Memoirs of My Solo trip to Ladakh

Discussion in 'Travelogues' started by Komal, Dec 25, 2018.

  1. Komal

    Komal New Member

    A trip to Ladakh needs to be taken by all people who need to restore their faith in humanity.The main protagonists of my trip to Ladakh is not the place but the Ladakhis. This experience would not have been created without their benign presence in the exotic land of Ladakh.

    Day 1– Flew to Leh and rested the whole day
    Stayed at Zangsti Road close to the main market. Walked around the main market. My stay in Leh was subsidized generously by the guest house owners as the organization I work with is their regular customer. There are many guest houses like Peace guest house or Paul guest house just opposite the Main Market to get reasonable accommodation.

    That evening I visited Tibetan Refugee market and ChokhangVihara in the main market.Had nice Pizza at Il Forno directly opposite Main Market. For two people it was priced at Rs.440.

    Day 2 – Leh Local Sightseeing
    I had gone for one day work. Therefore visited Central Asian Museum and walked to SankarGompa in the evening.

    Visited Central Asian Museum located in one of the bylanes from the Main Market. It is a must visit as it gives a good perspective about the history of Ladakh.


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  2. Komal

    Komal New Member

    The entrance fees is Rs.50. It opened recently in 2015 and is open in summer months only. The caretaker, an old fellow, is really amiable and will tell you more if you ask him. He also showed the locked-up Ladakhi kitchen. The museum also houses old Mosque in its premises. It is good to start your trip to Ladakh with the visit to Museum. This principle I follow generally to any place I visit. It helps in understanding the history and culture of the people much better.

    Then walked on the Sankar Road till the Gompa which was closed as I reached by 6.30 pm. It closes by 6 pm. The younger monk of the Gompa had a good political sense of humour as he remarked How Indian Prime Minister needs to send plane full of vegetables and groceries since Ladakh is has Pakistan on one end and China on the other!

    Then the monks showed me a shortcut route to the main market which ran almost parallel to the main Sankar road. It is a nice walk on a small kachcha road behind the houses. The dinner was atGesmo Restaurant. The salt was too much for my taste. You can order food ranging Rs. 100 to 300.

    Day 3 (Sunday) – Leh – Tsemo Gompa, Tsemo Fort, Leh Palace, Shanti Stupa
    The Apple Tree Restaurant square (Rs.100 – 200) had appetising breakfast. Then walked up to the Leh Palace via the Main Market, the Mosque which is under construction and the old part of the town. One can ask people for the direction as you walk up. A nice climb. The entrance fee is Rs. 10.It is a nine-storeyed palace – three storeys are locked up and rest are open to visitors.Most of the rooms are past their old glory. Some of them have been converted into gallery of photographs which has nothing to do with its history or even Ladakh.

    I basically enjoyed the climb up and going into rooms and figuring out inter-connections within the palace. Also the perspective of the town as one climbs higher. One can see the Main Market square from the Palace Top too. The Main market square is the hub of all activities in Leh.

    From the Palace there is a climb up to Tsemo Gompa and Fort which is more rigorous. I finished it in 40 minutes with many stopovers. There is also a road which makes it accessible by vehicle. Later I discovered a pucca staircase which starts from a little village on Sankar Gompa road. You have to go slightly up the village and then only the stairs are visible.The Gompa and the Fort are closed on Sundays as I discovered by climbing up!! I met some local Muslim women who had come for ‘timepass’ during the month of Ramzan. They shared there is hardly any serious crime heard of in the city of Leh.Then had an ordinary late lunch at Namo Buddha Café (Rs. 130).

    In the evening walked up to Shanti Stupa on the other end of the city. The walk goes through Changspa Road and leads directly to Shanti Stupa stairs. It is a steep climb. Also it was rather very tiring as I did two climbs the same day. It gives a nice top view of the city from the other end of lush fields and tall trees. I befriended a local young boy while climbing up. He pointed out the way to Khardung La and Stok village from the Stupa.

    Had an ordinary late lunch at Namo Buddha Cafe (Rs. 130).

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  3. Komal

    Komal New Member

    Day 4 – Leh – Walk to Zorawar fort
    I started late as I was still very tired from the hangover of two climbs the previous day. I had leisurely breakfast at Gesmo restaurant (Rs.130 -150 – too much salt again) in hope of some Internet connectivity. During my entire stay in Leh, the whole town was down with the net connectivity as they were digging up the city for laying pipes for water. I heard few fellow travellers saying that it worked intermittently in some Internet cafes, though I never tried them myself.

    Then I walked from Fort road where the Gesmo Restaurant is located to the Zorawar Fort which at the end of that road. It is actually one external wall and a moat which you can access from the road side. There is construction going on inside the fort and it is not accessible to people. The walk from Fort Road on to Yurthung Road to reach Tseru was a foolhardy decision. I tired myself unnecessarily as I reached till Shanti Stupa footsteps and hitched a ride back to the town.

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    If you want to try going Tseru by walking, start from Sankar Road and ask people for shortcuts. I will try this in my next visit.

    Then applied for permit to Nubra Valley including Panamik, Turtuk and Pangong for six days through a travel agent. I paid Rs.600 to him which included the permit cost of Rs.520. I applied for it in late afternoon and received it by evening. Do make multiple photocopies as you would need to submit it later at crossing check posts. It is good to keep few extra days on permit especially when travelling by local transport as you may sometime like a place and stay more days or don’t get a connecting bus service.

    The lunch was special thukpa (Rs.130) at Tenzin Dickey Kitchen. It was too rich for my taste. The potato Momos (Rs.150) for dinner were completely worthless.
     
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  4. Komal

    Komal New Member

    Day 5 – Shared taxi to Panamik – Hot Springs – Stay at Baltipa homestay


    The Diskit shared public taxi stand is next to Polo ground. Most taxis leave between 7 – 8 am every morning to Diskit or Panamik. Fare is Rs. 400 per person. The taxi started at 7.45 am for Panamik. The shared taxi is extremely comfortable if you don’t mind sitting in close contact with people. I had no hassle. I am a minimalist and enjoy local people’s company, therefore thoroughly enjoyed them.

    The driver was very friendly as he tried to humor a four-year-old Ladakhi girl throughout the drive while her mother happily slept off having found someone to entertain her daughter. And finally I listened to some Ladakhi songs too.

    The taxi crosses Khardung La Pass and you can ask the driver to stop for a short while. Actually my driver stopped himself a little further from Khardung La top. I was hesitant to ask him to stop as it would delay other local people. That is why I don’t have the mandatory photograph at Khardung La!!

    It was snowing on the top and was pretty cold. I had slight headache on the ascent which vanished on its own as we descended to Khardung village. The cab stops at a dhaba in Khardung village for breakfast (Rs.50-80) at around 11 am. The drive from there was enchanting with well-laid waterways to the fields and the wonderful landscaping by Shyok River.

    The taxi reached Panamik around 1.30 pm. The driver helped me getting Baltipa homestay on the main road. Its price was Rs.600 including breakfast and dinner. They welcomed me with tea and homemade biscuits. I got along very well with the young teenage daughter of the house who accompanied me to Hot spring. At the Spring, water is diverted into bathrooms and it can be used by paying Rs.30. it is being maintained by the women of that village.

    The girl also took me around the village, Siachen River, their old house and fields. On their own initiative, they made me wear the local dress – Goncha and Perak – and clicked photographs. It might have been inspired by my curiosity about their cultural practices. The lady of the house cooked the local dish Chutagiee for the dinner on my request. It is made of wheat and home-grown vegetables all cooked together. I was my first homestay and I was overwhelmed by their warmth and generosity. No amount of money can ever buy that experience.

    There is also a small lake Yarab which is 2-3 kilometers away which you can walk up to if you feel like. I was too tired to do it that day.
     
  5. Komal

    Komal New Member

    Day 6 – Panamik to Diskit to Turtuk – Stay at Khan Homestay


    Boarded the daily morning 7.30 am bus to Diskit monastery along with my host. The monastery had asked local people mainly women to come with their hoes to prepare the place for the visit of Dalai Lama in the month of July. The bus was full of women who were carrying their hoes and chatting happily. It is a beautiful drive as Siachen river changes it spread and the turn on the bridge took us on the other side of the Nubra Valley to Diskit. The landscape changes as I encountered a few kilometer long flat road surrounded by sand. The bus went up till monastery.

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    The monastery is still at a height so I climbed up to visit it. It houses the mummified arm and head of a Mongolian soldier. I felt it is rather grotesque thing to put up in a peaceful monastery, a symbol of violence in the abode of non-violence. The remnants of Mon religion are all visible in the monasteries as their local stories and Gods have been co-opted during the indigenisation of Buddhism in Ladakh. Right opposite the monastery is large statue of Maitreya Buddha which is constructed in last 10 years before only.

    As I sat outside the monastery to pen my trip memoirs, a local person suggested me to go to Turtuk, a beautiful place to write ‘stories’. It finally fimed m decision to travel to Turtuk and spend a night at least there.


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  6. Komal

    Komal New Member

    The Diskit bus stand was down in the town from where the bus to Turtuk leaves at 2.30 pm. I started the climb down and a local person offered the drive down graciously. He also shared that we ‘Indians’ are to be thanked as roads conditions have changed in last 10 years due to them. Earlier they had only foreigners which did not bring much change in infrastructure. They may soon have an airport at army camp at Thoise.

    The local shared taxis to Leh go from the bus stand. The last taxi leaves around 10 am depending on whether they have enough passengers to fill the cab. I bought my ticket in advance to Turtuk for Rs.100 so as to get better seat.They happily agreed to keep my bag in the bus as I wanted to walk around the city. It is a small city and most houses were closed since people had gone for work. Like in Delhi and other cities, I see that people have made small religious structures in every street of the town! So I walked along the main market of the town. Eating lunch was an interesting experience as the individual shopowners made me shuttle between couple of eateries so that I finally reached one which served thukpa for Rs. 80. The shop is being run by a Nepali woman. There are many small eateries nothing worth mentioning. People are nice and just let you sit and read if you want to!!

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    The bus ride was awe-inspiring – mountains changing their hues at every turn. It is more adventurous to go by bus as the road is really narrow and bus takes quite many breath-stopping, sharp turns.The bus played Hindi songs which was a surprise. There are not many villages on the way. The bus also acts like courier service for local people as many handed over goods to pass on to people in other villages on the way. People would be waiting on the road to just handover their parcels or receive their parcels. There is quite a bonhomie which exists between the bus staff and the local people. Before Bondang village, the bus stops at a check point where one needs to submit the permit to visit Turtuk.

    The bus reached around 6 pm covering around 80 kms. You have to walk up to it the wooden bridge and cross it over to reach Phurool village where homestays are available. Befriended three young girls who guided me to Khan Homestay (Rs.600 including dinner and breakfast with common bathrooms).

    The room was dusty. On being asked, the owner cleaned it up while I chatted with him and he provided me information about its history and places to visit in the village. Also I made some overtures to the women of the household and finally had food in their kitchen. I could experience a stark difference between the women in Buddhist–dominated towns and the Balti women here. Other places the homestays were run by women and they interacted freely while here the men were more in control of money while women do farming, cooking and other household work. Even my host Sher Khan also told me men don’t do anything. Only after farming they take the produce to market. I also met a government school social science teacher posted in Turtuk from Stok village who was also part of the household. She shared that people here have better community ties than her village in Stok as their people have more modern jobs. For people like us in cities even that is far superior to the relationships we have with our next door neighbors.
     
  7. Komal

    Komal New Member

    Day 7 – Turtuk to Hunder – Stay at Skizling homestay at Hunder

    My window opened to the lush green fields, brown mountains and a river song. I went up the monastery in the morning and enjoyed the silence of the valley and the roar of the river. The army helicopter like a screechy bird could be heard patrolling above. There is also a waterfall after a little climb which can also be explored.I could not visit it as people advised me not to go alone as I may get lost. And the children had all gone to school! So trudged back to the homestay and a nice breakfast of Khisir, a local wheat bread made at home served with raita.

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    Visited the local museum run by a descendant of former Baltistan king. The wooden bridge needs to be crossed over to reach the Koul village where the museum is located. Sometimes the streets may be deserted if it is noon time and no one maybe able to guide you. This is what happened with me! It can be identified by a big iron bird perched on a wooden door. The door knob can be turned to enter unlike me who has to loudly bang doors to gain entrance! It is actually the personal collection of his forefathers that has been put up for exhibition in the palace which had been substantially destroyed by the receding Pakistan army in 1971. Before that it was part of Pakistan occupied Kashmir. The curator is very gracious and takes you down the history of his family.Apparently the government does not even know the existence of such a place though he was full of praise for Indian Army.

    The lunch in the only café in Turtuk was pretty ordinary chowmein for Rs. 100-120. Other variety of food is also available. Also the ubiquitous Maggi. Since the only bus to Diskit leaves daily at 6 in the morning, I decided to try my luck and waited on the main road where bus had dropped me. A shop owner graciously let me sit in the shade of his shop. He asked me to wait inside but I did not want to take any chance. In half an hour, a Mumbai family generously accommodated me in their car. Notwithstanding their generosity towards me, they were usual tourists with scant regard for local geography. They tried to throw the water bottle out of the window when I promptly intervened or taking photographs of prohibited places.

    My bus ticket really helped as they checked the permit on the return also. They keep a track of people crossing over to the border village. Finally reached Hunder around 5 pm.

    I home-stayed at Skilzing where the initial offer was Rs.1200 and negotiated for Rs.800 including dinner and breakfast. This was a bigger room with an attached bath. Other homestays had common bathrooms. Hot water in all homestays comes in a bucket separately generally for a solar water heater unconnected to any tap. The water is filled manually in it.


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    Saw the famed double-humped Bactrian camel in the opposite house. Meanwhile the host’s 10-year-old daughter and one of her friends became friendly and got permission from their mother to walk till sand dunes. It took us almost an hour to reach by foot. I have not met any child in Delhi who would so readily agree to it!! We claimed one dune and slid down and climbed up it till the sky turned ash.In between we lost one footwear in the sand. Then we dug around everywhere for sometime till we found the lost shoe! They also told me local folklore and a story about a rugged hill on the opposite side as being scratches of a monster defeated by their God. On return, we went through a shortcut route back home behind the camps and found a stream to quench our thirst! We were all very tired of walking and again hitched a hike from tempo to reach home.
     
  8. Komal

    Komal New Member

    Day 8 (Friday) – Hitchhiking to Pangong Lake. Stay at Gongma homestay at Spangmik village


    I had decided to take a taxi back to Leh and then take the bus on Saturday morning to Pangong Lake. As there are no local buses or taxis to Pangong Lake from Nubra Valley. There were three co-homestay male guests from Amravathi, who agreed to give me a lift till Pangong Lake. It really knocked a day off travel from my list. We visited Maitreya Buddha on the way opposite the Diskit monastery which I had skipped two days before. Nothing remarkable about it. The drive takes a different route from Agham village going along Shyok river to Pangong Lake.

    Agham Shyok road is really patchy and gravelly. The road does not exist in patches actually!! It becomes better from Durbuk village onward.

    On the way when we reached a small camp where ubiquitous Maggi and tea was served, my co-passengers found a bag missing so they had to return to Hunder.. They facilitated request to other tourists. They approached a family all three men together, the family promptly rejected their request expectedly! They met a known driver whose car had space and I again requested the husband and wife who readily agreed to take me with them since I was travelling alone! They had two nice children and the journey was very pleasant among all the hitch hiking I did. They were from Delhi and near to my place. After a long time I met a silent husband who did not utter a single word to berate or make fun of his wife! And also tolerated all my political nonsense!!

    On the way when we reached a small camp where ubiquitous Maggi and tea was served, my co-passengers found a bag missing so they had to return to Hunder.. They facilitated request to other tourists. They approached a family all three men together, the family promptly rejected their request expectedly! They met a known driver whose car had space and I again requested the husband and wife who readily agreed to take me with them since I was travelling alone! They had two nice children and the journey was very pleasant among all the hitch hiking I did. They were from Delhi and near to my place. After a long time I met a silent husband who did not utter a single word to berate or make fun of his wife! And also tolerated all my political nonsense!!

    The host at Gongma was the least friendly I had met till now. May be my expectations had become really high after being with such warm hosts earlier.I did not like my room somehow. The switch of electric bulb was too closely located near the bulb on the low ceiling. A family from Bombay who were Gujaratis staying at the same homestay too became friendly. They were the only people in whole of Ladakh who wanted to know my caste which I refused stubbornly.

    Electricity all over Nubra Valley and Pangong Lake is typically available from 7 or 8 pm to 11 pm. So all charging of electronics needs to be planned like that.
     
  9. Komal

    Komal New Member

    Day 9 (Sat) – Hitchhiked from Pangong Lake to Leh via Changla


    The breakfast was of local dish Skue made by my host (Rs.100). It has small pieces of kneaded wheat dough, potatoes and vegetables all cooked together as a stew. Then walked up the lake with my book planning to spend few hours of walking and reading there. But my plans came to nought as the weather played spoilsport. It soon became cloudy and weepy. The town became desolate as all the tourists leave typically by 10 am. Locals are too busy organizing for next tourists’ influx in the afternoon.

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    The village has only 10 households but the land is leased to commercial camp providers who are typically from Leh for five months. I felt so cold and desolate in that beautiful landscaped land that I decided to try my luck getting a hitchhike to Leh. My confidence has been running high. I thought to take a chance as otherwise I can always come back to the same homestay. The return bus to Leh is available only on Sunday and Monday early mornings from Spangmik. I was just plain lucky in getting the ride back. There were hardly any tourist vehicles. After half an hour wait a couple from Bombay readily agreed to accommodate a lone woman on the road. We had a long discussion about how ‘modern’ education is alienating Ladakhi from their culture, history as well as their geography. Their textbooks has nothing which reflects their way of life whether farming, seasons, clothes or social structures.

    The best thing about hitchhiking is that I could explore different routes to Pangong Lake which I would not if travelling from public transport. This route takes a turn at Durbuk Village and passes through Changla pass which I found personally more diversely beautiful than Khardungla. The vehicle passed through pristine snow and I finally took a customary photograph of myself with the stone declaring the peak of the pass.The route passes through Kharu, Thiksey and Shey Palace. They dropped me at Choklamsar from where I took a shared taxi for Rs.20 to reach the Leh city Prayer wheels and walked to the Main market.

    I decided to cycle to Shey Palace next day. Hired a mountain cycle for Rs.800 from Adventure Ibex for next day as they don’t open before 8-9 am on a given day.They also run tourists up to Khardungla top in a vehicle and people cycle back to Leh cityeveryday.
     
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  10. Komal

    Komal New Member



    Day 10 – (Sunday) Stay at Leh – Cycled to Shey Palace


    I made a local friend along with whom I cycled from the city to Shey Palace via the Army camp, Airport, Chuschot village apparently the largest village in Asia. It was a pleasant ride since it was drizzling that day. And turned to take a shortcut from Shashi village. We crossed a stream while holding our cycles high as the bridge was damaged. Reached Shey palace early afternoon. Spent half an hour climbing up the Palace and then cycled back. The last 5-7 kilometres were a drag for me as it was all uphill. From the petrol pump at the entrance of the Leh city, I dragged the cycle from Old road to the main market almost 2 kilometres in about 50 minutes, much more time if I had just walked up without the cycle!! A word of thanks to my Ladakhi friend, who cycled despite his Ramzan fast as he felt it would be ‘dhokha’ betrayal, if he had not come with me as I had given him choice not to cycle.

    Finally reached Ibex Adventure and collapsed. They gave me tea and chatted for an hour. The guy there spent time talked about Buddhism integration with Mon religion and how Indian tourists litter Ladakh. He also declared me completely fit for trekking in Ladakh. It was really heartening to hear that as I took this trip just two months after an illness where I had difficulties even turning around in the bed and was completely confined to the house.
     

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