As I am writing this, I am feeling extremely depressed! After an awesome week in Ladakh, we are returning back to our base. Right now we are sitting in Delhi's swank new Terminal 3, waiting for our flight back to Bombay.
"Was it just last Sunday that we took that GoAir flight to Leh? Feels like just a moment back, that we took off for Leh!"
Those were the thoughts ringing in my head interspersed with the rythmic, soothing chants of "Om Mani Padme Hum - ༀམཎིཔདྨེཧཱུྃ།" and the Avalokiteshvara Mantra.
If anything defines the week that has just gone by, it has been undoubtedly a catharsis, of the mind and of the soul. The peace that I felt in the icy wilderness was unknown till now. The beauty I saw in the stark mountains, the snowy peaks, the azure blue skies, the white clouds, the gushing streams, the pristine meadows, the crystal clear waters of Pangong Tso was all too intoxicating for the soul.
We got to know a lot about Ladakh from Rinchen, Tenzin and Palges. It was a revelation that genuine hardwork and patriotism is not only alive but also very much in vogue. To see the Ladakhis actually toiling to grow enough food in the summer months to last them for the rest of the year makes our cribs, citydwellers' rants on infrastructure, traffic and everything else seem very, very, childlike and trivial. Despite all that they go through, the Ladakhis brave the odds each day with a zest that I have never seen in the city.
Little did I know that this icy wilderness had a lot of history behind. The region is so rich, rich with history of migrations, of trade and of roving monks. This region region stood at the crossroads of the booming east-west trade in the middle-ages, which gave the region its wealth. The cultural intercourse brought the Ladakhis and the Tibetans closer to the ancient Indian philosophy and language. The religious chants liberally use Sanskrit, the script is very similar to Devanagari. Little did I know that the Ladakhis, who are followers of the Tibetan variant of Buddhism, also religiously follow principles (Om Mani Padme Hum - ༀམཎིཔདྨེཧཱུྃ།) similar to those enunciated in the Gayatri Mantra (ॐ भूर्भुवस्वः) that we, Hindus, follow. It was a revelation that Guru Nanak had visited these parts and the locals revere as Nanak Lama! There is a gurudwara dedicated to him, Gurudwara Pathhar Sahib, on the outskirts of Leh, which is frequented by the local Buddhists! "How little do we know about our great country?", I wonder!
To see our brave soldiers, from all corners of our great nation patiently guarding our icy frontiers, miles away from the comfort and safety of their home is both touching and humbling. That means a lot more to me than flying the Tricolour on Republic Day or on Independence Day!
What always baffled me till now was how could a Prince give up everything and attempt to gain the 'knowledge'. But Ladakh answered the mystery that i carried with me all along. Indeed there is more to life than the worldly pleasures and that what Lord Buddha and the monks we saw in Ladakh have attempted to achieve. I can only wonder how enriched our lives would be if we tried even a fraction of what Lord Buddha has taught the world and what these monks have done!
After we return back to Bombay, before we know it, the rat race would have begun. Deprived of sound sleep, waking up will become a struggle again. Getting through the traffic will become an ordeal worse than third degree torture. As the stress levels will mount, I am sure I will wonder if all that "torture" is worth it?
We are now awaiting the boarding announcement for our flight back to Bombay. Peering out on the tarmac, I can see an array of aircraft, of various domestic airlines, which will fly passengers to different corners of our country today. Some of these places would be idyllic, exotic locales - the North East, Rajasthan, the Andamans, Khajuraho, and many more. As we, Indians, venture abroad to discover the world, should we lose sight of the gems like Ladakh and the North East, Andamans, Khajuraho etc. that we have at home?
The boarding has now been announced. Shortly, we will walk down the aerobridge to our Boeing 737-800. Watching the 737s and A320s lined up at the boarding gates is always a sight to behold. But such a sight is zilch when compared with what we saw yesterday at Leh airport, after we boarded our Kingfisher A320. Just as we boarded, we saw the formidable Indian Air Force Ilyushin IL76 "Gajraj" land against the backdrop of the mighty Himalayan snow capped peaks and the blue sky. That was a fitting goodbye to the glorious and historic land of Ladakh, a land that I have come to love so much, a gem for all of us to cherish!
Ya Juley Ladakh!