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Old 28th July 2010, 03:59   #1
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Default A relaxed Leh trip

Last year I was at the irrepressable age when it seems very against the idea of a holiday to take your parents together with you. That too to a macho place like Leh, where every year guys from across the world come to tell themshelves and others that they have done something irrelevant like “drove on the highest road of the world, or that I rode my car in 4X4 mode..”.

In any instance with parents being not upto a strenous vehicle ride from manali and some issues with leave from office, we flew to leh from delhi in june 2009- dad, mom and me. Its been a year since then, and I can still only think of a return trip this year; this would be a good time to refresh my memory and also to share them with everyone.

Since most of team bhp has gone to leh by car/bike, allow me to tell how it feels to land in leh airport. Its quite lame.

I had never taken a himalayan flight- the only mountains I had seen from air were the piddly hills when you approach bombay from delhi. This was surreal; it is so hard to distinguish clouds from the snow covered mountains. And the fact that we were sleep deprived for the 5 am flight also increased our wonderment- everything was so dreamy.

And when the pressurised cabin is opened up, we got up fine from our seats. By the time we had collected our luggage, we realised that breathing is a little hard, the heart felt like it had to do more work, push something heavy. By the time we reached our home for the next 15 days, we have given up all hopes of jumping around on Day 1.

Or may be we were one very unfit family.

My dad is a lecturer; one of his early students from his pre-marriage age lives in Leh - Dilip bhai. He teaches at a college ( the Central Institute of Buddhist Studies or CIBS) for buddhist monks at Choglamsar. Choglamsar is this village around 12 kilometres from Leh. He hosted us for the entire period in his faculty quarters.

View from the house/CIBS Campus (the thin green area just below the mountains is the Stok Palace)
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Central Institute of Buddhist Studies Campus
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The thing about buddhism and leh traditions is that traditionally all families send one son to join the bhuddist order. The kid then studies with the monks and in schools like CIBS. Till a certain age the young monk is allowed to leave the monastic order if he wishes. The last couple of years, with tourism and easy money, this happens a lot more often than earlier.

Our driver/guide Tashi is one such. He looks like Tony Leung (my favourite hong kong superstar of movies like Hard Boiled, In Mood for love, 2046, The Hero and my all time favourite Infernal Affairs), is a star local ladhaki singer (he records during the winter months in delhi) and super driver; best of all is a student of dilip bhai. So it was very ironical- we were shown about by a student of student of my dad.

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Tony Leung ( from Hong Kong Cinemagic - Gallery Interview with Andrew Lau and Alan Mak -Infernal Affairs)
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Much of what we picked up about local Buddhism, life of people in Leh in these fifteen days was from Dilip bhai and Tashi, and we are more than grateful for the same.

Both of them were at the airport to pick us up that sunny day, and we went home.

Here is our ride for the trip. I had never travelled by a Qualis before and I have been a fan of its rugged simplicity since then.
A relaxed Leh trip-img_1443.gif

Since this is my first travelogue on Team bhp- many thanks to tsk, samurai, ajay, jay smokes, adc, sam, to name a few among so very many for their excellent efforts to bring us places all so vividly.
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Last edited by manolin : 28th July 2010 at 04:01. Reason: minor description edit
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Old 28th July 2010, 05:44   #2
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You did the trip last year and writing about it now

Better late than never.

Looking forward for more as it will help me relive my trip as well

Now don't slow down and finish it fast
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Old 28th July 2010, 05:57   #3
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One more Leh trip and one more set of heavenly pictures. I'm all eyes here. Bring it on. The initial ones are promising.
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Old 28th July 2010, 07:02   #4
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Relaxed? How relaxed can that be? And that too Leh! As MC said, better later than never. One never gets tired of Leh snaps.
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Old 28th July 2010, 08:52   #5
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mouth watering initial pics. And you say you were there for 15 days. looking forward to a festival of Ladakh beauty.
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Old 28th July 2010, 10:55   #6
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Very nice start to the TL. Looking forward to more pics.
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Old 28th July 2010, 11:50   #7
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Another Leh thread and another set of pictures. They're beautiful. Now I want to go to.
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Old 28th July 2010, 12:08   #8
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We finally have a 'Fly to Leh" tlogue,so very nice indeed.looking forward to more.
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Old 28th July 2010, 12:39   #9
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We've read 2 wheelers from Bandit to TBTS; cars from SX4 to Safari; now here's one that says leisure & that too at adventerous Leh!!! I've read about all the adventures of Zojila & Rohtang's, not sure what is in store as leisure for us. Keep them coming & with lots of details, it could help when someone intends to get Leh'd with family without adventure.

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Old 28th July 2010, 14:44   #10
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Originally Posted by manolin View Post
Since most of team bhp has gone to leh by car/bike, allow me to tell how it feels to land in leh airport. Its quite lame.
No its not (OK just a bit - LOL!). Looking forward to your account..
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Old 28th July 2010, 23:41   #11
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We just slept out the first day. Which was a good idea as my dad was very affected by the altitude. And my dad is from that mould of men who will resist medicines for any mild affliction. He had a mild cold in Delhi before coming, and the change in atlitude and accompanying strain greatly aggravated it.

I and my mom were fine by the second day. We were taking small walks around Choglamsar (though each of those felt like a jog). To see those little monks playing soccer was a real slap on our faces. Small wonder that the Ladakh Scouts men are ones who have the longest stints in Siachen; the other men are just not equipped by nature to deal with this air for long. I also read somewhere that Kenyan marathoners are so good because they practice at high altitudes; I guess Ladakhis have to yet try their hand at athletic activities in the Indian plains, they should be beating everyone hollow by now.

After taking medicines my dad was fine by the third day. So we took in the local sites on this day.

Spituk monastery is probably the impressive. One it is slightly isolated, two we were ushered into lama's quarters because they were Dilip bhai's friends (a recurring theme as we were to find out later), and three the views of the airport. This was also our introduction to the torture of monastery stairways. Up at the top though there is a very quiet temple with the goddess in full demon attire. One thing you immediately notice there are the offerings of homemade achohol to the gods.

Next up were the monastery of Thiksey (it was featured in the movie Dil Se; i think Manisha Koirala is running around in it). It has a 15M high gold coloured statue of the Maitreya Buddha (Future Buddha).

Maitreya Buddha at Thiksey
A relaxed Leh trip-img_1361.gif

The statue is so huge that from the level that the visitors go in, you have to look both up and down to see it. I guess they built the statue and constructed the levels. (Though I have always found the use of Buddha's statues by Buddhists quite 'anachronistic'- one integral message of Buddhism started with social reform and move from idol worship (at least that's what 10th class history books tell us) - I guess they must have their own logical arguments, look forward to understanding them at sometime. Not like my religion (Hinduism) is without its illogicalities.

The Thiksey monastery is supposedly modelled on the Potala palace in tibet.
A relaxed Leh trip-img_1348.gif

Thiksey is supposed to be the largest gompa in Ladakh. It was a little too touristy for my liking.
A relaxed Leh trip-img_1358.gif

My dad was still not perfectly fine, so they took rest the next morning, while I went to Leh market to buy jackets. Leh has this incredible markets of secondhand/surplus army goods. For example you can buy the down feather jackets which have been used in extreme conditions etc for around Rs. 10,000. However I was not sure how much we need those extreme jackets, they weigh a ton and feel like a sauna in Leh summer temperatures. So I went ahead and got two Northface knockoffs; they have been performing quite admirably since then.

In the afternoon we headed off to Hemis monastery. This is one of the major spiritual centres of Ladakh, and is around 50kms from Leh along the Indus river. Very importantly it is also the head for one of the most desolate national parks of the country - the Hemis National Park. As I learn't later from Discovery Channel, it is the haunt of snow leapards, that most elusive creature of the high Himalayas. The Discovery Channel team which had gone there spent three summers in a row with fancy equipment like motion detector cameras without spotting one; in the fourth year they managed footage.

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Hemis monastery has a small beautiful museum too, where you can also pick up mementoes. The atmospheric courtyard is host to some elaborate ceremonies and dances; we saw a young monk being taught the dance for a festival later in the month. Here too we ushered into the quarters of the lamas (friendly young kids) who gave us some nice yak milk tea. These kids are so young, you sometimes wonder if its right to send them to become lamas like this. But again traditional practices also came about for a reason, and one is never sure that such reason is no longer valid (here is a link i was presently reading regarding disappearance of polyandry from spiti valley http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/17/wo...polyandry.html).

Inside Hemis
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the courtyard again- it just felt nice to be sitting here
A relaxed Leh trip-img_1333.jpg

As evening came, we headed back to Choglamsar. A couple of kilometres before Choglamsar is the Indus confluence. This is where major local shows are held every year. That day though it was a nice quiet empty platform by the Indus. This is where you enjoy the beauty of the river- there are no towns upstream, so the water is crystal clear, and still carrying the cold from its high abode. There is generally a nice breeze blowing at this place- a great place to sit by with a thermos.

A relaxed Leh trip-img_1387.gif

My parents at the confluence
A relaxed Leh trip-img_1382.gif
(Jayant Kumar Biswal and Sujata Biswal, 2009, Indus confluence, Leh.)

Last edited by manolin : 28th July 2010 at 23:46. Reason: grammar
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Old 29th July 2010, 01:05   #12
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Good pics. Whats the equipment you used for the pics? Very nice that you have taken your parents along.
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Old 29th July 2010, 12:50   #13
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Lovely again.waiting for more,I now know whom to come to if I am to go on a leisure trip to Leh/Ladakh.Awesome,refreshing to read a Leh travelogue without any adrenalin pumping instances.
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Old 20th August 2010, 00:25   #14
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Apologies for the inordinate delay. And best wishes for the people of Choglamsar, where we stayed, and which was very heavily affected by the Leh floods this year.

Our destination for the day
A relaxed Leh trip-img_1462.gif

Next day we were off to one of the great lakes of Leh – when i was told, i was wondering what was the fuss about a lake – after all I come from a state which has the Chilika lake (which is one of the largest salt water lakes in the world). We were off at 4 am from Leh as we wanted to come back on the same day (and not too late into the night). The road followed the banks of the Indus for a long while. We ended up waking up many of the permit checking officers in their respective cabins. Ladakh has a very strict system of permit checking; some of which are not government ones - there are a multiplicity of interests to protect: the police to check the inner line permits, the army to check permits for travelling into army controlled regions, and the taxi unions to ensure that the taxis of other regions do not operate in this region.

Upsi police check post
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While the taxi union’s policy of allowing other regions’ taxis to just drop passengers in Leh and not be used for local sightseeing is very beneficial to the local youth (as people taking commercial vehicles from say Delhi/Punjab/Srinagar can’t use them to see places around leh); it is illegal, and needs to be stopped by the administration. The Leh taxi drivers protest that there is a similar prohibition against them operating in Zanskar/Srinagar; well then stop it everywhere.

As the light slowly filtered in between the craggy peaks, we got an idea of the rock cut roads we were travelling in. Every once in a while you would cross small settlements with a couple of trees.

A relaxed Leh trip-img_1399.gif

The army people had written numbers and symbols on the sides of the mountains. Rock climbing a la Laqhsya anyone?
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After a while even this starts thinning and you start not getting startled by the sheer bare rock faces all around. And get used to the blue-white color river flowing so calmly beside you. At some point (by then I had lost all perspective of distance and time), we crossed the river over on an army bridge, and left behind the river (well not really, it is infact vice-versa, as the river goes all the way over the hills to Tibet). Then we saw a hint of blue, admist the barren wasteland.

A relaxed Leh trip-img_1429.gif

This is Tso Kiagar .

A beautiful lake, appearing almost like a vision. It was a pity that we did not go close, but the serene setting, not a soul, or a single man made structure in sight, and the blue blue lake; we were jolted out of stupor induced by drive till then. If I knew swimming I would have gone in there (and frozen for sure).

A few kilometres later we reached a plain, and the road disappeared, and it was a free for all. You could choose which ever track and drive across vast plains.

All roads lead to the same truth; there was never any road
A relaxed Leh trip-img_1436.gif

That is where we came across our first snow that year.
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A small river emptying into the lake was completely frozen. This woke us up from our reverie – we had been in the jeep for around 5 hours. We immediately trooped down.

This is one thing I have noticed- everyone becomes a child in front of snow; its not the same at a beach. After a couple minutes of jumping around, checking the texture of the snow (it was fast melting in harsh sun, and immediately under our footsteps), we left.

The trail immediately deteriorated after this. Basically BRO had tried to build a road, but had only reached the dumping chips/shale stage. This goes on for a couple of kilometres. The problem with all this is cuts to tyres. There are the worst kind of roads according to me, I get a headache from the ceaseless grinding that you hear from the underbody. Give a monsoon affected slush road in the plains anyday. Then we finally we see the this.

Tso Moriri
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This is supposed to be a fresh water lake; as opposed to pangong which is salt water lake. And the lake is stunning to view for the first time as the snow covered peaks rise up immediately on the far side of the lake.

The 21 st Battalion guards this lake; cross their camp and you get into the village of Karzok.
A relaxed Leh trip-img_1467.gif

Personally I did not like any of the camps which are the places for over night stay in Karzok or the village- they look too dusty and hastily put together. But we were early in the season, probably the facilities improve later.

Korzok village
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There is however however has an atmospheric monastery- which is said to contain a tooth of Buddha.

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That aside the terrace of the monastery is a very pleasant place to sit and look out at the lake.

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On the day we went, some army hot –shot was coming to inspect the Karzok battalion. The people of the village were also getting ready to welcome him in some traditional dresses. This lady posed for us.

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These army units get substantial money to spend on the surrounding villages; the Karzok people stood to gain mattresses, tvs, pumps etc. if they managed to get through to this fellow.

Cross Karzok and then there is just the lake.

Its water is very clear - clearest among all all water bodies I have seen so far.
A relaxed Leh trip-img_1483.gif

Catch the different colors on the lake - pangong, though shows even more colors.
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The Dalai Lama has a chilling zone by the lake side. If this was a hotel, you bet, they could command the Lake Palace in Udaipur type of prices.

Dalai Lama’s place - I was very tempted to break-in into this place- but the fear of kung fu lamas kept me away!

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After around an hour there we made our way back.

Yaks grazing peacefully
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I actually saw the road properly on our way back, though it was much more dramatic in the lesser light in the morning. Then the rock faces had appeared spooky, the river slivery.
A relaxed Leh trip-img_1533.gif

A relaxed Leh trip-img_1541.gif

We were back in Leh by the evening.
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Old 20th August 2010, 00:30   #15
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@ Taurean Bull - I was using a Canon 1000D with the kit lens.

Many thanks to the others. I will complete the rest of the travelogue tomorrow.
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