This blog post was written by Gitanjali Sehgal and the pictures are by Anas Zubair
Ladakh… the land of lamas, mountains, glaciers, blue skies, and the shy ibex. One can see pristine Himalayan peaks resembling chocolate cones sprinkled with vanilla icecream and crisp blue springs from the windows of the aircraft. One lands at the Kushok Bakula Rimpochee Airport at Leh, one of the highest in the world at 10,682 feet. Truly a different world untouched by time!
All around one sees rosy cheeks with smiling faces; men wearing their woollen robes called Gouchas with colourful sashes or the Skerag and women in Kuntops and a colourful shawl called Bok with the traditional turquoise hats, the Perak. Colourful prayer flags and prayer wheels add on to the aura of serenity. It is believed that by simply touching a prayer wheel, one can bring great purification to negative karmas. It is advised to take it easy as one needs to acclimatize to the altitude and rarified air.
The markets in Leh are filled with exquisite silver jewellery, turquoise, pashminas, prayer wheels, Buddhist masks, Thangka paintings, dragon artwork, handmade woollen socks, gloves and caps, woollen rugs, apricot oil and Ladakhi tables.
Spituk Gompa, Shanti Stupa, Stok Palace, Magnetic Hill, Gurudwara Pathar Sahib, Thiksey Monastery and Sindhu Ghat are mesmerising sights to behold. Pangong Tso and Tso Moriri, lakes with shades of blue that are simply hypnotic. Never before would you have imagined such beauty before you.
A scenic drive through Khardung La at 18,379ft, the highest motorable pass in the world leading to Khalsar opens up into the breathtaking Nubra valley by the banks of the river Shayok. The Silk Route that was used for trade in the olden times passes by here. One can go towards Sumoor and Panamik for a dip in the Hot Sulphur Springs. The road laden with wild roses leads onto Siachen glacier, the world’s highest battlefield; sia meaning rose and chen meaning an abundance of. The other axis leads to Diskit, Hundar and Partapur and further onto Turtuk. Road markers by the Border Roads showcase interesting sayings. Diskit is a vibrant town with the Maitreyi Buddha at the Diskit Gompa. Friendly monks take one around and regale one with stories of times of Genghiz Khan.
The cold desert Hunder with its silvery sand dunes and double humped Bactrian Camels come next. Sliding down these dunes and making angels in the sand is exhilarating. Seabuckthorn grows wild around here. Picturesque campsites, hotels and homestays are available at all budgets.
A local home shows simple living with homes centred around a spic and span kitchen, stove in centre, traditional Peraks hanging in one corner. The lower level is used to shelter animals, livestock and as storage for vegetables and grains, akin to what others call a refrigerator. There is one growing season in summers for crops to grow and harvest. Harsh winters see both animals and plants hibernating, magically coming to life in springtime. Yaks, sheep and marmots are aplenty.
Thukpa, Momos, yak cheese Chuppri, steamed bread Tigmo, Butter tea and Chang the local beer are delicious. People drink butter tea from colourful flowery teapots and keep warm. Julley, the magic word for greetings opens upto conversations and laughter. Ladakhis are immensely fond of music and dancing. Rythmn is in their souls. They are happy to have you join in. The wizened old ladies, children with toothless smiles all love to be photographed.
This picture perfect place gives one memories to last a lifetime, friends to treasure and before you know it, you become a storyteller……