Tag Archives: Leh

A Gasp of Fresh Himalayan Air

From the very beginning of our planning to come to India, we had in our minds a picture of Lake Pangong that our friend Amandine had shown us. This is what drove us hundreds of kilometres North to Ladakh, and to the town of Leh. It has been quite a trek, from Delhi to Srinigar – a nice but quite unnecessary stop – and then the looong drive from Srinigar to Leh. The final stretch to Pangong Tso will be another 5-hour 4×4 trip tomorrow morning and then we start the whole journey back to Delhi on Sunday! In hindsight, it may have been wiser, and cheaper, to book a return flight to Leh from Delhi in advance. Saying that though, we wouldn’t change what we did for anything – we have seen places we didn’t even know existed, and travelled roads that we will never forget!! It has been quite the adventure, to say the least :)

A Buddhist gong

As much of a mission as it has been, it was worth it to see the town of Leh. If I had to describe the town in one word it would be to say it is “mellow.” The atmosphere here, although meteorologically thin and dry, is very peaceful and relaxed and the people are happy and friendly, maybe because of the large population of Buddhist Monks. Due to the town being virtually uninhabitable in the winter, the people migrate for the summer months

Some of the local women in the street

from all over India and also come from Tibet and Nepal. This makes the town contrast with the other Indian cities that we have visited and many of the people here have oriental features although still Indian by birth. The most notable thing is that there are a lot more European tourists here. Whether it is the cooler climate or the friendly people, there are more tourists here than anywhere we have seen in India (granted, we haven’t seen Goa/Kerala and the South of India yet). However, although most people would say that a lot of tourists is a bad thing, the tourists here are very different to those you may find on the beaches in the South. These tourists are here to blend in, not to be loud and demanding, but rather to meditate, go trekking and generally enjoy the local culture. In actual fact, we don’t fit in here at all!

Most people who come here from Europe and America spend a few weeks or months here in Ladakh and go trekking into the Himalayas for days or weeks at a time, before coming back to Leh to refuel. They all wear loose fitting colourful clothes, hippy style, and most have dreadlocks in their hair. Not unlike someone you would find frequenting the outdoor music festivals in Cape Town. And they definitely don’t carry their cameras around on their shoulders ready for an opportunity to jump out at them, like we do :)

This mixture of people makes the town quite modern and mostly caters to these trekkers. There are five types of shops:

-       Internet cafes: full of people like us, keeping in touch with home.

-       Souvenir shops: selling pashminas, Tibettan jewellery, sculptures and Kashmiri crafts.

-       Trekking/Tour agencies: organising treks and putting like-minded people together to fill tours.

-       Trekking equipment stores: making sure that you can get everything you need to go trekking right here in Leh.

-       Corner shops: selling everything from Pepsi to Maggi (any type of 2-minute noodles) to all types of beauty products. You name it, they have it.

Of course then, there are restaurants and guesthouses in between, but it is quite fascinating that these businesses survive considering how saturated the market is. Going back to my economics theory, supply definitely exceeds the demand here! Be that as it may, the people are not starving and we haven’t seen anyone here that doesn’t have a home to go to at the end of the day.

For that reason, and maybe a few others, Leh is really safe. The people are honest and very trusting, if you don’t have the correct change, don’t worry, just come back and pay later. In contrast to the big cities in India, here we can walk around freely at 10pm without worrying about crime or anything like that, just as long as you don’t mind dodging late night jeeps, wandering packs of dogs and the occasional cow.

A few of the donkeys taking a stroll down the main street...

It is a small town and we have actually seen most of it in just the few days that we have been here. For the first couple of days we took it really easy as just walking up a flight of stairs left us breathless, but after many slow walks up to the Main Bazaar, we slowly started to acclimatise to the very thin, 3500m high air. Eventually we were “fit” enough to walk ALL the way to the top of the town to the Leh palace, only about 2km from our guesthouse but on a hill, so quite a challenge. The palace is not what you would call beautiful, from the outside anyway, but the words majestic and fascinating definitely come to mind. From up close, it is massive, and it would certainly have been quite a feat to build up there on the hill in the 1600’s. The view from up there is fantastic, with the 6000m plus Stok Khangri mountain covered in snow in the background and the “colourful” town of Leh in the foreground, it makes for a very pretty picture.

Ruined Royal Palace built in the 1600's

The dusty but beautiful view from the palace

Surrounding the palace is the old town made up of little square mud-brick houses, which seem deserted at first, but with a closer look you find the old woman washing her clothes outside on the step, and another sitting in the doorway knitting thick socks to sell to trekkers. The doors and windows are only just tall enough for me to fit through, some even smaller, and the walls are crumbling in places giving them a charm that no decorator could plan. Coming down through little dusty passageways we found a massive tree, the Sacred Tree planted by a Guru many years ago “to bring greenery to highest deserts and into the hearts of the people.” It seems to have done its job well.

D x

2 Comments

Filed under India

On the Weh to Leh…

So despite the fact that we never intended to end up here in Kashmir, Srinigar has been really relaxing and quite a change from the dense, hard life we saw in Delhi and Mumbai.

The view from our room at the Jeelani Guesthouse

We were seriously apprehensive at first, and when we arrived we were almost too scared to leave our room…but we soon realised that the people are friendly and happy and most of them are only too pleased to meet a foreigner, and they always ask if we like Kashmir. We have been stared at, asked to stand with the family and have a photo, chatted to in every shop and on every street and even made a ‘friend’ in a young student named Waseem, who took our email address with a promise of “learning everything about each other.”

We haven’t been out that much; we have been enjoying the hospitality of our hosts Ashraf and Laura, at Jeelani Guesthouse. We ate meals together with the other guests, an older American lady and an older German man. In the evenings, we read or watched one of the old movie reruns on TV.

On Saturday we spent the afternoon on the Nageen and Dal lakes on a Shikara (like a Gondola but with a roof).

Shikara's waiting for tourists

We were rowed along the serene lake by a guide who spoke pretty fluent English, and was generally a really happy person. He made us tea with Cardamon and Cinnamon by boiling water on a little gas burner on the back of the small boat. It was a fantastic afternoon, we watched the locals enjoying a swim and saw the villages on the islands in the middle of the lake. The villagers grow vegetables in ‘floating gardens’ around the islands. The gardens can be reached only by shikara and the vegetables are sold every morning at the market. Every so often someone would row along next to us and ask how we are, where are we from and ask if we would like to buy flowers or see the precious stones that he is selling. What I enjoyed was that they were not pushy, just opportunists!  We stopped off at Nishrat Bagh, the Moghul gardens, where thousands of Indian’s were enjoying their Saturday afternoon, kids playing in the water and big families sitting and taking photos in the manicured gardens.

Our Shikara on the Dal Lake

The Nishrat Bagh Moghul Gardens

Water Lilies on the Dal Lake

Camel Bridge from our Shikara on the Dal Lake

On Sunday we decided to take a walk down to the market near the local mosque, Hazratbal. It was not far from our guesthouse and we managed to find it pretty easily. Quite close to the market is also the University of Kashmir, where it is popular to study business or engineering – they even do “Short Courses in Mechatronics”?! We spent an hour or so walking through the market and even bought a couple of Kashmiri handicrafts; their specialty is delicately painted papier-mâché elephants and bells.

A shop full of papier mache hand painted ornaments

The market at Hazratbal

Today we found a lift into the town of Srinigar and walked around the shops and bought some supplies for our trip to Leh. We were surprised to see how modern and global it is, even in comparison to what we saw of Mumbai and Delhi. There seems to be more English signage and people are willing to speak English to us.

This evening we visited the Pari Mahal – the Angel Palace or Fairy Abode . It is right up in the mountain and boasts incredible views of the Dal lake. The “palace” itself is a stone-built fort with four or five levels of gardens, each with a more spectacular view than the last. There were many tourists and we found ourselves chatting with a few people about cricket or about South Africa and where we are from.

Pari Mahal - the Angel's Palace

One of the highlights of this place has been watching the sun setting over the lake. The orange sun and the reflection of the shikaras on the lake really is a breath-taking sight.

Sunset over the Nageen Lake

Tomorrow morning we move on to Leh, we will be sharing a Jeep with some other tourists and will drive via Kargil and arrive in Leh in the late evening. We have been told that the scenery is fantastic and although it will be another long drive, it will all be worth it when we get to Ladakh! :)

 D x

4 Comments

Filed under India

INDIA INDIA INDIA

So it’s been a while, Dom has been going blog crazy and I haven’t had any interesting things to talk about… Well that’s my excuse anyway!

Dom and I have tried our best to make this the most ‘un-clichéd’ Round the World Trip blog possible, but I guess that there is only a certain point to which you can stray from the framework. We have done some serious planning into India, sort of to the detriment of the rest of the trip planning. However, we feel that India is going to be one of our biggest challenges both culturally and in that we will both be completely out of our comfort zones, but in the end that’s why we want to travel.

So on India… We fly into Mumbai, India’s largest city at an unbelievable 17 million people. We were watching Culture Shock the other day, the Mumbai episode completely blew us away. I wasn’t too enamoured by the documentary but that’s not what we were watching it for. I remember them showing us how the people are so incredibly obsessed with their cricket. It is immense, they will play through rain or shine, no matter what. I think what struck me about that was the human-ness of it all. I have been researching India for its cultural and historical significance, and although this is a major part of the reason we (and many others) are visiting India, the culture isn’t confined to colourful traditions, etc, but the people themselves. This is what I want to experience!!!!

We collect our passports from the Swiss embassy tomorrow and from there we courier them straight away to the Indian embassy in Johannesburg. Part of the new regulations for South Africans is that we need accommodation booked for our entire trip through India so we have been madly booking hostels and getting in touch with friends who can be our references there. This has, in a way defined our journey through the country and if you are still reading by this stage I’m sure you are interested enough to read where we are actually planning to go. And hopefully those who are reading this who have been fortunate enough to travel to India can give us some insight and some pointers on what to see in these places.

Leg one will be from Mumbai to Delhi, we plan to spend a couple of nights in the city before travelling North to the Ladakh region of Kashmir and to the city of Leh (pronounced ‘Laye’). A friend of ours recommended this trip to us as opposed to travelling South further into Rajastan and Goa (our original plan) because we will be in India right in the middle of monsoon season.

I am very easy to please and the Pangong Lake is reason enough for me to visit the area. For photographic reasons alone!

Pangong Lake, Ladakh

So this incredible place is apparently fairly easy to access, a few hours’ drive (160km) from Leh but only by 4×4 vehicle so it could be quite pricey… not exactly the budget side of things but it will be worth it! It’s also in the foothills of the Himalayas, and its probably the highest above sea level we will both be, possibly ever, at something crazy like 17000ft. Gorsh!

From Leh we have decided to do the recommended Golden Triangle including the cities of Jaipur and also Agra, most famous for being where the Taj Mahal is located. We’ve been told that its fairly easy to find a place to stay in Agra, a hostel of some sort, that has a roof top area that will overlook the Taj.

Through the lens of others I have seen a lot of amazing sights and colours and people and so many other things. Now it’s time for Dom and I to see and to experience all the stimulus ourselves.

We’ll be travelling by train, it’ll definitely be the best way to experience and take in as much as possible. AAAAAND… sleeper trains might just save us some exploring time and money spent on accommodation. The trains in India are one of the influences brought into the country by the British but as with all of these influences, the Indians have made them uniquely their own. I wish I could take my bike with me, but that would take some time, and I don’t think it would survive the trip.

Our last week of India will be spent in Varanasi, the religious capital of India. We’re looking forward to the variety and the mish-mash of different cultures coming together in one place. All that I have read about Varanasi says that is one of the great places to see and to experience in India.

I’ve been rambling on going from place to place and now I’m done… We are going to see Kolkata, India’s capital as our last stop before Thailand. The problem is, I just watched Globe Trekker on Los Angeles and now my brain’s on the USA leg of the trip… uh oh!

Until next time, Trist out!

Leave a comment

Filed under Travel Planning