And so we continue…….
In Leh, the early mornings remind me of this amazing brown doughnut topped with blue and white icing. I used to wonder if I could just bite into it, so that I could savour the succulent brown mountains and landscape topped with the bluest of blue skies and specks of cloud. This was my view from my beautiful room at Grand Dragon, on our first day at Leh. Having decided to start our day a little late, we all gathered for a late breakfast that comprised of a complete indian & international spread. We had two days to spend in Leh and with so much to see, we were excited to get started at the earliest.
Leh is a town in the Leh district of the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir. Leh was an important stopover on trade routes along the Indus Valley between Tibet to the east, Kashmir to the west and also between India and China for centuries. The main goods carried were salt, grain, pashm or cashmere wool, charas or cannabis resin from the Tarim Basin, indigo, silk yarn and Banaras brocade (credits: Wikipedia). When we set out we decided to look at some of the popular sights in Leh. Our first stop was the Gurudwara Pathar Sahib. Situated about 25 kms away from the main town of Leh, this gurudwara was built in the 1600s to commemorate Guru Nanak Dev’s, the founder of the Sikh faith, visit to Ladakh while he was on his way to Punjab from Srinagar. Guru Nanak is well respected by Tibetan Buddhists who consider him a saint. He is called Nanak Lama here. Today the site and the Gurdwara are revered by both the local Lamas and Sikh sangat. Currently the Army is looking after the Gurdwara. As per belief, there was an altercation between a demon and Guru Nanak, during which the demon realized the power of Guru Nanak. A large stone with the imprint of Guru Nanak’s body and the demon’s footprint is present at the site. The view from the Gurudwara Pathar Sahib is of snow caped mountains accompanied with a feeling of peaceful isolation.
Our next stops were the Leh Palace and the Thikse monastery. Modeled on the famous Potala Palace in Lhasa (former home of the Dalai Lama), the Leh palace was the former home of the kings of Leh. Built by King Sengge Namgyal in the 16th century, it is 9 storeys tall with the upper rooms (reserved for the royal family) giving us sweeping views of the valleys around. The roof provides panoramic views of Leh and the surrounding areas, as the mountain of Stok Kangri in the Zangskar mountain range is visible across the Indus valley to the south, with the Ladakh mountain range rising behind the palace is visible in the north (credits: Wikipedia). The palace holds a rich collection of jewelry, ornaments, and ceremonial dresses and crowns. With the Archaeological Survey of India restoring the place, we had some Stupas, Gompas and structures with intricate designs to see all around the palace.
We decided to stop for lunch at a local restaurant below the palace. The beauty of this place was the view that it provided. It was very relaxing to eat a local meal comprising of momos (both fried & steamed) & thukpa and continue to watch the mountains as the light breeze hit our face. The thukpas were filled with vegetables & meat & very light on the stomach.
We then went to the Thikse monastery. It is said to be the largest gompa in central Ladakh, notably containing a separate set of buildings for female renunciates. The monastery is located at an altitude of 3,600 metres (11,800 ft) in the Indus Valley. It is a twelve-story complex and houses many items of Buddhist art such as stupas, statues, thangkas, wall paintings and swords. One of the main points of interest is the two storeys tall Maitreya Temple installed to commemorate the visit of the 14th Dalai Lama to this monastery in 1970 (credits: Wikipedia). I just loved the way the Maitreya Buddha statue was adorned with colours and ornaments. Since it is juts the bust of Buddha, a lot of effort had been taken to get into the granularity of the representation. I cannot fathom the amount of time taken to carve this statue and the time it takes to clean and maintain its beauty. The view of this monastery from across the valley as well as the view of the valley from the monastery, are distinctly different but equally breathtaking.
As we drove in and around Leh, before we ended day one, we went to this interesting place called ‘the Magnetic hill’. The layout of the area and surrounding slopes create the appearance of the hill. Magnetic Hill lies on the Leh-Kargil-Baltic National Highway. It’s a place that best symbolizes the wonders of nature – a stretch of road where the laws of gravity do not work, thanks to the strong magnetic field that envelopes the region. On this road, if you turn off the engine of your vehicle and go on a neutral gear, the vehicle continues to move at a speed of 20kmh, on its own. Apparently, even the airplanes that fly over this region increase their altitude in order to avoid this magnetic interference. Every tourist driver who passes through this hill provides tourists with an experience of this phenomenon. We experienced it too, though I felt that the car moved very slowly and yes, like many other tourists, I wondered whether the driver had a role to play in the belief. However, we heard many stories from the locals and clubbing them with some scientific reasons for this phenomenon, convinced me that my experience was quite real.
Day 2 was our treat with the waters of Leh. Breakfast time was almost like a ganging up time to chat, eat good food and most importantly, plans for the day ahead. Usually, because we end up coming quite late in the evening, we preferred to hit the bed early or just go and find some time for ourselves. So the mornings were times to share photographs, reviews of the previous days experience, and drinking several cups of hot tea with Parle G biscuit sitting on the lawns of the hotel, relishing the panoramic view. We were looking forward to today because we were to hit the waters. So after a heavy breakfast and ensuring we have a good two hours of break before getting into our activity, we set out.
Our first stop was for the white water rafting at Zanskar. The water levels remain high during the months June to late August, which is the best season for fascinating rafting expeditions. So we were here at the perfect time. The white water rafting on Indus provides spectacular view of the landscapes of Ladakh and Zanskar ranges which, in the past, housed Buddhist monasteries on high cliff. Reputed as one of the ravishing regions in the Himalayas, Zanskar Valley is laden with nature’s little treasures from snow-clad mountains, glaciers to its captivating gorges with the Zanskar River flowing right beside it. Zanskar river rafting expedition also offers one with exciting opportunities of battling its turbulent waters through thrilling rafting sessions. Rafting provides the best opportunity to enjoy and experience the natural beauty of the spectacular landscape with deep gorges, towering snowcapped peaks, hilltop monasteries, hillside villages, and glimpses of the unique wildlife.
We were so hungry by lunch time that we were embarrassingly ravenous when the food was served. We were just too lazy to do anything after this, so our team took us to this place called the sangam point. This is the valley where the Indus & Zanskar rivers meet. We could just sit there and soak in the energies, take a dip in the glacial melts and let the mineral rich water cleanse our skins. Despite having felt exhausted, we enjoyed our little adventure at sangam point and played in the water like children. The water was cold and refreshing. I was excited to know of its mineral contents and splashed the water on my face and hair hoping to glow and have my hair elongate by the end of this trip. We all slept on small make shift beds right there at sangam point.
Waking up in time for tea, we felt refreshed and just sat back enjoying a relaxed evening, with no words exchanged – just the sun, water, mountain ranges and unadulterated air. I walked over to the Zanskar river and sat on one of the boulders allowing my hand to touch the water and feel its energy in my skin. The water had gone colder now that we were nearing the peak evening hours. If I was to touch this water late into the night, it may have been chilling. It was time to leave.
The two days in Leh had come to an end. I was about to retire for the night, and I sat keying in my experiences on my laptop. It was then that I realized that the blue sky never tired me of its colour, the brown mountains never overwhelmed me with its monotony nor did the distinctly different blue waters stab my heart with some long buried pain. It was just the confluence that seemed to make me contemplate. But as I was wrapping up my writings and I thought of the time near the Zanskar when I sat alongside the flowing water, letting my fingers caress the ripples in its white, a tear escaped my eyes and I decided to call it a day. My heart felt full – a bit of love, a bit of peace and a bit of expectation towards the days to come.
To be continued…….