Saturday, February 28, 2009

River Rafting in Leh

Published on the HSBC Intranet

With temperatures rising in Bombay, I along with my wife headed to Leh to beat the heat. Leh is very famous for its white water river rafting. We had never done rafting earlier; it was our first, surely not the last. There are many options for river rafting in Leh Ladakh; We chose to raft from Phey to Nimu (a stretch of 3 hrs). On the bank of the river, I was filled with thrill, excitement and fear. Traversing through the deep waters amidst deep canyons and soaring snow-covered peaks we reached ‘Nimu’, where the Zanskar river confluences with Indus. The river is graded as class III/IV. The water was freezing cold. There were 3 teams rafting together. We were 8 people on the boat; me, my wife, a family of 5(foreigners) and our instructor.

We performed exciting river rafting. It made me feel very proud of myself that I could raft well in spite of rafting for the first time. I later realised that rafting is a team effort. We had a nice team. The foreigners had experience in rafting and they gave us tips on how to handle rough waters while rafting. Their tips came in handy. Our team was the first to arrive at Nimu.

Foreigners made me realise that, experienced members should guide the inexperienced members for successful team performance. Rafting has taught me an important lesson of my life- “A successful team has all the performing members”. Hence rafting has become a memorable experience to forget.

An Interesting Experience

Many people have an uncanny habit of listening to other people’s conversation. I have it. Though I may not be very keen to do that, but it happens unknowingly. It may not be polite but a few times (mostly while travelling) I have come across situations when I was inadvertently listening to my neighbours’ conversation, trying to make the morbid journey interesting.

Last Friday on my way back home, while getting down from the train I over-heard two ladies discussing with each other about an interesting experience. As I was looking forward to get down from the train, I was away from them in a moment to hear their discussion further.

After getting down from the train, the walk down the road to my house was full of anticipation. I kept wondering what that interesting experience could have been. A movie, a meeting, a friend, a boy-friend, a lover, a travel experience? I probably may never know because I never knew them at the first place.

These ladies too may never know how their harmless gossip made a stranger wonder, what it was all about. Was it an interesting experience for me? Yes, it was. As this surely pulled me out of the monotonous journey and diverted my attention in a different direction. I thought, it’d have been better if I’d have listened to the complete conversation and put a full stop to those incomplete thoughts. Men feel gossip is for women, but men do contribute to the gossip in a rather non-participative way.

After reaching home, while watching the cricket match I kept thinking if ever I instigated someone to think about what I said. I had a doubt.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Ferrari 2009 – The New F60

Bernie Ecclestone, the Formula One boss feels modern technology (in F1) owes ecology an apology. There is a global-crisis which has affected Formula One as well. He has therefore proposed a few regulations this year to provide 'responsible entertainment' to fans by reducing both the emissions and the team spendings. The teams according to him also have to think about the drastic dip in revenues of their sponsors and accordingly cut costs. Various teams were at loggerheads with him on the cost-cutting issue but now it seems the dark clouds have parted as these teams have started unveiling their cars for the new season.

Losing is inevitable. But the smart ones never forget the lesson. And that is what Ferrari is doing. After a heart-breaking and nerve-wrecking defeat by a solitary point to the nearest rival Mclaren in the driver's championship category, instead of resting on its laurels they have taken the initiative and unveiled its new car before their rivals for the year 2009. They thus have proved that they are keen to resume their title contention, are aiming to win the technological battle with other teams and are looking to get the most out of the new modifications.

Ferrari is the only team to have taken part in all the races since 1950. Since this was its 60th year, the car is called F60. This is its 55th Ferrari overall which would be used in Formula One. Thus, the number one racing team has many things to prove in the new season and surely has a big-role to play in shaping the future of Formula One.

There was a slight aberration though. The unleashing of the new car takes place every year in Fiorano, but the heavy snowfall there made the Ferrari officials change their minds. The place finalised this time was their Mugello track in Italy.

The new car carried a lot of modifications which are mostly on the aerodynamics aspect of the car which are in line with the new rule agreed by all teams to enable more overtaking on the track. The front wings looked wider than before and the rear wings higher. The entire layout of the car has been modelled in order to achieve proper weight distribution.

Another superb modification in the new car is a feature of Kinetic Energy Recovery System (KERS) which has been developed in collaboration with Magneti Marelli, an Italian automotive company which deals in the development of high-end components. KERS would also play a big role in reducing the amount of carbon-dioxide (a green house gas) released in the atmosphere. Ferrari technicians however were unsure of how the car would react after these changes and are following a wait and watch policy as they were to study the response of the new engine after the tests. The elegant Felipe Massa wasn’t able to hide his surprise. He said he was expecting a larger car but to him this was too smaller. It seemed a Formula 3 car to him.

With 8 Constructor’s Championships in the last decade, Ferrari is easily the best team so far. And since it is the only car to come this far (since last 60 years), it can be said that the fortunes of Formula one racing are inter-twined with that of Ferrari. With 8 trophies in the kitty it is heartening to see the pride in the team which has kept it still unsatisfied and it wants to win more trophies.

Murphy’s Law states that if something goes wrong, it usually will. Ferrari team is well aware of this and is looking forward to keep the errors down which cost it the driver’s championship last year. But the biggest challenge is to reduce the human errors like the one that happened at Marina Bay in Singapore when the fuel hose stuck in Felipe’s car while refilling which eventually lost him the race and the championship.

To Ferrari’s claim that they would win both the trophies this year, we, the fans tell you that we are with you. We, as fans, can go through the wall for you.

In the New Year the preparations for the new season have to start. Felipe Massa got a chance to test the new F60. The Brazilian was present at the Sakhir circuit in Bahrain to test the new car. The test however was delayed due to bad weather. He however appeared to be satisfied with the test and mentioned that the car has behaved better than his test at the Mugello circuit last month.

While Massa remained confined due to bad weather, he was able to catch the friendly football match between Brazil and Italy. He would be handing over the charge of the new car to team mate Kimi Raikonnen for testing.

Kimi Raikkonen tested the new F60 at the Mugello circuit. Last week Mclaren tested their own car and their new car got a Thumbs Up from Lewis Hamilton. It was now Ferrari’s chance to respond. The conditions were damp but in wet conditions, Kimi tested the car for 54 laps and was satisfied with the performance.

On the otherhand, Mclaren driver Lewis Hamilton commented that the Mclaren car this year may not be as good as one he used the last year with which he won the driver’s championship. This seems like a word of caution for his team. While the decision makers and fans are involved in heated decisions on whether the new rule (Driver winning most races would be the eventual Champion) be introduced or not, the focus of every driver would be on his car and its behaviour. Last year, Lewis was the World Champion as he won the championship by a single point, however he won few races than Ferrari’s Massa.

There are rumours of Lewis Hamilton moving to Team Ferrari next season to drive along side Massa. He would be paid double of the salary he is getting currently with Mclaren. If he joins Ferrari, what about Kimi? He won only 2 races last season compared to Massa’s 6. Would it be a bye-bye to Kimi? I hope not. He is too good a driver. I am sure he would silence his critics by his performance this year.

The drivers, the cars, the head-honchos, the media and the attention of the common man may right now be in Melbourne, at the inaugural race. Hope the new season start with a bang!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Truimph Over Tragedy

My phone rang and when I picked it up, I heard a happy voice at the other end. It was Samir, my friend Raj’s younger brother who was a fresher and was looking for a job. Raj who is in the UK, called me a few days back and requested me to help his younger brother find a job. Samir, therefore used to call me regularly to check if I could help him. But that day was a different day as he had found himself a decent job in a leading pharmaceutical company in Mumbai. The salary offered was good and the company was located in Andheri (a suburb in Mumbai) which wasn’t too far from where Samir lived, which excited him as he didn’t have to travel much to office.

Samir used to ride his bike to work, much to the dislike of his parents because they felt it was unsafe for young people. His argument was that, it helped him save a lot of time. I distinctly remember that day he wanted to meet me and thank me for trying to help him find a job. I told him that he doesn’t have to thank me for doing that, but he was adamant. So, we decided to meet at lunch. We kept discussing his work when we met, soon after which he left.
While I was busy working my mobile rang again, it was Samir. It was just 15 minutes back he had left. I heard him crying on the phone and was begging for help. He met with an accident at a place near my office and was lying on the road. I rushed to the spot immediately only to find a few blood stains and his shattered motor cycle lying on one side of the road. I was told by a few onlookers, that the boy who met with an accident has been taken to the Aditya hospital by some people, that Samir had rammed into a truck and that the accident was serious. I rushed to the Aditya hospital to find out that the doctors were planning to operate him immediately. After finishing the admission formalities, I rang up Samir’s parents who were shocked to hear the news. By the time they reached the hospital, Samir was out of danger. He was lying in the Intensive Care Unit with bandages all over. The doctors informed his parents that there was a major crack in the bone of his left leg and it would take a lot of time to heal. At the same time, he would require adequate care which would only help him recover faster. His parents were inconsolable. As Raj wasn’t here, I told them that they would get all the possible help from me.

A month passed, but Samir still wasn’t able to walk properly. His parents were really worried for their son. Raj too had to come here. Samir just wanted to get up and start walking but just cannot do that, maybe he was trying too early. He kept complaining that his legs weren’t able bear the weight of his body. Even the doctors were worried at this outcome of their treatment. Samir’s parents were really losing their patience and therefore they consulted Dr. Anil Mehta who is one of the leading doctors in Mumbai. Post their meeting; Samir was shifted to Dr. Mehta’s hospital. After some days, Dr. Mehta confirmed that Samir would never be able to walk properly again. The left leg wasn’t responding to any of his treatments. The right leg may heal with proper medication, though it may take some time. It was hard to console Samir’s parents, specially his mother who kept crying day and night. Samir too was devastated and was more worried about his career which had just begun. A few days later he was discharged from the hospital. Slowly Samir started walking with the help of crutches as the other leg improved after treatment. But he seemed a shadow of the effervescent person I knew.

I was out of Mumbai for almost 2 months for some urgent official work and did not get a chance to speak to Samir at all. The moment my flight landed, I immediately called him up to know how he was. His mother informed me that Samir had found himself a job and was away to work. He didn’t want to sit idle at home and was eager to take up the opportunity he came across. I met him later that evening and he informed me that he found himself a job with one of the leading business outsourcing companies in Mumbai and was very happy. In the induction training programme, he was told that his performance was a major criterion and he would be treated equally as his colleagues despite the fact that he was disabled. I was happy for Samir because it seemed he was desperate to make up for what he had lost after the accident. He wanted to work hard just like other friends of his and earn both name and fame.

Soon a year passed. Every time I met him, I found that his effervescence which was lost was coming back. He was promoted as a Senior Advisor in the same company; soon he was a Team leader and now is a Team Manager. It was his second coming, his resurrection. A lot has been written about the call centre industry but most of it is negative. Perhaps none of those media men focussed on the positives of this industry. One of those positives is these companies are giving a chance to the people like Samir who have lost themselves to time for some or the other reason. It is the nothing-is-impossible attitude of such people who defy everything and take the life along the way they want to go.

Samir also found himself a life partner, Sunidhi. She is a subordinate to Samir, is a smart, intelligent and good looking female. On the day when they of their marriage I asked Samir how it feels and he said “I have dreams and nightmares. I overcame the nightmares because of my dreams.” It seemed he never wanted to let his past affect his present and the future. It was truly a triumph over tragedy.

Quantum of Solace - Review

Daniel Craig in one of his movie pre-release interviews mentioned that he wanted the Indians to watch the movie before the Americans. There was an anticipation for this movie before it was released because of this. A superb performance by Daniel Craig in Casino Royale was the reason why this movie too received such a stupendous welcome. A sequel to Casino Royale, Bond this time fights with Dominic Greene (Mathieu Amalric) who heads the Quantum gang, poses as an environmentalist but actually wants to take control of the Bolivian water supplies. Chasing the bad guys across Austria, Chile, Italy and Austria, Bond wants to take revenge of the killing of his love interest Vesper Lynd who was killed.
The movie begins with Bond being chased by a few henchmen who are eventually killed by him. One of the trusted aides of Madam M, who turned a traitor, is killed by Bond. The search for another lead-Edmund takes him to Haiti and is killed again. Annoyed by the constant killing of such important leads, M seeks explanation from Bond. He then poses as Edmund and meets the devastatingly gorgeous Camille (Olga Kurylenko). Chasing Camille, he comes
across Greene who had plotted to murder Camille. Bond rescues Camille from the clutches of Greene in a boat fight. Bond manages to get hold of the photographs of the members of the Quantum gang and sends them to M. He then reunites with his old friend Rene Mathais and manages to reach Bolivia to confront Greene and kills him in the Bolivian desert.
In the pre-release interview, Craig famously was quoted saying “I’ve added emotions to Bond” (a tear was seen in eye of the normally iron-willed detective in Casino Royale on the death of her lady love). Both Craig and director Marc Foster have tried to change the Bond image. There are no smart tuxedos in the film wore by James Bond, or his supra automatic cars and unbelievably true, no Bond’s delectable style signature statement “My name is Bond” as well. This one is an action packed movie, just like one of our own Bollywood ones.
Expectations are preconceived disappointments. Craig as Bond disappoints this time and Camille is good too but cannot be compared to the unnaturally good looking tan skinned beauty Halle Barry from Die another Day. The plot is clumsy and loose, doesn’t promise the king-size entertainment like his previous one. In the end, you feel let down by this big-ticket movie.

The Yin-Yang way of life

Humans are born with discrete levels of zest and trait. Every human life goes through cyclical ups and downs. Birth and Death are the irrevocable extremes. Extremes are inevitable truth of life; and they define each other’s existence. Nature also exhibits different extremes- Hot and Cold, Day and Night, etc. The Chinese call such polar forces as “Yin” and “Yang”. Yin represents “darkness” and Yang represents “brightness”. Yin and Yang are thus; two sides of the same coin and are always associated with each other. The underlying principle of our life is based on these unparallel forces.

Being a Goju-Ryu (Japanese) style Karate student, the above principle is easy to understand. In Japanese dialect, the name Goju means Hard and Ryu means Soft. It is also referred to as the Hard and Soft style. This style is based on synchronization of two extreme forces such as, Hard and Soft. A hard blow by opponent is blocked by a comparatively softer force and vice-versa. This style helps in conserving energy which can be later utilized to attack with full force, like a spring.

Many martial Art forms are based on the Ying-Yang principle. In the Kung Fu style of fighting, the two important elements are strength and gentleness. At an advanced level of Kung Fu, it is believed that gentleness does overcome strength. Tai-Chi form of martial art is also based on the same concept. Bruce Lee the famous martial arts hero, found a new style of combat - Jeet Kune Do (JKD). The symbol of JKD itself represents the Yin-Yang concept; designated as two arrows moving in opposite directions.

Further understanding reveals a series of individual Yin-Yang techniques. These techniques in Karate are known as “Kata”. The basis of Kata is deep breathing. This helps in making the body strong. The motive behind learning Kata is to learn self-control. Most importantly it teaches us to fight against mental monsters like Fear, Anger etc and also helps to come out of the envelope of comfort zone. Moreover, to perform these techniques with perfection, it is essential to stare in the opponent’s eye. This not only enables you to read the opponents mind but also teaches you to be fearless. It is also reflects the level of confidence in the person. Such techniques are meant to spread harmony through physical exercise. In a way, you meditate while practicing them, which is adds a different dimension for learning them.
Meditation makes the body mentally sound and alert. It is rightly said that,
“mind management is an essence to life management”. In an insanely complex world of recurring problems, the prolonged use of these techniques will have a significant positive impact on the mind.

The teachers of such skills stress on the importance of learning these principles with the underlying skills and practices. At the same time, much emphasis is given to persistence. It is believed that when we persist in practicing them, they become easier not because they become easier, but our ability to do them increases. They also improve concentration and teach us never to give up in life.
The great master Chojun Miyagi of Goju-Ryu Karate summarized his learning from the Yin-Yang techniques by saying- “When your temper rises, lower your fists – when your fists rise, lower your temper.”

Slum Dog Millionaire-Review

Slum Dog Millionaire was released in India amidst its share of glories and controversies. After the golden globes bursts, it not only received Oscar nominations but also was criticised by someone who on any day can easily be a brand ambassador of Bollywood – Amitabh Bachchan. There was, therefore a lot of curiosity for this movie.

Danny Boyle’s Slum Dog Millionaire is a soul-stirring, fast, entertaining and a rags-to-riches story of a boy who can be easily written off as one from the slums but eventually goes on to become a millionaire on the “Who wants to be a millionaire” show hosted by Anil Kapoor. The movie is very enthralling and delves into the darker side of our own Mumbai. One may feel a bit odd watching the English version of the movie hearing the kids in the movie speaking a high accent English language.
The story begins with the main character of the movie Jamal Malik enjoying his life as a child in our own Dharavi along with his brother. They belong to a family who cannot even afford a smile on a daily basis. Everything goes well till his mother is killed in a danga. The two kids soon are all on themselves, have nowhere to go and fall in the hands of a beggar mafia. Soon the irrepressible and street smart Salim, the elder of the two brothers discovers that those people have actually planned to notch the eyes of his very own little brother. This particular scene in the movie is heartrendingly impactful when the eyes of a little one are notched with a spoon. The duo manages to run away leaving Jamal’s love interest Latika behind. Soon they reach another city and since they do not have anyone to take care, earn their living the way they know.
Destiny brings the brothers back to Mumbai and Jamal starts looking for Latika. The search takes them back to the same people – those who run the beggar mafia. The story takes a sudden turn when Jamal watches his elder brother committing a murder and taking away his girlfriend. He is then left all alone by himself. He works as a chai wallah in a call centre. He manages to track his brother and through him meets Latika once again, who is now a keep of a local don – Javed Bhai (Mahesh Manjrekar). The love birds are once again separated but Jamal doesn’t give up. He participates in a popular show of Kaun Banega Crorepati hosted by a mean host Anil Kapoor who tries to demoralise Jamaal every time. This he does to find Latika who is a fan of the show too. Jamal answers all the questions correctly by a matter of great coincidence because all the questions asked to him actually correspond to some or the other event from his life. Anil Kapoor suspects that a chai wallah cannot know all the answers and hands him to the police. But the circumstantially challenged underdog returns for a redemption not only for winning the prize money, but also his love interest.
There are no surprises in the movie and the plot is predictable but the speed with which the movie goes is very enthralling. The teen Jamal played by Dev Patel and Latika played by Frieda Pinto are eminently watchable. One of my favourite scenes is young Jamal jumping and emerging from a shit-pit with shit all over his body, only because he wants an autograph of his favourite movie star – Amitabh. It’s easy to lapse into a gush watching the scene.
A R Rehman too deserves a lot of credit for his musical touch and a superb song Jai Ho shot at a railway station. The movie no doubt has been directed by a British director but has an Indian heart to which every movie goer can relate to. The Oscar nominations are only add icing to the cake. Amidst criticisms, nevertheless, go grab some fun.

Published in The Times of India under The Speaking Tree section on 27th Apr'07

Life is a game of Football -

Mystic Ladakh
(published in Chembur-Ghatkopar Plus-Times of India)

After a long, adventurous and tiring journey from Manali; we arrived at our hotel in Leh. Since we wanted to acclimatise to the high altitude of Leh, we did not cover 475 kilometres at one go. The altitude made us feel giddy and also made difficult to breathe. The best way to avoid altitude sickness is to keep drinking water at intervals of 15-20 mins. It is also advisable to keep a bag of munchies along with you. The car on the way to Leh sputtered, hiccupped and groaned but kept moving over near-vertical lifts and gravity defying bends. The Manali-Leh highway is known as “The Bikers Paradise”. A lot of people opt for a bike ride; it gives them a opportunity to explore nature and the leisure to travel.

The first day in Leh began with a visit to the famous and the aesthetically pleasing Shey Palace. Shey Palace and Gompa (temple) are one of the oldest in Ladakh. Shey, like every other Gompa in Ladakh is situated on a hill with coloured prayer flags fluttering on the top of the building. This is common to all the structures in Ladakh. The magnificent statue of Lord Gautama Buddha, in a meditative mudra inside the Gompa was a divine sight.

Our next stop was the “Stok Palace”; where the present King of Ladakh resides. While we proceeded towards the palace museum, we were stopped by the caretaker at the entrance. It was sort of a stalemate. I greeted him, saying “Namaste” (that’s what a foreigner had told me a few minutes back when came face to face) and he said “50 rupees-Entrance fees”. We paid the fees and entered the museum; which has a big verandah with beautiful collection of Buddhist artefacts, weapons, jewellery etc. It also displays the beautiful head dresses of the previous queens of Ladakh, made from expensive gems like turquoise and gold.

After our visit to the Stok palace, while driving downhill, our driver pointed to a distant white structure. That was it, the Shanti Stupa our next stop. It is magnificent as the word “Shanti” is in itself. It was built to celebrate 2500 years of Buddhism by a Japanese organisation and was inaugurated by none other than the Dalai Lama himself.
It is a milky white structure and a realm of great stillness and peace. Shanti Stupa is a gift of the mankind. The breathtaking view of Shanti Stupa made us add more and more pictures of the structure.

By now, it was afternoon and we were hungry. We drove back to the hotel and had a delicious lunch which included the Ladakhi delicacy –“Momos”. In the evening we were to visit the Leh palace and Samkar Gompa.

The Leh palace is a magnificent monument and was an erstwhile home to the kings of Ladakh till the 18th century. The monument has been modelled on the Potala palace in Tibet which is the residence of the present Dalai Lama IV. However, the building is in a very poor state. The prime attraction of Leh palace is the beautiful idol of Lord Buddha known as Maitreya (compassion) Buddha.

Next, we went to the Samkar Gompa. It was shut. Our driver knocked a few doors around the Gompa, requested one of the Lamaji’s of the temple to open it. The Lama smilingly (just like most other Ladakhis) opened it for us. The walls of the structure depict beautiful pictures of Gautam Buddha. There were the three pictures of him representing the past, present and the future Buddha’s.

Later we went to the market - Shopping. Leh boasts of a huge market place buzzing with activity. The speciality of Ladakh culture, sold here are Buddhist scriptures, Thangka paintings, Carpets and Ladakhi jewellery. The must visit markets are the Tibetan markets and the Moti market near the Leh bus stand. The vendors in the market are nice and friendly but quote unrealistic prices for any item. After a few exchange of words with them, we had a feeling of “déjà-vu”. It brought the good-bad experiences of shopping at the Fashion Street in Mumbai into play and learnt that we were not too bad at bargaining.
The next day we got up early, with excitement as we were to go for “Rafting” in the river Indus. We were the first people to arrive at Phey, start point. A few minutes later, a big group of about 20 people and a few other Europeans arrived. After a briefing on Do’s and Don’ts of rafting by the instructors, we joined the foreigners in one of the rafts who were experienced rafters. We lifted the raft and pushed it in the water.
A little later we were on our way riding on the mischievous waves of the Indus. Rafting is a superb experience, and I kept cursing myself for not having it done before. Our raft instructor Babu, was from Nepal. He was sitting right behind me and was giving us loud and clear instructions. We kept moving ahead hitting the waves with our rafts sometimes softly and sometimes with all our might and force. As we moved through the mountains, the scene was stupendous. The currents in the water were not the same throughout our rafting. At places of high currents, the water came splashing on us. The water was ice-cold, nearly 3-4 degrees. The next time we were in the region of high currents we used to paddle hard so as to avoid getting drenched in the freezing water. After a short relaxation mid way, we continued rafting. We’d have moved a few kilometres, we came across ‘Sangam’ where river Zanskar meets river Indus. Since the raft was in control , I got a chance to take a break in between and enjoy the scenic beauty around Sangam. After about 3 hours of rafting, we reached our base camp at Nimo where hot lunch awaited us. After lunch, we bid good bye to our friends and moved to Alchi where we were to visit another monastery.

Alchi, situated at about 70 kilometres from Leh, is very calm and an ideal place to retreat. We were told that the sculptors and wood carvers were brought from Kashmir to build this magnificent structure. Attached with the Alchi Gompa is a beautiful Manjusri temple, reciting the Buddhist culture

The next day we were scheduled to visit the “Nubra Valley” (popularly known as the valley of flowers), around 120 kilometres from Leh. It is famous for the white sand dunes and the Camel safari. We passed through the world famous Khardung La, at the height of 18300 ft; the highest motorable road in the world. We experienced a little difficulty in breathing because of the high altitude; but this was compensated by the panoramic view of the mountains. After passing through a whirlpool of bends, we reached Diskit by afternoon. We took hot lunch at the guest house; followed by a short nap. In the evening we went to Hunder, for the Camel Safari. The Bactrian camels are unique, they have two humps. The safari was exhilarating.

After returning from the safari, we visited the Diskit Gompa. The next day we departed from Diskit, as early as 5.a.m. to avoid the scorching heat during the day.

While on our way back, we visited the Thiksey and the Hemis monasteries. Thiksey Gompa was the most beautiful monastery of Ladakh, situated on a hill top. The monastery also has a temple of goddess Dorje Chenmo which is known as Lakhang Nyerma. The distinguishing feature of this Gompa is the 15 meter tall statue of Lord Buddha which happens to be the biggest in Ladakh. This too represents the Maitreya (compassionate) Buddha. The main feature is the “Wheel of Life”. This wheel has pictures of snake, bird, and a pig which symbolizes greed, desire and ignorance respectively. The Lamukhang temple, is prohibited for women.

Hemis Gompa is the richest monastery of Ladakh which is situated in the Hemis village surrounded by the mountains. It has a well decorated copper statue of Buddha and Stupas made of Gold and Silver. The Hemis monastery is a venue of the famous Hemis festival held in July. This festival is a tribute to Guru Padamsambhava also known as Guru Rimpoche. He is known to have laid the foundation of Buddhism in Tibet, and the festival marks his birthday celebration.

The following day, we made a visit to the world famous, “Pangong Tso”. It took nearly 5 hours to reach the lake. On the way is the elegance, personified and mighty Chang la which happens to be the third highest motorable road in the world, at 17800 ft. It is so magnanimous, that it runs through both India and China(two-third in China and one- third in India)

The colour of the lake is royal blue and presents a spectacular view. While we kept marvelling at the beauty and majesty of nature; the sunrays painted hues of blue and green on the surface. We captured each moment of colour change. Reluctantly we headed back to our hotel.

Next day we bid Goodbye to Leh, still thinking “Blue”. This ended our romance (of a fairy tale kind) with Ladakh. If I were a painter, I’d have painted those vivid memories of Ladakh. With awesome affection for the place, I would twist and quote what Mark Twain once said “The world is divided between two kinds of people, those who have been to Ladakh and those who haven’t”.