Location: The Golden Dragon, Leh,
To visit Ladakh is to enter a sacred, rhythmical world. Its valleys and mountains retain their pristine natural beauty, little changed since adventurous monks, traders and rulers established Buddhist monasteries which grew into magnificently-decorated institutions of learning that still thrive today.
This transformative experience starts with the stark reality of arrival at Leh airport. A fierce voice booms through loudspeakers across the arrivals hall instructing all new arrivals to go and lie down for the day, keep the window open, and drink water. In case you were thinking you knew better, after a short drive to your hotel the person who shows you to your room flings open the window, tells you to lie down and shows you where the bottles of water are.
It’s best to do as you are told. The stunning flight up from Delhi into higher and still higher Himalaya peaks has made this obvious. Leh’s altitude is 3,524 m (11,562 ft). The locals know best – they’ve seen enough idiot visitors land, set off sightseeing, then collapse.
A few hours later, having almost certainly slept deeply and then emptied the water bottles, the hotel terrace is the permitted outing. There, gazing across the young Indus to the mountain peaks, breathing deeply the delicious air and sipping yet more water make the perfect sundown ensemble – you drink alcohol at your peril. The feisty may stroll to Leh’s main drag see piles fresh apricots for sale, a few curio shops and cafes, and a useful book and map store, but the heart will pump hard and retreat follow.
This is not a wasted day. It is investment to be repaid with deep fulfillment, especially in July when the sun shines, the views are far and crisp, local fruit is ripe and blossoms abundant. Coinciding with a monastery's festival is interesting but by no means essential.
Now you can explore, experience and enjoy a deep encounter with one of the world’s great religions and an ancient cultural crossroads in the dramatic Himalayan landscape. Nearby, find bustling Leh town and fascinating monasteries, with more down the Leh-Manali highway. Consider a few days in the Nubra Valley and and a trip to remote, pristine Tsomoriri Lake - that's it at the top of this blog. Most importantly, leave open-ended time to simply sit.
Must-do wellness experience: sitting in an ancient monastery when monks are chanting
Golden Dragon buzz phrase: see you on the terrace
Ideas for unpacking your kind of slow-down wellness at The Golden Dragon, Leh
Turn a prayer wheel like this old leather-covered one to aid your meditation, a tradition going back to at least the 4th century. The turning accumulates merit (as does chanting), helps all beings in the world, and purifies one's own karma (intentional actions).
Take time to appreciate the rich interior of an apparently simple Buddhist temple. Contemplate the floor-to-ceiling wall-paintings, giant thanka banners whose paintings are bordered with sumptuous brocades woven in Varanasi, and perhaps a glowing central statue of Tara, the Buddhist saviour-goddess who has many forms and is the female counterpart of the bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara.
Pause to understand the function of prayer flags. For Buddhists, the wind blows the prayers and mantras written on them into the surrounding area to spread goodwill and compassion, to promote peace, wisdom and strength. Rituals for the pre-Buddhist shamanistic Bon gods of the region give the colours their elemental symbolism - blue for sky and space, white for air, red for fire, green for water, yellow for earth. As they fade or fray, new flags are added.
See the carefully wrapped manuscripts kept in monasteries. When Buddhism spread into the Himalaya region in the 8th century, great intellectuals were invited from Buddhist centres on the Indian plains. The accumulated repository of knowledge in the mountains would be vital when the many internationally renowned Buddhist universities of the plains were abandoned and Buddhism there waned.
Don't hold back from chatting with monks who will often be happy to have a little thoughtful discourse. His Holiness the Dalai Lama has reduced decades of learning, thinking and discourse to one simple idea to help mankind: compassion - actively giving kindness to help other people find happiness, which in turn helps you find your own happiness.
Episode 15 - The Oberoi Sukhvilas Spa Resort, New Chandigarh
Is it now time to start planning your Unpacking Wellness experience for 2022?
We shall emerge into a more cautious world. In preparation, I have designed some slow-travel Unpacking Wellness experiences. They are suffused in wellness, interaction is controlled, crowds are avoided. You pick and mix your selection from four week-long, in-depth visits to South Indian spots I especially love - on plateau, coast, forest and delta. Do one, two, three or all four.
Enjoy privately or in a small group (dates to be announced)
If you have not traveled with me before ....
Please know that we experience great sights in the best possible way, with lots of add-on encounters and visits to off-beat places.
We meet conservationists, curators, craftsmen and musicians, we walk with naturalists, we cook with local chefs.
In sum, we imbibe the essence of each area thanks to my four decades of studying and visiting India - and making great friends who I share with you.
For private travel ....
I work with you to create your tailor-made trip to any corner of India, to any budget, for all interests and special needs, for families and parties of friends, for business groups and for honeymoon couples - India is ideal for everyone!