Started from Chanderkot (150kms. From Jammu on the Jammu Srinagar Highway) on 23.09.2004 at 8a.m. to reach Srinagar after a pleasant drive of 4hours (approx.) at 12:20p.m. at the Hotel Grand Palace Intercontinental. The drive is a pleasant one with almost one and half to two hours on the mountains at an incline, which after going through the Jawaharlal Tunnel (of 2547 meters length, 3.2 meters wide and 4.5 mtrs in height) more or less falls on a horizontal land terrain.
The entire trip was uneventful, except for my wide range of emotions ' ranging from the sheer awe of viewing the lofty, egoistic mountain ranges, to the ecstatic joy of golden fields ripe with harvest amidst these semi-barren hills, portraying the tough, grueling standard of living of the natives here, the surprise to watch the local children afoot early morning, dressed in school uniform to cover distances of 4-5 kms. On these hills to attend school!! But overall the strongest emotion, which lingers yet, now as I sit on a swing on the palatial gardens of the hotel on a warm breezy and very pleasant September afternoon is strongly that of pain, hurt and shock.
You would say ' 'Me in Srinagar, paradise on earth and in Shock? Why, what's wrong?'
Dear Friends, my entire journey from Chanderkot to Srinagar met with one common sight- even the mountains changed their form, their colors, their altitude at every bend and curve, but the non-stop sight of the military personnel (Jawans) posted throughout the National Highway 1A (coming through Jammu and extending beyond Srinagar) at every 20-30 meters was not a pleasant sight. Most of them were on patrol (day and night- 24 hours) and if not, then they are surveying the highway and it's boundaries, the bridges, the planes off the road with detectors and trained dogs for explosives or mines or hidden terrorists !! Can you imagine the scene ? At every half a kilometer, our vehicle (bolero) would come across a patrolling truck with one at the wheel, one next to him, 2-3 behind and one stationed with his automatic rifle on top of the vehicle keeping a vigil on all directions. Military vehicles usually travel in a convoy of around 10-12 trucks together, with every vehicle having 2-3 Jawans on top the vehicle watching the 4 directions, ready to spring in action if required any moment. I came to know that this exercise of combing the entire National Highway 1A and it's surroundings takes place every morning. What twinges in me is the ironical fact that my own piece of land, of my own country, needs to be protected so desperately that it seems for every atom of this land, for every civilian in this valley, has been stationed an army personnel. It indeed is a sorry state of affair that such a beautiful patch of my country has now turned into a battlefield.
Entering Srinagar comes rather as a jolt than a pleasant surprise. Reason as I mentioned above ' the city has been more or less converted into an army base and their population seems to be on such a high, that it seems for every civilian, has been allotted one army official. All the major big buildings and grounds have been converted to Defense bases, and most of the buildings have shut down due to fear of terrorist attacks. Most of the hotels are used to lodge the army people.
Most of the greenery seems faded as a washed out mural, but this could also be due to the time of my visit as this particular time is not the peak season as far as Srinagar and tourism go. Anyways, the first impression I got was the normal one of a tourist entering a hill station ' full of smoke and pollution and crampiness. It was only when the bolero turned onto the stretch encircling the Dal Lake, did the beauty of Kashmir dawn on me. This stretch of pukka road is very similar to the Nariman Drive of Mumbai, which encircles the side of the Arabian Sea. On one side rests the bustling city of Srinagar in the valleys of Kashmir and on the other hand, the entire mountainous slopes stretching as far as the horizon and in between these two planes lies the DAL Lake.
7:40p.m. / 23.09.04
HI once again !! After refreshing at the time of check in, I decided to take a stroll in the beautifully maintained gardens of the hotel and why shouldn't I ' for a night's stay if I am shelling out Rs.4000/- (discount rate) as the room rent (and food items are exorbitantly priced but tasty) for one of the most posh hotels of Srinagar, one should explore its beauty to maximum in even the most miserly time available. So after a lunch of veg. biryani, I chose to visit the garden and here I was on a swing penning down my previous thoughts.
As of now, I am cozily nestled in my room, after a 4hour excursion of the city that mainly comprised of an hour and quarter in a Shikaara on the Dal lake, a quick visit to the Nishat Garden (Mughal Garden) and a hasty survey of the local market. I left the room at 3:30p.m. to venture into the town and decided to hit upon the shikaara ride first as they close down on the fringe of dusk due to lack of tourists in this season. The seasonal rate of an hour on the lake is Rs.800/- !! (as per the charts displayed there) which the fellow decided to close on Rs.300/-. So fortified with a shikaara and 2 boatmen, I entered the Dal Lake with mixed feelings. I was slightly disappointed at the sight of the lake because I had held preconceived notions and images of it from various Hindi movies of the 70's and early 80's, wherein everything about Kashmir was green and charming and pleasant, whereas the plankton filled and numerous tourist operator fringed Dal lake seemed to mock at me and my assumptions. Somehow it did not seem to hold much charismatic aura about it '. Though I must insist that a shikaraa ride is a must while in Srinagar ' the ride, the calmness of the 12 feet deep lake, the mountains all around and the crisp breeze blowing throughout, does succeed in transporting one to an altogether different world (that is if you succeed in turning a blind eye to the chaos on the shores, and the motors speeding by on the encircling road I spoke earlier of !!).
Another angle of disappointment for me lay in the houseboat (now this is strictly a personal choice and chain of thoughts). The entire (well almost entire of the Dal lake lying in the vicinity of the city) is fringed by 'n' number of houseboats (uncountable). The worst part is the names some houseboats have been given. Sounds like a direct insult to the entire scenario. Guessing what I am talking about? Imagine Dal lake (see picture if u must, to imagine), imagine beautifully and intricately carved houseboats bearing the names of Manhattan, New Manhattan, Las Vegas, Mona Lisa and some alike !! Coming back to facts, there certainly must be some charm in residing in these house boats or else why would they thrive so much to the extent of charging a minimum of 2000/- per day per room, during the peak seasons and maximum to an obscene amount ?? Personally speaking, the fact that I am in a houseboat stationed on the bank of a lake does not hold much appeal to me. Yes, had it been mobile on the lake, I guess my feelings towards this concept would have had been different.
The ride threw some light on some issues like how did the lake get its name. As told to me by the boatman, in much ancient times, there was no lake, only a huge pit of 'Duldul' (the moist patch of loosened earth that sinks everything in itself), which gradually due to accumulation of mountain waters and snow melting in summer, filled up to be called 'Dal' lake.
The second revelation was that the locals here, specially the houseboat owners did in house farming to run their kitchen and cut on expenses. When I say in house farming, it means growing small time veggies on water around their houseboat. Nothing to be surprised of when I tell you the technique they have adopted in doing so. It seems they have discovered some kind of earth (mud) and grass which hold together in a very tight bonding which when planted in water results into a very thick layer of soil which is afloat but non dissolving and non penetrating in nature. It floats on water around the houseboat and close to land in one solid chunk and the locals grow veggies like cucumber, lauki, pumpkin (kaddu), watermelon, tomatoes, beans on this stretch !! Very truly said isn't it ' Necessity is the mother of all inventions. Lotus and water lily also happen to grow in abundance on the lake. The hour and quarter passed off in a jiffy bringing me back to the shores of reality with a thud ( shikaraa banging against the shores).
My next halt was the very famous 'Nishat Garden' more popularly known as the Mughal Garden. I am not sure whether the garden survives from the Mughal era or not, but if it does, even as I write, I am trying to imagine the Mughal monarchs walking / strolling down here on the velvety grass with their ladies, singing, 'Do sitaron kaa zameen par hai Milan aaj kee raat'). Not a very funny thought, eh?
Let me give you a peek at the Mughal garden. The entire span of the garden is cultivated more or less like terrace farming or should I take the liberty of saying terrace gardening, and adorning it are flowers of various species, colors, dimensions and what not, flanked by fountains from place to place (and they are in good working conditions). An entry fee of Rs.5/- and you walk into the paths flanked by Chinar trees, lush greenery and lovers and couples (haa haa haa..).
After spending around 40minutes in all that green and developing a slight headache, headed for the local uptown market to prepare for the next day trip to Leh. Came back to hotel at around 7:30p.m., refreshed and ordered dinner and here I am writing to you. More to follow from Leh' till then Goodnight and sleep tight '..
This is one word (meaning Hello) that thaws the iciest expression when uttered bringing a wide grin to whomsoever uttered '..Caught the morning flight (9a.m.) from Srinagar for a 40 minutes mind blowing air experience of the Karakoram Range on the way to Leh. The aerial sight of these mountains exceed my imagination and it is difficult to pen down these views, but yet I will certainly try ' Mountains of all sizes and different shapes, some huge and gentle sloping and yet some real tiny ones appearing to be like mischievous babies hovering around their mother; mountains harsh and steep with jaggered gradients making them appear like an accumulation of harsh pyramids, mountain of all colors, from the darkest of browns to the washout sandstone, from purples to pinks and oranges and greens. My favorite was one having parallel streaks of purples and greens and oranges with dash of pink here and there (all in one you could say), but it was really amazing to view a mountain from a much higher altitude where I could see the clouds beneath cast shadows on these mountains standing erect in all their grandeur. The flight ended rather abruptly (actually anything is abrupt when one expects it to prolong and yet it finishes). Same was the case here- the 40 minutes flight came to an end when I had begun to enjoy my own mesmerization.
Sorry to interrupt the chain of thoughts, but I must insert this note that those who have more time in hand and also those who wish to cut on flight expenses, should try the jeep safari from Manali to Leh (18 hours or so) or else the jeep journey from Srinagar to Leh (12 hours or so). Everyone suggests that the Manali journey that comes through the Spiti valley is a beautiful experience covering a lot of nature in very many forms.
The first thought that stuck me on stepping out of the aircraft onto the steps, viewing around Leh was of vastness and brightness. Many say it is the desert look that hits them first, but then, Leh is a mountainous desert, so why should it hit one?? Anyways when I say vastness, I meant the sight from the aircraft looked very spread out' vast stretches of emptiness and smooth slopes at the base of mountains all around, buildings far from each other and brightness'. Well the sun sparkles and startles here. Though the breeze is smooth and non-ending, and crisp with a touch of chill making it essential to carry warm clothes but inspite of this chill, the sun penetrates real hard and I must insist, if not the men folk then atleast the fairer sex should carry lots of sun screen to avoid sun burn or tanning.
The Leh airport is a rather small one and in no time had the luggage been collected (one knapsack). At an amount of Rs.110/- the taxi took to Hotel Larimo (as mentioned in the Travel book) situated on the Fort Road, Leh. Now a piece of advice here for the first timers is that, that there are 2 options one can find a hotel ' book one previously (in case of peak season) without looking at it and secondly, ask the taxi to drop you on the Fort Road Square (near the main State Bank of India), and look around for a room, as that is the main hub of Old Leh. It is better to choose one's room oneself by viewing and bargaining as in this area there are lots of hotels and guest houses. Oh by the way !! don't even think of bargaining during the peak season of July ' August, as the barest of room shoots up to an exorbitant amount. I was told later that my time of visit has been really perfect as had I arrived 10-15 days later, everything would have shut down for winters and very truly so as the day before exiting Leh, the weather had begun to change and there were times one could see the clouds come down from the mountain tops to the valley.
Ok, back to Hotel Larimo which charges 3000/- per day during peak season, agreed to charge Rs.1600/- per day for a room that was spacious, wall to wall carpeted, a double bed, a set of chairs, a table, a wooden almirah, well lighted, ventilated and above all, timely supply of hot water (6-8p.m.). Oh and yes, this fare also included all meals and morning and evening tea. So all in all not a bad bargain actually.
One very important fact for all travelers to Leh is that one should not even think of moving around on their first day of arrival and instead should go very slow, relaxing and sleeping and getting themselves to acclimatize to the altitude and shortage of oxygen, as it might result in headaches or nausea or short of breadth (Leh is situated more than 4000mts. Above the sea level). So that is exactly what I did on the first day of arrival ' spent quality time in the room watching TV, sleeping and relaxing, only to step out in the evening for a visit to the local market. Being a sleepy town, on the verge of closing down for winters, with tourist season at a decline, dinner is mainly served at 7:30p.m.(also in accordance with the eating habits of foreigners). Hence, by 9p.m., was safely tucked in my bed, waiting eagerly for the dawn of a new day.
By the time I refreshed, had breakfast (toast, butter, jam and omelet with tea) and ready to be out on the roll, it was already 9a.m. Decided to dedicate the first day of sightseeing by being in Leh, so with some enquiries done, set afoot for the Leh Palace, which can be approached in 2 manners ' one a winding pukka road which goes through half the city before arriving at the door of the palace and the other is the narrow and steeper climb from within the streets of Leh. There is as such no history of the Leh palace, which is undergoing renovations, just a series of dark alleys and real low roof, run down cold rooms badly in need of shaping up. By the way, it is only now that the modern houses of Ladakh are constructed of cement, otherwise all the prior constructions have been of stones piled on each other with mud caking done on them. Due to lack of rain, the terraces are flat and not sloping.
With an entry fee of Rs.10/- per person, you get to visit the Leh palace and situated inside is a Gompa (or a Buddhist place of worship). From the Leh palace one gets to see the entire inhibited city of Leh. From the palace runs a steep zigzag non-pukka track up a slope to the Tsemo Gompa and the Maitreya Mandir. It is quiet an effort walking up on this track. From the Leh palace, took the road downhill to Leh, walking at an easy pace, touring the city and reaching the hotel in time for lunch. After such a long walk and a scrumptious meal of rotis, bhindee, aaloo baingan kee subzee, daland rice, just could not resist a nap.
On enquiring about Shanti Stupa, came to know that it is almost at a distance of 5kms. uphill walk from the Fort Road. Mind you all, 5 kms. on a hilly terrain is a lot of walking so taxi certainly sounded a very good option. OK one thing, which needs mentioning, is that taxis are very expensive in this part of the country, as this happens to be a seasonal job so they tend to make the most of it. And secondly, the good part is that these are fixed standard prices available equally at all taxi drivers 'so you cannot bargain and u cannot be cheated. For an amount of Rs.300/- , was driven to the imposing Shanti Stupa which also hosts a gompa inside its periphery.
Inaugurated in 1985 by Dalai Lama, this architectural structure constructed with Japanese assistance, with white walls and garish murals on them, depicting highlights of Buddha's life, stands at a height, wherefrom one gets very many beautiful scenic views of the town of Leh. The main stupa is based on a concrete open platform, which gives the feeling of having risen above the ground on a single point, when one stands at the edge of the platform/ base. Sat here for sometime viewing Leh, soaking the beauty of mother nature in this form (mountainous desert), contemplating life (Oh don't worry ' all have problems in their lives and a vacation in Leh does not mean an end to worries ' right?). Drove back to the hotel around 5:30p.m. for a hot cup of tea, and happened to fall in conversation with a German couple who happened to be in Ladakh for the past 3 weeks and had checked in the same day after having trekked all or almost all around Ladakh !! It is important to mention here that Ladakh to explore in its real sense certainly needs more than a week's time, as it is mainly a trekker's delight. Went around the market place in the evening and came back to the room at seven. As hot water is available in the evening (6-8p.m.) hence washed off my fatigue with a refreshing bath, watched TV and went if or dinner at 8:30p.m. Dinner was veg. soup and Chinese theme (that is fried rice, noodles, Manchurian and some chicken dish). Decided to turn in early as the next day venture was going to be a hectic one.
The 3rd day of the stay in Leh was dedicated to much higher (altitude wise) and farthest destination ' the PANGONG TSO Lake.
Before venturing into this 3rd day trip let me inform you quickly about a fact that Leh in itself is a very small town with not much to sightsee from a tourist's view point hence it is essential to plan one's trip accordingly so that one gets to see as much as possible of the entire of Ladakh in as less time as possible (Leh happens to be the capital of Ladakh). It makes sense to cover regions and visit worthy places in one direction on the same trip and go next day in the other direction. Though there are destinations, which need more than a day's visit, but then such destinations also need more time of your visiting period.
Since it was decided that Pangong Tso Lake was to be the destination for the 3rd day, the taxi driver informed that to cover this 140kms. mountain terrain, we would have to leave very early. I was up at 5a.m. and by 6a.m. with breakfast and lunch packed from the hotel, set on the road to this lake. The first 30-35 kms. are more or less on plane and was covered in a jiffy ( 20-25mts.). From a village called Sakti, the gradual incline into the mountains begin, to reach the summit at Changla Pass (this pass is situated at 17800 feet and happens to be the 3rd highest pass in the world), from were the decline begins for another one and half hours journey to reach the lake (at Changla pass I held fresh snow in my hand for the first time in my life!!!). The entire journey is covered in four and half hours by taxis (this one was a Qualis) and another important thing to remember is that to travel in very many places in Ladakh one needs to have Permit, hence one or two day before the actual day of traveling, you should file in for the same. Usually the hotels help you get one so need not worry and as they are required to be submitted at all the Traffic check posts on the way to your destination, hence always remember to get them photocopied (atleast 6).
After what seemed to be an unending journey of different landscapes from time to time (from the flattest plateau to the highest summit, to the snow covered mountains, to the driest most barren terrain, from green patches to the dried streams) we finally approached the Lake.
Here, I insist friends, that you must view the pictures on the site, for what cannot be described must be viewed, that is the beauty, the calmness, the serenity of this 40mile, multicolored, sea water body whose 1/4th territory lies in India and the rest 3/4th lies in China. Shades of blue, emerald, turquoise, aquamarine fill the water which ripples like a silver sheet as far as your eyes can see under the effect of the gusty winds. Nestled among some soft rising mountains, this lake presents a very panoramic view. An army camp and a local teashop, which caters to only tea, cold drinks and magi, are the only signs of civilization here. For those who wish to bask in the beauty of this place much more than what normally a day's visit permits, are available night stay facilities at Tangste, a village enroute (a basic guest house) or camping at Lukung (another village close to the lake).
After spending almost 2 hours and getting several indirect nudges from the taxi driver, left the lake with a heavy heart, as it was nearing afternoon and I had scheduled 3-4 gompas of smaller civilizations on the way back to Leh. Had lunch at 1:30 by a stream, watching nomads graze their Yaks at a distance ( saw a live Yak for the first time too !!). For those who are aware of who nomads are ' My Congratulations !!! for those who don't know, let me enlighten you ' Nomads are that sect of human beings who keep traveling in search of green pastures for their cattle (mainly yaks, mountain goats and sheep in this case). They mainly reside in tents nearer to water bodies and the main reason of contact of this sect with normal civilization is just for the basic necessities of life or for selling their products ( yak butter, cheese or milk) to the passersby (see picture ' nomadic camp).
By the time, we descended from the hills at sakti, it was almost 3 p.m. Drove direct to Hemis Gompa, which rests in a gorge behind the mountains around a one and half kilometers off the main road. This monastery happens to be the largest monastery in Ladakh and was built in 1630 and as of now is home to almost 300 lamas (Lamas are Buddhist monks). It was very serene to watch a 12 yrs old lama recite constantly, beating onto a drum producing a humming noise, which echoed in the monastery and the 2nd hand ringing a prayer bell. Imagine yourself beating a drum hanging at your forehead level in a vertical motion and simultaneously ringing the bell in your left hand in a horizontal motion without bothering to glance at the incoming tourists. What dedication at this age!!
From Hemis came to the main road and another 20 minutes drive towards Leh brings you to Thiksey, a small village. Thicksey monastery is an interesting architecture with the main gompa at the top and lama quarters spread throughout the mountain (see picture Thiksey Gompa). This monastery is renowned for its 3-storied tall statue of Maitreya Buddha, which is also called the Future Buddha.
Another 7-10 kms. towards Leh from Thiksey is Shey. Though actual monastery is not in a very sound condition but the 2 temples inside are worth a visit, having a large statue of Buddha dating from the 17th century. Once shey was over a look at the watch showed the time as 6:10p.m..On the way back to Leh (around 15kms.) was shown the residence of Dalai Lama (whenever he is in Leh).
On the fourth day of the stay in Leh, decided to take an absolute 180-degree deviation from the previous day tour and left hotel around 8a.m. to head towards Lamayuru. The monastery there is worth a visit though due to its far off distance (120 kms.), decided to skip it and stick closer to the nearby areas. Hence decided to visit the Rizong monastery, which is situated approx. 60kms. from Leh.
On the outskirts of Leh on this direction (Leh-Kargil road), first halt was at the Hall of Fame (see picture), a building dedicated to the martyrs of our nation. This double storeyed, multi roomed structure is the house to many tales of bravery, heroism and patriotism in which soldiers of our country have laid down their lives in various battles fought, the latest being Kargil. There is an entire section of confiscated items, from photo albums to prayer books to family letters, not missing the weapons and artilleries, from the live and dead bodies of terrorists and Pakistani soldiers.
Another section stages the weapons and ammunitions used during the Kargil war and also the pictures of war in progress. Of all the entire lot, I had a special fascination for the MBRL (Multi Barrel Rocket Launcher), which is capable of emitting 40-50 rounds of rockets / missiles in a minutes time (as told to me). Another weapon that caught my eye was the Sniper's Telescopic Rifle. Somehow the role of a sniper has always fascinated me and to feel a real Sniper TR was interesting.
Yet another section of this building was entirely dedicated to Siachen and it's heroes. Dear all, I have clicked some pictures of this hall and put them in a folder called Siachen. I request all of you to check this folder out, to get a glimpse of how they survive and also fight for our country under such challenging situations of nature. I have clicked their attires (approx. 10kgs.), their multi layered shoes (3 layers ' 3 to 4 kgs.) to keep their feet from frost bites even after donning 4 layers of thermal socks (manufactured in Finland), their daily instruments ( ice picks, ice hammers, ropes, transmitters, skates, spikes for shoes), their day to day food (mainly packed and frozen which is heated by lighting small balls of Hexamycin tablets, as fire is difficult to ignite at a temperature dipping '35 to '50 degree C). After spending a good hour in this building, I exited the building with hidden tears (reading tales of martyrdom and victory, names of those who lay down their lives and of course Siachen).
From there the taxi drove To Gurudwara Patthar (boulder) Saheb. The story behind the construction of this gurudwara is that, once Guru Nanak was confronted by the villagers when he was passing this area and they complained to him of a demon who was creating havoc. Guru Nanak sat in meditation here and when the demon heard of it he threw/ rolled a boulder at the guru. Instead of hurting him the boulder on his contact melted like wax. The demon came down the hill and kicked the boulder wherein his feet got stuck in it. He realized his folly, the greatness of Guru Nanak and apologized. This gurudwara till date hosts that boulder with Gurujee's body mark and the demon's footmark embedded in it.
The next destination was the Magnetic hill . Now this is very interesting. After a drive of 10-15minutes from the gurudwara, on the main road, is a slope with 2 white lines drawn on it and a board nearby speaking of the magnetic effect of a nearby hill, on that particular patch. Once the vehicle is stationed in between those 2 white lines, instead of going down the slope, the vehicle tends to be pulled backward towards this mountain, which they say contains magnetic force drawing all kinds of vehicle (heavy or small) ' against gravity.
On the way to Rizong monastery, also witnessed the Sangam of the Indus River and the Zanskar River. You can make out the different rivers merging by their colors, if u see the picture.
Rizong is a very small and tricky, side lane deviation from the main road leading to Lamayuru monastery. It is based roughly 60 kms. from Leh and the main monastery is rather secluded behind hills some 5-6 kms. from the main road. A brand new modern construction at the base of the hillock comprises of a school for the young lamas, whereas the main monastery lies at the summit (as usual). I was just in time to see a prayer session comprising of 8 lamas (seniors) come to an end. One of those lamas took us (there were other tourists too) to another side where I saw a 'Mandala', a circular block of white stone on which is etched the life and teaching of Buddha's in picture form with different colors. It was made by this lama who told us that it takes normally 7-10 days to build such a Mandala in seclusion, while a lama (taking turns) round the clock keep reciting holy chants and prayers all the time to ward off evil spirits. After the religious ceremony of the Mandala is over, it is immersed in a stream just like Ganpati or Durga.
I happened to strike up a conversation with this lama, who invited me to their kitchen for a cup of tea and in between sips told me that he hails from Mysore (reminding me then of my friends in Bangalore), where from he came in June to meet his family in Leh and plans to go back to Mysore in October. After spending around 10minutes chatting with 8-9 lamas in their kitchen over a cup of tea, I bade them farewell and drove off from Rhizong. On the way back, stopped at the Thardot Choling nunnery (lady lamas) but as they were engaged in lunch, did not get to interact with them.
On the Leh-Kargil road, back towards Leh, some 5kms. prior to the village of Saspol, a bridge over the Indus river leads to the sleepy village of Alchi with its dwindling lanes, taking you into a pleasant sweep, cutting you off from today's realistic world. Small cobbled lanes, mountain goats and rams clambering, kitchen gardens in full bloom, small traditional houses ' In all a very picturesque setting.
Alchi gompa is a courtyard of 5 tiny temples with very ancient in wall murals depicting Buddha's life and Buddhist preaching and philosophy dating around the 17th century. No photography is allowed here.
After spending a good hour or so, bade farewell to this dreamy village and drove back towards Leh. Some good 30 kms. or so prior to Leh is an off track bend in the direction to Likir. The Likir monastery holds an imposing statue of Maitreya Buddha (the future Buddha). By the time I entered the hotel premises it was already 6p.m. Bone tired, I relished a cup of tea and the hot water was a boon.
The last day in Leh was a more relaxed affair as I had kept the closest vicinities around Leh for the day. Left hotel to go to the Stakna monastery some 15kms away. The road to Stakna runs parallel to the road to Thiksey but on the other side of river Indus. After the visit to the monastery (nothing significant), as I descended down the hillock, the taxi driver informed very excitedly that there was a shooting session (as in films) going on. Seeing his eagerness, I followed suit and witnessed some movie shooting starring Milind Soman and some lady on horsebacks attired in ancient Tibetan clothing. In course of shooting and in between a break, got to chat with Milind Soman for around 20 minutes. Said my goodbye and went towards Matho Gompa.
Though nothing significant here, but this gompa is known for the Gon-Khang, the highest room, open only to men, where in the weapons of the mighty warriors of the past have been kept.
Stok palace was much interesting with it's museum. This 77 room palace is where the royal family has been living on and off since 1834. When I say 77-room palace, don't send your mental horses running, thinking of palatial fantasies. In Ladakh, rooms are really small and low to preserve heat and warmth in them as much as possible. So in actual, it is quiet a compact palace, with a part of it converted into a museum, exhibiting artifacts (jewellery, charm boxes, dresses, weapons, crockery, cutlery etc.) of the royal family. Came back to my room by afternoon, had lunch, packed my bags and went out to the market for bird watching (you know what I mean !!! ' haa haa haa!!)
The next morning with a wake up call at 5a.m. and bed tea, got ready to catch the 7:55a.m. flight to Srinagar. Honestly speaking, I did not feel like coming back. 5 days were too less to explore Ladakh, but tried touching whatever could be done in the nearer vicinities.
So here ends my trip to Leh and before I sign off this travelogue, there are some Do's and Don'ts, that I should tell you all about, so that you are better informed if in
case you happen to visit this mind blowing region ever.
No matter what month you are traveling, always carry warm clothes namely Jackets, a head cover, as wind is chill some and strong.
Carry a sun block cream as sun is strong or else you will be sun tanned / sun burned.
Always carry drinking water with you or else there are chances of getting dehydrated.
If traveling in peak season (July-August), then prior advance booking for accommodation is recommended. Off peak season is yet bargain-able and the off peak season lasts the month of September after which winter sets in.
As taxi is very expensive, it is advisable to share it with a group / other people, than hiring the whole jeep. Listed below is the amount incurred on the taxi fare on my trip :-
Day 2 - Shanti Stupa Rs.300/- ( entire leh ' Rs. 1000/-)
Day 3 - Pyong Gong Lake and back
With Hemis , Thiksey and Shey Rs. 5,000/-
Day 4- Rhizong, Alchi and Lkir Rs. 2500/-
Day 5- Stakna, Matho and Stok Rs. 1100/-
So you can imagine how much expenses are incurred only on transportation.
First and foremost, don't ever think of traveling to Leh on a student's budget. It is just not possible.
Clothing like shorts, dresses or even sleeveless T-shirts or so are discouraged in monasteries. So stick to jeans, trousers and normal shirts and T-shirts and ladies to same dress code adding salwar kameez or saree to the list. (You can't wear saree in such cold weather '.brrrrrrr !!!!!)
And last but not the least, what I learned from this trip ' don't take your country's freedom so lightly. Many a lives have been lost for it and many such are losing everyday ' for petty foolishness. So every time you open a bottle of Black Label or pop a bottle of Champagne or invest into a bottle of perfume or go on shopping spree, just to lighten your depression, think twice about it.
There are people, there are soldiers, braving on the front in the snow at nights, so that you can enjoy, at that very moment a hearty shake on a groovy number in a discotheque. Each time you sip your drink with lots of ice, remember there is someone who is having difficulty in even getting to light a fire for a cup of tea. You want a trendy car, remember there are soldiers, treading kilometers on end on heavy snow and glaciers with luggage double their weight on themselves ' Their blood boils for their country even at '50C, how can you remain so cold for it??
Don't cheat on taxes. I agree the government system is corrupt at many levels, but then it takes multiples of crores in running a per day expense of our defenses. So be honest in that field.
With that I sign off for now, but be back soon with some other destination.. Till then'Jai Hind.