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6/29/08 – cont’d – After Tamisgam Monastery we continued on toward the main Drikung Kagyu Monastery in Ladakh (Lama Yuru). The road to Lama Yuru is twisting, narrow and it hugs the edges of a thin gorge – nothing like the extremely precarious roads we had been on previously, but exciting nonetheless. On the way, we passed little streams and larger gullies. There would be irrigation systems traveling above a river, sometimes lasting for several miles before reaching their destinations (they looked like tiny trails above the river, but we were told that they had been or were currently full of water). As we got closer to the monastery, the terrain changed – noticeably and drastically. Lama Yuru is high in elevation – at least 14000 ft and it sits on what used to be an ancient lake bed – you can tell because there is a layer of sandy-loamy stone that is level (see photo). There is a story / myth about this, which I will relate if I find it in my journal.
There was an enormous traffic jam once we got within a mile of the gompa (we could see it above the road). The road was continuously curving and serpentine, and at one of the curves, an Indian Army 18 wheeled truck had gotten stuck – somehow two of its wheels were off the ground. Pictures were not really allowed of the military vehicles humorous position. A tow truck was attempting to right it, but with very little success. Therefore we were in a pickle, along with about 30 other cars and little vans (full of fellow tourists and locals).
However, luckily we had a crack team of drivers (and four wheel drive Toyotas). They told us to get out and they were going to try to drive up a steep sandy short cut to get up to the next level of passable road. Sure enough, despite our group’s skepticism, they made it fine. We piled in and were on our way.
Our camp was set up when we got there – a bright yellow dining tent, a kitchen tent for the cooks and nine camping tents for us to sleep in. After choosing our tents and having a snack, Kevin, Bily and I decided it would be smart to climb a nearby hill, to check out a cairn which was on top. The hike reminded me of being in a cinder cone, like I am used to from hiking in Hawaii – some volcanic, porous stones were around. It was mostly a dry, sandy soil however. We watched as a couple of fellow pilgrims attempt to climb up to us via a very steep slope but they failed to make progress and quit (I should have taken that as a sign).
Someone suggested we climb further – Bily noticed a cairn or shrine on top of the mountain which we were under. It was up there – at least another 500 feet up. Well, when in Rome… Or when in Ladakh, follow your crazy fellow pilgrims… right? Hindsight is always 20 / 20. We climbed, having to do a circuitous route to avoid some steep slopes. At some points, we were taking three steps up and then sliding back two as the sand was thick and loose. Then we had to cross over to a section with a sharp drop to one side. The rocks I was encountering up there were like a form of shale – easily shearing off, so when I went to grab some for leverage, they would break off. Very shaky!
Note to self – when you are noticing anxiety and fear arising from driving on precarious mountain roads, know that your fear of heights will and does translate to walking / hiking situations as well! Yeah, long story short, there was one point that was tricky and I had a bad panic attack. Unfortunately I was wearing my clogs – as in non-lace-up shoes and sand was constantly getting in them and I was worried about them sliding off and losing them down the slope. After screaming out for help and then praying like I was under extreme duress, I took some deep breaths and squeezed around the tricky boulder. Both Kevin and Bily were reassuring me that once I did that it was easier and sure enough, it was. Thank goodness! My adrenaline was pumping hard and I’m sure I gave them quite a scare as well. Om Mani Padme Hung Hrih! They were kind about it however. It was a fairly new experience to be so vulnerable around friends – they were glad to see me emerge from around the boulder. Yay!
There was an impression or indentation up there, almost like a bath tub, certainly big enough for someone to sleep in. It was very windy and the prayer flags we visited were flapping in the breezes. We took a different route down thankfully – needing only to slide long distances down the scree-filled slopes. Once back at the camp, I resolved to play it safe from then on – I did not need any further scares!
The next time people climbed up that mountain, they brought prayer flags with them and the restrung them. I opted to stay below and take they picture from camp. The third photo is of Jeff and Nate, Bily and Kevin hanging a fresh strand of prayer flags.