The Himalayas of India: Ladakh and Srinagar,
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The ethereal Shanti Stupa towering over Leh at night, a quick preview of a few of the Himalayan sights on our adventure. I have gotten into night sky, star trails, long exposure, and "light painting" photography in the last year or two, and did all of that under the Himalayan sky.
But more on that later.
Tuesday 11 June:
I then took a taxi to Himachal Bhawan Mandi House in Connaught Place at 5:30 pm, waiting inside HPTDC office because they had AC for their 8:30pm-6am bus. The expressway from Delhi to Shimla was modern and impressive.
Wednesday 12 June - Shimla and then to Sarahan:
Lovely setting for the temple, as you might expect from Himachal Pradesh, although rather damp. There seemed to be a lot of rain in Shimla as well as here. The Bhimakali temple is a cross between Buddhist and Hindu styles, quite nice. I decided to stay in a guest room in the temple for 550r.
The wooden Bhimakali Temple in Sarahan, the gateway to the region of Kinnaur in Himachal Pradesh, is dedicated to the mother goddess Bhimakali, and is best known for its intricate woodwork on both the exterior and interior.
|Built completely of wood, the Bhimakali Temple is an amalgamation of Hindu and Buddhist styles, and is considered an architectural masterpiece.|
|Watching the temple pujas and admiring the architectural details was fascinating, but I also had to feed my belly as well as my mind. I went to one of the local dhabas surrounding Bhimakali Temple, which all looked very basic, and ordered thukpa, a Tibetan noodle and vegetable soup. As it turned out, I would eat mostly vegetarian food throughout the trip.|
Fun facts about Bhimakali Temple!
* Who is Bhimakali?
* How the temple survived the earthquake of 1905!
* A Secret Scooby-Doo StyleTunnel!
|Bhimakali Temple door handle, shot with my trusty Nikkor 50mm.|
|One of the doors of the Bhimakali Temple in Sarahan, Himachal Pradesh, with another Hindu temple in the background.|
|Since my arrival in Delhi and then Himachal Pradesh, it had been raining non-stop. This was the first break in rain, so I grabbed my tripod, ran up to the top of the steps in the temple complex, and took this photo of a temple alongside Bhimakali Temple at night, the Himalayan Mountains barely visible in the horizon.|
Thursday 13 June, Sarahan to Manali:
Friday 14 June - Manali (arrived 6 am):
Rooms were expensive in Manali, and scoring a room for 1100 rupees along the The main area known as The Mall was actually cheap for this time of year. I dealt with the lost cellphone for much of the day, replacing the new one, for which you need photocopies of your passport and many passport photos as well as a voucher from a local, although the company fudges this.
But I also needed to figure out where to go.
My original plan was to go to Spiti Valley. But I encountered many roadblocks, both literal (Manali to Kaza via Kunlum Pass was closed due to a landslide) and figurative (I was told I needed to be in a group of four to obtain a permit to go to Spiti Valley). And it kept raining. And raining. This was pre-monsoon, but I hadn't recalled Himachal Pradesh raining this much.
Enough with the roadblocks. I decided to go to Leh instead. Upon making this decision, my mood lifted. I loved Ladakh. And this also solved the logistical problem of going to Spiti Valley and also trying to visit Fayaz and his family, my Kashmiri family, in Dal Lake. How would I do this? Would I have enough time? Getting from Manali to Srinagar was no easy task, either by many days of spine-rattling bus rides or by expensive plane rides, flying back down to Delhi, then back up to Srinagar.
But going from Leh to Srinagar was comparatively easy. Yes. This decision felt right.
By the time I made the decision, it was evening. I walked over the lake, then back down to a couple of Tibetan temples. At Von Ngari Monastery, I saw children monks playing in the courtyard, and then met Jampa, a kind monk. We spoke for a while.
|Jampa cooks rice and dal in the Von Ngari Monastery kitchen in Manali. We shared dinner, spoke a while about Tibetan issues, fundraising, and other things. I left a small donation.|
Saturday 15 June - an all-day and night minibus ride from Manali to Leh:
There are two options:
I chose the latter.
But the latter comes with consequences. Although I've been on most of the major major mountain roads in Ladakh, going to Pongong Tso, Tso Moriri, Nubra Valley, Lamayuru, and other roads, I've never been on a road so grueling or painful as the one going from Manali to Leh. And it was also surprisingly cold, even in the mini-bus.
The most enjoyable part of the bus ride was stopping for food, such as here, eating the plain but welcome aloo parathas.
What made the mini-bus ride from Manali to Leh so grueling and awful?
- The mini-bus drivers were racing along as fast as possible, driving far faster than I would have ever felt comfortable driving on bumpy mountain roads. Coupled with this is our driver, who had only slept two hours the night before, having made a drive from Leh to Manali. But bus drivers don't say no to jobs, or they are not asked to do them again.
- I was sitting in the very back of the bus, so every bump was magnified. All of us in the back were flying up, regularly getting completely airborne as the bus careened through the mountain roads. I had a bruise on my left arm from slamming into the side of the bus.
- The bus broke down, puncturing a tire, about 50km from Leh. We were stuck in the bus for a couple of hours as he fixed it by the side of the road, as it was extremely cold outside.
- The bus ride took 22 hours in total.
BONUS PAGE: Scenes From the Amazing Road from Manali to Leh
Sunday 16 June - first full day in Leh:
We had gotten in late, and most hotels and guesthouses were closed, but the driver had a cousin who had a guest house called the Mountain View Guest House.
I roomed with a 51 year old dreadlocked, bearded Argentinian guy named Miguel who also rode on the bus, dressed in full-on hippie glory. He has not had a home for 22 years, traveling continuously around the world. He has been in India for 8 months, but has also traveled in Spain and Italy, sleeping in the streets because it's too expensive, and has also traveled in South and Central America. In India, he prefers Varanasi because he sells more jewelry there than Goa.
How he traveled so extensively in India while speaking almost no English was a topic of conversation at the guest house. I mean he knows almost nothing. He knows "today", "tomorrow", numbers, greetings. That's about it. No one could understand what he was saying, so I translated, eventually leaving some simple phrases with the hotel manager when I left a couple of days later.
The Mountain View Guest House charged us just 150 rupees for the night. I told Miguel that I snore ("vasquer" I think the word is). He said, "No problem, I talk a lot (in my sleep)". And he did a bit. But I had ear plugs and all was good in the world. I slept soundly.
Why my first photo in Leh is a mannequin, I'm not sure. But so it is.
Remember, follow the little forward and backward autorickshaws to navigate.
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The Himalayas of India: Summer 2013
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Bonus Page - Manali-Leh Road
Bonus Page - My Kashmiri Family Eleven Shadows Travel Page
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