The pristine waters flowing in the rivers and streams, the large expanses of emptiness surrounded by mighty bare mountains and the mystic blue sky above; all blend perfectly together and form a heaven called Leh – Ladakh!
Om Mani Padme Hum, the Buddhist mantra adrift with the flow of the wind, the aura surrounding you all over Leh. Asking around what the meaning is of the sloka would be in vain for it is inexplicable. Besides the colourful panel of rectangular prayer flags representing five elements to the enchanted prayer wheels, engraved rocks, this mantra keeps following you, or should I say travel along with you.The place is full of chortens and large prayer wheels at every corner which gives the feel of the rich Buddhist culture and its glorious tradition carried through the ages. All these, in the midst of the magnificent Himalayas appear and give a sense of a portrayal of a great painter’s imagination on his imaginary canvas. After being in such heart capturing scenic beauty, the language spoken by the natives of the place soothes your ear. For a while I stood still to realize whether it is because of the place from where I had come. The conversation which lands in your ear, intentionally or unintentionally, adds as nectar to the whole thing. The greetings of the natives with the word julley, wearing a smile comforts you to the core.
Calling a visit to this place a pilgrimage would not be wrong. The place is a heaven for every person who loves traveling and one will not be tired capturing every scene that comes across hundreds of times. And still finding the next moment more worth capturing with another scene in the camera besides the heart. Thanks to the new technology with digital cameras. Unlike the roll cameras of yesteryears, we can take in numerous pictures of a cloud creating a shade, touching the swirling trees on the mountains, the fluttering flags against the unforgiving wind, etc. One need not have to worry about setting a perfect frame. Whatever you see would be the perfect frame in itself. As soon as the summer season sets in, and as the connectivity regains to function, people rush there from all parts of the world. Do not be surprised when you come across people with various ideas of fun, adventure, exploration, looking for serenity. This is the perfect destination which makes this place a different world altogether. Many prefer to reach the place by air while many think it is worth a ride to reach these mountains on bikes and start their journey from either Manali or Srinagar to make it a trip to be cherished forever.
I have always wanted to visit this place about which I have heard about from thousands of people who had visited it. My urge to explore by myself what this place is all about grew stronger day by day. The question which usually came on my mind was “is it like any other tourist destination or more than that?” So, the planning started with some of my friends. However, I had to visit this place alone as none of my friends could make it to this trip. But, fortunately, I found a companion through a blog who was also going alone and hence, we paired up for this trip. What happened next was two single girls having the fun of their lives. We chose to fly to this dream land, as it was the only practical option left with us, as we did not know how to ride a bike. A look from the air-bus and you will see the mighty bare mountains below giving you their first glimpses of splendour and charm and making you feel more humble. You are simply mesmerized by the way they stand high and marking a magnificent landscape on this earth. This must be one of the most beautiful and challenging aircraft landings in the world.
Day 1: The Day to Acclimatize After landing on this wonderful piece of the earth, I was surprised to see that it was different, different from the other tourist destinations, away from the hustle bustle of any regular tourist destinations. With innumerable monasteries lined and the colorful prayer flags in the town flapping in the strong wind. All these give a tranquil sense. Every moment you would feel like running upto the majestic mountains and hug them. High altitude makes acclimatization extremely important before beginning our quest. We took a full day rest after reaching Leh in the morning at hotel Leh Chen at Chagspa Road. Since this hotel was bit far from the market, we got to experience and witness the quiet nice view from its windows. We lay still and watch the colours of the landscape changing its colour from morning to evening. Hence gifted ourselves a serene day. Later in the evening, we visited the local market flooded with stalls and shops selling artefacts, jewellery and restaurants. This happens to be the hang-out place for the tourist. May not be wrong in saying that it is the only place where we could see crowd. The restaurants were of a range of German bakeries, Tibetan and Indian cuisine. Placing your order when hunger pangs starts would not be advisable in these restaurants as cooking takes more time due to the altitude. The Leh market is full antiques and pashmina shawls. Don’t forget to try producing a sound from the Tibetan singing bowls available in the markets which produce a queer monotone and is used for meditation.
Day 2: Leh – Hemis – Thiksey – Shey Palace – Leh Enjoying the serenity of the place from the hotel far away from the maddening of the market area, commuting up and down to the market was not very practical. Hence, we decided to shift to a hotel nearby after we had acclimatized to Leh’s high altitude. Later, we shifted to Hotel Antelope which is just a walk away from the market. This also was a nice hotel and booked myself in a room which gave a view of the Leh Palace! This made our commuting to market for our meals and try the various stuff available in the place. As our plan was to visit Nubra valley and Pangong Lake, we gave the passport photocopies to the travel agent to get my Inner Line Permits prepared.