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Lessons from an evening in Ladakh

I visited Ladakh close to two years ago with my parents; since we went there close to beginning of winters, we had to keep our trip short and that left us with less time to acclimatize ourselves to the weather. Out of the 4 days we planned to spend, my parents felt a little sick on the second day and could not join us for the sightseeing. On that day, we had planned to visit places around Leh which included the visiting the Thiksey Gompa (Monastery). I liked the place so much that I wanted my parents to visit the place - so on the next day, after we finished our day long itinerary, I insisted we take a shot at visiting Thiksey again.

As luck would have it, we reached the monastery just when it started getting dark (after which usually the doors are closed to visitors), but chanced to get entry into the main gate. However, to my disappointment, the doors of the main temple were closed by the time we climbed up. We were about to turn back when my brother spotted a young lama, in his teens, looking down from his room in the premises of the monastery towards us. My brother quickly ran up to him and asked him if the temple could be opened.

I had started tying up my shoe laces again, expecting a nigh in reply - but to my surprise the young lama agreed, and came to open the temple door. We went inside, prayed and then when we were about to leave, the lama called up to come up to their rooms. The rooms were built exactly like the Mumbai Chawls - smallish and side by side; each room meant for one student lama. The small size also possibly helped to keep them warmer in the extreme cold weather of Ladakh.

When we went up, it was getting dark and as is usual in Ladakh, the temperature was dropping a degree every few minutes. The young lama called us in, and then started heating some tea for us - we were pleasantly surprised! We also saw another boy, with Caucasian features, sitting in the same room. On talking to him we discovered he was an Italian student and had come to Ladakh as a tourist. But he had become good friends with our host and had been living with him since past few months.

The young lama was a Ladakh resident, he studied Buddhism as it is preached in Ladakh - he was studying to become a priest and looking at the thickness of the books in his room, it looked like a uphill task requiring extreme discipline of mind and the soul - the physical hardships of living an ascetic's life being apart! I wondered if this young boy even knew about the world outside of Ladakh and more importantly the "joys of life" outside the monastery. If he knew what it meant to live in a city, what night life was, how much and what all he could learn if he logged on the internet, what was the fun in watching movies etc. Probably, for him ignorance was bliss - but I also wondered if he was lucky not to be exposed to all these distractions of the worldly life and to be without being exposed to them, pushed comfortably into an ascetic life; or was it unfortunate that he would become an ascetic without ever discovering what he was missing (or what he was not missing or what troubles he was escaping), by becoming an ascetic.

Philosophy aside, today when I reminisce back on that evening of a few hours, I figured that I learnt many things that day:

  1. Life gives you chances only if you dare to take them. We could have walked back that day without even entering the temple, leave alone have a unique experience of seeing a lama's little alcove from inside and having tea with him and his Italian friend - but for the chance that my brother took of running upto him for permission. 
  2. When you ask, you often get more than what you ask for! We simply wanted to enter the temple and pray to Maitreya Buddha - the deity of Thiksey Gompa. But the lord blessed us with a bonus experience which none of us would forget for life.
  3. Life is all about odd experiences! Had we just gone to the Monastery once or during day time, we would have clicked a snap there, remembered the place as a beautiful building and forgotten. But with the unique experience we had - we will never forget the place and the unique hospitality.
  4. Rules are not always universal. Yes there was a rule that one doesn't enter the monastery after dark, yes there's a rule that the lamas do not usually interact with tourists - but both were broken that day. And it didn't feel unholy in any way. The world is composed of two kinds of rules - the ones made by nature - which if broken lead to disaster, but the second set of rules (which are far larger in number and pervade our lives more multifariously) are made by humans, and these rules can be broken. In fact, such rules also need to be broken once in a while to set into motion a new order of the world - that thought of course is worth a full blog post sometime else. 
  5. Its not about how much money you have or who you are, its always about being in the right place at the right time. Here I let out a secret - part of the reason the lama was generous to us was because my brother was posted in Ladakh then, and he hence could relate to him in some manner. Yet, possibly even an Amitabh Bacchan could not have landed into this kind of an experience as we did. It was sheer stroke of  luck! So in conclusion - life is all about taking your chances!

The fact that I am writing about this small incident after more than 18 months is testimony to how deeply it is now imprinted on my memories.


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