Wed. 31st July
My ‘job’ has ceased, unless Val finds herself in the kind of situation we’ve had over the weekend. Couples and threesomes would arrive unannounced and expect a full service.
In the case of two elderly sisters – one of whom suffered such altitude sickness that she turned blue and we were working out the logistics of getting a corpse out of here – this entailed changing money at the bank, buying a big bag of ‘sweeties’ and generally ensuring that they survived.
A septuagenarian Australian couple had been everywhere, seen everything and prefered the USA because there they could eat big beef steaks. In reality of course, they saw nothing, their journeys were mere marks on their passports and they were a pain in the arse. We had little sympathy with their travel plight which saw them marooned at Lamarayu by the collapse of the road.
My ’employ’ had some perks though, including six free evening meals, on the trot, at a variety of hotels, and 10% sales commission, a total of 210 rupees, from Nisar’s Art Palace. Tourist’s souvenir purchases will have subsidised my own souvenirs, hopefully a tape of Ladhaki folk music to be put on cassette by the local radio station, a shoulder bag, pair of yin-yang rings and, if I can find one, a Tibetan door lock, preferably a genuine artefact.
(I got a cassette but not a padlock. I also bought up the town’s stock of tongue scrapers. .)
I am now entering the phase of planning my leaving of Ladakh. There are many things yet to do, but in leaving them undone I am also mentally leaving the door open for a return. I could yet visit Zanskar by bus or lorry, but would be unable to be anything other than a fleeting transient There are many monastic villages unseen, paintings unbrushed, thoughts ungathered and a language unlearnt.
Many of my memories I aim to immortalise in the ten days or so I have left. No doubt though, I will be sidetracked by people and passing whims; like one’s holiday snaps, the intensity of feelings when capturing the moments fades with time. The here and now remain my immediate concerns and values.
How can one snap the the distinctive smells and sounds of a place? Here, today, with the retreat of the monsoon a couple of days ago, the intensity of the sun and the stillness of the breeze exacerbates the evaporation of excreta deposited in the streets by itinerant cows, the nightwatchful dogs, the occasional nomadic trains of sheep and donkeys, the polo horses in training for the annual festival, and the well-fed humans, like me last night, caught short too far from the security of a home-based loo.
Another time I would hope to stay outside the town, amongst the fertile fields with the sights, sounds and smells of the rural economy which sustains Ladakh year round and not just in the short tourist season.
For the present stay I have enjoyed the immediacy of town life and hearing its rhythms. The night sounds which pull one from sleep are isolated and sometimes one has to wake and listen. There’s the muezzin’s 4am call to prayer for the Muslim faithful as well as the atonal bass notes of duetting dungchens (Tibetan Buddhist long horns – listen here.) from the gompas above the city alerting us to a pending festival.
Then the general hubbub of the day starts, often with a neighbour’s radio switched on for Ladakhi folk songs, interrupted on the hour with a news summary, too distant to decipher yet instantly recognisable as such through the portentous solemnity of the news reader’s voice. So tantalising is the absence of the world ‘out there’. One remains immune from the problems of political and economic developments, yet trying to make sense of the rumours transported here by incomers.
The constant aural pegs remain young children in laughter and tears; the loud effusive greetings which, in the absence of a clear understanding of the language, could well be construed as threatening.
Above our heads there is the comforting cooing of the pigeons nesting in the rafters. And, above all, we have the comfort of the Indian air force displaying its aeronautics. It is then that I gratefully switch on my Walkman so I can switch off.