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Published: January 3rd 2016
Possibly the luckiest traveller in the world this year! I was the plus one on a competition prize to India! Not only do I love to travel, I love it even more when it doesn’t cost me anything! A dream come true!
In early November, my friend Leisa and I flew from Hong Kong to Delhi, with a transfer to Leh, in the North of India, Ladakh - Kashmir. If I am honest, I did not know that this beautiful place had existed up until this point! Flying into Leh at 3500 meters altitude, there was not much of a descent but there was one hell of a view over the Himalayas. Plunging to minus two on landing, we collected our bags from the single conveyor belt at the baron airport arrivals and were met by our guide Uhmed and were driven to our hotel whilst never losing sight of a hundred mountains.
Arriving at the hotel and climbing a flight of stairs highlighted the fact that we were at altitude as I was out of breath at the top! Day one was purely acclimatization with nothing strenuous, just a walk to the market in the evening. It was
very cold once the sun went down, hovering between minus ten and twenty degrees Celsius. First glimpse of Leh town, and we were strolling past cows in the main street and watching a donkey sniff the produce sold by the ladies wrapped up on the street. It was a small but bustling market town with the local butchers, the sweet shop, and lots of warm woolly clothing for sale!
Once acclimatized we spent the next two days exploring the surrounding area of Leh and visiting monasteries in superb locations overlooking the valley in which Leh resides. We visited the Hemis monastery, Thiksay monastery (known as little Tibet with its likeness to Potala Palace), Stakna monastery and Montho monastery. We had an in-depth education on the Buddhist culture, mudras, the wheel of life, chortens, and the Gods. We visited Shey Palace, built by a Tibetan Prince, and it had a giant balcony/window looking out across the mountains! Each time we looked back at the mountains surrounding us, the light would change slightly and give us a new perspective; there is something quite magical about a mountainous landscape.
We met some monks at the monasteries who had been living there
for decades! The oldest was 87 years old and he had been at the same monastery for sixty years! At the other end of the spectrum, there was the next ‘reincarnation’ of the head of the monastery who was five years old and living at the monastery. At the Montho monastery we saw young boys studying English on the grounds as part of their day as a monk. Quite a different childhood indeed.
Quickly we became addicted to Masala Chai tea, which in a very cold place is a very welcome treat! We stopped at some tiny roadside shacks that prepared this spiced sugary drink for us.
We visited an old Ladhaki style house during our time in Leh, with traditional methods of food storage, cooking, and preparing wool. A mother and her gorgeous rosy-cheeked son showed us around.
The local Doctor was an experience - just a compulsory check up before we were allowed to go to higher altitude in the Rumbak valley. The local puffer jacket-clad Doctor checked our blood pressure and blood oxygen levels and listened to our chest – all just a formality and quite a different clinic to the Hong Kong standards!
Acclimatized and ready to go, we were all set for the Rumbak Valley.....
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