A June 1997 trip
to Ladakh by Eleven Shadows
Quote: Traveling to the far reaches of Ladakh, including the world's highest salt water lake, the highest motorable road in the world, ancient monasteries, and more.
The prices for these guest houses are usually under 100 Rs., or in other words, scarcely more than US$2.00!!!
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on November 19, 2000
Rainbow Guest House
Changspa - Karzoo, Near Circuit House Leh
Restaurant | "Tibetan Kitchen -- slurrrrrp!"
Although we liked literally all the food we tried, we were especially taken with the momos (both steamed and fried, with a variety of meat and/or vegetable), as well as the thukpa noodles, which we could not get enough of. We ended up going back to this restaurant every day. Although we tried some of the other restaurants, such as Dreamland, this was by far our favorite in terms of both atmosphere and food. The menu describes all the Tibetan food in English.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on November 19, 2000
The Ladakhis have taken advantage of the run-off from the tall snow-capped mountains that bracket either side of this wide valley, and have used the irrigation to build their farmland and charming villages around. The people without exception treated us with a great deal of warmth and respect, although they were often quite shy around cameras. I was invited in to several houses while I was walking around the town of Sumur, near Samtanling Gompa. The town had many dirt and stone walkways, often following the irrigated waters. From even these walks, one could see Sumur magically unfold -- farmers working, people washing clothes or their hair, sipping tea, smiling and talking, and many other things.
Nubra Valley is fascinating to me. One can easily walk amidst tall green trees and grass, along babbling brooks, and then suddenly, joltingly, find themselves in a sandy desert filled with doubled-humped camels by walking for just five minutes! The desert areas look almost like Saharan regions -- except for the tall, snow-capped peaks on either side of the valley!!
This large valley rests at about 10,500 ft. in elevation. To get there, one can either hire a 4WD, necessary to go over the 18,300 pass on the way to the valley from Leh. Another far more economical option is to take a bus from Leh, which leaves every three days or so. The buses are sloooooooooow and leave on what seems to me (and other travelers I spoke to) to be a highly irregular schedule. It's important to continue going to the bus station to see when the buses leave for Diskit (in Nubra Valley). However, the buses usually cost under $2 (at the time I went, I believe they were something like 60 Rs). Other buses leave for Sumur or Panamik, where the hot springs are located. We were in Leh for only two days before leaving for Nubra Valley, and when we went over the Kardung La pass at 18,300 ft., our heads felt like they were about to split open, and we felt quite nauseous. However, upon descending to Nubra Valley, which is a bit lower in elevation than Leh, we immediately felt better, and even went on a short hike upon our arrival.
There are a reasonable amount of guest houses in Sumur and some of the other small villages. What we did was walk around and ask if we could camp in the yards next to farmhouses. After negotiating a price, we simply pitched our tents and cooked our food on their property. Invariably, they invited us in for Ladakhi bread and yak butter tea. Most foreign travelers do not seem to care for yak butter tea very much. It's more like a salty, buttery soup than a tea. I thought it was okay, but my friend *hated* the stuff, and sipped it slowly. We were also frequently offered chang, or Tibetan barley beer. This ranged in quality from horrid to incredibly good, depending on which farmer brewed it.
The water is probably the bluest water I have ever seen, even bluer than the waters of Lake Titicaca in Peru, which is at about 13,500 ft. The sky and water at Pangong Tso were so blue that when I had my pictures developed back home in Los Angeles, the developer asked what kind of filter I had used. When I told him that no filter was used, he was incredulous, and said that in his fifteen years of developing pictures, he had never seen such blue water before!
There is a very small village which I believe was called Spangmik, that had several families, maybe 25 people, living in what had to be some of the bleakest, arid surroundings I've seen people living in. It was beautiful, to be sure, but the sort of life that these people had adapted to was quite rough. Even in June, winds would whip off the lake when the sun went down, causing temperatures to plummet to almost freezing temperatures. Within the span of thirty minutes, one could go from being very comfortable in a T-shirt to having to put on winter clothing -- locals included. The houses looked almost like mini-forts, with provisions, such as hay, stored on the rooftops in preparation for the harsh winter season, which in Pangong Tso is about ten months out of the year.
Nevertheless, the people were very nice. Communication usually involved charades of sorts. We created bizarre sentences made up of Ladakhi, Hindi, and English words. Somehow, we were understood -- eventually. The chang and Tibetan round bread were quite welcome after our long trip to Pangong Tso, across bone-rattling "roads" through the Himalayan mountains.
It should be mentioned that if you do go to Pangong Tso, you need to obtain special permission (easily obtainable through just about any travel agent). You also need to bring your own supplies. As of 1997, unless things have changed dramatically, there are not really any guest houses out this far, nor are there stores selling provisions. In other words, rent or bring your own tent and supplies. There are official camping sites at Curbuk, Tangtse, Lukung, and Spangmik. Otherwise, do what we did and just pick any "unofficial" spot along the road or countryside (we camped near Lukung, asking a farmer if we could pitch a tent in his field. This resulted in the entire family coming out to watch us while we pitched our tents). Bring Dalai Lama pictures. This is one of the best experiences, and a great ice breaker. The Ladakhis adore the Dalai Lama, and are greatly moved when you present them with pictures of the Dalai Lama.
Giving pictures of the Dalai Lama proved to be a series of extremely moving, memorable experiences for us. I would reach into my backpack, pull out pictures of the Dalai Lama -- particularly when someone had just done something nice to us or had tried to communicate with us for a while -- and invariably, they would be extremely touched. Frequently, people would cry or grow misty-eyed, and touch the picture to their forehead and thank us profusely. It also was a great ice-breaker, and let them know that we knew about the Dalai Lama, about Tibet, and about their culture (I am a member of Los Angeles Friends of Tibet). I could not believe the gratitude bestowed upon us for simply handing someone a picture of the Dalai Lama. One driver gingerly put the picture on his dashboard, and kept adjusting it during the entire drive.
West Los Angeles, California