Wednesday, 8th August. Likir

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Wednesday 8th August

We started a short trek here three years ago, the road that leads from Likir to the main Leh-Srinagar highway has been upgraded from previous dusty track. We pass the turn-off to the village where we started our trek; two monks are heading towards the main road, one shaded by an umbrella, it’s a hot day. At the gompa we can’t find the indicated tearoom and instead we sit on a wall to eat our lunch. It is indeed lunchtime - monks come pouring out of the prayer room, some are soon carrying steel buckets and heading to the kitchens. After the quiet and discipline of morning prayers it’s a time for much laughing and horseplay.

The monastery was rebuilt 200 years ago but looks somewhat older. It’s a large complex of buildings with a fair number of resident monks. The most notable feature is the large gilded Maitreya statue that stands slightly apart from the main buildings, the gold colour perfect against the intense blue sky. There are good views from a low roof; two monks in a courtyard below are renewing butter lamps in a dark oily glass cabinet.

At 2pm the monks file into a different prayer hall, we’re invited in to join and sit on carpets around the edge of the room. Four men in the centre of the room, in pairs facing each other on the front low benches, wearing tall hats with long wigs, have dreadful countenance; they later remove the headgear and are returned to human normality. Young monks around the edges are larking around and passing papers to each other, occasionally one will run off and disappear or reappear on another bench. A tough looking older monk threatens them with a long stick. It appears to have no effect. A monk is asleep on the front row, a figure of fun and a great target. A large piece of bread is thrown and hits him right in the middle of the forehead, he carries on sleeping. An interlude in prayers allows for tea to be served into each monk’s bowl from giant metal kettles. An opportunity to stretch our legs and leave, look round more buildings and the museum, tie prayer flags to the flagpole and head back to the car.

Quickly back to Leh to pack, we leave tomorrow. I give my hats to Ragu, the irritating Nepalese room boy, who’s delighted and gives one to his equally delighted mate. Wangchuk has family commitments so we eat at the Ibis with one of his guides, who drinks a large number of rums. A big collection of whiskies and excellent food, a well kept secret is the Ibis. Mentokling for our last coffee.

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