Ladakh: a travelogue

The flash floods of this August were a  marauder of Ladakh. They battered the reputation of its picturesque landscape – being a calm, serene and tranquil area full of an elusive natural beauty and wonder. Ladakh, once the sister province and now part of the state of J&K, should rightly share ownership to the appellation of ‘heaven in India’, along with Kashmir. It has been graciously bestowed with all forms of natural beauty, that any natural wonder of the world could proudly boast of: the flourish of the Karakoram, ethereal colors of beautiful lakes, vast expanses of snowy glaciers, deafening quietness of valleys and the gurgling waters of flowing rivers! God, it seems, stooped down himself – on earth, to conceive (through his own hands) this splendour. But in the midst of all this beauty, life, it seems, strives to survive – inch by inch. Population is spread in small pockets across the vast expanses of land – in small and secluded hamlets, the largest of which is Leh; one time ancient capital of Ladakh.

Places to visit

The most attractive feature of the landscape are the Buddhist monasteries, located on low hills, in the vicinity of villages. These monasteries are emblematic of the cultural heritage and customs of its people and the universal values of Buddhism. They have a wealth of artifacts and are architecturally very pleasing. Ladakh has over twenty monasteries, prominent of which being: Thiksay, Hemis, Alchi, Shey and Sankar. The  Leh palace (9-storeyed), Morivian Church and the Stok palace museum, at Leh, represent the grandeur and brilliance of its royalty.

Ladakh also provides great avenues for cultural and adventure tourism. The Nubra valley (also called the valley of flowers) possesses scenically attractive features, at higher altitudes. Majestic peaks and glaciers adorn this valley. Major attractions are the Khardongla Pass (highest motorable road at 18,000 ft) and the Pangong Lake (situated at 14, 000 ft is one of the largest natural lake of the country). The beauty of this lake is vividly captured in the climax of the movie, 3 idiots, where its pristine, clear waters leave the audience gaping wide-eyed. The upland plateaus (village of Changthang in Nyoma district) abound in exotic wildlife. The Tibetan Ass and the elusive ‘snow leopard’ are found here. Rare birds like the Bar Headed Goose, Black Necked Rare, the Great Crested Grebe, the Tibetan Crane and the Brahme Ducks can also be commonly seen on the plateau.

A range of rafting options are available on the River Indus and its tributaries. Ladakh also offers interesting trekking routes for trekkers. They can take a short-walk or day-long treks, down and up the slope of mountains or across ridges, through valleys – to enjoy the mountainscape. The great Himalayan and the Karakoram ranges are both accessible through Ladakh, making it the most sought after destination, for professional mountain climbers.

Culture and cuisine

Ladakh is the most revered seat of Buddhist philosophy, in India. It acts as a perfect melting-pot for both Tibetan and Nepali forms of Buddhist ideologies – evident through the presence of both styles of monasteries. The people of Ladakh are simple, religious and peace loving. Their round faces, short noses and small eyes make them resemble the people of central Asia.  They take great solace in the joyous celebrations of their religious ceremonies. Most of the festivals take place in winter. Most popular of them are the dance-dramas. The religious  priests perform these  dramas wearing  colourful garments and amusing the audience, but often frightful masks and mime are used to convey the incipient themes of Buddhism.

The cuisine of Ladakh is typical of the Himalayan ecosystem and the distinctive agricultural practices of the region. The two things one will come into contact, during their stay here, will be butter tea (tea churned with butter) and tsampa – roasted, ground barley flour. Rice also forms part of the staple diet. The specialties of Ladakh are the local barley brew called Channg and Momos (steamed dumplings).

Reaching Ladakh and Boarding

Ladakh consists of six districts but its capital, Leh, is the most developed – to handle tourism. It is located 434 Kms from Srinagar (open for traffic from early June to November) and 474 Kms from Manali (open from around mid-June to early October).  Buses ply, daily, between Leh-Manali and Leh -Srinagar, run by their respective state tourism departments.  It can also be reached by air, with Indian Airlines operating three flights a week between Leh and Delhi.

Leh offers a variety of accommodations to suit almost every pocket or preference. Most hotels are family- run establishments. Hotels are classified into A, B, C and economy category while guest houses fall under upper, medium and economy class. The tariffs for rooms could range anywhere between Rs. 180/day to Rs. 3500/day.

The heavenly beauty of Leh and Ladakh and the fact that accommodation is affordable  are good enough reasons for one to pack their bags and head for Ladakh!

Shailendra Singh

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