Saturday, October 10, 2009

Like Nowhere Else

Ladakh looks like Myst. There is nowhere else like it in the world. They turned their ancient prisons into monasteries, and learned how to mind their own business. It is a land of citadels and fortress temples. Pictures do not do the place justice. You have to actually go there and see for yourself in order to understand.

Naropa was there, and founded Lamayuru Monastery, which you can still visit to this day. Marpa also came, building Marpaling in Zanskar. Some people, with ordinary eyes, think these places dusty and dirty. But, I think it is interesting to note where enlightened beings go to do their work in this world. Padmasambhava thought enough of the place to go there, so what more do you want?

The trip has never been easy. Theos Bernard, the American from Arizona, who some Tibetans believe was a manifestation of Padmasambhava, was supposedly murdered by Muslim bandits on the way to the region (headed for Kye, in Spiti), in 1947.

To this day, if you visit the vaults underneath Kye Gompa, you find what must surely be the world's strangest collection of ancient armor, some of it 1,000 years old if it is a day.

Other legends say that Theos arrived in Spiti and decided never to leave. Theos had issues with women, and maybe he needed the rest. The legend has it that he eventually died there, in January 1950, at age 42. Ever since I was a kid, I have always had a singular interest in Theos Bernard. Once, several years ago, I spent a small fortune tasking heavy assets, trying to lay that 1950 story to rest. In the end, it was one of those things that could neither be proved nor disproved.

The region is a bit topsy-turvy again these days -- the Muslim fundamentalists like hiding in the far-off hills. The AK-47 is as ubiquitous as the prayer wheel in certain places where the boys don't need no stinking badges. Still, they have other methods of conflict resolution. They have five man village committees, made up of the headman, two Buddhists, and two Muslims. The catch is, the Muslims elect the Buddhist members and the Buddhists elect the Muslim members. I would like the civil affairs readers of this blog -- and we have several -- to take careful note of that arrangement.

If you ever get a chance to go up to Ladakh and Spiti in this life, I would advise you to make the most of that opportunity.

Maybe, just maybe, I might see you there.

You know how much I like high deserts.

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