Thursday, August 16, 2007


I'm in Leh, the capital of the northern region of Ladakh. The area is mostly Tibetan Buddhist, and Tibetan refugees sell scarves and jewelry in the bazaar. It's strange to think of them as refugees: when I think of refugees, I think of people in squalid camps who are completely dependent on the largesse of the host country and ostracized from the host population, but here, Tibetans seem to be the majority in this area. And the biggest thing in town is the Dalai Lama, who has been giving talks for the last few days in a nearby campground. I can hear honking all around the neighboring fields. I think the entire town and region is driving over to see him. The guesthouse manager said the car would come at 6:30am for those who wanted to go, even though the speech would not begin until 8:30am --and just 7 km away.

Still, not everyone here is Buddhist. A little after 5am, a Moslem call to prayer sounded, long and incantatory. Perhaps a half hour later, it was the low drone of Buddhist horns. After that, the long high crows of roosters. Not unpleasant at all. The sun came out at a little before six, and the air smells smoky and sweet. It is so beautiful here, in the river oasis of this high desert: poplar trees stand with branches vertical, like people with arms at their sides. Barley fields have wide and variously-directed whorls. Cows wander down the narrow town lanes, moo-ing very loudly.

Which brings to mind the flight up here from Delhi, past the gigantic foothills of the Himalayas, moving higher to the actual mountain range. Large patches of snow cap the peaks of reddish-brown mountains and disappear down steep flanks cut jagged by the wind. In the morning light, the mountains resembled a skinny cow, its spotted hide stretched taut over its ribs.

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