Jammu & Kashmir - August 13, 2007
"Joolay!" Ponsok's father Pasang proudly proclaims every morning when I see him. This is a typical greeting in Ladakhi (a variation on the Tibetan language - same written text, different speaking). He's an amiable guy and we have been having these amazing conversations over tea after dinner. He built the place that I am staying at by hand with the help of his brother Yeshe in 1982. Yeshe now appears to spend his days with his prayer wheel spinning from dawn to dusk with an occasional nap in between.
Usual breakfast early today – fresh fruit, muesli and yoghurt with honey, a glass of Kashmiri apple juice and tea. I saw His Holiness The Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, and his caravan of security drive from his retreat near the Shey gompa, to the lecture he’s giving in the Norbu Valley early this am. Leh was drenched in prayer flags - the locals were ecstatic and His Holiness smiled & waved as his car slowly proceeded towards the highway. He looked great. The road to Norbu Valley is completely blocked off (several miles along a squiggly wiggly military highway which goes over the world’s highest pass - 18,600 feet). Once his lectures begin, there will be no entry to the entire valley and the highway will be closed. All of the monks from Thiksey Monastery were deeply excited for the chance to be in his presence and attend these teachings.
Been hiking the Himalaya plateau with some mates - Karl (Australia), Erik (Sweden) and David (Britain). David got extremely ill due to altitude sickness, so we had to take him to the hospital. His breathing was irregular, so they put him on oxygen. I gave him a plethora of aspirin to consume to thin his blood which seemed to help (as well as convince him that he wasn't having a coronary, which caused him to start panicking). Apart from the oxygen supplement, the medics couldn't find any reason why he shouldn't be adapting to the altitude since he has been here for nearly 2 weeks.
Erik seems to think that David's symptoms are psychosomatic. I think it's a combination of that & lethargy. Lethargy in this climate is a death nail - you stay still & the altitude will get you. Remaining active increases oxygen flow to the blood and dramatically increases the speed of one's adaptation to the environment. I speak with Ponsok and arrange for David to catch a Jet Airways flight back to Delhi the following morning.
Jammu & Kashmir - August 14, 2007
We all helped David pack last night & I saw him off to the airport at 5am this morning. Erik left at 6am and went on to Manali by road. Karl & I continue to hike the mountains around the Indus River - he's as game as I am, so we hike well past sunset. As we stop to admire the shifting colors in the Indus Valley as the sun sets, the sound of the mosque echoes everywhere. Surreal it is and makes me wish that I was recording this soundscape. No Pro Tools digital plug-in can replicate this complex echo and reverb that stirs the valley.
We hear packs of wild dogs everywhere but cannot see them since it's completely dark now. I howl back at them, which draws them closer. They follow us rather timidly, but that doesn't curtail my attempts at trying to communicate. I continue my dog speak. Learned years ago that wild dogs are part of the Himalayan experience - nearly all nomads have them & if you are going to trek, you are likely to encounter this, so best be friendly & intrepid.
My time in Jammu & Kashmir is rapidly coming to a close. I need to catch a flight to Delhi tomorrow & another flight to Mumbai a few days after that & yet another flight Chengdu, China a few days after that. Yes, it's as exhausting as it sounds...