Ladakh – Crown of India                                        by Jayant Doshi        Sixteen of our group had planned a v...
lake is over one hundred kilometres long, and most of it is in Tibet. Because of its strategic                            ...
after breakfast. Our camel ride was cancelled as there were no camels. We walked up the hill to themonastery at top of the...
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Ladakh crown of india

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Ladakh crown of india

  1. 1. Ladakh – Crown of India by Jayant Doshi Sixteen of our group had planned a visit to Ladakh, the northern corner of India. Ladakh isformed in the Himalayan mountain region, and the whole area is at least ten thousand or more feet above sea level. Ladakh is part of the State of Jammu and Kashmir. Being on the border of Tibet, it is of great strategic importance. The population is 70 % Buddhist, with a substantial Muslim presence. We left Manali on 10th September after breakfast. We had been told that the road to Leh, the main city of Ladakh was closed due to heavy snow fall. In the beginning we encountered lot of traffic, and saw some cars turning back, and we assumed that we might be doing the same soon. However, the road was open. Traffic cleared – and the traffic was caused due to a narrow road. It was a long day with lots of rain, snow, winding uphill roads and tricky conditions for driving. Rohtang pass was totally covered in snow, and our drivers advised that even stopping therewould be dangerous as our cars can get stuck in the snow. We missed the opportunity to see theplace where the river is coming out of the mountain, and a temple has been built in that place. At5.00 p.m. we were stopped at a check point and advised that going ahead was not permitted due totricky and treacherous road conditions, and possibility of snow and black ice on the roads. I did notfeel that spending a night there would be welcomed by others, and spending the night there wouldmean delay of a day to reach Leh. I had to do some quick thinking and came up with a solid excusewhich the guards at that point could not reject, and we were allowed through the check post. We reached the camp site at 9.15 for our night stop. The extra large tents were moreluxurious then normal tents. They had two single beds, sink and a proper toilet with water. But itwas freezing cold outside, and the winds were so strong that the tent kept fluttering and makingnoise with those winds. Many skipped dinner and went straight to sleep. With my warm sleepingbag I was fine but others complained of severe cold. Breakfast talk centred on experience of eachperson. Later we found out that a few days earlier the temperature reached minus twenty, and afew porters died in that cold. We left at eight in the morning soon after taking our breakfast. The drive was all uphill now,and soon after we entered Ladakh. The landscape changed. Greenery disappeared, and we couldnow see mountains and valleys. Some mountains had rocks in interesting shapes as if a sculptorhad carved them out – and some mountains had smooth surface with different colours on theirslopes. Some rocks were reddish in colour while some were greenish in colour. Soon we came onflat ground when the cars took speed, and we were in Leh by six in the evening. Leh is a smalltown. We walked down the market to get a feel of the place. Next day we woke up at ease. We went inthe bazaar to see the town. Later our sightseeingincluded visit to two ancient palaces. The palacesbuilt by the kings included some exhibitions. Thearchitecture was influenced by Tibetan andBuddhist culture. The palaces, built mostly oftimber, are in pretty bad state though attempts arebeing made to renovate and preserve these oldstructures. Then we visited the Shanti Stupa, andwalked down the steps and back to the hotel. As we had a long drive to Pongong Lake, weleft at eight in the morning. The drive through thevalleys and mountains was very interesting thoughvery long. The terrain along the route was uniqueand breath-taking. We reached the lake by lunchtime. We crossed one of the highest mountainpasses, Chung La, at 5350 metres (17300 feet). The lake was breath taking – we could see variouscolours in the bright sun - from dark royal blue, to medium blue, light blue and turquoise. The
  2. 2. lake is over one hundred kilometres long, and most of it is in Tibet. Because of its strategic importance, there are military bases around the lake, and it is prohibited to go much further down the lake. Some of us walked along the shore of the lake as far as we could go. We were then taken to Tangtse village and put up in a lovely family run hotel. After settling down, we walked to a nearby stream. I took the opportunity to teach bridge to some of the enthusiasts. We sat in the Tibetan style dining room on the floor, and enjoyed home cooked meal. This turned out to be an enjoyable evening with jokes and singing. Birthday of one of the group was celebrated by cutting some cakes, and popping the cork of a champagne bottle. We all had good sleep in nice warm beds, amidst nice family atmosphere in the hotel. After amorning walk and breakfast, we left at 9.00. We again stopped at Chung La pass where we gotwelcome cups of tea to warm us up in that very cold weather. We had a chance to talk to some ofthe soldiers. When we asked them if they do not feel cold staying at this height, one replied thatafter spending winter at 24000 feet (another pass and base) their bodies had got used to these. On our way back we visited the historical Hemis Monastery – named after the monk whoestablished this monastery. While his statute occupied the place of honour, there was no statute ofBuddha in the whole monastery. But the next monastery – Thyskes Monastery – had a huge statuteof Buddha. Our visit to the old and dilapidated palace was our next stop. While attempts are beingmade to restore the structure, and to maintain it, the original structure does not speak much of itsglamour. It had a library with some ancient scriptures. Ladakh had a festival for the first two weeksof September, and we decided to take advantage of the same on the penultimate night. We were toldthat the festival would start at 7.30 and we went accordingly, but then realised that it had startedat 7.00. We had an opportunity to listen and view some cultural performances for 45 minutes. Thedresses were colourful, and the dance performances were excellent but we could not hear the musictoo well. We left for morning walk at 6.45, and unintentionally ended up small alley ways of Lehwhich gave an insight of real life in the city. The old buildings, the narrow alleys and the life of thepeople along the way gave us a real feel of the place. Our two hour walk took us to most unexpectedplaces. We left soon after ten, and we reached Khardong Top, the highest pass in the world whichcan be crossed by motorised vehicles. The pass stands at 18380 feet. During our drive through Ladakh we saw hundreds of military vehicles, and met lots ofsoldiers. The high security status of this area requires this. We were filled with pride that our bravesoldiers were facing such difficult conditions, and protecting our borders in such adverse weatherconditions. The bitter cold winds at Khardong Top were unbearable for us – how it would be inwinter in the same place? And I would not even try to imagine the conditions at 24000 feet wheretemperatures could drop to minus fifty in winter. We were told that many troops spend as much astwo years at these heights. Our destination was Nebula valley and itwas a sight to remember. The rivers had lightturquoise waters. Mountains surrounding thevalley had rock fascinating rock structures,sand surfaces with different colours and beautythat is difficult to put into words. We reachedthe hotel at around 4.00 and soon after wewalked up a treacherous slope to a monasteryon the hill top. The monastery was quiteimpressive. Diksit, the small village, is animportant tourist destination. We walked up tothe market. We had planned a morning walk, but Imissed the other group. I walked to the market,while others walked to the huge Buddha statuewhere they were served with tea. We left hotel
  3. 3. after breakfast. Our camel ride was cancelled as there were no camels. We walked up the hill to themonastery at top of the hill. We walked along the sand dunes back to our hotel. After lunch wedrove back to Leh. There was snow and slush on the roads, and the driving was treacherous andslow. We reached Leh before dusk. Rafting was planned for the next day. After my experience in Nepal, I was looking forwards tothis. But seeing very calm waters in the river, I changed my mind. Ten members of the group stilldecided to go. While the river was calm, the group enjoyed the experience. I felt that going on theraft would be no more then rowing in a river, and instead I walked along the bank. Later we visiteda model village called Alchi. The village has attraction for tourists. We visited an 11 th century Monastery with some lovely paintings, many of them still in pretty good condition. In the evening we had the best meal of the whole trip. The final day ended with over three hours of trekking. At first it was steep climb but the mountain and then walking along the valley. Our trekking habit and practice were forgotten, and many found this trek difficult. On the way back we stopped at a Gurdwara. It was interesting to note that there was Gurdwara in a city which hardly had any Sikh population. However we found out that Guru Nanak had visited this place, and the Gurdwarawas built on that basis. Next morning we flew to Delhi. Ladakh was out of bounds to civilians until recently. Now it has become a popular holidaydestination. But the body needs to get used to these heights before a trip can be undertaken. Wewere at these heights for days, so our bodies had got used to it. But for any one flying straight fromlow heights to these heights, will need to spend a few days in Leh before undertaking any sightseeing.(Comments to jubhai@aol.com.... To read other reports of past trips and adventures visit my websitewww.jayantdoshi.webs.com)

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