Ladakh in summer
This winter was an extended one in Ladakh, stretching into April. The snow capped mountains continued to send chilly winds down the Leh valley. April is when the valley wakes up to the sun and melting snow, bringing an end to sub-zero temperatures of the previous six months.
We remained indoors for a day and a half to acclimatise ourselves, followed by a half day at the Main Market, browsing in shops, chatting with locals and finally polishing off a bowl of Thukpa before returning to our Army Guest House.
Next was a day trip around Leh, beginning at the confluence of rivers, Indus and Zanskar. A super-calm, tourist-free sangam greeted us. Indus is a sweet water river whereas Zanskar is heavily loaded with minerals. After merging, the river loses it's properties to irrigate. So, you see a lot of cultivation on the banks of Indus before it reaches the confluence; but the banks are barren thereafter. On the way back we stopped to see the magnetic hill, where your vehicle goes up the hill without power, defying gravity.
On the fourth day, we hired an Innova and headed for the Nubra Valley. An army convoy of 70 trucks forced us to wait at the South Pullu check post for 4 hours. The road to Khardung La pass had one foot of snow, forcing us to put on snow chains to move ahead. At the peak, at 18,380 ft, the only folks you find is the team at the Indian Army Post. A small canteen happily serves hot tea and Maggi if you are hungry. There is also a temple and a monastery.
By the time we reached Hunder village, it was sundown. Hunder is a small quaint village, at the confluence of Shyok-Nubra rivers. It is situated on the ancient Silk Route, facilitating trade, and now the strategic point for the Siachen Glacier. Hunder has plenty of homestays and tented camps charging Rs 2000/- B&B.
Next day we drove out of the quaint Hunder village into the white sand dunes of Nubra Valley. The Bactrian double-humped camels are reared in the village and offered to tourists for a ride, the only livelihood for some. Amidst the Zanskar river flowing between the snow capped barren mountains and the white sand dunes, lies the vast expanse of the world famous Nubra Valley – true epitome of a Himalayan desert.
Next stop was the Diskit Monastery, the oldest Tibetan Budhist Gompa of the Yellow Hat Sect, built in the 14th century by a disciple of Tsong Khapa. A sub Gompa of the famous Thikse monastery, it has a 70 foot statue of a crowned Budhha, visible a kilometer away. We reached the base camp of Chushul by evening, driving sometimes on the road and sometimes off it, as we meandered through the Tangse valley. We spotted the elusive Ibex, camouflaged among rocks thanks to their beige and grey skin. A group of Mormut (tiny hedgehog resembling creatures, who hibernate all winter in holes dug underground) were soaking up the sun when we passed by their habitat.
On the sixth day, we left the army camp after breakfast, and headed straight for the mesmerising Pangong Tso, a salt water lake, now famous for the 3 Idiots climax scene. The yellow scooter used by its stars still adorns the shore of the lake, with your photo to be clicked beside it costing Rs 50.
After countless clicks at Pangong Lake, we sipped coffee at Rancho Café and headed back to Leh. On way back, we crossed the Changthang plateau at almost 14,000 ft, home of the nomadic Chungpa tribe, who have made this harsh terrain their home and lived by trading in salt extracted from lakes and fine Pashmina wool from their goats, in return for food. We stopped by a herd of goats and clicked a calf who had slipped into a stream. He was rescued by his shepherd woman, alerted by the constant neighing of his mother. The reunion of both was very touching.
Close to Leh, high on a hill, is Thikse Monastery, where we sat in quiet solitude for a long time, inside the temple and the praying hall, returning only after visiting its educative Tibetan Medicine Centre.
It is impossible not to notice the diversity of the Ladakh region, so close to Delhi, yet so different, making you wonder why humans choose such harsh terrains to live in, when they have better options. Or have they? As a traveller, I did wonder, who was luckier, them or us?