Shanti Stupa, Changspa
July 14, 2003
I am sitting on the large paved area at the foot of the stupa called the Shanti stupa. Built in 1985, it is built in the traditional style. High on a hilltop, overseeing Leh and its surroundings, it is an area of peace and quiet contemplation except when besieged by tourist buses. The boat-load of package tourists who had come earlier, have gone and it is as if there is not another soul here but myself. Brilliant sunshine pours down, the rays scorching at these elevations but there is a brisk breeze to temper it.
Directly beneath lies Changspa, a village in the outskirts of Leh. Green fields lush with crops are bounded by low walls, some made of stone and some of mud-bricks. Along the edges of the fields are trees. Tall and stately, the willows and poplars dance to the tune of the breeze. Among the fields stand houses. Mostly two-storied, flat-roofed, built in the in the Ladakhi style, they look Tibetan to me. It isn’t so much of a stretch – Tibet is but a stone’s throw from here and the traditional culture, speech, dress and food habits of Ladakhis are a close cousin to Tibetan ways.
Beyond Changspa, with the brown craggy hills as a backdrop, is downtown Leh. Rooftops snuggle up to one another and from here it looks like a continuous stretch with hardly a gap in between. It should look like an eyesore but doesn’t. The color and style of the buildings blend into the hills gracefully. It occurs to me how well they fit their surrounds. Almost as if they have sprung up from the earth.
Above the town is a hill and on its slopes are the ruins of the old royal palace. Large and imposing, it must have been quite a sight in its heyday. Now it stands guard over Leh, its towers crumbling, the battlements traced only in the mind’s eye. Above it still, at the top of the hill is a gompa. The typical maroon and ochre of its walls glow in the sunshine, beckoning one.
To the south I can see the Indus. It winks in the sunlight, the banks tracing out lazy curves from east to west. On either bank, parallel to the water’s edge are patches of green. The patches don’t extend very far – just as far as water is channeled from the river to the fields. This is the dusty, dry, parched land and would be a desert, inhospitable and uninhabited were it not for this one river. History lessons from long ago float through my mind as I remember learning about the Indus Valley civilization. For eons, dating back some 8000 years, man depended on the waters of this river as he does today.
In the distance I can see the Stok range. Dry brown hills give rise to higher ones and those in turn to the peaks, shining black and white. Some are completely covered with snow, while some wear a shawl, the edges of the shawl trailing down the slopes in lacy fringes. An eagle soars in slow circles above and words run through my head at random. Isolated, majestic, and awe-inspiring. And peaceful. How apt is the name.