Where is Dat (that)?

Trekking through Ladakh -the Diary of a procrastinator: Day 3

Nomadic Trails . . . doesn’t it sound romantic? Especially when accompanied by a  description that says – you will pass through the Changthang plateau characterized by high arid plains, pasture lands where you can spot Changpa nomads grazing their herds of Pashmina goats, yak and sheep, snow-capped peaks and azure-blue lakes . . .

Well, I definitely fell for it, doubly so when I saw the ‘medium strenuous’ label attached to it. However, it turned out that no one else was mesmerized by the idea last year and I ended up being the only one to sign up for it which meant, it would be more expensive than anticipated. Then one day, before I left for Leh, I received an email from one George saying he was starting his trek from Padum and if I met him halfway at Dat, we could complete the rest of the trek to Tso Moriri together and maybe even save some money in the bargain. I pondered for a while and sent him a mail in the affirmative.

Hubby dear panicked, naturally, with some help from dear sis. Here I was, agreeing to trek in the middle of nowhere with some stranger called George. Unfortunately for him, when I make up my mind to so something, I DO that something. So, that was how I ended up waking early at Stanzin’s home-stay at Leh on the 25th August 2017 to make sure I’d packed everything I needed for the next 8 days.

The last week of August is considered one of the better windows for trekking in Ladakh – the weather is good with less or no rains and an oh-so-slight chill starts to creep into the air, making it comfortable for trekkers. But with snowfall anticipated high up in the passes I was to trek through, I’d packed enough warm clothes. After a quick breakfast, I hopped into the awaiting Scorpio with Stanzin. With a cheerful Jimmy at the wheel, we were soon breezing down the Leh-Manali highway towards Dat.

Jimmy’s vehicle, christened after himself, is ready to fly!

The meandering roads -well constructed and maintained by the Border Roads Organization’s Himank project – took us through some mesmerizing terrain that included the banks of the more slender and tame version of the Indus. But what stood out in the midst of nature’s splendor during the drive was something clearly man-made. Take a look at these witty road signs by the BRO that added an element of fun to the drive.

There were more, to be sure. A couple more signs that I can recall are: Safety on road means Safe Tea at home & Don’t Gossip, let him drive! And then, there was this one that that left me foxed for sure – Don’t be a Gama in the land of Lama . . . what ever does Gama mean!!

Well, after a long time spent on the road, we made a pit-stop at the Taglang-la pass, which, at an altitude of 17,582ft above sea level, is the second highest motorable pass in the world after Khardung-la. It was severely windy and we quickly found ourselves savoring black tea inside the warm confines of a parachute restaurant -a very common sight across the region.

tanglang-la-and-the-prayer.jpg      IMG_20170825_113014After the short break, we were on the road once again and soon reached the detour that would lead us into the Kharnak valley and to Dat. Two things caught my eye here: 1. the signboard that gave a census report of the Pashmina goats in the valley and 2. the memorial to a martyred Jawan hailing from the region.

IMG_20170825_115815 (2)As we continued our drive on the non-existent road through the valley, I was getting more and more eager to reach the camp site. However, when, after hours of driving we were still nowhere near Dat, I turned to Stanzin with a questioning look. Imagine my surprise when he revealed that he’d never been to this part of Ladakh before! Add to that, there was no cell phone network through which to contact George, no internet connection to check an online map and not a soul around to ask for directions! Yet, for some reason, I did not get perturbed – maybe I had faith in Stanzin’s mountain instincts? So, I continued enjoying the drive, certain that we’d find our destination.  Sure enough, after one more hour of driving over some passes and through the valley, we finally reached Dat.

Dat is a tiny nomad village nestled in the Kharnak Valley of Ladakh. Kharnak, I learned, means Black Castle and was at some point in history, the domain of some Ladakhi King. The Black in the name is in reference to the decidedly black soil that covers most of the rugged terrain here. With low-roofed houses made of locally available stone and animal hide, the village is home to the Dat nomads only during the harsh winter months of October to March and sometimes until June. At other times they wander around in the high mountain passes where there is enough grass and shrubbery available for their animals to graze on. But even during these times, one or two villagers regularly ride back to the village on horses every second day to light a candle at the famed Dat monastery. 

Well, now that we were at Dat, I was overjoyed and itching to meet George and the camping crew who’d be my company for the next 8 days. However there was no one to be found. After several minutes of waiting and hunting through the tiny hamlet, we found a young chap who informed us that the group had started out towards the next pit-stop after lunch and must be anywhere in the valley right now! Thankfully, Stanzin knew the trekking route and we were soon driving in the direction, hoping to reach the camp site before dark. And we did! After a couple of hours more of driving, we finally spotted the blue dining tent set up on the banks of a rivulet.

P1020651 (3)Disembarking from the vehicle, I followed Stanzin inside where he introduced me to the crew: Tashi, a 21-year-old college-going lad was the guide, Siddhartha, a young Nepali  cook, Namgyal, the horseman with five beautiful horses and finally there was George, my trekking companion. Thanks to my sub-conscious stereotyping and no thanks to Stanzin who never really clarified who George was (actually, I too didn’t bother asking him…), I’d imagined him to be a foreigner. It so turned out the George was/is a true blue Keralite and a charming one at that! P1020635The air was starting to turn chilly around us by the time I’d set up my tent with help from Stanzin and Tashi. So we all gathered back in the dining tent where the fire, the delicious food whisked up by Siddhartha and the conversation kept us warm. We chatted into the night, exchanging notes from the adventurous day and getting to know each other better and when I finally returned to my tent, I couldn’t wait for it to be morning again so I could start my trek.IMG_20170825_183709 (2)Well, that brings me to the end of Day 3 in Ladakh. See you all on the other side of the night with more adventure and some bit of self-realization . . .





Trekking through Ladakh -the Diary of a procrastinator: Days 1 & 2

From the time I reached Stanzin’s home-stay to when I bid goodbye to Leh, the one refrain that was a constant companion was -Julley! The Ladakhi Julley is the equivalent of Namaste/ Hello and people greet each other with the word all the time, respectfully bending their head as they do so. I was soon doing the same with gusto and by the end of my trip I came to the conclusion that it is a rather Julley Good Word (forgive the pun)!

I spent two days in Leh to get acclimatized, considering I’d been sufficiently warned about the thin air and its side-effects. And I spent my time well, exploring the old town, the Leh Palace and adjoining LAMO center, the various foodie hot-spots, the bazaar and visiting SECMOL, the Students’ Educational and Cultural Movement of Ladakh established by the now famous Mr. Sonam Wangchuk. I’ll not bore you with too many details though, and rather leave you with a few photographs of places/stuff that intrigued me. Do scroll down to the very end ‘coz the last photo is by far the most interesting 😉

And until we meet again on the first day of my trek, Julley!

Wish I were a Snow Leopard . . .
Hello! says Mr. Yaksha perched atop the entrance to the Leh Palace
Did you notice the sign that says – Entrance fee is a smile?
Two rather intriguing laundry ads . . .the list & illustrations are to die (laughing) for!
View from the Ladies’ Toilet of a rooftop restaurant -no pane, all gain 🙂
Traditional wooden tandoors run mostly by immigrants from Kargil
Hot kehwa at Cafe Lo with freshly baked sesame bun from the tandoor outside -the strains of Namaaz filtering in from the neighboring mosque completed the ambience.
A cozy nook built by SECMOL students -the temp within was 5 degrees lower than outside
The Donkey Sanctuary – a novel concept!
The Me Too moment OR Who says Donkeys don’t like to be photographed? 🙂
Remember the Museum where I met Stanzin Yanrul? It showcases a variety of minerals, stones -precious or otherwise – and fossils found across the vast expanse of Ladakhi terrain. The place is tiny and dingy and clearly calls out for investment to better preserve the specimen; but what it represents – one man’s (Phunchok Angchok) passion and respect for the terrain he calls home – is way more precious than words can describe.
The lady at the Tibetan market downtown made me a pair of Turquoise ear-rings and bracelet. She said the stones were sourced from the Ladakhi terrain by nomads and then processed by few cottage-industries around Leh before being used for making jewelry and artifacts.
Delicious Thupka!
A metal tree outside the LAMO center
When a restaurant teaches you Ladakhi swear words!!



The Curious Case of the many Stanzins

Trekking through Ladakh -the Diary of a procrastinator: Days 1 & 2

Landing at the Leh airport, I was greeted by Stanzin, waiting to whisk me away to my homestay. Stanzin Odzer is the owner of Ecological Footprints, the company that was organizing my trek. I had never seen Stanzin before and had only spoke with him once over the phone. Even so, I was sure this wasn’t Stanzin as soon as the guy at the airport said his first few words of greeting. My safety antennae buzzed vigorously, but I stayed calm and asked him who he was. ‘Stanzin’, he replied nonchalantly and chucked my baggage into the car before we sped off.

Reaching the homestay, he showed me to my room, arranged for a hot-water bath and later got me steaming hot lunch. He was rather quiet through it all though, making me a tad uneasy. Although I was happy with his hospitality, I was constantly wondering if this was the guy arranging my trek. It was only around tea-time that another Stanzin made his appearance – taller, thinner and wearing a ready smile unlike his other namesake. It was when discussing with him that I realized that Stanzin is a very common name in Ladakh. When a child is born, the parents write to their spiritual leader (Lama) for blessings and the Lama writes back with a name that will be child’s given name forever. When the letter happens to be addressed to His Holiness the Dalai Lama, the child is usually christened Stanzin after the spiritual leader’s name -Stanzin Gyatso. The name means -holder of the Buddha Dharma.

During my stay in Ladakh, I came across so many Stanzins, it was rather mind-boggling! My home-stay hosts themselves, for instance, had three Stanzins amongst them. First- Stanzin Odzer, the guy organizing my trek; second -the guy who welcomed me at the airport and who was also Odzer’s brother-in-law and third – Odzer’s little four-year-old son! Then, I came across a beautiful book of poetry at the Ladakh Arts and Media Organization (LAMO) center at the Leh Palace whose author was a Stanzin Lhaskyabs.

DWEiffXX0AA7qdy (3)

But before you think the name is masculine, let me tell you that I met an equal number of female Stanzins. Take for instance the young college girl managing the Ladakh Rocks and Minerals Preservation Study and Museum -just a few minutes walk from my home-stay. When the charming girl, who works part-time at the museum,  introduced herself as Stanzin Yanrul, I couldn’t help smiling. I met another lady Stanzin at a tea-stall on the Leh-Manali highway en-route to the starting point of my trek and yet another one at the Leh airport on my way back!

Well, now that I’ve revealed the mystery of the many Stanzins, I’ll sign off and return tomorrow with more fodder from the Leh stable. Until then, you keep ruminating over the Shakespearean quote – What’s in a name . . .



Trekking through Ladakh -the Diary of a procrastinator

Time flies… specially if you are a procrastinator like I sometimes am. It has been almost a year since I set off on my maiden trek in Ladakh. The date was 22nd August 2017, to be precise. And my aim was to mark my 40th birthday by trekking in the splendid beauty of Ladakh’s barren landscapes that I’d only seen in photographs of others before. So, six months before the intended date, I booked myself a moderately strenuous (I’m a sucker for anything that’s not labelled ‘easy’!!) camping-style trek from the Kharnak Valley a few hours away from Leh to the pristine Tsomoriri. And I prepped for the trek by diligently following a walking routine so my body would not rebel when the D-day arrived.

After the super-awesome trek, I returned home with the resolve to write down a day-by-day account of my experience here, on my blog, asap. That was a year ago, and as you can see, my asap didn’t arrive until today! All I did manage to write back then, was the heading/title for the post for each day of my trek.


If you’re wondering about the curious last line, you’ll have to wait until I reach the day of my trek that gave me this profound insight 🙂

Getting back to the here and now, I have finally decided to procrastinate no more! So, over the next ten days, I’ll try and relive the wonderful experience through my blog. Discipline is not my strongest quality – despite being a mother and professor -but I hope to change that at least for this short duration. Comments from you readers would definitely be an inspiration and propellant and I do hope my posts will be engaging enough to warrant your precious comments. So, I’ll sign off for the moment, and come back tomorrow with Julley! 🙂

An Interpretation of War

War, in its several manifestations, surrounds our life today. And although the systems in place prevent an actual war from taking place, there is always that tension . . .we’re always on the brink of all hell breaking loose. Here is my interpretation of War, written for ‘the same’, a blog that encourages women writing for women.


Imaginary Debt (1)

Do you remember the day

we entered our new home?

The stark, empty spaces

weren’t really empty, were they?

They were filled—every corner and crevice,

with an air of hope, anticipation

and yes, with love.

The bare walls

picked up those naughty giggles,

multiplied them manifold

and threw them back at us.

I remember riding the waves

in that sea of giggles,

with your hands in mine.

Our excited banter

crashed and banged against each other.

You teased me. I tripped

and fell over you as I tried to stop you.

Me- punching your chest

with a chuckle, you—flailing

your arms in mock anguish;

one would have thought we were at war.

But we weren’t at war then.

It is now—surrounded by

our favourite brands of gadgets,

tables, chairs, beds, cabinets,

pots, pans, art and what not-

it is now, that we are at war.

These lifeless hoards

that fill…

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A Poem on Writing a Poem

Today is World Poetry Day. Writing poetry, for me (as I’m sure it is for many others), is cathartic. At times, however, it has just the opposite effect. I want to express an idea, but the idea refuses to get expressed! I break into a sweat, I palpitate, I gasp for breath as though I were being drowned in my own words   . . . . . I hope you get the drift. This is precisely what  Ink  is all about.


©Priya Narayanan 2017, All rights reserved

I sit down to write a poem; the poem eludes me.

I grope in the shadows of my bag

to pull her out- a la a magician’s rabbit;

in vain. She has gnawed her way

through that fantastic realm, into reality.


I look for her in the nooks of a dilapidated house-

a house that engulfed its residents

to douse its own hunger.

I smell her in the clichés that pervade

before she slinks out the back door, a thief.


I seek her in the foliage of the pregnant trees-

trees in the throes of exploding

into a thousand more. A master at stealth,

I hear, but do not see her-

just as I hear, but do not see the koel.


The koel- his call, a disyllabic monotone

[you wouldn’t know when he sings a ballad

and when a dirge] -does he hide my poem

in his precious voice-box? Will he spit her out

when I strangle him? Or will he merely spit out his life?


The poem is sly. Leaving me

to engage with the koel, she glides

to the mountains. She would be safe there,

she deems, behind the mist that veils

a valley of flowers

a sparkling stream

a herd of antelopes

a silent prayer. She is wrong.


I gear up for the chase,

marking my way

with the unsung songs of the koel.


Trampling the flowers

muddying the stream

scattering the herd

shattering the prayer

I find her huddled behind a rock. I ensnare her,

drop her into a bottle of India Ink

and return home triumphant.


When I sit down to write the poem now,

all I can write is ink.

Have you ever had a similar feeling? What do you when you’re going down that abyss? How do you pull yourself back?



Secret Secrets


What image does that six letter word conjure in your mind?

A whisper?

A conspiracy . . . Secret Society?

Rumour mongering? Gossiping?

I remember the nursery rhyme that went ‘Seven for a Secret never to be told’. It does have a sinister, hush-hush aura about it, doesn’t it? On the other hand, it’s also funny how much stress a single word can thrust upon you, sending you into an emotional whirlwind if you are the melodramatic kind. If you’ve not been made privy to a secret, you feel betrayed, your very faithfulness is under the scanner. If someone has indeed deemed you worthy of sharing a secret, you feel elated, proud and trusted although that’s no guarantee that you’ll not, in turn, share the secret with someone else, making the whole thing redundant.

Which begs the question -How many people need to be involved in this verbal transaction for it to qualify as a secret? A quote by Benjamin Franklin goes:

‘Three may keep a secret if two of them are dead.’

Does that mean a secret is a one-person thing? Is it possible for a person to successfully hide it from the world without choking? And do secrets really die with a person or do they assume a life of their own even after the person bearing it is dead? Well, I truly don’t know. But I do know what you can do to try and wriggle out that secret from me! Here’s  a poem by yours truly enunciating just that:


©Priya Narayanan 2016, All rights reserved

Pour me a drink.

My stories are in the bubbles
that rush past. Fleeting, floating,
rapturous, rumbustious –
my stories are the ones
that kiss your lips
and tingle your senses
before common sense prevails
and strangles each story
lest you gulp them down
and become one with them.

Pour me a drink.

My stories are in the ice cubes
that float like fish
in the koi pond
where you come to feast your eyes
on the streaks of golden orange,
your passionate gaze
causing them to sink to the bottom
from where only a coin diver
can collect them again –
if he has faith that they do indeed exist.

Pour me a drink.

My stories are in the numbness
of my tongue –
my otherwise wagging tongue
that is now paralyzed into silence.
Can you hear the stories
in my silence? Can you see
the stories in my eyes,
where the pupils
have been replaced
by the moon and his darker twin?

How long does it take for a story
to travel from the eyes and the ears
to the tongue?

Pour me a drink
and I might let you into my little secret.

Winner of the OWAQ poetry contest held by anoshoflife.com

Do you have a secret? Have you shared it with anybody? If so, what has your experience been? Do drop in a note in the comments below.