Saturday, August 17, 2013

Visiting Likir

Ladakh – the moonland of Monasterires
(Visiting Likir)

The famed Likir Monastery
         The cold conditions that had made us beat a hasty retreat the previous night in Leh had turned into a full fledged thunderstorm the next day.  We started for our visit to Lamayuru Monastery early in the morning on 15th June, 2013.   It was an overcast and dull day and we had not forgotten to carry our heavy woolens, having had a bad experience the previous night and this lesson that we learned, helped us during our stay in Ladakh during the entire duration of the tour.  We went past the Leh airport and headed forward on the Leh-Srinagar highway.  Situated 25 Kilometers from Leh was our first stop, was a Gurudwara named Pathar Sahib.  The Gurdwara stands at the place where Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikh religion and the first guru, is believed to have vanquished a demon.  Situated in predominantly Buddhist Ladakh, Gurudwara Pathar Sahib is also worshipped and venerated by Buddhists. Tibetan Buddhists venerate Guru Nanak as Guru Gompka Maharaj and as Nanak Lama.  According to legend, during his visit to Ladakh, Guru Nanak was attacked by a demon. The demon threw a large boulder on the guru as he sat at the base of a hill meditating. However, the rock became soft like molten wax and failed to cause any harm to the Sikh guru.  The demon was in for a surprise when he found the Sikh guru unscathed. Bristling with fury, the demon tried to crush Guru Nanak by kicking the boulder with all his might. To his surprise, the demon’s foot caused a deep impression in the boulder which had turned soft. Realizing that the man in front of him was no mortal soul, the demon underwent a transformation and stopped harassing the people.  The boulder and the legend associated with it were forgotten with the passage of time. The boulder was re-discovered again during the construction of Leh-Nimu road in 1970s.  Construction work was brought to a halt by a huge boulder and despite all efforts it could not be removed.

Entry Gate to Pathar Sahib Gurdwara on Nanak Hill
Panoramic view of Pathar Sahib Gurdwara
          Further 5 kms. ahead i.e. at a distance of about 30 Kms. from Leh, was the next halt right on the highway, where an unexplained phenomenon occurs, known as the ‘Magnetic hill’, a short stretch of road that defies Earth’s gravitational force and it appears that the vehicles and even water bottles move upwards, instead of downwards as per norms.  The layman’s tale is that the hill is alleged to possess magnetic properties and is strong enough to pull cars uphill and force passing aircraft to increase their altitude in order to escape magnetic interference. In reality, the effect is because of an optical illusion and there is no magnetic disturbance in the area at all.  As we proceed further, we reach the ‘Sangam’, the confluence of the mighty Sindhu or Indus River with its tributary, the Zanskar River.  It is also a must visit destination for the tourists and some even drive down to the valley below, at the actual site of the confluence, where a small temple like structure stands.  The road thereafter, passes through Nimmu village, wherein we had an interesting altercation where we found a mineral water supplier was de-boarding the crates, on inquiry he agreed to sell entire crates and we purchased two crates from him.  This infuriated the local shop keeper who started fighting with the supplier, when I had to interject of settle the issue, where after we reached the Basgo plains.

The Magnetic Hill in Ladakh

The road to Magnetic Hill

The panoramic view of the 'Sangam' - Confluence of Sindhu/Indus with Zanskar River

Close up of the 'Sangam' in Ladakh

The Basgo plains - distant view of Nimmu village
           Basgo is an ancient village situated at a distance of 42 Kms. from Leh.  The present kingdom of Ladakh owes its existence to this village, as the Lower Ladakh region was ruled by King Tapabum from Basgo and Upper Ladakh by Kind Takbumde from Leh and Shey.  The successor of Lower Ladakh, King Bhagan reunited the entire Ladakh region by overthrowing the king of Upper Ladakh and assumed the surname of Namgyal, meaning ‘victorious’ in Tibetan and this lineage exists till date.  During its glorious days during the reign on King Tashi Namgyal (1555-1575), not only did he repel all the Central Asian raiders, he built a royal fort on top of Namgyal Peak as well.  His successor King Tsewang Namgyal temporarily extended the kingdom as far as Nepal.  Thus, Basgo hold a very important position in the history of Ladakh.  At present there is a castle known as Basgo Rabtan Lhartsekhar is situated atop a clay hill.  The monastery complex within, built by father-son duo of Dharmaraja Jamyang Namgyal and Singay Namgyal respectively, houses the ‘Golden Maitreya’ statute of Lord Buddha, made up of copper gilt about two storey high.  There is also an image of Lord Buddha made of clay that is three storey high, which is visible from the top of the castle.  The ruins of a temple & stupa built by the famous monk & translator Rinchen Zangpo can also be seen.  Due to intense rain and the clay composition of the region, I did not visit Basgo and have culled images from the internet for the viewers.
Panoramic view of Basgo Monastery

The Basgo Buddha image - taken from net (name of photographer at bottom left hand corner)
            Having gone past Basgo, we headed towards the Likir Monastery or Likir Gompa (Klud-kyil), which is a Buddhist monastery in Ladakh, located approximately 52 kilometers west of Leh  on the Leh-Kargil-Srinagar Highway, a little off the main road. It is placed on a hilltop in the valley near the Indus River and the village of Saspol about 10 Kms. north of the Srinigar to Leh highway. It belongs to the Gelugpa sect or Yellow Hats of Tibetan Buddhism and was established in 1065 by Lama Duwang Chosje, under the command of the fifth king of Ladakh, Lhachen Gyalpo (Lha-chen-rgyal-po).  Although Likir now appears rather out of the way, it used to be on a major trade route which traveled via Tingmosgang, Hemis and Likir to Leh during the ancient times.  The monastery is now known for housing a 23 m high gilded gold statue of Maitreya Buddha.
Panoramic view of the Likir Monastery

Inside the Likir Monastery 

The big statute of Maitreya Buddha in Likir Monastery
            The name Likir means "The Naga - Encircled", representing the bodies of the two great serpent spirits, the Naga-rajas, Nanda and Taksako. It presumably, originally belonged to the early Karmapa  order of Tibetan Buddhism.    The monastery has two assembly halls, known as Dukhangs and the older one is located on the right of the central courtyard with six rows of seats for the lamas and a throne for the Head Lama of Likir. The Dukhangs contain statues of Bodhisattava, Amitabha, three large statues of Sakyamuni, Maitreya and Tsong Khapa, founder of the yellow-hat sect.  The verandah has thangka paintings of the Guardians of the Four Directions and wheel of life mandala held by Yama and the courtyard has a large Jupiter tree, a rare species. Placed on the roof is a 23 metre (75 ft) high gilded gold statue of Maitreya (the future) Buddha. It was completed in 1999.  Besides, the annual event of Dosmochey is organized here on the 27th day to 29th day of the 12th month of the Tibetan calendar.  Having visited the monastery, whose main prayer or assembly hall was closed either because of the fact that we had reached early or because of rains, I am not aware, we retraced our steps back to the Leh-Srinagar highway heading for Alchi, about which I will describe in my next blog.

Here is the link to the video for the destination -

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Sindhu Darshan - Shinghe Khababs festival in Leh

Ladakh – the moonland of Monasteries
(Singhe Khabab’s Festival)
The famed Sindhu River banks near Shey
Despite being delayed by a day, we were able to attend the closing ceremonies of the famed Sindhu Festival or Singhe Khababs Festival, as it is now known (since 2006).   The literal meaning of which translates as ‘Singhe’ meaning ‘Lion’, ‘Khab’ means ‘Snow’ and ‘Ab’ means ‘Water’ and the mighty Sindhu River is known by this name in Ladakh, which translates roughly to ‘The Lion of Snow Water fed Rivers’ or the other translation is ‘out of Lions mouth’.  The mighty Sindhu (Indus) river symbolizes the power and permanence of the ancient Indian civilization which evolved over a period of thousands of years.  This great Trans-Himalayan river has an astonishing length of 2900 km. It rises in south-western Tibet near Mansarovar lake at an altitude of 16000 ft., enters India near Demchok in Ladakh (Jammu & Kashmir) and is soon joined on its left by its first tributary, Zanskar.  Further down, other streams like Shyok, Shigar, Hunza and Gilgit join the Sindhu bringing water from glaciers east of Nanga Parbat. Sindhu finally flows west, crosses the Kashmir border near Batalik and enters Pakistan.  The river has total drainage area of about 4,50,000 square miles, of which 1,75,000 square miles, lie in the Himalayan mountains and foothills. 
On the banks of Sindhu River at Choglamsar
The headquarters of the Drukpa Council

The ancient epic ‘Ramayana’ gives the title ‘Mahanadi’ to Sindhu, to denote ‘the mighty river’. In the ‘Mahabharata’, the Sindhu is reverentially mentioned along with the other two holy rivers, the Ganga and Saraswati. References to the Sindhu are also seen in many ancient literary works such as Kalidasa’s ‘Raghuvamsa’. The Rig Veda, has various descriptions of this mighty river. The sound of the rapidly cascading Sindhu is said to reverberate to the skies and the river is compared to a thundering bull. The river’s name comes from Sanskrit word ‘Sindhu’. It is mentioned in the Rig Veda, the earliest (c. 1500 BC) chronicles and hymns of the Aryan people of ancient India, and is the source of the country’s name. Words like Hindu, Hindustan and India have been derived from Sindhus and ‘Indus’, the name given to Sindhu by foreigners.

Evening view of Leh, as the birds head home for roosting for the night

Sindhu Darshan Festival is a festival of India held every year on full moon day (on Guru Purnima) in month of June in Leh, Ladakh.  It stretches for three days. The spirit and the message of the Sindu Darshan Festival was construed to project the Indus as a symbol of India’s unity and communal harmony and is also a symbolic salute to its brave soldiers. Mr. Lal Krishna Advani, re-discovered the Sindhu/Indus River flowing though Ladakh, when he visited Leh in 1995. Since then it has been a pilgrimage for Hindu Sindhis, who in pre-partition days, used to worship her (in Sindh District), now in Pakistan . For, the purpose that, people of India, know the importance of Sindhu River, Shri L.K. Advani (of BJP), in 1996, himself a Sindhi, visited Choglamsar (8 km from Leh ) and started Sindhu Darshan Abhiyan, with handful of Sindhis.  The first time this event was held in form of Sindhu Darshan Festival was in October, 1997.  When held for the first time, this Festival was organized in October 1997, over seventy people from all over India had traveled to Leh for a Darshan and Puja of the River Sindhu (Indus) which originates from the Mansarovar in Tibet. 
Stamp depicting Sindhu Darshan Festival (taken from the internet)
The Postal Department of Government of India issued a Postage Stamp depicting Sindhu Darshan Festival on 28 July 1999.  The project ‘Sindhu Darshan’, was started to focus attention on the heritage of the ancient Indian Civilization and Culture that ‘Sindhu’ symbolizes. It aims to celebrate the Sindhu as a symbol of this country’s ethnic diversity and to promote communal harmony. Further, attention is sought to be focused on cultural and topographical beauty of the landscape of Ladakh. These aspects are sought to be blended in the design of the First Day Cover, which also carries inscription of the hymn or 'mantra', chanted by Buddhists in the area, a prayer in praise of God. The stamp depicts a landscape in the upper reaches of the Sindhu with an inset of the famous ‘Vrishabha’ (bull) the famed seal of the 'Indus Valley Civilization and a hymn, from the ' Rig Veda', describing the Sindhu.  The movement also aims at promoting tourism in this far flung region thereby contributing towards the economic well-being of its people. 
Full blood action in the Polo match
The Ladakh Festival held in September is hosted at the same grounds
The head of the Drupka Council watching the Polo match
Later on in year 2000, on 7 June, Sindhu Darshan Festival was held with much pomp and show and was inaugurated by Sh. Atal Behari Vajpayee  the thenHonorable Prime Minister of India at Shey(15 km away from Leh).  The Prime Minister laid the foundation stone of the Sindhu Cultural Center and also inaugurated the new office complex of Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council. The complex has an open air theater, an exhibition gallery, a small library and a music room.  Auditorium in the center of the complex can accommodate 500 people at a time. People attending the festival can also shop for exquisite Ladakh handicrafts available at the stalls within the premises.  The Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, was overwhelmed after touching the waters of Sindhu River and he said and I quote –
“Some people queried about existence of Sindhu in India as described in our National Anthem but little did they know that it flows from our soil in Ladakh.”
He further added  - “Sindhu symbolised 5,000 years ethos of Indian civilization and its re-discovery will strengthen emotional integration of country.”
and quoted hymn from the Rig Veda – “Sindhu it might surpasses all the streams that flow - His roar is lifted up to heaven above the earth, he puts forth endless vigour with a flash of light, even as cow with milk rush to their calves, so other rivers roar in to Sindhu. As warrior king leads other warriors, so does Sindhu lead other rivers. Rich in good steed is Sindhu, rich in gold, nobly fashioned rich in ample wealth.”
The occasion was also marked by immersion of waters from the Bramhaputra Riverbrought by the then Chief Minister of Arunachal Pradesh, Sh.Mukut Mithi.  Brahmputra & Sindhu Rivers flow from same source i.e. Lake Mansarovar in Tibet.  In 2006, this popular spring festival of Ladakh was renamed ‘Ladakh Singhey Khabab Festival’ by the Government of Jammu and Kashmir and the Union Tourism Ministry to bring in more Ladakhi flavor and local involvement.
Women selling their wares in Leh market
Panoramic view of Leh market 
The Leh Khar Palace - panoramic view 
The famed Shanti Stupa in Leh
On the first day of the three day Sindhu Darshan Festival a reception ceremony is held for the participants, organized on the banks of Sindhu at Shey. This reception ceremony is conducted by a joint association of committees of various religious groups like the Buddhist, Muslims, Christians, Sikhs etc. under the various banners namely, Ladakh Buddhist Association, Shia Majlis, Sunni Anjuman, Christian Moravian Church, Hindu Trust and Sikh Gurudwara Prabhandak Committee, to promote national integrity. As a part of the ritual, fifty senior monks/Lamas conduct a prayer on the banks of the river. A series of cultural programs is also presented by the artists from various states of the country. A sightseeing tour is organized for the participants and the day comes to an end with a bonfire at night. After the cultural programs and sightseeing trip, a Hindu Puja is organized on the second day of the Sindhu Darshan Festival. On the third day, the finals of the Polo match are organized at the ‘Polo grounds’ in Leh and after an evening of Cultural extravaganza, the participants get ready for the departure. Leh is jam packed with thousand of tourist, especially foreigners, who flock to the hill town to be a part of these grand celebrations.  
The banner displaying the Shinghe Khababs Festival
The rendering of the musical instruments during the opening of the evening cultural program
The famed headgear worn by women of Ladakh - Perak
As I was unable to attend the opening ceremony, due to cancellation of the flight, I have described the history and details of the same as taken from the pamphlet of the festival collected by me.  After returning back to the Hotel, having visited Thiksey Monastery, Shey Palace etc., as described in the earlier blog, we headed for the Polo ground at around 4.30 P.M. on 14th June, 2013 to witness the final game being played on local ponies.  It turned out to be quite an intense affair with the locals thoroughly engrossed in the game.  Thereafter, as the cultural functions were scheduled to be held in the open air auditorium near the Shanti Stupa, we had some time in our hands to explore the Leh market and quickly explore the Leh Khar Palace.  After going around the market, we headed for the festival at around 7.00 P.M., as the cultural program was scheduled to start at around 7.30 P.M.  There was a huge congregation of people, with a substantial sprinkling of foreigners and as with all other Indian functions, it started only a little after 8.00 P.M.  As Leh was quite hot during the day, we did not expect the temperatures to fall so drastically and as we had failed to carry our pullovers, we were getting the jitters due to the cold winds that had started blowing.  Thus, we decided to head back after watching the opening of the function and some of the dances, the ones’ witnessed by me during the festivities were the –
Performing the Drugpa Rches dance
Another view of the male & female dancer performing the Drugpa Rches dance

i)        Drugpa Rches - Drugpa Rches is a dance performed by the vegetarian dwellers of Dras and Gorkhan areas of Ladakh who are of Aryan origin and is named for the fact they were originally Drugpas or nomads. In this dance men and women adorned with silver ornaments & Peraks (the traditional headgears) and flowers dance to the sound of Damman - a pair of kettledrums named “Fo and “Mo (being the two genders) played with little sticks called “Damshing” and with, “Fo having a hole in the base that permits the addition of water to lower the sound – and Surna: a wind instrument that produces a droned chord;
Performing the Jabro dance by the tribal of Changthang region

ii)      Jabro Dance - Jabro is popular folk dance of the Changpa tribe of Changthang region of Ladakh.

Here is the link to the video of the festival -