"... the true smell of the Himalayas, ... if once it creeps into the blood of a man, that man will at the last, forgetting all else, return to the hills to die."
~ Rudyard Kipling
These lines couldn't have reverberated more truly in my heart, not after the last month's vacation to Ladakh. My love affair with the ever-bewitching pull of mountains was reaffirmed and how! I'm still feeding on bits and morsels of their surreal charm, those silent, ungrudging guardians of time. But the mountains of Ladakh that span the Himalayan and the Karakoram ranges have a different story to tell. Sitting at a dizzying altitude with much of it being over a good 10,000 feet at least, and robbed of even a speck of green, they guard this land of high passes with a zealous loyalty. Unlike the pine-choked, verdant peaks that one comes across in the valley of Kashmir, the mountains here are what they are in their just-born, nascent form - bald, brown, and unpretentious.
Framing the face of the region with their jagged fringes, one simply needs to turn, in order to view the innumerable breathtaking panoramas the intriguing landscape offers. To tag the mountains as 'omnipresent' would be a poor understatement indeed, for I cannot recall a single place or a scene that did not face the high mountains. And I realized, surrounded by all that raw beauty, that no other kind of nature-roving could be more humbling than to be amid these naked mountains, feeling intimidated and protected by their outright barrenness at once.
From the square of the hotel windows. Arms laced together, hugging the azure skies. Serene monasteries perched safely in their sandy cradle. Prayer flags everywhere, lending a dreamy color palette to their tanned monotony. Watching over the army settlements, who, in turn, watch over them, their green tents dotting the barren expanse of the landscape. Basking in its rusty glory by the banks of the turquoise dream, the Pangong Tso lake. A mute witness to the coming together of the Indus and the Zanskar rivers. In the backdrop of the fragrant, wild-rose blooms. Flanking roads and highways, lending some expressiveness to their otherwise tiresome meandering. Sculpting cold deserts with silver sands, the home of the peculiar two-humped, Bactrian camel. Playing hide-and-seek with the big, cottony fluffs of cloud. Beholding the only other constant of the place - the red and maroon robbed monks - descending the rocky staircase of a monastery.