On the penultimate day of September 2013, I walked into Stok, a pretty village near Leh. Chirps of magpies and sparrows, rustle of poplars, and sounds of the pebbled stream created low-pitch orchestra for sharp ears. Poplar trees were preparing to welcome winter. Their white shiny barks were bare. The number of visitors had trickled down to less than ten. I felt that the village was mine. Walking along empty clean road and streets was a pleasure. Stok abound with sunshine stimulated my senses because accompanying autumn wind reduced prickly strength of the sun. A wave of happiness moved through me. Stok wore a dress of autumn colors, including yellows, browns, reds, and oranges. But old green dress of Stok was still fresh in parts.
I stopped at Stok Palace where royal family still lives. Only a part of the palace is open for public. This ticketed monument houses a small museum and cafeteria. After browsing through the exhibits, I left the palace that dominates the rustic settlement nestled at the foot of bare mountains.
Monastery in Stok
And I continued to stroll through the village and spotted various white chortens in different sizes. I followed the 71-foot tall Buddha statue that was being built. The statue, another landmark after the palace, is visible from almost all parts of Stok. After a 15-20 minute walk the road forked. There was a huge tree with twisted branches and yellow leaves. A tin plate on the tree read “Way to the monastery.” I followed the trail covered with pebbles, dry leaves, wet mud, and sand. The trail ended at the monastery. The monastery complex consists of a prayer drum, chorten, gompa, monk cells, and the statue. Most of the trees had already turned yellow. There was none except a few laborers watering the statue. Behind the statue, mountains were barren with green tinge. The mountains in front of the statue had fresh snow on the crowns that were topped with clouds. The statue area lends itself to the views of the Ladakh Range, Leh in left (if your back is towards the face of Buddha), Stok Village-houses and fields, Choglamsar, and Saboo village.
I returned to the tree from where I took right side trail for the monastery. Again I followed the road (about two kilometers) until Trekking Point. Local women were busy in daily chores under a bright sun. It was easy walk along the road.
Trekking Point had a small tea shop that served magi and tea. A group of man tourists from India was basking in the sun at Point. There were vehicles that probably transported them. There were several water channels full of pebbles. Stok Kangri was hidden under clouds. The men wilfully and shamelessly gazed at me. Local guide who accompanied them greeted me, “Julley.” But he did not stare. I exchanged greetings and looked for a space away from them and settled at a heap of pebbles for thirty minutes. But the “manly” gaze did not fade.
I walked towards Zampa to go back to Leh. It was a long walk around Stok. But it was pleasant. There were no gazes and stares. It was quiet. I could hear the sounds of water and wind. Occasionally private vehicles passed by me.
I met a group of cheerful boys enjoying bicycling. They were happy to be photographed. Black blue magpies and beige brown sparrows flew over me and rested on juicy orange sea buck fruits. Donkeys and cows were grazing in the fields that had already been harvested. Mountains followed me!
All the fields were empty but hay stack was gathered in some fields. The road was not entirely covered with tar. There was no one to bother me. Occasionally, cheerful villagers and laborers greeted me, Julley. But behind me, grey clouds covered the Zanskar Mountains. In front of me, it was blue sky with white shiny clouds.
As I approached the High School Stok, a police van (blue and red) offered me lift for Choglamsar. I refused. The police men went without making a face. The valley broadened. Huge muddy carpets rolled on both sides of the tar road. The sounds of vehicles reached my ears. It became extremely windy. The wind pushed me from behind, forcing me to walk fast. My rain wear tied to camera bag rustled and fluttered creating all sorts of noises. Traffic was still thin but much more than that in Stok Village. As I reached close to Zampa, human activity increased. The thick rows of Lungtas, the prayer flags, along the Choglamsar Bridge, fluttered nosily. The grey waters of the Indus glimmered under the bridge in faint evening sun. I took a shared-taxi (Maruti Van / Double Roti) that had woolen rugs on the seats. The driver was calling out, Leh, Leh, Leh… Suddenly Leh became Le, Le, Le… That means “to take”. But what to take?
Take a virtual walk and enjoy the simple sunny Stok that will stir your senses too.