I was in Ladakh a few weeks ago. It’s the most incredible place I have ever seen in my life. I reached it by jeep from Manali, driving over the highest (and scariest) motorable road in the world. My car crossed streams on the edge of the mountains, climbed up above 5000 meters and jumped and bumped on roads that you can’t really call such, while the landscape around became progressively deserted. Ladakh is a high altitude desert.
At a point my car drove up and up along the side of a mountain, and when it reached the peak I was naturally expecting a descent. Instead, it was like the entire valley had come up: on the other side of the peak there was a huge flat desert, and while the altitude sickness made my head lighter, I felt like I was on the moon, for I had never imagined a place like that could exist on Planet Earth.
This just to give you a vague idea.
Anyway, while in Ladakh I visited the Nubra Valley, which is a desert. Above 3000 meters. A real desert, with sand dunes.
On that desert it rained, while I was there. I saw one rainbow, two rainbows, two rainbows and a half. It felt unreal, as if something - someone - was looking over my life and nodding at the perfection of that very moment.
But back to the real desert. There are real camels there, too. Bactrians not dromedaries, silk road leftovers with two humps, a furry head and a funky smell. They hang out in a group, right at the beginning of the sand dunes, and wait for tourist to go ride them.
Funny animals, those camels. Lazy. When they’re not carrying anyone they lay down and roll on the ground until, with their belly up, they release the biggest farts. Loud, hilarious camel farts.
It’s funny and almost cute (if you can say cute of something that involves a fart). A group of camels lazying about, chewing on grass, rolling around. Some twenty camels, small, big, and very big.
Twenty camels, and a donkey.
A donkey, yes. He hangs out with the camels, shares the slow life of the group, only he doesn’t carry tourists around because they don’t find it interesting enough (their bad, I say, because donkeys are very cute creatures, with those eyes).
And – this is the story I heard – he believes he’s a camel. Same laziness, same rolling around, (almost) same farts. The camel owners don’t seem bothered by the stranger: if the donkey feels like a camel, he has the right to live as one.
This reminded me of a similar story, which is the first funny Indian story I heard when I moved here.
As everyone knows, there’s no better place in the world than India, if you’re a cow. You’re respected, somewhat worshiped, and people really do take care of you. So much that there is a thing called Gaushala, which is a home for “retired” cows, that are old and no longer make milk.
One of this Gaushala is right outside Delhi, and I had just landed in India when a friend told me about it. I must say the thought of a shelter exclusively for cows amused me quite a bit back then, whereas now it feels like another of those Indian things that are just normal, even if maybe they aren’t.
Anyway, I asked whether the shelter seriously only admitted cows. My friend confirmed that yes, only cows were allowed. Well, with one exception.
In the shelter, together with all those cows, lived a deer. Just one.
Because the deer believed he’s a cow.
And the people at the shelter respected that. If you feel like you’re cow you should be free to behave like a cow, live with cows, and be treated like a cow even if you don’t look like one.
It’s not bad, is it, for a conservative country?