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I’ve been asked to repost this, so here it is!

Imprisoned in the glorious splendor of the Himalayan Mountains, rests Leh, the capital of Ladakh, India. Its astounding beauty and tradition traces it roots to the third century BC; a hub of Buddhism and eventually a commercial Mecca of the Silk Route.
On Thursday, the 5th of August my guide and I arrived in what can only be described as awe inspiring; this ancient, historical and magnificent paradise, a symbol of the archaic and present; ubiquitous chortens (memorials) to the past Kings and Queens of Ladakh dotting the landscape, ranging from the sophistication and skill of master craftsmen to the modest talents of the unschooled; bazaars with sinuous, dark, scented corridors, snake for blocks through a labyrinth of wares: jewelry stores joined with butcher shops, spice venues married to shoemakers, working with tools long abandoned, replaced by modern technology, but proficient in attaining its goals. Those questing for the foreign, will be divinely saturated.
In the small hours of Friday, August 6th , disaster with Olympian magnitude struck this unsuspecting town; in seconds Zeus claimed the lives of hundreds, snuffed from existence, never to have another thought, never again to feel the ferocity of the summer’s sun, the frigidity of a winter’s moon, sentenced to oblivion, beyond knowing, beyond pain, beyond platitudes.

Homes, constructed of mud washed from their mountainous foundations, not a trace of their prior life left visible; claimed by the Indus River, destined to a watery grave; gone forever, praying not to be forgotten.

I believe that there is a karmic power, a reason why one is placed, at a determined moment in time in a preordained situation. My guide, Muneer Suri, rose to the challenge of the catastrophe and helped his friend Odpal George, save the bewildered and shocked survivors; mending bridges and gifted moral support so sorely craved.

My experience with the devastation of nature’s power over mankind has been softened by the media; the tsunami, Katrina, even the BP oil debacle, viewed in the protective custody and privacy of my home, rendered the horrors palatable; I could switch off the television, close the newspaper, turn a deaf ear to the radio and tackle the day as intended; never having to adjust my routine. In Leh, a cloud burst, altered my life; I left the confines of my electricity and internet deprived hotel and walked through the aftermath of the nightmare, without blinders I witnessed what the gods, especially Thor could accomplish at whim: homes topped with ruined cars, buses crushed to a fraction of their original size, bodies being pulled from dilapidated and unrecognizable structures. People with staggering dignity, scavenging through the detritus, for anything worthy of salvation. Wading knee deep in mud to photograph a child clutching a withered toy; that toy, more precious than any gemstone; a symbol of hope and life, the image crystallized in my consciousness, until the day I cease to be.

In conclusion, I shed tears over the myriad of shoes, all sizes, never a pair, but sculptural in their poignancy; these lovely, lonely shoes, reminiscent of the unknown feet, lost souls of their prior owners. There was a sacredness in their survival and I knew that as long as my feet tread the cosmos I had witnessed, with unprotected vision a profound and monumental tragedy, which added a depth of wisdom lacking, but now emblazoned, frozen in my heart and spirit, resting on a pedestal, never to be toppled from my mind; an ever present reminder to avoid shunning but perpetually grasp the enigmatic lessons of fate.
Penelope Steiner

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