all the way to the mountains and also the monastery that overlooks the city. like most of the other homes in the changspa area this house has grown with the tourists pouring in over the past few years. our company included honeymooning couples from delhi, backpackers and international ‘adventurers’ collecting experiences in notebooks as they move from dakar to leh to seoul, anthropologists standing by and watching superciliously at the ‘interesting’ customs of the indians as the systems collapse and some british men carrying out some dubious but funded research for a phd regarding mineral pollution on the air in the outskirts of leh. and us fools thought the air was pure- although there was very little of it.

oriental guest house

the first day we tried to acclimatize by hanging around in our hotel though a short walk to a stupa close by was something we could not resist. it was before tourist season and all the shops were closed- we were told that the owners were in goa. nice life, i thought.

the next day leh was sleepy till around 11 in the chilly morning. we walked through the market, meandered through the lanes of moti market and found ourselves at the polo ground where men hung around in groups and the palace formed a spectacular background.

the gompa in the market

polo grounds

moti market

the palace was completely disintegrating but the views were spectacular- as they were going to be over and over again over the next few days. inside a monk was tying up the volumes of the prayer books and on the roof a jawan was following his senior and his wife dutifully clicking romantic photographs.
i am not fond of momos. i know that many people think that that in itself is a crime. but the chow mein with the soup to soften the noodles is much more my kind of lunch. the restaurant was on the main market street overlooking the new mosque. on the street the maroon robes of the llamas, the military uniforms and black ‘north face’ jackets roamed.

the next day was the trip to the west along the indus. the road goes past the military barracks ( i think a generalization is necessary here- the armed forces have no architectural sense- the tin shacks and rcc atrocities plonked upon the smooth, the folded rugged terrain, the barbed wire fences that go on relentlessly or the tattoos of platoon identity on the faces of the mountains) '

the road went through some of the most barren landscapes i have seen until it dipped into the deep valley of the indus with apple trees and pastures, white houses with straw insulation, stupas along the landscape and the bazgo monasteries perched on top of the hill. the road goes to kargil and along the way as the gorge narrows there are landmarks to army officers who lost their lives along the way and homilies about speed limits and safe tea courtesy the border roads organization. the destination was the lamayuru monastery which overlooks a molten deformation that everyone calls a moonscape.


ladakhi ghar kab aaoge


on the way back at alchi beautiful murals and prayer flags along a path to the indus and the sangam of the zanskar and indus- green and cold. three punjabi boys played skipping stones over the river. the rocks sliced revealed their structure.

towards alchi - the wind and a sandstorm



on the way back ladakhi culture with models of houses and miniature costumes are collapsed along with military victories in the strange museum on the main road.

museum of military and ladakhi culture

another day in leh – this time hidden behind the main market, at the base of the hill the local market street, narrower and less touristy- barber shops and tailors. mukul got a haircut while the tv blared on about how shilpa shetty finally got revenge for her murder by shah rukh in baazigar when her royals beat the knight riders. the military store on the street sold cheap sleeping bags, military shirts and jackets. the polo ground was alive with a inter village cricket match complete with flags, uniforms and commentary. a short walk away we found the only theater in leh. one man runs around selling tickets, ushering patrons to their seats and helping the projectionist. arjun rampal and diya mirza were romancing one another somewhere in europe pretending to be bombay. the audience was the bihari migrants who don’t have televisions in their homes. most of the locals don’t venture close here. they prefer their entertainment off dvds and dish tv. lunch was a punjabi dhaba and desert at ‘desert rain’ -this christian coffee shop on the main market street.

local market

leh cinema

intervillage cricket at the polo ground

we took a taxi to the monastery on top of the hill for more views across the city and looked across to shanti stupa – our next destination as the wind blew cold around us. from the top the langdon school was having its cricket match in a playground flattened in the hill.

namgyal tsemo monastery

the shanti stupa is a new building with a public space that hangs above the city. very photogenic. you can see the golf course of sand towards the indus. the oriental guest house is at the base of the hill and dawa is building a new dining room so that he can take back his own. young, very cool llamas were painting gorgeous murals on the column and beams.

shanti stupa

the road to pangong tso leads east towards china and is much less rugged than the one towards kargil. the valley seems wider and more domesticated. along the way shey and thiksey which was the most spectacular of the monasteries for me. lopsangs brother was supposed to be a llama there. lospang wanted to be one too- thought life was easy as a llama but his parents insisted that he be there for them. instead he works as a driver and as a guide/ porter for treks across the mountains. thiksey is an entire city that spills over the slopes of the hill.


when the road heads north away form the indus the chimney monastery commands the hole of the valley and the road rises towards the change-la pass- third highest motorable pass in the world and a dizzying drive. at the pass a sikh officer offers us complimentary apple tea and asks us to please go see the temple. it is icy and cold.


changla pass

in the next valley is tangtsi were to spend the night. small village whose military theater ‘thiksey metro’ can house the whole population and more. our hotel was run by one woman and her pre-teen daughter sushma.


towards pangong tso the landscape changes every ten minutes from pastures with grazing yaks and sheep to rocky outcrops and shrubs to lakes of fine white sand to surreal wastelands of rocks and swamps. it is impossible to describe or to photograph the colours of the lake. it varies across all the way to the horizon where the mountains of china appear. we met army jawans from the jat regiment at the military run coffee shop who spoke of their time in siachen, the difficulties of acclimatization and the structure of the indian army. the souvenir shop they ran was a military vault of metal with overpriced t-shirts and mugs.


in the evening the village was lonely and dark with stars all across the sky. there was no electricity for most of the evening. after a cold night in the mountains the drive back was through roads inundated by snowfall being cleared slowly by tough men and women by hand. our car skidded in spite of lopsangs macho posturing and we had to chain the wheels in. at the pass the same sikh jawan gave us more tea.

lunch was chow mein and then hemis monastery on the other side of the indus set in a forest of sorts. students from rizvi recognize me. they happen to be living at oriental too. a llama kid sings bambai se aaya mera dost to us.


stok is the new home of the royalty. from there you can see the suburban settlement of choglamsar where the tibetan refugees live along with the huge hostels and housing colonies along the main road. along the main road there is a huge ground where the dalai lama gives his discourses. i wonder whether this is the place where he names everyone stanzin tensing or lopsang.

the bridge from choglamsar to stok


the leh secretariat

the last day at leh was spent browsing the tibetan market for gorgeous jewellery and eating kashmiri food. the morning was spent walking in areas we hadnt been to yet.

womens alliance center

tibetan market

sabzi mandi

light fixture at summer harvest restaurant

the women’s alliance was closed and the walk to sankar gompa somewhere behind it turned out to be too exhausting in the morning so we took a taxi later. the huge house opposite is the place where the head llama lives. inside a medieval city of balconies and staircases. a monk sang the evening prayers as we explored the rooms behind the main shrine and found instruments and statues lying in glass cases. to the rear of the building were the ruins of a building protected by snarling dogs.

sankar gompa

in the evening the market was still and sleepy with migrants having kebabs at the corner of the market street.

kebabs at the corner

football practise in a market courtyard

free tibet posters in the market

the tibetan market

for more photos.. mukul's picasa page


masoom said...

entertaining account+great pictures.

geetanjli said...

good pictures, give a real account of the trip.

Anonymous said...


It would be great to hear your opinion on Oriental guest house as I am planning to book it for my trip next week.