Back to Ladakh

"When steel birds start to fly across the sky and horses start to run on wheels, the time will come and Buddhism will begin to spread to western countries" predicted the Tibetan saint and mage Padmasambhava in the 8th century. After many centuries, the unconquerable and isolated country of monks living in numerous monasteries, Ladakh, was made accessible by cars and aircraft just as predicted. The former kingdom, situated on the western edge of the Tibetan tableland and guarded by the high ridges of the Himalaya and Karakoram, revealed the world's unique cultural and religious heritage.

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Himalaya Bike

 We undertook the journey across the Himalayas to Ladakh on bikes. 700 kilometres through different saddlebacks, including Kanzum La 4,551m, Baralacha La 4,892 m, Lachulung La 5,065 m, Polo Kongka La 4,800 m, Namshang La 4,800 m and Khardung La 5,600m. We crossed impressive valleys like Kinnaur, Spiti, Lahaul, Tso Moriri and the Indus Valley. We mostly used well-maintained military mountain roads close to the Tibetan border, guarded by the Chinese. We had to arrange special permits, but it was really worth it.

Roads cut deeply into rocky cliffs were fortunately car-free. The asphalt on some sections was even better than at home. Most impressive were the small side valleys with Buddhist monasteries and traditions of life.

After ten days of continuous cycling, we reached the Capital; Ladakh Leh. After 17 years from my last visit, the town has changed so much that it literally took my breath away. I couldn't remember the places where I had filmed before. The car-free town is now filled with horses on wheels. There is nowhere to park. Dusty roads are covered with new asphalt. Old ruins above the city have received a new face. And people have also changed their way of dressing.

Nostalgically, I sit in an empty courtyard of the monastery where, ten years ago, I saw a crowd of hundreds of traditionally dressed believers. With rotating prayer mills in their hands, they prayed for the salvation of the whole world. Today, every Buddhist has a mobile to his ear. TV-sets showing an ongoing wrestling match roar out of thousands of souvenir shops. Perhaps, it should be like this. Selfishly, we wish that some destinations of the world could be left without contact with the modern era. But we alone reach out for its conquests...So I decide to leave the nostalgia behind. With the boys, we go to the nearby rock pub for the draft beer we had been dreaming about, to flush away the feeling of the arid countryside...

"When steel birds start to fly across the sky and horses start to run on wheels, the time will come when Buddhism begins to spread to Western countries", predicted the Tibetan saint and mage Padmasambhava in the 8th century. In his visions, he obviously couldn't see the invisible danger which Buddhism will most likely be unable to resist.

Leh, Ladakh - 10 July 2009


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