Ladakh - The Land Of High Passes
My last visit to the Himalayas was in 2011 to Kashmir. But I always longed for another visit to these beautiful mountains. So when we decided to visit the Himalayas, Ganesh suggested Ladakh and I instantly approved. We planned an anniversary trip to Ladakh in June and accordingly the bookings were made approximately three months prior. The biggest expenditure was on the flight tickets as we choose to fly directly to Leh from Mumbai. A month prior to our departure we started shopping for Ladakh. Considering it was summertime in Leh, we bought some light warm clothes. Soon the much-awaited day of departure arrived and we flew by an early morning Leh flight via Delhi. We reached Leh by 11 A.M. and on reaching we immediately realized how thin the air is at 11000 ft. above MSL (Mean Sea Level). Waiting for our luggage at Leh airport proved to be a long one. As we had arranged the vehicle beforehand, the driver was waiting at the airport entrance for our arrival.
On the first day, we decided to rest and get acclimatized to the surrounding climate. We took all the precautions while planning our trip since we heard from a lot of stories that due to high altitude many people suffer from short breath and other similar health issues. In the evening we took a small stroll around our resort and realized that walking short distances was also exhausting for us. The next day we had planned to see places around Leh.
The first destination was Thikse Monastery. Thikse monastery is the largest Monastery in Central Ladakh. As we reached the destination, we could not miss the monastery on a hill with a red, Maroon, and white combination of walls which looked outstanding with blue sky in the backdrop. The architecture of the Thikse monastery resembles the Potala Palace in Lhasa Tibet. Hence Thikse Monastery is also known as Mini Potala. The Monastery has many items of Buddhist art like stupas, statues, wall paintings, etc. The climb to the Thikse Monastery was also a long one considering we were yet to acclimatize to the Leh climate.
There were lots of Buddhist prayer wheels which we passed by and reached near the huge Buddha statue. This high statue of Maitreya Buddha is around 15 meters in height and is said to be the largest statue in Ladakh as tall as a two-storied building. This statue of Buddha is in a seated padmasana position. The decoration of Buddha by the Ladakhi people made the statue more attractive and beautiful.
There were prayer rooms in this monastery. The Thikse monastery overlooked a small village which can be seen from the courtyard. The view of the valley from Thikse was picturesque with clear blue sky, snow-capped mountains, and small hamlets were seen across the green carpet of land.
Later we moved to our next destination i.e. Shey monastery and Shey Palace.
Shey monastery contains Shakyamuni buddha statue. It is the second-largest Buddha statue in Ladakh. This statue is famous for its giant copper with a gilded gold statue of a seated buddha. The statue is called Sakyamuni since buddha was a saint “Muni” of Sakya people who resided in the Himalayan foothills.
After exploring the Shey palace, we returned to Leh for a lunch of Noodles, some local ladakhi vegetables, and Momos. Our driver took us to Leh palace however it was closed on account of repairs and we missed seeing the place.
We then moved to Shanti Stupa, our last destination for the day. The famous Shanti stupa is a Buddhist white dome stupa in Leh. It was built in 1991 by Japanese bhikshu. The Shanti stupa holds relics of Buddha at its base.
The stupa provided some astonishing panoramic views of the hills and Leh city around it. This white structure stands out against the brown mountains, blue sky and has been attracting tourists from all over the world. Our day ended on a high note and we were excited for our next day's destination that is Nubra valley via Khardung La which is the highest motorable road in India.
Nubra Valley :
On the day of departure to Nubra valley, I woke up feeling a bit low. I hardly ate breakfast (Oats) as I was having a mild headache. We were proceeding to Nubra valley via Khardung La and as our vehicle started the climb up, I started feeling high altitude sickness and I stopped the vehicle on a couple of occasions due to feeling of nausea. I decided to rest all the way to Nubra however Ganesh was excited to see the beauty around him with snow-capped mountains all around and he was busy clicking pictures.
He even got down at Khardung La and had a cup of tea at the world's highest restaurant but I was not in a situation to even wake up and see around. As we crossed over to the other side of the mountain, we saw a small blue coloured river, this was river Shyok (River of Death). It was the clearest river I had ever seen.
On the way to Nubra, we drove passed Diskit district. We also saw the huge statue of Maitreya Buddha near Diskit Monastery.
As I was feeling low on energy I decided not to venture around Nubra. Looking at my condition Ganesh ventured out in search of a doctor and later took me to a nearby Military hospital. The doctors were friendly and immediately diagnosed that I was suffering from high altitude sickness. After returning from the Military hospital I rested in the car while Ganesh went alone for sightseeing of sand dunes in Nubra and returned within half an hour.
The next morning we left Nubra as per our schedule to return to Leh. On the way, we visited the Lachung temple and even stopped at the Shyok river to enjoy the views around and to click some pictures. By now due to medication, I gained some strength to step out of the vehicle.
The next day we visited Rancho School, Sangam, and Magnetic hill.
Rancho School :
First we visited Rancho School. The actual name of the school is Druk Padma Karpo School but got famous as Rancho school because of the scene in the super hit movie 3 Idiots starring Amir Khan whose name was Rancho in the movie. This school is located in Shey village. The school premises has a Rancho's café too.
We loved the colourful paintings on school walls. Rancho School remains open from 8 am - 6 pm for tourists and is a very peaceful place. After visiting this school we moved towards Sangam.
Sangam is a confluence point of the Indus and Zanskar rivers. It is located on Leh-Srinagar highway. Both the rivers are of different colours and it is mesmerizing to watch them both meet each other and maintain their uniqueness of colour.
Sangam is a very beautiful and picturesque place. Many tourists come here to enjoy the adventurous activity of River rafting. After that, we headed towards Magnetic Hill.
Magnetic Hill :
Magnetic Hill was on our way back to Leh from Sangam. Magnetic hill is located on Leh - Kargil road. Magnetic hill is a downhill road. On this road because of gravity stationery vehicles are pulled upwards. We had this astonishing experience and were amazed at its scientific effect.
Later we headed towards Leh and had lunch on our way back to our cottage. In the evening we strolled around Leh and Leh market. Leh market is famous for T-shirts (Printed with Yaak, Spiti Valley, Khardung La, Pangong Lake, etc.), Ladakhi flags, souvenirs, etc. Ganesh bought lots of t-shirts for himself and for our friends. After that, went came back to our cottage and had dinner. The next day we planned to visit the most iconic Pangong Lake. And I was very excited since I watched Pangong lake in the movie 3 idiots and always wanted to visit the place and it felt like a dream come true.
Pangong Lake :
Leh is on 11000 ft. and Pangong Lake is approximately 14000 ft. While visiting Pangong Lake we crossed Changla Pass. Changla Pass is the third highest motorable mountain pass in the world. Changla pass is on 17500 ft.
While going towards Pangong lake we saw beautiful snowy roads and incredible scenic beauty. This lake is one of the high-altitude saltwater lakes which is located 4350 m above sea level. One-third of Pangong lake lies in India and two-third is in China. China border is just 20 km away from this lake. The best time to visit this place is from May to September. All the roads remain open during these months. At last, after 4 hours we reached Pangong Lake. After watching the serene beauty of this lake all the efforts of reaching the place felt worthwhile.
The beauty of this place cannot be expressed in words and it has to be experienced in person. It is mesmerizing to watch the blue crystal clear water and surroundings. We saw many migratory birds in the lake. We had the customary Maggi and hot soup and clicked lots of scenic pictures. After spending memorable 2 hours we headed back to Leh.
The next day was our relaxing day. So we just roamed around, visited markets, cafes, and restaurants. The next day we entered our Mumbai flight after promising Leh to visit again to experience this beauty again.
- Mohini Nabar