Saturday, December 01, 2007

In the realm of a dying sun

Freakin freezin
Leh, Ladakh

The sun finally came out today, after 2 days of freezing grey watercolour skies. By the thermometer, it doesn't look so cold here. But remember, there is no running water, and no heating (unless you want to pay and extra $10 a day to have a propane heater placed in your room). The electricity is out all day long these electric at all until 6pm. It cuts off again at 11pm. Evidently there's no insulation in the buildings (they are built like barns). ALL of the available heat comes from the Sun.

I only bathe every three days, or so. This is not as gross as its sounds. For one thing, it's impossible to sweat in this cold. For another, every "bath" has to be pulled up from the well (by the guest house employees) in a bucket, then poured into a vat on the propane stove for heating, then poured back into the plastic bucket and carried up to my room. Because this water is boiling, a bath requires yet another bucket of cold water (also drawn by hand of course) to be mixed to make bathing temperature water.

Then there's the ordeal of actually getting my clothes off in the freezing room. Baths must be taken while the sun is shining (if possible). After dark, it is just an invitation to pneumonia.

Don't ask about laundry.

It reminds me of the April I spent in Tamil Nadu (never again!). When the power went out, of course, the fan went with it. I put a straw mat out on the terrace and prayed for wind from the nearby Bay of Bengal. It was easy to see how the elements became gods, long ago. The Wind God would be very, very welcome in Tamil Nadu. The Water God is frequently invoked all over India. And most of the hymns of the Brokpa people (the people I went to visit in Dha Village last month) begin with praise to the sun. Makes perfect sense to me!

Spruced up

Today the Main Bazaar is a bustle of colourful activity. It's nearly the Ladakhi New Year, or Losar. Shops that had been shut for a month are now open for holiday browsing. On the city streetcorners, young Kashmiri men sell piles of juniper branches to elderly Ladakhi women with grey braids. Fifty rupees a branch - pretty steep! I think I'll pick my own juniper.
Juniper is necessary for the rooftop shrine. Every Buddhist household has a rooftop shrine that looks like an evergreen bush, with khata or white scarves tied around it. Each year at the Losar New Year, a bunch of fresh juniper - considered cleansing and protective - must be installed on the household rooftop shrines. I don't know for sure, but am pretty confident that this must be accompanied by chanting, incense and other ritual.

Of course, putting a juniper branch on your roof to absorb negativity has nothing to do with Buddhism "proper." It is a pre-Buddhistic regional folk custom, like so many things in Tibetan Buddhism.

Fortunately, I will be here on Dec. 4 when Losar begins so "my" family - Tsering, Dolkar, Rinchen, Dorje and the two Angmos - will let me in on the fun!

Losar here in Ladakh runs from 4 December to 10 December.
Most of the Tibetan Buddhist community celebrates Losar in February. There is an historical reason for the early Ladakhi Losar. One of the ancient kings wanted to go to war with a neighboring kingdom. All the court advisors said that war should not be declared during the current year. So the king, being the king, decided to move the New Year forward so that when festivities were finished, he could go ahead and fight.

It's good to be the king.


Madhukar said...

Yes it is frigging cold and i was in Leh from 12th to 14 Nov., 2007. I took bath in same way, with hot water supplied in buckets. So where are you heading next?

Linda (Sama) said...

girlfriend, when you get to chennai you should indulge and get a spa treatment at oryza on chamiers road! you deserve it!

Linda (Sama) said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sirensongs said...

Why not - do they take VISA card?? I am so there!