Julley from Nurla, Ladakh
From Delhi, we flew to Leh, Ladakh.
As our plane neared Ladakh, I could see the Himalayan mountain range below us.
Vast and extending far beyond what the eye could see, the mountains are so high that most of them are bare of all trees, with many permanently covered in snow.
From above, it is obvious that human hands have hardly touched these mountains.
There are only a few green valleys in which strong and hardy people have settled, while the rest of the vast mountains are completely untouched, raw, rugged and pure.
The Leh airport looks like a temporary tenement camp surrounded by a sprawling army base and miles of barbed wire.
The ladies’ bathrooms had human excrement on the floor and the toilet seat was broken (not that I would have EVER considered sitting on it!).
The whole airport is surrounded by Indian army and air force barracks, some even equipped with their own small Hindu or Sikh temples and decorated with old relics of airplanes and cannons.
There are even army restaurants and lounges that are open to the public.
The road is full of army diesel trucks, spewing black exhaust every time the driver presses on the gas or brake pedals.
We were told that the only reason the main highway in Ladakh is fairly well maintained, is because the army uses it for transport.
This region is sandwiched between China and Pakistan, both of which have had armed conflicts with India, and also borders the much disputed region of Kashmir, which makes it far from ‘stable.’
While we waited for our checked bag, the p.a. system at the airport repeated a loop:
“Welcome to Leh.
You are at an altitude of three thousand five hundred meters (eleven thousand five hundred feet.)
Please rest and do nothing for twenty four hours.
Please drink lots of water and avoid alcohol.
Please do not sleep excessively during the day.
If you experience severe headache or shortness of breath, please see a doctor as it might be a sign of altitude sickness.
Welcome to Leh…”
I liked the announcement and thought that it was showing responsible concern for public health, but I also thought that this is how we as people with a shared consciousness which is highly suggestible, spread our fears and limitations.
When people land at the Aspen or Vail airports, and go on to ski or hike in high altitudes which are only slightly lower than Leh, nobody plants in their minds the collectively accepted fear of altitude sickness.
Yes, when you arrive in high altitudes, you need to adjust to the different air pressure and the lower levels of oxygen in the air, but that does NOT mean that you will not simply naturally adjust.
If you expect sickness to happen, you are already fifty percent on the way to attracting it.
As we exited the airport, a dozen drivers were holding handmade signs with tourists’ names written on them, and another dozen were waiting to see if they could pick up a paid fare into town.
Our driver was not there.
Our mobile phone did not work, because the Airtel SIM cards that we had bought at the Delhi airport do not work in rural Ladakh.
A helpful driver came to our aid and offered to call our hotel.
We did not have the phone number, only the name of the hotel, The Apricot Tree.
We also knew that our hotel is located in Nurla, about an hour and a half’s drive west of Leh.
We planned to spend three nights in Nurla, visiting the Buddhist Gompas (monasteries) in that area, before moving on to Leh.
The driver enlisted the help of a well connected man who had our hotel’s owner phone number.
With kind eyes he reassured me:
“You do not worry Madam, we will help you take care of it!”
We were told that our driver was on his way and would arrive momentarily.
A marathon was happening in Leh that day with over five thousands runners, and traffic was backed up along the race route.
Our driver arrived running and apologizing profusely.
He introduced himself as Deldon Namgyal and explained that his name means “Warrior” or “Victory.”
The drive to the Nurla Valley was through the breathtaking landscape of the Himalayas.
The slopes of the mountains are rocky, or multicolored slate, bare of any vegetation and so vertical, that the sliding rocks create patterns on the slopes, as they roll down.
Tall trees do grow in the green valleys along the banks of the Indus River.
The old Buddhist monasteries we saw along the way, were built into the accessible parts of the mountains, where people could still approach them to worship and pray.
They look absolutely stunning and if anything, add to the magical feeling of the place, instead of looking like they detract from the landscape or impose on it.
White stupas (called Chortens in this area) dot the landscape and sparkle against the deep blue sky.
Tibetan prayer flags flap in the wind, which whistles between the apple and apricot trees.
The villages outside of Leh are small, with only a few mud brick houses reinforced with wooden logs and with river stones.
They look organic with their flat roofs on which hay is kept and vegetables and fruit are dried.
Most of the villages do not seem to have any running water.
They rely on a system of pipes bringing water down from the creeks high above in the mountains.
I saw two women wash a young boy with a bucket of water on top of the flat roof of their mud brick house.
Some houses are located right next to fast running creeks and people simply run a hose with a spigot from the creek into the main courtyard of their house.
They use the creek’s water to cook, clean and shower.
Ladakhis revere the Indus River as sacred and make flower offerings to it.
They know that their lives depend on it and they do not bathe in it, which would pollute the river.
Nowadays, though, with the easy movement of many cultures into the region, people leave rubbish by the creeks and many operators offer white water rafting on the Indus.
Nurla is known as a prolific apricot growing region.
Our hotel, The Apricot Tree, is a charming rural guesthouse with comfortable rooms offering a place to rest and dine, on the way to or from Leh.
Village women sell dried apricots by the side of the road.
They also sell turnips, potatoes, apples and tomatoes, all fresh from their gardens.
We bought some dried apricots which were absolutely delicious and a bag of what looked like small almonds, but were actually the apricot’s inner seeds.
We saw groups of women sitting by the road, breaking the hard apricot seeds with large stones, one seed at the time.
The were nutty and delicious.
The main road in Ladakh connecting the villages is very narrow.
Many road signs plead with drivers to drive slowly, in a humorous and sometime corny way.
“Better to lose a moment in life than a life in one moment.”
“Better to be Mister late, than the late Mister…”
“Drive slow through the land of the Gompas”(Buddhist monasteries)
My favorite sign simply stated:
“Remember that accidents do not happen, they are caused.”
Some people do not agree with this statement.
They believe that accidents occur at random, or that one side caused an accident, while the other person was a hapless victim.
But in truth, there are no victims and the universe is never random.
We bring or magnetize every little thing into our lives by the energy and vibes that we put out.
If somebody allows extreme anger or rage to occupy his mind, he should not be surprised to see the vibration of anger or rage return to him in another physical form somewhere down the road.
At lunch one day, we met a British man who told us that he had come to Nurla to adjust to the high altitude, since it is about 300 meters lower than Leh.
He had experienced symptoms of altitude sickness when he arrived in Leh, so he came to Nurla to rest, and indeed had just awakened from a thirteen hour sleep.
His son and his girlfriend were out for the day hiking to a remote meditation cave.
He spoke about his travel insurance and how he had called his insurance company to let them know he would be visiting high altitudes.
Jules and I exchanged quiet glances.
Here was a perfect example of a man who did not know that health and sickness are not random, but very much within our control.
Of course, it is important not to engage in habits that deplete your health, like stressful thoughts, drinking alcohol, smoking, recreational drugs and overeating, but beyond those means of controlling your health, there is the most critical factor, the state of mind you hold.
His fear of sickness, his belief in randomness and accidents, and his concern for his misperceived volatile state of health, bring about a frail mind that does not focus in the direction of creating what it wants to have, which is perfect health.
He does not understand the power of creation.
Our minds are very powerful.
They have the ability to create great health for us, or just the opposite.
The belief in random accidents is SO out of alignment with Truth Principles.
It is an obstacle to overcome before being able to embrace higher truths.
Once you see that EVERYTHING in your life is perfectly aligned for your progress and evolution, you will never again believe in the possibility of accidents.
In order to see the landscape and monasteries in the western part of Ladakh, we hired Deldon Namgyal, the driver who picked us up at the airport, to drive us around for a couple of days.
On the way from Nurla to Lamayuru Monastery, we stopped to admire a part of the landscape that looked like it came from the moon. A road sign invited us to stop and enjoy this lunar landscape.
Along and above one section of the Indus River, bare sandy tall mountains in golden and grey colors, spread out far into the distance, reminiscent of the surface of the moon.
From there, we could see Lamayuru monetary perched high up on the rocks.
The grounds of the temple are large, with sprawling adobe buildings above the slate-filled rocky mountains.
The main hall is adorned with wall paintings, carved pillars and the old meditation cave of Naropa, in the center of the main altar.
A few young monks in red robes were studying while seated on the floor of the courtyard.
On our hike to the top of the hill, we saw a group of Nepali workers, repairing and renovating some of the deteriorating mud brick buildings.
From there, we drove up the windy road to Tingmosgang Gompa (Monastery.)
The Gompa was closed, with only a phone number scribbled on a piece of paper attached to the door.
Deldon called and was told that the residing Rinpoche would come to open the Gompa in an hour, so we drove to the nearby Trsekarmo Tingmosgang gompa, to visit it until he returns.
The Trsekarmo Tingmosgang Gompa is beautifully painted with elaborate wall paintings of Buddhist deities, dragons, animals and mystical creatures.
When we returned to Tingmosgang Gompa, we saw the old Rinpoche walking slowly up the very steep road to open the monastery.
Deldon offered him a ride, which he gladly accepted.
Tingmosgang Gompa has a sacred four armed white Tara at the center of the main hall.
It is not a large statue, but we were told that many healing miracles had occurred to those who faithfully prayed to her.
Back in Nurla, we visited a tiny local museum located inside a farmhouse.
It had no sign advertising that a museum was housed up a rickety wooden ladder above the kitchen and living areas of the farmhouse.
You had to know somebody local to find it.
It had some old and beautiful photographs of local Buddhist Lamas and old articles of village life. This museum pays tribute to the traders of the Leh Valley, who until very recently crossed the rugged Himalayas with donkeys carrying the goods they had to barter or sell.
That day, I was thinking of the Course In Miracles lesson in which we ask that a new perception of the world come to us.
The lesson goes on to explain that we do not see the world and everything in it, as it is, but through the eyes of what is in our mind, which always dwells on the past, and projects past experiences into the future.
After we left the museum in Nurla, I understood very well how I need to ask for “new eyes” or for a “new perception to come to me.”
Along the dusty village road sat a group of women selling dried apricots and garden vegetables.
They wore traditional dresses and sat right on the dusty road.
Western eyes would see poverty, but Deldon, our driver, chatted with them warmly.
It turned out the women are his sisters and neighbors.
They were not poor nor homeless as western eyes might interpret, they were village women who all have nice comfortable mud brick homes, selling fresh vegetables from their gardens and dried apricots from their trees.
When I go to buy vegetables at the farmers markets in Colorado or in Kerikeri in NZ, I do not perceive those selling their produce to be poor, so why is my first impression of these women seated by the roadside that they are poor?
Often we misperceive by seeing poverty and lack when there really is none.
Extended families live together in one house, because that is how they like to live.
The cost of living in India is so much lower than that in the USA or Europe, that people simply need less.
We were told that the cost of building our lovely hotel in Nurla was about fifty Lakh, which is $77,000 USD.
It took thirteen people six months to build a whole hotel with twenty one spacious rooms, all with beautiful views of the Indus River, plus a large kitchen and dining room and a beautiful central garden, and all for fifty Lakh!
To build a house costs much less.
Because of the remoteness, people eat what is in season.
There are no supermarkets, but there are schools and school buses to take local kids to school.
There are hospitals in each area and monasteries to which people turn, to find faith and healing.
Anyway… Before I go I will wish you Julley!
Here in Ladakh, people greet one another with the word Julley (pronounced Joo-lay).
Julley is a common word in Ladakhi and among the tribal areas of Himachal, which means Namaste, Hello, Hi, How you’re doing, What’s up, and sometimes even Goodbye.
So Julley to you!
Have a blissful day.