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Milind and Ungrateful Cows of Spiti

Milind and Ungrateful Cows of Spiti

Cows of Spiti are bad people. I am telling you, just believe me. I, personally, for once, am never ever going to talk to them now. No matter how much they woo me henceforth! Now, for centuries and millenniums it is an established and proven fact, that many guys who walk the sheep, goat and cows and their brotherhood, sit somewhere and play flute. Cows and other animals like it too.

Well, like everywhere in Himalayas, I spotted a herd of cows on the plush meadows of Spiti Valley. Some were sitting and chewing the cud, some were just walking around, some were grazing in the pasture. So basically they were not doing anything. Exactly like what we have done for decades of sitting in Vaishali - our once a popular joint in Pune.

Here in Spiti I stepped out from the car. it was damn cold outside. I clicked some pictures here and there. It was fun - shivering fun! Then I decided to entertain them with my enchanting flute. I thought the right time has come for me to walk into the new profession of becoming a cow herder. I, then started playing the most beautiful music I could think of at that moment.

I was playing and I sensed some movement behind my back. The cows had got alert. And some had started walking. Within a few more seconds the cows that were half asleep also got up and they all started running away from me! Then some remaining few too were seen running somewhere unknown!

I have never seen such ungrateful bunch of cows in my life !!!! Grrrrr!

God knows what they understood from my music!! Probably their humans must have wondered why the cows returned so early today! What to do! Such is life!! Looking back, now I think it was good that they ran away, instead had they attacked me, there was no tree to climb up and escape !!

Way to Kaza - Spiti Valley

Way to Kaza - Spiti Valley

Kaza is in the middle of nowhere! Deep inside the Spiti valley, Kaza has got its popularity comparatively recently, when people found Spiti Valley as a cheaper and quicker option to Ladakh. On the way to Kaza It’s a circular route to say. You can go from Shimla side and come out to Manali or vice versa. When I went there in April 2021, Kunzum pass was closed as it was still snowing. So I went and returned from Shimla side. On return journey the same road looks a bit different ! So I enjoyed.

As you go ahead from Rekong Peo region, slowly the green vegetation starts disappearing and only barren land is seen. On the way to Kaza there are a few popular villages of Nako, Tabo and some other few. Each offering something special. Buddhist influence increases and Monasteries with 500 year old mummy and large Buddha statues such welcome you. On the way I spotted an apiary. Road side bee keeping! There are tin many many boxes scattered along side the road and a small tent for the guy who manages that! This entire region is one of the most beautiful ones I have ever seen, and so is the drive through it. You see stunning meadows on both the sides of the road, then there are snow-peaks, there are caves on the way, there are deep valleys you cut through, and of course huge rivers with little water most of the times. You come across a couple of smaller villages too, Some Gompas and all that usual scenery you see in Ladakh. Just that this feels little more greener than Ladakh.


The road eventually goes to famous Kunzum pass and of course Chandrataal lake. I couldn't go there as due to snowfall the road was closed. Otherwise I could have taken the exit from this side to Manali. But April obviously is too early for that.

Here are a few pics..

Puncture and a performance

Puncture and a performance

These days everyone has a bucket list. Mostly where they want to travel to and such. While travelling to Udupi I too made one. First on the list was to eat Udupi food in the town of Udupi. Second was to get a puncture repaired in Kerala by a Keralite !! Bad thing to wish, but there is a charm in it!

As it had to go, I got a puncture somewhere on the road and that too in Kerala !! In my life I have had may be 4 or 5 punctures. Out of which, I have changed the tyre only once before. Centuries ago I had got my first puncture - this one I had repaired. It was when I had travelled to Nagpur from Pune on my bicycle, alone. I just had given my 10th grade exam. [Someone told me that the summer in Nagour is extreme hot, so I went there to see how bad it is!] Then once I was travelling with a friend and the car got a puncture, so I had helped him change the tyre. So now, this was the second time I was going to change the tyre!

Now as I got the puncture, I got my car to a side and got the stepney out and raised the car on the jack. Nearby there was a small hut that was selling the Indian National Snacks - tea and cream rolls. A couple of guys were sitting on a bench there. One of the guys walked up to me and asked if I needed help. I told him, let me try, if I can't manage, I will come to you. He smiled and walked away to chat with his friend.

Now was the time to unscrew the punctured tyre, and I got confused whether I should turn it clockwise or anticlockwise. I checked on YouTube, it was anticlockwise. I tried. The screw didn't move a fraction of a radian! I decided to ask this guy, I took a couple of steps towards him and as he looked at me with raised eyebrows, I simply moved my hands clockwise and anticlockwise, he had a big smile on his face and he indicated that it should be anticlockwise. I returned and tried again. The screw wouldn’t budge.

He saw that and walked up to me and as I moved away, he simply unscrewed it in about 2 seconds !! He then changed the tyre in next 30-40 seconds. I am sure I would have taken an hour to do that!! As he finished he told me that I will have to buy a new tyre as this one is not repairable, and walked away to his friend to continue their chat. I kept the punctured tyre in the dicky, locked the car and walked up to him.

" Thank you very much sir, You helped me a lot." I said with folded hands Namaskar.
" No problem." He said with a very sweet smile.
" Bhaisaab, you helped me, Now please tell me what can I do for you."
"No, nothing, there is no need."
" Oh nono, please tell me something that I can do for you "
"Treat me for a chai - tea" He said waving his hand towards the tea stall.

I got him a tea and we started talking. He was a truck driver and had come there for some family wedding, and had stepped out for a tea and chat.

I was thinking. I really wanted to return his favour. I was not happy with treating him just a Chai. He clearly was not a guy who wanted money. And I felt offering him money would be actually insulting to him.

You see, we performers are good in one thing. We understand if the audience is getting into our performance or not! Many a times it can happen, you are performing at your best, yet the audience is not moving. Something is not clicking. Then you have to use your special tricks to get the audience grooving on your music. I got exactly that feel here with him.

So I told him, come with me to the car. I play flute and I want to play something for you. He and his friends came with me. I picked up one of my smaller flutes and played the famous Hero tune for him. He hot a wider smile on his face. Both of them were quite curious about this guy who was playing the Hero tune for them roadside!

But still I was not happy. It hadn't clicked. I had to do something more to make him really happy. And then suddenly it came to my mind.

"Sir, I want a selfie with you. Will it be ok for you?"

And it clicked….!! He was damn thrilled that I was asking for a selfie with him! He had the most innocent smile on his face. He looked at his friend with a pride and we posed for a selfie. He was happy, I was happy. I thanked him once again and drove off.

The world is a stage for me, Every moment is a performance. All I want to do is to create good music and good memories for my audience. I hope the God and audience will keep me blessing forever.

Introduction to Up and Close Bharat Tour 2021

Introduction to Up and Close Bharat Tour 2021

Recently I completed a pan India tour -A soul searching solo trip in my car; From Tamil Nadu to Ladakh, it went on for more than 6 months. I visited many historical monuments, crossed many rivers and mountains, drove on roads that exist only on maps or don't, cruised on some of the best highways in the world, soaked in different cultures up and close, and met some interesting people. Loved playing flute at most interesting places, from 15,000 ft, where I could hardly breath, to beaches where strong winds made it tough to produce sound. Meditated with my flute while sitting alone on a rock - while surrounded by Monkeys, Squirrels or Musk Deers along with birds in the jungles of Himalayas under the fully bloomed Rhododendron trees. Danced around while fluting in the finest sand dunes around the camels. Fluted with frozen fingers for Pashmina goats, Cows and Yaks at -10 °C in high altitude mountains of Himalayas. Played in the 1000 years old temples and disappeared quietly when it started gathering crowd !! Also I learnt a lot. Lot about my capacities and limits. About different cultures and customs, different musical forms and melodies, and learnt a lot about human nature. This tour, like all previous ones enriched me with tremendous joy, satisfaction and happiness. Here are some impressions from the 6 months long "Up And Close Bharat tour 2021". Hope you like it 🙏🏻🙏🏻🙏🏻 - Milind Date

Info - Up and Close Bharat Tour - 2

Info - Up and Close Bharat Tour - 2

Up and Close Bharat – 2021 – Part 2 Travel, Car and Driving – Travel and Driving – Fundamentally I always drive without getting into racing or any such ego related complications. It is a very determined decision. For me, driving never should involve emotions. I have realised that City driving, Highway driving and Mountain driving are completely different things. You can have experience in one, still you will have to get experience in others. I think on highways, truck drivers are the best drivers – Most patient and disciplined they are. [ Although they tend to drive in the wrong lanes!] Tourist car drivers’ only aim in life is to go ahead of everyone. I also observed that many private car drivers’ attention is divided between enjoying the moment and driving – thus less focused on traffic and driving. Apparently, I managed well, as I didn’t get even one scratch on my car in the entire journey. Anticipation of the traffic is a very important factor in safe driving. The modern invention of Indicators has not reached to many people, so your judgment and imagination is important. A trick my friend had told me ages ago has come in handy all the time to me – “Look at the front wheels of the truck and then you exactly know where it is going!” In case of a questionable road, I would simply stop and wait till some other vehicle would pass through that patch and then follow. Evenings I had to drop my speed between 50 to 70 due to cows, buffaloes and their shameless owners loitering on highways. They are the most dangerous animals for traffic. Second troublesome animals are the dogs. They love to chase and some die in that adventure . But they can harm the car substantially, in case of a collision. Third most dangerous criminals are the humans coming wrong side and wrong way. I regularly encountered jeeps, tractors and at times trucks coming in opposite direction, and in several cases, they were even driving in my fast lane [ next to the divider]. Endurance – Initially I could drive for 4 hours and I would be tired. Eventually my endurance increased, and I could drive comfortably for 11 to 13 hours a day without getting exhausted or fatigued. I had not done any practice drives for that. [I had not entered any competition for “How many hours I drove in one day”, and am not interested in boasting about it or any other thing for that matter]. Also, I drove only in day time. As I would wake up early, I would feel sleepy around 10 30 -11. I would then stop and take a nap. Didn’t drive in sleepy conditions. Maps – I had downloaded all the necessary maps and saved many locations of interest. Yet, I would ask for directions to truck drivers or locals, when leaving the highways. I would save routs for tomorrow’s driving, so that I could use my brain instead of depending completely on maps brain – which doesn’t suit Indian road conditions in many situations. For S Cross, I found out that starting the car, letting the phone connect to the system on Bluetooth, and then attaching the cable worked in stable connection for 99% of the attempts. Keeping a spare cable too helped. [ Due to lockdown the shops were closed] Car - Taking care of the car is highly important for me, so twice a week in flat lands, and on alternate days in the mountains, I would check air. I would investigate any noise coming inside the car. All such noises were basically created by my luggage. Car had nothing to do with those. All petrol pumps have toilets now, and 90% of them are well maintained. I would refill the tank when it would remain about 1/3rd. Petrol pumps are a good place to make local enquiries about good hotels and better roads etc. I would get the car washed once or twice a week. I saw many brand-new looking cars having different issues. Most common was that the brake pads needed replacement. Thankfully I didn’t have any issue with my car. Carrying a powerful air pump is a great idea. In case of a small puncture, you can fill the air and reach the repair shop in case. I shall stop by telling you one fact - To be honest, I can’t even fill air in the tyres. Understanding anything else about the car is beyond me. I am writing this not because I am stupidly proud of this fact, but to tell that you don’t need to be expert in car maintenance to travel in India. People are nice everywhere, and they come and help you. In worse situations there is an all India help line for Maruti. Other car companies might have the same too. Obviously having knowledge about the car will come in handy for sure. -Milind Date More about Mountain Driving in Part 3.

Info - Up And Close Bharat Tour - 3

Info - Up And Close Bharat Tour - 3

Up and Close Bharat – 2021 – Part 3 Mountain driving - According to me ‘One needs to be a very skillful driver to drive in Himalayas’ is a bad overstatement and myth. There are thousands and thousands of guys doing that every day. All you have to do, is to pay proper attention to driving and the road, and understand the limits of your car – which you will learn while driving anyway. I observed there are 3 points that affect the driving– 1] Width of the road, 2] Traffic and 3] Surface quality. The real problem came with narrow roads [ Mainly in interiors of Uttrakhand ]. At some points, the road was wide enough just one vehicle to pass. And then, if there is truck coming towards you and the road is 15 -20 Degrees steep [ or steeper] and then there is a turning… It’s the worse situation to handle. Anticipating it, I would stop at the possible wider area of the road to give way to on-coming car or truck and let the other vehicle approach me. A cheesy and shameless thing I did initially, was when I would see an on-coming car, I would take my care to the mountain side and wait for the other car to approach. They would be forced to pass from the valley side then. As my confidence increased, I didn’t do it. Reversing the car - I found out that in case of reversing the direction of the car on a mountain road, it was better to reverse the car’s rear end towards the valley side. Reasons being 1] I could see clearly the edge with the camera, and 2] the car weight is in front, making it more firm on ground. Of course I could have done it other way round and found some perfect explanations for that too! Thanks to the great navigation of google maps and my interpretation of the directions, I had to do this many times. Car changes its behaviour and response in mountains drastically. The same S Cross Zeta 1.3 feels underpowered in high mountains. [And I was alone in the car.] High altitude car and driving certainly needs special attention. With observation, I became reluctant to stop the car to speed zero. Because many times I had to take off the car by raising the RPM to 3000 + and slowly releasing the clutch – due to steep gradient of the road. I asked at the Nexa service station in Leh if this was normal, they said “Completely normal and that controlling car on gears instead of breaks is utmost important”. I also noticed cleaning air filter and AC filter regularly makes a big difference in the performance of the car. For me l having a glance at the deep valley created some fright, so I would not look at it but focus on road. One thing I did was to look out for, is the stones falling from the mountains. There is not much I could do really, but when I saw fallen stones on the road, I would be more careful. Once or twice a big boulder jumped ahead of my car. Had I been some 20 -30 feet ahead, it would have hit my car sideways. Or worse, it could have landed on top of my head! But again, this happened only twice in the entire journey of 4 months of Himalayas. Well, I couldn’t stop traveling with this fear in mind, could I ?! Water, Mud and Black Ice – Driving on the water, mud and ice or black ice is increasingly difficult. Under the water you can never know how deep is the pothole, on mud the car slips and tyres don’t take good grip, Ice and black ice is the worst; You don’t have any control on the car. Breaking is extremely dangerous as the car will mostly slip and skid with any possible velocity even if you are and 0.01 kmph. In these cases, I simply stopped and watched what others were doing and then followed. In any case normally too I control the car mainly on gears. I shall end this write up with saying this – While in Ladakh I read outside an Army Camp – What is adventure for you, is daily routine for us. Honestly if anyone thinks that I went on an adventure, I would say No. What army does is adventurous, Siachin is beyond adventure. There are only 4-5 countries in the entire world who can manage high altitude maneuvers. India is one of those. And for driving – thousands of drivers do that every day and night – and earn money too. I was very clear about my motive for this. – I wanted to see my Bharat Up and Close. - Milind Date

Up and Close Bharat Tour 4

Up and Close Bharat Tour 4

Best Road journeys - 1] Pithoragarh to Munsyari 2] Rameshwaram to Dhanushyakodi 3] Kaza to Losar and ahead 4] Chinyalisour to Gangotri 5] Leh to Pangong 6] Drass to Sonamarg 7] Leh to Pang 8] Kolhapur to Goa 9] Yamuna Expressway 10] Internal roads of Goa 11] Gopeshwar - Chopta - Ukhimath 1] Pithoragarh to Munsyari On Google maps we see green lines as the Expressways, then thick yellow lines as highways, then upon zooming in appear thin yellow lines and so on. When you zoom in a lot, finally you see white lines. Although google thinks those are roads, in many cases they are proposed roads or in some cases they are imaginary roads or it's just wishful thinking. Interior Bharat is connected by these white lines. One such road is Pithoragarh to Munsyari in Uttarakhand. Just before Jauljibi and after Ramu's Grocery Shop, you leave the Dharchula highway and the road starts becoming smaller and smaller. You start climbing very slowly. On your left is the deep Gori Ganga river and on your right are tall mountains. Undoubtedly this is the most beautiful road I have travelled. Driving on this road was exciting and scary at the same time. The road, at places, is so narrow, that even if a bicycle comes in opposite direction, you both have to stop and adjust your vehicle to let other pass. Road surface isn't great, but isn't all that bad either. You can go by 20 - 30 kmph. Slow, also because within 100 metre, there is a turning. It's around 65 -70 km till Munsyari, but I took 4 hours to complete the journey as I was stopping after ever few kilometre to enjoy the scenery. I think it will be in it's best looks after the rains, around September. I wouldn’t travel there in monsoon. 2] Rameshwaram to Dhanushyakodi Driving on this road was therapeutic for me. It was meditation for me. 19 Km of straight patch - you just sit, put the car on Cruise and enjoy the drive! Not many places you can find sea on both the sides of the road and you too are on the level of the sea. Bridges don’t have some land and trees etc on both sides. There is some charm in this drive. I went there twice and both the times there were minimal people or cars there. 3] Kaza to Losar and ahead In Spiti Valley is the village of Kaza. When you go towards Kunzum Pass - Manali from Kaza, you travel through one of the most beautiful roads. The surface quality of the road is immaculate. The road traverses on the flat lands between the mountains, while the mountains are quite far away from the road on both sides. 4] Chinyalisour to Gangotri Actually this is Rishikesh to Gangotri route , But till Chinyalisour, the highway is like any other Himalayan highways; Beautiful, but not exotic to say. After Uttar Kashi the road becomes heavenly. Going through mountains and gaining height and then again going down to Harshil valley, it's just a fantastic experience to drive on that road. 5] Gopeshwar - Chopta - Ukhimath Most of this road goes through dense forest. You climb to Chopta. The mountain top road has bad surfacing, but you are too busy in looking at exotic birds flying around, troops of monkeys [ some like to call it Congress of Monkeys too], various types of deer and foxes and many such truly wild animals around you!! And of course you can go to Tunganaath - The World's Highest Shiv Temple. It's quite lovely going there. As I was driving one deer suddenly jumped in front of me and got startled due to my car. It looked quite different. Like a tall dog. I stopped and rolled down the window to take pictures. and it jumped and disappeared in the jungle. What aroused my curiosity that someone had put incense sticks somewhere nearby. There ought to be some temple I though. When I went ahead I read a Govt sign post. It said Welcome to the land of 'Musk Deer' 6] Leh to Pangong One of the most beautiful drives in Ladakh, is also one of the worst. Changla Pass is just horrible. Worse for me - I got stuck in the snowfall. But also that made it quite enjoyable. Car skidding to the left and right and breaking only making it worse! The surfacing of Changla pass is perennially horrible. Apart from that the eithre road is immaculate. On this road you will find Mountains, Rivers, flat land roads, grassland, marshland, sand dunes, rivers, snow, ice, Horses, Mules, Goats and what not!! It’s a spectacular journey. And then there is the unimaginable 50 Shades of Blue - Pangong too! 7] Drass to Sonamarg You leave Ladakh and after crossing Zojhila pass enter Kashmir. Zojhila pass is mesmerising. It's not so bad that it will break your vehicle, yet it will give you some experience of driving through moon craters. But once you start climbing down the mountain towards Sonamarg, the sights of Kashmir you see are unforgettable. I would stop every now and then to click pics. As lucky as I would get, it started raining, and it was another experience for me! Another half an hour and the rain stopped. And we all know how exquisite everything looks after the rain! 8] Leh to Pang Road from Leh towards Manali is absolutely brilliant - Only till the settlement of Pang. After that apparently the road becomes so horrible that everyone coming from Manali either were cursing the road or were in the car repair shop. Mostly this road takes you through the valley, except for a lovely pass Tanglang La. It’s a majestic pass. On this road you could see the nomads with their hundreds of Pashmina Goat. It’s a sight to see. 9] Kolhapur to Goa In the lovely hills of Sahyadri's or Western Ghats There are several roads from Kolhapur to Goa. All of them of through thick green jungles. But you need to find out which ghat is good in current season. I liked Chola Ghat a lot. 10] Yamuna Expressway This is the expressway that is not too busy - Yet. Nothing spectacular there, but if you haven't driven on an expressway, it will be a fabulous experience for you. Also till it gets busy, this is one of the most relaxed drives. 11] Internal roads of Goa Lots of internal roads of goa are absolutely scenic. They are narrow, but enough to pass two vehicles normally. Wherever you see, all you see is green. But then every now and then you get a peek of the sea, and that is quite exciting! The road quality is supreme!

Hemis Monastery - Ladakh

Hemis Monastery - Ladakh

Hemis monastery has a special place in my life. Somehow I feel connected with that place. So much so, that one entire chapter in my forthcoming fiction novel takes place there. Hemis Monastery Not too far from Leh, Hemis is located in the Shang valley. I have visited it many a times over the last few decades. This trip I went there 5-6 times. Enroute to it you pass Shey palace, Stok palace, Stakna Monastery and the famous Thiksey monastery. Also there are a couple of lesser known monasteries, as well as Buddhist nunneries nearby too. All these places are beautiful and if you have time, you could visit there too. This time due to the fear of corona there were less tourists and it was honestly much, much more enjoyable. I have been lucky to visit many places internationally where it was just one or two other tourists besides me. Lots of information can be found about Hemis online. But to tell you some points that interested me - Hemis is the most important monastery in Ladakh. It is said and probably documented, that Jesus lived here when he visited India. And they have a fabulous museum in the basement. The monks here are quite welcoming and their annual festival is an exotic sight! Especially the Masked Dances. Here are some pictures from 2021June.

Cham Festival - Hemis

Cham Festival - Hemis

One fine morning at my homestay in Leh, I found a beautiful Venezuelan girl telling me that she was planning to go to the Hemis Festival. After an hour we set off for a colourful journey that proved to be full of dances, music and excitement. [ A tip - Don’t ask a Venezuelan girl if she was Miss Universe. Probably she is, and will get annoyed, and will ask you 'Why everyone in India asks me this?' ] Musicians performing on the roof top of the monastery This year the festival was banned for everyone - tourists and locals alike - except for the monks who were going to perform. We were told this by the owner of the homestay, but we decided to take our chances. For the start, we were stopped by a group of police at the exit of Leh itself. The policeman was quite stern and clever. I tried to tell him that we won't go to Hemis but will go to Shey Palace. Then he took a picture of my number plate and told me that he is sending it on their WhatsApp group and if this car is seen near Hemis they will catch it. Thankfully we had another guy with us with his car. So we simply turned back, took his car and proceeded taking an inner route. Even on that tiny road there were at least 5 check posts and we were stopped at each one of those. I with my training of gatecrashing the concerts, [ and the knowledge and information acquired from so many heist and crime TV serials watched during lockdown ] sailed through smoothly and landed up to witness the magnificent Masked Dance Festival !! My both co-travellers were completely floored by my skills of telling cock and bull stories and excuses !! Although every monastery in Ladakh holds an annual festival, there are only 4-5 monasteries where these spectacular Masked Dances take place. Hemis being an important monastery, has the famous festival. It's one of the two, where even the government has a holiday. Masked Dance This is a two day festival. In the morning there are many prayers and chants in the Main Prayer Hall of the monastery. The monks chant their scripts, then the musicians play some music for a very short duration in between, then again the chants begin. This goes on all the morning. While all this is going on, hot Ladakhi tea is served to all . Typically it's for the younger monks to offer the tea. At some point the musicians walk up the roof and go to the top-most point of the building and perform their traditional music. No loudspeakers etc are used on the roof. Typically while this is going on thousands of spectators will gather outside in the large courtyard, waiting for the Masked Dances to begin. There is a lovely museum in the basement of the building opposite the main hall. In the same building there are galleries where important people and guests sit to watch the dances. That looks like a good vantage place, but I found out its better to be on the grounds if you want good pictures. As this year no one from outside was allowed, there were hardly any people there; may be a hundred or so. The only outsiders were some family of army chaps and some local officials. This allowed me to move freely anywhere I would want and click photographs. I was simply lucky this way. Normally it would be simply impossible to even move an inch because of the tremendous crowd. After lunch time the famous Masked Dances start in the courtyard of the monastery.

Masked Dances

Masked Dances

In Ladakh, amongst the few monasteries that hold the Masked Dances - Cham Dances - those at Hemis Monastery are the most famous ones. Also popular ones too. These dances are performed by monks wearing exotic looking dresses and masks. Famous Masked Dance at Hemis Monastery After lunch time the preparation for the Masked Dances begin in the same main prayer hall of the monastery, where the prayers were being recited since morning. The hall becomes their green room. The dances take place in the large courtyard of the monastery. Typically there are practically thousands of people gathered to watch these famed and exotic looking dances. This time in 2021 due to Covid, there were no spectators. And thus almost no camera people, except those from the monastery itself. During the day several dance sequences are presented. All with different themes and thus different masks. I believe these keep changing slightly every year. The Masked Dance Festival started with a young monk alone walked in and performed his dance. He had a flag on his tall pointy hat. Soon few more monks entered the courtyard. They all were wearing different coloured flags on their tall pointy hats. The next performance was that of several monks dressed In exotic colourful dresses; flamboyant reds, greens, yellow and blue practically exploded on the courtyard. I was told all these dresses have great symbolic meaning. Following to this, different groups of dancers kept walking in. They were wearing bright festive dresses and masks . This went on for a while. Each new group was with a differently themed dress and dance. In some of the groups were probably warriors as they were carrying bow and arrows, swords and shields. Basically this entire festival is about the win of good over bad. The festival ended with the dance of the senior monks. They were draped in old looking yet magnificent dresses entered the courtyard. Each one of them was holding a preserved but now blackened real human hand. It looked like just the remaining bones, but it still had the shape of a palm. In the same hand they also carried a silver chalice. In the other hand they carried a beautiful Tibetan Bell. Then some younger monks dressed in the festival dresses walked in with beautiful silver carafes [ Surai]. They poured something in the monks' chalices and the monks drank some of it and threw the rest away. From the smell I assume it was local alcohol. An actual real human palm held by a monk. At the end of the Cham Dance, the kids with masks escorted the Senior Monk with mask back to the Prayer hall. Every movement in this entire festival has deep significance in Buddhist Tradition. The entire festival ended with covering the gigantic Thangka - Ladakhi Painting with another huge cloth cover. This Thankga is unfurled on the huge wall of the monastery at the beginning of the entire festival. This Thangka is said to be painted with paints created with powder of precious stones. After the festival was over, a couple of kids that had participated in the Cham dances, walked up to the tourists or devotees and caught them with a white scarf, by putting it in victim's neck. They only released the victims when they were given them some money. The standard escape route of 'Already Given' didn't really work on them. But then the kids were quite cute. All in all I was quite lucky to be there - especially with no overwhelming crowds there! PS : Every 12 years there is another important festival held at Hemis. - Naropa festival. I hope I should be able to attend that in coming few years. The musicians perform sacred music on the roof of the monastery

Tyakshi and Turtuk

Tyakshi and Turtuk

"Seven and half decades ago we got our own country - India. In no time we became a part of Pakistan, and its exactly 50 years now, India invaded our villages and now we are in India. Mohmmad Asif told me. Asif is a local Balti guy. I was somewhere up in the mountains in a village called Tyakshi. Located in the Shyok Valley, Tykshi and more known village of Turtuk are geographically in Baltistan. Although the approach road for us is from Nubra valley. Kids at Tyakshi village. "Where do you like Pakistan or Hindusthan?" I asked Asif. "We are here with Hindusthan now. What choice we have anyway?" Mohmad Asif replied. I was not too sure of his alliance. Asif pointed towards a group of oldies sitting nearby chatting and drinking tea, "You know, Some of them have served in Paksitan Army." My assurance of the local's alliance became even more doubtful. Tyakshi, Turtuk and 4-5 other smaller villages were occupied by Pakistan till the 1971 war - The war that created Bangladesh. In 1971 Indian Army rescued some villages were from Pakistani occupation. " In 197. like there was a war going on in Bengal, we also had a war going on here in Ladakh. The war ended in mid-December of 1971." Stenzing told me in a general discussion about Turtuk and Tyakshi. Stenzing is from a small village in Chumathang valley. Famous Tso Moriri is quite near to his village. He now works as a tour operator in Leh. He is educated in Delhi. Many Ladakhis do the same. "Had the war gone any longer, it could have changed the entire demography of Ladakh permanently." Stenzing continued. He feels giving authentic information to visitors is an important part of being in tourism industry. "Just a few kilometers ahead of Turtuk, there is a much bigger town of Skardu." Had we won Skardu back, because of its size, complete equation would have changed in Ladakh!." [To put things In perspective, Skardu has a population around 3,00,000. the population of Kargil is around 1.6 lakhs and that of Leh it is 2.5 lakhs.] [2020 approximate Numbers] The local population of Turtuk and Tyakshi etc, is Baltistani. This is the only region in India where you can see Balti people. They look quite different than Ladakhi clan. "Few years ago Indian government opened the villages of Tkyashi and Turtuk for tourism." Asif told me. "Since then we get lots of visitors. It helps us financially too." "That must be only for a few months, Wont it? I asked him. [ Due to harsh winter] "Yes. still, it adds to our income. It helps." Asif admitted. "You can't tell anything about these people" Stanzin exclaimed. "They will take all advantaged from Indian government, but you never know whether they will support Pakistan or India in case of a war." Stanzin clearly was not a great fan of the Balti population. "When Kargil war started Indian Army arrested many Balti people from these villages as the army suspected their alliance to Pakistan" Stanzin took a mini pause, and then added "Like our Ladakhi people helped our army in Kargil war." After all we are Ladakhee. He said with a tone a pride in his voice. "Some of our families got separated due to this episode." Asif told me. "Some people got stuck Pakistan and now can't come back to their village." War is tough thing on individuals. As of today, there is proper electricity, mobile network and roads and several health centres in these villages. The army doesn't let tourists go beyond Turtuk, but the locals can travel across. Army has kept a close watch and control over all the villages now. Asif showed me around the village' took me to the other end of the village, and then showed me what part of mountains is still occupied by Pakistan. One section of the Takshi village is below at the river level. Although Ladakh is a desert, lots of farming has been happening there lately. Apricot and Apples are quite commonly grown there. Asif showed me a building that was a school when Tyakshi was occupied by Pakistan. Now Indian government has built much bigger building for the school. As of today after 50 years of the short 1971 war, here in Tyakshi and Turtuk the life goes on. But, let me tell you a specialty of this region not many people may know. And that is, that you might find the authentic Shilajit here. Not easy to find the pure, but you can. According to Aurved, Shilajit has many medicinal properties . Here are some pictures from Tyakshi and the region around.

Pashmina and the Road to Pang

Pashmina and the Road to Pang

One of the most exotic word in the world of traditional fashion is Pashmina. Kashmir is famous for its Pashminas.

But is Pashmina really Kashmiri? Or is it?

Actually Pashmina comes from Ladakh. Pashmina goats are found only in altitudes higher than 3500 or 4000 Mt. [ Kashmir is about 2000 mt] Century ago when the Jammu kingdom won a war with Ladakh kingdom, they put a clause that all Pashmina wool should be compulsorily sold to them. Kashmiri artisans being exceptionally fabulous in this work, the industry grew in Kashmir. Pashmina mufflers and stoles in a shop Apparently, in recent past this clause was thrown away and now Ladakhi people can make their own Pashmina products and do whatever they want with the wool. [ Actually it is undercoat, not the wool.]

"Each Pashmina goat produces around 250 grams of wool every year. Now you know why it is expensive!" Nawang Phuntsog told me with a smile on his face "We have to feed the goats all year and take their care for these 250 grams!!".


I met Nawang at his magnificent shop - 'Nomadic Woollen Mills' at the Main market of Leh. Its on the first floor of a T Junction. He is from the nomadic tribe that rears Pashmina Goats. He told me that sometime ago, Indian government sent him to China to study the latest techniques of weaving and producing Pashmina. Once he returned, he imported some excellent and advanced machinery from New Zealand and Germany. This machinery is computer controlled. So now he has his own production of Pashminas.

He also produces a certain amount of Pashmina material by hand. This procedure, obviously is slow and usually can happen only in winters when the ladies are not busy with farming. So there is a limit to how much Pashmina cloth can be weaved by hand. Nawang employs many Self Help groups of women. This way he creates local jobs too.


Pashminas come quite expensive. A small stole will cost you around 2,500 to 4,000 Rs and the shawls start from 4,000 and can go up to several lakhs if there is intricate hand woven designs on it. All these shawls and stoles are so thin that each one can pass through a small finger ring. Asked Nawang if this was true. He smiled and said "Every pashmina can pass through a tiny ring. It is very thin and yet very warm."

I looked around the shop. He had some exquisite - simple and complex alike, designs. There were shawls, stoles, pullovers and mittens, all around me stacked elegantly in racks. I bought a dozen stoles or so, as I was sure I won't get pure Pashminas easily. He also had lot other things made from Yak wool.

There are many shops that sell pashmina in Leh. Most are owned by the Kashmiris. Many shopkeepers will tell you that their Pashmina is the Pure Pashmina. Generally pure Pashmina doesn't come in many colours. It is mainly White, Yellowish or Grey. They have to introduce different fabric for making it colourful. The moment you touch a pure Pashmina, you can feel the softness of it. Best is A to B Comparison.

Nawang's comes from the Chungthang region in Ladakh. It is quite away from Leh. This is the region, where you see Pashmina goats and goatsmen. The region near and around Tso Moriri lake is the Chungthan area. Basically it’s a totally brown area. It's quite difficult to see a green patch there. Nawang Phuntsog in front of his shop I drove up to Pang. It is a lovely drive. Initially you pass through lovely mountains and then there comes Tanglang La pass. Tanglang La, thankfully, has good roads. Except a couple of no road situations at the top, the entire road is just lovely. Tanglang La leads you to Chungthang region.

As the road passes through the Changthang, the landscape changes. Now you are trtavelling through completely flat lands for acres and acres. On both sides of the road, now you can see several goat herders and their hundreds of goats. They are in no hurry, Silently walking with them is usualy just one person. A boy alone can take care of that entire herd of hundreds of goats. Generally not in the day time, but at nights and especially in winters they have the danger of snow tiger,

These people are nomads.

Traditionally these nomads don’t have a home in a place. They live in tents. They have trucks and cars, but not homes. Goats, Mules, at times Yaks, and a few dogs is their entire wealth. [I am sure they will have places in Leh and otherwise. I was told that when demonatisation happened these nomads, who literally live in tents and such, got tons and tons of kilos of currency notes for exchange! ] Now with Ladakh becoming independent from Jammu and Kashmir, I am quite sure that in the due course Ladakhis will get good benefit and it will reflect in their production of Pashminas.

Here are some pictures -