Saturday, October 26, 2013

A Gallery of Photos: A New England October

A pair of tame(ish) yearlings that eat windfalls from my apple tree.

Okay, so October's very probably my favorite month.  And then November, just around the corner, is noted for its lowered light (so that the afternoon seems to be a perpetual 2:30) plus its time change plunging us into early evenings that can be dark by 4:30.  In addition to this approaching low-angling sunlight most of the afternoon, there seems a cleanliness to the season.  As if the detritus is rising to the top to be skimmed off.  The humidity and tourists are gone.  The trimming crews are finishing up, getting the last wires cleared of invading branches.  The cyclone of the holidays hasn't yet hit.  Nor the winter storms.  And with the migrating birds, the changing colors and now-sparkling air, plus that low angling afternoon sunlight, there is an appeal to the day.

One year at this time, my daughter sent an email I kept because it seemed evocative.  "Yesterday as I was leaving the woods I saw a V of geese flying over so low that I could hear their wings rustle as they moved.  The rising sun made their bellies glow orange.  Pretty cool."

A month ago, she welcomed autumn with these words:  "Here's to days of jackets, leaves, cider, Bach, stew, pies, jack o' lanterns, clouds scudding across the blue blue sky, school routines, new books, darker evenings, costumes, boots, crafts."

Yes, here's to October ... with November's low light soon to follow.

Typical town scene

We mustn't forget it's also harvest time when people used to fill their root cellars for winter eating.
Leaves, leaves, plus their shadows mixed with pointillistic sunlight.  (This is the coffee man at Saturday's farmers market.)

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Lucky to Have Gone When We Did: A Trip by Bus to Kashmir and Ladakh (Part Four)

The Indus River Valley at Leh, Ladakh
4.  Leh, Ladakh, India

This is the final posting in this series set in northwestern India in late September 1980.  Having successfully made the two-day bus trip to Leh (Ladakh) from Srinagar (Kashmir), we passengers felt as if we deserved some sort of medal after being scared out of our wits as we crossed high Himalayan passes, sometimes inching along close to an edge with no guard rail in order to pass a truck or bus coming in the opposite direction.  Of course, it was the driver who deserved the medal.

Leh seemed a charming town, part Muslim, part Buddhist, with clean air, sparkling skies, inviting glades of trees, little glacial-melt channels, and views of the young Indus River flowing across the valley.  A room in a hotel (all of which were quite spartan) cost a couple of dollars.  (Ours had icy water to bathe in, no heat.)  Then the altitude (11,500 feet) left one a tad dizzy--needing to stop and take good deep breaths every so often and fend off high-altitude headaches.

A Muslim mosque in front and a Buddhist monastery on the hill behind.  From Leh's main street.
Women selling vegetables in the heart of town.

Typical Ladakhi house

Tin cans around tree trunks prevented animals from killing the tree by eating the bark.

SOS Children's villages can be found throughout the world for the orphaned and abandoned.  This one for Tibetan/Ladakhi children lay a few kilometers out of town.  We were given a lunch of brown bread and mildly curried radishes and potatoes, the latter two being the dietary staple (preserved by burying), especially during winter when the Zoji-la was closed.

Choglumsar SOS Children's Village.

Mani stones on which Tibetan Buddhist mantras are written.  Piles of them are often found beside roadways, as this one was.

On visiting Thikse Gompa, even farther out of town, we found old paintings in a courtyard of entities representing Power, Wisdom, Compassion ... as well as representations of demons so that people could learn to overcome their fear.  Inside, with its smell of burning butter lamps, we saw old and smoky thangkas (religious paintings) plus a library of prayer books bound in cloth and stacked on shelves.

Thikse's Maitreya Temple housed a two-story-high Buddha.  This temple was built on the occasion of the Dalai Lama's visit in 1970.
Looking down onto the Indus Valley from the Gompa
Harvested fields where groups threshed and sang a harvest song that carried up to us.

Down below, people and animals were hard at work.  In various fields, six, seven, or eight animals, graduating in size from the smallest donkey in the center to the largest horse on the outside, were being driven round and round a pole, breaking seed heads as they trod and as people kept forking grain under their feet.  Nearby, women winnowed in the wind.

The Himalayan Nun-Kun massif as seen on the flight back to Srinagar.  (It took 25 minutes to fly what had taken 20 hours to drive.)

I felt singularly privileged, indeed, to have visited this newly-opened, unique, and splendid part of the world and to have done so before many years of tourism had altered its character.  But I also felt that by wanting to see the unspoiled, we tourists, all, were too rapidly helping to advance time in this "other-century" town.

Part 1.  Bus Trip to Srinagar
Part 2.  Srinagar, Kashmir, India
Part 3.  Bus Trip to Leh
Part 4.  Leh, Ladakh, India

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Lucky to Have Gone When We Did: A Trip by Bus to Kashmir and Ladakh (Part Three)

Sind River after leaving Srinagar.  Our Ladakh-bound bus (on the left) stopped for sheep and a military convoy.

3.  Bus Trip to Leh (1980)

Ladakh is politically part of India and culturally part of Western Tibet.  Its main town of Leh is some 11,500 feet in elevation.  Once we'd reached Srinagar, Ladakh was temptingly close but it involved what seemed a treacherous trip crossing three Himalayan passes.  Zoji-la, Namika-la, and Fotu-la ... "la" for "pass."  The road supported military convoys and so was acceptable, but it was also without guard rails and the drops were terrifying, the sort where, as one of us said, you unwittingly curled your toes in an atavistic attempt to hang on.

It seemed better to go by bus (434 kilometers or 270 miles) than by plane both to gain the dramatic effect of the change of scene as well as to become acclimatized to the altitude.  Hiring a car and driver would have cost $635 round trip, but taking an A-Class Bus (two seats across rather than three in B-class) took two days and cost $8.50 one way.  (With a flight back to Srinagar.)

"Is the road scary?" I asked the Tourist Office official when making inquiries.

"It's the most terrifying thing I've ever done.  I was scared stiff.  But you must go and see Leh.  It is a town of another century." 

Earlier, when I asked someone else if the road was safe, he'd said, yes, it was safe.  Was it scary?  Where did I get the idea it was scary, he asked?  "Well, he added, "just close your eyes at those parts."

A tea stop early on where hawkers approached selling apples and blankets
Sonmarg with its alpine meadows, horses for rent, and tea stalls.  A vegetable curry and rice lunch cost 58¢.  The latrine out back was an open-air structure raised above ground with four floor boards strategically placed to leave a hole in the middle.

Though paved early on, when we really needed the road to be at its best--when we started climbing after Sonmarg--it turned into a rough, rocky, narrow dirt road, pretty much staying that way for the rest of the trip.  Highway signs included such warnings as, "Death Lays Its Icy Hands on Speed Kings."  And "Do Not Show Strength With Accelerator."  Black fumey exhaust poured out of our vehicle (as well as passing ones) and came up through a hole in the floor. 

The great Zoji-la (11,500 feet high) as it snaked from bottom to top.
Looking out from the Drass army checkpoint onto the bleak, cold landscape
Next morning, after spending the night in a Shi'ite Muslim town, Kargil, we ascended the second pass, Namika-la (12,100 feet high).
We stopped to give a stranded bus a spare tire.
View from the town of Namkeela

We began noticing evidence of Buddhism our second day, including prayer flags and this chorten outside the town of Namkeela.

Our bus in Namkeela.

Looking down from the third and final pass, Fotu-la (13,500 feet high), onto hair-pin turns yet to maneuver. 

Ladakh's treasure and oldest monastery in the town of Lamayuru.

Back on flat land, no more dizzying passes, we drove through the town of Khalse.  Horses grazed in grain fields.  People were out harvesting.
Footbridge over the Indus River between Khalse and Saspol
Military compound near Leh with the snow-covered Karakorams in the distance.

After what we thought should have been billed "a trip of cheap thrills" (for $4.25 per day, we were literally on edge the entire time), we reached Leh where a man breaking stones with a hammer sat near a sign which, referring to Ladakh, welcomed us to The Broken Moon Land.

Part 1.  Bus Trip to Srinagar
Part 2.  Srinagar, Kashmir, India
Part 3.  Bus Trip to Leh
Part 4.  Leh, Ladakh, India

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Lucky to Have Gone When We Did: A Trip by Bus to Kashmir and Ladakh (Part Two)

Houseboats on Dal Lake

2.  Srinagar, Kashmir, India

Visiting late September 1980, we found Srinagar to be a handsome town in a beautiful setting up against (then snowless) mountains and impressive Dal Lake.  From our hotel, we looked onto enormous chenar trees, giant hawk-like birds called kites, and long lines of sheets hanging out to dry.  The old part of town revealed wooden buildings with tin roofs, men in shops smoking hubble-bubble pipes, and girls coming out of a handicraft school taking felt rugs called numdhas home to embroider.

There, too, stood the old English residence, a fine wooden mansion that now housed the Kashmiri Government Arts Emporium with splendid gardens and a grand lawn where, I imagined, English ladies in big hats once enjoyed outdoor tea parties.  Two stuffed white tigers stood in the entry-way.  Besides a section just for honey, there were rooms with embroidered shawls, papier-mâché items, wood carvings, woven carpets, and more felt numdhas.

A typical farm house


Everywhere, leaves were turning color.  Apple trees, poplars, willows.  Many rice fields were already harvested.  Ropes of drying chilies hung from the eaves of houses.

Rice boat on the Chenab River

In the oldest part of the city, we found the Friday Mosque made of wood around a central courtyard--the original structure using more than three hundred 200-foot-high cedars for support, or so we were informed by a man who went on to say that it had been built in 1400 by Buddhist and Hindu converts who didn't know how to build a mosque.  Regardless, it was quite striking and well attended.

As well, we found the Rozabal Mosque with its unique tale.  I'd recently purchased a book called Jesus Died in Kashmir by A. Faber-Kaiser.  His thesis (based on an ancient text found in Ladakh) was that after the crucifixion, which he survived, Jesus returned to India where he'd already spent "the lost years" studying the Brahmanic teachings.  This time he took Mary and his brother Thomas with him.  Mary, the author said, died at what is now Murree in Pakistan, her sepulcher now called Mai Mari da Asthan or "Resting Place of Mother Mary."  Jesus went to Kashmir, the author concluded, because he said it was in fact The Land of Milk and Honey where the Ten Lost Tribes had ended up.  And he took the name Yuza Asaf which meant "Leader of the Healed Lepers."  Next to the tomb, we found a stone carving of the feet of the man buried within showing crucifixion wounds.  (I might add that the people there and in Islam in general consider Jesus one of their prophets.)

Rozabal Mosque outside Srinagar
Then there were the prized Mughal gardens dating from the 17th century.

Nishat Bhag designed in 1633.

Dal Lake and the Valley from another garden, Chashmi Shahi.

Nishat Bhag.  Gardeners came up to give me flowers for my hair expecting baksheesh in return.

Shalimar Gardens built by Jahangir for his wife in 1619.

View of the mountains from Shalimar Gardens

A ride in a shikara--a little wooden boat with a canopy, propelled by a man who sat in back poling or paddling--gave us a view of Dal Lake where we plied the narrow waterways and passed row upon row of houseboats and floating gardens with water lilies raised by farmers.  Hawkers approached in their shikaras selling apples, cold drinks, woolen shawls, saffron.

A farmer cutting reeds.

Dal Lake

Part 1.  Bus Trip to Srinagar
Part 2.  Srinagar, Kashmir, India
Part 3.  Bus Trip to Leh
Part 4.  Leh, Ladakh, India