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A Land Hidden in the Clouds

[WTN-L World Tibet Network News. Published by The Canada Tibet Committee. Issue ID: 05/01/10; January 10, 2005.]


Elizabeth Dalziel beats a path to a little-known region tucked away in the Himalayas

November 7, 2004

THEY are trekkers and seekers, backpackers and Buddhist followers and they come for both spiritual sustenance and for hikes amid ancient monasteries and snowcapped mountains.

This northern region of India known as Ladakh is a cold desert plateau, a western extension of the Tibetan Plateau high in the Himalayas.

Residents include Tibetan refugees who crossed into the Indian Himalayas through what is known as "the roof of the world" and settled into an area now known as Little Tibet.

Monasteries perched atop small hills above the valley attract surprisingly large groups of tourists who come to immerse themselves in Buddhist teachings and to master the rugged terrain.

But hiking and reaching the temples is far easier for the locals, who are acclimatised to altitudes that range from 3450m to 7020m above sea level.

The tourists are easy to spot, clad in Bermuda shorts and toting cameras, sunglasses, colourful hats and water bottles as they fight the punishing sun while thronging to admire the marvels of craftsmanship on display at the monasteries, known as Gompas.

In contrast, the locals' attire includes traditional outfits crafted from yak wool and long gowns or jackets adorned with jewellery.

The most revered contemporary lama in Ladakh, known as Drukpa, draws a large following (both Western and local).

He is believed to be the 12th reincarnation of Naropa, a scholar from the 10th century who is credited with introducing Buddhism to the region.

Last month the Hemis monastery near the local capital, Leh, hosted an extravaganza held once every 12 years -- the unveiling of a Tanka, a tall building-size traditional religious painting on silk.

The Tanka was accompanied by monks representing Buddhist deities performing tantric dances.

But the Hemis event was just one of many religious festivals that draw tourists and the Buddhist faithful, who take part in rituals -- known as puyas -- with great fervour.

These religious adherents include khampa nomads, who are believed to be the area's original settlers; the Brokpas, the last Buddhist Indo-Iranian tribe left in the world; and the Tibetan immigrants who now populate the area.

Ladakh is also considered safe for travellers, having been spared the violence that routinely mars the peace in the nearby insurgency-affected Kashmir Valley.

Whether your interest lies in rugged mountaineering, a spiritual journey or a trek with nomads, Ladakh's ethereal beauty is guaranteed to enchant.

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