The desert sighs ...
The places you remember in life are the places that seduce you with their heart. They are the places you return to again and again, each time leaving a mark on your soul and changing your life forever.
My journey in June/July 2011 through the Indian Himalayan ranges to the region of Ladakh was a mind blowing and extremely moving experience that has left me touched and inspired by the beauty and generosity of mankind. The decision to go to the VBB LARDoM program in Ladakh was a very impromptu one, which came soon after a good friend reminded me that life happens on the court, not in the stands as we all so often find ourselves.
After months of hard work organising the Animal Angels Charity Ball that was held in May 2011 to raise funds for VBB, I decided that I wanted to get a taste of an in situ project and see this work first hand. After finalising the formalities of the trip my departure date was just around the corner and before I knew it I was leaving the very next morning... better pack!
I arrived at the airport, said my goodbyes and boarded my flight to Delhi. I’m not the biggest fan of long haul flights but this one was not bad and upon landing in Delhi I was feeling pretty good. That was until I got outside the airport and hit the 40 degree heat and extreme humidity.
I had an overnight stay in Delhi which was exciting and a little frightening on my own but the next morning I was on my way back to the airport the catch a flight to Bhuntar in the Indian Himalayan foothills, from where I would begin my road leg up to Ladakh. The weather, however, had other plans for me. The monsoons had arrived early and the region was expecting 90% of its annual rain fall in the next five days. There was no way I was getting out of Delhi on a plane, so road it was - a mere 22 hour drive to Kullu which was right through (besides toilet stops)!
When we arrived in Kullu I tried to get a flight to Leh, as I didn’t think I would be able to cope with another 20-hour bus ride on one of the world’s worst roads. Fortunately for me there is no flight from Bhuntar to Leh ... I say fortunately, as the trip I took by road from Manali to Leh was a breath-taking and unforgettable experience - though not for the faint hearted. Of course the road trip did not go according to plan either, and it ended up taking about 48 hours as opposed to the quoted 20! The roads were in treacherous condition and we had a series of setbacks such as heavy traffic (stopped for hours at times), a head-on collision (everyone was ok), being caught in a glacier river and soaked in zero-degree water, only three flats (one at an altitude of 18 000 feet and breathless!), and stuck in a landslide to top it all off. Although it was an extreme excursion, I’d highly recommend taking this road, as these are some of the most extraordinary landscapes in the world
When I FINALLY arrived in Ladakh I was greeted by some of the most wonderful people who made me feel at home right away. The Namgyal home was a heaven on earth with stunning views but most of all a home away from home with an incredibly caring and comforting atmosphere. I had a lot of time to acclimatize to the altitude on the way so I felt like I wanted to start at the clinic as soon as I could.
The daily routine was great and we were sterilising 16-20 dogs a day which was a mammoth effort by all involved. The local nurses were fantastic and got me up to speed with the ins and outs immediately. I gained so many useful skills and made friends with some amazing people and animals. The street dogs of Ladakh were gentle, kind and patient with me every step of the way and my heart really goes out to them... We would all have loved to take them home with us. I’d really like to say that each and every person that I worked with at the Saboo clinic taught me so much and I was so grateful to have had the opportunity to work with such awesome people, up to HUGE things in life.
As for Ladakh... it’s hard to sum up this place in simple words. I went with no expectations and left with memories of people, animals and a country that will always be in my heart.
There’s a place I
have found where mortal words have no meaning.
There’s a desert I have seen where just a glance unfolds the secrets of this life. And all that went before it.
There’s a mountain I have climbed which is a shining pathway to that distant fiery orb with all its light and heat merging in the passion in your eyes.
There’s a river I have crossed whose ancient rhythm sways you into dreams that last forever.
And every awakening is the beginning of another dream.
There’s a temple in a faraway land in which the gods are not seen. Nor heard.
Sometimes it’s so still on these wind-scarred barren ledges that I can hear the desert sigh.
I can hear the creaking of ancient mountains and the laughter of flying snow.
And I know they hear my heartbeat.