India : Land of Mountains – Leh, Jammu and Kashmir
In the midst of the beautiful Himalayas lies a small town, Leh in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, India. Surrounded by mountains on all sides Leh is a beautiful town. As soon as you land you are greeted by these mountains. If you visit Leh in the months of March-April you can see snow-capped mountains. Since Leh is at an altitude of 11,500 feet from sea level, it is advisable to let yourself acclimatise for the first 24-48 hours by avoiding any physical exertion and getting some rest, after all you’re on a holiday ;). Also stock up on some Oral Rehydration Salts (ORS) to keep yourself hydrated.
Culture and Monasteries:
Leh is a very safe place for solo and women travellers. It is heavily influenced by the Tibetan culture owing to the innumerable monasteries. We visited Thicksey and Hemis Monasteries. Thicksey is the most beautiful monastery I have ever seen. It is colourful and the architecture is such that you get an amazing valley view when you climb a few steps to enter the many temples and the museum in the monastery. It has huge prayer wheels, Buddha statues and gongs. I also had a conversation with one of the monks and it was the most simple and real conversations I have ever had. One of Lord Budhha’s teachings is that since you have no right to harm any living creature, you have no right to harm yourself as well, whether emotionally or physically. We all know this in our subconscious minds but how many of us actually think about it or practice it. That gave me a different perspective of how we should treat ourselves.
Gurudwara, Magnetic Hill and Sangam:
We also visited the Patthar Sahib Gurudwara on the Leh-Kargil road, which was again a very peaceful and spiritual experience. You can purchase Shilajit or mineral wax from outside the Gurudwara. It has many health benefits and is also used in Ayurveda. It is one of the mountain specialities found in that region. From the Gurudwara we headed to Magnetic hill. Locals here believe the earlier magnetic fields have weakened, so the effect of defying gravity is also weak. However, it is a tourist spot and people seem to want to visit it anyway. We tried to see the effect of the magnetic field by keeping the car in neutral gear. The car did move very slowly in the opposite direction, so there still seems to be some residual magnetic field there. From the magnetic hill we went on to see the “sangam”, confluence of the Indus and Zanskar rivers. This can be turned into a one day adventure, if you wish to go river rafting. We were hoping to go river rafting, however the tide was not in our favour and would have ended up boating in rafting gear, so we decided to enjoy the view instead. It is a mesmerising sight when the two rivers meet. You can distinctly see the different colour of each river. They flow in their original form together and merge into one after a while. I couldn’t help but feel poetic about this confluence.
Shanti Stupa is definitely worth visiting, located 5kms from the main area of Leh on a hill top. The Shanti Stupa was built by Ladakhi and Japanese Buddhists to promote world peace and prosperity and to commemorate 2500 years of Buddhism. It is considered a symbol of the ties between the people of Japan and Ladakh. You can also see a panoramic view of Leh from the stupa. It is built as a two level structure and there are steps to climb these two levels in a clockwise direction so you can see the “turning wheel of dharma” and the reliefs depicting different stages in the life of Lord Buddha. There is a cosy little café on the way to Shanti stupa, as we were coming down from it after watching the picture perfect sunset and the Leh town being lit in the dark, we decided to stop at this café for a quick snack. The café was beautiful, basic and had a homely feel to it. We ordered maggi and a couple of local speciality teas like the lemon, ginger and honey tea and butter tea. There was music playing to which we shook a leg, not caring about rest of the patrons or the staff, luckily they didn’t throw us out :P.
Lake Pangong Tso:
Brace yourselves because now comes the most beautiful and amazing part of the holiday, the five hour road trip to the lake Pangong Tso. Pangong has become a major tourist spot after being featured in a few Bollywood movies like 3 idiots, Dil se.., etc. It is beautiful beyond explanation. Words fail me as I try to describe it, however, I shall give it a shot knowing I’m not doing justice to its pristine beauty. It is at an altitude of about 14.5 thousand feet from sea level and extends from India (about 35%)to China (about 65%). Its saline water contains different hues of blue and purple. In winter the entire lake freezes. We stayed by the lake in tent houses, since it’s at such an altitude it is very windy and cold near the lake even during the months of summer. I was afraid my tent would fly off during the night, it’s that windy. The sunrise and sunset there are to die for. Had I gone to Pangong at the beginning of my trip, I don’t think I would have returned for rest of the sightseeing. However, the road to Pangong, though gorgeously scenic, consists of tough terrain. So people with motion or travel sickness need to take some precautions. Also people with back/neck/shoulder pains need to be careful since the terrain will cause a lot of jerks for the vehicle while travelling. But let me tell you as someone who has motion sickness since childhood; it is worth every trouble you might go through. The view is beyond picturesque and you will be glad you undertook the journey. Leh was a personally ambitious and a challenging journey for me as well and I am glad and thankful for undertaking it. It taught me a lot about myself physically and spiritually. I ardently suggest you make Leh your next holiday destination.
Restaurants and Cafes
For the foodie in you, these spots are a must visit:
- Alchi’s Kitchen near Alchi Monastery with specialities Kambhir (local bread) and stew.
- Gohil’s café in Leh for the Mughlai food
- Bon Appetit for Italian food and the most delectable chocolate momos
- Also try the Kashmiri food there, easily available
- Café Cloud near Thicksey monastery