I still can’t understand why it felt the way I felt when I saw Ladakh for the first time. Suddenly, after travelling through various landscapes, we were amidst huge, rocky and barren mountains, which were sometimes yellow, sometimes red and sometimes white. For me it was a déjà vu, a strong sense of home-coming. The place was Upshi and it was a beauty beyond description. It felt as if I belonged to this marvelous place.
I had fallen in love with Ladakh very long ago after watching a documentary on television. So, the moment my hubby told me about our still-undecided programme to go to Ladakh for a holiday, I was exhilarated. It was a childhood dream waiting to be realized. He had been sanctioned one-month annual leave- a part of which we wanted to spend in the mountains before going home. And then began our inquiries about the road, route and terrain etc…. after all, we were not alone; we had our two-year old son with us. We decided to go by car and cruise on Manali-Leh route, as going via Srinagar was highly inadvisable. But the moment we entered Ladakh our doubts of the past couple of days vanished in thin air. What was before our eyes could easily be termed as one of the most beautiful places on this planet.
|En route Leh, road after Rohtang Pass is full of patches|
It had taken us four days by road to reach from Udhampur… on the way halting each day for night stay at Pathankot, Palchan, and Patseo. The drive till Palchan was almost of 300 kms. Here we halted for night at newly constructed Army Transit Camp. Next Day our destination was Patseo. The road was okay up to Rohtang Pass. Thereafter, there were some really bad patches due to heavy rains and landslides. There were moments when we doubted our decision to make this trip. We had been forewarned about the route, but still we were not prepared for whatever we encountered on the way. It was our faith in God and confidence in each other that we carried on. In Patseo also, we stayed at the Army Transit Camp. We were really touched by the hospitality of the army men; it was indeed very heart warming.
|Leh has many monastries. some of them presenting breath-taking views|
The next was our final day of travelling; we were to reach Karu that day. And the moment we entered Ladakh we were spell-bound. Ladakh was breath-taking and mesmerizing. We stopped at Upshi to take in whatever was around us. It was a beauty beyond description: barren rocky mountains had an exquisite beauty of their own, the shattered looking landscapes splashed with small but brilliant patches of green. Ladakh is also known as Little Tibet; there one could notice the chortens- small white structures build to guard the fields and villages, and the holy flags- the long pieces of cloth with mantras to purify the winds. And not to be missed were ever-smiling Ladakhi people.
|The courtyard of Hemis- the largest Gompa in Leh|
En route one could also see many Gompas- the monasteries. Hemis is the most important and the largest Gompa in Ladakh that we visited the next day. Thereafter we visited the famous Pangong Tse Lake with its celebrated Garnet hill (where I collected some really beautiful pieces of raw Garnet), Leh Palace, Shey and Thikse Gompas, and then Khardungla Pass. It is world’s highest motor-able road.
|The world's highest motor-able road at 18380 feet is at Khardungla Pass|
Shopping in Ladakh can be fun. This we discovered on the last day of trip. We spent the most of our day shopping in Leh, which is the district centre and main city of Ladakh. Leh is famous for pearls and precious stones. One can also go for local handicrafts. There are numerous shops in and around Main Bazaar where one can find a wide range of souvenirs. Most of the souvenir shops sell Tibetan antiques or replicas.
Another option for shopping is the Tibetan Market, where one can go for little jewellery made of semi-precious stones and local handicraft items. There are also some good book shops where one can find an excellent range of guidebooks on the Himalayas. And those, who need to buy some warm clothing, can go to second-hand clothes market situated near the jeep stand. Leh is also a good place to buy authentic Pashmina shawls. The price ranges anywhere between Rs. 4500 and Rs. 8000.
|Instant noodles- a good option for trekkers|
Leh has many good places where one can soothe one’s taste buds. There are some good low-range Tibetan-food restaurants in market area of old town and the area around bus stand. While you are in Ladakh, you can’t miss on noodle soup called Thupka, and Momos (a Tibetan name for dumplings). Almost every restaurant or food stall offers these two dishes. If you a vegetarian, then you have very limited options in these areas as it is difficult to find a dish without meat as an ingredient.
Main Bazaar also has many Tibetan-food joints. Those being mid-range joints and offering a vast variety of dishes are quite popular with tourists. And as the rush of tourists starts increasing with onset of summer, many garden restaurants start springing up in Changspa area. These restaurants serve a variety of Tibetan, Indian and Western food. For trekkers also, Leh offers the best selection of food. Apart from ready-to-serve noodles, instant milk and biscuits, trekkers can opt for fresh and dry fruits and vegetables which is an ideal choice for hilly deserts of Ladakh.
But more than anything else, it was the memories for the lifetime that we gathered during our journey and our stay in Ladakh. I miss you, Ladakh!!!
Text by Ambreen Zaidi Photos by Piyush Garg