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Ladakh, where Buddhist spirituality, culture reign supreme



IANS Photo IANS Video Making of Neerja | Starring So... Subscribe To Affiliates IANS PhotoIANS VideoIANS MultimediaIANS HindiIANS LiveBusiness WireBollywood CountryIANS publishingIANS SoftwareIANS ConsultancyPR Newswire Common Links Advanced Search All the Headlines Back to index2016-09-29 A | A- | A+ Ladakh, where Buddhist spirituality, culture reign supreme

Leh, Sep 29 : Ladakh — once the hub of the ancient Silk Route — is aptly described as a place where Buddhist spirituality and its ancient culture reign supreme amidst virgin nature.

It’s a cold desert in northern India, dotted by tiny hamlets spread over the Himalayan peaks adjoining Tibet, where one can simultaneously have a close brush with sunburn and frostbite in summer.

Leh, the headquarters of Ladakh, is connected by road — open only five months a year due to heavy snowfall — from Srinagar and the distance of 434 km takes two days with a night halt at Kargil town; and almost equidistant from the picturesque Manali tourist resort in Himachal Pradesh via the picturesque Lahaul Valley. The latter route is more treacherous.


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Travelling by air is the most convenient way to reach Leh, available round the year.

“It’s a place where spirituality and culture co-exist, where traditional life is thriving by adapting green, modern technologies. It’s truly called a crown jewel,” remarked British tourist Alfred Martin.

For Malaysia-born Michelle Yeoh, famous for her role in Ang Lee’s Oscar-winning martial arts love story “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”, visiting the “rooftop of the world” is a spiritual journey. The analogy, however, was not exactly appropriate as the expression “Roof of the World” generally refers to Tibet.

“It’s a spiritual journey for me every time. This land of high mountain passes always reminds me of a stronghold of Buddhist art, culture and spirituality and this spirit of purity is rarely seen elsewhere in the world,” Yeoh told IANS.

She was in Ladakh earlier this month for the week-long Naropa festival, a once-in-12-year celebration of the birth anniversary of the great Indian saint Naropa, at the famed 17th century Hemis monastery, located 40 km from Leh.

“From July till late October is the best period to explore ancient monasteries and trek to a host of mountain passes,” remarked tour operator Sonam Dawa in Leh.

Ladakh reported a tourism boom in 2015, attracting 146,501 visitors, including 19,075 foreigners, up more than 25 percent from the previous year, according to the local administration.

This year, till July, it saw 161,444 tourists and a majority of the foreigners were from Israel, France, Britain and the US.

The entire Ladakh region is populated mainly by tribals. The climatic conditions are harsh as much of the land is a cold desert where the mercury remains below minus 30 degrees Celsius in winter for weeks on end.

The staple food is barley, wheat, peas, rice, rapeseed and salted tea mixed with yak butter.

From the world-acclaimed Hemis monastery to Druk Padma Karpo School, also known as “Rancho’s School” after the Aamir Khan character in the film ‘3 Idiots’, these places speak about the unique spirit of Ladakh, from an ancient past to the innovative present.

Image result for pangong lake

Built in 1630 by Druk Staktsang Raspa, a student of the fifth Gyalwang Drukpa, the monastery holds the Hemis Festival every year in summer in honour of Guru Padmasambhava, the eight-century Indian guru revered for spreading Buddhism in the Himalayas.

The monastery’s museum is a repository of an astounding 1,500 artefacts, some dating back 1,400 years.

Just an hour’s steep uphill hike from the Hemis Monastery takes you to the Gotsang cave and retreat centre, a spiritual journey.

Chemdrey, one of Ladakh’s greatest fortress monasteries, is 45 km from Leh, en route to the picturesque Nubra Valley and the world’s highest salt water lake Pangong that freezes in winter.

The statute of Padmasambhava is the most important statue in the Chemdrey monastery.

The Shrey Palace, located 15 km south of Leh, houses a 12-foot statue of Buddha in the temple of Shakyamuni, one of the largest metal statues in Ladakh.

The palace, which boasts a view of 108 stupas , is owned by a royal family of Ladakh. Monks of the Drukpa lineage are taking care of it.

Adventure and thrills lie west of Leh.

The mighty Indus and Zanskar rivers are popular for whitewater rafting. The place where the blue waters of the Zanskar and the green of the Indus join, some 36 km from Leh, is known for its most beautiful views.

There is also the famous Sikh shrine, Gurdwara Patar Sahib, managed by the Indian Army, 20 km from Leh.


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Getting to Leh:

How to travel: In summer, by public or private transport. From Manali to Leh via Keylong; From Srinagar to Leh via Kargil.

Leh is connected by air from Delhi and Jammu.

Where to stay in Leh: Small hotels, guest houses and even homestays with local people. Interestingly, there are no houses left in Leh, only guest houses.

Buddhist leader The Gyalwang Drukpa, the spiritual head of the 1,000-year-old Drukpa Order, is promoting homestays among the locals by adopting eco-friendly ways. ( IANS Vishal Gulati )



Delhi Ring Railway to soon see steam-hauled service to attract tourists

Two options are being considered: A round trip or a hop-on-hop-off ticket.



Steam locomotives will be chugging along on all hill railways across the country — besides charting out a new course on the Delhi Ring Railway — as the Railways pushes the idea of reviving the glory of its steam heritage.

With the successful operation of a steam-hauled train on the Palanpur-Jogindernagar section of Kangra Valley Railway, all five hill railways now have steam loco services to attract tourists.

Kangra Valley Railway, which is on the tentative list of Unesco’s World Heritage Sites, witnessed the revived steam loco operation recently after more than 20 years. The regular steam loco operation is expected to boost tourism in Himachal Pradesh.

While Darjeeling Himalayan Railway and Nilgiri Mountain Railway have regular steam locos services, the Kalka-Shimla Railway and Matheran Hill Railway are equipped to conduct chartered services on tourist demand.

But the big thrust will be seen in the capital’s long-neglected — and once-popular — Ring Railway, that has fallen by the wayside as the city expanded rapidly.

“It is a big revival of steam locomotives in Indian Railways, and our aim is to have regular steam loco operations in all hill railways — and also in the long-awaited Delhi Ring Railway route,” said a senior Railway Ministry official involved with rail heritage.

With the advent of diesel and electric locomotives, steam engines were phased out in 1995 by the Railways.

Ring Rail Delhi

Though there was a move to run a steam locomotive on the Delhi Ring Railway during the Commonwealth Games in 2010, this did not materialise for various reasons.

However, the state-run transporter is now actively working on reviving the service to showcase its heritage, bring back the romance of steam engines and promote tourism. The task has been assigned to Northern Railway.

The existing 34 km-long ring railway, which runs parallel to the Ring Road, passes through several prominent places of Delhi like Chanakyapuri, Safdarjung and Sarojini Nagar and is expected to attract large numbers of tourists and rail enthusiasts interested in steam locos.

As per the plan, the train, comprising four heritage coaches with a steam locomotive, would start from Safdarjung station and travel to Anand Vihar, Old Yamuna Bridge, Old Delhi, New Delhi and Nizamuddin station before returning to Safdarjung.

Delhi Ring Rail

Tourists will be able to visit the Red Fort, Chandni Chowk, National Rail Museum, the historic Old Yamuna Bridge, Humayun’s tomb and rail buildings such as Old Delhi station, Kashmere Gate and Baroda House by using the service.

“The landscape along the proposed route will be beautified, besides other necessary arrangements to make it operational. The fare structure and timings are yet to be decided,” the official said.

“Two options are being considered: A round trip or a hop-on-hop-off ticket,” the official added.

At present, there are very few steam locos across the world that are still in working condition.

By : Arun Kumar Das

(Arun Kumar Das is a senior Delhi-based freelance journalist. He can be contacted at [email protected]

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62% prefer self planned trips over travel packages: Survey



travel packages

New Delhi, Feb 6: As many as 62 per cent people prefer self-planned trips over the packages provided by travel agencies, according to a survey carried out in six metro cities — Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai, Pune and Bengaluru.

The survey, conducted by Chrome Data Analytics and Media, was conducted on 2,468 people in the age group of 35-54 years constituting 52 per cent males and 48 per cent females.

It said that 59 per cent of the respondents would prefer a nature-related destination for holidays. It also said that 48 per cent would prefer travelling with their friends.

According to the survey, US is the dream destination for 35 per cent of the respondents.

At least 60 per cent of the respondents “usually” holiday for less than seven days, it said

Around 33 per cent said that their travel plans got affected by the number of official leaves they got.


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Why a visit to the world’s largest river island is a must



Bamboo house of Mishing tribe

By Natalia Ningthoujam

Kamalabari (Majuli), Feb 5: Assam’s Majuli faces flood fury — and the threat of erosion — whenever the mighty Brahmaputra river swells. So take a break from your high-tech lifestyle and hop on that double decker boat to live the simple life in the world’s largest river island before it loses the title.

Cruises on luxury vessels can take you to your destination, but to understand the locals’ lives, it is best to travel like them on a rickety motor boat, which can also carry cars, bikes and anything that can’t swim, from Neemati ghat to Kamalabari ghat.

First timers might fear for their lives but for the frequent travellers, it’s like any other public transport. Some are so carefree that they even play cards.

After the half-hour ferry ride, you will reach the shrinking island, which is located over 300 km from Guwahati, Assam’s main city, and is home to approximately two lakh people consisting of Brahmins, Kalitas, Mishings, Deori and more.

Visitors can stay in various resorts, which might remind you of your hostel days due to availability of only basic amenities, or limited homestays.

While driving to your accommodation, you will see paddy and mustard fields, and bamboo plantations along the roads.

Out of the various house forms, the bamboo stilt houses — with an open fireplace in the middle — of the Mishing tribe, are quite unique, and you will see women working on looms made with bamboos and a cycle’s wheel.

Unlike the people of Sualkuchi, a silk-weaving village in Assam, Mishings here make “mekhela chador” and other traditional outfits only for their own use. And men use their physical strength to make beds out of bamboos or other furnitures, when they are not farming.

Majuli, a hub of the Assamese neo-Vaishnavite culture, has many satras (religious and cultural institutions).

“Earlier, there were over 60 satras in Majuli but due to erosion, there are currently just 32 satras here. Auniati Satra is the biggest one in Assam. The land measures up to 500 bigha,” Anant Kalita, the satra’s museum guide, told this visiting IANS correspondent.

“We don’t call ourselves monks or pandits. The ones who stay in satras are called Vaishnavs. We worship lord Krishna. We dance, pray and do dramas, which were created by (saint-scholar) Sankardev,” he added.

The satra is open to all — Brahmins, Kalitas and people from other communities of Assam.

“Even Muslims can come. Ladies can come but can’t stay in the satra. After marriage, people need to stay out of the satra.

“There are 350 people in the satra. Vaishnavs and bhakhts stay in satras, the ones who are outside are called disciples,” said Kalita, who has been here for the past 18 years.

The Samaguri Satra, on the other hand, has kept alive the tradition of mask-making.

Its studio houses numerous masks, like those of Narasimha, Ram and Laxman that are used during festivals and Bhaona, which is a traditional form of entertainment through which religious messages are shared.

Explaining the process of mask-making, popular mask artiste Hem Chandra Goswami’s brother Tilak Goswami said: “The masks are made of mud, cotton cloth, cow dung and vegetable colours. One mask takes about 15 to 20 days to make.”

“Our entire family knows how to make masks. We have been making masks for the last six generations,” added the 65-year-old.

After learning the craft here, some even go to Dibrugarh or Guwahati.

It’s not just the people at satras who are warm and welcoming. Once the local children spot new faces, especially with DSLR cameras, they will happily follow you and strike a pose.

You might have to use a lot of hand gestures while communicating with the locals as they aren’t fluent in English or Hindi, but they will leave you overwhelmed — irrespective of their financial condition, they will not let you leave empty handed.

A cup of tea or a plate full of home-made sweets (rice flour pitha) is the least they can offer, and a request: “Please visit again.”


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