Oh, India! I spent thirty minutes working on a blog post when the internet crashed and I lost it all, such is India! I don’t particularly mind, as I didn’t like that entry anyways. It was too stuffy. Really. Anyways.
I arrived in Leh, the capital of Ladakh, on Monday, after a grueling twenty hours sitting on planes, and who knows how many more spent lying around in the various airports of Boston, New York, Chicago, and New Delhi. Never have I had a more difficult time trying to leave the US, but I took it as a lesson in patience in preparation for India, a country that runs on it’s own time.
My final flight from Delhi to Leh swiftly took me out of the nation’s capital, and not a moment too soon. When I landed at 8:30pm, Delhi was a smoldering 104 Fahrenheit. I was not the slightest bit curious to see what it would be like around noon the next day, so at six am I fled to Ladakh, one of the northern-most regions of India. Halfway through the hour-long flight, the low clouds gave way to the enormous Himalayan and Kunlun mountain ranges that frame the Tibetan plateau, and I swear I could see the mighty K2 to the Northwest, towering ever so ominously above the clouds.
The bone-shattering descent took us down into the clouds and through a valley running Northwest. The television read that our elevation was 5100 meters, yet the snow-capped peaks still towered high above us, as tiny green oasis’ slipped by below. After a few minutes, the plane sharply turned around and dropped into Leh’s airport, elevation 3200 meters. I grabbed my baggage from the single baggage claim belt in the tiny airport, huffed and puffed my way into a cab, and headed towards a guesthouse in the village of Chanspa that I chose from a list of “eco-friendlier” places to stay. Luckily, they had a room, at the right price, with an absolutely incredible view of the mountains, so I settled in to acclimate to Leh’s staggering altitude of 3524 meters (11,562 ft).
I feel so at home in the quiet village, comfortably nestled between mountains, spending my days reading, studying and stumbling over some Ladakhi, and staring up at the mountains, trying to memorize every nook and cranny. On walks, I spend so much time looking up at them, I’m surprised I haven’t stepped in cow poo.
I spend much of my time having discussions with Rinzen, the owner of my guest house. He tells me of his travels to Burma and Nepal, and jokes about how he is retired and “waiting for visa…to heaven or hell.” When I commented on the construction of a house next door, he explained that all of the houses surrounding his were built in the last fifteen years, well after his was completed in 1985. Before that, the land was covered in fields, where families grew their own food for the year.
“Many guesthouses,” I remarked.
“Now, every house is guest house,” he explained. In the 1980s and 90s, families opened a few rooms to tourists for extra income. Before long, the entire house was turned into rooms for guests, and the family resigned themselves to only a few rooms of the house, as is the case with Rinzen’s family, which includes his wife, his children, and his grandchildren.
When I finally did set out into downtown Leh, I was overwhelmed by the hustle and bustle, and the presence of old and new–monks riding by on a motorbike, donning sunglasses; Ladakhi women selling vegetables on the street next to internet cafes and German bakeries. After reading about the impacts of tourism on Ladakh in Helena Norberg-Hodge’s “Ancient Futures,” I became hyper-aware of the issues that tourism has brought, many of which remain to be seen.