Julley! This Ladakhi word works like magic in breaking ice with the locals in Leh or, for that matter, anywhere in Ladakh. Couple it with a smile and you could ‘Julley’ your way through Ladakh.
So Ladakh has been talked about by many and not one person who’s been there would say that he/she has been disappointed. This is a place that is unique in its beauty and unparalleled in its serenity.
Now the best as well as the ‘more-in-rage’ way to get to Leh is by road. This medium of travelling makes you a part of a most breathtaking journey whether on the Srinagar-Leh route or the Manali-Leh one. One can expect to pass through delightful ranges and sites that will only make you wonder what Leh, your destination, could have in store. Taking a flight from Delhi, Chandigarh, Jammu or Srinagar isn’t a bad option either. In fact, this flight would be like none other. Do insist on taking a window seat as visible from the aircraft are some of the most magnificent sights including the Tso-Moriri Lake and the Zanskar River. Take my word when I say that you would nearly want to touch the ranges of the Himalayas and the Karakoram.
Once there, don’t neglect the good old advice of acclimatizing for at least two days. Acclimatization is very important in areas of such height and one mustn’t risk messing their health up. Now Leh is a small but charming town. Dotting the city are numerous adventure shops, travel companies, mountain-bicycle shops, taxis, garden restaurants, terrace restaurants and more. The sweeping number of international tourists makes them practically look like the second largest segment of the population. One can look forward to carrying back fond memories of English-speaking shopkeepers calling you in to their attractive, well-doing shops selling jewellery, trinkets, shawls, and tons of other knickknacks. Guest-houses are available in plenty in Leh, their prices starting from a reasonable Rs 500 per day. Also explore the many eating joints that serve not only typical Ladakhi cuisine but also continental, Lebanese and Greek. Taxis can be found in plenty and if you’re in for some adventure, go ahead and rent a bike.
Sight-seeing in Ladakh is a very rewarding experience as this is a place that offers so much to see, learn and enjoy. Within the main periphery of Leh, one must visit the Tsomo Gompa, the Leh Palace, the Hall of Fame and the Shanti Stupa. Of these, the latter two are definitely recommended. While you could go through the gallant stories of war heroes in the Hall of Fame, Shanti Stupa puts forth a landscape that is one in a million. Testimony to this would be the tourists who come here only to sit back, watch the landscape and maybe even meditate! You could also pack in the Zorawar Fort, which now accommodates only army barracks.
A spectacular thing about visiting Ladakh is that the ride to the other various sites wouldn’t disappoint you in the least. You can expect to be faced with sturdy and striking mountains that compel you to marvel at their beauty. So while you’re on this drive, make sure you’re heading to the Hemis Gompa, Thiksey Monastery and the Stok Palace. While the first is the largest and the wealthiest Buddhist monastery in Ladakh, the latter is the current residence of the ousted royal family. The Magnetic hill, Patharsaab Gurudwara, Nanak Hill and the ‘Sangam’ between the Indus and the Zanskar River are must-sees as well.
This being just in and around Leh, there are three other impressive places that are quite out of this world but at a distance from the main city. The first is the Khardung-la top, also popularly known as K-Top. Standing at a height of 18380 feet, Khardung-la is the world’s highest motorable road. Once there, make sure you buy yourself some souvenirs. The second is the Nubra Valley, a cold desert where you’re sure to spot a lot of double-humped camels. Finally, head to the Pangong-Tso (Pangong Lake), one of the largest brackish lakes in Asia. Situated at a height of 14000 feet, the lake is 130km long, 45 km of which lies in India while the remaining stays in China. Shaded from an ink blue to a turquoise to an aquamarine to a purple to other brilliant colours, you have to see it to believe it. No description or praise of the lake is enough until you see it with your own naked eye. Gorge on some hot Maggi and you’re done! Though that isn’t the only incredible thing about the trip to Pangong. Before Pangong, bask in the glory of reaching Chang-La, the ‘world’s third highest pass’, standing at a height of 17586 feet.
Wildlife enthusiasts can go crazy in Ladakh. The animals to be spotted range from the ibex, marmots and wild ass to double humped camels, yaks and mountain goats (including pashmina).
All in all, travelling to Leh can be a most cherished experience. There is so much to take back and so much to miss when you’re finally home. The amalgamation of culture and nature with civilization is interesting. If possible, one must try to visit in the month of August-September so as to catch the 15-day Ladakh festival. That would surely be the icing on your cake.
[Image courtesy: http://www.flickr.com/photos/keedap/3684027710/]