Driving at breakneck speed, our driver Phuntsho was a man on a mission. It had been 12 hours since we started at the crack of dawn from Sonmarg in Kashmir. The destination – a small village called Temisgam in-route to the town of Leh.
The Ladakhi mountains otherwise a rugged brown – had turned a bright shade of orange as the rays of the setting sun dazzled one last time. In a simple bi-color landscape, our car – a tiny speck on a long jet black road moved along surrounded by the furiously blushing mountains.
Our plan was to stop at the famed Lamayuru Monastery. All through the day, the few times we had stopped – it had been to look at yet another monastery. 12 hours of rattling along in a decidedly ratty SUV had been very well felt in certain parts of the body and emotions were not the most joyous at the prospect of yet another detour.
With a deep sigh, the old SUV grumbled to a stop. Climbing up a treacherous road, we had reached the distinctly white monastery which stood tall at 11,520 feet overlooking the vast barren landscape below. However the silence was immediately broken with an outcry of audible sighs as we realized that the monastery closed in another 10 minutes.
That’s that – I thought and decided to take a peek in. Said to have been founded in 11th century, this monastery was the oldest one in Ladakh. Roughly cut stones led to the ancient temple chamber and after carefully removing my shoes, I stepped into the dark prayer room.
A sudden, strange calm, engulfed me completely. The wooden floor, the centuries old stone wall, the whiff of the dimly lit incense created a powerful, unique and surrealistic experience of peace. By no particular conscious thought, I suddenly became extremely aware of my breath which had become slow and deep.
The ancient chamber had a stillness, I have never experienced before. Not particularly religious or spiritual – my objective, rational mind was left flabbergasted at the power of that small chamber. In those 10 minutes, I felt teleported to a different universe where time slows down and I came face to face with something very bare, fundamental and pure.
The ride back from the monastery was uncharacteristically subdued. For once I did not engage with my fellow riders, or had a wonder-struck gaze at the fast darkening landscape. There was a sense of contentment in simply sitting in that ratty old SUV and being on the road. The world seemed to have slowed down and become simpler.
Long past my tryst with that mythical powerful force in the chamber, this feeling of peace have stayed on within me. In its snow-capped mountains and bare deserts, Ladakh like no other place forces one to reflect deep within and come face to face with something raw and soulful. There are some profound answers written within the barren lands of this one-of-a kind place. And like true words of wisdom – these can’t be read or written about, but only experienced.