Ladakh is vividly described in eloquent terms as land of passes, land of endless beauty and so on. Picture perfect landscapes, surreal skies, stretches of unending loopy roads, smiling people and placid lakes all seem to say, this is where Shangri La is, this is where heaven meets the earth.
But as the sun sets, locals, fellow campers and bikers will share stories that will break you into cold sweat. Harsh living conditions, difficult uninhabitable terrain, scarce food encourage people to attach myths and superstitions to everyday living. Stories of struggle and survival gives rise to paranormal beliefs that locals as well as visitors swear by. While Ladakh is definitely a land of beauty, it is also steeped in astounding folklore, strange phenomenon and unexplained mysteries. Some true, some beyond comprehension, but all amazing and all exciting!
Here are a few that we came across:
Ghosts of Gata Loop
As you drive from Manali to Leh, you come across a series of 20 hairpin bends that take you to Nakeela, a high altitude pass at 16000 feet. Just when you are starting to navigate these bends, you will come across a shrine on the road with piles of water bottles and an occasional packet of biscuits kept reverently. These offerings are kept to appease a ghost that haunts these meandering loops.
Apparently a few years ago, a truck with its driver and cleaner were headed towards Leh. It had snowed heavily and near Gata Loops, the truck broke down. As the passes were closed due to inclement weather, there were no vehicles crossing this patch. After many hours of trying to fix the truck, the driver decided to walk to the nearest village to get some help. The cleaner stayed put to guard the vehicle.
Bad weather made it impossible for the driver to return to the truck for a few days. By the time he returned, the cleaner had died of thirst, hunger and cold. When the highway opened the following year, people saw strange apparitions of a beggar asking for food and water near Gata Loops. The word spread and soon, the locals set up a shrine in the name of the dead and often left offerings of water and food there.
Mummy Lama at Giu
Giu is a small village located around 40 kilometers away from the popular 1,000-year-old Tabo Monastery in Spiti. Close to the Indo-Tibet border, this village is home to 550 year old mummified remains of a monk. The Mummy is revered by locals and attracts steady stream of visitors to this region. The 15th century mummy was found in sitting position by the Indo Tibetan Border Police in 1975. The body is wonderfully preserved with all its body part intact. It is believed that the monk was a practitioner of Zogchen, a form of meditation. Locals consider the monk to be the guardian deity of the village who protects and preserves them.
Cannibals of Baralacha La
Baralacha La is a high altitude pass in the Zanskar region that connects Lahaul in Himachal Pradesh to Ladakh in Jammu Kashmir. At 16000 ft, the pass is most treacherous and opens for only a few months each year. An abandoned and dilapidated shed stands close to the pass and it is here that a folklore gaining notoriety. Apparently, this structure is called Shaheed Smarak Bhawan and is believed to be haunted by a cannibal spirit.