Here’s a new story taking you to a visual trip to the Valley of Ladakh.
How often do you look at your old pictures and smile to yourself? The pictures with your parents in them, holding you tight because your fancy has been caught by the monkeys on the side of the road. Or the ones, in which you are perched atop the dining table, happily clapping your tiny hands. Some of my favourite pictures have been clicked in the mountains- my brother and I hugging each other with our toys clutched in the other hand; my grandma trying to evade the snow ball that my brother has thrown at her; my cousin, who was a little over two feet tall and a little over two years old then, gladly lying in snow and eating a chocolate; my parents holding my brother and me as we stand near the Hidimba temple in Manali almost twenty years back, barely reaching their knees.
For some reason, I have never stopped admiring and adoring the mountains, and they have always seemed to return the love, as if gift wrapped for me to keep safe in my heart. The people in the hills have been very welcoming, with their care and affection as warm as the happy sunshine. I find their simplicity awe inspiring. With the same thought as my muse, I happily share with you an exciting trip to the Ladakh valley.
As the long summer vacations approach (I’m reminded of the Phineas and Ferb theme song here), a delightful trip awaits. When adrenaline, natural beauty and quiet is what you desire, set in the mighty mountains, Leh can be your go-to. Home to ‘the world’s highest motorable road’, large deposits of Uranium, and nature at its best, the Ladakh valley is like no other. It is well connected to the major cities through road and air. You can drive through Srinagar, Jammu and Kashmir, or, take the alternative route through Manali, Himachal Pradesh. In the former, you would encounter the Magnetic Hill, Kargil, Tiger Hills, Dras and Lamayuru, among others. Magnetic Hill is a Cyclops hill. Owing to the area, the slopes around ‘create’ a hill, in essence, they create the optical illusion of a hill. Hence, when you think you are going uphill, defying the gravity like some superhero, you are actually rolling downhill. The War Memorial at Dras, Kargil is built in the memory of the brave soldiers who laid down their lives fighting the Operation Vijay in May 1999. July 26 is celebrated as Kargil Vijay Diwas each year.
If you are going by the Manali Leh highway, there are going to be numerous mountain passes, each replete with breathtaking views and difficult drive. There’s Rohtang pass, the first one, about 52 km from Manali. Then there’s a decent to Gramphu. It is here that you can take the road to Lahaul and Spiti valley. Following Gramphu is Kokhsar, Sissu and then Tandi with its last petrol pump before Leh. You would then encounter Keylong, Jispa, Darcha, Zingzingbar, and then a steep and arduous ascent to Baralacha La, crossing hundreds of streams with their melted ice waters on the road, some deep enough to reach your knees. Sarchu, Pang, Tanglang La, and then the Moore Plains. Drive to your heart’s extent in the vast plains here amidst the mountains. You would then cross the Indus river at Upshi, and finally reach Leh. Leh is a town nestled in the Himalayas, central to most activities in the Ladakh region. Abundant sunshine blesses it, paving way for solar energy pursuits here. A lot of people these days fly to Leh, and then rent motorbikes to tour around. Yet others ride through knee-deep waters at the passes, deal with sludge and mud, streams on roads which look like rivers, with the petrol tanks from Tandi keeping company to the bikes and the riders.
Leh has many monasteries to visit and stroke your spirituality. Managed by Buddhism’s Drukpa sect, Hemis Gompa has a copper statue of Buddha in Nubra valley, situated at an hour and a half’s drive from Leh. Masked dance performances are held here between June and July, dedicated to
Lord Padmasambhava. Then there’s the Thiksey Gompa, managed by the Gelugpa sect, and a statue of Maitreya Buddha. Visit the Diskit monastery and experience the inner peace and quiet take over you. There is Likir monastery, Spituk, Lamayuru, Shey and Phyang, among many others, managed in a splendid manner by the Buddhist sects. No trip to Leh is complete without the drive to Khardung La. About two hours away from Leh is this world-renowned pass, known as the highest motorable road. You would see many people here who are riding their bicycles to reach the pass. Bravehearts and quite fit individuals indeed! To keep our bellies happy, there are small stalls selling instant noodles and a hot cup of tea. The journey is worth the effort and time. It is worth a mention to go to Diskit village, and stay there overnight. You would like the rest; the roads are bumpy and the drive is indeed a challenge. Diskit is home to the 106ft tall mesmerising statue of Maitreya Buddha facing the Shyok river at Diskit monastery. The little child and the spiritual old soul within you meet over the beautiful scene of valley that is visible from the monastery. It is serene and peaceful like night-time stories heard in grandma’s lap, yet exciting enough to force you to look around, to let your mind run wild amidst happy thoughts, and say a mindful prayer. Hunder village has the Gobi desert’s native double-humped camels, a major tourist attraction in Nubra valley. Bactrian camels are blessed with two rows of long eyelashes, which protect their eyes from dust. Visit Hunder for the maximum number of Bactrians in Ladakh, and revel in the admiration of this miracle of nature. As I was thinking about the route that would take you to Nubra, it struck me that I hadn’t mentioned about the one place Ladakh is well-known for. Pangong Tso. It has about one-third area in India, two- third in China. If you are planning to stay overnight in the tented accommodation, you are in for pleasant panorama. Stars dot the night sky in numbers as many as one can count, and then some more. Constellations abound, Milky Way surrounds, and there is enchanting beauty all around.
Words fall short when you try to describe something that showers your soul with peace, fills you with appreciation for the Creator, and blesses you with spirituality unmatched. Such is Leh, with so much to do, so much to see, and so much to soak in. Visit this wonder, my father did on his bike and yours truly waits for that opportunity ardently. This article is a feeble attempt to talk about the Ladakh valley. Words cannot do justice to it, the warm and welcoming people with kind hearts and simple lives. Do remember to carry your disposed off bottles, plastic packets and other waste to help maintain the cleanliness.
Nature unfurls itself to you here, baring all that it has seen through these years- hundreds of men, animals elusive to human eyes, storms of snow and storms of rain, all giving it the character and base that make it seem resilient and invincible.
Stay Healthy, Stay Safe, Stay at Home and Stay Tuned!