Published: May 14th 2012August 19th 2011
I am a 35 metre tall statue of Maitreya Buddha. I stare down the Shyok river towards Pakistan from Diskit Gompa. This valley, where I sit, is situated just a couple of hours drive down from the world’s highest motorable pass, Khardung La (17,582ft). On the other side of this formidable pass lies Ladakh's Capital city, Leh.
I am the fourth incarnation of the Buddha and, without my legs crossed, I sit in a western posture on a throne. Legend has it that I am yet to arrive on earth, but as a statue hoisted by an artificial platform, I can be seen from anywhere around the Shyok Valley.
I reflect on the world around me...
A plateau of cornfields surrounds my statue and Diskit village. Sand makes up the desert here rather than dust and rock of the Indus valley. Through the centre of this enormous u-shaped glacial valley runs the thin but powerful Shyok river. Above me is deep blue and cloudless sky. This weather remains for almost all three months of the year.
To the North Down in old Diskit town, a drunkard is being carried
home by his two sons even in the early morning. They have a concerned look on their brows, which is only tempered by the reality that this is not the first time that they have had to look after him. This is a sign of increasing foreign influence in the Ladakh region. Other contented villagers amble everywhere.
Goats and cows laze about all over the human paths and are very much a part of everyday life. The summer gives a busy atmosphere to the village.
Sitting to the South, stuck firmly into the rocky mountinaside is Diskit Gompa, which is an ancient Monastery. It is laid out clearly in tiers of hierarchy. The monastery is a formidable enclave. A monk blows a horn to mark the beginning of 6am Puja. The rising sun illuminates a haze in the clear mountain desert air.
A handful of other monks walk down from their rooms in sandals ready to begin the days chanting. They sit opposite each other in a great hall beneath another Buddha statue. They rock rhythmically back and forward as they perform the repetitive chants and mantras. The two youngest monks
timidly pour tea for the elder monks and join in with the meditation. Their young higher-pitched voices alter the deep resonance of the elder monks chants and give the room a more rounded sound.
To the West, in the distance lies a miniature desert of rolling sand dunes, which is at odds again with the usual arid dust and emerald oases of the striking Ladakhi landscape. Two camels are ambling in their model village.
Directly in front of me, four tourists sit cross-legged meditating and an elderly local, dressed in shepherding clothes, teeters down onto his well-worn knees, bows his head to the ground and lifts his glued palms over his head three times prayerfully.
Stupas and other smaller temples are dotted around this holy scene. The disputed border regions between Pakistan and India are just a short distance away yet this village resides in a peace. The Buddhist tradition is deep rooted. Acceptance of other cultutres reamins steadfast. Later in this day a celebration in the Hindu calendar is to be marked by Diskit. It will include giving free holy prasad to both Hindu and Buddhist villagers alike. The pounding
music of the afternoon, which orginates from the Indian plains, contrasts with the deep murmur of the chanting monks at dawn.
To the East, snow speckles the tips of the mountain ridge behind me. In 3 months the intense colour of the valley will blanketed in white as winter sets in with force.
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