Monday, October 20, 2008

Laid low

Back in Leh we can refuel on good Indian and Tibetan food and fill any cracks with cake. The days are definitely colder now and we both have heavy colds. If the sun is not out it's not so pleasant. The town is preparing for winter. The trekking agencies are closing, people heading to Goa (where else?) for work. It dawns on me that for the last week I've only removed my hat to shower. Our second trek stalls on the first day. There are inauspicious signs from the start. Snow-filled clouds and sharp winds are putting us off. It is Gayle's turn to slip on a river crossing - soaked from her boots to her waist. Finally we turn around. It's just too cold and we can't face 15 hours at a time in our tent. And as I keep reminding Gayle, my sleeping bag just doesn't have all the feathers it used to. The lure of Leh and its creature comforts draws us back. One afternoon a monstrous noise accompanied by drumming alerts us to a wedding. There's a huge marquee set up in a yard filled with locals, many in traditional clothes, sipping tea, adding money to a pile in a suitcase (receipt issued), and sitting in apparent oblivion to the squealing cacophony of the house band, which consists of three drummers and two men playing snake-charmers pipes. Judging by the sound, they are obviously all sober. On Friday afternoon we spot a team of polo players riding through town, so we follow them to the polo ground - a rectangle of flat sand with some concrete stands to sit and watch. There's a crowd of disinterested and bored men, a few women wrapped up against the cold. A band, possibly the same one as the wedding of the day before, breaks out into a jaunty riff now and again, for no apparent reason. An announcer commentates on all the action over the tannoy, sometimes breaking into English, but totally incomprehensible nonetheless. The polo players seem to be riding very small ponies, and the teams are obviously mismatched - one side looking very smart and fully-equipped, the others like they've just been plucked out of the crowd. It is indeed a one-sided affair - the snooties thrash the scruffs and the crowd only cheer once, with irony, when the scruffs finally get a goal.
We visit a couple more gompas, one at the village of Spituk, down by the banks of the Indus. The men are ploughing their fields with dzo, a crossbreed of cow and yak. As they pace back and forth across the earth their voices ring out in song. We seem to be lost in time, witness to an ancient autumnal ritual. By the river there are three men digging a trench. Well, one man is digging, as they only have one spade between them, but a second is helping by tugging on a rope ingeniously attached to the spade. The third is sat on his haunches watching. The next day we return to the polo ground in the expectation of seeing an exhibition of folkloric dancing, so I am delighted instead to find a football match about to begin. Spituk United are playing a cup match. The crowd are once again hardly enlivened by the spectacle, but there seems to be some support for the local team, who run out 3 - nil winners after a dodgy start. No-one shows any problem with playing at 3500 metres above sea-level. I get out of breath climbing up onto the stands.
We know it's time to leave when the laundry freezes on the balcony overnight and our favourite restaurant is talking about closing up and going to guess where. Yep, Goa.

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