The Old Metal Workers of Chilling


THIS IS LADAKH – SUBLIMELY BEAUTIFUL … AND
DEADLY. HOME TO HUNDREDS OF MONASTRIES, MANY PRECARIOUSLY
PERCHED ON MOUNTAIN SIDES, ISOLATED FROM THE CASUALLY CURIOUS. OTHERS ARE MORE ACCESSIBLE,
AND ARE POPULAR TOURIST ATTRACTIONS. BECAUSE IT IS TOURSIM THAT SUSTAINS THE ECONOMY
OF LADAKH. LEH IS THE CENTER, THE HEART OF LADAKH. AT
AN ALTITUDE OF ELEVEN THOUSAND FIVE HUNDRED FEET. THE SUMMERS ARE CRUCIAL. THE WINTERS ARE CRUEL. FROM LEH STARTS A THOUSAND JOURNEYS. THE NARROW TWISTING AND TURNING ROADS ALWAYS
INVITE DEATH. YET IT DOES NOT DETER THE THOUSANDS OF VEHICLES FERRYING AWESTRUCK TOURISTS CONTEMPLATING
THEIR MORTALITY. EACH ROAD LEADS TO A STORY OF A LIFETIME.
THE BUSY ROADS ARE THE LIFEBLOOD TO POPULAR TOURIST HOTSPOTS. THE LAKES AND PEAKS. THE
LONELY ROAD WE ARE TAKING GOES TO A REGION FREQUENTED BY TREKKERS, BUT NOT MUCH BY CARS.
THROUGHOUT WE ARE ACCOMPANIED BY THE MIGHTY ZANSKAR. WHEN THE ROADS ARE NO LONGER OPERATIONAL
IN WINTER, THE ZANSKAR FREEZES OVER BECOMING THE LIFE SUPPORT SYSTEM FOR THOSE LIVING BEYOND. IT IS A MIRACLE AND A GIFT WE ARE ALWAYS AT
THE MERCY OF. AFTER FIFTY-FIVE KILOMETERS, WE REACH CHILLING,
PICTURESQUE AND SERENE. A POPULAR TREKKING WAYPOINT. IT’S HOME TO THE LAST THREE REMAINING METAL
WORKERS AND SCULPTERS FROM A LONG LINE OF ARTISANS. AS A VISITOR TO LADAKH YOU CAN’T
MISS ONE OF THEIR WORKS, BUT YOU CAN MISS THEM. EVEN TODAY THESE RESILIENT MEN SIT IN ONE
PLACE, QUIETLY WORKING AWAY, SHAPING METAL, LIKE THE LAND SHAPES THE ROCKS. I MARVEL AT THEIR ENERGY, THEIR VITALITY,
AND THEIR LIFELONG DEDICATION. THESE INTRICATE WORKS OF ART DRAW STUDENTS KEEN
ON TAKING THE TRADITION FORWARD. BUT THERE ARE ROADBLOCKS. THESE MEN DO NOT INTEND TO STOP UNTIL THEIR
LAST BREATH. IT’S NOT JUST ART; IT’S A WAY OF LIFE. THEIR LIFELONG MISSION HAS BEEN
TO QUIETY SUPPORT THE NEED FOR SPIRITUALISM IN AN UNFORGIVING LANDSCAPE, TO BUILD LASTING
OBJECTS THAT PEOPLE CENTURIES FROM NOW WILL MARVEL OVER. WHAT I LEARNED FROM THE METAL WORKERS OF CHILLING
IS THAT MAN CAN BE AS TENACIOUS AND UNWAVERING AS THE MOUNTAINS AROUND HIM. LET LIFE TAKE
ITS COURSE, BUT YOU CAN STAND LIKE A ROCK.

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About the Author: Oren Garnes

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