On with what we saw in Leh…
Well, one of the few things that most excited me, was that we were on NH1 (don’t ask me why, it’s just nice! National Highway 1… Ooohh, sounds yummy!!)
Magnetic Hill was wondrous – due to some gravitational and magnetic phenomena, the car automatically moves uphill when the ignition is off, when it should ideally do the reverse. We saw the ascent with our own eyes, and were left spellbound. How the hell is this possible? Let me know if you know :-)
We checked out the Hall of fame dedicated to various soldiers and regiments, followed by the Gurudwara Patthar Sahib, where Buddha was meditating and an evil being unsuccessfully rolled a stone downhill in order to crush him. Both quite interesting places, the latter made all the more notable as we had delicious boondi and a savoury puff in the langar… Hee hee!
Next in line was Spituk Gompa, a famous monastery.
Now here’s the thing about all these Gompa’s – every village/settlement/town has one important monastery with the same name as the village, and all these monasteries are more or less the same. You need to climb a flight of stairs and obviously this presents a dreamy view of the landscape. Then there’s a Buddha statue along with pictures of the famous Kushok Bakul Rinpoche (KBR, and you rightly recall that the airport is named after him as well). There will also be snaps of Baby Rinpoche – accepted as a reincarnation of KBR, and 21 idols of Tara or the female Buddha. All with a line of silver and bronze bowls of water in front as offerings.
There’s little else, no flashy or intricate stuff that makes most Hindu temples unique or legendary. Buddhism, I believe is all about simplicity, and they take this very seriously in terms of living, talking, eating and even praying. Even the music is non-aggressive and sombre. While that is all good, visiting a monastery soon becomes a predictable and boring affair. No offence, but if you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all.
I’d also have to say the same about the palaces and museums. This includes the Stok Palace and Shey Palace. They’re not as majestic as the mahals in Rajasthan, and unless you’re a serious culture and history lover, you can guiltlessly skip these on your way.
What was distinguishing at Spituk Gompa, was a huge idol of Vajra Bhairav with bottles of McDowells and other alcohol (offerings to the Lord). We also drove some way to see the confluence of the rivers Indus and Zanskar. It’s a lonely desert-like stretch, and the chilled waters are used for rafting. Sindhu Ghat is another place we were taken to, and it’s quite a nice place too.
Other famous monasteries on our list were the Hemis and Thiksay and Diskit. The Diskit Gompa is in Nubra, and is noteworthy thanks to the 110 feet magnificent idol of future Buddha. He bears a striking resemblance to the Kalki avatar of Vishnu, if I might add. And the view is undoubtedly mind-blowing as expected.
Market visits were routine when we had a stayover at Leh. We snacked once at a Tibetan restaurant and dined on the last day at a popular restaurant called Summer Harvest, both near/in the market.
And how can I forget the prayer wheels located every few steps in ach town in Ladakh!
It’s said that you can reduce your sins by turning the prayer wheel in the clockwise direction. (Not that I have too many… LOL.) Therefore, the monasteries have endless rows of tiny and mid-sized prayer wheels with bigger ones at strategic points. I and mum even got a miniature one home to remind us of our awesome time there!
The tough bit is…
There are two actually…
One, in Ladakh, every second presents an overwhelming view. In a place like this, exactly how many photographs can you click? I had to reign in my enthusiasm and keep putting my camera back in its holder.
Two, when I travel, I like to name as many names as I can to listeners, readers and travel freaks. But when I asked names of places and peaks in Ladakh, they were too complicated to comprehend and pronounce so I had to stop asking! For example, never in my life have I heard or read about a river named Shayog that flows through most of the Nubra region. Even school textbooks never mentioned it, and you know how irritating and exhaustive those texts were! I did find something called Shyok and I wondering if that is what the guide pronounced Shayog…
So, pls forgive me for anything that I miss describing. It’s a tad intentional, coz I want to make these posts short and not give away details that you should check out yourself in Ladakh or on Google!
The highlights of the trip were certainly the Khardungla and ChangLa passes – the first and third highest motorable roads in the world respectively. (The second one is in Manali). The imposing Khardungla is to the north of Leh, built at 18380 feet, and ChangLa is on the way to Pangong to the east of Leh.
Oxygen is scarce at both these locations so you obviously can’t stay there too long. You quickly grab something hot at the frugal cafeteria (usually black tea and maggi), and visit the single monastery/temple if you wish before you descend to a more habitable height.
But what certainly took the cake was the Pangong Lake. It is delightful, for loss of a better word. It just leaves you speechless. It has all the shades of blue that you can imagine, and most that you cannot. For those who don’t remember, this is where the last scene of the Bollywood blockbuster 3 Idiots was shot. And the lake looks only half as captivating in the movie as it does in real. It makes you fall in love… with Nature, with God, with yourself… I’m gobsmacked! Check the snaps, and you shall be, too…
Apart from 6 nights in Leh, we also spent 1 night in Nubra and one in Pangong. The drives to these places provides several scenic views, most that look artificial and doctored in photographs. Like postcards. But they’re all real. They’re all fascinating. River, snow, sand, greenery – all in a single canvas, make you go quite mad and ecstatic. Sighhhh… Heaven on earth!
Nubra is at a lower altitude so it’s super hot during the day, but the evenings are pleasant. This is the only place where we desired and got a ceiling fan in our entire trip! What’s famous here are the Hunder sand dunes, where you can see and ride the two-humped camels.
Equally charming is the way to Pangong. We had an unforgettable lunch at a superb camp on the way where it started raining and we were pelted playfully with snow-like hailstones. To make up for the naughtiness, God also showed us 3 enticing rainbows. It was a day of surprises and wonders. Cute Himalayan marmots, black and white yaks and the first view of the Pangong Lake… What more can I ask of you Lord of Travel?!! You rock…
(Quick tip if you’re visiting this blog for the first time: the 2 posts below this will explain better what isn’t making sense to you here. Do read, and feel free to interrogate!)
More in my next post!