Sunday, October 15, 2006

Mountain High, Valley Low

This time last week, I was in Leh.

I don't remember what exactly I was doing; If this was the day we spent curled up under the thick quilt with purple flowers on it, sliding out our hands only to turn pages on the books we were reading, or if this was one of the many mornings we sat at the breakfast table in the rooftop restaurant and breathed in the mountains.

I don't remember if it was this time last week, that we climbed up a million stone steps to reach the gompas, or if this was the day we walked up to the Leh palace, and from its crumbling facade, saw the little valley town spread out before us, like a postcard come to life.

Was this the day we sat at the banks of the Indus, just watching the prayer flags flutter on the wooden bridge above us?

And that is why I take pictures*.

Because memory is fickle, and pictures are real.

But real as they are, they are not enough. Because they tell you only one side of the story.

That picture of the glass of hot ginger-lemon-honey-tea? You can see the steam rising from the glass in misty curls; you can see the chunk of crushed ginger, sitting pretty on the honey that layers the bottom of the glass; you can even see the amber-goldenness of it, as the sunlight filters through it. But what the picture does not, CANnot tell you, is how it felt to hold that warm glass in your cold hands and feel the life flow back into your fingers. It doesn't tell you about the shock your tongue felt at the first scalding sip; the sweet, the sour, the hot and the spicy, all in one kick-your-brain-awake cocktail of taste and sensation.

Those pictures of the apple-cheeked locals. You can probably count every wrinkle on their weather-worn faces. But those pictures tell you nothing about how, every single day, you will be jolted out of your city-dweller-existence-bubble when you're greeted with a cheerful 'Julay!' and smiled at by complete strangers.

Then there are the pictures of the mountains. Which are pointless really. Because you can neither capture their grandeur, nor your feeling of miniscule insignificance, which is inevitable in the face of these magnificent giants.

Those pictures of the cobbled bylanes. That small wooden door, those flowers in the window. The small Kashmiri bakery, the statley poplars, the purple flowers in the monastery. The leh-berry, the brass temple-bells at Khardung La, the mani walls, the ice.

They cannot tell you what it was like to be there.

The next time, I will just have to take you with me.

*Coming soon.


IdeaSmith said...

'Memory is fickle'? I don't think so but yes, pictures are selective. Good post with a lovely ending.

Chronicus Skepticus said...

Smithy: I should have specified, I mean *mine*. :)

And ummm...thank you! Glad you liked!

Arthur Quiller Couch said...

Not saccharine, but still very sweet. I need a dash of bitters.

Chronicus Skepticus said...

Couch: It is, isn't it? I *told* you I was stuck!


Ash said...

Nice post, your description of the cuppa chai was pretty vivid ...
... so how do you think words compare with pictures ? :)

Ph said...

I promise to be very good. :D

Bombay Addict said...

"Because you can neither capture their grandeur, nor your feeling of miniscule insignificance, which is inevitable in the face of these magnificent giants." - oh yes I hear you.

I was there in 2004 and it was beyond words. I did post some snaps.

Where all did you go ? I tell you Nubra is enough to change the way you think. Forever.

Rhyncus said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Rhyncus said...

Amazing place, isn't it? Did you do the long drives towards nothingness, with only the mountains for company?

Chronicus Skepticus said...

Ash: Thank you :)

How do I think words compare with pictures? Words have power. I've never heard of pictures 'leaving white-hot trails across the soul'?


Ph: I'm sure you will! :P

Bombay Addict:
We had to skip Nubra, not enough time, sadly. But next time, as god is my witness...! :D

Rhyncus: GOD yes. And the drives and the bike ride and the walking and those mountains...words fail me.

bachcha said...

beautiful!! .. but pics??