Acclimatisation was the buzzword when we announced our plans to travel to Leh and the rest of Ladakh. The oxygen levels at 10000 ft are much lower than in the plains and we were forewarned of breathlessness, headaches and in case we over exerted ourselves on the first day even damage to our very limited stock of grey cells! So when the Air India flight landed at about 8.30 in the morning we were whisked away to the excellently located Indus cottage and the first thing was the medical by the good doctor. Once we were declared fit and fine, given a list of dos and don’ts and medicines to gulp down before breakfast and dinner to avoid HA aka high altitude sickness and told to beware of any headaches or sleepiness we looked around to the place of mystique , of Buddhists , of army posts ,of prayers wheels and Gonpas and huge intimidating mountains encircling us.
The first day advisably is to be taken at a leisurely place to give the body time to adjust to the decreased oxygen levels. So we set out to sit beside the gurgling clear waters of the Indus River.The eponymous Officers mess where we stayed was right on the banks of Indus and we enjoyed the absolutely beautiful view of the mountains in the distance and the not so very wide river meandering around the curves and passing us by on its onward journey to Pakistan. We dared to dip our hands in the water and were punished for our impunity by a chill that almost froze them. Even in mid May the water is still cold coming as it is from way high up somewhere in China and fed by glaciers. The pilot had announced a temperature of 13 deg centigrade but the wind made it colder.
The mountains surrounding Leh are not the green ones that one sees in the Himalayas. They are barren and rocky and from a distance a very foreboding brown .But more about them when we see them up close. The valley has few trees ,apricots and apples ,some poplars but not much more .The army is a major presence here and our first stop was the Hall of Fame both as a mark of respect to the indomitable spirit of our soldiers and to be acquainted with Ladakh ,the land ,the people ,the culture,flora and fauna and also with work and the sacrifices of our armed forces. A model of the map of Ladakh gives us a fair idea of the geography with the mountain ranges, the river systems , the borders with China and Pakistan and the passes marked very creatively .
|Inside The Shanti Stupa|
Equipped with this knowledge , we felt we knew Ladakh …”the land of passes” a bit better . Our next stop was the Shanti Stupa , a stupa built by the Japanese. As we stood at the railings of the imposing structure we had a lovely birds’ eye view of the city of Leh below. Photographs done we came down and made our way back to have some lunch and “to take it easy” on the first day . Evening was spent in the Main market , the “Connaught place” equivalent of Leh and the Tibetan market down the slope selling mostly Made in China stuff . Pashmina, Kashmir embroidered jackets and trinkets were aplenty .
|Leh from atop the Shanti Stupa|
The next day we woke without a headache and any visible signs of restlessness or fatigue except for the cold .So we were all geared for exploring Leh and then some more. Our first stop was driving along the Indus to the Alchi monastery , established sometime in 1020 AD by the Rinpoche Zangpo.
|Prayer wheel at Alchi|
If the monastery took us back centuries , the next stop took us forward to the wonders of science and engineering. We were headed towards Alchi dam or the Nimmo Bazgo Hydel Project
|A view of the dam|
|The Magnetic Hill|
A destination very famous is the magnetic hill and our driver took the vehicle to a spot and left the gear in neutral. The car rolled back despite the upslope of the road. Some say it is an optical illusion and that there is not an upslope there. Be as it may , the words “MAGNETIC HILL “ is painted on a hill near the road and there is certainly an attraction in the place(pun intended) .The magnetic power of the road tested we move on to the view the confluence of Zanskaar and Indus. The clear waters of the Indus and the muddy of the Zanskaar form a distinct line at their meeting point from where the river continues on its downstream journey as Indus. There is some river rafting here , but the snow had just started to melt so there wasn’t enough water for a good rafting experience. Of course an operator did try to tempt us with an offer of Rs 600 per person , but we did not take him because of the shallow waters and the strong winds. It was two pm by now and there was a strong wind blowing . A tourist centre is now being built at the confluence with some facilities.
|The Sangam of Zanskaar and Indus|
There is a fair amount of greenery along this road and we stop to admire a lovely view of the Valley . On our way back we stop 25 kms before Leh at Gurudwara Patthar Sahib .The Gurudwara is managed by the Army and we were fortunate to have prasad at the langar there . The Gurudwara has a rock inside said to be thrown at Guru Nanak by a demon when the Guru was meditating here .The rock turned to wax .The rock is kept in the Gurudwara . We were advised to visit a hill across the road from where the demon threw the stone.Its a long climb of some 300 steps and we gave it a skip for fear of exhaustion.But the view ,they say, of the Valley and the surroundings from there is incredible.
|The Indus in the evening|