Hemis Monastery: Ladakh

Sometimes I wish I was regular. The heart remains restless when I’m in bigger cities, but on the other side I have access to the things that I want easily. My feelings were content, at that moment, at where I was then. But I was out of reach of things that I desired. – If I didn’t have to look out, with hope and effort; if it was just easy to connect.

The thing there is, I took half a bucket of nice warm water and washed my hair at around ten thirty in the morning; while drying my hair using a towel, the water in my hair turned into ice.

It was just me, Samten’s mom and grandma in the house.

I was going to make chicken curry later that night, my traditional style.

I was going to Hemis Monastery that day to see the mass prayer happening there. Samten’s mother had told me about it.

Let me put this out there – yes, Ladakh, Leh mostly, has recently turned very very overrated. Truly. It’s funny; I remember having a conversation with a friend about it. And a very nice conversation it was. In the recent years, Ladakh has reached out to the people of the country slowly to tremendously that now the sound of the name to the ears or the sight of the word on a computer screen makes me feel uneasy and bothered. Anyone in the country who is with a corporate job and feels it is demeaning to quality of life or is okay about it but is troubled with the work load, when he or she gets a break of say seven or eight days till fourteen I’d say, they shoot to Leh – and this is their life altering moment where they find the meaning of life and their identity owing to the landscapes and the culture of the place. So it is for many many travelers to Ladakh, their ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ moment. Everyone’s I’d more like to say.

© Moriya Hanglem

That said Ladakh can never be overrated in the other sense. I have been here twice. The first one for fourteen days. This time for fourteen days again.

I shall choose only some particular moments to tell you of this place, which remained to me great moments. Although being here all the time is very nice.

I wanted to go to Hemis also to see if I can take part praying – if I can really connect to the air, power, God, spiritualism. Perhaps another Pray moment.

It was around seven in the morning, and I came out of the house in thick clothes walking down the empty road making my way to the bus stand. I saw a very sad thing on the side of the road then: dead dogs – a mother and four puppies. The mouth of the mother dog laid wide open with eyes closed and they seemed as if they were just taken out of the freezer of the refrigerator.

With thoughts wandering around in front of my eyes in the air, I eventually reached the bus stand.

Fortunately, the moment I reached the bus stand, I found a man looking for passengers, ‘Hemis Hemis Hemis’. I crossed the road asked him, ‘Hemis?’ He nodded. I got on the mini bus.

Everyone in the bus was chanting prayers. The elderly woman who sat by me. Men, women, all. After some minutes the bus moved. The wind outside was quite icy cold. The chants somewhat gave some calm to my mind and body, but there was a constant note of interrogation in my mind under all the subconscious thoughts. The funny thing that happened, that made my mind laugh more is, their praying was disturbed by the local romantic, kind of upbeat music that the bus driver started to play.

It was a drive along the beautiful road of around an hour, if I remember correctly, until we reached Hemis.

The region of Hemis slightly being higher than Leh, there were some amount of snow scattered around at the foot of the mountains, on the water stream, and the side of the road.

The bus ascended up the mountain and it reached the destination, where there were already many people, anticipated.

© Moriya Hanglem

Hemis Monastery was in its grand form: hundreds of people, a number of monks, all together as one. Connecting to the supreme power. ‘Umami Devashi’ were the words that filled up the atmosphere of the place. It was quite beautiful.

Time continued as mellow and leisurely as the cold weather. I moved around the monastery, inside, outside. I had seen the monastery the previous year, but I had quite forgotten the details. And there were just three or four people then. Two tourists and two monks. Perhaps a few more monks.

I passed the door of the monastery which opened up to the complex, and the huge crowd. Big mountains stood just ahead with patches of snow on them. There was murmur from the people and some sunlight. I found a charity organization for dogs by the side collecting donations at a table; in quite an anticipated movement I made my way to them and donated a little money; and told them about the sad sight I saw in the morning.

© Moriya Hanglem

© Moriya Hanglem

© Moriya Hanglem

People, people and more people. As much as I dislike crowds, I somehow found it this time quite cozy, because of the weather, and the people were all quite settled. The monastery surrounded the complex from four sides, and had a floor. I climbed the stairs on one side; and the found the floor filled with people sitting. I made my way and sat somewhere amidst. After a while, it started to snow a little; it was just flurries. I hoped for more, but it didn’t snow more. From the balcony I saw the sight: many monks praying with numbers of worshippers around. My attention was caught by the wrinkles of an old woman who sat two, three persons away from me. I wanted to take a shot of this portrait, since at that time I was trying my hand at taking photographs. As intimidated and nervous as I felt, I talked to the girl who seemed to be of my age and asked her to ask the old woman if I could take a picture of hers. The girl talked to her; and then she turned to me and politely said that the woman rejected my request. I smiled and thanked her.

I should not forget that I climbed up the mountain later around the snow and reached the base where there was a statue of Buddha and many flags that moved rapidly because of the wind.

© Moriya Hanglem

© Moriya Hanglem

The previous year when I went to this monastery, it had been difficult to reach. I was in the company of a fellow traveler I met on a bus for some days. That day we decided to go separate ways, and see each other at six in the evening at the guesthouse, because he wanted to see some other place.

I didn’t have a lot of money with me to hire a taxi of my own. The buses neither went everywhere around.

I went to the taxi stand, and I was told that no public bus goes to Hemis Monastery, that I would have to hire a personal taxi. That would cost me nearly six hundred rupees, including the return. They told me I could perhaps get a mini bus to Hemis at the old bus stand. But the chances were slim.

Just a few steps, was the old bus stand. A mini bus was going to Karu, which was the neighboring village to Hemis. They said I would easily get a shared taxi there for Hemis. I then jumped inside the bus, feeling glad.

The bus after about an hour left after it got filled with passengers. With some stops on the way, I reached Karu. On the contrary to what I was told, I got no public vehicle to Hemis. I could only hire a personal taxi.

I hired a taxi to Hemis. As the driver drove, he told me that Hemis was his village. He asked me where I came from. Such a kind spoken and polite person, he was. His name was Tenzin. He said Hemis monastery is the biggest in Ladakh.

I spent thirty minutes at the monastery – there were a library, shrines, stairs and a roof. So many directions inside the building, leading to prayer rooms, exits, upstairs.

© Moriya Hanglem

© Moriya Hanglem

© Moriya Hanglem

© Moriya Hanglem

As I came out of the monastery, I was called by a monk from behind. He asked me if I was going to Leh and was with a personal taxi. I said – yes. To that he told me that the Lama – who was sitting just nearby – would like to get a lift till Choglamsar. I told him then that my personal taxi was going just till Karu, and I’m taking the shared taxi then.

He went to the Lama, and they talked for a minute. The Lama then came to me, and we exchanged smiles – he would like a lift till Karu. I was more than happy to offer him that. I felt very conscious then – anyone is more than welcome to reason out why I was feeling that.

I offered him the front seat, but he politely offered it back. Till Karu, we talked from time to time. My brain was gradually getting paralyzed then. I told him that I was from Manipur, and I really liked it there in Leh. I told him about the places I had been to in Leh. He then said we would wait for the shared taxi and travel, together, after we reach Karu.

We reached Karu and as we got down, I asked the driver to click a picture of me and the Lama together.

© Moriya Hanglem

We stood around for a bit until soon we got in a taxi. He sat in the front; the driver wanted me to sit in the front too, in between them around the gear handle. The reason he stated, the Lama would be more comfortable sitting next to me, than to let a new passenger sit next.

The taxi filled up as we moved. The Lama and I talked more – he telling me names of monasteries I might be interested in visiting. He told me that there would be a free health check-up program in Leh in a few days, that if I had any health problem, I should go. I smiled, showed my appreciation. Soon, we reached Choglamsar. I had been thinking of paying his fare – I thought I wanted to show him some hospitality. Moments before he got down, he gave the driver some amount of money, that when I saw it, seemed like a little more than his required fare. I said, ‘Bhai Saab’, to the driver; then to the Lama, ‘Did you pay my fare too?’ ‘Yes’, he said with a smile. Left surprised, I said, ‘You didn’t have to do that. Thank you very much’. He smiled, and I closed the door.

The driver then asked, ‘Did you know the Lama personally?’ I chuckled, ‘No, no. I met him in Hemis, and gave him a lift to Karu.

© Moriya Hanglem

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