Friday, June 16, 2017

Leh-d Back

Come summer holidays, our travel itch needed to be scratched. And so, we decided to scratch a couple of things off our bucket list.
Sticking to our resolution of exploring our wonderful country, we've decided to head on a bit further north - all the way into the Himalayan Range. Destination: Leh!

The flight into Leh from Delhi was completely breathtaking.
view from the plane
Starting with teasing glimpses of the mountain tops peeking out from under the clouds to gradually witnessing an entire vast mountainscape below us. Leh airport has to be one of the most picturesque in the world.

Leh itself, is a sleepy little town, of cheerful people (and long-staying foreign tourists) and bustling with military personnel. We were fortunate enough to stay at a guest house whose owner is a Padma Shree - Sonam Wangyal - he was the youngest person to climb up the Everest at that time.
Sonam Wangyal
He was also part of the Indian paramilitary forces, and he has some interesting stories to share.  I'm hoping to come back some day and do a book about him that's going to be a guaranteed bestseller.
The first day, we were advised to do absolutely nothing, so that's precisely what we did - until lunch, that is. Lunch was at this lovely little place up the road from ours - it served fairly decent food , had a fabulous view and had this little guy hanging about to boot.
A bit of hail wasn't going to bother our little fella

That evening, we decided to do some of the local sites: the Leh palace, the Namgyal Tsemo monastery and the Shanti Stupa.

Shanti Stupa

Leh Palace, overlooking the city

inside the Palace. Build to keep the glare out.
All the places were immensely beautiful, although the altitude and the wind chill did get to the kids who'd started moaning by then.

Tsemo Monastery
Dinner was at the main marketplace in Leh, which oddly seems to have a lot more Punjabi food joints than 'local cuisine'. Still, we were in no position to go hunting for anything local; stalls here seem to shut by 8pm. 

The next day, after some great Kahwa and breakfast, we set off to see the place where the Zanskar met the Indus. en route, we stopped at a Gurudwara - the Gurudwara Pathar Shahib, which had an interesting legend of Nanak and his encounter with a local demon. We also stopped at Magnetic Hill (we had to - Child 1 was looking forward to this throughout the trip), and of course, all three excited souls were thrilled to bits as the car rolled up a seemingly uphill stretch of road with the engines off.

I'm not sure you can see it, but we have 3 very excited people in the car
Nimmu Valley - that's where you can see the confluence of the Zanskar and Indus is such a beautiful place, and of course, a great place to have 'Maggi'. (The Maggi will be a recurring theme throughout our trip. I'm amazed by its ubiquitous nature, this high up the hills)

That little cafe, waaay down there - that's our Maggi pit-stop
We thought we'd be early for rafting, but it had already started. And we were sorely tempted. But the fact that the water was still freezing cold, we had NO change of clothes and that it would take the better part of the day dissuaded us.
Our return to Leh was via the Phyang monastery. The monastery was shut, but the Bhikku there was kind enough to unlock it for us, long enough for us to pay our respects. The Baa- lamb had the sudden urge to meditate every time we visited any of these Gompas.

An Altar at Phyang
There were 15th Century murals adorning the walls. the details and colours in those paintings are simply spell binding. We also stopped at the Hall of Fame - a place to honour the soldiers who've been martyred the our various conflicts. Naturally. child 1 and the Husband gravitated towards the guns - the bigger the better.
I was a bit more interested in the photographs of the Ladakhi region and its history. The afternoon was spent in the main marketplace in Leh. I had my heart set on picking up a Thanka- style painting. We finally spotted one that was both beautiful and intricate. Happy with my purchase, we finally spotted one that was beautiful and intricate. Happy with my purchase, we made our way up to a local joint (after much asking around) and had delicious momos (the kids, of course had fried rice and chowmein - clearly haka chinese is all-prevalent in India. That, and Hindi soaps). We decided to take it easy that evening - after all, we had a long journey ahead of us the following day.

we couldn't take our eyes off the ever changing landscape...

We left Leh the next morning and headed to Nubra. The journey to Hunder - in the Nubra valley takes us via Kardung- La - the World's highest motorable road, at 18,300 ft. We stop at South Pullu, then Kardung-La and then North Pullu over at the other side of the pass. To call the journey from South Pullu to North Pullu a road is a bit of an exaggeration. It was more of rock and dirt, bound together in places with snow and slush in places. With a smattering of free flowing streams on occasion. All the while, surrounded by about 6-8 feet of ice on one side and a sheer drop on the other side (especially from Kardung-la to Pullu). However Kardung-La was more of a tourist attraction people were going slightly nuts clicking pictures queuing up to use the toilets (a wholly avoidable experience), checking out Rinchen Cafe to have black tea and of course, Maggi and souvenir shops run by the Armed Forces.
The children by this time had started their whine about the cold, so it was time for us to leave. We wouldn't have stayed on top for more than 15 minutes, but it was enough for Child 2 to begin throwing up in earnest. The horrendous roads did not help and the poor thing was totally out of it. By the time we reached our resort in Hunder, I think everyone had quite enough of the journey for the day.

The Himalayan Eco Tourist resort is a lovely self contained property which had many private cottages scattered around the area.

our co-hosts at the eco-resort
When we arrived, they had already prepared the field and sown the seeds for their vegetable garden. They also had a fair bit of Apricot and Apple trees around the place.
I settled down, sunning myself, while hubby took a short nap to recover from the altitude sickness. Towards evening, we headed out again to the dunes, where a camel safari was the order of the day.
Child 2 now considers herself quite an expert camel rider, having ridden a Dromedary at the age of 3 in Jaisalmer and now a Bactrian at 6. Mine was a gentle soul who went by the name of 'Godma' and sported hair that reminded child 1 of his own hairstyle. (think messy hair standing up at all odd angles, which probably hasn't seen a comb in 6 months).
Gentle Godma
The view was fabulous, needless to say, and I quite fell in love with these furry, gentle desert ships. To find such diverse geography in a small area is both surprising and stunning.

We woke up the next morning to the sound of birds chirping, just in time to watch the sun breaking out behind the mountain. I'm a self-confessed beach person, but out here, at this time of the day, I can completely understand why the Mountains call to the Baa-Lamb.

the view in the mornings
We continued on our journey after breakfast, to Diskit Monastery. The monastery is placed in a staggered manner over one slope while the neighbouring hill has a massive statue of the Buddha.

The priests at the monastery were lovely. They offered us some tea and allowed us to view some of the antiques from the monastery -  some of which have been there for over 500 years. The entire monastery and the Buddha were undergoing a but of sprucing in preparation for the visit from the Dalai Lama in the coming months,

sprucing up for a visit from the Dalai Lama

Just before we left Nubra valley, All three of my fellow travellers decided they wanted to do a spot of quad -biking across sand dunes. *sigh* I've given birth to little Adrenaline Junkies.
Desert run, party of 3

this chap decided to give me company as I waited for the return of the Motorheards.
The road back to Khardung-La wasn't as uneventful as the previous day. The state of the roads meant that despite snow tyres, a few cars just couldn't make it over - they kept getting stuck in the mud. This led to a series of issues - an accident, traffic hold-ups and rescue missions.
an accident enroute - clearly everyone had an opinion

There's always time for a quick chat

yup. about six feet of melting snow to add to our woes
always time for a bit of rock balancing

we stopped off to enjoy the view. And cool off in the river
The frequent stops were great for my motion sickness, but clearly. not-so-great for the husband's altitude sickness. By the time we reached Khardung-La, he could barely stand. He was dizzy, and breathless and we had to scoot in a hurry.

He was still quite poorly by the time we'd arrive back in Leh, and we made the decision to scrap plans for Pangong-Tso the following day. (similar roads, through Chang-La which was again at a higher altitude meant it would be foolish to try)
Given that we had a a couple of additional days in Leh, we decided to do a couple of local sites more:
Hemis and Thikese monastery, and the Druk Padma Karpo school.

Hemis monsatery
The trio made it up to Hemis, which has quite a a collection in it's museum, but firmly refused to make the climb at Thikse.

 I did, however, thoroughly enjoying myself, soaking in the silence, and the view from up high. We have Shey Palace a miss - This would otherwise involve further convincing that this was a lovely place and listening to more griping that we clearly had no idea what palaces were,  and these were definitely not it. Patience was in shorter supply than usual that day.

The Druk Padma Karpo School (or the Dragon White Lotus school) is popularly known as 'Rancho's School. no prizes for guessing why, or what popular movie character it was named for. I was more keen on the building style- it was designed by Arup architects to be sustainable, with many features that make it eco- friendly, and responsive to the environment.

My little photo bomber with the 'wall'
Despite Ladakh having extreme climates, the classrooms do not require heating, using thermal mass wall to store heat. The use of solar panels for their electric supply, reduction of water usage (through dry bio-toilets, a gravity fed water system), and after the damage to the building during the cloudburst in 2010, their response through seismically resistant frames, all make for a very impressive school.
Our stay in Leh came to an end all to soon and it was time for us to head out to the Srinagar valley. But we left with our hearts full of gratitude for the kindness of its people and a desire to be more like them - thankful and cheerful despite having very little.
I think they're in love.

the guy with a heart-shaped nose who stole our Dils.