National Geographic : 1963 May
Donkey Caravan Plods Past Pagodalike Chortens Near Leh Whitewashed structures of stone and sun baked clay appear frequently along caravan trails. Built by devout Buddhists to improve prospects for the next life, chortens house relics or ashes of deceased lamas. Lantern light reveals lamas guiding the author-photographer through the treasure rooms of Pituk Monastery, Ladakh head quarters of the Yellow Hat order of lamas. I looked down five hundred feet to the frozen and lifeless Indus Valley and up thou sands of feet to the peaks of granite and snow. No moon was in sight, but the barren land scape was not dark; it lay in a diffused gray blue light, and what by day had been rocky textures now seemed soft and remote. By contrast, the stars had never been etched so sharply. In the thin, unclouded atmosphere they looked down untwinkling, making me feel as if I were part of them and not of the planet earth. Cold Climate Unhealthy for Germs The cold soon drove me back to my sleep ing bag, my headache gone. Now I understood why the Buddhists of Ladakh imagine hell as a place of bitter cold. Cold threatens them most of the year, and their houses of stone 678 and mud offer little protection. Rarely is there enough dung, straw, and scrub wood even for cooking. Fortunately germs do not thrive in the cold. The most common ailment is eye trouble, caused by dust and by the acrid smoke from the open cook fires in the vil lagers' one-room homes. The next morning I had to thaw my tube of toothpaste before I could squeeze it. I sympathized with Ladakh's villagers, who are among the world's least-washed people. I found it convenient to abide by the local custom and forego a bath-at least until sum mer. A 1962 government pamphlet reveals plans for a civic improvement in Leh: "There is also a proposal to set up two Public Bath Rooms at suitable places in the town-one for ladies and the other for gents." I hope they will be heated.