Lamas and Lakes
Dalai Lama, Leh
Arrived Leh 15th on another super efficient Jet Airways flight including full breakfast (BA eat yur heart out). We'd booked the tour in UK on the net with an Indian Travel Agent months ago. It all works! Met at the airport. Very friendly hotel, largely staffed by Nepalese, expected us. Local agent turned up to fix travel arrangements. On 16th our driver, Tashi, and guide, Skanchen Dorji (young highly intelligent Ladakhi studying in Delhi earning some summer money) came for us as arranged. By sheer co-incidence, the Dalai Lama was in town. He comes every 3 - 4 years to this largely Buddhist area. He was publicly teaching for 5 days, every morning for 3 hours.
On the way to Pangong Lake
We went to the meeting area outside Leh to see and hear him - amazing sight. 1000s of people, many in trad dress, most in "best". Hundreds of red-cloaked lamas sitting and listening. Special foreigners enclosure with English translation got us within 20 yds ofthe Dalai Lama. Quite special. Then to palaces and monasteries, all amazingly situated.
17th - an early start to go camping for a night near Pangong Lake. Hair raising 6 hr drive over the Chang la pass - 17800ft!! Through starkly beautiful mountains. Rested, ate and watched the stars, never seen so clearly. It really was a Milky Way. Then up at 5am to get to the lake for sunrise. Pangong Lake, 13000ft up, 130 kms long surrounded by peaks with the Tibetan border only about 30km away, and its mountains clearly visible.
Pangong Lake at dawn - Tibet in the distance
Then the return over Chang la. A touch of altitude sicknes, and back to the hotel for 12 hrs sleep.
19th - a quiet day to explore Leh before more travel and camping tomorrow.
China cups and camels
20th August. Over the Kardong La pass at 18360ft - the highest motorable road in the world. Fantastic views from next to the (presumably) highest public conveniences in the world(under repair!!) Down into the Nubra Valley to curious dramatic scenery. Two huge rivers fill the valley floor. Little villages cling to the lower slopes of the mountains where meltwater streams provide irrigation. Houses often have beautiful gardens - sunflowers, dahlias, gladiis! It is quite wooded in places, but as it rarely rains, between villages there are sand dunes and near Hunder village, camels.
On top of the world!
We gave a lift to a monk up to Diskit Monastery. In return, he invited us to his room (with a view!!) where he gave us Jasmine Tea from china cups, and biscuits from a tupperware box. Overnight camping in some colonial luxury, and an early start to Panakmik hot springs, just short of the northernmost point in India a foreigner can visit. Kids on their way to school, many in beautifully turned out uniforms - shirts, ties, V neck jumpers with motif, and caps!! Then back over the pass to Leh, entertained by the Border Roads Organisation signs every half kilometre or so: " Be Mr Late not late Mr" If you are married , divorce speed" " Don't be a gossip, let him drive" (!!!)
23rd Aug - Town and country. Time to explore Leh town.
Descending to the Nubra Valley
E mails checked, money obtained very efficiently from an ATM, then up to Leh Palace, labyrinthine home of the former kings and under heavy restoration. Fine views over the tangled old town and polo ground, and out over the mountains in every direction. Leh is a destination for young "travellers", who stay in the Changspa area - so an interesting wander there past "Tibetan" jewellery matkets , Ayurvedic massage shops ,and the German Bakery selling chocolate cake, apple tart and huge doughnuts. Back to the Hotel Mandala, which has been very pleasant and friendly. The next day, out to the country following the River Indus to 3 monasteries - Likkir, dominated by a huge golden "Future Buddha", Alchi has delicate and interesting paintings and carvings, some from the 14th century, and Rizong is hidden up a narrow valley, miles from any village.
The main road is being seriously rebuilt, and is rather hairy and dusty. That didn't stop 3 Himalayan Ibex wandering across not far from us. Previous sightings have included marmots, hoopoes and sandpipers. The Border Road Organisation, the self-styled Mountain Tamers, continue to entertain and advise: "If you sleep, your family will weep" " He who touches 90 flies to die at 19" And, on an army lorry. "Overtakers, beware of undertakers" In this sensitive border area, where in the past India has fought China and even more recently, Pakistan, the army has a huge presence. We leav Leh on 25th August for the 2 day trip down to Manali. Ladakh - we will certainly be sorry to leave you. What a place!!