Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Big Valley

News from Nubra
Diskit, Nubra Valley, Ladakh

I am typing on the rock-like keyboard of the only internet available in the entire Nubra Valley. There are 2 terminals (c. about 1985) in the Community Information Centre here. I had to wait 2 days to get on line; yesterday the power was off all day. The day before, the operator wasn't around. I am typing as fast as possible before either the power cuts off again or the net connection fails.

Field and Stream

Nubra Valley has got to be one of the best-kept secrets in India. Peaceful villages, placidly grazing cows, burbling clear mountain streams, cheerful open-hearted peasantry working away in the fields like a Brueghel painting. Unfortunately, permits are given to foreigners for only 7 days at a time...that means, you spend one entire day on the bus here, and one entire day back, limiting your stay to five days, which is almost nothing. Still, it's worth it.

I made a gallant attempt at getting the Subdivisional Magistrate (a Ladakhi Buddhist woman) to extend my permit, on the basis of wanting to see completion of the Diskit Gompa's Yamantaka sand madala. But that extension is only possible for Indians (who also need a permit for this restricted area). As the Sikh sub-officer said, "No powers have been delegated to this location for the extension of permission to foreigners."

Yesterday I visited the official Yak Breeding Farm, only to find that all the yaks had been exported to the North Pullu grazing camp (about 5000 metres). Seems Nubra Valley, at only 3100 metres, is too hot and sunny for them....till December, when they are herded back down the Khardungla to Diskit. I was really disappointed, but it was a gorgeous, silent walk through the fields and streams to the Yak Farm.

Nubra valley, like Ladakh itself, is full of surprises. So is most of India. Unlike most of India, however, the surprises are pleasant. Like, getting a beautiful clean room with attached bath for 150Rs ($3.50) a night. Or, that the hotel "boys" are almond-eyed 16 year old Nepalis from Lumbini, who are thrilled that"didi" knows a few words of Nepali and will watch Indian Idol with them. Or, the fact that a brand new Sufi mosque has just opened in the valley. I have long been curious about the Indian Sufis, and now here they are next door, in a tiny valley a few miles from the Chinese border.

I spent three hours yesterday conversing with members of the local Shi'a community. When the Dalai Lama came to visit here, he made special trips to the various Mosques (all three of them - Sunni, Shi'a and Sufi). After the first hour or so I began to confuse the three S- sects, and everyone's name began to run together (Abbas Ali, Asaf Ali, Abdul Ali...) . but I am trying to get a picture of community relations in the area. As always, it's extremely complex and sensitive, especially around the issue of intermarriage.

Whoops - nearly lost this post when the power cut out. Better go before it happens again.


Madhukar said...

Thanks for posting despite you have to wait for two days :)

And its always pleasure to read your blog.


Bombay Addict said...

They even have an Internet Cafe there?! Well, I hope Nubra, Diskit, Hunder..all those places remain a secret. They are just awesome.

The Bananafish said...

I've really enjoyed your posts from Ladakh and the Nubra Valley. What incredible places!