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Leh Ladakh Revisited – Life Galore And Salt In Your Tea

Leh Ladakh Revisited – Life Galore and Salt in Your Tea

Leh, Revisited

Leh, Ladakh - Momos, Quesadillas and Israeli Salad

Food in Leh Ladakh – Can’t go wrong

I’ve eaten in numerous places in Leh. Everything was great. Now, a year and a half later, I cannot remember the names of all the places or what I had eaten in each, but you almost cannot go wrong, and there is something for every taste.

The German bakery

Close to home was the German Bakery on the other side of the alley, where I shopped daily for various breads and non-sweet cakes.

On the “Israeli Road”

Passing the “henna lady” on the way to the “Israeli Road”, there were numerous restaurants. Specifically I enjoyed The World Garden Cafe, which boasted having Italian, Israeli and Chinese dishes on top of the Indian cuisine. I remember having Israeli salad, a noddles dish, as well as momos and some Indian plates over several visits there. The owners were also nice. One time I did not have the exact amount to pay and was very hungry. They trusted me to come back and pay the difference, which I of course, did.

Further into the Israeli Road, past the Moravian School and the Mahabodhi Meditation Center, there were many restaurants and eatieris to serve all tastes and pockets. 

The marvel of momos

I described the Zula shanti place, where I had great chai and great momos in my post about the Shanti Stupa. 

Momos! Leh, LadakhMomos, the quintessential Himalayan treat

As to momos, it is always the safest bet. This Buddhist North Indian dish is just delicious. I first had a taste of it when the kitchen worker at the Chabad House in Bhagsu snuck me a few behind the owners’ back… Then I had them on the street in Bhagsu and in cheapie, but goodie, eating places. And here in Leh, I ate momos wherever I could lay my hands and tongue) on them…

The basic

You can, of course, always find the classical dhaba food with the aloo parantha and pickles for breakfast in any Indian town, Leh included.

The Bonfire Restaurant

And then there was the Bonfire Restaurant, a higher-end place, but not too expensive, where they use a fire wood oven. The place is very atmospheric, and has a rich and varied menu, including Mexican food, which is what I treated myself to. At another time I had spicy Tibetan soup. You eat at low tables, kind of Japanese-style. There were interesting murals on the walls inside and outside and plenty of space.

Wall painting by Bonfire Restaurant, Leh Ladakh

Mural of Bonfire Restaurant, Leh Ladakh

The Ladakhi Restaurant

Sept 5, 2018

Going for the authentic

This was unquestionably the most interesting dining experience I had in Leh Ladakh.

By chance I bumped again into Wazi, the enthusiastic Buddhist student I met at Tushita Meditation Center in Dharamkott, Himachal. The first time we met accidentally he took me to the Mahabodhi Meditation Center in town. Now he was accompanied by a jolly guy from Delhi, and the two convinced me to join them to a very authentic Ladakhi restaurant deep in the market.  

The place was so authentic it actually took the kitchen an hour and a half to prepare the food (we were early, to be truthful…)

In the meantime, Wazi, with his friend’s help, was busy creating a colorful poster to help the owners advertise the place.

At the Rangzan Ladhaki restuarnat, Leh Ladakh

After that, he drifted into deep meditation.

Meditating as we wait for the food. Rangzan RestaurantAt the Rangzan Ladakhi Restaurant, Leh Ladakh

Into the Wild

While he was at it, his friend and I had a lively conversation. 

He told me that his life hero was Chris McCandless, the famous American adventurer, about whom the book “Into the Wild” was written. McCandless left his family, went on his own to Alaksa and tried to live in the wilderness by hunting and gathering. Sadly, he did not survive his escapade. I think today he might be as popular among travelers, adventurers and nature lovers as Henry Throeau used to be in our time with his Walden Pond .

Into the Wild (book) cover.png

The Delhi guy divulged in me that, like McCandless, he also left his family and home to travel. He showed me the cover of a book written by a French lady who walked alone for three years from Mongolia to Australia. I tried to say you could not exactly “walk to” Australia, but my pedantic remark was ignored…

He also spent time in Nepal, doing agricultural work with the locals. He would open the irrigation gates every morning to let water into the fields, planted seedlings and participated in harvests. I showed him my harvest photos from Likir.

In his opinion, Monsanto de-necessitated the need for pescticides, so despite the genetical engineering, it actually promoted organic agriculture. I need to study the subject more to have an informed opinion. He said the farmers bought it because it was cheaper for them.

Feeling free to frolic

In the meantime, lunchtime was approaching, and people started to trickle in. First, a French couple, then a group of middle-aged traditionally-dressed Ladakhi ladies and a few others. The food was not ready yet, so somebody put on music, and the Delhi guy, myself and the French started dancing. The Ladakhis watched. Somebody said, very unfairly, that I was older than the ladies, but looked younger. Da! I did not work all my life in the fields at 4000 m altitude –  rain, snow or shine… Plus, I thought the ladies were beautiful. 

Salt in the tea and other difficulties

As we waited, the owner brought us tea. We asked for Ladakhi tea, but that was a mistake. Called “Gur Gur Cha”, this strange concoction of tea with butter and salt does not quite make it for the western taste buds. You apparently have to be born in the Himalaya to appreciate it.

By the time the food finally came, the French and others joined us at our table. We all, of course, ordered “authentic’, but there was some problem with that. The special Ladakhi bread, in particular, was a challenge. It was hard, strange and felt borderline indigestible, a far cry from the delicious home-made pita-like Ladakhi bread I ate in Likir, or the bread Ismail served at the Peace Guesthouse. Wazi gave one bite and quit. I followed suit after three or four bites.  

The cooked food, on the other hand, was delicious. I ordered a recommended dumpling dish called Chutaki (or Chutagi, see Foods of Ladakh here,) a nice compensation for my western taste buds and stomach.

Eating authentic Ladhaki food at Rangzan Restuarant

Dining at an authentic Ladakhi resturant (Rangzan) at Leh Ladakh

Leh, Ladakh - The Henna Lady

No words needed, right? The beauty of the woman, the beauty of the design. My first-ever henna tatoo. It takes a while to darken, but later starts to disintegrate. Worth experimenting with and learning the dye’s ways for best results. Obviously, it works better on  a younger hand. But, again, India is the place for exploration, experimentation and crossing the borders of one’s comfort zone

With henna artist, Leh

My henna design, Leh

Henna artist

The beautiful henna lady doing my tatoo on a street in Leh Ladakh

Ree-Yul Guesthouse, Leh Ladakh

Video is intentionally blurred to protect privacy. 

Ree Yul Guesthouse next door to the Peace Gueshouse wasn’t nearly as nice. In my diary I wrote: “I can’t explain funkiness, even though the room looked decent. It is something in the air. Ismail’s room is still the cleanest place I have stayed in in India so far“. The manager did not compare with Ismail, either. I admit to getting spoilt… Nonetheless, I made do for this one night, and actually met some cool fellow travelers.

With Israelis at Ree Yul courtyard. Leh, Ladakh

 With musical Israelis at the Ree-Yul Guesthous, Leh, ladakh

In the evening, nice, melodic music sounded from below. I came down to see two young Israelis, Y. and N., playing and singing in the courtyard. They knew each other from before in Israel, but met accidentally here and found common ground. Both played the guitar and sang, reading the lyrics from their cellphones. 

The Diary Project

Father-daughter traveling project

Then a couple of locals walked into the courtyard as well – a father and a daughter. Like me, they were also drawn to the energy and the music. 

They have been traveling together around the subcontinent for a unique project the daughter was undertaking: creating an artistic page for each of the Indian states.

She showed me her travel diary. For every state she wrote its name decoratively graffity-style, drew relevant pictures and added some facts in Hindi. I took pictures of several pages, admiring her versatility, style and abilities. 

Here are two salient examples: 

Indian's girl travel diary. Ree Yul Guesthouse Indian's girl travel diary. Ree Yul guesthouseRainy’s ambitious all-Indian-states Travelogue diary.

The father was a spoksperson on behalf of his daughter, Rainy. She identified herself as a travel blogger, and gave me her username on Instagram. You can check it out here: 

https://saveig.org/horophile_raptor/

I am proud to promote her talent. 

As the Israelis were singing both Hebrew and English songs, I held a long conversation with the Indians, mostly with the father.

Intercultural comforts and discomforts

He was a big fan of Israel. That was another reason I felt very uncomfortable when Y. ignored his request for a song he had on his phone. Y. had his own agenda and that was that. He was not open to taking suggestions from anybody. I tried to explain to him in Hebrew that he was not being polite, but he dismissed me as well.

Then the Indian man asked him whether Israel could be considered a dictatorship because we were obligated to go to the army. That made Y. stop in his tracks for a moment and pause the music to say that basically yes, we were a dictatorship. I said, feebly, that kids everywhere are undemocratically obligated to go to school, but my comment was universally ignored. Ouch.

I am sure that, like many of us, Y. holds resentments regarding his army service, but I did not think this was the appropriate response in that social context. What you say to your own people is understood one way; what you say to outsiders can easily be interpreted wrongly. I crunged inside about all ways he was doing us such a misservice, but perhaps his musical talent and natural charm compensated for it all… Musicians operate outside the regular rules, and the father did not seem to mind.

AWACS, binational exercises and national pride

The father, on his part, was all praise for Israel – our industries, our ingenuity. According to him, we saved India by training anti-terrorism experts. People come from India to Israel to get trained, and the two peoples hold common exercises. He said AWACS and Israeli communication systems saved many lives in India, and was very grateful. It feels good to be loved and appreciated by somebody on this planet…

He reminded me that it took the Indian army an hour to get from Delhi to Mumbai at the time of the terrorist attack. He said police was not trained for this kind of stuff. They only knew how to deliver traffic tickets, in his words. I rememebred we thought there was malfunction in India at the time. He said that now things were much better and everybody was more ready to react faster.

I said I was sad this is what we excelled at because of our existential necessities, but he said that we should feel good that we had these achievements.

Since I was about to fly to Rajasthan, he gave me some recommendations. In his beautiful, meticulous handwriting (I could see where his daughter got her talent from) he wrote his traveling tips in my little notebook: the Amber Fort and Hawa Mahal, Janta Mantar and Bhangarh Fort in and around Jaipur, the Udaipur Lake Palace, Pichola lake and Udaipur City Palace among others. I enumerated here the ones I ended up visiting. Great suggestions!

Leh, Ladakh - Other Israeli Encounters

31.8.2018

Where the apricots come from

Met T., the woman I was going to do the Baby Trek with at Oh La La café, an Israeli hangout. We had ginger lemon tea and talked about the trek, as I described in my post about Likir. She told me about her 5-day homestay at Turtuk Village in the Nubra Valley, which I visited subsequently. Her landlady took her to see the apricot picking – they shake the tree like we do with olives. If the fruit is bruised, rotten or too hard, they just use the pits. They can tell which pits are good and which are not. The good ones are used for the “almonds”, the bad ones are used to make oil.

Going for the extreme

I also met Yuval, a post-army girl with a unisex name, in one of the Israeli hangouts. I was having my favorite veggie momos and she ordered a noodle dish. We sat at a table on the street, talked and watched the passersby.

Yuval was very nice and friendly, but also one to challenge the extremes. She came to Leh after two weeks in the Philippines and two in Thailand. I wrote down some of her tips for a potential future reference. According to her, these countries were not as cheap as India, but cheap enough.

Extreme Phillipines and pagan rituals

The Philippines were the biggest surprise, she said. I was shown beautiful pictures of mountains terraced with rice fields. She did bungee, omega, rafting, diving. “I like extremes”. But also –  “I love my family, They support me in everything I do.” 

She‘d been to an amazing underground cave, one of the world’s wonders, climbed a volcano, bathed in waterfalls, hung on a hammock on the beach and dived with whale sharks. She showed me pictures to prove it all.

She visited a village called Barawi, where the locals were pagan. She saw and filmed a chicken sacrificing ceremony. Ninety fife percent of Philipinos are Christians, though, and speak good English.

Thai elepahnts and moonlight parties

In Thailand, she volunteered to pamper elephants who were mal-treated by humans. She said elephants see people as cute,the same way we think of dogs and cats…As a volunteer she fed them, gained their trust, and showed me pictures how “her” elephant hugged her with his trunk as she kissed him back… 

The Thai celebrate the moon several times a month. The biggest is the full moon. Up to 200,000 people join in for the full moon parties! The tourists and the locals develop some kind of symbiosis…

And I thought that she was a world wonder on to herself…

A reminder – Rosh Hashana is up and coming 

On the other end of the Israeli spectrum, a religious guy with a shofar in hand stopped to blow it in the middle of the “Israeli Road” for our sake in heaven. His little son did a good job blowing it as well and I took their photos, without emotion.

A Jewish Orthodox guy practicing blowing the shofar on a Leh street  Orthodox kid blowing shofar on a Leh street

Blowing the shofar on the “Israeli Road” at Leh, Ladakh

India as a Healer for Israeli Personal Problems

Mother India as the universal electrical ground

Israelis come in our multitudes to India for various reasons, ranging from deep to superficial. I eleborate about this in detail and express several of my own theories regarding this phenomenon in my posts,  “Why Israelis flock to India” and “Why Israeli go to India – less obvious motives.”

For more of my writings about the  outsized Israeli presence in India, see my blog topicThe Israeli Phenomenon in India”. 

Some come to India hoping she will miraculously solve their personal problems, or simply be a neutral place to escape to.

I believe there is something to that belief. Great Mother India can ideed take into her bosom almost anything. She acts as a universal electric ground for whatever we bring her.

Following is a perfect imperfect example: 

Oh, the mistake she made…

In the beginning of September I was back at the Peace Guesthouse, recovering from my Nubra Valley trip and preparing for my Baby Trek. I was also trying to buy an air ticket to Jaipur for the next stage of my India trip – Rajashthan.

At this time, a new Israeli showed up at the Peace Guesthoust. I will classify her with those who come to India believing they can miraculously solve their unsolvable personal problems here. Remembering having a good time in India when in her twenties, she hoped she would achieve some enlightenment here this time as well.

Her story in a nutshell was that at 40 she married for the first time, but within the first year of marriage she cheated on her husband with a common friend. He found out, spying on her, then cut her off their common bank account and told her to leave. “Losing it” in her words, she quit a prestigious job. She kept saying to me: ”But I love him… He is my best friend…”

Well, here she was in the Himalayas, but only in body. Her mind was still occupied with her drama, and the main thing she was doing in Leh was shopping for presents – for him, for his kids and for herself. 

When she comes back to Israel, she will need a new place and a new job. I usually try to help women in distress, but did not find the right advice in her case.

Body in the east, soul in the west

Originally planning on staying for two weeks, she cut her trip short to pursue her man in Israel. Mother India wasn’t given enough chance to work her magic in this case.

The only thing I did say to her was that running after guys usually didn’t work, but she disregarded me.

In a few days she flew back home with a huge Buddha torso, a meditation pillow, heavy jewelry and ₹3000 worth of Himalaya products.

To each their own…

...And for Venezuelan

 I met the woman and her teenage son when I was considering moving to the second floor of the Peace Guesthouse due to the plumbing problems.

She praised my flute playing and said we could play together (she played the ocarina), but that did not come to pass. Just then, the muezzin dominated the airwaves for 5 unbearable minutes. We planned to play the next day, but did not succeed to get together again.

Once she told me where she was from, I started talking to her in Spanish. That helped her to open up and talk about her life. 

Originally from Denmark, she met her Venezuelan husband in India years back. They lived for a while in Australia, and then moved to his homeland. Last year they moved back to Australia due to all the political and economical turmoil. Her husband had just arrived there, while she and the boy were travelling in India until the Australian Navidad (Christmas).

She wasn’t willing to talk about the “situation” in her adopted country, and I did not ask. Sad how we all get ground by politics, corruption, greed, mismanagement of other people. Against that backdrop, our personal dramas are often woven.

Leh, Ladakh - Enthusiasm for Religion

Sept 1, 2018.

I met Wazi, whom I met before at Tushita Meditation Center, on the “Israeli Road” in Leh (see above for our second meeting and the restaurant experience). I remembered him well, since he was the most enthusiastic devotee in the batch. On the last day of the retreat we had a ceremony, somewhat reminiscent of Hanukka with many candles lit, and chanted Om Mani Padme Hum numerous times. He got exctatic in a deep way, and went on by himself, chanting and dancing, oblivious to the fact that the rest of us were already done. It was beautiful to watch his devotion.

In the same spirit, now, as we met, he brought me into a yoga/meditation place, the Mahabodhi Meditation Center. Even though the place was obviously Buddhist, they also had yoga classes. Additionally, they run retreats at another, more isolated locale a bit out of town. The center provides social help to poor Ladakhi families.

I walked with Wazi into the place and picked up some brochures, but it was obvious that he was planning to stay there for a good while, meditating and investigating his options, so I took my leave.

Mahabodhi Yoga and Meditation Center, Leh Ladakh

At Mahabodhi International Meditation Center, Leh LadakhAt the Mahabodhi Meditation Center, Leh Ladakh

Buying an Air Ticket with Cash and Other Ordeals

Sept 1, 2018.

Getting lost in Leh…

The Israeli lady was going to show me a shortcut from our guesthouse to the “Israeli Road” where the travel agencies were located. In reality, we got on a series of side streets, but she insisted she knew the way. After an hour I got agitated and told her I had limited time to get my ticket. The upside was that I got to see neighborhoods of Leh I wouldn’t have seen otherwise. Without the “shortcut” I would have made it in ten minutes…

Eventually, I took off on my own, and somehow figured out the way back to the road. The preferred Israeli travel agency was packed, and the manager exuded haughty air. He said there were no tickets for the date I was looking for.

The 7 Gold Mountain and Sea Travel Agency

I went out, looking for a quieter place. On the other side of the street, more towards the center, I located a small agency, “7 Gold Mountain and Sea Travel Company”.  A sweet-faced soft-spoken Ladakhi man greeted me pleasantly. The Buddhist mantra “Om Mani Padme Hum” was playing quietly in the background. I explained my traveling needs, itinerary and contingencies, and he succeeded to get me a discounted ticket to Jaipur for September 6th.  The itineray was a bit tight, but I should make it. Things must work out with the trek, though, so I could get back to town as scheduled…We were expected to be back on the 5th…

To my uttermost suprise, I could only buy the air ticket with cash. Credit cards were not acceptable… I had already understood most of the daily transactions in India are carried out in cash, even for large sums, but air tickets???

I gave the agent all the money I had in my money belt, but needed to get back to the ATM to give him the difference of ₹2000 that was pending.

I used the time to also equip myself for the trek: apples, carrots, yak (actually dimanche, the female yak…) cheese and pitzuhim from the Kashmiri brothers. To relax, I stopped at a small dhaba by the market and had parantha with curd and channa (humus).

Angelic travel agent, Lobzang Tsetan. 7 sea travel companyLobzang Tsetan at 7 sea travel company, Leh Ladakh

The theory of relativity

Back at the agency, we now had a personal conversation. I pointed out a black-and-white picture that was hanging on the wall – beautiful women posed in front of a village hut. His mom and aunt. That started our conversation. He grew up in a Ladakhi village in uttermost simplicity. Kitchen, living and bedroom were basically the same space. Cow’s dung was used to heat up the house and cook. What came out at the other end of the stove was then used as compost.

And I was thinking – how much worse the Earth would have been if it wasn’t for the toil of Indian village women collecting cow’s dung? You can read my thoughts on this topic in my post, “Saving the Planet One Cow Dung at a Time “.

He asked me about work prospects in Israel. That made me sad. I told him I did not know of any job for him offhand, but that the jobs he could probably find would be way beneath what he was doing now. He did not mind, though, and that made me even sadder. I remembered my landlady in Antigua, Gueatemala. She had her own beautiful house and a maid, yet wanted to go to “America”. What would she do there? Work cleaning or as a nanny. It is much harder for an Indian to get an Israeli tourist visa than the other way around. Much of these dreams, sadly, are just fairy tales…

(Not) sending a package and more enterprises

Sept. 5th 

Got up at about 5. Repacked compulsively. Moved stuff to the Peace guesthouse. Washed my oily hair. Paid the Ree Yul guesthouse guy called Tsures (troubles in Yidish…), stocked my stuff in the “storage room” on the owner’s side of the facility, then went to deal with the package.

The post office was closed at opening hours. Me and a crowd of locals were waiting outside. Eventuallly, two Ladakhi ladies opened the doors.

It was 3.7 kgs and the unpleasant Ladahki clerk (I wanted the other one, but was out of luck…) pretended not to understand what I wanted. Not listening to my request to weigh the package as is so I would know how much it would cost me, she kept repeating the mantra that I needed the white cloth and the tailor work to sew it up. 

They both looked at my stuff and had some unknown issues with it…When I finally succeeded to get her on her computer and tell me how much it would cost, she said ₹2010. I calculated fast that it will cost me less to take it on the plane, picked up the package and left.

Packaged to go

I did not take into account the problem of overweight, though, because I was given wrong info. I was eventually made to pay a very high price for my carry-on and extra luggage on the plane, but that is another story.

On the positive side, I eventually sent a much larger package, full with beautiful things I bought in the marvellous Pushkar markets, from the illustrous Shiva Travel Agency in that town. That agency specializes in Israelis, and is worth every word of praise we travelers bestow upon it. The Lala Parcel Paker service associated with the Shiva agency sends packages routinely to Israel without problems or complaints [See about Shiva’s Travel Agency here.]  

(I’ll describe my interesting experiences at Leh’s Airport and the Jet Airways flight in a post about Jaipur. Stay tuned. Subscribe )

For more about Leh, see my posts: Leh – Hub of the Ladhaki DesertLeh – The Shanti Stupa and Mangyal Tsemo Monastery Leh 

These and other posts about the Himalaya are published on the page: The Indian Himalaya – Glimpse of the Infinite under the general section of Traveling India within the even larger section: Incredible India, which also includes the following sections: The Israeli Phenomenon in India and Point your Finger at Polluter – Who Cleans India

More posts about the Himalaya and about other regions of India are in preparation. Keep updated.

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