In the Coldest Desert

By Swati Mazta

Waking up at dawn, raise the curtains,
Gaze at the snow-capped mountains
From the Arctic room window.
It seems a true treat for your eyes and your soul.
Scan the mountain through plastic-insulated windows
For Himalayan brown bears, snow leopards or ibex goats.
May luck be with you next time!
Till then, enjoy your love with fur on four paws.
Relish lip-smacking hot black coffee
In a beautiful ceramic blue cup!
Munch on some coconut cookies
All the time, think of the glee club.
Hear the chirping of pigeons and magpies.
As the breeze flows, the wind chimes tinkle.
It feels pretty comfortable and soothing,
Like someone pouring honey into the ears.
As the day begins,
Flush the body of toxins,
Dry clean your body with warm water-soaked muslin
Apply a little oil massage to rejuvenate your skin.
Put on insulated, comfortable clothing --
A woollen cap, socks, fur boots.
Keep yourself warm on this day --
A new day, a new beginning.
Let go of tomorrow...
Today is your day to shine.
Oh, my dear, the little things keep you going.
These little longings are tinkling!

Swati Mazta is an Assistant Professor in the department of English at the University of Ladakh, Kargil Campus, Khumbathang, Kargil, UT Ladakh, India.


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Slices from Life


Photographs and text by Rupali Gupta Mukherjee

‘The journey matters more than the destination’, this quote came to my mind innumerable times, as our creamy white Xylo sped up from Kargil, crossed the majestic Fotu La pass on the Srinagar Leh highway. My eyes were glued to the splendour that Mother Nature had bestowed copiously all around us. Our driver, a calm, composed friendly person was fairly careful during the sharp turns, twists and terrifying bends. We were headed towards Leh, capital of Ladakh. On our way, roughly hundred kilometres before Leh, we found ourselves in the land of what seemed like strange, supernatural mountains made of rocks that shimmered and changed hues. 

The colours shifted from grey to chocolate brown, crimson to mauve and azure. It was divine. I sat with my camera, filled with awe and wonder of the breathtaking peaks that lay before me and left me mystified.  I was totally smitten. More surprise along the way held me spellbound.  

After the barren desert that stretched before us, at the next hairpin bend, was an amazing ancient Tibetan Buddhist Monastery peeping out from the hideout of the world’s most imposing mountain ranges. It was a dreamland, a land of fantasy. I pinched and asked myself, ‘Is this a reverie?’ But no. It was real.

The lunar landscape that greeted my camera on this Earth was synonymous to the legendary ‘Moonland’.  The primeval Lamayuru monastery towered in the unreal moonscape. It dates back to the 11th century. According to myths, a scholar named, Mahasiddhacharya Naropa, had laid the keystone of this mesmeric building. It was said due to his mantras the water in this region retreated and the vicinity took the shape of moonlike alcove and craters.

The setting bears a semblance to the lunar highlands. The profound darker part of the mighty hills is said to be the replica of ‘Maria’, a common panorama found on the surface of the gorgeous silver disc, the shiny crescent in the cobalt diamond studded night sky.

I found the landscape hypnotic and ethereal; its exceptionally outlandish ecological structure made Lamayuru monastery unique and idiosyncratic. 

A drive through this moonscape imprints an incredible chronicle in the mindscape of the traveller. This journey stretched like an implausible odyssey beyond my imagination. It was as if I was watching a documentary on National Geographic.

Almost a month after returning from the trip, I still feel mesmerised by the ghostly ‘gompas[1]’, the atypical topography, unknown terrain, unfamiliar cold weather. They beckon me to go back and explore further. No wonder, several voyagers fondly portray Lamayuru’s ‘lunar’ landscape as the ‘Mecca of an adventurous soul’. I promised myself to be back in this magnetic landscape once again, this time on a full-moon night, when the silvery ribbon of moon beams scatter over the baffling purple structures of Lamayuru, bathing the compelling peaks in shimmering platinum dust. Undeniably its startling tinge would be the marvel of art if some artists managed to capture the hues.

[1] Buddhist structures

Rupali Gupta Mukherjee has a passion for reading, writing and reciting poetry.   She is a nature enthusiast, loves to travel and has a zeal for photography.