In August of 2011 I left Japan after completing my MA degree in Buddhist Studies and headed to Leh for a few months of meditation and study. My original plan was to stay until mid-January, but unfortunately I only stayed until December 7th.. At night the local dogs would have their conflicts which of course proved disturbing. Still, I did get some solid meditation done. I was primarily focused on śamatha, which requires relative silence.
The cold was beginning to affect my health as well. Although I come from a cold country, the winter in Leh is fierce, especially when you live in a cement building with no insulation or heating. No matter how many blankets or layers you have on you, the cold air and high altitude mean the chill just never ceases. Electric heaters are illegal due to electricity shortages (the power in winter is only on from around 6pm to 11pm), and a gas heater in my estimation was too hazardous. Come December I was feeling lethargic and unable to focus on anything, so I departed.
However, I did overall enjoy my time in Leh. I found the locals quite friendly, helpful and honest. Unlike elsewhere in India, the Ladakhi merchants and farmers I dealt with gave me the same price as everyone else. Ladakhis never underwent colonization under the British and were largely isolated from the outside world and tourism until the 1970's, so I suspect this has something to do with their general attitude towards foreigners being so drastically different from elsewhere in India. Leh is relatively wealthy as well, perhaps owing to the large military bases there as well as the numbers of tourists, both foreign and Indian, that frequent the area, especially in summer.
In terms of food I was cooking for myself and was happy that I could buy produce directly from farmers at the bazaar. After living on Japan's largely industrial food for two years, I felt my spirits increase eating such wholesome vegetables. I was also given a generous amount of tsampa, or roasted barley flour, which is the traditional staple of many Himalayan peoples. One generally mixes tsampa with hot butter tea, but some people also add cheese and other condiments. I took mine with locally produced apricot jam.
Besides meditation, I also did some extensive reading which included, among other works, a lengthy commentary in Chinese by Jizang 吉藏 (549–623) on Nāgārjuna's Mūlamadhyamaka-kārikā. Being mostly isolated in my small room atop a mountain I was left to my own affairs. I purchased a AM/FM radio and was surprised when I discovered just how many radio stations from around Asia one can receive up in the Himalayas. It seemed most of China was available, but stations from as far away as Korea were available. Finding the BBC World Service available on two separate frequencies made for a kind of companion to have around at times.
We also had the 20th anniversary of Shanti Stupa's founding in mid September. A number of government officials attended along with some notable local Buddhist figures. Rev. Wasada, one of the top five Tendai priests in Japan, also presided over the ceremonies. Shanti Stupa, founded by Ven. Nakamura Gyomyo, was built by both Japanese and Ladakhi parties, so the anniversary ceremonies combined both Tibetan and Japanese Buddhist elements.
Living in Leh was indeed a positive experience. It was my first time going up to that altitude, and I have to say, coming from the flat prairies of Canada, seeing those massive mountains every morning was something I could never grow weary of. When I was young I always felt the urge to go and travel to distant lands and in particular to the Himalayas – I feel satisfied having actually done this. Observing a living Buddhist culture deep in the Himalayas while residing within it was rewarding, both spiritually and perhaps intellectually as it lent real life experience to book knowledge.
In concluding this post, I should like to offer a link to the poem I composed in Chinese while in Leh with an English translation below: