What does one write about a place that has been documented to the smallest of details? And yet, if you cannot pen down your thoughts after you have overcome the hangover of getting Lehd, as it is popularly spoken of in the world of travelers, then you do need a crash course in self expression.
Honestly, getting over the hangover of a 12 year old whiskey could prove relatively easy when compared to getting rid of the hangover of Ladakh. Not that I know the effects of an alcohol hangover, but I am pretty certain that Ladakh leaves you intoxicated for much longer than the most potent of drugs available on the planet. The difference between the visit to a pub where you could get equally intoxicated and a visit to Ladakh, is that you come out of the pub, inebriated, but whole, while you leave a part of you behind at Ladakh when you reluctantly drag yourself into the return flight at Kushok Bakula Rimpochee Airport. It would be surprising if you don’t make a plan to go back to get what you left behind. And the catch is that, every time you Get Lehd, you will leave a part of yourself there.
For a city dweller used to grey skies that turn a sorry tinge of blue in the best of climatic conditions, the sight of the azure blue sky dotted with wisps of white, is the first and primary reason of breathlessness when he lands at Leh. The altitude, the lack of oxygen at 11000 feet above sea level are all excuses that can easily be overcome with a little planning and a bottle of oxygen that’s readily available at the Arrivals of the airport. What one isn’t prepared for is the breathlessness you experience just looking at the heaven that you find yourself in.
If you are looking for a travelogue on Ladakh, you can stop reading right away. Information on what to do in Ladakh is available at a single click on the World Wide Web. What you are reading here, is an account of the hangover the author is still reeling under. Adhering to well meant advice, doing absolutely nothing on the day you land is exactly what I did. But the sun simply doesn’t let your heart actually settle down. The mesmerising vistas of light and shadow, that the sun creates in conjunction with the clouds, leave you with no option but to stare at the Namgyal Tsemo Gompa in the distance, while your coffee goes cold.
Shrugging off your inertia, you trudge or you taxi to slightly more elevated locations in Leh, and you are met with views of a small city that finds its first mention in the annals of history only in the 9th Century. From the Dardis in the 9th century to fiercely patriotic Ladakhis, the city has not only seen growth in infrastructure, but also in the diversity of clans making Leh their home. With time, came progress, and the Leh ruled by the Namgyals today flourishes as a Union Territory of the Republic of India.
The Ladakhis are simple folk who actually have taken heed of the quote “Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated”. For the children of Ladakh, a floor of cement bricks mad e by their parents is as good as a well cushioned bed.
And a rudimentary handcart used for transferring goods, can be easily converted into a vehicle meant for a joyride for their siblings.
For those with an inclination towards piety, a visit to Gurudwara Patthar Sahib is a must. There being two reasons to it. One, notwithstanding whether you are pious or not, the experience you get as you sit crosslegged and have simple but tasty food at the langar, is as humbling as it can possibly get. Two, it is said that an sincere heartfelt wish is granted without you having to ask for it twice. Please note that you can keep your cameras in your vehicle while you visit the Gurudwara. As someone wise has said "You dont have to lug a camera everywhere to feel and soak in the experiences."
As you move further away from modern civilization, towards the more popular locations of this heaven, keep your eyes peeled. The modern day tourist may consider it as a high point of the trip to take a selfie at exactly the same location where SRK gyrated to some forgettable number from his movie. But what if you found, what the ancient Greeks referred to as the gold digging ant, staring at you whilst standing on its hind legs? Would you really want to trade SRK with him?
The Himalayan Marmot is a hibernator, and hence you could consider yourself lucky to sight him. SRK is available at Jannat all around the year.
When you reach Pangong Tso (altitude 14,270 feet above MSL), don’t rush to the shores just to get yourself clicked on the yellow contraption that Kareena made famous. Just so that you know….She never drove down from Leh to Pangong on that scooter.
So, instead of putting on the same dress that Kareena sported (this goes for the modern day female tourists) and getting frozen in a phone or a DSLR, try and soak in the unending beauty of the lake. Listen to the soft lapping of the waves on its shores. I am pretty certain you will end up feeling like a Star.
TS Eliot has famously quoted “The journey, not the arrival matters”. Don’t sleep in your vehicle when your travel from one place to another in Ladakh. If you really want a break from the bumper to bumper traffic of the cities, travel at your own pace. Find a road devoid of anything else other than you. Sit in the middle of the road and listen to the silence. The cities can never offer your this joy in their package.
When your are heading towards the “Cold Desert”, be inspired to do some reflection, whilst admiring the most beautiful reflections that Mother Nature has to offer. Maybe that is where you will start losing parts of yourself to Ladakh. And most of those parts will be baggage that you really don’t need to carry.
Be awestruck when you find yourself shivering in the cold in a desert, long before the sun has set. Instead of giving the double humped camels of Nubra, an opportunity to experience your fast food induced weight, trudge in the sands of the Cold Desert and admire the snow clad peaks that smile down upon you. Money can take you to all corners of the planet, but the sight of snow covered peaks in the neighbourhood of a desert, is not something that should be missed at the cost of a selfie during a camel ride.
What Ladakh also offers, is numerous bridges during your journey. Think of those bridges as means of travelling from one state of mind to another. This trip, undoubtedly is finite. But the travel from a mindset of a 9-to-6 chair-bound employee to a happy traveler whose horizons know no bounds, can definitely be achieved on these bridges. And by horizons, I don’t mean geographical ones. Expand your mind, and learn everything that Ladakh has on offer as a crash course in living.
Ladakh is a sojourn – a short stay at a place that is not your own home. Ali, a fruit gatherer in the village of Tyakshi, looked at the group of bikers busy in capturing selfies and remarked “Are they going to waste all their time in their cell phones? Doesn’t anyone want to have a glass of pure apricot juice??"
What Ali doesn’t know, or is fortunate enough not to know, that the Internet has made us prisoners who supposedly roam as free citizens to the most beautiful locales on the planet, and yet are never completely free.
If you are not a big fan of inking your body, Ladakh will etch the word Fernweh on your heart even if you don’t get it tattooed on your body.
As your plane, finally taxies out of Leh Airport, the massive Stok Kangri borrows a quote from Arnold Schwarzenegger, albeit with a slight twist. It says to you “You will be back."