I begin this post with 2 assumptions:
1. You’ve read the post prior to this that will give you the background on my incredible trip to Ladakh
2. You’ve checked the yatra package that we opted for so that I do not need to detail the day-wise features of our sightseeing and schedule
On with the travelogue!
Last minute shopping and rushed packing was how we lived through the 2 days before our vacation was about to start. We’d been advised to keep warm woollens and good footwear given the unpredictable terrain and climate up north. And of course, my friends and colleagues had warned me to carry a good camera so that they could see Ladakh from my eyes… Fortunately for all of us, our Sony Cybershot cam did a stunning job in the hands of your truly :-)
(If you’re in my FB friends’ list, you should be able to access those snaps in the albums titled Alluring Ladakh and Breathtaking Ladakh. If not, drop me a line and I’ll have them made visible to you for a bit.)
Our bus ride from Pune to Mumbai was uneventful as was our flight from Mumbai to Delhi. Having started our journey from Pune at 9 am on Friday, I and mum had been travelling for roughly 10 hours by the time we got in bed at Delhi.
While Hotel Lohmod looks impressive on the website, the actual building is quite dingy and sinister. The only saving grace was they serve meals and offer free airport transfers. Anyway, we were too excited to be critical and demanding, not to mention tired. Besides, our flight was at 5 so we had to check out by 3 am.
All the exhaustion wore off when we caught our first glimpse of the snowy Himalayas. Milky-white mountains stretching as far as the eye could behold; the aerial view was a treat for the eyes. A spectacular sunrise, replete with pink clouds and virgin hills - my vocab not surprisingly failed me. Paradise sounds like a cliché but there is truly no other term that does complete justice to this abso-flipping-lutely mindboggling sight! The hues at sunrise and sunset, vibrant purples, bright oranges and fiery reds, mesmerising lavender and intense yellows. Like jewels in a priceless tiara, each so unlike the other…
You see swarms of frothy clouds walk and skip by in a straight line like orderly school-kids, and you watch some bigger clouds excitedly bustling past like rowdy teenagers about to meet their first crush. There are foamy mists above the skies engaging in their own games paying little heed to whether its noon or sundown. It’s dazzling, unforgettable and inexorable. All of us aboard the flight hastened to store these visions in our minds and lenses, we just couldn’t get enough… Such are the enthralling creations of the Almighty!
Landing in Leh is a feat of exceptional talent and bravado. To find your way amidst the mountains and manoeuvre a massive airplane safely to the lone runway, avoiding the sides of the hillocks and peaks and the gravitational pull of some magnetic ranges that could cause fatality… Hats off to the pilots and kudos to the engineers who built the airport. A job very well done!
Given that Leh is still not a very popular tourist destination yet at least for Indians, there are only 3 flights that operate between Leh and Delhi, all before noon. The airport is tiny (with only one luggage conveyor belt) and there are just a handful of tourists, mostly foreigners and locals.
I always wonder why Indians are so obsessed with going abroad (even to places as lame as Singapore) rather than exploring their own country that houses every possible environmental marvel. However, it is a boon in disguise, as it leaves the countryside clean and not very crowded. Only those that are highly enthusiastic or daring visit Ladakh, the latter often on bikes or jeeps from the Manali route, and the former, like us, fly in from the capital.
The entire region is sparsely populated, and civilization is concentrated in villages built in the valleys. This is markedly unlike Himachal where the mountainside is strewn with houses, as the mighty rivers flow in the ravines. Apples and apricots hang freely on wayside trees, and there are roses and colourful flowers everywhere.
Leh is the bigger district in Ladakh, (the other is Kargil to the northwest), has a decent market and other amenities. Electricity and other resources are not as much as concern here as in the other smaller hamlets. The most important thing you need to remember when you land is that it’s the easiest thing for a visitor to fall ill in Ladakh.
Exactly why relaxation and acclimatization is prescribed by every tour operator on the first day. Acute mountain sickness, as it is called, grips one and all in Ladakh. Symptoms include headache, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, nose-bleeds and the like. Mine seemed to be a ravenous appetite; I just couldn’t get enough to eat for 2 days! Also, considering you can get frostbite and sunburn at the same time here, you have to be extra careful and dress in layers, and of course, drink ample water.
We were booked at the Poplar eco-resort in an area called Shenam which is very close to the market, precisely on Fort Road. Understandably, the hotel gets its name from the towering poplars that adorn the campus. I wonder why the abundant apricot and apple trees were denied lending their name to the resort, considering the sweet, juicy fruits that they regale guests with! Or the numerous black-billed magpies that we saw any time of the day or night…
The cottages were modest and homely, the food appeared good (coz I was enormously hungry) and everything looked marvellous. They say beauty lies in the eye of the beholder. To me, everything was beautiful. Even the hammock that I almost tumbled out of while reading Secrets of the Nagas and ended up taking an unplanned siesta in, in the cosy afternoon warmth. The fluttering wings of a tiny bird broke my nap and I eased my aching joints out of the lovely pseudo-bed. It was quiet. And delightful. A great start to a terrific vacation!
Resources are meagre in this part of the country (as in most others). Meals comprise mostly a simple soup, potato and paneer, with dal and roti/bread. What sells here the most is Maggi and black tea. Hot water’s a luxury and there are fixed hours at a hotel where you can take a hot shower. Even drinking water is scarce; tour operators clearly state that they would ration one bottle of water per traveller and more can be bought. Of course, their suggestion is to drink lots of water in order to keep the body hydrated. So, we purchased cartons of mineral water bottles between the 4 of us – a young couple from Delhi were our co-travellers in this elegant land.
Mum and I hadn’t slept in two nights and hadn’t bathed in 24 hours, we desperately needed time out in order to prepare ourselves to enjoy our stay and travel in Ladakh. After popping in at Shanti Stupa that was on our itinerary for Day 1, we chose to postpone our visit to the market and retired to bed after a quick dinner.
Shanti Stupa, by the way, is a very pretty structure, with symbols related to Buddhism carved/painted on its walls. The scenery from this elevation is picturesque and the sunset (that we missed coz it was a little cloudy and we were a little late thanks to our driver Stanzing) is supposed to be outstanding.
Most people would think that spending 6 nights in Leh as we did is a waste of time. However, my perspective on this was that we needed to rejuvenate after the long drives for sightseeing and not-so-comfortable night stays at other simple hotels outside Leh. So, Leh became home that we returned to and began afresh from. Thus, sightseeing in and around Leh was also spread across 5 days, else 2 days is more than sufficient to explore this town.
What did we see in Leh over 5 days?
Come back in a bit for the answer!!