Phuktal, one of the most impressive monasteries in Zanskar, is a couple of hours hike away from Purne. Four of us chose to visit Phutkal, others chose to sit under the shade and sip beer and chang, blissfully unaware of what they were to miss.
It had been raining hard in the night. Part of the trail was taken by the river. Tenzin, the boy who came with the horsemen, and Nurbu accompanied us. The route was a little hard, sometimes we made our way hanging over steep cliffs, sometimes over wet slippery rocks. After crossing a bridge and climbing up the slippery rocks and turning a corner around a hill, each of us suddenly stopped at various states of "whoa!", amazed by the fairy tale sight that just materialized before us.
The monastery, which belongs to the Yellow Hat Sect of Tibetan Buddhism, has a history which dates back to 15th century. It is carved out of the lime stone mountain wall, with a walled frontage. Tenzin says he knows all the monks here - both young ones and old ones. Testa, his village, is only a few hours walk away from here.
The Lamas of Phutkal are very friendly to their visitors. Some of the young ones are even playfully naughty, some are just shy but friendly. We are served tea from what is labelled hotel, and is shown around the place. Photography is not allowed in the prayer hall and in the small museum, but I had a field day otherwise.
Mister Maroon, the missing character in Reservoir Dogs. :) The goggles are Nurbu's, I think.
I did mention that the young monks are naughty, didn't I? :)
On our way back, we met this elderly Lama. He was going to the monastery with a bundle of firewood, beaming that friendly smile at us. Even willing to pose for pictures with us.
This photograph is very screwed up thanks to overexposure. Attempts to save it by some amount of unskilled postprocessing did not work. I went with ISO 400 Kodachrome hoping to do some indoor photography, and was out in the sun before I knew it. But I didn't want to lose the moment either, fiddling with buttons and dials, hence the overexposure. I'm lovin' this picture lots nevertheless. Dr. Chang is extremely adept in the art of making friends no matter where he goes.
We are back in Purne in time for lunch. The folks that stayed back looks scrubbed and clean and happy. They have collected peas from the field close by, and this is to turn to tastiest ever cutlets in the evening by our cooks. We gluttonize. Post-lunch, I spread my towel (the omnipotent towel, you know) under a tree, lie down, and try to learn about the life of Pie Patel. (These trees, which rather look like slightly overgrown bushes, are the only kind that's seen in Zanskar. These are called sangma according to Tenzin. Haider does not have an answer to that question.) There is sound of a small stream running, and the voices made by different groups of birds playing hide and seek. One particularly beautiful fellow, one with a majestic headgear, unmindful of human presence, searching for worms in the wet ground, end up very close to me. As I reach for the camera, I drop the tripod, and the abrupt noise drove him away.
Lots of European campers here, halting over to visit Phuktal. There is a heated discussion around a table about the state of affairs in India, and about the origins and solutions of Palestine's problems. A French woman (she is a CS researcher in University of Paris, if I've understood correctly) and Dr Chang lead the discussion, taking opposite sides. Haider invites me for mugfuls of tea with them in the cooks' tent. It rains again in the evening, and the running water leaves us with one tent less. One of the shop owner women has got a tape recorder. It plays Haider's cassette of Hindi dance tunes (these had been playing in the bus in the two day journey from Kargil to Padum, and the tunes have become real earwoms by now). My friends, some of them happily drunk by now, dance to the energetic music. Few others join. The rain hardly recede, but an Italian group that'd been trying to sleep complain of the noise after eight, and we stop grudgingly.
Hello aliens, life is good on planet Earth. Come on over sometimes.