11.05.2009 - 17.05.2009 -5 °C
Leh is the main city in Ladakh. The people here are Buddhists, and therefore as usually (in my experience) incredibly friendly and kind. The city is packed full of guest houses, hotels, and trekking companies. Since I came from Kashmir, before the road from Manali opens, I beat the crowds and got here when the pace of life was still quiet and easy. I heard that when the road to Manali opens, the streets of Leh become packed full and the city is a nightmare. I'm happy to have come here earlier. My original plan was to come in over the Zoji La pass and get out of Ladakh using the Tanglang La pass on the way to Manali. When asked, however people just shrug and say that the road will open maybe in 15 or 20 days. Although I would love to spend three weeks in Ladakh, I just don't have the equipment to trek in these mountains. The trek routes around here go routinely above 5000 m and some peaks are above 6000 m. Since my warm clothes comprise a pair of jeans, a pullover and a fleece jacket, it would be very unpleasant to wander off in the mountains and i don't want to stay confined to the city for three weeks or more. In addition Raja in Dharamsala told me he would start the next trek on the 22nd of May. so I decided to only stay one week in Ladakh and go back the same way I came in (There are flights to Jammu and Delhi, but that's too expensive).
Leh is situated in a valley created by the Indus River that flows west into Pakistan and then south into the Indian Ocean. There are a few villages around the city. I decided to stay in one of those villages, maybe a half an hour walk from Leh, called Changspa, the reason for this exile to the outskirts being (of course) that it's much cheaper to live here. I found a room in a place called Oriental guest house, where I was delighted to find out that the family that runs it cooked incredibly tasty meals for dinner. After days of dhal and rice I couldn't get enough of it. Heaven! Here's a picture of the grand-father who was always carrying around and caring for his grand-son. It's really peaceful to watch these two walk around.
Next to the guest house on a hill, a Japanese Lama had built the Shanti Stupa, a place of worship dedicated to world peace. Here are two pictures of Leh taken from the Shanti Stupa. On the first picture you can see the abandoned Leh Palace on the hill and the Namgyal Tsemo Gompa (gompa = monastery) further up. I never got to visit those places. The second picture shows the Indus valley.
Here are two pictures of the Shanti Stupa.
This is a store in Leh. Most of the stores and guest houses were still closed while i was there, and this one unfortunately hadn't opened either. I would definitely have bought something from such a honest person!
A few days before I left I met Laura from Denmark who wanted to go to the Pangong Lake. This lake is quite famous for it's blue color and the peaceful atmosphere there. It is also on the border to Tibet, so you need an Inner Line Permit to get there. These permits are delivered to anyone, but you need to be at least four people to apply. When asked why I was told that this was an old law from the troubled times in the eighties or nineties that nobody had bothered to change yet. So it is still applied. Change doesn't happen very fast in Ladakh. We found four other people to accompany us, which brought the price per person of the hired jeep to acceptable levels.
Here's a picture of the Thiksey Gompa that we passed on the way.
And these are views from the road of the Chemrey Valley, the valley leading towards the Chang La, the pass we had to cross to get to the Pagong Lake.
The Chang La pass is somewhere around 5360 m altitude and people here claim it's the third highest pass in the world. Maybe, maybe. Anyway, it was the first time I went above 4000 m and I wondered how I would tolerate the low oxygen pressure. Here are pictures we took when we estimated we had arrived at 5000 m.
On the pass there's a small military outpost where you can get free tea. I talked to some of the soldiers there, and one of them told me he had been here for three months already. These soldiers live for months in an incredibly cold and boring (although very beautiful) place at over 5300 m altitude. Crazy! We made a group picture, but I have to ask Laura to send me her pictures. In the meantime you'll have to deal with my self-centeredness:
On the other side of the pass there's another valley that leads to the lake. Germain, the French guy had taken some tablets against altitude sickness. As a side effect they made him pee every half-hour, so we stopped a lot. Here's the view of the valley during one of those numerous pee-breaks:
Here we are at the Pagong Lake at about 4300 m altitude. We were a bit disappointed since the lake didn't look specially colorful. But the weather had been cloudy all day and we hoped the next day would bring sunshine. We slept in a home stay in the village of Spangmik, the furthest one can go legally along the lake. Further on there are probably Chinese sharpshooters that might confuse tourists with Tibetan refugees...
After a healthy dinner (yes, dhal, rice, and vegetables) and some card games (the one time we don't play for money I totally own everyone at poker...) we went to bed. But I just couldn't sleep. The same thing had happened on my arrival on the Antarctic plateau. It seems this is how my body reacts to altitude. Three of use were brave enough to wake up at 4am to climb the hill on the back to watch the sunrise. Although I had planned to go as well I decided (unsuccessfully) to try to get some sleep. The next day was indeed sunny! And we finally saw Pagong Lake in all it's splendor, which is unfortunately very badly rendered on these pictures:
Here are some pictures I took at the home stay. The family were kindness impersonated. There are two children that live in Leh to go to school there. We tried to explain to them what luck they had to live in such a beautiful place, but they said they would prefer to live in the city. It's funny how people sometimes don't know their luck. But then again, for all it's beauty I wouldn't want to live in that place neither...
Here's a view of the Karakoram mountain range (I think):
On the way back we had to cross the pass again, which had gotten quite a lot of snow the day before. This is when we found out that our beautiful jeep was a 2WD with traction on the back wheels! Who in his right mind crosses a pass over 5000 m with not even a front wheel traction vehicle?! Answer: A taxi driver who bought the cheapest version on price and maintenance and who has enough tourists in his vehicle to push it when it gets stuck. Ever pushed a jeep at 5000 m altitude? It's not pleasant. Good thing we had had a night to acclimatize, I think I would have passed out doing this the day before. Here we have pushed the jeep on a snow-free patch.
We got back in Leh in the afternoon. On a separate note: Kevin had forgotten his expensive cellphone at the home stay in Spangmik. Since our driver didn't want to go back to get it because of concerns about fuel (there are only about four gas stations in Ladakh), he asked the driver of the only tourist jeep we crossed on the way back to take it. The driver refused, saying it was too far. On the next day, however, he brought the cellphone to Leh. He had changed his mind and very reluctantly accepted some money for getting it back. It's very impressive how helpful and kind the people in Ladakh are. This cellphone is probably worth a few times the driver's monthly salary, and god knows how many goats for the home stay family.
On another separate note: There were noticeably more beggars at the end of my week in Leh than at the beginning. Since the season is starting now they seem to come by the bus load. I can't help but think that if they can afford the trip to all the way to Leh they can't be that poor...
There are 19960 hits on this page. Soon the 20'000 will be breached!