Clear blue skies transcended upon me as I walked out of the aircraft onto the Ladakhi territory. So used to the sultry Delhi weather, I was taken aback by the cold thrust of the wind in Leh. An ocean of mountains as far as the eyes could see dominated the landscape of India's premier tourist location. After having to wake up at 3am on the day of my 21st birthday to get to the Ladakhi capital, the gorgeous never-ending blanket of royal blue brought on the perfect smile to kick-off my birthday celebrations.
Having spent majority of my first day inside acclimatising to the frosty weather, the second day involved a short trip to Hemis to attend the Naropa Festival. Naropa was an 11th-century Buddhist spiritual leader, famed as the ‘Guardian of the Northern Gate’ for his acumen and understanding of dharma, a fundamental pillar of modern Buddhism. A scholar from the Nalanda University, Naropa is remembered for having collated the ‘Six Dharmas', which are practices that help to attain enlightenment, and were said to be handed over to Tilopa by Buddha himself in an unbroken lineage.
The holy bone relics to represent this unbroken lineage were on display at the Hemis Temple during the festival. It is said that a mere look at them helps one attain salvation. The Durkpa Lineage, of which Hemis Temple and Monastery come under, are protectors of these relics. Naropa is believed to have been gifted these relics by the spirits who carry the dead to the sky.
A crowd of an unimaginable size attended this unique Buddhist festival. The best part about the festival were the locals whose unmovable faith made the event far more special. My interactions with the locals were my favorite part of this extravaganza. My conversations with them ranged from discussions on the savage Delhi weather to why Star Plus' popular show Kasautii Zindagii Ki is making a return. With another, I even had a candid discussion on the politics of the state.
Whilst I expected to all in love with the region's irresistible landscapes or its sapphire colored skies or its cotton candy shaped clouds, I unearthed the true beauty of Ladakh - its people. Their kind-hearts and openness made me feel like one of them. A simple greeting from my side was met with large-than-life hugs. In one such incident, a local offered me a sizable portion of her lunch, although she herself had very little left to eat.
While I continued to converse with whoever I could, the simplicity of the festival added to its growing vibe. Harmonious cultural performances that highlighted Naropa's preaching added to the feel of the entire festival. An elegantly choreographed dance by a group of Buddhist nuns garnered ravenous appreciation.
A couple of kilometers away from where the festival was being held lay the Hemis Monastery. Situated 45km from the capital, it is one of the most well known monasteries in the region. A supremely beautiful structure, the holy location has sights of several religions spread across its area. A short stroll around the museum provided insight into how this magnificent place came to be. With innumerable Buddhists relics on display, the museum brings out the finest aspects of Buddhism.
I leave with fond memories of Ladakh, hoping to come back once again and feel the love of its people while basking under its unyielding skies.