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Leh Travel Experience Essay

A college junior and friend (Dola Ram) shared this very interesting video about how people have started conserving water in Ladakh

When we were about to reach the second highest pass of the world at Tanglang La, we saw a stretch of snow with what seemed to be something like fringe lines on it. The most probable reason could have been narrow water lines traveling through it or it might have been wind, I don’t really know. It looked something like this:

We reached Leh late evening around 8 pm. Father had, through his contacts, managed to get us a home stay cum hotel free for the stay cost. I had talked to Mr Konchog, the person whom father had talked with and who met us in Leh to take us to the Hotel. Leh wasn’t very impressive in the night. The place where we stood waiting for Mr. Konchog consisted of a round about full of dirt. On top of that when Mr. Konchog arrived and asked us to follow his car, he didn’t seem to stop for long. Our reaction to that was It’s so far!

But as it turned out, it was going to be our home for 3 days. We met a wonderful, graceful, caring family. The family consists of two little sweet girls, their mother who is a nurse in the local government hospital, their father is in the army, their grandmother at one point of time played the role of Manisha Koirala’s mother in a film (this information was curated by our driver uncle), their grandfather who is a retired Colonel in the army. The father have three more brothers — one (Mr. Tsewang Dorje) takes care of all the bookings, second Mr. Konchog runs a travel agency and the third (Mr. Morup Dorje) did his PhD from PU (Punjab University) and was home (I don’t know what he’s doing though). The cooking and the maintenance there is taken care by two girls whose sole job is this. They are from a village near Kargil (I forgot the name, but it started with h), but they are as family in this family as the two little girls. It was so beautiful to see this. On the last day of Leh, we went to treat them with lunch in their afternoon off hours (Mum’s idea). They are descendants of the Aryans.

The hotel that they’ve started is only almost a year old. They used to live in a rented place before, when they took this up and made it.

They took care of us like we were a part of the family separated and getting together after years. Genuinely, gracefully, they even let us hang in their home that was adjacent to the rooms they’ve built.

We have no photographs with the brothers because they were busy most of the times.

There was an Israeli family living next room. Padma became good friends with their two daughters. They played all the time. Mum made them play numerous games, like so:

I wouldn’t dive much into the where we went, we went the usual places — Sheh Palace, Leh Palace, Rancho’s School, a couple of monasteries, the meeting point of Indus and Zanskar rivers, Pathar Sahib Gurudwara (something interesting happened here, details to follow below), Shanti Stupa, Pangong Tso Lake, Khardungla Pass (we didn’t go to Nubra Desert because of the time crunch). The last day we roamed around local Leh market. Just some photographs here:

The Pathar Sahib Incident

When we visited Pathar Sahib, I was astonished by the story of its origins. Guru Nanak Dev ji, the first Sikh Guru, was(is) also revered heavily by Buddhists as Rinpoche Lama. Many buddhists of different forms of Buddhism visit The Golden Temple even today to give gratitude to him.

Once, he was meditating peacefully few kms ahead of today’s Leh when a Rakshash (I doubt he looked anything like a monster), pushed a big rock from the hillock facing Guru Nanak Dev Ji’s back. It is said, that the rock came to a stand still as soon it came in contact with him. The part of the rock that did touch him melted like wax, and took the shape of his back, like so

The person then tried to push the rock with his feet to push it over him again, but his feet got stuck (whose impression is still visible). I was awing by this, when my mother forced me to stand beside the rock to click a picture. I insistently refused, which created an angry mood for a few seconds. Without any prior intimation, I sat down and closed my eyes without any prior intention to sit with myself and meditate for a while. It would have been not more than 2 minutes when water started pouring out of my eyes, so much so that I couldn’t keep my eyes shut because they were fluttering so heavily. I still kept with myself for a few more minutes when I had to open my eyes. The pathi, who was reciting shabd from Guru Granth Sahib Ji, took a second to smile at me, as I hurriedly stood up and went out. I have never ever felt so relieved and grateful for no particular reason. I was angry at my mother a moment ago for wanting me to take a picture, the next moment I was feeling grateful for nothing in particular and everything at the same time, especially for a chance to be there. I don’t know why it happened, but I’ve been feeling super light ever since.

Speaking of this, there’s a song, which after I sought out its lyrics’ meaning, I cry when it plays every time.

Google its lyrics’ meaning, you’ll find everything easily. You’d be able to relate to it more if you’ve ever felt longing for a master, and felt grateful beyond measure for no particular reason at all. Some goes:

Ilm kitaabi, magro laake 
(Keeping the knowledge of one’s self, close to oneself)

Murshad de hath dor phadaake Jaa…(udi ka udi ja…) 
(
Surrendering your thread of life to your master, you keep flying)

Bin murshad de, dar dar dur dur 
(without a master (murshad), one keeps wandering without purpose)

I don’t know when but somewhere in the middle of the journey I heard a Kumar Sanu Song which went

Pathar Honge Dil Me Jinka Koi Pyaar Nahi

I was like

What!

Then there were this animal called marmot which hibernate in the winters and get out in the summers. We saw them in the way towards Pangong Lake.

Following two pics taken by permission from Shivam Gupta

I saw a very sleek hand made paper diary in one of the tourism shops inside Thiksey Monastery. It was slimmer, narrower than others, easy to write in binding, but it was costly, so I let it go. When I was rummaging through the Leh market for one that wouldn’t be so costly no matter if it’d be not that good, I saw a shopkeeper designing a building on what seemed to a software similar to 3D Architect. I refrained from asking how! I think I’d have gotten a

Because there’s too much time in hand

as an answer.

We stayed in Jispa again on our return journey. In the morning when I was about to sit down on the seat to relieve my bowel in the sleepy eyes full of phosphenes

when I saw two moths struggling and writhing in water. I picked up a tissue and rescused them (feeling very proud). But when I sat pooping, one of the moths flew and started hitting itself against the bulb (I laughed for a while).

On our way back from Jispa to Manali, our driver uncle spoke continuously. He told us about his family, his 5 brothers, how one of them is super wealthy and the others indulge in binge drinking. How one sets out to find an elusive bird to sell it in millions. How he was a cook once, then he took upon driving as a career choice. How life has always been tough, but humility and honesty have been fulfilling. He drives Makkan on even the silliest most drastic of roads. He’s a very very good human being and I listened to his life very attentively and pray-fully. I learnt from it a lot as well.

We stayed in a resort in Manali that goes by the name The Highland Park. It didn’t seem much from the outside, but as soon as we entered the cottage with two rooms, we were blown away. It was a complementary stay again don’t know how, all thanks to father.

I also started reading the bookTrans Himalayan Caravans: Merchant Princes and Peasant Traders in Ladakh by Janet Rizvi. Although, I only read about 30 pages of it in Leh (I intend to finish it), I learnt a lot about trade routes in Ladakh, and what triggered development of Jammu, and how cultural barriers used to be almost non existent before.

How and why nomadic tribes traded black salt and wool for pashm against grains and other daily needs. Why Ladakh became a middle ground for trade across middle, central and south Asia despite it’s difficult desert location between the Himalayas and Karakoram and more.

I’m also talking to many people who’ve visited Ladakh to curate more experiences. One of them stayed in Ladakh for a period of one month where she made a film with LAMO (Ladakh Arts and Media Organisation) about Kashmiris opposite the Central Asian Museum in the Tandoor Street who have been baking breads for over 3 decades. Hopefully I’ll be able to put words to her experiences once she shares them in detail. She also visited Sham area, Lamayuru, Skurbuchan and others around and before Kargil and interviewed research scholars and a lot of locals, spoke to people who helped army during the Kargil War and a lot more. Talking to her made me realise, that there is so much more to know about Ladakh, both area wise, and people/culture wise.

And we came back home.

Oh one more thing, there was a person who was on foot talking to no one irrespective of enthusiastic thumb’s ups from vehicle goers. I long for such journey some day.

THE END

By Achin Gupta.

I read somewhere: “There are two kinds of travellers, those who have journeyed on the Manali-Leh highway and those who are planning to”. A few months back, I graduated to the first kind. These are memories from a trip I can’t forget; a trip that took me to Leh, Nubra Valley and the majestic Pangong Lake.

Disclaimer: All photos in this story are taken with a regular point and shoot camera, and not edited.


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1. THE MANALI - LEH HIGHWAY

One of the world’s highest motorable roads. To arrive in Leh, the capital of the ancient Kingdom of Ladakh, we must cross five high mountain passes through the mighty Himalayas.



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2. SPECTACULAR AND STRANGE LANDSCAPES

In the fragile Himalayas; they were submerged under water thousands of years ago, and these granular pointy structures were formed due to constant erosion of the mountain soil in the harsh climatic conditions.



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3. TRADITIONAL ARCHITECTURE IN LEH

 I always fell short of words in trying to describe this lovely city. Very humble and honest people live in this part of the world, and some greens survive the harsh weather too. 



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4. SUNSET FROM THE SHANTI STUPA

; a magnificent landmark situated on a hill top, from where the sunset paints the stark brown mountains in golden colors, in the backdrop of a pure blue sky. Soak in the peace as you sip your evening tea from the top of the world.



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5. SOLITUDE AT THE TSEMO MONASTERY

Perched above Leh Palace, Tsemo Monastery is a short hike from the palace, and a tranquil place to spend some "me" time.



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6. DRIVE TO NUBRA VALLEY

Across the world’s highest motorable pass, ‘Khardung-La’, at 18,380 feet.



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7.  BACTRIAN CAMELS OF THE "SILK ROUTE" ERA

A remarkable attraction of Nubra valley, the other being its sand dunes. Locals claim that these camels were used by traders during days of the famed ‘Silk Route’, and originally belong to central Asia. How did the sand reach this attitude? It is evidence that this great valley was once submerged underwater.



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8. THE SKYLINE OF NUBRA VALLEY

is dominated by a giant Buddha statue at the valley's biggest monastery, and is a sight to behold against the backdrop of dramatic blue skies.



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9. THE LOCAL MEANS OF TRANSPORT

aka yaks! I spotted one walking over the snow far away.



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10. THE FAMOUS PANGONG LAKE

Surrounded by stark brown mountains, bluer than the sky, and so clean that you can see pebbles at its base. Words and pictures can do no justice to its beauty.



Ladakh is home to a very fragile and sensitive eco-system. Please try to reduce your carbon footprint as much as possible by using local operators and guides, staying at family-run homestays, choosing public transport, eating local food, and carrying all your plastic waste back to the city.


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AUTHOR BIO: Achin is an IT professional, and a traveller at heart. He wants to see the world, inspire others through his experiences, and see India on the world map for its heartwarming hospitality.


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