A few pages of the Journey to Ladakh, the small Tibet, the reader begins to feel the desire to travel to those distant lands and experience inside the poison of the Himalayas. It is the desire that good travel books provoke us. This is undoubtedly one of them.
Our partner and friend Marta Torres is a profound expert on the Silk Road, the Himalayas, Tibet, its history, its culture, its nature, its beautiful landscapes full of splendor and mystery, its religion, its magic. The poison that Marco Pallis talks about in his book Cumbres y Lamas has gnawed forever the entrails of our friend and can not spend much time without going back to those magical lands.
That's how it was: five years after her last trip to Tibet, Marta and her husband Paco embarks on this incredible trip to the Ladakh Valley, located in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir. Ladakh is part of the Silk Road on its north-south path, which through the mythical Karakorum links the Indian subcontinent with western China, communicating southern India with other places such as Tibet in the east, Kasghar in the North or Kashmir, Pakistan or Samarkand in the west.
How could it be otherwise, the trip starts in Delhi (but, as we know, all travel begins in its preparations - and before in the desire or dream - planning, travel guides, reading a basic bibliography ...) Although our travelers already knew this great city of 17 million inhabitants plus 26 in its periphery, it never ends up being known. In addition to the obligatory visits to the Chawri Bazar with its hustle and bustle, its characteristic smells and its color, or the Jami Masjid, the largest mosque in India, in 1656, or the Sikh temple of Sisganj Gurdwara, dating from the 18th century, our friends discover on this trip the tomb of Humayun, the second Mughal emperor, built in the sixteenth century. In addition to its architectural splendor, this mausoleum stands out, according to the author, for the elegance of its lattices, the beautiful image that its reflection projects in the pond, the harmonic contrast of its colors, especially red and white, his garden full of freshness and placidity. Marta reminds us of the wonderful description of this monument made by Octavio Paz in his work Vislumbres de la India: "... Tireless games, always different and always the same, of light and time, water fulfills a double and magical function : reflect the world and dissipate it ... "
Once left Delhi, travelers undertake a train trip to the north, whose first stop is Amritsar, Sikh city, home of the Golden Temple dating from the sixteenth century, a complex of buildings whose architecture mixes Hindu and Muslim styles covered in rich marbles and domes. of gold. But what our author highlights, as of all the places visited along the trip, is the friendliness and smiles of the people and the respect and veneration that is lived from harmony and tolerance. On this site, as in so many others, the colors of the dresses and turbans, the light, the reflections in the pond, the atmosphere stand out. Marta tells us that Michel Peissel in his book Mustang, the forbidden kingdom in the Himalayas, recalls that in Tibetan language, "the word that means happiness also means beauty, and this is reflected in the attitude of the people and in everything they do or They always try to combine beauty and happiness ... "Unfortunately, this has not always been the case. The Sikh community of the Golden Temple does not forget the massacre of almost five hundred independentistas refugees in the temple, perpetrated by the Indian army in 1984. Killing that cost the life of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi at the hands of two Sikh bodyguards.
Continue the journey into the state of Himachal Pradesh where the first foothills of the Pre-Himalayas are contemplated. Here is the city of Dharamasala, known for being the refuge of the Dalai Lama after the occupation of Tibet by China in 1959. In this city the Tibetan government is in exile and throughout all those years a community has been forming of Tibetan refugees who have maintained the customs and rites of their culture, with projects aimed at safeguarding the language, religion or crafts. In this town our friends have the opportunity to contemplate the prayer mills: metal cylinders inside which are prayers or rolled mantras that are activated when the faithful turn the mill and spread through the air, causing the effect of prayers in aloud. Something, no doubt, worthy of contemplation.
Another essential element of Tibetan Buddhism are the mandalas, circular labyrinths painted in the prayer halls constructed with colored sands that later fade, sometimes acquiring three-dimensional shapes forming singular buildings as models of the oldest monasteries. The most sacred of the mandalas is the Kalachakra, a palace inhabited by Wisdom and Compassion that is accessed through various circles and levels of consciousness development. Among his infinite tasks, the Dalai Lama has the mission to teach the very complex Kalachakra way. In the West, mandalas are known thanks to the dissemination of writers and philosophers such as Carl G. Jung, for whom the mandala is "an archetype of unity or totality that represents the universal longing for the relationship between the human and the transcendent"; or in Spain, Ignacio Gómez de Liaño, who sees the mandala "as one more link in the chain of Gnostic sapiential diagrams that have their roots in the dawn of human thought" pp.169-170)
By one of the most well-known routes, the Manali-Leh Road, which connects the Kullu valley with the Ladakh region, crossing valleys, harbors and mountain ranges of more than 5000 meters, our travelers are entering the Himalayas. Here we meet the yaks, animals related to bulls or bison, which can only survive at this altitude. They are as essential to these lands as camels to the desert. Domesticated thousands of years ago, they are able to travel through these mountains with 150 kg of weight behind them. They use everything: wool, milk for butter, meat and even the tail as a scarecrow, and even excrement as fuel.
A construction very typical of this area are the chorten, originally, reliquaries that kept the remains of some saint or offerings of thanksgiving. They are highly respected because they indicate a sacred place and can be in some cases an object of adoration through small pilgrimages around them or kora. The chorten have a very complex symbolism: they consist of an axis that connects the earth and the heavens, the five essential elements (earth, air, water, fire and ether), and the different steps of the evolution of awakening.
In the eighth stage our enviable travelers arrive at Ladakh, which had been an independent kingdom since the 9th century, with great influence from central Tibet and little by little, from the powerful Muslim states of the south and west who coveted the wealth provided by the pashmina wool After centuries of disputes and wars, the Dogras ended their independence in 1834 and submitted to the Kingdom of Jammu and Kashmir, until it became dependent on the British Empire, and in 1947, India, with serious border conflicts with Pakistan and China . Leh, its capital since the 17th century, a city of no more than 30,000 inhabitants, has been an essential center on the branch of the Silk Road. This enclave has made Leh a caravan city par excellence, whose streets have traveled camels, mules and yaks with saddlebags full of all kinds of merchandise to sell or change; and has allowed its inhabitants to mix naturally with Muslims, Indians, Mughals or Tibetans. Characteristic of Leh are the caravansarais or caravanserais, protected enclosures that are closed at night to ensure the safety of travelers and animals. These caravansarais were born in the deserts of the Silk Road and are the links of the millenary routes of communication and transport. Even today they can be seen in the Sahara, in Turkey and in many other lands of the East. In 1949 the Chinese communist regime closed the steps to the north, interrupting this fabulous commercial network, which has made Leh a city dedicated to tourism, with the consequent loss of its caravan tradition, only appreciable in the multiple ethnic groups that inhabit it: Tibetans , Chinese, Mongolian, Hindu ... Fortunately for Tibetan culture and traditions, and for the traveler, what Michel Peissel defines as the "great simplicity" of his architecture remains in Leh: "Maybe it does not exist in the world - says Peissel in his book Zanskar, hidden and remote kingdom - who has better understood the role played by form, volume and space in their relationship with nature ". An example of this simple grandeur is the fortress-palace of Leh, built in the seventeenth century, one of the best and largest buildings of Tibetan civil architecture.
As an excellent librarian, we can not fail to mention the reference of our author to one of the emblematic figures of the variegated Buddhist pantheon that she has been pursuing for a long time: Dharmatala, one of the characters that the Tibetan iconography added to the sixteen arhats classics, holy men of Buddhism. Unlike other monks, Dharmatala is a servant who attends to the rest of the Arhats in their thirst for knowledge, for which they require their sacred texts, their books. Thus, Dharmatala is the book carrier, the personal librarian of the Arhats. Among the many treasures of Tibet are his books, whose importance is essential for the preservation and dissemination of their culture. In them the religious value prevails to be considered incarnation of Buddha and there is no temple or place dedicated to prayer where there are no books. And like in the whole world, the book is also an instrument of culture and education, as well as an artisan, aesthetic, artistic and also economic object. And, as in any authoritarian political regime, subversive instrument persecuted. The Chinese Cultural Revolution destroyed thousands of Tibetan books in the sixties and seventies of the last century. Unlike the western book whose usual format since the Middle Ages is the codex, in India it is the pothi format, built on the basis of flat sheets stacked and protected by cloth or two wooden boards, while in China the characteristic format is the roll in different supports: bamboo, silk or paper. In Tibet and throughout the Himalayas the pothi format was adopted from the seventh century. As in Europe, the books were copied by hand until the diffusion of the printing press, which in Asia was earlier, in the thirteenth century, and unlike the European mobile type, in the East era of woodblock plates.
We can not fail to mention one of the emblematic places of Leh: the Shanti Stupa, a circular construction that is part of a movement called Pagodas por la Paz. This is located in an incomparable place from where beautiful views of the valley and the surrounding mountains are contemplated. At dusk, the inhabitants of Leh and dozens of travelers climb the 157 steps that culminate the stupa to contemplate in silence the golden light of the sunset.
But undoubtedly what characterizes Leh and the entire territory of Ladakh are its more than twelve ancient monasteries that mark the Indus Valley. They are part of Tantric Buddhism in its Vajrayana variant of northern India and Tibet, dating from the 7th-8th centuries, whose function was to organize the economic and social life of Ladakh. This is where they have been best preserved, although the Chinese occupation destroyed the majority. As with so many traditional places and monuments, these monasteries are being rebuilt, but not for the purpose of preserving that ancestral culture but for commercial purposes of tourist attraction. Hemis, Stok, Thikse, Likir, Lamayuru or Alchi, considered the jewel of the monasteries of Ladakh, still preserve part of the sacred atmosphere of prayer, meditation and recollection that one day breathed behind its walls.
Surely the trip of our friends would not have been a complete trip without the appearance of the Dalai Lama himself. It was on the way from Leh to the valley of Nubra, whose road had to be cut to allow the passage of the retinue of the supreme spiritual leader. "Little by little we noticed his arrival," Marta writes, "first the police and security cars, and then a black car, passing slowly, through its tinted windows let us glimpse the face and hand of the Dalai Lama, smiling and blessing as it passed ... It was a few seconds that we became immense, the excitement that passed through that road flooded us all, people prostrating themselves by the car, clasping their hands, offering their scarves, smiling. "(p.141)
Throughout the book our author intercalates reflections raised before the contemplation of the magical places that crossed or the observation of certain scenes. Thus, in Ladakh, as in so many places, universal attitudes and behaviors are observed. Some of them, like this one that took place in the atrium of the Thikse monastery, are described by Marta in this scene: "In a corner of the patio we find a group of women who have stopped, they seem to be from the same family ... The oldest one, with gray hair, she is sitting on the floor on one of the steps, clearly exhausted, and one of her daughters is putting a cloth on her head, perhaps to comfort her, while the others wait standing. and I see in them something very close that I recognize, the world of women of the same family and the relationships that are created between them.The women, through the different generations, are those who leave the world with a unique look. This world of women is of great intensity and we find tenderness, fear, power, protection, wisdom, domination, tradition, solidarity, joy, confidences, secrets ... There are emotional dependencies and ties that ... are found in women from different places of the world ... I share their same feelings and a deep empathy binds me to them "(p.129).
Later, in the dunes of Hundar, Marta tells another scene starring this time camels that once were wild and now had been domesticated for use and enjoyment of tourism: a group of Indian tourists had fun mounted on these animals guided by their owners, just as in Lanzarote or in the Moroccan, Algerian or Tunisian Sahara, any of us can do the same. "It is evident that when tourism reaches virgin areas some of the magic of the place is broken", Marta writes in front of this scene, to ask herself next if "we are less tourists and more travelers than others". What tourist or traveler has not ever asked himself this question? When we travel, what are we? How is one category different from another? Assuming both are different. "In any case," concludes our friend, "the quality of the trip is set by the traveler's gaze, the slow tempo, the understanding of what he sees or the quiet tasting of what he absorbs"
External Link: Paket Pernikahan.