The second day on the trip was the most relaxed one of the forthcoming times. I slept well & woke up to the bright sunshine gazing upon the curious city. The Stok Kangri summit peeking from behind the haze looked spellbinding & for sure was enough for some morning motivation. Shankar prepared a delightful coffee that did the trick. I was up & running in no time, ready to wander in-n-around the humble streets.
I received a call from our trek lead, Sandeep Kumar from Bikat Adventures that they have arrived in Leh & were on their way to the guest house booked by the company. I checked out, inquired about the new place & started walking with my rucksack loaded on back. It was fun strolling with a pack in the local streets, with everyone giving you a friendly respectful gaze. I greeted multiple folks on the go with a smile-assisted “Juley” & reached the guest house within half an hour.
It was the first time I met Sandeep, the young & energetic trek lead. It was wonderful him & the rest of the pack. We mingled, shared our stories that led us there & our aspirations from the expedition. With the like-minded folks around me, I felt cared for & most importantly, at home. We enjoyed a lovely breakfast. I settled in & took a brief nap while some from the group headed for Khardung La sightseeing & others went into the city market. I stayed back to absorb the Himalayan air a little more before heading out for a stroll on a rented mountain bike.
Gotta say, riding a bike on those mildly crowded yet entrancing roads was one of the best experiences so far. One could find hawkers by the roadside selling Himalayan apple & other exotic fruits, and then there were countless Chinese & Tibetan cuisine stalls. The sun was bearable for quite a while & I wandered around the airport road for some time. But by late noon, it started to get a little unpleasant, for I was wearing two layers of clothing given the chilly morning air. I settled in at a nearby café & gulped down a glass of fresh juice while I removed the woolen fleece I was hauling over a regular cotton tee.
I had a light lunch at 3 pm & returned the bike to the vendor at the market. From then on, I was on-foot, clicking my way through the busy roads on that warm Himalayan afternoon. I climbed up the hill to reach the Leh Palace, perched flamboyantly on top of the ridge. One has to negotiate innumerable turns & stairs to reach the gateway to the palace. Once there, the splendid wings of the solitude open up. The palace eyes at the city from quite a height & one gets a clear view of the crowded construction of the Leh household.
Built by Tsewang Namgyal and completed by Sengge Namgyal, both from the Namgyal dynasty of Ladakh, the Leh Palace was the former Royal Palace of Ladakh. The sorted attraction boasts the medieval Tibetan architecture & is a popular hit among tourists. The view from the numerous balconies is overly picturesque. Towards the back, the self-effacing view of Shanti Stupa resting peacefully on the hilltop makes up for a tranquil scenery. And out front, the 270-degree view of the valley encompasses the true beauty of the Leh region. Here are some clicks from the majestic building:
Needless to mention, my true reason for this trip, the mighty Stok Kangri summit was clearly visible in the distance from there.
I stayed there till the sun started dipping behind the dark mountain peaks upfront. It was 5:30 pm & they started vacating the place. I bought some essentials like protein bars, sunscreen & a couple of Red Bull cans for the journey ahead. It was the last time we’d get to shop for the trek, since the next morning, we were heading for the extensive walk up the mountain. We got together for the last supper & turned in pretty early to be ready for the mammoth of a journey ahead.
Getting up close with the city life had a humbling effect on my senses. Out there in the middle of nowhere, the Ladakhi locals have a fulfilling lifestyle. Though the city receives an enormous number of obnoxious tourists every year, the age-old memories of the secluded valley still walk the soil. And if you’d like to experience this first-hand, I suggest you visit the old-fashioned valley & see for yourself.