"Wading neck deep in a swamp, your revolver is neither use nor ornament until you have had time to clean it" Mary H. Kingsley (1897)

A Slight Chill In The Air


Norvo, our driver for the next ten days, arrived punctually.
The first stop was a massive Buddhist stupa, perched high on the hills overlooking Leh.

I consider myself reasonably well-travelled in India.
I have certainly experienced the extremely chilly nights of hill-stations in Munnar and Ooty and Sikkim.
But I was not prepared for this.

On the flight from Delhi to Leh, a Ladakhi passenger had asked me: “Why are you coming now? It is far too cold for you!”
I had shrugged off the question, thinking not only that decades of British winters must have had toughened me up, but that I was well prepared, and had packed sufficient warm shirts, sweaters and fleeces to keep both Robin and I comfortably warm.

I was mistaken.
This was a degree of coldness with which I could not possibly cope.

I was wearing a sleeved vest, long kurta shirt, warm jacket, woollen scarf and heavy shawl.
I had decent trousers, thick socks and sturdy shoes on.
But I felt that my body and mind were slipping into shut-down: I was hardly able to operate my camera.

The climate was perishingly frozen; the landscape utterly bleak.
The only warm colours were man-made:

 Norvo, a native Ladakhi,  was born, and totally accustomed, to the climate.
When we left the car he would squat beside it, quietly singing to himself.

I was now reluctant to leave the car at all.

If our expedition was not to be a disastrous mistake, this was a situation which demanded urgent remedies:
Leaving the stupa, I asked Norvo to take us to the clothes market,

Within the hour I was kitted-up in very thick gloves, fur hat, and a goncha: the heavy woollen coat worn by Ladakhi men and women.
Despite feeling like a bit-actor from a dubious ethnic block-buster, I also felt wonderfully warm.


Pictures taken from beside the massive Shanti Stupa, overlooking Leh.

6 responses

  1. S. Etole

    The landscapes you have shared with us are stunning and have a personality unlike any others I have seen. The words, “What is man that You are mindful of him?” frequently come to mind in the stark majesty and expansiveness of the mountains.

    April 30, 2012 at 10:13 am

    • The Ladakhi landscapes were also totally alien to me. And like you, I felt some sense of just how small and relatively insignificant we all are. The sense of induced wonder was a little like gazing into the night skies and contemplating their immensity..

      April 30, 2012 at 11:10 am

  2. Still no snow? The photos convey a kind of emptiness. And this might be a dumb question, but why is smoking not allowed in that area?

    It really looks like an amazingly beautiful place. I love all the photos.

    April 30, 2012 at 5:56 pm

    • Snow seemed to be confined to the mountain-tops. But this did not apply to smoking: Ladakhi men certainly enjoy their cigarettes and beedi!

      Smoking in public spaces is illegal in most Indian states. I think the sign was just a reminder, especially as that area around the Shanti Stupa is a consecrated site.

      Ladakh has a unique kind of beauty. But just as you intuited, Beth, it is a beauty haunted by vast, bleak and empty landscapes.

      April 30, 2012 at 6:51 pm

  3. Toffeeapple

    I feel the need for a goncha myself, it looks very practical as well as elegant.

    May 1, 2012 at 7:58 pm

    • I’m not at all sure that it rendered me elegant – but it certainly kept me warm!

      They come in a range of colours, with decidedly elegant versions for formal occasions. Mine, I hasten to add, was bog-standard, with what looked remarkably like a blue gingham check lining! And, best of all, cost less than £12 (less than $20).

      May 1, 2012 at 8:42 pm

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