In July and August 2016, I had the chance to travel in India and to visit the Zanskar Valley which sits in Ladakh, the northern part of India.
The name Zanskar comes most probably from Zan = copper and Skar = valley. Certainly because of its occurrence of copper.
We landed on this himalayan range at Leh, the capital of Ladakh on the 13th of July 2016.
In ancient times, the only way to go to this place on earth was to walk up from Manali about 500km. We took the advantage of the plane from Dehli...
Arriving at the airport we could read: "in case of dizziness, call someone".
I didn't understand this at that moment but two minutes later I could feel the altitude. It is quite impressive to be such closer to the sky. The air is much more clear (paradise of the photographer), and I had this kind of feeling of being constantly in a meditative mood.
We went to our guest room to rest a few days and prepare our stuff for the road.
Leh is the capital of Ladakh. It used to have its royal family living in the palace. It was a very important step in the trades routes also known as the silk road.
Before climbing up in the mountains we had the chance to visit a festival in Hemis which takes place every year. So after finding a bus from Leh to go to Hemis (about 2 hours drive) we arrived in a huge parking spot in the middle of nowhere. There were tons of people walking in the same direction which was up there in the mountains.
We started walking and following those people.
Slowly we could hear some music, some people talking. The path was going high, we had to walk slowly.
Suddenly Hemis monastery was there, in front of us. Full of people waiting outside to enter. Standing in line with the people that were checking us was funny. Everyone is pushing to go further up the stairs. We were so happy to be here that we didn't fight to be the first in line.
But we understood why there were pushing so hard...
Entering the monastery.
Already packed like sardines. The sun is burning hot. There is a huge Thangka on the wall (left on the picture). We were told after the ceremony that this Thangka is shown every 12 years only. Maybe that's also why so many people were pushing.
This Thangka represents the great saint Naropa. He lived in the 11th century and spend some time in Ladakh and Zanskar where he meditated a lot.
He is known and respected for his teachings and especially the six Yogas of Naropa, which is one of the fundamental pillars of the Vajrayana Buddhist tradition.
Before the ceremony we had time visit different rooms of the monastery. Old writings in sanskrit, paintings. Walking in this sacred place was paradoxically very resourcing despite the crowd, the noise and the heat. We got a chance to get blessed by two monks in a small room before getting back down to the main yard and attend the ceremony of Naropa.
I wish to be as fit as all of them at this age.
Climbing stairs, mountains. And keeping this smile until the end.
Patience is the key.
We just waited there for hours.
Until the music starts...
The monks blowing in their tibetan horns, vibrations were travelling all around the yard, getting through the whole crowd as if the sound was coming from somewhere else, somewhere sacred. It was a divine experience.
There is so much respect from the people attending that event.
Some of them travelled thousands of kilometers on mountain roads just to come here for 5 hours.
They believe that to see this Thangka is a purifying moment. It brings you strenght, perseverance, endurance and knowledge in your life.
There always a place to get some rest if needed. While walking down the path, I pass by this old man sitting there next to old stones that were carried one by one by his parents and grand-parents and so one.
I wonder what he was thinking about at that moment...
Back to Leh after the whole day in Hemis. We pack our bags and get prepared to go to Padum, the city at the beggining of Zanskar river. The Zanskar Valley is a mistery for us. We had this dream of going there since chilhood. There is something immense, dangerous, sacred and spiritual in that place.
But before attaining Padum to start walking down the Zanskar Valley, we had to go to Kargil, stay one night and drive again from there the next day to Padum.
Let's do it...
The road from Leh to Kargil is going through the mountains and there is a "La" pass (as they call it) which is at 4100 meters. The sun is hot but at this height, you can feel the cold even in summer. The wind was blowing as we stopped to take pictures, and our sunglasses saved our eyes that are not used to this kind of light.
There was sun and there was mist. The weather could change quite fast between two different ambience.
My love for mountains was more than fullfilled.
It seems as if we were walking through a land of sleeping giants. We could walk a whole day and be walking next to one big rock. The sense of place was totally different than usual for me.
Every sleeping giant had an expression. While stopping at every angle trying to get something that I still couldn't express with words so I did my best with those pictures.
This is Zangla Palace. The first western Tibetan/English dictionnary was written here by Csoma de Kőrös, the Hungarian, in 1823.
I wonder how he came here at that time.
Turning my head on the right...
If this mountains could talk... I would sit there to listen to their stories for as long as I live. They must have seen pilgrims walking from monasteries to monasteries. So little has changed since the first people arrive here. There isn't any roads here because of the climate and the hard conditions as if the creator did it by purpose to protect the giants from waking up.
I read somewhere that the best way to discover a place is to walk.
At these heights, each step is an effort. You have to anticipate your strength, find a rythmn that is right for your feet. Talking is already tiring. I discovered the pleasure of walking one step at a time. Not thinking further than the next hill. There isn't any other way to be in the present moment.
The wind is so persevering that it turns the rock into sand revealing at some places, a submersed city that finally can touch the sun's rays.
I was observing the lines on the mountains that tells us the sense in which two plates were moving against each other. And I suddenly remind myself that Himalaya is a young moutain range compare to other places. I wish I could see this range forming itself in fast motion to grasp a sense of human time. Thinking of how these giants feel time, it gives me dizziness.
Thinking about time. I met with an old woman walking to a monastery. She had thick hand skin. I could see that she had seen a lot by the look on her face, but I was attracted by her hair, so thick. I could have used it to sew some clothes together.
In the middle of the highest range of moutain on the planet, monks are leaving and dedicating there life to meditation.
It is always such a great honor to meet with nuns and monks in these places. One phrase could be a teaching of a life time. It was so priceless that I dreamed of many encounters and still thought of them weeks later while walking.