Leh Ladakh – Part 1: Into the Mountains

Leh-Ladakh

We have just reached Jakarta after an exhausting 8-hour flight from India. As we make our way out and wait for our car, all I can think about is our visit to India. This trip undoubtedly was one of our (as I speak on behalf of my husband) best vacations ever.

After visiting our family in Bengaluru (Karnataka, South of India), and celebrating our 71st Independence Day, it was time for us to escape the hustle and bustle of this Indian city, and explore the land of blue skies and brown mountains.

Leh, had always been on my list of ‘Places to visit before I die’ – you know, one of those Google downloaded wishlists. There I was, striking out one (and the first, honestly) of the many places on that list. At the speed I am going, I am sure I won’t be able to complete the list before I turn 127 years.

At first, I was skeptical to travel to this high of an altitude with my son, Avyukt (3.5 years). However, after having done all our homework, and with reassurance from my dad – who was the mastermind behind this trip, we decided to take the plunge. We had taken an approval from his doctor and were carrying all his medicines.

It’s time for my dreams to take flight: Bengaluru✈ Delhi ✈ Leh.

view-moutain-topsDuring the hour-long flight from Delhi, we were able to enjoy the view of the stunning mountains, capped in snow and soaking up some rays. As we landed, we were greeted by the warm sunshine with a tinge of cool breeze, AND, my DAD – Perfect!

Way back in September 1988, my father had traveled to Leh as a part of his course training with the Indian Navy. He was so impressed with this place, that he told his course mates he would get his family here during holidays. His wish finally came true after 29 years.

My mom and dad had reached Leh a day before we landed. My father being an adventurous traveler, drove from Chandigarh to Leh which is approximately 800 kilometers (497 miles) on road. It took them 3 days with 2-night halts to reach their destination. They had experienced mild AMS (acute mountain sickness) which is common at high altitudes due to the lower amount of oxygen available. Leh is 11,483 feet (3500 meters) above sea level. Thus, on our way to the guest house, the Do’s and Dont’s were explained to us, and we were asked to rest for a day in order to acclimatize to the altitude.

hotelWe settled into our warm, cozy rooms and were in awe of the beautiful view the place had to offer. This charming guest house is outside the main market and is surrounded by mountains. We headed to the dining room for a hot cup of chai with some snacks. After some chit-chatting, playing, resting, and a nice homemade light dinner we called it a day.

frescosLadakh is a land bestowed with high mountain passes, dry climate, and warm people. It is not only blessed with some of the most beautiful landscapes, but also offers an amazing glimpse into its age-old cultures, colorful frescos, which depict the magical world of Tibetan Buddhism, and its prayers that resonate among the walls of all the ancient monasteries built there. Hemis Monastery and Shey Palace were amongst the few local places we visited. The Hemis Museum and Shey Palace exhibit statutes, clothes, weapons, ritual utensils and other historic articles which give an insight into the ancient, rich, yet simple Ladakhi culture.

The road trip in Ladakh is all about crossing the various ‘la’ or mountain passes. Ladakh got its name from the high-altitude mountain passes. “La” means Passes and “Dhak” means many, thus making it the “land of many passes.”

high-altitudesWe traveled for 3 hours to reach the most important pass, also known as the doorway to Nubra Valley- ‘Khardung La’, the world’s highest motorable pass at an altitude of 18,379 ft.(5600 meters) above sea level. A picturesque view of the valley, snow mountains, and our Indian Flag flying with pride, what else could we ask for? Hot tea- yes of course! It was an exhilarating experience.

I was very excited to see the famous Pangong Tso Lake, one of largest high-altitude lakes in India. We had to cross Chang La, the third highest mountain pass at 17688 ft (5391 meters) to get there. Holy- Moly! From the moment we saw that lake, we were swept away. A clear symbol of nature’s craftsmanship. The crystal clear blue lake sprawls over an area of 100 kilometers across the borders of two countries-India and China. The first glimpse of the peaceful blue waters with the brown unshakeable mountains at the backdrop will remain etched in my memory forever.

passesWhoever comes to Leh Ladakh has to travel rigorously to the places of this remote land. We encountered the craggy mountain roads on our way to the Aryan Valley. We knew it was a long drive, but what we were not prepared for was the thrill we can never forget. The roads were steep, rocky and super bumpy. At every turn on the mountains, my life would flash before my eyes. I could hear my mom praying nonstop. All thanks to her prayers and with no harm done; we reached our destination, Garkone Village (a small village of 35-45 houses) located on top of a small hillock opposite the great Indus river.

familyOn reaching our guest house/homestay (after a small hike up the hill), we were welcomed by the local people of the village. This community, still with pure bloodline, language, and culture, is believed to be the direct descendants of soldiers of the army of legendary Alexander the Great. With their pure Aryan features, these people seemed to have preserved their racial purity down the centuries.
Nothing is more exciting than meeting new people, hearing their stories and being inspired.

After an overnight rest and a short early morning trek inside the village, we were ready to head back to our guest house in Leh. “Where does this road go?” I asked Phunchok, our tour guide pointing at the opposite direction. “This road will take you to Batalik Sector of Kargil.” (Kargil War- the infamous battle fought in the year 1999 between India and Pakistan) “The person who informed our army about the intruders was from our village. It was a fight for all of us, we could hear the gunshots and always prayed for the safety and well-being of our soldiers.”

The entire journey back, we could not stop talking about our brave Indian Soldiers. On visiting Leh, one cannot miss out on the various Army camps situated all over the place. The Indian army is indeed an inspiration.

museumWalking around the Hall of Fame Museum established by the Indian Army, we got a glimpse into the world of the soldiers who had fought with their lives to protect us. It’s a reminder of the immense sacrifice that our soldiers have made for our motherland under extreme conditions. I was overwhelmed reading about their stories of raw courage, grit, and determination; and also the last letters that were written by them to their families. As we passed the memorial of these brave men, I just said a silent prayer and a big ‘thank you’ to the martyrs and the men who still fulfill their duties with a smile, no matter what stands in their way.

jai-hind
The beauty of Leh lies in its journey, which requires patience and time. The crisp mountains and the blue sky will become your companion and guide you.
This was Leh to me- a mind-blowing array of sights, and sounds, and a unique, tranquil experience. Not to forget the steaming hot delicious momos!

Jai Hind.

﹡(Jai Hind- Victory to India, symbol of patriotism, pride & honor)

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