In October 2016, I took a walk to remember. Around 600 locals, 400 monks and nuns from Ladakh, Himachal, the North East, Bhutan and Nepal and 250 foreigners from various corners of the world set out on the 8th annual Eco Padyatra in Ladakh. They were all led by His Holiness Gyalwang Drukpa. ‘A journey from self to selflessness’ they called it.
The yatra started at Chemrey village proceeding via Sakti, Khaspang, Egu and all the way to the holy lake of Egu Tso. It involved walking upto 8 hours a day at altitudes as high as 5,500 meters, through remote villages in Ladakh, camping at sub zero temperatures and crossing high mountain passes. But the fearless spirit of the people, the friendly conversations and the Buddhist chants that echoed all around created an energy so positive in the atmosphere, it totally kept us going.
Here’s a glimpse of the 9 day journey through my lens:
This campsite on the foothills of the Chemrey monastery was where this extremely challenging but equally fulfilling journey began.
A lady dressed in a lavish Ladakhi outfit is amongst hundreds of locals who made their way to the Chemrey monastery to pay their respects to His Holiness Gyalwang Drukpa, the spiritual leader of the 1000 year old Drukpa lineage of Buddhism. [Read about my meeting with him here]
“A journey of a 1000 miles begins with a single step”.
Day 1 – The pilgrims set out on their journey.
The offering of incense in the form of burning juniper foliage as an invocation to the Gods. An ancient tradition practiced widely in Ladakh. We were greeted by hundreds of locals outside their homes, with this ethereal fragrance.
And there had to be song and dance in this land of rich folklore, some of which even dates back to the pre-buddhist era. The vibrant folk dances were a delight to watch.
The pilgrims walked through remote villages and across high passes in a single line for 9 days. No one broke the order. We rested together and then we moved again. From varied walks of life. From varied parts of the world. All with one thing in common – faith!
A cute little boy seeks blessings of the senior llamas as we pass by his village during the yatra.
“There is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun”
Together we walk, together we stall.
Hot cups of butter tea were poured endlessly into your cup every time the level receded and dry dung burnt to produce heat. Everyone huddled around it. Even in the harsh and treacherous terrain, the unflinching kindness and indomitable spirit of the people is what kept me warm and inspired, even at the sub zero temperatures.
Meanwhile, behind the scenes, we helped prepare and serve food to the foreigners at the yatra.
The locals of Egu village climb up all the wayto greet the pilgrims with food and tea. They serve the monks, nuns, other Ladakhis and foreigners alike seeking only blessings from His Holiness and the other llamas in return.
The holy lake of Igu, at an elevation of about 5,500 meters above sea level, was the final destination of the Eco Padyatra. It is believed that people meditating by the lake have seen various images in it – stupas, monasteries, entire villages. Well, I guess you do have to believe in magic to be able to find it.
This was one of the most heart warming moments on our yatra back towards Chemrey. This lady from Igu village greeted everyone with a smile so wide and a demeanor so pleasant, it just took your heart away. The land was majestic, but the people were definitely the highlight of my journey to Ladakh. Content, beaming, full of life, kind and giving like no other, they ensured my journey through the land was inspired and heart-warming throughout.
Despite the physical and mental challenges this journey entailed, I will always remember it as one of the most beautiful experiences of my life – unparalleled and divine!
What are your most memorable journeys?