Written by koshkha on 31 Jul, 2010
~How do I get there?~Getting to Ladakh is part of the adventure. Most people will start by flying into Delhi. There is plenty of competition for flights on the London to Delhi route and this keeps the prices fair. Since the main season for Ladakh…Read More
~How do I get there?~Getting to Ladakh is part of the adventure. Most people will start by flying into Delhi. There is plenty of competition for flights on the London to Delhi route and this keeps the prices fair. Since the main season for Ladakh is not a popular time for tourists to go to Delhi or any other part of India for that matter (it's far too hot and there's the monsoon to contend with) you should be able to pick up a good deal. We flew with Virgin using Flying Club 'miles' but flights were available with good European airlines for around £500 including taxes. From Delhi your options will depend on how much time you have and how much money you have. By Air: We flew - thank goodness - into the main Ladakhi city of Leh. The flight takes around an hour with Jet Airways from Delhi airport's domestic terminal. I believe that other airlines are also available - but not many. You can also fly in from Srinagar in Kashmir but as tourists, you are unlikely to be in Srinagar unless you have a death wish - or relatives. The Delhi-Leh flight has spectacular views over the mountains so beg and plead with the check in staff and get yourself a window seat. There's no advantage to being on one side of the plane rather than the other - the mountains are so big that you really aren't at any risk of missing them and you should get an eyeful wherever you sit. I'm not a nervous flyer but even I was overwhelmed by quite how close we were to the mountains on the way in. On the way back to Delhi the plane flies too high over the mountains to get much of a view so it doesn't matter where you sit.The flights from Delhi are expensive and I'm told they can get very busy in the peak season. The price marked on our tickets was around $360 which is very expensive for a one hour flight. Planes from Delhi only go early in the morning - it's something to do with the air over the mountains being more 'stable' and less turbulent first thing in the day before the mountains start to heat up. If there are any climatic issues at all the flights won't go because the airlines just won't risk it. For this reason, you shouldn't plan on flying straight back to Delhi and out again the same day as the chance of flights being interrupted is quite high. By Road:The route into Leh from the south is along the Manali-Leh highway but this road is only open from July through to the end of September. I can't tell you how long it will take to get from Delhi up to Leh but apparently just the Manali-Leh section can take around two days. During those two days you will experience all manner of scary driving nightmares. Indian drivers are awful - no apologies, I can't dress it up nicely, they are really poor. And if your driver is one of the good ones, it won't make a lot of difference, because all the others are still useless.Throughout India it's clearly considered manly to drive with your knees whilst holding two different mobile phones to your ears and gibbering. When you add in mountain roads with hairpin bends this becomes impressive but not amusing. People who have taken buses have suggested that whilst the first couple of hours on the mountain roads will fill them with awe and inspiration but after 20 hours or so they have lost the will to live and are riding with their eyes firmly closed. There are a couple of advantages to driving. Firstly it's cheap and secondly you should be less overwhelmed by the altitude change when you arrive than if you fly in. Personally, I wouldn't risk it.~What else do I need to know?~** Food and drinkOnce you get to Ladakh, nothing is very expensive. You can have a good lunch for just a pound or two. Dinner for £2-5. Beer is priced at only slightly less than UK levels and there is a fierce local brew called Godfather that could leave you waking up with a horse's head in your bed. The label states the alcohol content to be 'between 5% and 8.5%' but it tastes like it's on the high side. In Leh you can find any kind of cuisine you want - including Israeli but you won't find too many non-Israelis lining up for that. Out on trek you'll find a high-carb diet is typical. You may get a tiny bit of meat at the beginning of your trek but all supplies are bought before you leave the city and have to be chosen for how well they will last. I don't eat meat and I didn't feel I missed out on more than two or three dishes during the 6 days that we camped. **HealthCheck with your doctor about what innoculations you will need and take advice on malaria tablets. Even though you may not need some jabs for Ladakh, you should bear in mind the advice for Delhi as well if you will be there before and after your visit. Drink bottled or boiled water and follow the normal common sense about not eating salads that might have been washed in unclean water. Watch out for the sun - the air is so thin that its affects can be fierceAltitude sickness is a serious issue for even hardened and experience walkers. On arrival in Ladakh take a few days to acclimatise - drink lots of water (more than you can imagine you need) take everything very very slowly and lay off the booze.It's a good idea to carry a bottle of antibacterial gel for hand washing after using local toilets or before eating anything.** TemplesDress respectfully - no bare shoulders, no shorts, no excessive flesh exposure. Some of the temples are quite cold so it's a good idea to wear socks as you have to remove your shoes or sandles. Don't touch anything inside the temple and try not to disturb the monks. If they want to tell you very long dull stories in English that’s so broken that you don't understand it, be patient, nod and smile and put up with it. They are trying their best.You cannot use flash photography inside any of the temples. This is to protect the paintings and out of respect for religious sites. You should also not smoke inside the temple grounds.Always walk round stupas (religious monuments) or mani-walls (long low walls covered in carved mantra plaques) in a clockwise manner - if you can do so without danger or excessive inconvenience. If you want to take photos of the monks, ask them politely - try not to be intrusive. If you are an Italian tour group apparently you can do anything you like!** And finally - shopping!What can you buy in Ladakh? Admit it some of you are wondering what goodies you can pick up. Most of the shops in Leh are run by Kashmiri shopkeepers - some of the most shrewd and professional businessmen in India. Many have shops down in Goa for the winter and then head to Ladakh for the summer when Goa is too hot. Most of the market stalls are run by Tibetan émigrés. Almost all prices for curios, jewellery, clothes and rugs are negotiable and you can be pretty tough. There are relatively few true Ladakhi items for sale - since the advent of tourism, many locals are making enough money to not have the same urge to sit and weave rugs in the winter months. A lot of what you see is brought in from Tibet, Kashmir or lowland India. Buddhist Thankas (wall hangings) are quite popular as are small prayer wheels and other religious items. The local clothing is quite interesting if you like to stock your 'dressing up box' but I doubt you'll find much to wear back home.Jewellery is great value - usually silver based with semi-precious stones. I picked up a lot of pendants in various stones as well as rough cut ruby beads (a string for about £12). A day spent in the shops and markets of Leh should be plenty to give you a taste for what's on offer.So there you are - a little taste of Ladakh. We enjoyed ourselves enormously and intend to go back again though maybe after seeing a few other parts of the Himalay first. Julay! Close
~Religion and customs~As a friend commented when I sent an email from Leh, at 3500 m above sea level, there's a sense of being closer to God. Or maybe that's the lack of oxygen! I'm not sure. But since we touched on God, the…Read More
~Religion and customs~As a friend commented when I sent an email from Leh, at 3500 m above sea level, there's a sense of being closer to God. Or maybe that's the lack of oxygen! I'm not sure. But since we touched on God, the next thing to move on to is religion. The religious mix of Ladakh is completely different from the rest of J&K and from India in general. It is the only region of the country where Buddhism is the majority religion (at 52%). There are also a large number of Shi'a muslims who hail from Kashmir but these tend to live in the Kargil area in the west of Ladakh. For the most part, the religions live in harmony although we did meet an American couple who had spent a night in a small town where the Buddhists and Muslims were fighting like cats in a bag. They claimed their campsite was behind razor wire, had an open sewer running through the middle, and all night long they were disturbed by the locals showing off with their Kalashnikovs. As they always say at the end of Crimewatch, this sort of thing is very rare and you shouldn't let it worry you. Within the Buddhist populations there are a number of different sects and the two we came across when visiting monasteries were the Red Hat Drukpa sect and the Yellow Hat sect. As you can guess, the colour and shape of the hats worn by their lamas distinguish them. The two sects apparently get on very well - in other parts of the world I'm sure decades of war could be started by wearing different hats, but this is Buddhism and they aren't looking for a fight. Tradition encourages Ladakhi families to send a son or daughter to the monastery to become a monk or a nun. Today with the widespread use of birth control Ladakhi families are smaller and there are fewer offspring to send away. You will however see monks of all ages from small children of seven or eight years old up to elderly men. Unlike some countries where doing your 'monk-internship' is a bit like national service, most Ladakhis join the monastery for life and are celibate. I know that I may get criticised for saying this but many of the monks are extremely handsome. Perhaps it's due to peaceful meditation and not working out in the fields but there's something very serene and stress-less about these men. Our tour leader took us to meet his Uncle (his sister's youngest brother) at the Thiksa monastery and we had 'butter tea' and a good chat. He was an extraordinarily handsome man with 'll be one of the photos if you check at the end.I read on another website that Ladakhis traditionally practised polyandry - one wife with multiple husbands. This wasn't mentioned when we were there and we didn't see any evidence of this. I believe that the practice was introduced to protect the ownership of precious land - i.e. one woman might marry several brothers, keeping the land together and preventing the farm being broken down into smaller plots. Ladies, if this sounds like heaven, think of all socks we'd have to pick up - I'm sure it doesn't matter how many husbands you have, they still won't know how to change a toilet roll. ~Racial Groups~There are four key racial groups- Changpas - originally from Tibet and forming the main population in central and eastern Ladakh. Traditionally these people were nomadic herdsmen- Mons - these are a nomad group originally of Aryan origin who are very fair skinned with northern European features. They are mostly converts to Buddhism- Droks - these live in the Gilgit area. They were originally Buddhists but converted to Islam in the 17th or 18th century. - Baltis - this group are of Central Asian origin and live in the Kargil area. I'm not sure of their religious affiliations ~Language~Despite having a population of little more than 200 000 inhabitants, Ladakh has its own language - Ladakhi. Geographic isolation and the challenges of getting around within the country have led to the development of a number of different dialects which can be very different.There is one word that you really need to know - Julay!Julay means HelloJulay means WelcomeJulay means How are you?Julay means Thank youJulay means GoodbyeJulay means Have a nice day/evening etc.Now why can't all languages do that?As you walk around everyone will talk to you. You say 'julay' and they chorus back 'julay, julay, julay' - typically three times. It's a very sunny little phrase. Everyone says hello and as you wander around and wave at people, they almost all smile and wave back. We tried this as an experiment when we got caught on the side of a road as a convoy of about 80 Indian army trucks went past. Even though they were driving big trucks on hairpin bends, every single soldier-driver waved back. In the cities - Leh and Kargil - people involved in the tourist trade will understand English. Out in the villages a few of the younger ones may but you'll mostly get by with smiles and sign language. ~Why would I choose Ladakh for a holiday?~Trekking is undoubtedly the main attraction and the reason for most people to visit. Treks are available in a wide variety of lengths and grades - from the 4 day 'baby trek' we did, up to several weeks. Our trek never got more than a few hours from a road and was supported by a truck moving the tents each day and setting up camp before we arrive. Some of the tougher treks are supported by ponies and may see you cut off from contact with the rest of the world for days at a time. There should be a trek to suit everyone. You can arrange the trek in advance or take your chances when you arrive - get a made to measure trip or look around for other travellers who are seeking to make up numbers. The summer season is relatively short - second half of June to end September - and relates to the period when road access is least problematic. You can do winter trekking if you are really hard-core but it's a more specialised field.Those interested in Buddhism and anthropology will also find lots to fascinate - at a tiny fraction of the cost of visiting countries like Bhutan. You can find 'cultural' (i.e. less energetic) tours of Ladakh but for visiting the Himalayas to look at temples and not go trekking would be like visiting the Maldives and not diving. You can do it - but you'd miss out on the main attraction. ~ Other reasons to go ~1.You've already done the 'obvious' bits of India and want to see something completely different2.You'd like to go to India but can't face the noise and bustle of the cities3.You want to go to India but you can only go in the summer months when the lowlands are racked by extreme heat and monsoon conditions~ A few good reasons NOT to go~1.You don't like walking (and don't want to trek) or have health problems that will stop you being able to get up steps and walk on uneven ground (if you are considering a cultural trip) 2.You have absolutely no interest in Buddhism3.You think a holiday isn't a holiday without a beach and a cocktail bar4.You can't live without a 5-star hotel5.You have a pathological fear of squat toilets (even very clean and not very smelly ones)6.You've had a bad past experience with altitude sickness7.You can't survive without pizza and chips every day (you know who you are!) Close
If you always assumed that India was 'tigers, taj and tandooris' then Ladakh is not going to be what you expect. The purpose of this short series of reviews is to give you just a small taste of this region and hopefully persuade some of…Read More
If you always assumed that India was 'tigers, taj and tandooris' then Ladakh is not going to be what you expect. The purpose of this short series of reviews is to give you just a small taste of this region and hopefully persuade some of you that it might be worth a visit.But before I start, a few comments on pronunciation: Ladakh is pronounced La-dak with La pronounced like in French 'la'. Not Larrrr. And emphasis is on the second syllable.Leh is the largest city in and is pronounced Lay - like a chicken does with eggs.Jammu - Jam-oo - jam, like the stuff you buy in jars, oo as in 'ooh, I fancy going there'Kashmir- come on, you know this one, it’s just the same as cashmere.Enough of this - onto the review: ~Where is Ladakh?~The district of Ladakh is part of the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir, or J&K as it's commonly abbreviated. For those who aren't very familiar with Indian geography, J&K is the bit that sticks up in the north - surrounded on three sides by Pakistan, China and Tibet. Never make the mistake (as an ex-boss of mine did) of making a comment to any Indians along the lines of "It looks like it ought to be part of Pakistan". You will get a stony silence at best and a diplomatic incident at worst.Kashmir was once the summer playground of rich Indians and European ex-pats. Cooler than the lowlands and renowned for its beauty, the mountains gave pleasant respite from the ravages of the Indian summer. Sadly today it's more likely to hit the news for conflict between the Indian and Pakistani military. It hardly sounds like a holiday paradise, does it? However, Ladakh is very different from other parts of J&K and, whilst it has seen military action in the valleys and passes back in the 1990s, today it's the kind of place where visitors will feel entirely unthreatened and will, for the most part, receive a warm and genuinely friendly welcome. In the past Ladakh was just lumped in with the rest of J&K and locals will tell you that it was forgotten and ignored by the administration. Ladakh was right at the back of the line when the government was handing out any goodies. Whilst it's still not a state in its own right, Ladakh today has greater autonomy in how it generates and spends money and is enjoying a bit of an economic boom - largely due to its popularity as a Himalayan trekking destination. ~What does it look like?~With even the valleys typically at 3500m altitude, Ladakh is a true mountain land. Indeed the name Ladakh means 'many passes'. It's not like our images of the Alps or other European mountain ranges because it's extraordinarily barren. The area is classified as high altitude desert so once you are out of the rich green river valleys the overwhelming colour is brown with a bit of white snow on the tops of the mountains. This is not a 'Sound of Music' grass and edelweiss landscape. Beautiful Buddhist monasteries (called gompas) can be found clinging to the sides of the mountains often overlooking fish ponds that freeze in the winter and are used for ice-hockey, Ladakh's favourite winter sport. It rains very rarely in Ladakh - I think I read somewhere that it's less than 6 inches a year - so you could be forgiven for thinking it won't be a great region for agriculture. However, you'd be wrong. The valleys are supplied with copious amounts of melting snow and ice water and locally developed irrigation techniques create lush fields up to a few hundred meters on either side of the rivers. Then when the irrigation channels stop, there's a sharp brown line and you are back in the arid land.(BE WARNED after a day trekking you may arrive in your campsite and think that a wash in one of these rivers would be a refreshing way to get rid of the dust. The water is so cold it takes your breath away).Ladakh is sometimes referred to as 'Little Tibet' due to looking a lot like Tibet but unless you've been to Tibet that's probably not a very helpful analogy. Ladakh received a mass influx of Tibetan Buddhist refugees after China's invasion of Tibet. Even the Dalai Lama pops up to Ladakh every year or so to see his people and enjoy the landscape because it reminds him so much of the home he can't go back to. If it's good enough for him then it's good enough for me. ~How do people in Ladakh live?~Most Ladakhis outside the cities are farmers with smallholdings - a patch to grow vegetables, maybe a field or two, a cow, a few sheep or goats and some chickens. During the short summer they can grow enough food to store away and take them through the winter. The standard of housing is quite high compared to other parts of India and most of the houses you'll see are quite large. Thankfully there are very few people to be seen sleeping on the streets or living in tin shacks. You could be forgiven then for thinking 'They have nice houses, they have enough food and plenty of water - sounds like an easy life'. Life in Ladakh does indeed look attractive in the summer months but most of the year they are feet deep in snow. These really are very tough people. Electricity is in short supply and they are rationed to just five or six hours a day in the middle of winter - for use in the evening when it's dark. Using electricity for heating is forbidden so they burn wood and dried animal dung in the local version of a wood burning stove. Our guide took us to his parents' farm for lunch and told us that during the winter the whole family moves into the kitchen and sleeps there because it's the only warm room in the house. Few locals have cars and most rely on the bus services or long hard walks. At one of our campsites half a dozen little kids in school uniform turned up in the morning to help break down the camp and load the support truck. In return they got a ride to the next village where their school was. The walking alternative was a two-hour hike up and down two mountain passes. The same kids had been spotted the evening before whilst we sat by the river. They were hitching a lift back from school in the 'scoop' of a road digger. Close
Written by graphite sea on 08 Apr, 2007
With nearly 40,000 miles of track, Indian Railways pulls off a messy game of connect-the-population dots across most of the subcontinent. Most of it…just not Ladakh. Rail travel to this region is precluded by the terrain, which toughens up as it ascends from the greener…Read More
With nearly 40,000 miles of track, Indian Railways pulls off a messy game of connect-the-population dots across most of the subcontinent. Most of it…just not Ladakh. Rail travel to this region is precluded by the terrain, which toughens up as it ascends from the greener pastures of the plains through toothy mountains to Leh at 3505m/11,500ft. Getting to Ladakh instead involves a ride with one of India’s transportation industry underdogs: plane, jeep, bus or your very own feet. Regardless of which you choose, you’ll be twisted through a seemingly impossible landscape rife with the loftiest peaks and deepest valleys. While this journey is almost as good as the destination, digging for information isn’t, so here are some tidbits I learned from my two (inadvertently two) round trips to Ladakh last summer:Plane: both Jet Airways (private) and Indian Airlines (state) fly between Delhi and Leh for $175 ($132 for those under 30 on Jet). While Jet has thirteen flights a week to Delhi, versus Indian’s three, Indian also connects Leh with Srinagar and Jammu. However, if you’re a stickler about planes looking as if they belong to the current era of aviation, you might prefer Jet. Indian is less prone to immediate cancellation when foul weather lurks, though, since it’s a government operation. Compared to the ground options, the hour-long flight may seem extravagant for budgeteers, but, aside from the obvious time savings, the crowning benefit is that it doubles as a flight seeing tour. Flying into/out of the narrow Leh Valley is surreal and coasting just above a maze of glaciers and peaks in the thick of the mightiest mountain range on the planet is tough to upstage (so stay awake). Don’t think that you’ll be strolling onto the plane with your plum pick of window seats, though. During high season, which happens to encompass nearly the entire tourist season of June—mid-late September, flights are fully booked weeks in advance (or more), with a well-padded waiting list to boot. Take care not to break any mirrors before attempting date changes.Jeep: all road journeys to Leh officially begin in Manali, or, to a lesser extent, Srinagar. It’s only 475km between Leh and Manali, but with temperamental roads etched into hulking mountainsides, the ride is 18-22 hours in a jeep, direct. And they do go direct (Rs1000/$22)—departing at 2am and rolling straight into Leh that night. With the same driver. If you have a day and 250 rupees ($5) to spare, there are also two-day jeeps that allow photo stops, in addition to the less celebrated stops that might be associated with rapid altitude gain. Note that in either case, up to ten passengers will be squeezed into a basic SUV for twenty hours of getting to know your neighbor(s) very, very well: two in the front on the other side of the gear shift, four in the middle and four sets of knees interlocking on two facing benches in the bouncy back. In a burst of socialism, sometimes passengers rotate seats along the way. Southbound jeeps are less grim and only take on seven passengers, with two in the front, three in the middle and two in the back. In contrast to their northbound counterparts, southbound jeeps price according to the seat, with the back ones going for Rs1000/$22 and everything else for Rs1400/$30. In short, the jeep experience is a gamble, especially heading north. It can either be passably comfortable or a catalyst for insanity, but you won’t know which until your jeep clears Vashist (the last pick-up point) with the final passenger tally solidified inside. For those with an aversion to cuddling strangers, leather-seated, climate controlled deluxe jeeps also ply the Manali-Leh Highway, with a capacity limit of a mere five passengers. Although, at about Rs2500 (including accommodation and most meals—why not all meals, I don’t know), such splendor isn’t for everyone.Bus: when super high season hits in Ladakh, the buses emerge from hibernation. The specific date varies depending on the year’s snowmelt situation, but everything’s generally chugging along by mid-July. The bargain basement way into Ladakh is via the state-run ordinary bus (that’s the official name), which runs twice a week. This glamorous roadster, courtesy of Himachal Pradesh, is the cousin of a neglected school bus. Your Rs500/$11 seat, or, rather, bench position, is assigned, so capacity is restricted, but the seats fall a half person short of comfortable. Particularly if it’s your half-butt hanging off the end. Here’s a tip: The primo seat is behind the driver as the shocks are most functional here (towards the back are popcorn seats, as in, you’ll feel like popping corn) and you can stretch your legs out through a hole in the divider behind the driver’s seat. If you’re on the end, you can put your foot up on the motor cover (or whatever’s under there—I’m autopart ignorant) for leverage. In general, if you’re over 6' or so, make sure you get an aisle seat, unless you enjoy ramming your knees into the metal back of the seat in front of you, over and over. Seating issues aside, the ordinary bus is the most culturally interesting transport option since tourists don’t dominate this one, for a change. The total trip time is about 30 hours, including an overnight stop in Keylong, give or take a breakdown and assorted road delays. On the other end of the bus spectrum, there’s the deluxe bus. A one butt per clearly defined seat, modern bus for Rs1000/$22. The overnight is at a tent camp near Sarchu (Rs200/$4 extra for dinner and accommodation, but free tent space if you have a tent). The one negative of this bus is that it doesn’t stop for photos (there are 25 of you, after all), but if you’re sitting on the aisle, you’ll only have one person to clamber over to get a photo out the window as opposed to two (potentially unappreciative) ones on the ordinary bus. Foot: several trekking routes connect Ladakh with Himachal Pradesh or Kashmir. The most accessible, and therefore most popular, takes you from Darcha (near Keylong) to Lamayuru, or vice versa, in roughly 22 days. If you’re heading towards Ladakh, the gradual ascent of the first half of the trek should yield a smoother acclimatization experience than what the other modes might dish out. It’s possible to do this trek on your own, but bring Charlie Loram’s “Trekking in Ladakh” for route guidance. Pack in most of your food, but supplies can be bumped up in Padum. Past Padum in particular, there are sporadic opportunities to purchase simple hot meals (generally rice and dal, or ramen noodles) and snacks in tea tents. Alternatively, this expedition, like all in Ladakh, may be undertaken as a fully-inclusive guided trek for $35-40 a day. Or you could compromise by hiring packhorses or donkeys (with the owner therefore doubling as a route guide) to haul your gear up and down all those nasty passes.Summary: if you’re tired from sifting through all the above information, here’s a basic rundown: For photo-friendly landscape immersion, trek or take the two-day jeep. For cultural immersion, take the ordinary bus. For comfort, fly. For a great escape, trek (although you might have company on some routes). For saving rupees, take the ordinary bus. For saving time, fly. For maximizing time while minimizing rupee expenditure, take the direct jeep. For maximizing comfort while minimizing rupee expenditure, take the deluxe bus. For best results, mix and match. For my recommendation, I say fly one way and take the 2-day jeep or trek the other. For avoiding any further redundancy, I’ll stop writing now. Close
Written by phileasfogg on 08 Jun, 2002
The first time I went to Ladakh, I was all of eleven years old, and not too interested in fantastic scenery and moth-eaten Buddhist monasteries. So, the fact that I came back totally besotted says a lot for the place. I went back again in…Read More
The first time I went to Ladakh, I was all of eleven years old, and not too interested in fantastic scenery and moth-eaten Buddhist monasteries. So, the fact that I came back totally besotted says a lot for the place. I went back again in 2001, after a gap of seventeen years, and found that a lot had changed. The valley in which the capital, Leh, lies, had been transformed from a barren, treeless plain to a lovely swathe of green along the Indus river, its banks crowded with poplar and willow; Leh town itself had come up in life. The market place, which I remembered as just about twenty stalls selling grubby vegetables and weather-beaten antiques pulled out of local homes, had morphed into a sleek bazaar, crowded with sassy souvenir-sellers and enterprising travel agents. The Buddhist monasteries, which I dreaded going barefoot into (their floors were caked with black grease, the result of centuries of burning yak-butter lamps in front of idols) had begun using refined vegetable oil instead, and everybody - from the boy lamas in Hemis to the toothy waiter at the café next door - knew what they were about when it came to dealing with tourists.
Actually, I’d put Ladakh right on top of my list of the beautiful places I’ve been to; it is arid, treeless, and absolutely spectacular. The sky’s a gorgeous blue - so clear and so deep a hue that all my photographs look "doctored" - and the land, nearly devoid of vegetation (outside the Leh Valley, that is) is perhaps the most colourful anywhere in India - entire rock faces are bright purple, grass green, brick red, bluish-grey and even pink in color. In places where there’s a trickle of precious water, plants spring up - tussocks of scrubby grass or huge bushes of wild roses, loaded with hundreds of pink blooms. It’s wild, barren, beautiful scenery, and here and there, clinging to the mountainside by sheer willpower, are ancient Buddhist monasteries, invariably with a neighbouring village, maybe just about half a dozen tiny houses and a dozen shaggy yaks.
The capital, Leh, holds the distinction of being home to India’s highest civilian airfield - just over 10,000 ft. By Ladakhi standards, Leh’s a metropolis; by all others, it’s a sleepy little town with hundreds of soldiers and just about as many tourists.
Leh is a great place to restrict yourself to if you’re short on time, as we were, because some of Ladakh’s biggest attractions are really close at hand. This time, we were on a short holiday and didn’t have the time to go deeper into the wilderness, so we stayed within Leh and ventured out only on day trips. Among the best was our visit to the Hemis Gompa, Ladakh’s largest Buddhist monastery, just below 50 km upriver from Leh (the river in question is the Indus). We were a bit unlucky - (and I suppose I’ll have to admit also a little careless) in our timing; we missed the Hemis Festival, a two-day extravaganza of masked dancers, madly whirling prayer wheels and traditional music - by just about a week.
We also went around to some of the other gompas (Buddhist monasteries) near Leh - Shey, Thikse and Spituk - and the interesting Stok Palace Museum, just across the Indus. The Shanti Stupa, a dazzling white structure built in the past two decades, was also a rewarding sight: it offered a stunning view of Leh. The best view, of course, is from Khardung La, around 50 km from Leh, and uphill all the way - it’s the highest motorable civilian road in the world (the highest road, also in Ladakh, is at a mountain pass called Marsmik La, but it’s offbounds to civilians, both Indian and foreign).
If we’d had the time, I suppose we’d have done some of the places I’d visited all those years back: the gloriously blue Pangong Tso lake; the refreshingly verdant Nubra Valley, and the strange, cream-coloured moonscape of Lamayoru (Lamayoru is also known for the "Hangro Loops" - more than a dozen hairpin bends which meander down a mountain, and which can actually be seen from the top. We asked our driver, a Ladakhi, what "hangro" meant; he told us that it was the Ladakhi word for a cow, and that the "loops" had been named that because some unlucky cow had toppled over at the top and gone right down to the bottom of the mountain. Gory story.
Perhaps it’s to save themselves from such eventualities (who wants to be brained by a falling cow?!) that Ladakhis are so devout - all across the land are monasteries, chortens, prayer wheels and mani walls covered with smooth river stones, all carefully carved with prayers and polished to a gloss. Faded and torn prayer flags flutter from the most inaccessible of heights, and along every road are the wacky and supposedly inspirational signs erected by the Border Roads Organisation. "Child is the Father of Man" sounds okay but a little out of place on a highway, whereas "Be Mr Late not Late Mr Dead" may be an attempt to caution you to drive slow - although we ended up laughing so hard we nearly banged into an overstuffed mini bus coming full speed down the road.
Three times I’ve been. Three times to this beautiful area, to its gompas and villages and its absolutely incredible beauty. Three times I’ve wished I didn’t have to go back, three times I’ve looked forward to coming back again.
Written by Eleven Shadows on 19 Nov, 2000
We highly recommend a trip to the Nubra Valley. The Nubra Valley ('Nubra' means 'green') is a well-cultivated, fertile valley that contains pretty little villages, a great deal of greenery, forests, wildlife, hot springs, and believe it or not -- a desert complete with…Read More
We highly recommend a trip to the Nubra Valley. The Nubra Valley ('Nubra' means 'green') is a well-cultivated, fertile valley that contains pretty little villages, a great deal of greenery, forests, wildlife, hot springs, and believe it or not -- a desert complete with Bactrian (double-humped) camels!!!
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.
Written by Sabtravels on 26 Aug, 2006
Situated at almost 14,256 feet, Pangong Lake is the world’s highest saltwater lake. The lake itself is almost 150 km long with just one third of it in India, the other 100km extending into Tibet, (now belonging to China). The 160 km journey from Leh…Read More
Situated at almost 14,256 feet, Pangong Lake is the world’s highest saltwater lake. The lake itself is almost 150 km long with just one third of it in India, the other 100km extending into Tibet, (now belonging to China). The 160 km journey from Leh to Pangong is an experience by itself. Here we came across what would be our highest pass in the entire journey – Chang La @ 17,800 feet We were getting closer and closer to the Indo-China border and as a direct testimony to that fact we had to get through multiple check points and army posts. Every now and then, right out of the blue we’d come across endearing scenes of the army jawans playing cricket or going about their lives like they would on a regular sunny day. Believe you me, it was anything but! The cold was biting to say the least - and this was during the day, I shudder to think what the nights must be like. I must say I have a new found respect for our Army – for the first time I’m getting to see them up close and see what they have to go through in terms of sheer isolation, weather conditions etc – all of it just so ordinary citizens like me can lead ‘safe’ lives. Very humbling. Even more endearing is that all of them were absolutely delighted to see some Indian faces- I’m guessing that’s a rare enough sight for them - and we ended making quite a few friends along the way.We stopped at a small village on the way called Laga (population 300, a board proclaimed) a little off the main Leh-Pangong road, for lunch. This ‘café’ was actually a huge house, situated in a valley right by a streaming river. Extremely picturesque. The owner of the house/café is an ex-army captain/ex ice-hockey champion/ex ace skiing instructor - now turned main chef .A little intimidating being served lunch by such an achiever (the medals and certificates around were overflowing) but then he was such a cheerful, warm person that we stuffed our faces without any qualms as soon as he got the lunch. The food was simply superb. We ended up spending almost a couple of hours chilling here.On to the final stretch : The roads started getting from bad to worse to non-existing and judging by the traffic, we were the only ones headed in the direction of Pangong. The first glimpse: Whenever there is an ocean nearby, I have a habit of looking out for that ‘first glimpse. I love doing that and the first flash of the lake did not disappoint. In the distance we saw what seemed to be a burst of blue and I knew we were going to come across something real special.After what seems like an eternity on a journey to nowhere – you are face to face with the lake. Again, like many things this marvelous region has to offer, this is definitely one of those things that you have to see for yourself to truly experience it.It’s simply outstanding. By the time we reached the lake, it was late afternoon and the color was a deep shade of aquamarine. A color I’ve never seen on any lake. The surface seemed almost frozen with barely a ripple, creating a magical mirror for the multi-colored mountains around. The water seems a deep blue close up; green from a little distance away and pure silver the further it is away from you. All the adjectives in the English language will still not do the place justice.We drove all along the lake - literally up to the end of the Indian side. Beyond this point was no-man’s land and 25 km down the lake was Tibet! On a clear day, apparently you can look straight into the Chinese border post.We set up camp here – by this time, the cold was beginning to take over my life and my priorities - being from the South of India, I’ve never had to face genuinely cold conditions forget extreme! So obviously once darkness fell all I wanted to do was stay bundled up inside the tent! Not that there were other options, I mean - it wasn’t like I had a nightclub to get to ;) Heh.Was woken up at an unearthly hour by Lakshmi my friend. We had planned to wake up early to catch some dawn shots, but 3.30 am?? Obviously she was more carried away by the place than me :D So there we were, a couple of clowns - the only souls or moving objects around, on a cold, dark morning – standing on the edge of no man’s land - waiting patiently for dawn to arrive. Why we couldn’t wake up AT dawn is still beyond me but I love this place so much that I don’t have the heart to complain. Dawn when it happened was an anti-climax at best. All through the night it had been pouring cats and dogs (thank god for waterproof tenting!) and the sun just refused to break through. So much for our extra enthusiasm.Pah!Still - managed to get whatever shots we could with the available light and head to the guest house nearby for much needed sustenance. Then we spent a few more hours by the lake, and began our journey back to Leh.In general, I’m trying to observe a policy of not coming back to a place if I have already seen it ( there is so much more to see in this world!), but I know Pangong is a place I’d love to come back to and spend more time here. Barely having spent two days, I left the place feeling quite unsatiated at the same time, feeling incredibly lucky to have had an opportunity to visit a place so extraordinary. Close
21, 22 July 2006.The past two days, I’ve been on the most grueling road journey of my life!! More importantly, I’ve been on THE most outstanding road journey of my life. Will dwell on both aspects in a bit, but first – for everyone reading…Read More
21, 22 July 2006.The past two days, I’ve been on the most grueling road journey of my life!! More importantly, I’ve been on THE most outstanding road journey of my life. Will dwell on both aspects in a bit, but first – for everyone reading this and for all those who are genuinely interested and curious to know what Leh Ladakh is all about – the ONLY way to do it is by Road. Flying in directly to Leh is taking the sissy way out! ; )Anyway, the point is that if you want to want to experience the real Ladakh - experience for yourself what this truly resplendent corner of the earth has to offer, you have to be prepared to rough it out - more than a bit. And take the road. In fact, the only pang of regret I have about the road journey if at all is that my mode of transport was a four wheel drive and not a two wheeler! Hire a bike, people!!Getting back to the journey – every travel article on Leh Ladakh worth its salt will tell you that the 485 km stretch of road between Manali and Leh is the most spectacular road journey. The thing is - no matter how much you’ve read up or how much you’ve heard from others, nothing can prepare you for experiencing it up close. Having said that, for obvious reasons I’m going to try and capture what I can. Here goes nothing:The road to Leh, takes you through a myriad of landscapes to say the least - from lush and fertile as you leave Manali, to increasingly stark and eccentric as you go further away from the Himachal region. The diversity is endless.. AND seamless! You come across snow capped mountains, hanging glaciers ( some of them so close by that you can actually reach out!), wind eroded mountains, steep sandstone cliffs, valleys that plunge so deep that u cant even begin to see the bottom – you name it ( and then some). Simply put, it was like watching a show where Mother Nature is at her most assertive, completely commanding and unyielding best!Apart from the landscape in general, the other thing that I really enjoyed was going through the high altitude passes. The road takes you through five high altitude mountain passes ranging from 13,000 ft to 17,470 ft.--------Mountain Pass: In a range of hills or especially of mountains, a pass is a lower point that allows easier access through the range. On the route through the range, it is locally the highest point on the route. Since many of the world’s mountain ranges have always presented formidable barriers to travel, passes have been important since recorded history and have played a key role in trade, war and migration. Source: Wikipedia---------------You learn that this land is not called the ‘Land of High Mountain Passes’ for nothing - you go through Rohtang La @13,044 ft, then on to Baralacha La @16,042 ft, on to the lesser known Nake La @ 16,414 ft, then comes Lachung La @ 16,613 ft and finally, on to the mother of all passes on this stretch, Tanglang La @ 17,469 ft. If you’ve come out of Tanglang La unscathed, then you are more or less set! The road to the pass is so steep at places that our vehicle was straining under the pressure and we had some tense moments - and of course, the less said about the nausea- inducing hair pin bends, the better. Sheesh. Fortunately for my co-passengers and me, all of us were lucky enough not to have any major setbacks – our driver/chauffeur on the other hand wasn’t as fortunate and he was a victim to high altitude sickness. That was not a pretty sight! (You don’t want to get this one people, trust me. The only thing that seemed to really help is drinking water. Oh boy, did we drink a lot of water!!)Morey Plains is another highlight on the journey worth talking about – At almost 50kms; this is the longest stretch of plains in the journey. It’s a VAST tableland which seems to fall right off the horizon.There is not a speck of civilization in sight and the only thing you can see are gigantic mountains flanking the single stretch of road - dwarfing everything around - the road, the vehicle, and the people IN the vehicle! The desolation of this stretch is so complete that you can’t help but instantly retrospect about how tiny a speck of matter you really are, when placed in the bigger picture. A person could get seriously lost here – in more ways than one!! Extremely surreal.Frankly, I could go on and on - and I still wouldn’t be able to do justice to everything I’ve seen and experienced and been moved by. It’s a fairly pointless exercise. So I’m going to leave it at this for now and just hope that all the souls out there with even a tiny bit of adventure in them, will make this journey at some point or the other in their lives! :)The Route:Manali – Rohtang Pass – Rangcha – Keylong – Darcha – ZingZing Bar – Baralacha La – Sarchu – Lachung La – Pang – Morey Plains – Tanglang La – Upshi – Gya Valley – LehAlthough only 485 kms – the roads are deplorable post Rohtang and non existent in most places. Whether a four wheeler or a two wheeler, it’s absolutely imperative the vehicle is in top condition. The word is that there’s an alternate route being mapped out to Leh from Rohtang, but not entirely sure by when and if that will be in place.. Who knows?The popular break-journey point is Sarchu (about 222 km away fm Manali) which has some picturesque campsites. However, we went a little berserk on the first day of the drive. We kept stopping the car literally around every corner, taking pictures and generally jumping up and down with excitement. No surprise then, that we didn’t make it to Sarchu (Baralacha La has to be crossed before sundown). So we ended up stopping over at Keylong - which has a single resort (Hotel Chandrabaga, a very nice and comfy place)Obviously we paid for this indulgence on the second day of the drive – we drove for a straight, 16 hours!! On those roads!! Suffice to say, no one was jumping up or down towards the end of the journey...The sight of Leh was one hell of a welcome sight, that much I can tell you. Close
20 July :With the dual purpose of having an easy day as well as to acclimatize ourselves for the journey ahead we spent the day exploring the valley and Manali.First thing that strikes you about Kulu Valley is the color green. The whole region was…Read More
20 July :With the dual purpose of having an easy day as well as to acclimatize ourselves for the journey ahead we spent the day exploring the valley and Manali.First thing that strikes you about Kulu Valley is the color green. The whole region was drenched in vivid shades of green. With the mountains as a backdrop and with the river running all along – everything looked straight out of a picture card. I saw my first Apple Orchard!! Himachal Pradesh is well known for its Apple Orchards through the country. They were everywhere!! Pink apples, green apples - all sizes, n shapes. So damn pretty.After checking out a couple of monasteries in the main town at Manali and the Hidimba Temple nearby (built in 1533) , we headed to Vashisht. A small town about 3km away from Manali, Vashisht is well known as the town with the natural sulphur springs - the key attraction being some kind of a communal bath area in a temple (Vashist Muni) rumored to have medicinal properties. We checked out the bath area for women. The scene before us was hilarious AND frightening at the same time. I ran like a bat out of hell as soon as I saw it - well you would too if you saw what I saw : ) From Manali, we also got our first view of the snow capped mountain ranges way up ahead in the distance – which is where we will be heading directly! The first of the many high altitude mountain passes that we will be crossing, the Rohtang pass, is almost visible, beckoning us. Can’t wait to be on the road tomorrow.In the evening, walked around, taking pictures. What I love most about small towns in the hills, is exploring all the little trails that at first glance apparently lead nowhere. You follow some of them and you can be face to face with the most amazing views, just like that. Very nice. Close
Written by anisoft on 31 May, 2006
June 27, 2005We got up at 7 O’clock in the morning and after light breakfast took the "Shikara" to the land. None of us felt like going but our destination was Leh. With a silent promise of returning again in near future we bid adieu…Read More
June 27, 2005We got up at 7 O’clock in the morning and after light breakfast took the "Shikara" to the land. None of us felt like going but our destination was Leh. With a silent promise of returning again in near future we bid adieu to our beloved Dal Lake with a heavy heart. We had to reach Kargil by the evening. The route was via Sonamarg, Zojila Pass, Drass and then Kargil. The drive to Sonamarg presents yet another spectacular facet of countryside in Kashmir. We watched, breathlessly, as nature spread itself on a giant canvas. We were totally submerged in its beauty, purity and sanctity. Buddhists say, the ultimate goal is to achieve the state of Nirvana, which represents total enlightenment and liberation. Surrendering myself to nature, not as an observer or just as an admirer, but by becoming a part of that holiness and purity, I felt nothing less than attaining Nirvana.Sonamarg is the takeoff destination for the drive to Ladakh across the Zojila. It is also one of the bases for undertaking the yatra to holy "Amarnath cave". After capturing some of the best picturesque landscapes in my camera, we moved on. We must have traveled 2km from Sonamarg towards Zojila when we were stopped at an Army barrier. We had no entry permit and we were not informed anywhere that we need one. But as is the case, in order to cross Zojila, we required an entry ticket, which was issued by the concerned department at Sonamarg. We went back and had a tough time finding the place where the permit is issued from. It was a small office, with a total strength of three people, nestled in a tent on one of the mountain slopes, somewhere around 300m away from the main road. It took us less than five minutes in getting our permit. It is more of a formality where you have to give your driving license number and get a pink color stamped paper. However, I am certain that it must not be as easy for a foreigner as it was for us.Showing sentry our permit we moved towards the mighty Zojila pass. It is a very narrow pass and at most places it is impossible for two vehicles to pass each other. So it is opened for one-way traffic for half a day and then for the other side of vehicles. We were lucky to be among the last few vehicles that were allowed to cross towards Kargil for that day. Gradually the steepness increased and the road conditions started deteriorating. Very soon we were driving on a road made of small boulders (small sharp rocks) and full of dirt. We were a group of 20 to 25 vehicles, out of which more than 80% belonged to Army. Roads were very narrow with huge mountain on one side and a very deep rift on the other. It was actually scary to look down. Extreme serpentine road compounded the risk and made driving more cautious yet exciting.Because we were driving in a small car, at many places we had to get down of the car and plan a strategy to navigate through the numerous potholes, big and ugly enough to break our car. However most problematic was when any of the vehicles in front of us used to stop in middle while climbing. It was fairly easy for those big monstrous 4-wheel drive army trucks to resume their climb. For us, it was a Herculean task. We had to roll back to the nearest low climb area and then come back fully charged, with a vengeance. Believe me, it was more irritating, rather embarrassing, than being difficult as we had to request all the vehicles behind us to roll back. After a three hours of strenuous driving we were finally successful in crossing Zojila. Munish’s prediction was proven wrong. We had made it. Now we were in Drass region. Although our car was completely covered with dust, looking at it, gave us a sense of achievement. It was a visual proof of our efforts and achievement. Contrary to the perceived image of a war-ridden town, Drass was full of scenic beauty and greenery. However, the traces of "Kargil war" was evident on some of the roadside buildings as well. We saw a signboard pointing towards "Kargil Battle School." I would have loved to find out more about it, but as there was no one around, we moved on. Drass is a small town situated in a flat and open space in the center of a valley. It is, as we were informed in Kargil, the second coldest inhabited place in the world. Winter temperature dips as low as -40ºF. However, while we crossed Drass, we found it to be extremely beautiful with lush green pastures splashed across. Road from Drass to Kargil was not difficult to navigate, as it was mostly plain and road was in fairly acceptable conditions. Kargil is approx. 60km from Drass and it took us one and half hours to traverse the journey. On our way we passed through some of the most beautiful upland villages with flower sprinkled meadows on sides of the road.By 8 O’clock in the evening we were checking in the "Kargil Continental Hotel", one of the best hotels available in Kargil. It was a huge hotel with numerous rooms across its corridors and is highly recommended for a pleasurable stay. Its location is fantastic—it is in the main market area near taxi stand and at the back of it there is a canal flowing with dangerously high water current. Kargil is a mountainous district, which is surrounded by mountains from all the sides and is accessible only by road. It is the second largest area in Ladakh. We found the town to be very sparsely populated. When we reached Kargil, it was already dark and there was no electricity. Hotel people informed us that there has been no power supply for last 3 days. Some major failure in one of the grids resulted in complete power breakdown in the region. We were now fully dependent on candles. After taking refreshing hot water bath we decided to go out for dinner. A small restaurant, some 100m away from Kargil Continental, was recommend to us by our Hotel staff. I highly recommend the delicious dinner comprising Butter Chicken and Nan to all of you who plan to visit Leh via Kargil. The owner (whose name I forgot..), is a well known singer of that area.It was around 11 O’clock when we decided to retire to bed. Yet another strenuous journey was awaited next day. Not only we had to cross "Namika la" and "Fotu la top" – which was at the height of 13,479 feet and was the highest point on Srinagar - Leh road, we had to traverse narrowing gorges before reaching Leh – our destination and dreamland. Close