Friday, August 17, 2012

Karsha Gompa, Zanskar (Ladakh).

Karsha Gompa (Monastery) in Zanskar, Ladadkh
The population of Ladakh is predominantly buddhist, and this is reflected in the landscape of the region - which is dotted with Gompas (monasteries). Most of these Gompas are imposing structures, built high on the  mountain side. The Karsha Gompa is one such imposing structures.

The village of Karsha lies 14 kilometers from Padum (which was supposed to the be starting point of our Padum-Lamayuru trek). However, we were unable to find any horseman in Padum, willing to take his horses on the difficult route we had selected. Some locals suggested that we might get lucky in Karsha. There is a motorable road from Padum to Karsha and the local jeeps charge a steep amount of Rs. 1,500/- for the return journey. Since we were already in the mood for trekking, we decided to pack our daybag with some water and snacks, and trek all the way to Karsha.

Trekking from Padum to Karsha.
We started at around 9 A.M. The sky was clear and it was bright and hot. I managed to find some caps in the local shop to cover our head (it would prove to be one of the most important piece of gear for the actual trek).

It was on this morning that we first encountered this strange phenomenon that seems to be applicable only in Ladakh. I am assuming it would be same in any high-altitude region, where there is almost no haze. Things that are very far, seem like they are just a stone throw away, but as you keep walking towards it, it never seems to get any nearer. I started calling this the "distance illusion" and I would keep encountering this throughout our journey from Padum to Lamayuru. Let me explain:

The distance illusion.
The picture above is of the Karsha Gompa. From where I stood, it looks fairly close. I assumed it would take us around 30-40 minutes to reach there. A local boy who greeted us, told me that it would take us 2 hours to reach the monastery. I thought he was joking.

It took us 3 hours.

Walking towards Karsha Gompa
The monastery seems to be etched into the side of the mountain. That small cluster of tiny houses by the side of the mountain is the Karsha Gompa.

Karsha Gompa at the base of the mountain.
It was noon by the time we reached the base of the monastery. We were exhausted, and my son groaned when he saw the steep climb to reach the top of the monastery.

People climbing to the top of the Gompa.
We took frequent breaks, but finally managed to reach the top. The view from the top is breathtaking, and you can see the whole valley. Padum looks very close from here, due to the distance illusion.

View of Padum valley, with the imposing mountains as the backdrop.
There was a reason why we wanted to reach the top of the monastery. Every year, the monastery holds an annual 3-day festival, and today was the last day of that festival. This was our first encounter of a buddhist festival.

Festival at the Karsha Gompa.
The locals were already gathered for the festivities. There was no shade available, and we were getting hot and tired. There were plenty of foreigners too - some of them had travelled all the way to Karsha - just for the event. We learned that this is the only time during the year, when the public can see the high priests of the Gompa.

The Karsha Gompa Festival.
The program started at around 1 P.M. It started with monks arriving with trumpets and drums, with dancing and parades.

A monk lighting the candles to start the festivities.
Parade of people and animals.
I would have loved to stay for the entire event, but my son had enough, and the sun was making it unbearable for us to stay any longer. We decided to head back to Padum.

My brother wanted to walk all the way back to our hotel, which would take us another 3 hours but I thought it would be too risky to walk in such hot sun, and I did not want to risk getting sun stroke. We hired a jeep and returned back to the hotel.

Oh...and regarding the horses, we did find one horseman (perhaps the only horseman) who was willing to take his horses to Lamayuru. We immediately paid him a down-payment and agreed to meet him the next morning in Pishu (a liitle further from Karsha) to commence our trek.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing:) looking forward for the next doze.