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Likir, Ladakh – Looking For “Baby”, Finding A Family

Likir, Ladakh – Looking for “Baby”, Finding a Family

The Baby Trek

The Family

India Works in Mysterious Ways

Everybody agrees: The laws of nature work differently in India. India has its own designs for you. Traveling plans in India should be looked at only as suggestions; reality will take you on its own treks. Ever so often you are served by an experience in ways you were not even aware were at work inside of you. Being  open, you might get signals and guidelines relevant for the rest of your life’s voyage.

Looking for donkeys, finding the Kingdom

It could not have been more plain than on this occasion. I planned on a “baby” trek – found a whole family. 

Saul, the sheperd boy, went looking for his donkeys Related image  Related image  when he was found by the prophet Samuel, who offered him the kingdom (1 Samuel chapter 9) 👑… 

My “kingdom” was a small Buddhist family in a remote Himalayan village.

Everybody agrees: The laws of Nature work differently in India...

The "Baby Trek"

Getting Ready for my trek experience

An Auspicious Meeting

The Baby Trek

I arranged for this experience way in advance. Even prior to my jeep trip to the Nubra Valley I was looking for an opportunity to do an easy trek. I knew that physically I could not do a hard one like the post-army Israelis or the mountain-hardy French, but heard from seasoned travelers in the Bhagsu Beit Habbad about a “Baby Trek”, a favorite of the uninitiated. The two young Israeli guys who told me about it were positive it was within my capacity.

I put the “baby” on a mental note. And, indeed, not too long after, in one of those lucky streaks that so often happen in India, I met an Israeli family – a mother with three children – who was planning to do this trek. The family was housed on the so-called Israeli side of Leh (there are “Israeli sides” in many Indian tourist places…) In theory me and the mother were more compatible with each other than with the younger folk. In practice, though, I got along and found common ground with many younger folk all throughout my journeys. At any rate, T. was energetic, friendly and motivated, and I expected things to be good. Hiking slowly with a family seemed just the right situation for my first-ever Himalayan trekking experience.

Enthusiastically, I told her I would make contact with her once I came back from Nubra. 

Dimanch cheese

As I returned from my jeep adventure, I immediately gave her a call to check if they were still around, and indeed, they were still lingering around Leh. The two of us arranged to meet at a coffeehouse much liked by Israelis to discuss the plan.

The meeting was pleasant and there seemed to be a lot of common ground between us. We agreed about the basic details and set a date for our departure. Living in two different parts of town, we arranged to meet on the due date by the “henna lady” at the corner of the “Israeli Road”. 

I bought some provisions, making sure I found yak cheese, which is well-known for being especially hardy, the kind of cheese I expected to travel well. The seller explained to me that there was no such thing as yak cheese. This was dimanch cheese. The yak is the male. Dimanche is the female… Live and learn.

When push came to shove…

Starting on the left foot

Morning started on the left foot. Ten minutes before our scheduled meeting T., who arranged for the jeep, texted me that there was a general strike in town: “Everything is closed and will open 12 or 14:00”.

I went back to the guesthouse with the understanding that our trip was potponed until further notice, only to receive an angry message a few minutes later that I should have waited at the designated spot notwithstanding the strike, that I was not instructed to go back home.

I rushed back to the henna lady, backpack and all.

The family was waiting for me, and eventually the jeep showed up, apparently violating the strike… When I got up on the vehicle, T. said she had to vent her anger and furstration with me before we embarked on the trip. She took no responsibility for my misinterpretation of her message.

My basic instinct was to get off the vehicle right there and then and call it quits, but understanding how hard it was for her with the children, I swallowed and stayed. She clearly did not need problems from my side, plus I wasn’t ready to shift gears at this point. She was clearly the one with the knowhow and the initiative in this enterprise, so I let go. 

Yet, her self-righteous anger made me feel bossed around, infantilized. I wasn’t sure I needed that energy at this stage of my life or that this was a good sign for the upcoming hike. 

Climbing the Tungurawa, 1981, Ecuador

The Israeli DNA

Also at play was my Israeli DNA, the desire to prove to myself I can still do a trek at my age, erase all the years that had passed since I was happily and heroically hiking in the Peruvian Cordillera Blanca, or climbing 4000m volcanoes in Ecuador, Mexico and Central America…

This is me, 28, climbing the Tungurahua, Ecuador

The Trek Experience and My Miserable Failure

Where mighty rivers meet

The road was beautiful and the driver amicable. Two rivers, the Indus and the Zanskar, meet at an auspicious spot. We stopped and clicked. Rivers in India are goddesses, all except for one, the Brahmaputra, who is a male god. Nice vibration…

Zanskar and Indus rivers junction, Ladakh Zanskar and Indus rivers junction, Ladakh

The deserted desert

Next we passed a village called Likir and two minutes later the driver dumped us in sheer “deserted” desert in super heat. The starting point was marked by hanging Buddhist flags. Otherwise there was nothing around. No cars on the road. No people to be seen. A few desert plants. The driver took his departure back to town. We were all alone in the wilderness, the starting point of the Baby Trek.

Gut Instincts

I had no prior imagery in my mind of what this trek would be like. I must admit that from staying in Leh it was easy to miss the fact that we were actually in extreme high desert. 

A huge descent into an obscure valley that appeared way below us was the first leg of this “baby” trek. I had an immediate instinctive feeling right at the pit of my stomach that this hike was not for me. I carried too much stuff (after all, I needed to prepare for every possible weather and bring food and water, no?) and it was hot, very hot. In Israel I avoid hiking in the heat, why do this here?

The children’s ages ranged from 9 to 16. They all volunteered to help me with the backpack, but I declined the generous offers not wishing to be a burden on anybody. How come their bags were so much lighter? What happened to me since my South American journey when I was perfectly light and bright?

I think T. was also a bit overwhelmed, but kept a stoic face. We all checked up whichever applications we had to figure out our location and what lay ahead.

Nonetheless, there was no comparing T. and myself. She was clearly hardier and better prepared for what was coming despite the children (or perhaps actually thanks to them …), and she was younger…

Giving the “Baby” my best try

I gave the “baby” my best try, though, which wasn’t really much at all. Five minutes into the descent, I told T. I would only walk the first day out of the three and then head back. Fifteen minutes after making this grand statement I already knew I would not even make the first day – heat, bag and all. I announced I was going back up right there and then, and started backtracking towards the Buddhist flags that by now were no more visible. 

Desert plant near Some plants make it in extreme high desert, Ladakh

A 9-year-old comes to my aid…

Five minutes into my retreat, one of the children caught up with me. T., being genuinely concerned for my well-being, had sent her 9-year-old to help the old lady climb and not leave her alone. It was a nice feeling. Somebody was caring for me in this empty wilderness. The boy offered to carry my bag. I allowed him to help with the small light red backpack I was carrying on my front for immediate uses, and kept the bigger one on my back.

It was hot, and I barely made it uphill even with the boy’s help and encouragement. My physical body can take well even to difficult walks as long as it is cool or at least some wind is blowing. A bit of air movement could make all the difference for my endurance, but there wasn’t any.

The boy was lightly hopping on the mountain in front of me. What did he think of this older lady panting her way up, stopping every few meters? I felt ashamed and embarassed, not used to being the problematic one on hikes, and he accompanied me all the way to the promised land. Once the flags were finally observed, bright and colorful, it still took a few minutes to retrieve my breath and have my heartbeat settle into normalcy. The boy took off and quickly ran down to catch up with his family. 

I  met them later in Leh, and T. told me that yes, it was harder than she previously thought, but they managed to do the entire trek, all three days of it nonetheless…

Oh, the conclusions…

One last word about the trek – I learned that at my age and with my knee issues and tendency to overpack I could still enjoy trekking, as long as the following conditions are met:

  1. Not in the heat
  2. A carrying solution. I should not carry on my person more than what I normally do on day trips – 2 liters of water, an apple, some trail mix and a light overshirt, all in my small, light backpack. For anything beyond that, pay a porter. 

Likir Village - Every Stone Sacred

I was entirely on my own in the heat, stranded on an empty deserted road. After 15 minutes of no cars, no motorcycels, no trucks, jeeps or anything else, I decided to walk towards Likir Village rather than wait for Messianic apparitions up the road. Yes, I can do that much, I decided, even with this ridiculously heavy backpack I was cursing myself for ever taking…What was I thinking???

I first set off on the actual paved road, but after the second curve the view opened up and it was clear that taking a shortcut through the desert would be faster and easier. The landscape itself was relatively flat. I walked some dirt roads that seemed to be leading to the village. Gradually civilization started to appear. Likir Village view, Ladakh

The first signs were strange whitewashed structures called Mani or Chortens. I remembered seeing such structures from the jeep when we first entered Leh and wondering what they were. I only later learned that these structures, which are completely sealed on the outside, have sacred scriptures and artifacts hidden inside. People circumambulate them for good luck.

Other religious markers were stones, also called Mani, inscribed with prayers and Buddhist writings that were placed over the many stone walls inside the village. Everything was dedicated to the religion, which felt to be the very pulse of the land…

Mani stones on fence. Likir village, LadakhMani stones on fences around Likir Village. 

     Gompas, Ladakh       Gompa, Likir Village, Ladakh

Mani, Chortens around Likir, Ladakh

Gompas, Likir village, LadakhMani or Chortens, Likir Village, Ladakh

Even inside the village everything seemed empty. There was not a soul to be seen. The houses had fences around them and very tall metal black gates that seemed to be always locked… It felt almost like a ghost town – white, hot and deserted. And it was high noon.

Everything in this Hiamalayan Buddhist village was dedicated to the religion, which felt to be the very pulse of the land...

Likir Village - Where did These Car Keys Come From?

Eventually, I spotted two women in the distance, and started heading in their direction. When I reached them about 15 minutes later, I discovered there was a small boy with them, who was found out to be the “English speaker” in the group. The women, wrinkeld beyond their age from work in the sun, seemed like the archetypal Ladakhi women farmers, bandannas and all. Probably illiterate, I thought without proof.

I asked for a guesthouse. They pointed up the path and spoke in Ladakhi. When we climbed just a little further (me with the walking stick of course…), a panorama opened up and the women pointed to the other side of the town beyond a deep valley. It would be at least another hour’s walk in the heat with my backpack.

Likir - a village woman looking over view, LadakhVillage woman, Likir, Ladakh

I sat down on a cement “rock”, pulled out an apple for myself and almonds for the women and the children (another one had just joined the group). When we were done eating, I wondered what to do next, but the older child put his hand in his pocket and pulled out what seemed to any discerning eye to be a car key…

Stunned, I asked for confirmation: “Is that a car key?” They responded in the affirmative and asked in elementary English if I wanted a “lift”. I said, sure, of course. Out of nowhere, like hocus focus, a car popped up on the white dirt road on the hill behind us. Shattering all my stereotypes and speculations, the woman with the headcover sat at the wheel. Everybody else crowded inside, including me and the backpack. She drove us to the other side of the village. I gave them a thousand thanks, but did not offer money. It did not feel right…

The Family

Looking for "Baby", Finding a Family

Rinchen

I walked to the guesthouse that the woman pointed at, but found the building to be under construction. Workers with faces covered in white dust stared at me.

As I was trying to figure out what to do, behind them on the road a woman with a pleasant demeanour was walking towards me. Rinchen Easen had a long ponytail and a lovely, generous, open face. She explained that the guesthouse was being renovated and offered me to stay with her family instead! I have heard from Israelis, including from T. herself, about their wonderful experiences with homestays in Turtuk Village and elsewhere and happily accepted.

Rinchen Eachen, Likir Village, LadakhRinchen

Rinchen led me to her home. We climbed a few stairs and her husband invited me to sit in the family kitchen while they were preparing my room.   

I was enchanted. Sitting on a cushion in the kitchen, I watched the women and the children come and go. They of course offered me everything available. I took tea and some banana cookies, pulled out my Swiss army knife and cut my dimanche cheese which I put with carrot pieces over the crackers. Regardless of what you call this cheese, it was very tasty. 

In way of thankfulness, I offered everybody my almonds which, to my satisfaction, they accepted willingly. 

Sister-in-law with son in the everyday kitchen, Likir, Ladakh The everyday kitchen at Rinchen's house, Likir, Ladakh.

My yak cheese meal. Likir

 The everyday kitchen with sisters-in-law and baby. Bottom: my yak (dimanch) meal with home-made cookies and tea.

The family

Slowly I discovered the family, figuring out by trial and error who is who…(I’m very bad at facial recognition and name memorization. More than two new faces at a time for me is a crowd… Not a great asset in traveling, in teaching, or even in watching movies, but I sure made the effort…)

The family consisted of Rinchen (Dolma) Eachen and her husband, Tsering Lamchung, their baby, Stanzin Nagsal, Rinchen’s mother-in-law and four sisters-in-law, one with a 2-year-old boy. There was also a cousin, a young boy, whom I’ve later seen watching a small, old TV in the corner.

The next day I discovered that the extended family presence in the family home was not the norm. They actually all gathered from different places to help with the harvest.

Royal Hospitality Likir-Style

The room they organized for me was glorious. There were two Buddhist chests with pictures of dragons on painted colorful wood, two beds facing each other, hand-made pillows, a huge picture of a Tibetan town on the wall, and lovely wooden windows with blue curtains.

My room, Likir. Pic on wall from Tibet  My room with Buddhist furniture. Likir Village

My room, Likir village, Ladakh

Incredible silence. Magical. Here, unlike in Himachal, there seemed to be electricity 24X7, but no cars, no motor sounds or blaring televisions (later I found out that all these things did exist, but were in minimal usage). Apples and veggies were purely organic.

Mutual curiosity apparently was at play, and even in my room I was not left alone. One girl, or another, knocked on the door or just walked in every little while to check if I needed something or just to take a look… I understood that privacy was not a prime value, which was just fine. They brought in refreshments and a thermos with hot tea. Tsering brought me an extra heavy duvet for the “just in case”, although the weather was reasonably nice.

By the end of the day I was invited to join the family dinner, but not until after I had my bath and visited the family shrine…

Likir Hospitality - The Bath

This was my only request, really. Everything else just came by itself miraculously. I badly needed to wash after the desert walk.

The bath ritual was conducted in a separate small structure outside the house, a one minute walk along the family wheat field. Rinchen organized for me a large blue plastic bucket, filled it with water and then heated it with a huge electrical “spoon”. I was surprised with the transposition of the familiar and much-liked electrical spoon concept from a small thingie inserted into a tea cup to a very large spool used to heat large containers like this, but it made perfect sense… There was also a cold water bucket on the side.

Since I wasn’t much experienced with bathing that way, I had to figure out how to use the tools at my disposal. I started the process in a standing position but ended up sitting, fairly crunched, inside the rounded bucket (blue plastic), a heroine of a British historical movie, but without the servants.

1

Source: https: https://www.storypick.com/15-simple-reasons-indian-bathrooms-best-world/

A typical plastic adult bath

The Home Shrine

I asked Rinchen which prayers she did on a daily basis. As an answer, she opened the door across from my toom into a magical space full with pictures and sculptures of the Buddha, lamas and demons. There were also ancient books in Tibetan that she said she could read. Twice a day she lights fire in oil candles and fills up a series of bowls with water as a gift to the powers that be and the Buddha. I have seen similar objects of worship at Tushita Meditation Center and in the monastery in Leh. There was also a gong and cymbals in a macramé knitted case.       

      Home temple with sacred pictures and artifacts, Ladakh

      Home temple gong and sacred objects. Ladakh

    Sugar offering at home temple, Likir village, Ladakh     Lamas figures at home temple, Likir, Ladakh

Various religious artifacts and sacred objects at the Eachen family home shrine. Likir, Ladakh

The most interesting artifact was a kind of totem poll where Buddhas and demons were piled one on top of the other. There were thousands of hands around the totem, all with eyes inside the palms. Rinchen said it was the same “totem pole” I had seen in the Mangyal Tsemo Monastery in Leh. She mentioned the number of hands and eyes, and counted the stacked heads – threes at the bottom, then just singles at the top – eleven in total.

To get a better understanding I made a small search. This is what I found:

Thousand Arms Avaloketishvara 

Avaloketishvara, in the beginning of his Bodhisattva career, took a great vow “Should he ever become disheartened in saving sentient beings, may his body shatter into a thousand pieces.” Due to the vow, he became the symbol of overwhelming compassion and determination. Still, despite his great effort and will, many countless beings are suffering and they are yet to saved.

Avaloketishvara became disheartened that despite his vow he couldn’t fulfill their needs. As a consequence, his head shattered into 11 pieces. Seeing his great difficulty, Amitabha Buddha gave him 11 heads so that he could hear the cries and needs of sentient beings world-over who are still suffering.

His two hands, though,  were limited in their ability to provide aid to those in need, so they also shattered into pieces. Once again Amitabha Buddha, with his miraculous powers gave Avaloketishvara a new form where he had 1000 hands of compassion and eye of wisdom in each palm on top of the 1000 heads to hear the cries of sentient beings. (Source: https://www.burmese-art.com/blog/avaloketishvara). 

Great story.

The books in the family’s shrine looked very ancient, and there were old pictures of Buddha covered in cloth for protection on the walls.

Rinchen explained to me that the large Buddha I saw in Diskit was seated with his legs down because he was “up and coming”. Here there was an image of a Buddha that was already “running”. There was also a photo of an “oracle”.

Twice during my visit I meditated in the shrine. It felt just right. 

The Dinner

There were two kitchens in the house, both large and spacious – one for everyday usage, and one for family gatherings, special events, guests, etc. Dinner took place in the fancier kitchen/dining.

I don’t like being waited on and put on pedestals, but I had no choice in the matter. I was simply “not allowed” to sit with the family on the rug, and had to sit on a raised decorated bench on the other side of the room, being constantly served…

      Guest kitchen and dining room, Rinchen's home, Likir Ladakh

The guest kitchen with heavy-duty winter stove

The vegetarian dinner was of course delicious, but it was hard to eat all alone when everybody else was having company…

Waiting for dinner. Likir, Ladakh   This is the happy family dining at the guest kitchen. I was put on a pedestal at the other side of the room, from where I took the pictures…

The Family

The timid sisters proved to be highly educated. One was a pharmacist, the other a secretary in the army, the third had a degree in computer engineering and worked in a bank. The computer lady had excellent English.

Rinchen herself admitted shyly that she had finished college in Jammu (Kashmir) studying political science… 

Still, now at the family home, they were all gathered for the harvest that was about to take place the next morning and were taking care of the kitchen work.

Slowly I understdood how they made their living. Tsering himself was working in Leh, distributing rice and wheat. Rinchen had a clothing store in town. They were building the new guesthouse, the two-story white building next door that would have both a western and a squat toilet… Rinchen’s family also gave them a piece of land in Leh itself and they were considering building another guesthouse there.

All this was in addition to the farming in Likir. They had several wheat fields, barley, potatoes, vegetable gardens with cabbage, onions, spinach, and carrots, as well as some cows. 

The sister with the plumpish baby was an army widow. There was a picture of a soldier in a frame in my room…

Likir Morning - Exploring the Village

In the morning Tsering, Rinchen’s husband, brought two bags of food supplies to the house, and the women immediatly set out and made a pile of Ladhaki bread. Everybody sat down in the everyday kitchen to eat. I found Ladhaki bread to be very similar to our pita.

Ladhaki tea, on the other hand, was a weird concoction with butter and salt immesrsed in it, a survival drink for mountain people. There was also a “normal” version, which I enjoyed.

After breakfast I went out to investigate my environment. I was also looking (unsuccessfully) for a spot to eliminate my bowels (see below – problems in Paradise).

In a small yard at the back of the house, Tsering’s mother was washing the cow’s tits, getting ready for the milking.

There were many village paths and dirt roads, usually with stone fences hedging them in. I gave myself signs how not to get lost. On one side of the fence a man in an army uniform and several girls were picking greenery, probably for winter usage. The hay goes on the roofs for warmth and in storage rooms for the animals. It was hard to imagine the homogenous white that will cover the land very soon, and the piercing cold…

Keeping house warm with straw on roof. Ladakh

Likir village prepared for the winter – roofs are covered with straw collected during the summer to keep the heat in 

Since all the work must be done in the short summer, those who keep living in the village year-round toil very hard.

Julia Harte wrote a thorough description of Likir’s economy and its daily struggle with its harsh environment in Cultural Survival quarterly.

On the way back I picked a heavy wheat head.

Likir Morning - a Family Stroll

Coming back home, Rinchen offered me to join her morning stroll with the two cuties. The older cousin joined. Rinchen was also planning to try and help me with my “problem in paradise” but I wasn’t aware of this then… 

On the way, Rinchen picked berries from the hedge. They were very bright, the color I thought was a warning color, but she said they were OK for human consumption, so I ate some. She and the boy handed the berries to the kiddies, who eagerly mouthed them.

  Little Stanzin by stone fence, Likir    Cousin feeding berries to babies Feasting on berries, Likir Village

A little higher up on the same road we reached a large prayer wheel. An older woman was turning it. It felt very auspicious with the three generations of us there at the same time.

Rinchen, Stanzin and old woman by prayer wheel. Likir  Three generations at the prayer wheel, Likir 

After taking leave of the old woman and the prayer wheel, and totally out of the blue, Rinchen told me: “The Chinese do not have the freedoms we have…” She might have been thinking of her Tibetan brothers and sisters suffering under the Chinese yoke, or of China in general. Either way it was nice to acknowledge and be reminded of the gifts India still provides to its Tibetan and minority citizens.

We were now walking up to a spot where Rinchen thought I might be able to solve my “problem”. Despite her best intentions, at this point nothing seemed to work… 😟

She also mentioned a famous monastery nearby, but we did not get to see it. At any rate, it’s always good to have another reason to come back…

Beautiful pictures of the Likir Monastery can be found here and elsewhere on the Net.

Notwithstanding, and auspiciously, on our way back, I had the extraordinary fortune to see the wheat field being harvested…

Likir Village - The Harvest

A Himalayan Village and Camille Pissaro

The universe arranged “especially for me” to have the wheat field harvest on the second day I spent in Likir. What a stroke of luck.

Work started at around 8:30 and was done by lunchtime. The older ladies cut the wheat with amazing rigor, together with several men of various ages. They were all singing and sharing jokes. Most covered their faces to the nose level. It felt like a happy affair, if arduous.

In the meantime the younger women were preparing the lunch.

The harvest reminded me of the famous impressionistic pictures by Van Goch, Pissaro and others:The wheat harvest

 The wheat harvest

Pissaro, The Harvest

Left: The wheat harvest. Likir, Right: Cammile Pissaro: The Harvest (1882)

A wonderful vibration occurs when everybody works together. It is hard but stress-less. The rewards cannot be easily interpreted in utilitarian transactional terms so common today to measure the worth of things. [see my post about Trump, Esptein and the American dream regarding the ability to enjoy the basic joys of life.]

Wheat used to be ground in a water mill to extract the flour, but nowadays they were going to rent a machine

Rinchen offered me a ride to Leh in a few hours time. They were going to visit her family of origin, and Tsering had some errands in town. I actually would have rather stayed another day, but did not want to refuse the offer, or keep staying there without Rinchen and her husband.

I offered her ₹1000 for the one-day stay. She refused to take more than ₹500, but yielded in the end.

Ahimsa, Mother Earth and the Book of Ruth

We waited for Tsering, Rinchen’s husband, to be ready. In the meantime we sat down to eat with the harvesters. This was unquestionably the highlight of my visit. Rinchen wanted me to sit on a pedestal again (a chair), but this time I vehemently refused, stood my ground and sat with everybody else on Mother Earth sharing the same hearty vegetarian food the sisters were preparing meanwhile in the kitchen. 

When we were seated to eat, an older man captured a mouse with his hands, and then another one. The other men all laughed like little kids, then dumped the mice into the neighboring field, adhering to the ahimsa law prescribed by the Dalai Lama not to harm any living creature. Amazing.

(In this context see my post Wolf Spiders and Buddhist Compassion).

Family lunch in harvested field. Likir, LadakhHaving lunch at the harvested field, Likir, Ladakh

Once the field was totally ripped down, the women collected the leftovers and collated the hay into bundles. It reminded me of the Biblical story of Ruth: 

And Ruth the Moabite said to Naomi, “Let me go to the fields and pick up the leftover grain behind anyone in whose eyes I find favor.”

Naomi said to her, “Go ahead, my daughter.”  So she went out, entered a field and began to glean behind the harvesters. (Ruth 2, 2-3)

The harvested field, Likir, LadakhLikir, Ladakh – The harvested field

Tomorrow the threshing machine will arrive to separate the grain from the chaff.

Preparing for the trip to town, Rinchen washed her hair under an outdoor spout of running mountain water. The baby was crying in the arms of one of the sisters, not used to the separation… 

Problems in Paradise - The Toilet

India is a challenging place for westerners in terms of our bathroom habits. Specifically for me, the problem is exacerbated ten-fold because I suffer from worn cartilages in both my knees and have hard time squatting. 

On several occasions in India I succeeded with the ordeal, as long as I had something to hold on to with my hands, even a wall proximate to the hole, but the toilet here was a large earthen composting facility, clean and sanitary, but nothing to grasp on to as I squatted or, worse, when I tried to get up.

Even in my forties, I would have enjoyed using this toilet. Unfortunately, my knees do not get better with time…😟

Compost rural toilet, LadakhLadakhi eco-toilet. Source: https://aif.org/coco-compost-ladakhs-eco-toilets/

The result of my problem in my Likir paradise was that I could not go on the toilet except to pee, which is easily done standing…

Ironically, I know from my yoga teachers that my knee problem could have been avoided in the first place had I used a squat toilet my entire life like the Indians.

Rinchen promised that once the new guesthouse, which will be called “Kyalu House”, is ready, hopefully by next year, it will have a “water toilet”…

Problems in Paradise - The Modern World

When he drove us to town, Tsering complained that the life in India is now too fast and nervous. Transportation used to be the one bus leaving Likir village in the mornings. Now everybody had a car, including the one we were driving in. The family is spread over several locations and has several businesses in town and in the village, all of which necessitate a lot of driving and running around. The modern world, indeed, offers many temptations and gifts, but there is always a price to pay.

On yet another level there was the TV. The older cousin boy was quietly watching silly cartoons on a small old set in the kitchen, but the commercials displayed fancy women on heels with a lot of sexual innuendoes, totally out of sync with the surrounding culture…

The boy was home due to some “Hindu holiday” as they called it. Rinchen said that in her Buddhist school they only celebrated the Buddhist holidays and some national ones. It seems like there are lots of holidays in this religion-rich country…

Despite all these issues, the village was blessedly peaceful and tranquil, with the three generations helping each other, while Buddha was serenely watching over the scene… 

Another Night of Hospitality

Tsering drove us to Rinchen’s parental home in a village near Leh. I slept for gratis in a nice guestroom on the second floor of a rural middle-class home. The family was clearly well-to-do. There were many family members around. Being an unplanned guest, I did not want to impose, so retreated into the room given to me, only emerging to use the (water, western) toilet and the shower.

The ubiquitous cow in the back yard outside my window was doing her own nightly meditation, while in the living room, a cute baby was sleeping in an airy mosquito net. Ladhaki babies are as cute as they come…

After peacefully reading my Kindle and writing some in my diary, I sank into deep sleep.

Baby sleeping in tent at Rinchen's family home near Leh.

Tsering drove us to Leh in the morning. Not able to give him driving instructions, I got off the van near the main market with my backpack and walked. 

Once at the Peace Guesthouse, Isamil was surprised to see me a day earlier than planned. “My” room was taken, so he sent me in the meantime to the neighboring guesthouse. It wasn’t nearly as nice, but I met some “cool” Israelis there, as well as a couple of very wonderful Indians – a father and daughter – who were traveling around the country. She was doing a fabulous painting/writing project for each of the Indian states, but that is another story for another post…

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A place of heart 

To summarize my Likir visit – for me being in the presence of the family was the highlight of my trip to India. (This, and my visit with a friend’s family in Maharashtra I will write about in a future post). This family for me was the epitome of goodness and honesty, friendliness and family values. 

The “Baby Trek” will have to wait for my next trip to the subcontinent, or perhaps was never meant to be…. Yet, if I make it one more time to the wonderful Himalayan village of Likir, I will for sure stay at the renovated Kaylu House (with the new water toilet 🌝) if only to meet the family again.

A wholesome life 

In many ways I found it more rewarding to stay with a simple lay Buddhist family than in the Tushita Meditation Center, as wonderful as that experience had been. 

I am not saying this to diminish my Tushita experience, or the monastic choice which some people make. I am speaking for myself. I plan to write a more elaborate post about my stay in Tushita and what I learned there. Both experiences contributed to my life greatly and complemented each other. 

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A happy update 

Rinchen's babyThe new addition to the family: Stanzin Khasdup

And a baby after all…

By now the family is blessed with a new baby boy, Stanzin Khadup. While I was there and unbeknownst to me, Rinchen was actually pregnant…

Note: the above text and pictures are published with the family’s consent.

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