Thursday, September 22, 2011
Ladakh - where the sun and moon share 1 sky
Where there is bright sunshine, crystals of snow, white sands, blue purple brown mountains, glowing waters of the Indus and the Zanskar.. you know you have arrived in Ladakh. A slightly bumpy ride from Delhi flies you over the mighty snow capped Himalayas. Right before you land you see the early morning sun rise from in-between 2 mountains and the sun is below you. And when you think where on earth is the Runway amongst all this – The Leh airport’s tarmac glistens inviting you into the beautiful region of Ladakh in the state of Jammu and Kashmir.
Known for its picturesque landscapes and beautiful humble people, Ladakh bowled me over from the start. My friends Ami Gathani, Pankti Chheda and I decided to take this impromptu trip much against the critiquing traveller – some sighted breathing problems, others of bad weather and even so intense – a nose bleed !! Thankfully for us – We drove straight from the Airport to the little village of Saboo where stands our Hotel – Ladakh Sarai. We fell in love immediately. At first it looks slightly unconventional, the owners are playing a game of badminton in the front yard, the cook and his lot are serving hot chai and snacks to a few guests sitting in the cosy dining hall overlooking the mountains. The breeze and the sunshine cause the trees to sway and cast shadows alternating between silver and green.
We used our day 1 to acclimatize. It wasn’t that hard for us – the tents are sturdy and warm. You only just need to slip into one of their blankets to start dreaming ! Sometime in the afternoon we had lunch and slept again. Something I would advice everyone to do.. If you fall sick the first day, you will probably ruin it for yourself. In the evening, much against my own advice we took off to see the Leh center, the market. After about strolling half and hour, you realise you feel short of breath ! But working in slow motion always helps. We then enjoyed some Hot Lasagne and some Mediterranean bread at Bon Appetite. We did bump into a bunch of travellers from all over the world and played drinking games….!!
Day 2 we drove all the way to Alchi Monastery. The drive is one of the easiest Terrain in Ladakh as a whole.. and you pass a point where the 2 rivers of Indus and Zanskar meet. A point which is clearly visible by the different colours of the waters.
When you arrive at Alchi, the cobbled pathway are lined with prayer wheels. We went crazy trying to make each one move in tandem ! We also met an old man of 80 who decided to guide us through the old paintings.
The monastery is the house of the “OLD BUDDHA” – with paintings, carvings and stupas worth a visit. A little café that sells just canned drinks is a must visit – for the owners are an old couple who let you take pictures of them and their cute little 3 year old grandchild Dharma ! The lady of the house will even suggest you wear her attire if you want to be photographed.
Day 3 is one of the toughest drives from Leh to Nubra.. the highlight of this trip is that you drive through highest motorable road at Khardugla Pass which is 18380 feet above mean sea level. It was an icing in the cake when somewhere half way it started snowing !! It was the first time after Belgium that I saw snow flakes trickle down so gently. It started enveloping the beautiful slopes of the mighty Himalayas making it a breath taking sight. This drive can be rough for people like me who have sever motion sickness. A tablet of Diamox and some “kafur” to keep you sedated shall do the trick.
You know you have arrived in Nubra Valley when the landscape gives way to white sands. Where the moon and the sun share the same sky. When you see the 2 hunch camel sitting by an oasis. This is a fairly new venture for most hoteliers in the Ladakh region. The folks are Ladakh Sarai have a sister camp called Nubra Sarai. This is not as fancy as its counter part in Ladakh, but one can tell a lot by the warmth of the staff that they have been trained well to accommodate. So when we were freezing, the cook quickly cooked up some hot Apply Custard. A yummie treat our freezing bones. Ofcourse the meal itself cannot be undermined either.
The next day we took a day trip to Turtuk. The drive to Turtuk is absolutely breath-taking. Our tour organiser – Amit of www.goamit.com fame was the one who had suggested this newly opened for tourist region just 30 kms from the border of India and Pakistan.
We drove through the most beautiful bridges running over waters trickling down from the mountains. Enroute Turtuk – not only does the landscape become most subtle but also the features of people change. From Looking Tibetian-Ladakhi, the people have more sharper almost harsh Afgani Features. Their dressing changes too. Its striking !
We didn’t really get down and do anything at turtuk. It is just a small village. But we did stop at a small shop close to the waters who served us Pipping hot Maggie accompanied by the packed lunch provided by the Nubra Camp guys !!
We were a little content having lived in the place for 2 nights – the boiler wasn’t working, but thanks to dry weather, it was okay if we didn’t shower. We longed to get back to Ladakh Sarai. We were exhausted ! and couldn’t think of anything but the coal fed heater and the hot water bag to hug and sleep so thoughtfully planned out by the Ladak Sarai folks at LEH.
But the car journey was not over yet. 4 hours drive one way – something unimaginable now, was Pangong Lake where the last scene of 3 idiots was filmed. Ofcourse when you are travelling through mountains and finally after 4 hours when you get the first glimpse of Ultra Marine Blue in your face, you forget all about the bumps and the pee breaks at plastic walled toilets. You just cant stop staring at the Pangong lake once you get to a stone throw away distance from it. The lake changes colour with the changing sunlight and shadow and the time of the day. With atleast 5 different shades on blue in sight, you stop complaining and start appreciating the peace of the place.
Until some south Indian rookie starts singing and making unhealthy remarks. Indian Tourists sometimes don’t know how to behave in a place like that. He started screaming RANCHO Kaha hai… and Tofa Kabool Karo to his friends !! Ofcourse the Gora sitting next to me had no freaking idea what this man was talking about !! But such are the nuisances of a tourist spot !! I did not want to leave this beauty and serenity of this place – more so because of the drive back to LEH for another 4 – 5 hours.
We then used our remaining time visit the Thiksey Monastery, The 3 Idiot School, An Oracle. We also saw the sun set gently over the Shanti Stupa before we retired back to the Hotel for a Chat where the so kind and generous Director of the hotel and we retreated into the living spaces of the hotel for conversation about life, religion, culture and Ladakh over some Whiskey. The night ended with an awesome meal of Italian food – Veg Lasagne, Mac and Cheese and some Garlic Bread !!! How are we ever going to recover from this holiday is beyond me !!!
But Ladakh leaves an amazing happy memeory in my soul. It gets under your skin… And all you know when you get back on the plane to go home is that this is not the last time you are going to visit LADAKH.