One morning I opened up my laptop to check messages, and Chusaq, a free soul gypsy brother from Turkey messaged me, "I will have one month off starting in a week and I want to walk in the mountains. I feel your soul is calling me so I'm thinking about coming to India. Do you wanna go trekking?"
I had no reason to leave the Indian village where I have been staying as I love my life here, I felt like this trip was meant to happen. There was something to learn from this trip. I wrote back to him straight away "Let's do it, in Ladakh. I'll see you in Manali, then let's head up together from there".
The jeep from Manali left in the evening, and it went up to Rohtang Pass on a rough road while we talked about the connections between people.
“So interestingly, connections appear and disappear in life. We gravitate what we need for growing and expanding this moment, and they leave us when it's meant to. Without mastering letting go of what's leaving and not taking things personally, we'd spend our life miserably.”
It was slightly hard to breathe during the night because of the high altitude, but I managed to fall asleep peacefully, to find myself waking up in the middle of the moon.
The whole morning and afternoon, we were excited to see the changing scenery that showed us different faces of our mother earth. Green mountains and waterfalls, Ladakhi houses spread over flat dry land, giant rocky mountains, and eroded rocks... It is a long but beautiful drive.
As soon as we arrive in Leh, we started to wander around the town, had salt butter tea and "khambir", Ladakhi bread, just for curiosity because everyone was snacking them, then walked up the hill nearby to look over the whole Leh to find a good camping spot, and to enjoy the last rays of sunlight.
I sat down on the top of the hill, burned incense and started to write my diary when I hear "Julley Julley" (in Ladakhi language, hello, thank you, bye are all "Julley"). Two boys and their father smiled at me and sat there. Seeing them playing with their homemade toy, probably made by the father, made me feel nostalgic about times when children spent more time playing outdoors than playing a game on the phone. Such a sweet feeling to see the love of father and children growing up simply happy.
The town is all surrounded by the moonscape hills, and the houses and gompas are scattered around at the foot of the vast nature. We found some dessert looking area a little outskirt of the town center and headed there.
Without saying anything, one of the boys followed us silently and protected us from stray dogs and pointed the direction to go back into town. He watched us until we safely arrived at the main street and disappeared back to his stone-made house.
When we got to the desert area, we found out that this area was right next to a slum where people live without tap water or even toilet. Just a simple structure and plastic tarps to cover it up.
To find a flat secluded area, we passed by the slum, then walked through a dry yellow field with rocks and stones and a few men squatting for the toilet in the middle of nowhere without trying to hide anything. We realized what we thought as dog poo was actually human shit!
Anyway, it was exciting to finally go back to live in a tent and sleep in the sound of silence surrounded by majestic nature with stars spread over the shadow of the hills. Quietly we fell asleep into another night, to wake up full power in the morning.
The next morning, feeling fresh and charged, we hitched to Thikse Gompa.
In Ladakh, the locals generally hitchhike too, so there’s no need to explain what we are doing with our thumb up by the side of the road, very easy to catch a ride here.
We got a lift from a policeman riding his cool car (tanned and looking like a classic Ladakh. Actually, I’d say he looks just like a farmer than a policeman).
From the window, I was looking at the beautiful contrast of the blue sky and dry hills.
The whole gompa was filled with peaceful energy and different rooms had incredibly powerful old Buddhist paintings & statues. The utterly peaceful atmosphere and the landscape you can look over from there made me feel really touched.
On the way back to Leh I went up to see Shey Palace while Chusaq decided to chill and read. Every time I travel with someone, I learn to be myself and also to let them be more and more in a harmonious way. We don't need to do everything together, and it's important to have a space for ourselves.
While exploring alone, as well as by the old stupa and ancient palace structure standing on sandy color rocks, I was amazed by a monk drumming and chanting with a strong, very low voice in the main temple, it was as if the vibration of his chanting and the drum came directly to my heart.
We filled up our stomach with good Tsukpa and kawa tea (I tried because I never heard this name. I guess it’s more common in Ladakh and Kashmir. Its tea made with sugar, crushed almonds, and cinnamon). We were at Choglamsar, a rather Muslim village than Buddhist and got back to Leh by hitchhiking with a Tibetan family listening to Tibetan songs. When we started to walk back to the slum, a local man stopped us.
"It's dangerous to sleep outside, you can pitch your tent in my place. The dinner is ready too, do you like saag (spinach)?"
Actually he rents a tiny room without any facility than the room itself. Every morning his wife goes to get water from a neighbor who has a tap and fills a few containers. They wash by the side of the street in front of their house building. He, his wife and his mother sleep in this room but the whole other family members, over 10 people, sleep on top of the roof just with blankets.
This shoemaker from Rajasthan offered everything he could give to us from his heart. We could feel that he didn’t feel obliged but genuinely wanted to help us with whatever he could think of.
“These moments really make me want to learn to be like them, to make people feel so welcomed unconditionally and just give and share, without calculating or expecting to receive something in return.”
We preferred to sleep in nature, so we said goodbye for the night. He told us ”Try, but if it’s too cold or if you didn’t find a nice spot, just come back anytime”.
When traveling, in some cultures there are moments when you need to "read" the atmosphere and understand in silence that we are not welcomed, it's time to leave, or simply we should say no to invitations that were given just to be polite.
But there was not even a tiny space for wondering if we were welcomed or not, they made us feel that they loved to have us with them.
Next morning we had a simple breakfast with them, then we left to Spituk, the start point of Markha Valley Trekking, with our backpacks filled with winter clothes and our heart filled with excitement for the unknown adventure, to find out what was laid there for me to learn from someone who reflects you every moment and by being in the powerful Himalayan mountains.
May this day be filled with love, peace of mind, and freedom to be yourself.
Transportation to Leh from Manali
Local Bus: Manali to Keylong (174INR) then Keylong to Leh (550INR)
Jeep: 2500-3000INR depends on the seat. We took a deal of 1400 INR as they were going to Leh anyway with an empty car. So... keep talking till the good deal comes to you.
Accommodation: Camping (free)
Food: About 100 to 200 a day. Khambir (8INR) Chai or butter tea (10INR) Local Dhaba meals (70-150INR)
Total expenditure: 2000 INR
Transportation (1400 INR for Jeep, other than that all hitchhiking)
Food (600 INR including dry fruits and nuts we bought for trekking)