Travel Diary - Ladakh
There are places that you travel that are ingrained in your memory forever.
Ladakh had been on my bucket list for years and I made it there this year!
For those who do not know, Ladakh is a Union Territory in India in the Himalayas and has the most incredible sites, from the arid mountains, with snow capped peaks in the background, to the ancient monasteries, the purest blue skies and lakes and the arguably the warmest people I have ever met.
I will not bore you with facts but rather attempt to provide a glimpse of our amazing journey, with some experts from my art diary.
A flight from Delhi to Leh. Do not forget to look out of the windows of the plane for the most incredible vistas of the Himalayan ranges.
We land in Leh, the largest city in Ladakh, and proceed to our hotel - The Grand Dragon. We are greeted with Kavah tea, infused with cinnamon, cardamom and saffron. We sip it staring at a beautiful Mountain view. The lobby boasts a beautiful dragon sculpture, which is my first entry into my journal.
The day is spent relaxing and acclimatizing. That evening we walk up to Leh market and end the day with an elaborate buffet meal at the hotel.
The day starts with a quick walk up the hill to the market, before the city wakes up. It is quite incredible to see a mosque, with Hindu prayers in the same alley and a Buddhist monastery, all in one setting! I am in love!
A wall from the Dalai lamas words catches my eyes, there is a significant population of Tibetan refugees in Ladakh.
The day involves local sights and we start with Thiksey Monastery.
Built in 1430 AD, the Gompa (Buddhist Monastery) is located at almost 12,000 ft in the Indus Valley. We are lucky to see the head Lama at a ceremony, before we climb up the steps. I could dedicate a whole post to this beautiful monastery, a must see for every tourist.
The spectacular Maitreya (future Buddha) sits 49ft tall and was built to commemorate the visit of the Dalai Lama in 1970. A sense of peace envelops you in that room.
We spin prayer wheels as we climb up the steps to get to the top and look down at the beautiful land and the mountains from the rooftop.
The day continues with a trip to the Sangam, the confluence of Indus and Zansikar rivers, the colors of the clear blue of the Indus from the glaceirs, merge with the sediment filled muddy green of the Zansikar. A tourist attraction, it is a busy place filled with people taking selfies.
On the advice of friends we met at Leh, we ask our driver to take a road less travelled and followed the Zansikar upstream and came upon some unbelievable untouched areas.
We leave our hotel in the morning and take to the roads, winding up the hills, precariously close to the edge of the mountains at times, to Khardung La ( La = Pass in Tibetan), one of the highest motorable roadways in the world. at almost 18,000 ft.
It is a historical Pass in the Karakoram Range and is still used by Indian Army posted in Siachen Glacier.
A crowded site with numerous tourists waiting to take a picture in front of the board.
It is worth it (if you are able to) climb up the the slopes to the peak with numerous colorful prayer flags waving in the breeze and three stupas, against a stunning background of the snow capped peaks. A treat from nature, for us, a double rainbow, one circling the sun!
Khardung La is the gateway that connects Nubra Valley, and our next destination, to the rest of Ladakh. The valley is carves out by the Shyok and Nubra rivers and we are staying at Hundur Village. Our cottage tents are beautiful with a view of the mountains.
A high altitude desert, the sand shifts with the winds, and we see a sandstorm at 10,000ft above sea level! Spectacular skies and mountains.
We get to see the Bactrian camel (the double humpback), a native of the Gobi desert, and an ode to the old silk road. I can almost sense the travelers from centuries ago, on the same paths that we now traverse.
This has been the day that i have been waiting for. We pack up and leave for our next destination. We travel through another pass, treacherous roads, rocky river beds to finally see a brilliant blue amongst the browns of the bare mountains, Pangong Lake.
Truly, heaven on earth. The crystal clear water with the reflection of the brilliant blue skies is a sight to behold. I have never experienced such natural beauty or felt closer to a higher power.
Loacted at almost 14,000 feet, the salt lake gets its water from the glacier, and there is no fish or aquatic life in the water. Only 30% of the lake is in India and the line of control between India and China passes through the lake.
The color changes from blue to green ( and apparently to red sometimes), believed to be due to refraction at the high altitudes. We are blessed with a beautiful sun drenched day and the sheer beauty of the aquamarine blue against the brown arid mountains is imprinted on memory forever.
A excerpt from the diary, I unfortunately did not have watercolor paper (try watercolor on a paper meant for writing!) but this is a quick impression. No picture or painting does justice to this incredible site. I hope to reproduce this properly one day.
I highly recommend an overnight stay for the full experience, although you will only have power for two hours during the mealtime and it will be cold at night. The spectacular night sky with thousands of stars is not to be missed.
We wake up early morning to a beautiful sunrise and take it all in, before starting our journey back to Leh.
Stacked stones are a familiar sight in Ladakh. It is believed to be a way of worship or a wish for good fortune. Our Ladakhi driver tells us that they stack stones as a part of a funeral to pay tribute to the soul and also while circling around a place of worship, each stone representing a circle. I gather a few of my own to make my stack at home.
Not to be missed- the wildlife
Cashmere goats (Changthangi) grazing the pastures.
Wild mountain horses
We fly back to Delhi in the morning, taking memories with us that will last a lifetime. People that are most hospitable and warm and sceneries that still take my breath away when I see the pictures.
From the diary - a quick sketch of a kind lady at the monastery
Our group at Pangong Tso
I leave you with a few things
- Plan ahead, the best time to visit Ladakh is from April- JuneA
- A travel agent is a must, you will need special permission to travel inland.
- Mountain Sickness is real, consider Diamox, (check with your physician).
- Pack lightly and wisely, you will get cold and warm weather as you travel.
- Go off the beaten path sometimes, but with an experienced local driver.
- Stay hydrated and take sunscreen, the sun is strong.
- Be prepared for no network at several places.
- Keep a lookout on the roads for wild animals, you will see several.
- Take a reusable water bottle, they are strictly against plastics. yay for them!
- Be respectful of the culture and above all take in the beauty.
You can follow our blog and look at other travel diaries here and here. Don't forget to take a look at some of my travel inspired scarves here.
What a beautiful description of your trip to Ladakh,l almost felt as if we were there with you . You are a true nature lover and the artist in you has beautifully captured most of it.
Beautiful!!!! Inspired to add Ladakh to my bucket list!
Your artwork is fantastic, Chetna!
Looking forward to more travel diaries.
Such a wonderful blog! Some great advice for future travellers.
Very well captured. Almost like being there the photos and sketches are absolutely outstanding.
I truly enjoyed everything about this. What a great way to document, remember and appreciate your trip even more. The combination of writing, photography, painting and drawing is a wonderful idea. I really enjoyed the sketches of the camel and the kind woman at the monastery. Oh, and of course, seeing all the animals made me smile.