Black carpeted highway surrounded with massive mountains dotted with monasteries is what we had in mind while riding on the Leh-Kargil highway but who would have thought that the winds would play villain. We were caught in bad weather and strong gust of wind took us by surprise. There was no way that we could continue riding our bike when strong winds were swaying our bike with a gross weight of more than 350 kg. Forget bikes, the wind was so strong that even massive Four Wheeler SUVs were swaying on the road and the drivers had little control over their vehicle. We were grateful as we were very close to our next destination- Likir and we somehow managed to reach Likir.
Likir Village is one of the most beautiful locations in Ladakh and famous for it's monastery, which is also one of the wealthiest monasteries in Ladakh. Likir means "Nagas Encircled" representing the bodies of two great serpent spirits- Nanda and Taksako that guard it. Also known as Klu Kkhyil Gompa, it was constructed in 11th century but was destroyed in fire and was rebuilt in 18th century. It also houses a 75 feet statue of Maitreya Buddha covered in gold.
This massive monastery was the first one where we saw a map that would be a guide for travelers which surely is of great help as a few hours are definitely required to experience and understand the history and beauty surrounding this multi storeyed monastery. It has several places of worship that have exquisite wall painting, lovely thankas and age old Buddhist scriptures very well preserved and neatly wrapped in silk. The terrace of the monastery can be easily accessed and the views of the surrounding hills from here are killer. There is also a museum inside the monastery.
Likir was the first Monastery where we saw an in house museum. The museum is a treasure trove and has several antiquities with most of them at least 500 years old. They also house massive musical wind instruments. Among the several amazing exhibits, the ones to watch out for are two wooden screws carved with great precision, the colorful and lively masks that are stunning pieces of woodcraft, in particular the mask of Yamaraj was very scary. Several artifacts, including a skull, were supposedly used for tantrik purposes.
The monastery also has a school within the complex and they offer complimentary black tea to every visitor. We had a wonderful time catching up with the lamas and other travelers. Another amazing aspect about this monastery was that it offers stay options at a very affordable price and the proceeds are used to help educate the young lamas. This stay option not just offers great experience to stay with the lamas but also allows one to attend classes with them, dine with them and know more about the lives of the Monks.
Right outside Likir monastery is an amazing garden restaurant with stay options 'Gompa Restaurant.' It was a pleasant surprise to see a cafe in such a location serve amazing nutella pancakes. Our cold early mornings were made perfect at this restaurant which provided beautiful view of the gompa as we relished our breakfast and sipped hot and fresh ginger, lemon and honey tea.
Likir village is as stunning and beautiful as the monastery. The villagers are very warm and friendly, always smiling and love to greet everyone be it a known person or stranger with "Juley" which is nothing but Namste or a hello. It was really nice to see that they were so welcoming and happy. This seemed to be a common feature of Ladakhis in general and not just limited to Likir. We went out for long walks in the evening around the village and the roads were sparkling clean. Local livestock took over the streets and many age old monuments stood guard and the majestic prayer wheel in the middle of the village echoed around the village when kissed by the wind.
What was even more amazing was to see a squeaky clean water body run through the village. The so called uneducated villagers managed to keep the water body- elixir of life, completely free of garbage and plastic. They have the sense not to pollute natural resources. Something we so called convent educated city folks have miserably failed in. Proof is evident in most of the water bodies within our city limits that are nothing but gutter thanks to industrial pollutants, sewage and are not fit for consumption.
The unparalleled feature of these off beaten travel destinations are their humble home stays. No hotel could ever match up to a home stay's hospitality. We stayed with a lovely Ladakhi family that generously opened their home and hearts to host us. They offer very comfortable rooms with stunning views. Though basic they are very clean with common and attached bath but there is no running water. In old school style, we got generous quantity of water delivered to our room. Going by the name "Smanla Homestay," this beautiful home is located just 5 km away from the monastery and is bang opposite the High School.
Who needs modern luxuries when there is a massive organic garden around and the home is surrounded with willow and poplar trees. Our hosts gave us a detailed tour of the green house that had organically grown strawberries and their farm also had carrots, beans, spinach and cabbage plus apricot trees. We got to taste not just yummy strawberries but also apricots right from their garden. Bang in the middle of their garden was a solar panel that could be used for cooking. It was so astounding and envious to see our hosts live such an organic and healthy lifestyle.
This perfectly reflected in the lip smacking food they served us for dinner. We were in awe the minute we entered the kitchen as the fragrance and aroma of the home cooked dishes filled the entire room. The kitchen had several utensils that were neatly arranged and gave us a museum feel and it was one of the cleanest kitchens that we have ever seen. Our modern day ultra modern expensive kitchen would just not stand a chance. Comfortable cushions and small table made the dining room look even more prettier. Dinner was served with so much love in their traditional Ladakhi kitchen. A very simple meal of dal, rice, boiled egg and vegetables had us licking not just our fingers but plates too. We finished our dinner with piping hot mint tea.
They had a solar heater which converted ice cold stream water to piping hot water in seconds. All we had to do was pour water from inlet pipe and instantly via the outlet pipe piping hot water was delivered. We were so amazed that we repeated the process several times just for the heck of it. Another fact that amazed us was that these households were devoid of taps and they have unending source of clean stream water channelized to their homes and fields through pipes and canals.
|Solar Panel used for Cooking|
Collectively as a system and society we have failed them. At a very rapid pace younger generations from the traditional farming families are migrating to cities in search of alternate livelihood. Fertile farm lands are being converted to real estate plots at an even more alarming pace. Sooner than expected we will all have a lot of money but nothing to eat. We might have money but food grains could get way too expensive or become a luxury. Our hosts treated us to unadulterated farm fresh milk from their domesticated cow and the curd made from it was also awesome. The fresh milk was boiled and served to us in matter of minutes. The cow is only fed natural grass as fodder. After a day long field work we were famished and had very good homemade food.
Right after dinner, while walking back to our room we were in for a delightful experience of star gazing. Thanks to the village's pollution free environment, it was an absolute stunning magical star lit sky. Though we had no idea about the constellation we had a lovely time looking up at this mesmerizing romantic sight. Simple things in life such as this are most treasured moments. We were very lucky to see four shooting stars in a matter of minutes. After a long and tiring day, this awesome experience served as a perfect ending and we slept like babies.