Mushrooming tufts of snow-white cotton wool, whisked along by the brisk evening breeze, sail and scud across a deepening lilac sky.
Raking rays of sunlight, scattered by cloud, filter through shaded gold and amber ravines sunk deep in between precipituous, intersecting scree slopes dug out of the vast mountain plateau, twelve thousand feet above sea level.
It’s getting pretty nippy up here as I gaze down at Leh from the dusty gravel foot trail linking the ruined fort and fifteenth century Namgyal-Tsemo Gompa to the old town’s intricate maze of puny mud-brick and timber houses and hovels.
Perched high above town as I am, I can still perceive the old town mosque located directly next to the the hill crowned by Leh’s seventeenth century replica of the Potala Palace.
Transfixed by the savage beauty of this barren land going on forever.
Far beyond Leh’s massive polo ground – lying prostrate beneath an encircling palisade of rugged mountain crags – on the edge of town.
Leh stands alone up here.
Marooned and cut off from the rest of India by its sheer altitude and a gargantuan array of staccato mountain peaks:
Stark and sinister against a backdrop of clear sky on most days but now half-obscured by fast encroaching grey-black thunderheads.
Will it rain tonight?
I don’t think so but you can’t be quite sure. The weather is very unpredictable this high up into the mountains.
I decide to play it safe and hurry down the hill back to town watching my step over the treacherous trail.
Striding past the mosque.
Past the little well and the shrill laughter of children hard at work pumping up the potable water into overflowing jerry cans and plastic bottles but clumsily spilling most of it onto the ground all around them
The streets are nearly pitch black but I have my flashlight handy.
Ever since travelling across Albania, crippled by its post civil war sixteen hour daily power cuts, I’ve always stuck to carrying an emergency light at all times.
No time to wander around town at this hour. Best to get back to my guesthouse fast and not risk being attacked by the many vicious strays stalking the open gutter streets and alleyways.
I know my host is expecting me for dinner. What shall it be tonight?
One last turn right and past the corner and yes I can see him – there’s Ali waiting at the door of his guesthouse welcoming me back with one hell of a rich smile!
Ali sure isn’t rich.
Just enough money to eke out a tenuous living for his growing family and frail elderly mum and dad.
But what a smile he’s got!
I’ve seen that smile all of this week I’ve been here in Leh:
On the faces of those chanting ecstatic crowds at the bus station. Enraptured by the Dalai Lama’s humble wisdom and his exhortations for peace and calm and brotherhood amongst Muslims, Buddhists, Christians.
Most Ladakhis are poor.
They don’t have much to survive upon.
Many have next to nothing at all.
And yet they keep on smiling in such a way!
I have frequently pondered this, considered why I scarcely smile as these people do even though I have so much more than they.
Perhaps for as long as I have and own and possess, the more difficult it shall continue to be for me to smile as these people do.
Maybe the only sure way to smiling from the heart is to leave everything behind.
Let go of all that has gone on before.
Start from scratch and owning as close to nothing at all as I possibly can.
Copyright(c) David Bugeja 2016 All rights reserved