Ladakh in April - Day 2 - Shanti Stupa and around Leh
We woke up early, feeling remarkably fresh and rested. Our breakfast on arriving at Leh had been at the guest house owner’s cozy little drawing room. This morning we decided to give those legs a little exercise and ventured out looking for a breakfast place. We settled for a small restaurant called Gesmo that had begun operating just 2 weeks ago. Their menu had practically every major cuisine, and; quite remarkably for a setup their size, they even ran a small bakery that churned out delicious cookies, cakes, rolls and croissants.
Somehow during our visit to Ladakh last year, we had missed out Shanti Stupa (longish story involving tired lungs and closed food shops during a ‘bandh day’ so we’ll leave that out for now) and thats where we immediately trooped to after breakfast. After walking through lanes surrounded with closed shops and deserted neighborhoods we found ourselves staring at the face of the hill atop which the Shanti Stupa is. You can either take - as wikipedia informs me - “a series of 500 steep steps” or take a road that snakes around the hill and drops you within a few yards of an uphill walk to the Stupa. Gesmo must’ve put somthing in our breakfast, because against our usually sound judgement, we decided to go up the steps.
After what seemed like an eternity, the Shanti Stupa began to loom before our eyes. While the pristine, white stupa impresses you, the surroundings of the stupa leave you spellbound. The snow-covered mountains all around the stupa, the low-hanging clouds playing with sun to create an everchanging patchwork of shade and light far in the valley below, make you wonder if you are standing at the portal of Heaven.
On our way back we chose the easy walk down the road over a shorter but a little more strenous climb down the stairs; though at this stage we would have ideally preferred to turn into a ball and simply tumble down the hill. The afternoon was cold and cloudy and streets as deserted as they had been during our walk to the Stupa.
Hot food and a short nap are the best cures for cold, weary bodies. Though your snug blanket seems like the best place in the world to be in, a sense of guilt at frittering away your time in your room while you could be out gawking at mountains, draws you out again. This time we hit the main market to buy a few knick-knacks and somehow found ourselves chatting with this old man selling all things Apricot.
We purchased a packet of dried Apricots from him and tried bargaining with him in English.
100 Rs That’s too much - 80 Rs?
Kya? Kitna? Urdu main boliye. What? How much? Say that in Urdu please
Assi Rupay Eighty Rs
Assi? Bahut kam hai. Eighty? That’s too little
Phir Nabbe? Ninty then?
Chailye Nabbe de dijiye Alright, ninty will do then!
It then occured to me that what was Hindi to me, was Urdu to him. The two languages are not as far apart as sometimes their scripts and the tensions between India and Pakistan make them out to be. I was reminded of this essay that a friend had forwarded a long time ago. Or perhaps it was this essay shaping my thoughts here.
Also, notice that we suck at this bargaining thingy - not that we wanted to drive a hard bargain with an old man trying to make ends meet.
We had remembered a small café from our last visit that sells ‘proper’ coffee. Coffee in Leh usually comes in two varieties - bad and very bad. The main recipe in both cases involves powdered Nescafé dunked in fat-rich milk saturated with sugar. The best you can do is ask for sugar to be excluded, but they’d still insist on calling it a cappuccino. This little café offers no cappuccinos, lattes or espressos, but it does serve very good (and fresh) French press coffee. With very little looking around we found it again (its name eludes me now, but i’ll try and find out. Update: It’s called ‘Cafeteria’. Doh!) The terrace of the café offers a beautiful, panoramic view of the Leh Palace and the mountains surrounding it. It was still too cold for people to be sipping their French press coffee at the terrace so we settled for the next best thing - the second floor with windows wide enough for me to stick my camera out and take some pictures in the fast fading light.
2023-05-20: Fixed broken link to “The poisonous potency of script: Hindi and Urdu” essay.