Getting a flavour of Buddhist way of life in Shey, Ladakh

Rarely are work trips, or in journalism terms junkets, fun despite being fancy. You are tucked up in fancy 5-star hotels and pampered with five-course meals. But then you will have to attend mostly boring seminars that make you sleepy the whole day.

But the recent junket to Leh was probably one of the best.  I had gone to Leh on the invite of a startup in the defense space. It was a one day trip, which I wanted to extend but could not due to work commitments. So I decided to make the best out of the short time I was in Leh, right from imprinting the beautiful slow-clad mountains that I glimpsed through my window in GoAir flight.

Was a sight it was!

Even after I got down, I could not help but be mesmerised by the sight of the snow clad mountains. 

View of snow clad mountains for Leh from flight
More of beautiful landscape from flight

Later when I interacted with locals, I was told that it snowed only last week and instances of avalanche, which explained the snow, have increased. It was early I learnt, due to climate change. 

We passed through the a small market on the way to Shey, where we were put up, from the airport. Shey was literally in the middle of nowhere. There were few buildings here and there. There was no sound except for rustling of leaves and twittering birds. Going by the census the place has roughly 300 households with agriculture being the primary source of income. 

For a town that is small and barely occupied, it had its share of glory in the past. For, few centuries ago Shey was a seat of power and was the ancient capital of Ladakh. Though little is known about the history of the region, it is said that the region was ruled by the Tibetan prince Nyima gon. After years of war, the city fell into ruins. What remains are the summer palace of kings and monastery in Gompa. 

The old Shey Palace, built in 1655 also known as Lhachen Palgyigon, was  used as summer retreat by kings of Ladakh.  The monastery in Gompa that is still standing. 

As you walk on the road you will notice structures with beautifully painted walls. Inside these walls is carved cylindrical wheel, adorned in green, white and red colours, with a bell. People ring the bell and rotate the prayer wheel humming ‘Om mani padme  hum’. These are buddhist temples called ‘mani’ pronounced ‘mane’, explained a local who runs the resort I was staying that night. 

Om mani padme hum is prayer for world peace, the local explained. If you are looking for literal meanings of the words, ‘mani’ is a bead or jewel, ‘padme’ refers to the lotus flower and ‘hum’ responds to spirit of enlightenment. But the phrase probably means more and can be interpreted differently.  Some manis have similar small prayers wheels that you will rotate around the temple and some might not. 

Mani, a buddhist temple. You rotate the wheel and pray ‘om mani padme hum’
Another mani I found within 200 metres
These small wheels could be found near the mani. The inscriptions on them read ‘om mani padme hum’
These small wheels could be found near the mani.

But as you walk along the roads in Shey, you will notice that there is a ‘mani’ every few hundreds metres.  I saw a woman turning the wheel in a mani.  It reminded me of ‘pillayar (Ganesh) temple’ that could be seen in every corner in most of the Tamil Nadu. You will see people praying, for good health, better start and may be eveb world peace. It just made me realise, even a few thousand miles away and in two different religions the idea has not totally changed!

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