I’ll always be beautiful in Ladakh – apprently Damo means ‘beautiful’ in Ladakhi…. bangin! The best way to describe the region is a 40,000 foot high beach surrounded by mountains. An arid desert of a place, its amazing how humanity survives up here, the roads in & out are closed 8 months of the year – but luckily Victor & I got in just in time.
Our journey here set off from Sringar before dawn, leaving behind the perfect serenity of the water village. Our jeep was driven by a Tibetan looking fellow, who informed us the journey would take less than 12 hours on near empty roads, reflecting the low population of Ladakh. We were driving into the rising sun, which turn the mountains gold on both side of the narrow valley we were passing through. At first I felt elated, but these feelings soon turned to absolute terror as I experienced what was up that moment the worst hour of my entire life thus far.Our jeep was rising up a road – a half-a road should I say – zig-zagging a mountain often a meter or so from the precipice. In the great tradition of Buddhism I felt several lives flash by! Our driver was even overtaking on bends, & at one point my nerve broke. The mentalist had parked up at the edge as he let a convoy of trucks pass us & I just had to get out & walk up the road to a safer spot. Even the normally stocial, unphaseable Victor felt his toes curling.
Still, I survived the experience, & from that moment on the journey was a wonderful passage through a landscape of such majesty, it was as if the gods themselves had painted them. The mountains were jagged like porcupine, or gnarled like tree-stumps, or rising into white-haired grey beards, beautiful Himalayan druids that ruled over all.
Shorn of trees, Ladakh offers a lunar landscape to the erstwhile traveller who dares reach this northernmost part of India. Also on display are the aquamarine waters of the great River Indus, here its infancy before it flows into Pakistan & down to the Arabian Sea. The proximity of Pakistan was made evident in the Kargil sector – named after a charming little town we passed through in a heartbeat – for here & there were scattered memorials & cemetaries of the Indian Army, who fought in the infamous three-month Kargil War of 1998.
And so to Leh, the capital of Ladakh. We have taken a great room for 10 days. At the moment Victor’s gone trekking in the Himalayas while I continue my studies. Leh is the size of a small town in Britain, something like an Indian Barnoldswick. Its situation is one of immense charm, surrounded on all sides by a grey, arid desert which bleeds into a great chain of moutains ringing the wide valley. There is a decidely end-of-deason atmoshpere – many hotels & restaurants have been closed since mid-september, & only the hardiest of trekkers are in town in order to tour the region.
Ladakh is known as little Tibet, which is reflected in the faces & food which peremate the town. After the Chinese invasion of Tibet in the 50’s, thousands of refugees streamed over the border into India, including the Dalai Lama himself, who currently resides in exile at Dharam Sala, a few hundred k to the south of Ladakh. The Indian government have warmly received the Tibetans, housing some of them 5 miles from Leh in the townlet of Choglamsar. It is there one can find the Central Institute for Buddhist Studies (CIBS), whose library I wished to to avail myself of. However, on the morning of my intended visit, I recieved a rather rude shock form a stray street dog. As I was walking up an alley, the bitch passed me by, then a few moments later bit my lower left leg in a vicious attack from behind.
It turns out she was protecting her new pups who I had inadvertantly wandered close to. Within the hour I had hobbled to the local hospital, where I was prescribed a course of anti-rabies jabs – 3 at first & two more of the dog dies within ten days – plus a tetanus boost. A strange way to begin my time in Ladakh.
The journey to CIBS is made by sharing one of the many jeeps that work the route, costing a meagre 20 rupees one-way. The Institute is a pristine & modern affair, with clean, well-built buildings gleaming under the bright sun, with a backdrop of mountains that must be so conducive to academic endeavour. The spacious grounds are dotted with young claret-cloaked monks reading books, schoolgirls chatting about life & studies, while pupils of both sexes carved statues of the Buddha, all wrapped in a peaceful serenity.
On arrival, I was warmly received & given use of an excellent library, whose speciality books on Ladakh & Mahayana Buddhism I could have only really discovered in this very library. This was litology at its most natural, & as I read, a proffesor noticed my studies & after a bried conversation, placed a great pile of his own books at my desk. A charming man & an excellent scholar, his books were to prove a valuable asset to my work.
I also was introduced to a professor of Comparative theology, & the instititutes best speaker of English. I have been spending 20 minutes with him at 11.40 every morning, in the gap between lessons, reading through the copy of Philostratus I have on my laptop. Philostratus was a Roman writer describing what would have been to him the strange dooings of Indian sages. However, to a modern-day Indian sage, these doings are all familiar, & have names & such-like. Thus it was with the help of his ever beaming smile that I am able to elucidate Philostratus with a truer angle.
On one particular morning I was taken from the library & introduced to a Sanskrit scholar. We sat in the sunshine, a small gaggle pupils observing our conversations, & I thought this would be the perfect oppurtunity to test out one of the chief tenets of my theory. In essence, I say that not only did Jesus survive the Crucifixion, but he went on to compose seminal texts in India which would form the fundamental pillars of Krishnaism & Mahayna Buddhism. Part of the this theory is conflating two Indian poets into the same person, being;
The latter translates in Greek as ‘Jesus Lord Christ,’ connecting him to his Palestinian avatar. I didn’t get that far into my theory, though, I just wanted to see what an Indian expert thought. He straight away denied its possibilty, & of course I thought I’d set him straight. The difference between conventional academics & Litologists is that the Litologist digs deep into a subject, where as the academic merely brushes the surface & accepts the work of his peers past & present to be gospel. Suffice it to say, after challenging his arguments with rational thoughts & fresh insights (which I’ll be posting soon), he began to pace up & down & slap his forehead just like the guy in the Srinagar museum. I took heart in this – I am a long way from Edinburgh where I first came up with the theory – & the best scholars in India can in no way dismiss it. My journey has not been in vain!
Today was a bit mad. I’d taken a day off from the books to rest my eyes, & was breakfasting away when this girl me & victor met the other day – A sound Candadian lass named Berangere Maia Parizeau – turned up rather upset. Turns out the guy who’d driven her 150 k away & then back the next day was a right sleazebag. There’s something about being British, like, which defines you as a moral international policeman, & being a chivalrous soul I thought I’d help her out. So we march round to his office where he was indeed a bit of a scumbag – a big bully basically. Anyhow, I got the police involved & not long after me, Maia, the nobhead & the chief of Ladakhi police are all sat in a room thrashing it out. We could have brought the guy down, but being emotionally unattached to the case I managed to calm Maia down enough fro her to accept an apology from a now very humbled bully & a little financial renumeration. Leh is a small town & I think the guy will think twice before behaving dodgy again – public humilation is a powerful (she was screaming he was a pervert in the street for example) & there;’s no need for the guys wife & kids to suffer for the sleazy dad!
After this, me & Maia hopped in a taxi 40 k to the amazing Buddhist monastery at Hemis. On the way she told me about how her mum was the only survivor of a plane crash in Haiti, & as she was a film-maker she made a documentary of the story, which you can watch here. Apart from studying Mahayana Buddhism, whose text The Lotus Sutra, chapter 24 essentially describes the Buddhist version of Jesus (as Avalokitesvara), the other Jesus-in-India reason for visiting Ladakh is to see this place.
In essence, at Hemis, hidden in a mountainous fold of the Himalays, is where it all began. Way back in the 1880’s, a Russian guy named Nicolas Notovich found himself laid up in the monastery with a broken leg, being read extracts from an unknown life of Issa, i,e. Jesus. Thing is, since then the scrolls have gone missing, casting doubt on the authenticity of the gospel. However, my own studies have confirmed that Jesus dwelt in India in a much more sophisticated fashion, that I am able to prove that there is truth in what Notovich wrote down, & he was indeed at Hemis taking down the Life of Issa. But that I shall leave for another day…