Ladakh 1997

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Leh Palace in Ladakh, towering over downtown Leh, was built in the 17th Century, but curiously now remains deserted and dilapidated. Architecturally, it bears noticeable resemblance to the Potala Palace in Lhasa, Tibet.

Leh, the capital of Ladakh, is now somewhat a tourist trap. It's not Waikiki Beach, but some of the storekeepers can be a bit on the aggressive side. There are some great restaurants, such as the Tibetan Kitchen, that have great food and a very comfortable atmosphere. Changspa, with its peaceful guest homes and Buddhism study centers just 15 minutes from downtown Leh, is more peaceful.

Mani stones, such as these in Diskit, Nubra Valley, are frequently found along pathways, roadsides, and walkways throughout Ladakh. These are anywhere between 40-100 years old, and have either the eight auspicious symbols or "Om mani padme hum" carved on them. For some reason, lots of people ask whether I took one of these home with me. The answer is no.

Diskit is a very charming, tiny village in Nubra Valley, Ladakh, full of running water and greenery and farms. Nubra Valley was only recently opened up to travelers in 1995, and requires a very rough ride over the mountains to get there from Leh, the capital of Ladakh. The road stretches up to a dizzying height of 18,300 ft. at Kardung La, making it the highest motorable road in the world. As we had foolishly embarked on this trip after being in Leh for only a couple of days, we strongly felt the nauseous effects of the thin mountain air when going over this mountain pass.

Nubra Valley is a fascinating place. Highly contrastive, the landscape would immediately change from fertile green apricot fields to a dry Saharan Desert-like terrain, complete with double-humped camels, and all with snow-capped peaks in the distance!
I found the people to be extraordinarily warm and hospitable as well.

Ladakhi farmer, Diskit, Nubra Valley, Ladakh.

Here in Nubra Valley and other places in remote Ladakh, we were frequently invited in for tea and bread and chang (barley beer) frequently, and camped on farmer's land.

Even common, everyday items can have interesting designs and great attention to detail in Ladakh, such as these set of keys that open the main hall at Diskit Gompa in Nubra Valley.

The Indian Himalayan mountain chain near Kardung La ("la" means "pass" in Ladakhi). This picture was taken at about 16,000-17,000 feet in elevation.

Photo:  Tom Chand

I traveled through Ladakh with my friend Tom, shown here in front of Samtanling Gompa in Sumur, Nubra Valley.  The Gompa is over 150 years old, and was inaugurated by the Dalai Lama in 1962.

Nubra Valley is a beautiful green valley at about 10,500 ft. The run-off from the snow-capped peaks surrounding this fertile valley is carefully irrigated by the Ladakhi farmers.  What's also fascinating is that you can literally walk only five minutes from the greenery and see camels roaming around on sand dunes with towering snowy peaks in the distance, a fascinating juxtaposition.


Ladakhi kids in front of Samtanling Monastery, Sumur, Nubra Valley.

We camped in a farmer's field on the way to Pongong Tso, easily the bluest lake I've ever seen.  The farmer's children are holding pictures of the Dalai Lama that I had just given the family minutes before Tom took this picture.  The Dalai Lama's picture is revered all throughout Ladakh.  When we gave the family the pictures, they looked almost awestruck, and held the picture to their foreheads in silence. 

Horses grazing in front of the beautiful Pongong Tso ("tso" is Ladakhi for "lake"). Pongong Tso, which at approximately 14,500 ft. is the highest salt water lake in the world.  This pencil-shaped lake has the bluest water I have ever seen. A full three-fourths of this lake is actually in Tibet.

This spectacular flowering meadow greeted us as we rounded the corner from Chemrey Monastery on our way back to Leh from Pongong Tso. One of the things that struck me the most about the landscapes of Ladakh was the stark contrast in both the textures and the colors.

Tom flew back to Delhi, while I stayed in Ladakh a little while longer, eventually traveling to Kashmir.  I had heard from a number of tourists and Indians that Kashmir was safe.  I also had injured my back, and figured that staying on a houseboat in Kashmir might be just the sort of relaxation I needed.  I got that - and much more!


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