Leh, at last

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July 12th 2012
Published: October 1st 2017
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Geo: 34.1803, 77.5801

The alarm went off at 3:15am, but Paul and I were already awake. We dressed and headed downstairs, where our driver was already waiting. The drive to the airport was very fast: again no traffic this early in the morning. Which was good, because we ran every red light, just like we did on the way in.

After passing through the high security at the airport, we had about an hour to wait until our flight was called. We ate the brekkies sent by the hotel then boarded. The flight was on-time and packed with matsalehs. Kyla had a window seat, but it was very cloudy most of the trip. Periodically, we could see high mountains and snow-capped peaks in the distance. When we emerged from the clouds upon landing ,we found that the land had risen to meet us. It was a bumpy, fast landing … at 11,600 we are probably close to the upper limit for take-off for 737s. The airport is a military airport, and we were not allowed to take photographs upon landing. All commercial flights have to land or depart by 11am. We also had to register with the police, as foreigners in the Jammu-Kashmir. I guess we are very close to the borders with China and Pakistan.

We were met and taken by van to our guest house. The drive through Leh was short, and the town is small, the main road lined with small shops – although we could see that the "downtown" area had more restaurants and guest houses off the main drag. Children were on their way to school, dodging the many mini-vans as they crossed the street. Many Tibetan-style buildings sit on the cliffs overlooking the town. In addition to the blonde dogs, we saw a few cows wandering the streets. Leh has a permanent population of 18-20,000, but it increases to around 35,000 during the tourist season.

I thought at first that some of the other matsalehs must be joining us, as we had been asked to rearrange our schedule to accommodate the hotel … but we appeared to be the only ones going to the Snow View. We were offered a delicious breakfast upon arrival (tomato and pepper omelet with wonderful local apricot jam on toast) … just powered coffee, though (which we expected). We met with the tour operator to go over our itinerary … might be a little heavy on monasteries, but we'll see. (Do I keep saying that?) We talked to him a bit about the history of Ladakh … about how it was an independent kingdom until 1949, but after the end of the Raj became afraid of being invaded by China, so asked India for military help. India said, Sure, as long as you become part of India. So Ladakh did. We also thought it was very interesting that he measured all distances in “days on horseback” rather than miles or kilometres. He also told us that Indians with Tibetan names are denied visas to visit China, so it is very rare for a Ladakhi to have gone to Tibet.

We spent the morning resting, playing games, and relaxing, then had lunch about 1pm. The power is off most of the time in the hotel: it came on about a half-hour before lunch and went off about a half-hour after lunch. We did have wifi access though, so all was right with the world. We tried to nap after lunch, from about 2:30-3:30pm, but only Paul really slept much (and he never naps). In any case, it was pleasant listen to the sound of the stream and the cows lowing in the distance…and the call to prayer from the mosque.

In late afternoon, we went for a stroll through town. The downtown area consists of several blocks of shops, all selling similar textiles, rugs, brassware, and adventure holidays. The entire town seems set up for adventure tourism, although it is a very short season, ranging from May through October at the latest. Most of the staff who work in the various hotels switch their time between Ladakh and Goa, since they have opposite tourist seasons. We wonder what was around here 10 years ago. It was not a particularly relaxing walk, given the narrow streets, lack of safe walking space, and constant stream of cars (which always honk at you when they go past). After about an hour, we returned to the hotel.

For dinner, we had “sizzlers”, a meat-veggie-frites dish served in a bowl of foil on top of a wooden platter. It was very, very smoky, and our eyes watered as it was served. It was tasty, though, an answered a question we had been wondering about when we say the dish advertised at several restaurants in town. After dinner, the kids joined us in our room and we played picture-telephone (Paul's drawing of a street cow attacking the Moravian cemetery won the day) and tried to stay awake until 9pm. Succeeded in that, but barely.

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