After the intense road trip, we had a day without being in a car and pottered around Leh and wrote up our notes. The next day we visited Stok, a monastery that had a museum full of thangkas (prayer on cotton), royal jewellery, domestic objects and weapons. There were some interesting objects on display in the courtyard, including skulls and yak skins used in production of chhaang (home made beer).
Our final research trip to Thikey was a memorable one as we saw it in a new light after visiting other monasteries. We reflected on the journey we had made since arriving in Ladakh and how traces and interconnections were present in our experiences of the monasteries, people and landscape. How all these contemplations will be realised as outcomes of the Things Unbound will be the exciting new chapter in the project!
The lake changes colour and we were surprised by the early morning hues. Back on the road, we saw marmots.
We stopped at Tangste monastery which was surrounded by rocks and prayer flags.
On the way to Leh we visited Norbu, who uses yak milk from his parents herd to make cheese in a French style, which he sells to Leh hotels. The cheese is stored in a cellar and smelled amazing. We were impressed with the combination of tradition of yak herding and addressing the new tourist market.
We had a full day’s drive from Turtuk, bordering on Pakistan to Lake Pangong, bordering on China. We passed through a dry river bed!
The lake has become very popular in the last decade as it featured in a Bollywood blockbuster. We saw a field of tents where visitors stay overnight. Our place of rest was a homestay with one of the nine families that traditionally lived on the site. We heard about how much the place had changed and how the families used to trek to China to trade goods.
We continued our journey through the Nubra Valley to Turtuk.
Turtuk is a Muslim village among trees and water ways split by a rushing river. It’s near the border of Pakistan and has only been open to visitors in the last few years. We walked around the village and spoke with a black smith and a weaver, who had made his own loom. Our guest house was between two mosques and the call to prayer echoed between them, along with the wind in the trees it was a sensory experience. There was a small Buddhist monastery on a hill. We spoke with the grandfather of the guest house family and he told us about life in the village.
Road trip! Over four days and three nights we visited more monasteries to contextualise Thiksey and also experienced different places in Ladakh. We drove up the mountains to the ice and snow through the highest motor-able pass in the world (5,359 meters).
We passed through the Nubra Vallery to Sumur Monastery. Along with stunning temples, there many beautiful objects that are part of the daily life of the site, including a traditional lock and key and an innovative looking bell.
The last stop of the day of driving was Diskit Monastery. We scrambled up a hill as the road was being widened for the upcoming visit of the Dali Lama. Once we reached the bottom of the monastery, we climbed up small steps that wound around so the site was slowly revealed. The Protector Temple was particularly striking. Through the dark you could just see parts of statues which were covered with veils as they are too powerful to be exposed apart from at festival times. The monastery has a large Buddha visible from far away, and a small museum that displayed domestic items used to store flour, make rice, boil water, or serve tea.
Alchi is over one thousand years old. To get to the monastery, you walk along a winding white walled path where you cannot see round the corner, are met by several market stalls and then step over a small steam to enter the site. Prayer flags are hung low and flutter in the breeze, entrance ways are low so you have to stoop to walk through doorways, all giving an intimate sensation to the space. Water runs throughout the monastery and you can hear it exploring between temples, there is even a doorway to the river Indus. Within the temples there are sounds of creaking floorboards as you walk clockwise around taking in the amazing wall paintings and statues of Buddha.
Liker monastery was another calm place, when we walked up the many steps the main courtyard we were greeted by the soothing sounds of a monk sweeping. The temples had more spectacular paintings, and the museum had 500 year old silk tapestries, masks, weapons, and domestic objects. The main assembly has a fantastic alter and colourful hangings are. We were all struck by the robes left by the monks in the temple. They were differing tones of yellow, in varying states of condition and left in cone like heaps. They were like coiled springs of energy, very much more than cloth as they seemed to be imbued with something of their owners. After sitting in the temple for a while we walked outside to a giant Buddha statue.
A very supportive monk that Sandra befriended on her previous visit invited us to morning prayer at the monastery. I have never been more excited to wake up at 4am. We listened to a prayer in a cloud of incense at the Temple of the Protector before being part of the morning prayer in the prayer hall. The longer ceremony had chanting and the monks were fed and given butter tea by young monks who were almost as big as the pots and kettles they were carrying. We were offered butter tea, and it will set you up for the day – a salty buttery hot liquid that is common in the Himalayas. After prayer, we took tea and biscuits in the monks prayer room and continued our observations in Thiksey.
In the afternoon we headed to a second monastery, Hemis. Through the rain we explored different temples, and visited an expansive museum. Driving back to town we met members of the Indian reaerch team on the road! It was great to be reunited with Dr Manvi, Lobzang and Tenzin.
This was the first time Alex or I had been to the site and we are still trying to articulate the sensations we had in the monastery. The team are having very reflexive discussions about what it means to experience such a powerful site and to also actively research it. We will build upon these thoughts as we progress and it is the foundation of our plan to continue research at Thiksay, then visit other monastery sites and reflect upon this prior to a final visit to Thiksay in our last days in Ladakh.
Things Unbound continues with a small contingent of researchers from UK heading to the Himalayas in India. Sandra, Alex and Oonagh will do a follow up visit to a Buddhist monastery, Thiksey, where fieldwork was previously undertaken. In addition, the research team will visit other Buddhist monasteries to contrast how visitors are interacting with objects and the site itself, where the site is an active place of devotion as well as a tourist destination.
After an eventful journey from Heathrow to Delhi to Leh, we arrived in Ladakh. As we are 3000m above sea level, we took two days to acclimatise. Luckily our guest house has a balcony with a view.
Over the last week the team has continued research at Harborough Museum and our guests from India have visited different English museums.
Harborough Museum was a rich research site. It was the first time the team had observed how visitors interact with social history objects that were familiar to them, as our other research sites have been a cathedral, monastery and an Indian royal family museum.
We observed many visitors interacting with objects that were mediated by their memories of them. This was especially evident with inter-generational visits, when grandparents would talk about an object with their grandchildren. The most attractive objects in the local history area for children was the activity area, and for adults it was the screen showing a series of historic photographs of the area. The historic audio visual presentation screen is near the local history area, and the historic photographs inspired many visitors to visit the local history area.
This is the fourth research site of the project, and we have gathered much data. It was a short visit from our Indian colleagues, who have returned to Delhi, but not before we had a farewell meal together.