"Traveling – It leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller."
We are blessed to be born in a country that is geographically and culturally diverse. Right from the mountains & valleys to deep jungle to water bodies to culinary choices to different festivities; you name it, and we have it in India.
Even as a toddler I completely adored been surrounded by hills and mountains. So, last summer I jumped at the opportunity to take a break from my mundane routine in Mumbai and hit for the mountains of Ladakh with my group of friends. Well, the first thought which brought a smile on my face was ‘no network coverage’! Yes, an absolute escape from the digital media and soaking yourself in nature. After all, traveling is all about soaking into the culture, feeling the vibe of a new place, living the life of a local, and keeping the tensions of your daily lives at bay. But yes let me tell you, Ladakh has better roads than many cities and unexpectedly better network coverages, even in a few remote places.
Ladakh is literally cut from the rest of the world for almost half-a-year during winters. The snow makes it impossible to access even the touristy places. The best time to visit the mesmerizing valleys is during the months of May to August. The roads are open from mid- May, for bike, cars and other motorable vehicles. It is recommended that you give yourself at least a two weeks’ time to explore this place. Many tourists opt for taking their cars/bikes from Manali and driving up to Leh or you could also fly, if time is an issue. Since Leh offers lot of staying options and is very well connected, you can make it your base and travel around Ladakh. (To name a few – check out AirBnB, Hotels.com, TripAdvisor, or Hostel World).
We choose to fly and we gave ourselves a days’ time to acclimatize to the higher altitudes. In case you are curious, it is highly recommended to all travellers especially by locals, that you take it slow the day you reach. The oxygen levels are much lower here than our bodies are used to, and you may be prone to mountain sickness. Also, to keep preventive medicines like Diamox handy!
How do you decide what to see? Well, I usually prefer doing extensive research about a place before going on a trip, and book the sightseeing places on reaching the destination. However, I leave it up to you how you plan to go on sightseeing around Leh. There are number of local tours available in the Leh market and booking in advance is not so necessary unless you are going on a long weekend where you can expect more travellers.
I would like to share the must see places, in and around Leh, and also experiences of few places which I personally loved.
You can venture these places around Leh, at your own pace. Either rent a bike or car and go explore. You can get a glimpse of these places and also read up about the rest here.
• Hall of Fame: The Hall of Fame was another experience altogether. It starts with introducing the first time visitors with the history of these mountains, the traditions followed, the cutlery used, the dresses worn, the different tribes and many more wonderful insights on the ways of Ladakhi living. This place is dedicated to our brave Indian Army soldiers who have sacrificed their lives for the greater cause. There is a documentary filmed at the end of the museum visit which will surely bring tears to your eyes. A highly informative tour.
• Gurudwara Pathar Sahib: I have always loved visiting gurudwaras. They have a subtle calming factor. Pathar sahib is no different. Situated amidst serene view it was a perfect halt in your day tour around Leh. No exaggerating but they serve the tastiest masala chai I ever had!
Day trips around Leh:
o Alchi monastery: Alchi is the oldest monastery in the region. One must definitely go there to experience time that hasn't progressed much. It is a standstill timeless monument which can make you forget your daily lives for a while. And yes, you must enjoy apricots here!! There are trees full of fresh apricots or khubani (the ladakhi term for it) right at the entrance. All you need to do is pluck these fresh delectable fruit directly from the tree and enjoy them!
o The list of others includes: Magnetic hill, Sangam river where rafting option is available in the summers, Spituk monastery, and Nimoo.
Camping and hiking around Leh:
Well there are lot of camping and hiking options, after all you are surrounded with valleys and mountains, isn’t it? The ones conquered by me were:
• Pangyong lake: Well, you need to stay at this spectacular location to feel the sheer beauty. Watching sunrise is one the things here! To reach this place you will cross ChangLa pass (3rd highest in the world. Finding a stay is not usually a problem if you are going in the peak season. However, I would recommend you to book a place in advance.
• Nubra valley: This is in the Hunder valley. You will cross Khardungla pass. Also pass by crystal clear streams where we got down to satiate our thirst. Much tastier than packaged drinking water. Trust me on that!
o On the way to Nubra we saw double-hump camels and chased wild rabbits in the shrub forests. There’s white sand dunes everywhere, and trust me the landscape is varied at different points.
o We camped at Nubra ethnic camp which was a lovely experience. The tents were spacious and clean. The staff was very helpful. They had organized a bonfire in the evening and some good music. The dinner spread was also decent.
o If you stay here or visit here, you can choose to visit the Diskit monastery and Maitreye Buddha. We also hiked till the mountains the next morning.
o You will cross the Tanglangla pass on the way to Tsomoriri. The way from Chumma Thangla was closed as the locals suggested that due to the recent floods, some 3 to 4 km road was washed off. There is an alternative path from Pangyong Tso which is accessible to Indian tourists. Non-Indian residents are only allowed with prior permit.
o We stopped for lunch at a small restaurant, Tsephal run by a middle-aged couple in Tsokar.
o We also took pictures at the Tsokar and Tsogaru lake. Tsogaru had shades of turquoise and emerald.
o Tsomoriri was the real find! It is infact a hidden gem as many tourists don’t visit this place. Even though we had a long and tiring journey, after getting a glimpse of the crystal water and turquoise looking beauty we forgot the hardships altogether! We first searched for accommodation here and luckily got the Himalayan ethic camp, which was located right beside a stream in the middle of nowhere. You don’t have to stress on staying options as they have a number of home stay options as well.
o I am not baised! I found this place better than Pangyong Tso. This is in a different level altogether. At night, I did a lot of star gazing. The sky here is so clear that you feel as if you can reach for the stars! Sighted shooting stars and also the milky way. Weather was spine chilling cold but so refreshing. It was like an oxygen boost!
o Before leaving for Karzoo, our hotel in Leh city we finally visited this place in the morning. Sighted some Brahmini ducks, black neck crane, spotted wild horses twice on the way back, saw lots of marmot (very similar to the beavers in Narnia), and beautiful species of birds.
You can have a quick look at the pictures and tell me if this isnt a hidden paradise!
The beautiful Pang Yong lake with its different shades of blue. We could get a glimpse of Brahmini ducks lazying in the warm afternoon.
Leh Market, Tibetan flee market
These are right in the city centre area. Touristy of course! Right from food joints to vegetable market to grocery shops to finding local travel agents, and much more. One stop for all traveller’s need.
3 highest passes of the world!!
Not many of us know India has 3 highest passes in the world. I did hear about Khardungla (the highest motorable road in the world), but the other two I had no idea about. See it to believe it!
The Leh palace: Even though it is an abandoned fortress, it is still impressive to go here once. Don’t expect a lot from this place though.
Shey’s Druk White Lotus school: This school has gained a lot of popularity after the movie ‘3 idiots’, which was shot here. This is a residency school and we walked there on a Sunday, where we say many small kids playing basketball, football and enjoying their weekend.
Likir monastery: Well another peaceful experience. Let the pictures do the talking!
Well! Leh and Ladakh has much more to offer than I can possibly describe here. There’s a lot to learn from the Ladakhi people; where survival is a challenge, which they accept with a smile and still thrive as a community. If you ask me what I gave back to ‘The land of the mystic Lamas’, I would say it’s meagre revenue in terms of tourism. Ladakh has given back much more. It has compelled me to reflect on myself, on the materialistic virtues we run behind, the whims and fancies of the city lives.
I have found so much peace on visiting the monasteries, have seen the faith in the prayers of the locals even the remotest villages and vast stretches of barren lands in this Himalayan valley, has holy chant engraved rocks; the ‘Manya’ walls. Strength of oneness can be seen by the innumerable flags flying high over each and every La (pass). The sense of responsibility could be seen by the tireless efforts of locals collaborating with border road organizers (BROs) in repairing the rampage caused by the flash floods, and many more boundless experiences that would draw you back to this valley of surreal beauty. Such is the magic of Ladakh! All I can say is you have to witness the mesmerizing hills to believe it yourself.
Well, I would adjectives will fall short to describe the vivid beauty of this place. I doubt whether the best of cameras can actually captivate the vast and pristine winsomeness of these Himalayan villages. But you don’t wait and just read my blog! Get on your bike or book your train or flight tickets or vehicle and off you go to Ladakh to experience it on your own. They say perception only builds when you experience and feel yourself.
All I can say is I will go there again. Julley!!
P.S: If you like what you read, don’t hesitate to ask for detailed itinerary. Mail me on firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you for reading!!