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Old 6th May 2015, 21:00   #1
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Default The Air I Breathe - Leh

The Lama, standing on the edge of the mountain, surveyed the vast, gaping valley before him. The gusts of wind blew across his weather beaten face as his flowing, red, robes fluttered in the wind. He spinned his chanting wheel violently and as the anger surged in him, he rebelled within himself. He had come for enlightenment, but instead there built a raw, vile impatience in him that never seemed to ebb. He felt that staying at the gompa would never give him enlightenment. And then one day, when he felt that the world was crashing around him, he ran away, into the land of the vast, cold desert, over the peaks and passes, battling against the snow and sun. He traveled wild and lost, but his search eluded him. And when the pangs of defeat were looming on him, bruised and battered, lost and defeated, he returned back to the monastery. The elders didn’t curse him. Instead, they opened their arms and whispered into his ear the old, famous saying "He who know others is wise. He who knows himself, is enlightened.”

I am a mere mortal, nor am I searching for a monastery and neither am I in search of enlightenment. Instead I am searching for some sanctity. And unfortunately, the chaotic, noisy life which I lead, prevents me in my search. And for that, I travel, away into lands, back in time, to practice a new way of life. Every year, for a few days.

These drifts, these pauses, help me discover the very reason I am alive, and enables me to move closer to the purpose of my life. Goes a saying, “Mountaineering is the most spiritual sport in the world”. I am not a mountaineer, never intend to become one – but the Himalayas have always been a state of my mind. And its spiritual presence in my journeys and thoughts, have always helped in my journey back to life. My yells, meditations, anger, joy and pain I throw everything that had accumulated in me. It is a home which I don’t have, and to which I return back for sanity. These pauses helps me remove the cloak that I had put on and unlearn everything all over again and taste life anew. They are my life. It is my energy. It is the reason I am alive. It releases my entrapped energy and helps me converse with nature and in the process I liberate myself.

The Air I Breathe - Leh-_dsc4970.jpg

In January, 2015 I had traveled to Leh for the Chadar Trek. But a stroke of misfortune cut short my blooming holiday. This is not a travelogue and does not contain exhaustive description of the Leh town. Instead it is a story about the journey overall.

Last edited by sayakc : 7th May 2015 at 14:12.
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Old 6th May 2015, 22:20   #2
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"We are cruising at 32000 ft above mean sea level. The temperature outside is -52 degree C. But, for your comfort we have maintained a comfortable 25 C". Those were the pilot's words onboard our air plane.

But this plane journey was different. For, we were flying over mountains, passes, valleys and rivers - that was a sea of snow and a desert of ice. From the top, you could see the pinnacles of ice basking in the sun on one side and their long, drawn shadows contrasting them on the other end. Most spectacular were the ridges that appeared to resemble a "mountain grid" which extended to the horizon. There were huge, frozen rivers that snaked their way across the valleys. And when the valleys ended, it was the peaks and passes. If you landed here by a freaking chance - you could no doubt get featured in "struggle for survival" series.

I was travelling to Leh and in the winter, the only way to commute is by air, when Leh resembles an island. From what I had read and heard, they say, it was supposed to be an experience to remember! Never had I seen such a mind boggling, gargantuan network of mountains below me. And there existed only two shades – white and black. This sight itself was a revelation - one of the high points of the trip. Somewhere below were Rohtang Pass, More Plains, Tanglang La, Baralacha La and we crossed them without even breaking a sweat. But they are there, mighty and frozen. And they will wake up from their slumber when all the ice has melted into streams and the sun has gotten stronger in the sky. And then there will be stories of grit, pain and joy of travelling over grasslands and barren mountains, cracking blue sky and damp cloudy ones and sometimes highways that shine and shimmer like "runways". My holiday had finally started!

A vacation is a high point from where life starts anew. It is the completion of a cycle, the end of a chapter of the hardships and a vent to the junk that life had become during all the past few months. And it would replenish the soul, spin off new thoughts, cultivate new energies, provide new direction, filter good thoughts, build a stream of positivity, clean up the dust that had settled in the mind; discover the joy in doing seemingly small things of life - stand of the edge of a mountain, stretch the hands and lift the heels, drink in the sunshine and breathe in the fresh air; understand how basic our needs are, understand Freedom, soar like a bird or roam around a wild jungle, not bothered by boundaries and devoid of timelines. These are the days when life is being rejuvenated, it is being created; the damage that was done is being repaired.

On a cold, clear night, under the benign sky glittering with the stars, come out of your tent, watch how calm nature can be and how enormous the mountains are. Open your heart out to them and feel how much they can absorb everything that you throw to them. Ponder for a moment how much this life means to you and how fortunate we are actually to see the world around us - spend intimate moments with our loved ones, smell the fragrance of the fresh earth and hear the gurgle of the stream. The rust that had gathered will fade away and there will be clean shining edges which you never thought earlier existed.

View from Shanti Stupa
The Air I Breathe - Leh-_dsc4765.jpg

Light and Shadows
The Air I Breathe - Leh-_dsc4774.jpg

Most of these photos were taken from Leh to Lamayuru.
The Air I Breathe - Leh-_dsc4856.jpg

The Air I Breathe - Leh-_dsc4873.jpg

The Air I Breathe - Leh-_dsc4908.jpg

The Air I Breathe - Leh-_dsc4918.jpg

The Air I Breathe - Leh-_dsc4931.jpg

Barren Tree
The Air I Breathe - Leh-_dsc4956.jpg

Black Tarmac
The Air I Breathe - Leh-_dsc4975.jpg

Motor car
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Prayer wheels
The Air I Breathe - Leh-_dsc5042.jpg

Thats not me!
The Air I Breathe - Leh-_dsc5046.jpg

The Air I Breathe - Leh-_dsc5073.jpg

Last edited by sayakc : 7th May 2015 at 14:20.
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Old 6th May 2015, 22:59   #3
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Default re: The Air I Breathe - Leh

A few more minutes and the descent commenced. A brown plateau, interspaced with white patches of snow, appeared through the clouds. Houses, metalled roads, military installations indicated that we were hovering above Leh town. At the exit, I was bracing myself for a "cold shock". But the captain announced that it was -3 C and bright and sunny and the cold outside didn’t hurt. Swarms of gun toting army men, with faces covered stood on the edges of the air strip. The helicopters, army transport planes that hung around the Leh airport indicated a very busy military life. It always intrigues me, how India's mountains and military are closely intertwined with each other. After I walked out of the airport, rolling over the photos which I had captured, I got an Omni and as it fired up revving through the streets...

Leh, with its remoteness enhanced by the scores of mountains, and its harshness amplified by the fierce, winter cold looked like a foreign land vastly different from the rest of India. I had read about stories of one of the most remotest and fiercest corners of India - Turkestan La, Indira Col, Sia Kangri - and Leh seemed to be the gateway to that rare, rare piece of this world. It hit me the very first time I landed there. It created a positive impression, a heartwarming effect. You instantly start liking it. You have read about it so much, its welcome raised the bar. It is no more the secret, hidden land that it was once, being one of the highly documented and photographed lands of India. But it’s frozen streams, barren poplar trees, deserted streets, moving shadows of the clouds, inky blue skies, gargantuan mountains and closed hotels are probably remnants of a frenetic, crazy, carnival like summer, which I can only visualize for now.

The Air I Breathe - Leh-_dsc4720.jpg

Leh from Air
The Air I Breathe - Leh-_dsc4738.jpg

The Road
The Air I Breathe - Leh-_dsc4746.jpg

Barren trees
The Air I Breathe - Leh-_dsc4751.jpg

Leh Palace(Not sure)
The Air I Breathe - Leh-_dsc4758.jpg

Leh town
The Air I Breathe - Leh-_dsc4786.jpg

The Air I Breathe - Leh-_dsc4836.jpg

The Zanskar
The Air I Breathe - Leh-_dsc4894.jpg

Coloured Landscape
The Air I Breathe - Leh-_dsc4909.jpg

Mineral Mountains
The Air I Breathe - Leh-_dsc4912.jpg

The Air I Breathe - Leh-_dsc4938.jpg

Lamayuru II
The Air I Breathe - Leh-_dsc5072.jpg

Last edited by sayakc : 6th May 2015 at 23:03.
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Old 6th May 2015, 23:29   #4
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Default re: The Air I Breathe - Leh

Leh had started to grow on me, and along with that, are the seeds of rejuvenation of the body and the mind. There is an ever increasing happiness - the weariness in me is slowly lifting up, the tired soul is being enriched with new found life and there is a soft, tenderness that started to grow somewhere in me. I closed my eyes and breathed in the air as its crisp, freshness started to invigorate my senses. The pulses inside me are racing and the tons are entrapped energy getting liberated. It nourishes my mind and fires up my senses . I feel that am coming back to life!

The Air I Breathe - Leh-_dsc4783.jpg

The Air I Breathe - Leh-_dsc4787.jpg

The Air I Breathe - Leh-_dsc4853.jpg

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Did we ever think about those birds flying high in the sky returning home at dusk or a barefooted walk in a dew soaked grass field or standing near a wild sea watching is waves rise up and crash down?

Have we really thought what is the greatest gift that we have?
Wondered how basic our needs are?
And pondered how little things of our life can keep us happy?

The very fact that I am breathing in the air, walking amidst nature, holding the hands of my son and answering his innumerable questions is a joy beyond anything that can probably be there. Getting to live every moment of it and doing the things we love to do. Did we really think that we have been gifted to see, touch and feel these and several things more? This life Ė isnít it the greatest gift in itself? It is probably divine. And we are fortunate enough to have been born the way we all are. That we are getting to see so many things and experiencing several others is proof enough of this gift. That we have been sent to live through an experience, leave our footprints, may be remember a few things and be remembered by many more?

The Air I Breathe - Leh-_dsc4898.jpg

The Air I Breathe - Leh-_dsc4899.jpg

The Air I Breathe - Leh-_dsc4911.jpg

We had always wondered about the struggle to earn money to fulfill the needs and desires of life. But in that mad, menacing race, when we are rushing, being watched by scores of others, the dreams which we had dreamt get hidden under intensity of the race. And when we finally realize that we have been swept afar from the path of our dreams, we know that it is too late. We have been imprisoned by our filial responsibilities, financial obligations, and professional liabilities. All the time we were made to believe that we were free, we just werenít. We were being dragged from our school, to college and then to a job. All the time we were being hypnotized that we would be getting a better life. But did we even bother at that stage what a better life actually meant?

The Air I Breathe - Leh-_dsc5022.jpg

The Air I Breathe - Leh-_dsc5035.jpg

The Air I Breathe - Leh-_dsc5103.jpg

The Air I Breathe - Leh-_dsc5139.jpg

Last edited by Aditya : 8th May 2015 at 12:03.
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Old 7th May 2015, 22:28   #5
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There are hotels everywhere, along every lane of the town - but most are closed and a few that are open don't have vacant rooms. It takes a long time to finally find one open. But the owner is clear at the outset about the service. Even the simple affair of tea, toasts and omelet which I had ordered takes a long time to come.

Pipelines are frozen; electricity is available for only a few hours in the evening, labour isn’t available and so isn’t water, trees have shed their leaves, people have migrated to warmer lands and business is low and slow.
If summers are carnival like, merry, then the winters are spartan. It appears like the entire town has slipped into hibernation. It is the winter of shortages and scarcity.

When I arrived here, I knew only too well what to expect. I hadn't spent my money to buy myself a new pair of shoes or a fancy jacket. Nor did I spend to buy myself a luxurious holiday. I had come to a land, where, its own people had fled to warmers pastures. Where difficulty was etched in the very routine. I had come here to learn new things, explore a cold frozen world and practice a new way of life. I came with a lot of dreams, hope and expectations. And this welcome just seemed to be the gateway to the wonderland which I had envisaged.

The Air I Breathe - Leh-_dsc5023.jpg

The Air I Breathe - Leh-_dsc5036.jpg

The Air I Breathe - Leh-_dsc4980.jpg

The Air I Breathe - Leh-_dsc5044.jpg

The Air I Breathe - Leh-_dsc5075.jpg

The cup of tea on the table has gone cold as I soak in the cold, dry air. The drone of a helicopter, that flies overhead, reaches the ears and disappears soon after. It is almost afternoon, and I go out for a walk along the streets of the town. order momos for lunch. Apparently momos served at "momo-land" aren’t that tasty. A closed shop with "Masala Cold Drinks" menu catches my eye. The Motorcycle service center is open but there are no customers. The streets look sad and lonely. And sometimes the wind blows cold and hard across the trees and bites me, which makes me dig my hands deeper into the jacket pockets.The stagnant water in the drains have turned to hard ice and I can see water gushing under them.

An old woman, walking towards me from the opposite direction, stops momentarily and wishes “Julley” – she remained the only person whom I saw in my walk towards Shanti stupa.

I climb up the stairs, turning back often to see the scenery as I reach higher. As I reach the top, the bright afternoon sun gets mild and cold. The snow sparkles against the pitch dark shadows of the clouds. Scores of roof tops lie hidden within mazes of brown trees, the Leh palace perched precariously on a hill yonder, rows of hills that turn from brown to white as they grow higher and a jet black road that cuts a divide in the landscape with minuscule military trucks that ride on top of them – it’s a land of contrasts, one that is vivid and varied and where urbanization has plowed deeply - so typical of the Leh we all know.

The Air I Breathe - Leh-_dsc4971.jpg

The Air I Breathe - Leh-_dsc5117.jpg

The Air I Breathe - Leh-_dsc4861.jpg

The Air I Breathe - Leh-_dsc4904.jpg

The Air I Breathe - Leh-_dsc4910.jpg

Last edited by sayakc : 8th May 2015 at 11:34.
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Old 7th May 2015, 23:36   #6
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On the way down from the Stupa, walking through the roads, where light has started to fade gradually in the post afternoon hours, a beautiful country side moment comes alive. Smoke, from an open hearth has accumulated as a dense layer at the roof level of the houses. And a couple of old men, sitting on a bench, outside a house are drinking pots of tea with laughter etched in their wrinkled faces.

It is a calm, joyous moment which reaffirms the faith in simplicity. A life that has lesser needs. Is a little less hungry. May be a little less busy. One that is organic, simple, imbibed from the nature around us and which gives back to nature what it has accrued. Where every day of the life has a deep meaning, and every moment of those days breath the very reason we life. May be to write a new story, turn a new page, discover new things and find happiness in the trivial things of life (which, otherwise we choose to ignore). It should be effortless. It should be fresh and everyday should be happy and vibrant.

But on the contrary, we sometimes try so hard at it that its strings break and cannot reconcile ourselves later. I cannot recollect the happiness, which I feel in me, when I return home from office and the son runs towards me Ė his face electric with a big, big smile. Or a cold, misty evening with friends spent beside a roaring bonfire, sharing stories from the yore. The pleasure of space, the warmth of sunshine, shades of trees, a walk amongst nature, a perpetual cycle of happiness that is built around the tenets of the very essence of nature.

Pause. Thatís the right word. A life that is built around a pause.

I spent the evening with the others who have arrived and decide that four of us will visit Lamayuru the next day. The night is a simple meal of Rajma, chawal and paneer. And I go off to sleep.

The Air I Breathe - Leh-_dsc4943.jpg

The Air I Breathe - Leh-_dsc4991.jpg

The Air I Breathe - Leh-_dsc4987.jpg

The Air I Breathe - Leh-_dsc4990.jpg

The Air I Breathe - Leh-_dsc4989.jpg
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Old 8th May 2015, 12:37   #7
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Thread moved from the Assembly Line (The "Assembly Line" Forum section) to the Travelogues Section. Thanks for sharing!
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Old 8th May 2015, 13:06   #8
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Breath taking images!! One might think that with time each and every angle or perspective of Leh would have been captured, but along comes someone like you and shows the region in an all together new light.

And superb narration, rated a well deserved 5 stars!
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Old 8th May 2015, 13:16   #9
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Default re: The Air I Breathe - Leh

Beautiful pictures Sayak. They are really breathtaking. Loved the images of the mountains clicked while descending. Saw the pictures in one go. Now reading the log.

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Old 8th May 2015, 14:38   #10
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Excellent pictures, You have captured the spirit of the place well. Makes me want to go there some time soon.
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Old 8th May 2015, 16:34   #11
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Man, you know the art of Photography!! This is simply superb. The landscape is so enticing, it literally invites you there.. Awesome pictures Bro. Hoping to do the same myself sometime.
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Old 8th May 2015, 16:50   #12
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The poetic narration combined with the jaw dropping images can make anyone go through the "introspective experience". Thanks for an amazing share. The fact that I'm reading this on a terribly hot summer day makes me quite jealous, but this "cooling thread" is just what the doctor ordered.
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Old 8th May 2015, 17:31   #13
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Default Re: The Air I Breathe - Leh

When I see a travelogue from you I know two things for sure - there will be superb narration and breath-taking pictures. The pen and the camera sing in your hands!

Way to go Sayak!
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Old 8th May 2015, 17:40   #14
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Whoa! Now that i have read this, I have a new life goal.
But, those fantastic pictures tell the whole story. Really amazing!
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Old 8th May 2015, 19:50   #15
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Default Re: The Air I Breathe - Leh

Superb Narration, Stunning pictures , what better way to capture the mesmerizing beauty of heaven on earth. I have been yearning to drive down to Leh since ages now and this has just strengthened my resolve to do it at the first available opportunity. Thanks for sharing.
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