Posts tagged “ladakh”
I arrived in Leh yesterday morning after an exceptionally early start. My taxi arrived at Noida at 2:40a and we began the longish drive to the airport. Typical of all taxi experiences, we made a couple of round-about navigational decisions, had to go a permit renewed, and got stuck in traffic at 3:30a behind large, large trucks struggling up an overpass.
The entire process at Delhi airport was far better than in previous years; the domestic and international airports merged into a single location. Checking in was easy and getting to the gate relatively painless. No re-identification of bags required, either. The flight to Leh was typically beautiful, with the sun rising over the Himalaya, mountains extending in one direction forever, peeking through dense fog. On the other side, the plains of India. The crowd on the plane was interesting — primarily Europeans and Indians, both older than I would have expected.
Development in Leh seems to have slowed a bit over the past four years; there are fewer new hotels and construction than in the past. A good thing, in my opinion. The main strips are still crowded, full of trucks, and a little grungy — but the outskirts of town remain as they have for quite some time. Beautiful, quiet, nice.
Catching up with Hem and the HHE staff was a delight. Much has improved from a logistical / organizational standpoint — and much is still the same. Looking forward to the trip.
Some tragedy — a driver, who had been with HHE for many years, died a few weeks after his marriage. A truck rolled backwards and over him in his home-town, not 50 meters from his house. Truly sad. He was a gentle, kind, and funny man.
Yesterday was a day of rest and acclimatization. Not much to report. Sleep last night was fitful; interrupted at 3:30a by a mournful prayer from the local mosque. The packs of stray dogs that control Leh added a chorus of howls and barks to the lilting dirge. Odd, a bit annoying, and captivating.
Today, I got up early — around 5 — and climbed up to the monastery and palace that overlooks Leh. The views were typically beautiful and the space was blessedly empty. A nice morning.
I love Bill Murray. I love Ladakh.
Should get that stuff out of the way early and bluntly. Aaron Cohen put together a long list of Bill Murray interviews. Pretty cool stuff. One of the oldest interviews was with Timothy Crouse of Rolling Stone in 1984. In it, Bill Murray discusses his time in Ladakh filming The Razor’s Edge. This blew my mind. Excerpts follow.
You realize just how big the mountains are: you’re not flying over them; you’re flying between them. Coming in to land, the plane goes between two mountains and there is about forty feet of clearance on either side, When the wind comes up, the planes don’t go there, because you can lose forty feet in half a second. You’ve never really lived until you’ve landed a plane in that shoebox there.
At the airport, we were met by a fleet of black jeeps driven by Tibetan[s] who drive like cowboys. A big chain of black jeeps set out and headed toward the monasteries, where we were going to shoot. In sixty miles of the Himalayas, I saw about all the spectacular things I ever saw in the Rockies. It was like a hall of fame of mountain majesty. There were Stupas everywhere - these big reliquaries - and monks walking on the road. Then we came over a rise and saw the first real mountain. It wasn’t Everest or anything, it was just one of the boys, and it was much bigger than the biggest mountain I’d ever seen.
We also needed an older man to play the high lama. They were reading actors for it in London, and I said “Look, we’re going to find the guy over there; don’t worry about it”. We’re not going to hire Ben Kingsley to play this part; we’re going to find a real guy to do this.” Well, we found the guy - he was the uncle of the owner of the Yaktail Hotel, the same guy who did the paintings - but he didn’t speak a word of English. So we then needed a Ladahki who spoke English, to teach him his lines, but we couldn’t find anyone. But the hotel owner had given me the address of this monk who worked up at some school centre and spoke English.
He turned out to be younger than me, and his name was Chiptan Chostock, but we called him Tip. Tip spoke English, Hindhi, Ladhaki, Tibetan, Kashmiri - you name it. He would huddle together with the old guy and repeat the line “You are closer than you think,” over and over. They did it for hours at a time. Once Tip arrived, we had no more problems with the monks. It was like “Hey, he’s one of our guys”. It was like having an Indian scout. All of a sudden, we had somebody who spoke all of the languages, and the unspoken too.
Anyway, he became my partner. He was just so interested in everything. He loved riding in the jeep and looking through the camera. And we put him in the movie. Here’s this incredibly spiritual guy who walks 200 miles back and forth between this monastery and the school where he teaches. And these A.D.’s are saying, ”Can we get Tippy-Tip in here, please.” “Does he need any makeup?” “No, he’s very dark already, he’ll be fine.”
The last night I was there, he said, “I want you to come over to my place.” I thought, okay, I’ll see where he lives, meet his family; I’ll probably have to sign a lot of autographs, have my picture taken with the sisters. So we drive to Tip’s father’s, which is on the outskirts of Leh, a big house with a garden. We go inside, and I’m thinking that we maybe should have asked the driver in. Tip said, “I did ask him in, but he wouldn’t come in because he’s a Shiite, and Shiites won’t take anything from Buddhists.”
By this time, Tip’s father had appeared, and he said, “but we Buddhists take everything from them” At which point I realized that Tip’s father spoke English. Now Tip had gone to a school where he learned with a lot of English people - he learned English from me as well - but there was no explanation for his father’s English, because he’d lived in this place for his whole life, and anyone who spoke English had only come but recently, and he didn’t have any truck with anybody. He just sort of knew it, intuitively. Which was real spooky cause you got it real clear that this guy spoke the language and wasn’t trying. We sat down and started making buttered tea, and Tip’s mother came with various desserts made out of butter. So, after about a gallon and a half of buttered tea, all twelve courses of buttered desserts, they said, “Would you like to stay for dinner?” I thought that was pretty good considering that these people all weighed about 105 pounds apiece. I said I really had to go back.
So they showed me the house, they took me to the kitchen. It was a dark room, and there were all these Asian faces, and the walls were full of these copper pots covered with carbon, and there was a hole in the ceiling where the smoke went out, and it looked right up to the stars.
The stars were very bright, they lit up this room and everybody’s faces and all the pots on the wall. And all of a sudden, all the children - there were twelve - sort of materialized out of the walls, The father looked like Fu Manchu - he was the only man I saw over there who was over six feet tall - and I was attacking him and tickling him, and hitting myself on the head with pots, and showing him my stomach, and stuff like that. We were all laughing and all the sound was going right up through the skylight.
There was a perfect exchange of something between the stars and what was happening in the room. I don’t think I’ve ever felt comfortable like that. I felt like if I stayed there longer, something magical would happen, like they’d break down and say, Okay, Bill, you passed the test; you’re one of us. I really wanted to stay there. They were so free, so open. They made you feel that you could act like a fool and not feel bad about it, and they made you feel like there was more to it than that, and if you watched yourself you’d know even more.