Why Guru Nanak stayed in Leh

Divya A
Gurdwara Pathar Sahib, Leh, Ladakh, Nanak Lama, Sikhism, Guru Nanak

Outside Leh, a gurdwara to the founder of Sikhism, called Nanak Lama by the locals. (Source: Divya A)

H ot tea, with savouries, is always welcome when travelling through the picturesquely difficult terrain of Ladakh. On the road from Leh towards the popular touristy Magnetic Hill and Indus-Zanskar river confluence on a recent trip, an unassuming gurdwara caught our eye, perched atop a small hill. No one had told us about it. Parked outside were a tourist bus, some cars and many, many bikes.

“How big is the Sikh community in Ladakh?” “Do tourists know that there is a gurdwara in Leh?” “What’s the backstory?” We hurled questions at our guide. “It’s the Nanak Lama’s place. On his way to Tibet in the 16th century, he stayed at this place for some days,” he says.

Legend has it that Guru Nanak’s stay here was not easy. A demon living on the opposite hill would bother the villagers. They pleaded with Nanak for help, who, in order to help them, settled on the river bank at the foot of the hill. The angered demon decided to kill the guru by throwing a huge rock at him. But Nanak was not harmed as the rock transformed to take his shape. The boulder also finds a place in the shrine, and, in fact, is where the gurdwara gets its name from.

Managed completely by the Indian army, right from security to sewa, one can see uniformed men sauntering in and out of the gurdwara’s langar hall, carrying big vessels of dal or big kettles of piping-hot tea. Even in the sanctum sanctorum, a lone jawan was distributing kadah-prasad to the devotees. His regiment was on duty to serve Pathar Sahib for two months, till the next group took over.

The guide filled us in on the backstory. During the construction of the Leh-Nimu road in the late 1970s, a large boulder with Buddhist prayer flags tied to it was found in the middle of the road. Because of this, the construction work was stalled. Efforts were made to move the rock but nothing seemed to work, not even bulldozers. That night, some people had a vision that a supreme power was ordering them to not move the boulder.

The gurdwara was built at the spot in the 1970s by the Sikh regiment of the army with the help of the local people. Situated around 40 km from Leh on the highway, the gurdwara has now become a pitstop for all the bike enthusiasts riding up and down the treacherous terrain, who stop here to pray for their well-being, and to help themselves to the tea and savouries at the langar any time of the day, or to freshly-cooked meals at lunchtime.