It has been a while since I have had time to write a blog since I have been running around getting ready for my immanent departure. But due to some down town, some friends and myself ventured to Leh, Ladakh, in Kashmir, India for a little adventure that turned out to be quite a surprise in many ways.
Before setting off from Delhi, where Emily, Radhika, Nibha, and myself all met up a day before setting off on our early morning flight, Emily and I realized that we may or may not have packed appropriately… Considering we had only brought a few warm clothing items to our desert home of Rajasthan, our bags had been filled with our warm weather kurtas and leggings as well as one sweater each and a long sleeve shirt. Well, after check online, we had a rude awakening that it was going to be quite cold still even though the cold months had gone. Both Emily and myself had to borrow some woolen clothes from Radhika’s cousin who graciously allowed us to pack some of her warm clothing.
Finally on our way and awaiting our arrival into the not so thriving metropolis of Leh, we flew over the tops of the Himalayas before landing in the valley that housed the trekking and adventure capital of Ladakh- Leh. Since Leh sits at a height of 11,500 ft. the best option in order to acclimatize was to take it easy and find a guesthouse to rest in for two days before venturing out into the mountains. This proved harder than expected because most of the city’s guesthouses were closed along with the restaurants and shops as well. The cab driver took us to one of the only guesthouses that he knew to be open, which ended up being a gem and we stayed there for five out of the six nights we had in the area. Our new host mother, more so host mother than hotel owner, arrived with chai every morning, afternoon, and evening, and even brought us hot water and bowls every night for our soup. We actually ate packaged soup and bread for dinner every night because there were only a few restaurants open and they would only have one to two dishes available, which usually ended up being matar mushroom (peas and mushrooms…) UGH! That got really tiring, really fast!
Well, after acclimatizing for the first two days and some convincing of a travel agency, the four of us were on our way to Nubra Valley. In order to travel away from Leh and into most areas, one must apply and receive a permit due to the close proximity of China and Tibet. Our trip to Nubra lasted for over 6 hours and was quite eventful for a day full of driving. First off, neither Radhika nor Nibha had ever seen snow before, so while driving up the rocky mountains of the Himalayas we had multiple “ooos” and “ahhs” along with a few pit stops for picture opts. Somewhere around 17,000 feet, we all started to feel the lack of oxygen with a headache and my hands even turned blue at the tips… That was not a fun experience when I thought my hands wouldn’t possibly ever feel the warmth of the Rajasthan desert again. But, alas, that was a false fear, as we all know where I am now.
The drive to Nubra Valley and back were much more about the drive than the destination, even though once we arrived in the small town of Diskit, we enjoyed our night by meeting some double-humped camels in the surprising sand dunes that speckled the terrain in between the giant peaks of the Himalayas. Who would have thought that we would see rocky mountains, snowy peaks, and sand dunes all in the same day? We sure didn’t know what to expect. The next day, the same drive had to be complete to go back through the snowy mountain pass but we managed to fit in two monasteries on the way back. Ladakh is known as “Little Tibet” being that it borders the troubled occupied area of Tibet and has as many Tibetan refugees as it does indigenous peoples. The Buddhism is a unique mixture of Buddhism and Hinduism that originated in Kashmir, was transported to Tibet, and found refuge again in Kashmir after it had been transformed, much like the people of Tibet. Vajrayana Buddhism, with its depictions of Buddhas, Hindu gods, and Bodhisattvas, can seem quite mystical or demonic, and even erotic, when glancing over the murals painted around the monasteries.
After arriving in Leh, we had our normal dinner of soup and bread coupled with a few biscuits (cookies…) bought from the local bakery, we decided the best option was to get a good nights sleep since we would be driving 5 hours to and fro Pangong Lake the next day. And that is exactly what we did. Since the novelty of seeing the snowy paths had worn off the day before as we almost fell to our death multiple times from the icy one-car paths that possessed no guardrails, the drive was quite a lengthy process. I decided to pull the back seats down to lounge on instead of the uncomfortable middle seat in the row before me. This proved to be a decent idea, except for having no leg room, but when we started to slide around, knowing I would not be able to jump out of the car fast enough if we started to slide over the deathly high cliff, really kept it’s firm grip on the tip of my mind. But, finally to the release of my nervousness, we reached Pangong Lake to find it completely frozen over. Thinking that it would be somewhat warm in Ladakh was obviously a joke by this point, due to the frigid winds and frost on the grounds still, but one of the world’s largest lakes was still frozen over! What the hell were we thinking only bringing pull over’s to the Himalayas? Oh well, at this point we made it this far, we could do a few more days. The lake was beautiful even though we didn’t get to see the changing colors in the water that it is known for in the summer, and instead, we all walked on the frozen lake and pretended to skate around for a while.
The trips that we took to Nubra Valley and Pangong Lake took almost all of our time in Ladakh, but knowing what we found out in Leh, it was a good thing that we something to occupy our time. Being some of the few tourists in the area had its perks but it also meant that almost nothing and didn’t leave hardly any options for food or shopping. Our last day, however, we managed to find the items that we had been searching for in order to get some shopping done before leaving Ladakh. Personally, the most important buy at that moment in time was a spice that is used in all the homes and restaurants in the area to make extremely spicy chutney when mixed with mint, cumin, and either water or oil. I bought enough to take home and enjoy as well as gift to those spice lovers like myself. The others all bought a few other items that could show the adventure that we had while traveling in a barren area that seemed more like an old Soviet country rather than northern India.
I swear, since arriving in Leh, I thought I entered the Soviet Union… Every grocery was barren except a few items on random shelves, no one was around on a daily basis, every shop and restaurant was boarded up, and when entering an establishment the question we had to ask was “what you have” instead of the opposite when they ask what you want. It was a great trip, but in the end, I think it would be a great spot to travel to in the summer when things are open and the greenery has started to sprout and bring about the vegetables in the gardens so people can once again have fresh meals.