Having just left Nepal we felt like we’d seen mountain ranges and dealt with altitude, however Leh was something else completely. We arrived at a tiny airport surrounded by mountain ranges. Some of the views rivalled those from Poon Hill, and we’d had to do no trekking or climbing. We had to take the first two days easy as we were at 3,500m and altitude sickness would be induced if we did anything too strenuous. This gave us ample time to explore Leh town centre, including the Main Street with historical mosques and prayer flags scattered around and to eat some more Thukpa and Thentuk. The town had a really nice feel to it, as the living conditions were so tough, there was a strong sense of community. The main roads to Leh are shut for 6/9 months a year, meaning that vegetables and fruit are scarce in the low season. We’d arrived just before the roads opened and after a recent nearby avalanche. This meant no veggies and that the internet had been down for 3 months!
Having explored the town we were ready to plan three trips, the first of which was a 40km to take in the monasteries of Shey, Hemis and Thrixe. All three were beautiful and the drive there and back through the Indus Valley was magical. The water was crystal clear and the snow capped mountains immense against the valley floor. The landscape was both snowy and desert like, which seemed counterintuitive, but somehow it kind of made sense.
The next excursion was a big four day, three night tour with an Australian couple we’d met at the first guesthouse. They were so nice and chatty that we spent the majority of our time in Leh with them. The trip to the Nubra Valley and Pangong lake was booked through Swiss Travel – run by Ishey, one of the kindness, most welcoming people we’ve met throughout our trip. The tea and getting warm seemed to be the priority rather than selling us anything. The next day we were ready to go on our mammoth journey.
We met Nubor, our expert driver the next day and headed across to the Nubra Valley. We knew he was expert straight away as we drove up a huge mountain range with ease and in no time we were at the highest drivable pass in the world. We all got out of the car, feeling giddy, dizzy and wobbly, all signs of the altitude as we were now at 5,500m. Nubor continued to impress as we quickly descended and he maintained suave as we hurtled around corners, often meeting oncoming traffic – all of which was dealt with calming and in a controlled fashion. The landscape was unlike anything we’ve ever seen before. A stream/river rubbing through the valley with purple mountains and vast sandy expanses. Whilst the Indus Valley was beautiful, this place was otherworldly. In an action packed first day we saw the hot springs of Panamik, another monastary, finishing up in Hundar for a traditional dancing show – a weird arrangement as a number of Indian tourists had begun to take over the show from the Laddhaki dancers.
Day two began with a visit to the sand dunes to see the two humped camels of the area. They were adorable, especially the young who made bizarre noises as they wonkily ran around the sand. The next stop was Turtuk. A place that had only recently been opened to tourists and is the most northern village in India. Turtuk is a half an hours drive from the contested Pakistan border. The village itself was magnificent. The place felt self sustained, with irrigation channels and farming throughout the town. It felt like we were seeing real life in rural India rather than being on a tourist trip. The people here were so friendly and we were treated to amazing food from the guesthouse, including a breakfast of buckwheat pancakes with fermented spinach (the spinach was left in milk to ferment).
Day three and we moved on to Pangong lake after taking in the old monastery at Diskit. Pangong lake topped the views we’d seen so far. Even with what looked like a camel graveyard on approach (strange protrusions from the sand which looked like camel humps) we were awestruck upon arrival. The lake was huge and we could on see just over 25% of it (we could see a small amount of the lake that belong to Tibet, buy mainly just the Indian 25% rather than the Tibetan 75%). We had been warned that the lake may have been frozen still, but luckily for us, and despite the best efforts of the chilling weather, the lake had thawed out and we were able to get the full picturesque view. The lake shimmered and changed shades depending on the sunlight, each beam of light creating a beautiful new shade of blue leading to a patchwork effect on the surface. We had a spectrum of blues and greens as well as a pink section at one stage. Ladakh had been one screensaver landscape after another! We stayed in a beautiful cabin by the lake and kept warm by a kerosene heater in the middle of the main room. The cabins had no heating, but plenty of blankets and hot water bottles which meant that we stayed cosy. The same can’t be said for the bathroom which froze during the night, no toilet flush and icicles coming out of the taps.
We were sad to leave, but we had more to see in Leh. We returned through snow, requiring snow chains on the car to pull us up to the top, and spent the next few days seeing the sights within Leh as well as a further commute to see the monastery at Lamayuru. The monastery was set against the sheer mountains and from a distance looked impressive. The monastery was also surrounded by ‘moonland’ a strange yellow reflective rock which was meant to look like the moon – we thought it looked impressive, but nothing like the moon! On the journey was also drove up magnetic hill – a mythical hill that is meant to drag you up due to magnetic forces – not quite what happened with us! A further viewpoint was a point in the valley where two rivers met, one green and one blue. En route we got a good view of this, but on our return when we ready to get a good photo, the sun wasn’t playing ball and the photos didn’t do it justice. After this journey we were greeted by Swiss travels lady for a meal called Schoo – a curry made from mushrooms, soy beans, wheat dumplings, spinach and peas. It was delicious and warming, just what we needed after a long day.
Our final day in India, so we tried to cram in our favourites. Chana bhature, sweets having climbed up to the palace to get a wonderful view of Leh and of course chai! We had a farewell meal with Gordon and Ruby and then we left Leh and India – quite sad for us really as we’d had such an amazing time. Onwards to Bangkok!