The National Highway 1A connecting Srinagar to Leh in the state of Jammu and Kashmir is of immense strategic importance to India, and several peace keeping organisations around the world, for it has seen a savage war.
The lofty mountains that the highway traverses are always under scrutiny, yet only a little detour from this road took me to a place often unnoticed, yet breathtakingly beautiful. It is a true juxtaposition that within fifty miles of a warzone lies a little hamlet where ultimate peace descends.
Lamayuru, a tiny village in the Trans Himalayan region is in a word ‘unearthly’. The oldest monastery or ‘gompa’ in Leh, perched atop moonlike formations, Lamayuru makes one feel like a visitor to a different planet. It has the essence of a ruin, yet it isn’t. The other Himalayan hamlets that are lush green with gushing rivulets and a regular throng of tourists seem a cliché in comparison.
Here, the landscape consists of strange yellowish formations that light up in the moonlight at night, giving travellers an almost ethereal experience. We had stopped over at Lamayuru en route a journey from Leh to Srinagar. It is only about 80 kilometres from Leh, the geography however is starkly different.
Accommodation in Lamayuru is mostly in monasteries or private homes, in which the local villagers rent out a bed and offer fresh food to travellers in return for some added income. There are a few guesthouses, but nothing luxurious.
I was put up in a monastery. The room had a rather large window that opened up to a view of the entire hamlet; barren and sandy yellow, with meandering hilly roads carved into it and Tibetan households in white and red lying interspersed.
There was an occasional roar of Royal Enfields signifying the arrival of yet another troop of bikers journeying towards Leh from Srinagar, but other than that Lamayuru was so silent and tranquil that one could hear one’s heartbeat. Yet the silence spoke volumes.
When amidst the ancient and magnificent Himalayas, you often realise how minuscule human existence is. It’s not a rare thought. But through the window that day I felt as though the world’s horizon had been compressed and I could view it all at once in a single frame. A world never invaded, a world always in harmony. A world away from the maddening crowd, a world coexisting with nature.
A walk up to the village that I’d seen through that window seemed appropriate after a Tibetan lunch at the monastery restaurant. There would be a hundred houses in all; that was the entirety of Lamayuru. An extremely remote village so far off the track that most tourists do not venture here, those that do take away with them pictures of an incredible landscape both in their cameras and in their mind.
The dwellers of this place are used to the hard life, where they have the treacherous mountains to cross for any kind of supplies. Yet they are so welcoming, often standing and smiling at a traveller during their daily chores. They are light years away from the world that we live in, where you can do almost anything with a touch of your fingers.
They seem very peaceful though. Stress here is mostly physical, the mind remains calm. With a short trek I was able to reach a point from where I was rewarded with a bird’s eye view of the entire village, and it certainly was a sight to remember.
Indian prepaid SIM cards do not work in the entire state of Jammu and Kashmir, though postpaid connections from some service providers work and most guest houses have WiFi with a decent speed. The monastery in which I was put up had three hours of WiFi in the evening for the travellers to contact home, or even do a bit of blogging. The phone in the reception was exceptionally expensive though, almost fifty Indian Rupees per minute for a national call.
When darkness descends one mostly recedes to the place they are laying their head that night. I was there in August and there was a slight chill in the air. The winter months must be very cold. But before going to bed this evening, I went to the terrace to witness the thing that is written most about Lamayuru.
The village is known as ‘Moonland Lamayuru’, and not without a reason. Up on the terrace, I watched the mountains stand boldly out against the sky, bejewelled by the moonlight, emanating a magnificent queenly glow; yet another stunning visual for the traveller’s eye.
The morning after, I was up on the terrace again at a quarter to six to witness something else I’d read about. The sun ascended from its hidden enclosure, gradually illuminating one mountain after another, dividing the ranges into light and darkness. At an instance, when a few mountain peaks had seen the day, a few were still plunged deep into slumber.
While one range of peaks were coated in the sun’s golden glow, the range below was still holding the dark of the night. It was Mother Nature’s laser show. The play of night and day on the moon-like landscape made me wonder if there was another place on earth so enigmatic and charming at this moment.
In contrast to the frantic bustle of the city I live in, it was a dream, a day in Lamayuru. The silence still echoes for me. Dwellers of the city experience chaos in excess – excess of light, excess of noise and excess of traffic. When the stresses of city life takes its toll, I can time travel back to my day at Lamayuru in my mind and instantly feel a sense of peace descend. That is the magic of travel.
By Priyadarshini Das