And so we continue…….
When we say ‘a cold morning’ in the mountains, it is actually a term that can be used for almost every single morning. But the coldness, with a stray ray of sunshine maneuvering its way through the crevices in the cloud, is a feeling and a sight to behold. I knew I was quite tired after a long Day 1, but there was something in the air that woke me up and I guess this serendipitous encounter with the morning sun was the exact ammunition I needed to get started. I shut my eyes and let the rainbow form behind my eyelids.
A quick snooze, and a shower later, I was up and ready to meet my friends, ready to step out, and hit the road less travelled – from Kargil to Leh. Breakfast is one of the most essential parts of road trips, and a local Ladakhi breakfast fills you with energy and sustenance for long distances. After a sumptuous ladakhi roti with eggs & chicken curry, we started our drive from Kargil to Leh just as the sun was stretching out of its deep slumber. The route that we were to take was Kargil – Mulbekh – Lamayuru – Hangroo Loops – Khalti – Leh. The roads had their ups and downs, and several parts of the road were undergoing work, but despite this human intervention, the backdrop was changing colours. There were green patches of vegetation followed by the brown, barren mountains having an intense blue sky as its shawl. It was still quite a pleasure to drive these roads.
Our first stop was at Mulbekh, around 37 kms from Kargil. The most popular aspect of this place was the Mulbekh castle and the ancient carved Buddha statue, also called the ‘Chamba statue’. The statue is an enormous figure carved into the rock which appears as a Maitreya Buddha or Buddha-to-come, and it overlooks the old trade route and modern highway. Some people believe it dates to the Kushan period in the early centuries. Modern scholars date it as being from around the eighth century (credits: Wikipedia). The word Mulbekh which means high-altitude-silver-coloured-rock, is a settlement created nearly 700 years ago at high altitudes, giving it its name. With a 100% Buddhist population, the languages spoken here are Ladakhi and Purkhi.
By this time we were ready for a break to address our mid morning hunger. Setting up a quick make-shift breakfast corner, our exploration team which included amazing chefs pampered our lazy bones with some steaming hot masala chai and samosas. The scene of Mulbekh from a height of 3304 metres, with the slow steam from our chai left us spell-bound. At that moment, little did we know that there were more breathtaking views coming our way.
We continued immediately thereafter and passed the famous Namika La at 3815 metres and Fotu La at 4108 metres. Fotu La pass is the highest point in the Srinagar Leh road. Each peak and pass was a driver’s, photographer’s and a ‘relisher’s’ delight, because the changing background as you pass each scene was surpassing each other in it’s beauty, leaving a person to wonder how the energies could have been so perfect. The descent though comforting felt like we were leaving a small part of us at the heights. With this thought and a sullen look, which could also be a call from the hunger pangs, we set foot into Lamayuru by around lunch time.
Lunch was at a local dhaba comprising of local produce. In this case it was palak coupled with potatoes (the staple carb source in the mountains) along with dal tadka, hot tava rotis and jeera rice. The Road Less Travelled team had carried dahi (these guys seem prepared for everything). Desserts were mouth watering walnut fudges (don’t ask me where they got them from).
Thanks to improved logistics, every dhaba along the route was offering maggi.
Lamayuru, also called as ‘moonland’ is known for its moonlike landscapes carved into the Himalayas and its monastery. Lamayuru is one of the largest and oldest Gompas in Ladakh, with a population of around 150 permanent monk residents. Lamayuru is host to two annual masked dance festivals in the second and fifth months of the Tibetan lunar calendar, when all the monks from these surrounding gompas gather together to pray (credits: Wikipedia).
After lunch we had a few options to look around. While we still had a 2 ½ hours drive left from Lamayuru to Leh, we decided to spend some time visiting Alchi Gompa, Lamayuru Gompa and interacting with the locals. The best location to view the moonscapes of Lamayuru is to climb up what is known as the meditation hill, where the monks from Lamayuru Gompa stay. The prayer rocks found here are an important part of the Buddhist culture, and they add some astounding colours to the mountains of Ladakh, which could otherwise seem a bit barren.
We were on our way shortly thereafter, and the weather carried with it the coolness of the incoming dusk. Stopping on our way for a cup of chai and adding a few layers of warm clothing, we were ready to step into Leh. One of the beauties of this drive, apart from the picturesque locales, and the changing colours of the sun, land, water and air, was the comfort it provided in allowing us to gradually acclimatize to the high altitudes, which enabled in appreciating the beauty and not be torn down by oxygen levels. Unlike flight travel, the roads seem to be the best way to address high-altitude related sickness.
We reached Leh as the night sky enveloped its dark chadder on the capital of the Himalayan kingdom of Ladakh.
To be continued…….