Travel India – Discovering Ladakh in Jammu and Kashmir Regions

A main city square in Leh

A main city square in Leh

Travel India – Discovering Ladakh in Jammu and Kashmir Regions

Freewheeling in the Land of Endless Discoveries

By Neha Kirpal

When I sat down to write this travelogue, I thought “What can I say about Ladakh that hasn’t already been said before?” For starters, that it should probably be declared one of the world’s wonders … and that visiting it just once is an experience of a lifetime!

If you’re flying into Leh, watch out for some of the most spectacular views on this scenic flight – ranging from snow-capped Himalayan barren deserts, to patches of habitation and dry snow.

Clouds floating above Rohtang Pass on your left and Tsomoriri Lake on your right simply take your breath away (and not just figuratively speaking!). Due to the height, the level of oxygen in the air is much lower than in the plains. So make sure to take all precautions. Spend the first 24 hours acclimatizing and resting, eat light food, take Diamox (acetazolamide) for altitude sickness, and wear an inner vest and some woolens (even if you don’t feel the need!). Also drink plenty of water and avoid alcohol. Further, apply sunblock, carry an umbrella, and wear sunglasses to protect against sunburn.

The stunning view from the plane

The stunning view from the plane

That said, you’ll be amazed by the anomaly of sights surrounding you – the crisp bright sun shining on the arid landscape of a cold desert with not a patch of green anywhere!

‘Julley!’ is how you’re greeted once you land at the Kushok Bakula Rinpoche terminal in Leh.

The colored Buddhist flags

The colored Buddhist flags

You notice flags in Buddhist colors outside every house, as you realize that it’s a dream come true simply being here – one that has to be seen to be believed! I instantly knew it was unlike any other place I’ve ever been to before – so beautiful, it makes you want to cry!

After spending the first day acclimatizing, we felt a whole lot better. The next day, we began to venture out into town. The first place we headed to was Shanti Stupa, a large hilltop stupa built by Japanese monks to promote world peace. The brightly colored reliefs on its mid-levels, topped by a spired white hemisphere is a beautiful sight!

The next spot was Leh Palace, a dilapidated palace built in the grand tradition of Tibetan architecture during the 17th century. The magnificent panorama from the palace is remarkable, and often reminds you of an Egyptian city.

The aerial view from Leh Palace

The aerial view from Leh Palace

In the evening we walked around Leh bazaar, strolling by its lanes and by-lanes filled with curio shops selling semiprecious stones, jewels, antiques, souvenirs, carpets, Pashmina shawls, paintings, and thangkas.

The next day we left for an excursion to Nubra valley, popularly known as Dorma or the ‘valley of flowers.’ About a five-hour drive through rocky terrain from Leh brings you to the valley, which is about 10,000 feet above sea level. En route you get to cross Khardungla Pass, the highest motorable road in the world.

Khardungla Pass - The highest motorable road in the world

Khardungla Pass – The highest motorable road in the world

As you get closer to Nubra valley, you find the stone slowly turning into the color of amethyst (used for making the famous Ladakhi beads), and the water in the Shyok river gradually turning into the color of jade! Most of the accommodation available at the valley is that of tented camps.

The desert terrain of Nubra Valley

The desert terrain of Nubra Valley

At the valley our first stop was to watch the sunset at the rolling ‘stone’ dunes at Hunder. The stark white sand dunes are a marvelous sight and one can even ride double humpbacked camels here. Surprisingly, a river runs through it all!

The next morning we stopped by at the Diskit hilltop monastery, the oldest and largest gompa in the area. Close by is a giant 32-meter statue of Maitreya Buddha, the tallest Buddha statue in Ladakh.

The tallest Buddha statue in Ladakh

The tallest Buddha statue in Ladakh

The next day we left for Alchi village, a small village in the Indus Valley, 67 kms west of Leh. It is Ladakh’s most valuable cultural heritage with a monastery known as Chos-kor (religious enclave) comprising five temples with exquisite murals dating from the 11th-12th centuries. En route was the majestic Sangam, the confluence of rivers Zanskar and Indus. It’s astonishing to see how distinctly different the colors of the two rivers are – while Indus is sea green, Zanskar is grey.

Sangam - The confluence of rivers Indus and Zanskar

Sangam – The confluence of rivers Indus and Zanskar

Another fascinating stop on the way was Magnetic Hill, where we witnessed the magic gravity effect of the hill strong enough to attract stationery vehicles toward it! The hill is also known to force passing aircrafts to increase their altitude in order to escape magnetic interference.

Next up was a halt at the peaceful Gurudwara Pathar Sahib, constructed in the memory of Guru Nanak. We also enjoyed a visit to the military hall of fame, a glorious museum constructed by the Indian army having biographies of eminent defense personalities, images of the Kargil war and its heroes, and lifestyle of the Ladakhi people.

The majestic blue waters of Pangong Lake

The majestic blue water of Pangong Lake

The next day we left for Pangong Tso, a saline water lake that extends from India to Tibet. Located on the Indo-China border (60% of the length of the lake lies in China), the lake is at an altitude of about 14,100 feet. During winter, the lake freezes completely, and there are only about 6-7 houses in the whole area. The lake has recently become a famous spot for shooting sites (immortalized in various popular Bollywood blockbusters like Three Idiots and Jab Tak Hai Jaan). On the way to Pangong we crossed Changla Pass, a high mountain pass and the world’s third highest motorable road.

The varying hues and colors of Pangong Lake

The varying hues and colors of Pangong Lake

At Pangong we stayed at one of the many tourist camps, located just walking distance from the lake. The camps stand on an elevated area and are equipped with all modern amenities. They provide a fine view of the surrounding lake and mountain ranges.

With that, my surreal journey to Ladakh came to an end. My only regret was just why I hadn’t visited earlier! But I guess, better late than never – and this may be my first time, but certainly not the last.

The calm and serene Pangong Lake

The calm and serene Pangong Lake

BIO

Neha Kirpal

Neha Kirpal

Neha Kirpal is the author of ‘Wanderlust for the Soul,’ a collection of short stories based on travel in different parts of the world. Neha has worked in the print, electronic, and online media, and is currently a copy editor at a multinational company in Gurgaon, India. Her hobbies include reading, writing, travel, music, and films.

She can be reached at: nehakirpal@gmail.com,

Twitter handle: @peachykirpal

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/neha.kirpal.7

 

 

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