Leh - Plus UPDATE 5-3-19
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Woke to the competing calls to morning prayer in this last Muslim town before prayer flag waving Buddhist Ladakh its 3:45am and walking to bus...on the way met couple from Czech Rep. .They hitched a ride from Sonamarg, and at the bus all the same passengers showed up incl 2 French guys and 2 gals from Austin TX. They got a room above a guides office for 1000 rupees for 4 of them! The 3 Indians got a room with the bus drivers friend so all had found someplace which suited their budgets so-to-speak, ha!
Leaving at 4:45am! Dark but dawn is brightening along the valley ridges. Morning doves in the road, brilliant pink/red wild rose clinging to rocky slopes and everywhere in the green stepped plots of crops wherever irrigation can be channeled. The road began freshly paved but quickly gave way to the rock, pot-holed, gravel which persists most of this one lane plus hewn ledge along the river corridors slash valleys which connect villages and outcroppings of humanity wherever it can sustain itself in some small degree!
The wild rose metaphorically speaks volumes of the people living here! A beauty beyond struggle, born of necessity and living on hope - for water, for a chance to make it thru another winter? Who knows!?
Lunch at Khaltsi(e?) village about 95 miles from Leh...great mountain roads! Now down near the river -noon- and we're inching 50-100 feet at a time while the machines and men chip away the rock widening the road eventually to be paved. Bought dried apricots at the tourist registration stop (4th time today to register), very chewy...also selling small almonds. Up over another pass with the road sometimes newly paved then back to gravel, dust hard pack and bumpy/rough. A lot of new construction going on in many villages, new homes etc. Bon says she read that some time back - 1-2 years? - they had disastrous floods here and from the looks of some of these villages alongside the rivers and streams it appears that way, buildings half demolished etc.
We arrive in Leh about 3pm and after some discussions we take an offer of a taxi driver who is 'connected' to a guesthouse. He drops off the two Texan gals where they are staying and proceeds to the guesthouse...a home with several rooms dedicated to tourists. It is quite a ways away from town center but the arm twisting continues and Christina and Lucas (Czech Rep.) decide to stay a night so eventually we do also. Over tea - our host serves welcome tea - we end up talking with C & L for 2 hours about their & our travels.
Quite by chance we ran into two of the Indian fellows, Aryan and Saurbh, from the bus. They are super friendly guys and Bon had a long chat. They had just rented a motorbike to be able to buzz around on, glad to see they had helmets! After wishing them well we headed off to look at alternative accommodations a bit closer to town. Shasipa Guesthouse is nice, clean everything we're looking for but too far away from town central. Before eating lo and behold we bump into one of the French fellows looking for the 2 Texas gals! All our encounters coincidental!? Still no decision on changing our place tomorrow.
Well, last night was not a good one for me! The room we are in was recently painted with oil based paint and the smell played a number on my sinuses plugging me up completely. Most major headache ever, though I'm not sure if that's due to altitude or sinus issues...bloody nose tells me more sinus caused. Gotta find new digs. Sun is up, blue sky and cool outside, pretty clear why Indian tourists flock here by the thousands.
Bon says she's okay with the shared bath here and I'm not really feeling like hunting for a new place so we'll
move to the other room here! We went to Pumpernickel Brown Bread Cafe for breakfast and met Annette ???, German woman, English/Geography teacher traveling on a year sabbatical which is ending this July. Very interesting talking with her, she mostly travels alone and does a lot of trekking for which she is physically very well prepared! Much better shape than Bon or I but not much younger as she is looking to retire in 2 years. We were so into our discussions that before we knew it it was past 5:30!
No luck yet in exchanging the India Rough Guide for am LP guidebook. Need the maps is all really since Bon has the Kindle version but the maps on Kindle are worthless!
Another night waking with splitting headache, it's got to be the altitude because I have a headache all the time sometimes more other times a dull ache. Can't stand the smell of smoke either which is what we woke to...burning their incense which just aggravates my breathing and headaches. Gotta find some other place to stay!
We spent, actually Bonnie spent the better part of the morning checking out guesthouses while I watched the bags. Found perfect place, lots of windows/light, nice garden, bath incl. nice folks @ 600 r/nite ($12 US dbl). Good ventilation was my main concern since I believed my headaches were due to some environmental/air problem.
Spent most of the afternoon talking with guide services about travel around about and also shared taxi/jeep onward to Manali. We had checked the bus schedule for all the travel options and the bus to Manali now only goes at 2am daily straight thru 20- 22 hours, missing much of the scenery in the dark. The only way to go would be the fairly expensive option of shared (5 others) taxi, but Imron at Indo-Himalayan travel said at this time of year taxis coming from Manali cost more than returning so cost would be 13,000± vs 18-21,000. By 5 passengers would still mean around $50 US per person plus the cost of an overnite vs fast bus, no stopping half that!
We ended up with a schedule which would allow us to visit the NUbra valley by public transport, see a day of Hemis Festival (reason why so many Indian tourists here now), and then a 2 nite 3 day tour to Lake Tso Moriri before heading to Manali.
Had a wonderful dinner and conversation with our new found friend, Annette, from Germany...she's off trekking for the next 2-3 weeks!
Finally decided my headaches due to a combination of poor air, a sinus cold, and altitude which together has given me so much difficulty. Besîdes which my Steripen water purifier has not worked due to bad batteries. I bought 2 sets of cheap ones before finding alkaline (no nickel-cadmium anywhere, not surprised) which work. Meantime I've skimped on drinking water hating to buy the liter plastic water which hasn't been good for my head either!
It's raining!! Woke this morning late because clouds and rain made sleep so pleasant. Bon has the headache this am but mainly due to having run out of water. I tried the alkaline batteries, which worked and we had water again although not in the bathroom after I made 3 liters of water - power off, no generator here so no pump to fill the tanks, ha!
Went to Indo-Himalayan Tours to give Imron our passports so he could get our permits but no Imron! So we headed for Shayak Tours & Travel & Sulim, but on the way Bon wanted to stop at Yama Tours where the fellow was very helpful in telling us that, yes indeed, there is a BUS which goes to Manali in two days stopping at Keylong for the night! Great info which after we spent 3+ hours in the internet, we went to see Teja, fellow in charge of this bus service and he told us that beginning July 1 the bus would begin coming up from Manali and returning July 5! Perfect and only 2000 rupees for transport, ON, and dinner + breakfast! Such a deal!
On our walking up and down Changspa Road (like Khaosan Road in Bankok Wiki Info Khaosan Road)
we ran into Christina and Lucas, couple from Czech Rep! What a fine encounter! So we meet them tonight (they're going to a meditation 'school' which is over sometime after 9). Power still off but luckily the bank must have it's own bigger generator and unlike yesterday when power was off this time the ATM worked (after we tried and it didn't, and then got a fellow from inside the bank to change receipts paper in the machine). It was interesting because everyone before us who tried and failed just walked away, but once the guy came out with us almost instantly there was a long line waiting to use it, ha!
The Real Aryans?!
Brogpa girls during a festival in Ladakh, India (Credit: Credit: Dave Stamboulis)
Is this the last of the Aryans?
Deep in India’s Ladakh region live the Aryans, perhaps the last generation of pure-blooded people and holders of possibly the only untampered gene pool left in the world.
By Dave Stamboulis
3 May 2019
Pure-blooded people In a remote valley deep in India's Ladakh region live a tribe known as the Aryans, who are perhaps the last generation of pure-blooded people and holders of possibly the only untampered gene pool left in the world.
For many, the term 'Aryan' has negative connotations. However, it comes from the Sanskrit 'arya', meaning 'nobleman', and originally referred to a people who spoke an Indo-Iranian language and migrated from Central Asia to India and Iran. It was later used to refer to tribal groups who lived in the Indus River valleys that are now part of Pakistan and India, and it is their descendants who are said to make up this tiny minority found in the Ladakh region today.
A remote, harsh lifeLadakh's Dha-Hanu Valley, also known to locals as the Aryan Valley, is hemmed between the Karakoram Mountains and the Indus River in northern India, close to the Pakistan border. Here lie the five Aryan villages, home to somewhere between 2,000 and 4,000 inhabitants. Also known as the Brogpa (or Brokpa, Dards or just the people of Dha-Hanu, two of the largest villages in the valley), residents have lived here in seclusion for thousands of years, partly due to the wild physical landscape, the lack of roads and India's border fights with Pakistan over Kashmir, all of which have helped minimise contact with the outside world. This isolation has helped to keep their gene pool intact and untampered, but with the arrival of the modern world at their doorstep, this looks set to change. (Credit: Dave Stamboulis)
Mysterious past (Credit: C
Mysterious pastThere are varying theories as to the origins of the Brogpa, none of which have ever been conclusively proven. German linguist and Orientalist Friedrich Max Müller believed that the Aryans descended from fair-skinned conquerors from Central Asia who battled their way across Europe. Later, German Nazis used this fascination with a fair-skinned warrior tribe to give rise to their propaganda of a pure race that could take over the world.
Another commonly held belief is that the Brogpa are the descendants of Alexander the Great and his soldiers, who came through here during their conquests of Asia. The same theory has been applied to the Kalash tribe of Pakistan not too far away, but DNA testing has rendered this inconclusive.
Original inhabitants A third theory holds that the Brogpa were the first permanent inhabitants of the area, having migrated and settled here and in the valleys of the Karakorams in the 7th Century. One thing is certain though: the Aryans have physical features far more akin to Europeans than to the Tibetan-Mongol Ladakhis who inhabit the region. They have blue, green and hazel eyes, higher cheekbones, and fairer skin, and they also stand far taller than their Kashmiri and Ladakhi counterparts.
Changing traditions The Brogpa have forbidden outside or inter-caste marriage and kept their unique Broksat language. They've also adhered to old cultural ways, dressing in elaborate costumes with floral headdresses known as tepi, long sheepskin cloaks and ornate jewellery and accessories. However, access to the internet and the arrival of paved roads in the last decade have made it much harder to preserve traditions. Younger Aryans are now marrying outside of the Brogpa tribe, moving to the cities for work and wearing Western clothing. Buddhism has made huge inroads here, too, with the majority of the formerly animist Aryans becoming Buddhists and new monasteries being built throughout the valley each year
Elaborate festivals While modern changes may be threatening the Aryan culture, they may be saving them as well. A paved road into the valley has given the Brogpa's access to better health care, education and jobs in Leh, while the lifting of restrictions on foreigners visiting the area over the past five years by the Indian military has brought both a steady trickle of tourists as well as extra cash flow into the remote communities. Over the past two years several cultural festivals have been organised by the five villages, where every member of each clan takes part, wearing their traditional clothing, performing cultural dances and showing their unique ways to the outside world.
Traditional costumesYoung girls are the most important link in preserving the culture, as the Brogpa women wear the most elaborate traditional costumes (men today only wear their traditional garb for festivals, whereas some women still wear their headdresses for going to the fields or domestic chores). Mothers proudly spend hours plaiting their daughters' hair, preparing their handmade costumes, and handing down their exquisite ornaments and accessories in preparation for the festivals. Traditional Brogpa weddings are also held at these festivals, with the brides-to-be covering their face with veils made of paper flowers and led by hand by their families through a crowd of admiring well-wishers.
When my wife and I stayed in the village of Biama, we were put up in the house of Dolma, a local Brogpa who was both nervous and curious over the first two foreign guests to be in her home. She spoke a few words of English and asked if we came from the same village – bemused that we might come from far-apart communities – and then proudly showed off the family headdresses, jewels and amulets that she helped her daughter put on. She was giddy with excitement over the weekend festival that was bringing tourists to the community.
A vibrant cultureI asked Dolma if she was excited over her daughter participating in the festival. She replied that not many outsiders came to Biama, and that it was fun to meet foreigners. But even more importantly, she couldn't wait to see friends from neighbouring villages, brought together by each year by the festival, as well as the chance to dress up, dance and celebrate. If the future generations continue to hold traditional ceremonies and celebrations and keep their vibrant culture alive, perhaps then, they won't be the last of the Aryans.
(Credit: Credit: Dave Stamboulis)