The streets of Leh
Upon arriving in Leh we went straight to the Dorje guest house and relaxed after the grueling journey to get here. Leh is in Ladakh, a region in the state called Jammu & Kashmir. (Srinagar, the capital of the state, has been in the news lately because of political unrest and city-wide lockdowns. No worries -- Leh is quite far from there both physically and politically.) Leh is very relaxed, and the weather is fantastic. Since this is yak country, there are t-shirts sold all over town that say “Ladakh yak yak yak.” It reminds me in many ways of McLeod Ganj: A large Tibetan presence, lots of Western tourists, a chill vibe, and many restaurants and jewelry shops. The shopping is definitely still India.
I can’t walk past a shop without being asked to look inside. If I so much as mention that I’m interested in something and ask the price -- boom! -- the negotiations have begun. The advice I’ve gotten is to counteroffer with half of the seller’s opening offer. It’s going to be weird to be back in the US and not negotiate for anything. Sometimes the sellers try to guilt tourists into buying something, saying “I give you good price. I need to make one sale today” or explaining how they have only three months out of the year to earn money since the road to Leh is closed during the remaining months. Another similarity to McLeod Ganj and the rest of India is the frequent power cuts that last quite a while, sometimes 24 hours. There seem to be no reason for the cuts, as it clearly has nothing to do with the weather.
But Leh is also different from McLeod Ganj in some critical ways: For one, everywhere you look you see snow-capped mountains in the backdrop.
It’s also quieter, and strikingly clean with real sidewalks and curbs. Within the first couple of days here, I saw a few people who had done the same meditation retreat as me in McLeod Ganj. I think we’re all making the same traveler route to the few places not currently in the height of the sweltering monsoon season.
Walking up the "shortcut" to Leh Palace
Anita and I went for massages; I opted for foot reflexology. Ahh, lovely. I tried to pay for the massage right away at the end, assuming the woman wanted to get on with her evening -- but she invited us to sit down for tea and chat for a while. Will I never get the hang of how things are done in this country?! Relationships, relationships, relationships.
We walked over to the Leh Palace, the main thing to see in town.
We took a “shortcut” that proved to be quite a steep hike up. We attributed the heavy breathing to the altitude, not being out of shape. Yeah that’s it, that’s the ticket. At the palace, some Indian guy followed us around until we acknowledged his presence. He wasn’t a tour guide, just a random guy who doesn’t speak English and is trying to make a few rupees. It was definitely odd.
A haircut in progress
A typical day is a big breakfast (for about $1.50), a little internetting while digesting, a walk to one of the sights in town, a tea break, dinner, reading, and that’s about it. I’ve been living out of a storage unit since November 2006 and I’m getting pretty tired of it, so soon I’ll return to the US and deal with getting a job and an apartment. But I suspect it’s these days in Leh I’ll look back on wonder why I didn’t stay just a little longer…