After much deliberation and inertia, the procrastinator in me geared up to travel to the land of Lamas (Leh, Ladakh), with a bunch of strangers, in the summer of 2017. With an adventurous start (a connecting flight missed, as a result of a delayed originating flight) to the holiday, it truly was an unique experience.
A traditional welcome with the Khatak (a ceremonial scarf in Tibetian Buddhism), along with coffee and tea, followed by a visit to the Leh Palace and Shanti Stupa. The first day was all about acclimatizing to the high altitude and thus an easy day.
The first stop on our second day, was at the “Hall of Fame” museum, located near the Leh Airfield, in the memory of the soldiers who had lost their lives during the Indo-Pak wars. This memorial for war heroes, is constructed and maintained by the Indian Army. This place had the Fauji (Soldier) daughter (in me), run rather high on emotions. I paid my respects to the soldiers, before we headed of the Leh – Srinagar highway, to witness the confluence of the two Himalayan rivers Indus and Zanskar – a picturesque sight, indeed. Thereon, our next stop was at “The Magnetic Hill” – the hill that defies gravity (and the vehicle actually moved). The spotless road amidst the beautiful arid landscape (of the cold desert), was appropriate for capturing what will soon have turned in to a memory. We lay on the road, posing for picture perfect clicks, while onlookers, called out, when a vehicle was coming by. We then proceeded to Lamyuru – a Tibetan Buddhist monastery situated, 15kms east of the Fotu La at a height of 3,510 metres. There were prayer wheels all across the monastry, while the history of each monastery, that we visited, was rather intriguing.
I mustn’t forget to mention the singing, dancing, frolic and camaraderie among, most of us co-travelers, who united to visit the breathtaking town of Leh. We set off to the Namra camp, situated in a valley to the north of the Indus river and on the west of Leh around 80 kms on the famous trekking route of liker-khaeltsi. We were served Ladakhi food (Kambir bread and Gudgud chai), by the ladakhi family that runs the place, in a traditional ladakhi kitchen. The family was kind enough to also arrange for a bonfire, the evening we spent, there.
On day three, we headed to the Alchi Gompa monastery (built around the 11th century), on the banks of the Indus river. This Gompa is built in Kashmiri style of architecture. Later that evening, we returned to our hotel – Spic n Span, before we headed to the local market to buy apricots, turquoise jewellery and the sorts.
The night was spent anticipating the next day’s drive through the world’s third highest motor-able mountain pass (Changla Pass) to our ensuing visit to the lake – Pangong Tso. Due to a sheet of Snow on the road, we had to fit tire chains (devices fitted to the tires of vehicles to provide maximum traction when driving through snow and ice), to our vehicle. This high grassland lake is located at 14,270ft, that spans 134Kms across the borders of India and China. Diverse hues of blue are produced as a result of the Sun’s rays on the brackish water. A sight that seizes all your senses, and keeps you wanting for more.
The last day’s journey was to the world’s highest motor-able pass – Khardung la (at 18,380ft), with that ended our visit to a part of the Himalayas.
Ladakh is surreal – an experience of a lifetime and I look forward to going back at some point, but I’d prefer planning the visit with the help of a local tour guide like Tashi Phinchuk, rather than through an organized tour group, to ensure sufficient time to savor the experience. Camping at Pangong, after the five-hour drive from Leh and picture on the Yellow bike from the famous movie – 3 Idiots, will undoubtedly be on the list.