By Kunzang Dolma Stakmo, Stawa 12-18
Ladakh is famous for its natural beauty, which attracts hundreds and thousands of visitors each summer. However, winter in Ladakh too has a unique charm despite the extreme cold and related challenges. I happened to return home for few days some weeks back. As the aircraft made its way to Leh, I watched the scenery change from the window. The greenery of the plains slowly gave way to the lush hills of the lower Himalayas, which in turn gave way to the snow-capped mountains that seemed to float in the blue sky. These mountains suggested that we were approaching Ladakh. Once we landed at Leh airport, I felt like we had reached heaven. I am not being dramatic or exaggerating my feelings at the airport. As I heard people say "Juley" ask "Khamzang in a ley?" (How are you?), I instantly felt energetic and 'at home'.
In summer, Leh market is full of non-local tourists. In contrast, very few non-locals are visible in the market through the winter. Many restaurants and shops remain closed at this time of the year. People finally find time to rest and take a break from the hassles they face otherwise. During the winter, people stay at home, at their farm, or travel outside Ladakh to relax for a few months. People finally make time to meet others and regain a measure of peace in their lives.
You definitely face some difficulties and challenges in the harsh winter of Ladakh with its bitter cold. Despite this, everything seems rather peaceful and nature too makes an effort to make things seem more beautiful by adding unique colours to the region. I noticed trains of clouds floating across the clear blue sky and the blinding white snow on the top of mountains. The trees are bare after discarding their leaves but some seem to assume a reddish-brown hue while others have a peculiar bluish-white aura. All the fields are brownish-yellow and the water in the ponds turn blue with thin layers of ice on the surface. Some birds like ducks linger for the winter and crisscross the frozen landscape. It is mesmerising to witness and experience all of this.
During my stay in Leh, I was able to attend a `ldun/ ldagang' ceremony held to celebrate the birth of a child. The timing for this ceremony is not restricted to specific time of a child's age. Families generally decide to hold the ceremony when they are financially and emotionally ready or at a time that they deem to be suitable. At the ceremony, all relatives wear traditional attire and dance to traditional music. The whole ceremony was rather soulful and enriching.
Time was short but the whole family still managed to gather together for lunch. We sat outside in the balcony where we were able to bask in the sun. Though the temperature outside was several degrees below freezing, the dry weather meant that warm clothes helped us withstand the biting cold. The sun was shining so beautifully and its warmth was so overwhelming that all of us sat in the sun without worrying about getting a tan. I felt blessed to be able to spend some precious time with my family. As we sat there, we sang Ladakhi folk songs with a never-ending supply of gurgur tea.
Finally, the day of my departure dawned. I had to leave despite being asked to stay back. Many of us spend large amounts of money and long periods outside Ladakh. The hardest part of being away is being removed from our family and home. Outside Ladakh, we live in a different environment with many day-to-day hurdles. In contrast, there are many people who cannot afford to send their children outside to study despite their potential to excel. Often, their dreams remain unfulfilled. Knowing the importance of a good education, I support the demand of a full-fledged university in Ladakh. This should have been done many years back. Now that the university has been granted, I sincerely hope that this spark will grow into a beautiful and bright light in the near future.