Having slept some 14 hours yesterday and skipped dinner, I wake up raring to face the world of mountains!
Breakfast is poori, of which I have promised myself not to partake, and end up having three! Chana, baked beans (boring!), toast with butter which has been melted into a puddle of yellow liquid on the side, and some fantastic apricot jam, which they hide carefully under the counter and bring out only when the cognoscenti, such as us, having spent many Himalayan holidays (feel so posh saying that!) ask for! Well, I noticed the apricots in full bloom yesterday even through my sick state and had to ask!
Easy start at shortly after nine to go on the road. Our driver, Mohammed Ali, is very concerned about my health today…and decides to adopt me..as his mother..he lost his some time ago and and wants to take care of me since he can’t do anything for her! I am nothing loth and secretly pleased…he keeps an eye out and ties up my shoelaces when they come off and I don’t notice…much to my embarrassment!
As we drive, What strikes you is the colour…everything is a neutral dun or khaki colour…the wattle and daub ( I have finally found a place I can legitimately use the term and I AM going to use it!) is like wet khaki clay, miles of wall likewise, the mountains we pass through today, heading eastward, for, part of the great Himalayan desert…again a neutral khaki! But, you raise your eyes and the glorious snow topped peaks make up for the browns…
We stop at Shey palace and climb slowly, very slowly….catching my breath every third step. PS is in far better shape and keeps going ahead and back. Need to catch my breath at his energy too!
Beautiful palace and monastery…many honeymooners pass us…very few older people…
We climb down, again steep steps and drive on on Thiksey monastery, obviously of greater importance…it is very grand and beautiful. The desert is getting to me a bit so am happy to see the oasis that Thiksey is…there are even ducks swimming in a pond! On the drive to Thiksey, we pass several smaller Buddhist temples and one which Mohammed Ali informs us is where the Dalai Lama stays when he comes…his tone indicates he doesn’t think much of the great man! But then, Ali comes from Kargil, where the populace is largely Muslim and he doesn’t think much of anyone else, I think! Informs me there are a few Christians here and loads of Buddhists but almost no Hindus!
Interesting guy this..he doesn’t look at all like the rest of the Ladakhis we have met, all apple cheeked and grinning away, looks more like the pictures you see of a rugged mn of the mountains. What strikes me about him is the number of friends the guy has – everywhere! We are driving along a highway – NH1, no less – nary a car in sight….one trundles along…both slow down…windows are rolled down and there is much slapping of hands and bonhomie …this happens again and again through our twelve day sojourn!
Tough climb again to the top of Thiksey to see the prayer halls (no wonder these guys are so fit!) …worth it though, the golden Buddha is immense and equally awe inspiring…a monastery established some 400 years ago! Apparently the king and his family shifted here in the 1800s…did the royals really climb or did their palanquin bearers carry them up? All the wattle and daub buildings are supported by the most beautifully carved and painted wooden rafters inside and out…
Down again, clutching knees and sundry parts to support them! Lunch at a really nice veggie restaurant full of Chinese pilgrims…hmmmm….no meat? The saag is so fresh it’s almost the plant! Old fashioned warm custard with raisins and nuts for pud….haven’t eaten this one in a while!
Quiet rest of the day…
Ladakhi cuisine is simple and flavoursome…but with the valley being closed off for a good six months in the year with snows shutting off all the passes and temperatures plummeting to 25 below zero and in cases, well below that too, the growing season is short and the cuisine depends almost completely on locally grown produce – till the Srinagar – Leh road opens up for traffic by mid- May! Food is necessarily simple!
With my passion for baking bread growing by the day, was happy to discover this little gem of a steamed bread with a name as cute as it is – Ting-mo! (Pronounced teemo, but i prefer to pronounce it the way it’s written!)
Whole wheat flour – 2 cups
Plain flour – 2 cups
Yeast – 1.5 sachets
Sugar – 1 tbsp
Salt – 1 tsp plus a large pinch
Mix everything together. Add water a little at a time and knead well till elastic. Takes about ten to twelve minutes. Cover and set aside till doubled in volume.
Pinch a large ball of dough and roll out into a large chapati about a quarter inch thick. Grease with a little oil. Roll tightly up. Cut into chunks, about 1.5 inches wide.
Stretch out the chunk till long and thin – about 8 ” by 2″. Fold longitudinally. Fold again vertically – cutting the length in half.holding the folded edge in, carefully fold over your forefinger into a little turbanshowing many open folds! Make many!
Steam for 15 minutes in a bamboo steamer. Or an idli stand!
Serve with a steamy hot soup…
Will post pics when I make them, guys – it’s 41 C in Madras and I am longing for the Himalayan breezes…