Druk White Lotus School & Hemis Monastery
Lucky in Ladakh – Part 2 of (3):
It is easy in this modern age assuming that we are safe. In Ladakh everything seems quite normal but at a slower pace of life. This is a cautionary tale explaining how wrong in certain circumstances this thinking can be.
So whilst I am in Ladakh for a few days, I rent a an Enfield 350 Bullet, strong, trusty with good crash bars and a helmet.
My intentions are to visit the Druk White Lotus School project. Please go the School website here
The Druk White Lotus School is of great interest to me as we have held musical events at the
Duke of Cumberland Arms to raise money for the School. Then I want to travel onwards down the valley to see the great monastery at Hemis. The road system is simple and a photocopy page gives directions. The day is sunny and warm in late September.
A very nice day to set off on my travels and I am feeling confident and happy.
Finding the way is not as easy as it seems. I have to keep a clear head and be very alert to dodge the trucks and cars. There do not seem to be any set rules and I am far away from the highway code and the order that brings to the roads in the UK. Out here they seem to have their own individual traffic laws. This is quite unnerving at times, but this is not Mumbai and plenty of honking on my horn is required. I finally get safe and sound to the Druk White Lotus school. I meet Simon the landscape architect for a quick tour of the school and grounds, and then a good simple vegetarian lunch in the café.
Then on…Hemis, it is 3 pm and the journey could be an hour but a little hard to tell with the ‘map’. The landscape is beautiful though, high mountains surrounding the valley but Simon is sure when he says, ‘no mistake, this is desert and we have real issues growing plants here, water is scarce. We are also at 3600 meters where the growing season is short and winters are harsh.’
So, on down the well tarmaced ‘highway’ dodging trucks and lots more beeping the horn, this is fun and the trusty Enfield roars on.
I can begin to see myself as a true biker.
I am aware of the time too and part of me questions if I should go on or turn back as the journey time stretches.
My inner self seems to suggest turning back is the best choice but when I stop and look at the map I see I am at getting close so onwards I really want to see the Monastery at Hemis!
The road turns off for Hemis after passing a couple of towns and army barracks which stretch along parts of the road, we are bordering China, Tibet and Pakistan in these regions.
I look up towards the direction of Hemis, 5 km the sign says. The small single track road turns off and winds up into the mountains and the view is spectacular. As I click into gear and head up the winding road I pass small fields where harvest has already been made. The road goes higher and I enter the narrowing valley that leads up the monastery which is still hidden from view. It is now 4 pm and the afternoon sun is casting a golden glow and I feel like I am in a magical, mystical place of great beauty.
As I turn a bend I am surprised by a large covey of snow partridge by the road, a most unexpected sight, other indigenous animals in the area are bear and snow leopard I am told though I suspect not as close by as these beautiful birds.
The monastery is well hidden from below and, after passing groups of monks walking and pushing little wheels made from wire on the road, I eventually go around a large rocky outcrop and the Monastery comes into view. This is well protected place, and the scale is impressive. The main Monastery is built across the side of the mountain with smaller buildings clustered around and stretching further up the narrow valley.
The Monastery is undergoing extensive restoration at present so a skeleton staff of monks is there to help the tourists but at this time of the day I am about the last.
I wonder around and see the great statues and the impressive wall paintings in the main temple rooms, the beautiful museum with historic pieces from the early Middle Ages on.
I pass up rickety wooden staircases to the roof to view the distant snow capped mountains across the main valley, this is like a real Shangri La (which some say is actually eastern Tibet so close to here).
I look at my iPhone and see the time is moving on, nearly 5 pm, and the sun sets about 6.30. Time to head back if I don’t want to be passing those trucks in the dark…..no road lighting here of course and without an ID card with father’s name no chance of a local SIM to use….I am unconnected to the modern networks but I like that sometimes.
So, I head back to the small car park and with a last look up at the site and listening to the sound of monks chanting their evening prayers I get on and fire up the bike to head back.
The road back down from the monastery allows me to wind slowly down in neutral past the groups of monks who run and wave as I pass. Some even have a cricket match started (the 20:20 world cup is on and this is India) and it really feels like a happy place with genuinely happy people.
To be continued……