journey to the mystery
I have always wanted to go to Ladakh. Don’t know how, but I have seen Ladakh several times in my dream. I have lived there. I have some connect with this place. I believe in past lives. You don’t have to believe me. I am just saying what I feel. Anyways! I am on the plane on my way to Leh, the capital of Ladakh. A terrain lesser is known and explored. The dryness of the desert, the coolness of the Himalayan Mountain and the serene beauty of the river Indus makes Ladakh truly mystic. A vast stretch of land is un-matched and getting lost is fun. The aeroplane is about to land and I will be out in the wilderness. Thankfully, I got my seat next to the cockpit. It’s a special aircraft. I am with the cargo. No one to disturb me, except me.
Reaching the destination
Mystic Ladakh has innumerable routes, both for the adventurous and the holiday type. If you have ample time, then drive down from Delhi via Shimla, Manali. I have few ‘wanderer like me’ friends who go to Leh every alternate year on their Enfield bike. The distance of more than 1,000 km from Delhi takes approximately 24-36 hours, but at every step it is worth the adventure. You just need to be patient, courageous and love driving log distances. Road trip will require minimum seven to 10 days holiday. You can’t get 10 days off! then flying is the next best option. It was just 1.5 hours from Delhi to reach Leh. Don’t forget to grab the window seat. You are going to thank me for this suggestion. Here is the Sky View of the Himalayas in vivid colours at sunrise.
Beyond Leh, there is Khardungla Pass at 18,406 feet is world’s highest motor-able pass entices you to keep driving without any travel sickness. And when you are tired, stop driving Magnetic Hill will take care and pull your car up the hill without having you touch the accelerator or the steering. Siachen glacier lies to the north and the famous Karakoram Pass lies at north-west. Between Hundar and Diksit lies several kilometres of sand dunes and two-humped Bactrian camels. Have you ever tried camel’s milk? Naah! go for it this time. Adventure is all about trying new things.
Life in Ladakh
Needless to say, though mystic, Ladakh is a tough terrain to stay. I salute our army who stand amidst sudden storms, landslides, thunderstorm and keep the borders sealed. Civilians dwell at the foothill of these mighty mountains. And then there are monks who have committed their entire life at the monasteries across Leh and Ladakh. Mankind with its efforts has made the land fertile and ready for cultivation, crops and green trees alike.
The aerial view of Ladakh Airport. It is one of the few airports in India that is shared with Airforce and has a single runway. At one time, only one aeroplane can either land or take-off. I was scared of slipping to the sides. Hope pilot doesn’t have butter-fingers.
Mountains on one side and river Indus flows at the other end. The city of Leh is the capital of Ladakh and the most inhabited place in the region.Leh is the first stop after you reach the mystic Ladakh. One needs to acclimatize to the tough weather conditions. It is the gateway to Nubra Valley, Khardungla and the other exotic locations. Tourist needs to collect their passes from the local tourist office to move ahead in the region.
Leh is a beautiful desert city surrounded by mountains on all sides. It experiences extreme weather condition in summer and winter season. The sunrise and sunset are the most beautiful moments of the day. The city of Leh was devastated in the 2009 floods. A wall of mud and water flattened Leh and several villages. More than 10,000 people were affected by the calamity. The people of Leh got united and with the help of the army ensured speedy restoration. There are innumerable motels, guesthouses available. There is also 4-star accommodation. All depends on your pocket and purpose.
Army built this bridge over river Indus, 10 km from Leh town. This bridge is also used for shifting army inventory from ammunitions factory to different parts of the state. The locals tie colorful flags to the bridge to wish good luck to the army men for their patriotism and courage. Alongside, there are prayer flags, colorful rectangular cloth tied to the bridge. These flags are used to bless the surrounding countryside and for personal reasons. Each flag has some prayer written on it.
River Indus flows is in full flow throughout the region. Here water flows down the barrage and falls over a turbine to generate hydro electricity which is distributed throughout Ladakh. Water of the river is cold enough to run current through your spine. I jumped into the nearby stream, just for 10 min. That’s all! Whoah! almost got killed.
During summer in the month of June, on a full moon day, Sindhu Darshan Festival is celebrated in Leh on the banks of river Sindhu also called the Indus. It stretches across three days attracting a large number of foreign and Indian tourists. River Sindhu is an icon of communal harmony and unity of India. A symbolic salutation to the courageous soldiers of the country who laid down their lives for our country. March to October is the best time to visit the Mystic Ladakh. After October, most of the people come downhill. It becomes extremely difficult to live in the valley.
Mystic Ladakh – land of monasteries
The Alchi Monastery is located 70km from the Leh Town. It’s one of the few monasteries in Ladakh that is on the foot-hills and not on the mountains. The iconic view from the monastery’s top floor is breathtaking as it is to reach there. Once you are on the top, do spend a good time. It’s worth the effort.
On the way to Hemis monastery, you find stupas along the road that compliment the landscape. These stupas are left by themselves and no one takes care of them. New ones are constructed around them from time to time. These stupas are also built in the walls of the monasteries. The stupas have golden metal mounted on it, which is visible from a distance.
Most of the monasteries in Ladakh are similar in design and architecture. On the 1st floor, you find windows with square glasses and higher you climb you get to see open balconies. You have amazing view of the surrounding area from these balconies
Alchi Monastery is one of the most colourful monasteries in Ladakh. Besides being very neat and clean it is located on a small hill that is surrounded by huge cultivable land. Vegetable colours have been used to colour different parts of the design with ample use of carving on pillars, roof and other portions of the monastery
Liker Monastery is one of the oldest monasteries of Ladakh. It’s around 160 km from Leh town. It is regularly visited by school children for prayers.
Most of the monasteries are home to “Lamba” or the Buddhist monks where they stay and practise Buddhism. The training begins at very young age and the children stay inside the monastery. Besides receiving the religious training, they contribute to the daily chores of the monastery. Very hard-working kids.
Thiksey Monastery is a Tibetan Buddhist Monastery located on top of a hill around 19 km east of Leh. It is noted for its resemblance to Potala Palace in Tibet and is the largest Gompa in central Ladakh. It is a twelve story complex and houses many items of Buddhist art.
View from one of the hundreds of windows and balconies at Thiksey Monastery. Each balcony gives a unique view of the suburban landscape. Mystic Ladakh looks like a mystery when you observe the changes in sky colors. It is common to see the skies turn red, pink from the hues of blue.
Pangong Lake is located at 14,270 feet above sea-level. It is 134 km long and extends from India to China. 60% of the lake is in China. During winter, the lake freezes in-spite of being saline water. After it is frozen it becomes a skating ground for the tourists.
On the way, to Lamayuru which is a house to oldest surviving temple called Seng-ge-sgang. Most of the roads in Ladakh are well maintained because of its use by the Indian Army. Journey to Lumayuru is scenic. This is one stretch where you drive through mountains on one side and Indus flowing on the other. Indus river is on its downward journey with high current. Going ahead, it is going to meet the Zanskar River.
The twists and turns on the road make it an adventure. It’s amazing to see foot-marks of trekkers going up the hill. Even during winters when the region is covered with snow people visit here for trekking.
Calmness of Buddhist chants, playfulness of the young monks and architectural beauty of the monasteries is un-matched. Simple and easy to go lifestyle keeps you going. Being here is like being in the lap of Mother Nature.
Weather is very un-predictable all over Ladakh. It becomes extremely chilly. And now it is time for me to bid goodbye. It is for you to explore Mystic Ladakh on your own and share your experiences. I am sure I am going to capture more in my next visit. Soon!.