Ah! India, India …
With 29 states, 18 consitutional languagues, 6 main religions and as many skin tones and physical features as the rainbow colours, India is certainly the country of all the colours and contrasts.
Ladakh, one of the three regions of the Jammu and Kashmir state, located at the Chinese border, is beyond all the expectations. To say the least.
Nestling in the curves of the Himalaya, with a whole area of 86.904 km², this region has a lot to impress you with.
First of all, its calm and pure air. When you just land in Leh Airport, you automatically are impressed. You feel like you’re in another dimension. This is a fact. You immediately feel the difference: the air is different, the sun rays are tougher and the mountains are very high. And you are not allowed to take pictures from the landing strip (I’ll explain a little further why).
When you see all the acrobatic feats the pilot has to do in order to reach the landing strip, you understand that this is not a place to mess with!
Second impressing fact: this is a militarized area, because of its strategic position. So, once you set a foot outside of the Airport, you start noticing military outfit, military trucks, military restricted areas … military everything everywhere. So, this is the reason why the pictures are forbidden inside the Airport, in order to avoid any leak.
Once you’re out of the Airport, and are obviously on the road, curvy roads, you’ll naturally be somehow scared, somehow fascinated. The roads are so hilly and so narrow that it will do you either one of those effects, or both. Fortunately, the Ladakhi drivers are skilled and careful. And to help them be more careful, there are many road safety awareness messages. Funny ones 🙂 Like:”Don’t be silly in the hilly”, “Don’t be a gama in the land of lama” or “Honey, I like you, but not so fast”, or even “Be Mr Late than late Mr”. I saw so many messages that I cannot list them all here.
Other impressive fact that you might experience, even slightly: the altitude sickness. And this one is not funny! Leh – the capital of Ladakh – is located at a height of 3.500 m, so, you necessarily need about 2 days to let your body acclimatize to the weather, to the altitude and to all the elements it is probably not used to. And since each body has its own acclimatization capacities, you better be listening to what your body tells you. You might experience insomnia, head aches, nausea, dizziness, fatigue, respiratory difficulties … The list varies from a person to another. Some advice is given at the Airport (like drinking water, avoiding coffee or alcohol), but you cannot be sure that it will not get you. You might wonder then: how do Ladakhis do? First of all, they are used to it. And second of all: they have a secret potion called Salty. It’s a butter tea that contains butter. A lot! It is commonly known that it helps resisting the altitude sickness. The taste is really salty, and I think either you like or not. There’s no in between.
Those symptoms get more intense when you go upper, and you can feel them in a fierce way when you reach the Chang La pass – 5.360 m high, the third highest motorable road in the world. Once you step out of the car (or get off the bike for the luckier ones), you feel the diziness in all its magnificence 🙂 Then you pick some pictures, get back in the car, then move. Otherwise, your body would let you know that something is not OK 🙂
The great news about the altitude sickness is that, if you ever feel you need some help, military camps are everywhere and they can provide the necessary care, which they are equipped for. So, no worries 🙂
From the Chang La pass, you can reach to one of India’s most desirable ( 😉 to all the fans of the program): Pangong Tso Lake. I had already seen lakes in my life, but this is definitely the lake of my life! When you approach it while still on the road, you start craving it. If impressive had to be something, it would probably be this lake. Its blue water is so appealing that you cannot resist being obsessed with the idea of you swimming in it… and then, you get told that the water is as warm as the ambient temperature at night. Which means: not warm. Then, you find consolation in the view of the lake, which is a tremendous consolation 🙂 The lake is natural, it’s 134 km long, and 6 to 7 km wide. It is the natural border between India and China, and from the edge of the lake you can observe the vastness of the lake and of the mountains topped with Eternal Snow… You could also observe some duck looking for fish while you are wondering if there would be any chance for you to take a dip. And when the night starts falling, you admit that swimming there is only made – at this period of the year – for animals that are properly equipped for this activity 😦
Other consolation prize, if you have been dreaming of swimming in the lake over night, is to wake up and watch the sun rise over the Himalaya. Trust me, this is a gorgeous tableau. Words would not be enough to describe all the colours in the sky, over the lake water and on the mountains.
This lake is so desirable that you have to get a specific permission to reach it. It is so desirable that it has been subject of dispute between India and China. Just saying 🙂
Other impressive fact: the kindness and generosity of the Ladakhi people. As much as the natural conditions are tough and rude, people are so genuine and big-hearted. Most of them are Buddhist, and therefore, they are really imbued with the Buddhist philosophy that consists – among many other great things – of being selfless and absolutely indifferent to materialism. Which commands respect. Their humility and simplicity can only make you think of how the world is spoiled nowadays.
What also commands respect and amazement is how eco-responsible they are. They live in respect of their environment, so no toilet paper goes into the toilet, most of the toilets are Turkish-styled (when it’s not a hole drilled in the ground, that enables the reuse of what you have delivered as a natural fertilizer… I know, this is the not-sexy part of the story), and no plastic bags are available or allowed in the area. The rest of the world should take them as an example (maybe not for the holes in the ground…).
Ladakh is one of the Buddhist regions in India, if not THE Buddhist one, with more than 30 monasteries, which means over 30 centers of knowledge and devotion to Buddha, and to the be-a-good/better-person philosophy.
The construction of some of those monasteries dates back to the 11th century, like the Alchi monastery -the only monastery of Ladakh built on a flat surface, which makes them even more intriguing and fascinating than the fact that they’re monasteries. They’ll make you feel many ways, but they certainly will not make you feel indifferent. The paintings on their walls will make you wanna understand what’s behind every and each of the drawings. They’ll make you want to understand the history of Buddhism, and they’ll make you appreciate and respect the philosophy that Buddha brought to his people.
This one now goes to all the bike fans, especially Royal Enfields: you should immediatly book your ticket for next year – since the roads will be very soon blocked by the snow! Ladakh is heaven for Royal Enfields lovers and riders. You’d meet so many people riding them… Anyway, you would not be able to find any other kind or brand of bike there 🙂
While driving along the way, you might see some wild animals living in their natural environment. For me, it was the first time I saw Uncle yak with his squad and Auntie marmot with her sister and nieces, and it was a funny experience to approach Auntie. Everybody was stopping by to observe and take a picture. Since then, I didn’t have the chance to meet any other one …
I told you: this region has a lot to impress you with. And I’m not done, yet.
In Ladakh exists a place called Moonland, that you can reach on the way to Lamayuru village, which is home to another very old Budhist monastery.
First, let’s clarify why the land around this village is called Moonland. It seems that the surface on the moon is similar to the reliefs on the mountains. I’m using the verb “seem” because I cannot tell with certainty if this is true or not since I have not been on the moon. Yet. 🙂 More seriously, the landscape is unique and is definitely worth pictures. So don’t be mean or cheap: take a lot of pictures.
Second point is about the Lamayuru Monastery: not only it is one of the oldest of the region, but it is also the largest one. I did not count all the wheels of Dharma in there, but I think it would require more than one hour to count them all. Wheel of Dharma? It’s one of the eight auspicious symbols of Buddhism that all the fervent Buddhist make turn clockwise in order to spread compassionate prayers. On the biggest ones are written in Sanskrit the mantra Om Mani Padme Hum. And inside the smallest ones are hidden sorts of papyrus with the same prayer. Here you can see how big they can be.
In this village, you can be in a closer touch with the local community and feel their authentic kindness.
So, yes, Ladakh has a lot to be spoken about, and it has a lot more to offer to all those who can make it to it.
So, if you’re eager for trekking, for adventure or simply for mind blowing experiences, chances are you won’t be disappointed there.