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Published: February 21st 2007
Pretty keen to head as far away as possible from Srinagar, the next stop was deep within the Himalayas on the Ladakh range to one of the northern town of Leh. The area only opened up to foreigners in the 70’s and has more ties with Tibet than India, with white washed temples and Buddhist monasteries set amongst dramatic mountain scenery. Originally I has intended to travel via to Leh via road, a two day Jeep trek through the Himalayas but the route is cut off due to snow and frozen passes for 8 months of the year, and this being winter, the only option was to fly. Not that I’m complaining, as seeing the sights of the Himalayas via air was just extraordinary. The snow capped peaks appear just below the plane in plane sight and stretch to the horizon. Unfortunately I don’t have any photos to show you as well, airport security for bids this. In fact I don’t think I have seen security this intense ever! My baggage was x rayed 3 times, by heavily armed patrols, I as frisked by hand and metal detector 3 times and my and luggage checked twice. To top it off they
Poor Bastard lives here. Hope he's got ski boots as well.
even removed the battery for the digital camera and stored it in the main luggage to prevent any photos, I couldn’t even sneak a shot off on the plane. Apparently the Pakistani and Chinese borders are close and there must be some military secrets there hiding and don’t want anyone to know about. And trust me these are not the people you want to piss off, they have big guys.
I was warned but as usual I took little notice of the climate conditions up here. It was f@cking freezing and I was not quite prepared for this. Winter, the gateway to the Himalayas, 3500 meters above sea level, of course it was. Despite the fact that the morning sun was shining bright in arrival, the maximum high was a chilly minus 6 degrees, so I found myself piling on the clothes, luckily I had brought a massive jacket in Srinagar to keep the chill off. Mind you as it got later, subsequently darker it got ridiculously cold. I ended up wearing the majority of my clothes, being 2 T-shirts, thermal top, jumper, and jacket, 3 pairs of socks and a beanie. Not to mention the fact I slept
fully clothed with beanie in tack covering the noggin’ from the winter frost. Lets not even talk about the ability to wash, I was prepared to stick out the next 5 days with the clothes in tack rather than face the torturous task of scrubbing in a barely warm bucket of water. The other thing that you are warned about when traveling to Leh, especially for fly-in visitors are the effects of Acute Mountain Sickness (altitude sickness) which I fobbed off as a weak mind myth. Well low and behold, it doesn’t take too much to suddenly start feeling light headed, dizzy and generally knackered. You find yourself sucking in an extra deep breath every 4 or 5 breaths, it’s a strange feeling of not getting quite enough oxygen. It kind of passes after the second day thank god, and you get used to the thin air, its either that or I’m slightly dumber.
Leh itself is set in a valley surrounded by the snow capped peaks of the Ladakh and the Himalayan ranges encircling the town 360 degrees. The only time you can’t see the mountainous regions is when the fog blankets the town and consequently the sun.
What strikes you most is the landscape which people live in here, the environment is so harsh and barren. Nothing grows here, nothing could, but it makes for a truly picturesque environment, the brown-grey countryside complements the glowing white snow caps set amidst the bright blue sky. The town has a cozy feel to it, with restaurants, guesthouses, markets and shops set around the main Gonpa, while the skyline of the town is dominated by the old Leh Palace perched on the hillside to the north. Once again the only problem with visiting now was that the town was in hibernation mode, shops, restaurants and guesthouses closed for winter, while a small number remained open to deal with what little people surfaced. There wasn’t much to do here other than take in the panoramic views and attempt to stay warm. This did give me the opportunity to explore outside of the town to visit numerous Buddhist monasteries precariously perched on the hillsides. The Ladakh region is referred to as ‘Little Tibet’ due to the distinct similarities of monasteries set in a familiar topography and culture as Tibet.
The entire region is absolutely stunning and overwhelming, it just appears that
I have visited at the wrong time of year. You could literally spend a couple of months exploring this area as well as Himachal Pradesh taking in the sights and undertaking the summer/spring activities of trekking, whitewater rafting, mountaineering, rock climbing…the list is endless. Its just a little annoying that I can’t really undertake these experiences to fully appreciate what’s on offer but it certainly gives me a reason to head back, at the right time of year of course.
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