Heaven’s Gate is a travelogue written by Pico Iyer. The writer has travelled to the region of Ladakh and in this piece of writing he recounts his experiences and his impressions that he gained on his travels in that region.
Here is its brief summary .
He finds himself on the longest day of the year on the highest motorable pass in the world. They were amidst vast snowfields with ragged prayer flags flying and Indian soldiers shivering in their white encampments. Soon a Sikh officer was checking his passport and just as soon broke into an impromptu song putting into practice the saying at high altitudes--Always Have a Cheerful Attitude.
He moved towards the Nubra Valley there he saw everything in its naturalness. Marmots crossed his path.Kiang or wild asses could be seen in the distance, two humped Bactrian camels were grazing in the dunes. Apricots and willow trees grew in the region.
They rounded a bend and came upon a Gompa—the Diskit Gompa.They went up to it and found themselves in a rich and aromatic Buddhist city.Its chapels smelt of melted Yak butter ,and it looked across miles and miles of noiseless valley.
The author had read Andrew Harvey’s Journey in Ladakh and found the place exactly as described there. He found that this was one place where this pastoral existence was still preserved.
Yet when he entered the region of Kargil the author found that this region had been for centuries one of the most cosmopolitan trading posts in the Himalayas from where traders transported silk, indigo , gold and opium to Kashmir Kasghar Yarkand and all the othergreat caravan stops of the Silk Road.
In the Main Bazaar Road he found women sitting quietly and selling vegetables.There were people from the adjoining regions of Lhasa Herat and Samarkhand. There were Muslim elders of the region and also Indo Iranians who traced their lineage back to Alexander the Great.
The author went around the settlement and found it all quite quaint.The best hotels boasted of 24 hours cold water, lighting had arrived in the region tho’ very late and there were Internet cafes too tho’ very slow.
Ladakh was a very unusually developed paradise—with its temples built on the slopes and its brown stretches of emptiness with white Buddhist stupas above them—yet the Tourists that visit the region have brought a new restlessness to the people of the region and we find construction cranes and revving Suzukis on its narrow lanes—indicating the touch of modernity –that seems to have come to the region.
Pico Iyer went to the Tse-Chu festival. There was a whole settlement set up around the temple.Girls and men selling necklaces and statues of the Buddha, mystical scrolls and also CDs which were aimed at the tourist market. The few Ladakhis were gathered around two roulette wheels set among the trees.
Inside the temple’s courtyard masked Lamas performed slow meditative movements from Tantric Buddhism but the audience being foreigners nobody understood the symbolic action.The festivals were earlier held in winter but inorder to attract tourists now they were being held in the summer.
Foreigners like Helena Norberg Hodge bring their own concerns to the place.
She has set up a women’s alliance and they were constructing a restaurant to serve only traditional Ladakhi food but it would be a difficult task as the local ingredients would be very costly.
They are also trying to preserve the environment and there are signs which say, Say No to Polythene and to avoid buying products from multinational corporations.
For the author Ladakh seemed a beautifully unfallen place next to the blue glass shopping malls of modern Lhasa and the pizza joints and guest houses of urban Nepal.He liked the informality of the He and She shops and the signs outside hotels which said ,Thanks for the Visit.God Bless You.Take Care .Bye-Bye.
The author brings out the contrast between the younger generation and the older one where one Saturday evening he happened to be in Desert Rain coffee house and he found all the youngsters dancing to the tune of Hotel California and just ten minutes drive from the place he found two groups of men dressed in black and white robes engaged in an archery competition and each group danced before and during the competition.
The author ends the narration by asking the Dalai Lama’s secretary wherein in his 40 year career was he most moved.He had wistfully looked across the valley----perhaps Ladakh came closest to the beauty of Nepal that he had known as a boy----.
For the author Ladakh seemed to be a way to retrieve something lost which was something contemporary as well as something which was as invigorating as –tomorrow!