120 Minutes of Devotion

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Just had an amazing but a very short trip to Leh-Ladakh and experienced Buddhism up-close and personal. Heres one of many stories I wish to share from the trip. 

As per health regulatory issued by Ladakh tourism, visitors are supposed to rest for a day on landing in Leh to acclimatize to the high altitude. But I had very limited time and couldn't afford to rest. I landed in Leh at 7am and by 8am hired the monster of the valley - Royal Enfield 500cc Bullet. 

Very first stop after about 20 kms of ride eastwards from Leh was the magnificent Thikse Monastery. Built in early 15th century, the monastery stands tall with a twelve-story complex which wraps a mountain artistically. 

As I initiated conversation with the monks I came across at Thikse, was asked to visit the monastery for early morning prayers and was told it would be an experience in itself. Prayers start very early, by around 5:30am and goes on for about 2-3 hours. It sounded like a great plan and yes, I promised to return back next day by 6am. 

Woke up at 5am and was on my bike by 5:30. It felt great but the rush faded away quite quick. I under estimated the power of Himalayan mornings. I ignored to carry gloves while traveling from Dubai. Now I was in a soup. Riding the bike in freezing temperatures of the morning got my fingers literally frozen blue and all that in less than 2 minutes of ride. I continued keeping my fingers warm by rubbing it over my jeans as I drove. But that proved useless within next few minutes. About 10 kms into the journey and another 10 to go, my fingers felt lifeless, so much so, I couldn't grip the bike anymore. Stopped at the very first house I came across, woke them up and requested for a bowl of hot water. He initially laughed at me but then he checked my fingers and knew it was bad. After a quick family gathering, his wife, 3 kids and himself got into my service. After about 10 minutes of first aid with hot water, I could now feel my fingers again. As I was about to leave, the kind man offered me a glove, which was completely worn off, but it did a good job in getting me to the monastery without further damage. 

Once at the monastery by about 6:15am, I could hear prayers humming at a distance. I followed the lead which led me to the main prayer hall which was occupied by monks of all age, each of them neatly seated as per hierarchy. I was given a seat and a cup of hot tea by one of the monks. On request, was also provided with a bowl of hot water ;) 

As I soaked my fingers in hot water and watched the ceremony, I realized it was a gathering not just for prayers but also for breakfast. Not the kind of breakfast we have, but one which goes on for about 3 hours. It was intermittent, part prayers followed by part breakfast. There were set of rules and regulations to be followed which was obviously beyond my understanding. As I was contemplating, was served another cup of hot tea. 

Each kid in the monastery had a role to play. Some served the hot drink at certain designated intervals, while the next set of kids served other essentials of the breakfast. 

While for some, it was just way too early to keep eyes open ;)

Silence of breakfast session was broken by the humming of prayers and vice versa. 

And I did serve as a distraction to this little monk, who was quite curious about photography. Post prayers, he spent few minutes playing around with Fuji I was carrying and to his surprise, received a print via Fujfilm Instax printer. 

Speaking of Fuji, the gears used were pretty straight forward. Fujifilm X-Pro2 with a 23mm f1.4 and Fujifilm X-T1 with a 90mm f2. It was a good balance of wide angle and medium zoom. This was the very first travel where I had left my beloved Nikons home. There were moments when I did miss my Nikon D4s and more importantly my fav lens Nikkor 24-70. But its good to be out of comfort zone at times.  

Shooting at this place was quite challenging, not just because of low light conditions but also because I was supposed to shoot right where I was seated. For me personally, I didn't really mind if I didn't get great images, I was just happy to be there and experience and absorb the vibes of the occasion. The simplicity of their lifestyle and the devotion that filled the room was overwhelming to watch. I have always been fascinated with Buddhism and this was my moment to understand it a tiny bit better. 

Most of the images are shot at ISO ranging from 1250 upto 2500. Looks like 2500 is the new 200, atleast for me, who doesn't get bugged by noise, if any

After about 30 minutes of shoot, I decided to pack my gears, sit back and observe. With constant flow of hot drinks, I was in no hurry to leave. I just hoped for some breakfast but that didn't happen ;)

By the time prayer concluded, it was warm and cozy outside, which also meant, tourists were now flocking the area. It was time to thank the monks for all the hospitality and the opportunity to witness the ceremony. 

Next stop was a place very close to my heart - Hemis Monastery. More on that in the next blog.


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  1. Excellent short write up subodh.And the pictures r very candid & beautiful.

    1. Thanks Pradeep for your kind words and glad you enjoyed the blog :)

  2. Wonderful narration and pictures...:)

    1. Thanks Gaanesh Prasad - Glad you enjoyed the narration and images :)

  3. Wonderful narration and pictures...:)

  4. Great to read. Excellent blog. Hope ur fingers are ok. Photography is not only about the eye...we forget that finger is also needed to press the shutter :-). Arnab Basu

    1. Thanks Arnab. Fingers are perfectly fine. So very true, its not just the eye but the finger which clicks too ;)

  5. Nice description, one of your best blog . For next leh-ladakh trip firstly you carry your gloves

    1. Thanks Hitesh. And yes, gloves for sure ;)


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