16 July 2010
We decided to go "slow" the next day, if there is such a thing for us, travellers!
We planned to visit the Hemis & Thikse Gompas and the Shey Palace. Hemis is the farthest on this route, so we decided to drive up there first. As luck would have it, we soon discovered that we had a flat tire. While Tsiring, our driver, was working on changing the tire, Rahul decided to check-out something he saw at a distance. It turned out to be a hand-pump. The presence of the hand pump in the middle of the desert brought home to me the scarcity of water in Ladakh.
Water is a very scarce commodity in Ladakh. The water system in Ladakh is snow-fed. Precipitation is less than 40 mm a year. So, most of the villages and towns, including Leh, is dependent on the melting snow. Statistics compiled by several agencies shows that temperature of Ladakh has risen, which is alarming for the region. Reports published by the UN organisation for mountain ecology, suggest that 35 percent of the glaciers in the region will disappear in another 20 years and temperatures across the Tibetan and trans-Himalayan region will rise by 2.5 degrees Celsius by 2050. The ecology here is very fragile.
After about an hour, we reached the town of Karu. It is a hub, with roads to go to Manali & Tsomoriri lake and Pangong Lake too. We dropped off the punctured tire at a local repair shop, so we could pick it up on our way back from Hemis.
As we drove towards Hemis, we saw villages across the Indus. The vivid colours of the sky, clouds, and the land impressed me.
We reached Hemis at noon. Hemis is the biggest of the gompas built around the 1600's. It is now a World Heritage Site. There are several festivals that are celebrated here. The door at the entrance leads to a spacious courtyard, to the right of which is the sanctum sanctorum.
Like all gompas, the walls have intricate paintings. These date back to several centuries. I found Bhavachakra –the Wheel of Life at all the gompas. This wheel has images of a snake, a bird and a pig that signify greed, desire and ignorance. This is meant to remind that these earthly ties need to be overcome in order to get enlightenment in life and to prevent the cycle of death and rebirth.
I do not have pictures from the museum because photography is prohibited. The museum is small but impressive and has interesting artifacts.
We left Hemis to pick up the tire at Karu and then go to Thikse.
Thikse resembles the Potala Palace in Lhasa, Tibet and is the largest gompa in central Ladakh. The gompa was very pretty. One point of interest is the Maitreya (future Buddha) Temple. There are a large number of white stupas that look very pretty. This gompa has a lot of narrow passage-ways. I could picture myself playing hide & seek if I was a kid!
The Shey Palace did not impress me! But we did go up to the top of the fort/watchtower. However, there was a place along the road that had a lot of stupas. I am not very sure of the significance of this place but it made for interesting pictures.
You can see more pictures of Ladakh here..