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finishings

it's cold, high. the wind takes on a different character, drier than
winter wind in new england and not so sharp-- but enveloping,
all-encompassing. we drove from leh to tso morriri in a bus with
TOURIST scrawled across the front, watching the himank highway signs
along the way: SPEED IS A KNIFE THAT CUTS LIFE; BETTER MR LATE THAN
LATE MR; I WANT YOU DARLING, BUT NOT SO FAST. ten minutes from the
lake the road disappeared under the blowing sand, coarse and pale,
rippled like sand in the desert. we pressed on, and got stuck; the
twelve of us (students, leaders, driver, cook, sandrup, namgial) got
out to push. the cold was furious against fingers and cheeks and ears
as we carried stones to pave the waste ahead, pushing on the back of
my calves and neck as we leaned our weight into the cab. a goncha-clad
man that we had passed an hour ago rode by us with his string of
ponies. we cheered as the bus groaned and roared and shot forward, out
from the grooves of spinning tires.

the lake was solid still with ice; a ring ten feet wide from the shore
melted every day and froze again into paper-thin glass at night. we
set up camp slowly, once tents were erected putting on everything we
owned-- from there, spending the rest of the darkening evening in the
luxury of the dining tent.


the next morning i broke the ice on the stream running through camp to
wash my face, cheeks numbing with the freezing water. chris and i
spent the morning exploring around the lake; a local could walk around
it in four days, namgial told us, if he were strong and the weather
good. stones thrown skidded across the ice, bending sound in strange
ways as it reverberated across the open space. the sun was hot, and
when we came to a cliff that cut the beach and rose squarely out of
the lake we took off our shoes to pass, feet icy under the perfect
clarity of the water. a recess in the rock just beyond was filled with
rough clay chortens and figures of the buddha, protected from the rain
(if it ever rained, there) and the wind. the land flattened then into
a rocky expanse, boulders and pebbles and sand all smooth from the
weather. a row of mani walls stretched for more than a mile, and we
started following these; built waist-high, the top of each covered by
slate carved roughly or with the most refined skill into strings of
prayers in tibetan script.

two days lived outside, sun and stars the most distinct features of
the landscape, and of time. coming home we stopped one night in hemis,
at the largest monastery in ladakh. early in the morning we climbed an
hour up the mountain to the retreat center there, caves where monks of
serious discipline have been meditating for years. we saw the stupas
and then returned down, much faster than we had ascended.

and then, trekking... we spent nine days walking the markha valley,
days that blend into each other, a little-- in beautiful land and
physical strength or exhaustion, delicious food, the river over tired
feet after making camp, gin rummy, freezing nights and mornings, hot
water, my favorite hat. we crossed two passes along the way, the
higher of them-- Kongmaru La-- at 7,400 ft.. seasons changed as a
function of altitude rather than time, and i went from walking
bare-armed in the sun to bending into driving wind and snow in less
than a day. the passes were crowned with prayer flags, and coming down
from them felt like flying. our last camp was only three hours walking
from leh, and i found the tea stall and buildings and telephone poles
there strangely painful.

then to the city, and the slide towards home. two days in leh and
another two in delhi, wrapping up loose ends, and waiting. my train
left for the south on thursday, and now i am in auroville again.
(sweating. and happy.)