Trip Start Feb 21, 2010
33Trip End Ongoing
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Where I stayed
Ser Thi Travellers' Home
And it has the bluest crystal clear sky imaginable (which pierces your skin and makes you burn in about 5 minutes, and changes to thick snowy cloud in about 5 minutes)
Has only really been open to outside tourism since the early 1970s, and is pretty hard to get around in, let alone in and out of (seeing as every road seems to be one of the 'worlds highest motorable passes' and closes all the time, we nearly had to turn back to Delhi of all places on the way).
Anyway, what did I do? Monasteries, loads of them. There's a massive glut of Buddhist monasteries all over Ladakh, all 500-1000years old, all perched perilously on top of craggy hills. Most remarkable for me was Hemis, the largest one in Ladakh with 300 monks, nestled inside some pretty dramatic rocky cliffs. Had planned to climb the 6km uphill, but the air was so thin and 4 months of aloo paratha, gulab jamun and other healthy Indian snacks, meant I thought better and hitched a lift. Got to stay overnight there with a few monks in their 2 roomed-home. Cooked me food and were fascinated with my phone (they have about half of my pictures now), and enjoyed doing lots of prank calls and general silliness. Was expecting some grubby lice infected shack and managed to have a very memorable stay. Got up early in the morning, to some horrifically cold mountain top 'festival-style' toilets, then watched the morning prayers, followed by the crazy drumming and strange horns
Tikse monastery was another one of note, which as you can see in the picture is the most attractive, and house a 12 metre high Buddha. Saw about 7 of these old old monasteries, all bright and colourful with walls covered in Thangkas, mandalas and other old buddhist paintings and not one wasn't perfectly placed on the top of a hill in the middle of a wide expanse of almost untouched mountain/valley terrain.
In fact for 12 days almost everywhere I looked was a photo opportunity.
Lakes - Well, one actually. Pangong Tso (lake), a lake at 4200metres, the largest salt water one in Asia. Two 5 hour drives to get there and back, crossing the 3rd highest motorable pass in the world (Chang La 5300metres), insanely big drops on the side. Probably the most naturally beautiful (yes beautiful, Joe) thing I've ever seen. The clearest crystal blue water, surrounded by huge towering mountains reflecting off the surface, with loads of yaks, marmots, birds and other wildlife. Ah, words aren't really enough. Plus, was quite funny seeing lots of Indian tourists wrapped up as if it was -10 degrees, re-enacting a famous bollywood movie scene from film '3 Idiots'
Nubra Valley - Another one of those special places. Only open to tourists since 1994, and you cross the worlds highest motorable pass, Khardung La, at 5630metres. Which sadly was a bit of an anti climax as there's not much of a view like at Chang La. Took us two attempts on different days to get over the pass, and seeing as I'd heard one guy get stuck in Nubra valley for 17 days as the pass closed after he got there, I was a little worried I would never get back to Delhi for my flight! Anyway, through 12 foot snow walls and skidding stupid little Maruti Cars we made it over. Over 100km going through the valley we went from being surrounded in snow and cloud, to a vast canyon, to what seemed about as close to looking like the moon's surface as I can imagine, to a mountain desert complete with sand and camels, to a green picturesque village, Hunder, surrounded by green forest, where we stayed for the night. We didn't even do too much over the few days except drive around stopping at breathtaking spots and watching the weather change every hour (I've now got sick of those border road signs like "Honey, I like you, but not so fast" as we were with a German couple who found every single one funny and repeated them over and over "ho ho ho, 'if married, divorce zee speed' etc etc" anyway I've digressed..). Soo glad we didn't give up on getting there and braved the two 10 hour bumpy rides, because this was effectively the special little reward at the end of my India trip. What a way to end.
In short : Go, if you can and be blown away...
Arghhh, sent home my memory card/CD before I finished uploading all the pictures! Missed out on the Nubra Valley pictures, but you get the general impression!