With one sprained ankle reaching Leh was no easy task for me. Within 2 hrs of my journey from my hometown Dehradoon, I got sprain in my right ankle and as soon as I reached Manali. I was barely able to stand on my feet. I was petrified as still half of my journey was left and as usual I was traveling solo. My bus was from Dehradoon to Keylong which is approximately 25 hr journey. It was predetermined that I have a take a one night stay at Keylong and catch an early morning bus to Leh from there. But you know every time your plans don’t work out the way you want. Because of the excruciating pain I decided to stay at my friend’s place to show my ankle to a doctor and continue my journey forward. I seriously appreciate efforts made by my friend Rakesh who works at Keylong. He was a big help at this hour of need. Luckily, in all this messy condition, lahual Spiti tribal festival was also scheduled during this period and I was fortunate enough to attend this festival. It was an Fusion of dance, music, food, culture and festivity of the area.
Early morning on 17th august 2016, I went to the bus stand to take a bus for Leh. To my surprise there was no ticket available. All the seats were pre-booked. As it was important for me to reach by the evening, I decided to take a ticket and go standing. People were sympathizing with me as it was 15 hrs journey and with my sprained leg it was obviously exhausting for me as well to travel standing. But as a matter of luck I got a seat at Darcha which was 1 hr away from Keylong and my beautiful journey with amazing people begin. Passing those alluring passes like Baralacha, Takling la was always in my bucket list. Twice there was jam due to narrow roads of Himalayas but those beautiful sceneries and my companions in journey were so humble and outgoing that I couldn’t realize how this long journey passed. It was like an extended family picnic bus, travelers from different parts of India as well as world were in it, everybody was sharing their different experience of traveling, life, food etc. Many pilgrims were also there as H.H Dalai lama was preaching at Leh and they were going to hear him.
I was going Leh to be part of MAFIL (Indo- French archaeological project) team which was going to excavate first ever site in Ladakh, Jammu and Kashmir. Laurianne was the Director of the Project while other team members were Martin, Stella, Samara and Marion. Next day, we shifted to our camp at Gangless village near Leh. Site was just five to ten minutes walking distance from the camp. We couldn’t start our work on very next day because monks could not perform puja as they were occupied with H.H Dalai lama visit. (as we were going to work on a Buddhist site so it was necessary to perform the puja before commencement of the work).So, for two days we surveyed the area for more Archaeological evidence and we found many unique burial sites near the Buddhist cremation ground. We also documented few more rock art Petroglyphs which were not reported before. This became a good platform for me as I am working on Rock Art and Burials of Spiti Valley, Himachal Pradesh in India. Assisting Martin for this gave me an opportunity to learn how to document a rock art site in a systematic manner. After two days monks came and performed the puja and we started our work in the Lakhang (Budhhist Temple).
We started with measuring and documenting the site before digging it. It was my first experience to learn using the Level Machine to measure the site elevation above sea level. While digging layer by layer we prepared our context sheets and drawings for the site. It was a whole new experience for me as I had never did an Archaeological drawing before. Both Stella and Martin taught me Archaeological drawing of a site in a very patient manner. The work was distributed among everyone and I got an opportunity to be a site photographer which enhanced my Archaeological photographic skills. So, daily after coming back from the site we all used to get together to complete our cataloged responsibilities. As I was a site photographer I downloaded all the pictures of the day and then prepared a photo-log with relevant details of the photo. All the team members were very patient and kind and while staying with them I learned lots of new things, discussing strategies of work and the critical analysis of every point. This gave me a whole new perspective regarding the fieldwork in Archaeology. Throughout the camp all the members seemed very inquisitive about the kind of result they were getting during excavation, whole team got excited every time a piece appears on the surface. It was a very fragile work to take those pieces out of the layer as clay was falling apart. Every find even small pieces boosted our morale and encouraged us to do our work with more determination.
Archaeology is an amalgamation of theory and practical work and having this opportunity of gaining field experience at Ladakh as part of MAFIL Project was a great chance of learning for me. As I mentioned before I am working on Spiti valley at Indo Tibet border, both Ladakh and Spiti shares similar geographical, cultural background and their histories are related to each other.
One day me and Stella with her local laddakhi friends, Rinchen and Sonam went to Alchi Monastery, Saspol and Nurla. The road to kargil was beautiful that it left me spellbound. Alchi monastery is the earliest monastery built by Lochen Zang po in 10th century in the area. The excellent paintings and well executed tall sculptures of Buddhist Deities in the temples make you fascinated about the art of that period. Saspol was a sarai, a point where all the traders from different parts use to stay. it is also famous for its cave with 14th century paintings in it.
I sincerely thank Laurianne for inviting me for this project and giving me this opportunity to learn which helped me in extending my knowledge on the subject. I also appreciate the kind guidance of Martin, Stella, Samara and Marion who discussed and cleared my doubts on many basic issues related to the subject. I acknowledge the help of all the other members like Gonbo, Sphalzing, Sphaldon, Rikzin, visitors like Nelly and Neil and French journalist team Thomas and Nicola.
Meeting eminent Indian archaeologist Dr. Ota and Dr. Rakesh Tiwari during this excavation, added more optimism and determination in me to work in the field of archaeology.