Jullay from Leh

Welcome to Prue and Ian's blog of their cycle tour of India

"Soaring thousands of metres above the rush, heat and chaos of India's plains, the Indian himalayaare a world apart. prayer flags snap in the wind on high mountain passes, immense yaks thresk barley at harvest time and the colourfultata trucks crawl up the hairpins like ants. The people, especially in Buddhist Ladakh, are cheerful, honest and gentle. The landscape is a reflection of their religion - white chortens line the roads and approaches to villages like pawns from a giant game of chess, burgundy-clad monks hitch lifts at the side of road, gompas perch on spectacular crags and everywhere the air is alive with the flutter of prayer flags Here is some of the most starkly spectacular mountain scenery you will find anywhere in the world"

Laura Stone Adventure Cycling

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Blog 7 Our "jullay" has changed to "namaste"

I'm starting the writing of this blog in an idyllic setting. We are in Jodhpur, Rajasthan at Singhvi's Haveli with its rooftop restaurant decorated with saris and floor cushions. There are several roof top sitting spots with views over the city's blue hues and up to Martrangarh Fort above us. A Costa Rican / Swiss couple are sharing Kingfisher beers and their travel stories with us. The culmination of the Hindi Ganesh Chatonurchi festival celebrations is filling the soundwaves with music and singing. There's a kite fluttering above the roof tops and monkeys are jostling for positions along the fort's rampants.......get the picture?

The Minns- Noble family arrived on the overnight train from Delhi this morning. (Both Alice and Riley joined us in Leh, Ladakh a week apart) Our intial foray in Dehli was an easy introduction to India's capital - despite a terrorist attack, floods and the Commonwealth Games accommodation village not being clean enough. ( and our bicycles haven't come out of their travel bags yet!)

Our three months in the Himalayan states of Himachal Pradesh and Jammu / Kashmir's Ladakh district were full of interesting experiences. Although the Ladakh cloudburst, resultant floods and fatal destruction dominated the time, we will also have fonder memories of the friendliness of the Ladakhi people, their unique natural environment and the ever present devotion to Tibetian Buddhism.
Following our blog regarding the destruction in Leh in early August, friends from the North East have been very compassionate in their response to the needs of affected Ladakhi people. Our thanks to the organisers of the gathering at the Grogan Haveli - especially Clare, Mick and Kath N. and thank you to all who supported the initiative. To those who supported the apppeal at Galen College, the Catholic Education Office or very generously deposited money in our account - our grateful thanks. When we recounted to some of the Leh locals that our village in Australia had donated money to the cause, they were impressed that a village so far away cared about them.
The final toal was 107,500 Rupees! ( Before Mick Grogan gets the calculator out for a spot of his second favourite passion...... 1.Saints 2. Maths 3. Clare...... the exchange rate was 43cents to the rupee.)
After talking to several locals for their advice and to a few NGOs working in response to the floods, we decided to give the money to the Ladakh Buddhist Assosication (LBA) in Leh. Most of the inital basic needs of the flood victims have been met, but the long term care and education of orphans of the distaster are still issues. The LBA has set up a special account to start this process. At the time of our discussion with the President and the General Sec., 36 children had been placed in boarding schools in and around Leh at 6 different schools. Many more were being assessed. The LBA is commited to the long term sponsorship of these children until they have found independence at the end of their education. This will of course require greater sponsorship over a long period of time. The LBA can organise individual student sponsorships if you are interested.
 The transfer of the money from our account into the Bank of India's LBA account created small problems (of course!) The bank employee who managed such transactions was on leave. We had to empty the outside ATM and carry the wad of rupees back into the bank. The amount was roughly the equivalent of handing over $20,000 in cash to a teller in Australia. The crowded queue behind us ( and either side! Indian queues don't translate into Indian file!) gawked at the teller as he counted all the notes.
As mentioned in an earlier blog, my sister Maree and a band of commited Beechworth knitters had created numerous winter woollies for Leh families who had lost their clothing. Both Alice and Riley brought over items that we distributed to young and old. One of the beanies didn't get too far and has become this winter's favourite item of clothing for Angmo la (Grandma) at our Leh guesthouse.
Thanks again Maree and your helpers.

One of our cycling day trips out of Leh was to a private, sustainability themed, boarding school (SECMOL) for students who had failed year 10 and wanted a second chance. The school is sited on the banks of the flood ravaged Indus River and took a bit of navigation and luck to find. We came across a volunteer teacher from SECMOL returning on bicycle from giving English lessons to monks at the local monastery - just as we were about to turn back. Another 3 kms along a dirt road high above the Indus followed. The school could be transposed to a farm site behind a certain school in Wangaratta! The buildings were all solar passive  designed yet retained elements of traditional Ladakhi structures. Solar power, vegie patch, orchard, cows and a volleyball/cricket area that turned into an ice hockey rink in winter (See picasa photo) The school is only able to exist through the support of sponsorhips, fees and volunteer teachers. Although fairly isolated, it would be an interesting volunteer position for a month or so.

With Alice's arrival in Leh, we decided to finish our teaching at New Millennium School and see a bit more of the Ladakh countryside. Our farewell day was very special with a lunchtime gathering in the dining hall. The Lama, Principal, staff and 260 special guests farewelled us with speeches, gifts, kata scarves, blessings, handshakes and goodbyes to Madam Prue and Sir Ian.
Alice acclimatised quickly to Leh's altitude and we planned a trek back to the area where I got Prue lost several weeks before. We wanted to visit the village and gompa at Lamayuru and then walk from Temisgram to Likir. We recuited Tsering  - a Leh local on uni holidays and brother to Rigzen Dolma who we had been teaching with at N.M. School. Rigzen and Tsering's parents' village, Nurla, was near the start of the walk. The drive to Lamayuru was simply spectactular. After numerous switchbacks climbing impossibily up scree slopes, we arrived at the village and Gompa at the hilltop. Wonderful views and we wished we had allowed more time to stay in the township. We returned to Nurla where Tsering's mother Angmo greeted us with open arms and we were treated to a delightful night of Ladakhi home cooking and hospitality.
Our walk started through the flood effected valley of Ang. Although land was washed away, houses lost and infrastructure damaged, rural life was focused on harvesting the wheat and barley crops. This activity would be repeated from village to village over the next three days. At the village of Hemis Spupachan Prue and I visited the family of Rigzen Jigmet - our Principal from N.M. School in Leh. Rigzen had called ahead to let them know we would be paying a visit. Again, the opportunity to be part of a local family's life was refreshing and not part of the Lonely Planet's well worn trail.
The third campsite was again off the track a bit. We were fortunate to talk our way into sleeping on a farmhouse roof top. Tsering's charm had us persuade a local woman into letting us share the roof space with drying apricots, solar panels and recently stacked hay. We spent an hour or so shelling apricot kernels with our hostess. Kunzes cooked up a local treat of sku for dinner - a homemade pasta (small round discs with a thumb print on one side) and seasonal vegies. This turned out to be one of the culinary highlights of our Ladakhi experiences. Finally, our trek took us to Likir and a local bus back to Leh.
Having a younger female accompanying Prue and I in Leh quickly increased our social circle. Mainly males seemed to be our dining partners each night! Alice also enjoyed running each morning and created a "Shanti Stupa loop" ( for those with local Leh knowledge) for the daily exercise. She also made social in-roads at our guesthouse. Guidebooks on Ladakhi customs suggest that physical contact should be kept to a minimum and displays of affection were frowned upon. Well Alice had Angmo la (Grandma) wrapped around her little finger with hugs and kisses almost a daily routine.
Riley finally touched down but it was a very different Leh and in particular Changspa Road - the tourist area near our guesthouse. The vibrant street that greeted us nine weeks before was now 95% closed due to a lack of tourist trade post floods. Fortunately the Main Bazaar and Fort Rd areas still heaved with local traffic & commerce.
Alice and Riley teamed up to explore Leh Palace, and Tsering again shared his guiding skills with a visit to Thiksey Monastery just out of town.
As a family we re-visited N.M.School for a morning. We hired two extra bikes so the kids could "enjoy" the local traffic and ride home.(up the hill)
Two memorable nights in Leh included Riley's birthday at Jeevan's Cafe with some of our new friends - including Phillip, a young German architecture student volunteering to help restore Leh Palace. I met Phillip in a post office queue that morning!. The second night was a momo cooking class at Rigzen and Tsering's home. It would be fair to say that my momos stood out from the rest (mis-shapen and falling apart). We played dress-ups with the encouragement of their Dad, in his traditional clothes and hats. 2011 will be the Year of the Momo at 5 Crisp Street dinner parties (Yes - no more pizzas!)
On the 13th of September we were blessed with a visit to Leh by the Dalai Lama. He came to support the flood devastated community. It was not difficult to be caught up in the excitment of His Holiness's presence.
If only he had known that several days later the International Friendly (football/soccer match) was being played between Australia and Ladakh, he might have stayed on. Tsering is a keen footballer so we issued a challenge: 5:00pm at the pologround. Bring some mates and a soccer ball!
Australia: Prue, Alice, Riley & Ian PLUS Karma (Tibetan teacher from N.M. School - not a Ladakhi but obtained a temporary Australian citizenship just prior to the match) PLUS two ten year olds kids on their way home from school and walking across the polo ground. (technically Ladakhis but allowed in the underage clause) They turned out to be pretty handy Pat Arcuri types (Galen college teacher/soccer superstar) who controlled the game especially after Prue "took a dive" with a turned ankle.
Ladakh: Tsering, Tsering's mates x 3, Tsering's cousin - best player in Ladakh, Tsering's cousin's mate - second best player in Ladakh.
 The game see-sawed but the Aussies were up 4 -1 before I let through a goal followed by Alice discovering what an "own goal" was. On a roll, the opposition looked unstoppable until our youth policy started paying dividends.
As darkness descended, a "next goal wins" decision was made (Unlike a certain Melbourne event)  The guests made it home 7 - 6 in a very tight finish.
A small crowd had even filled a portion of the stands to watch the game.

 Most visitors who fly into or out of Leh are treated to a glimpse of the Himalayas along the flight path. Our early morning flight down to Delhi was just fantastic.

After three days in Delhi, including a very wet,soggy visit to the Taj in Agra, we trained to Jodhpur and are now enjoying the sights and sounds of Udaipur.
In the Travel section of The Age newspaper last year, a journalist suggested that journeys should have a theme, a quest, a focus that linked experiences
 Our quest in Rajathstan could be
1. Find the camel that Geoff Morrow rode on his desert trek 20 years ago.
2. Re-inact the scenes on location from James Bond's adventure Octopussy filmed here many moons ago.
3. Find a miniture painting (local speciality) that doesn't illustrate a tiger / elephant / horse / camel / palace.
4. Haggle over every financial transaction to the ethically acceptable 50% mark.

Stay tuned.

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