Thursday, May 9, 2013

Ladakh Part 3 - Pangong Tso

I think Pangong is by far the most beautiful and most overwhelming sight I have seen in my whole life.
And you have to be there to know that I'm not exagerating!

It's been made famous enough after '3 Idiots' and people of Ladakh are only cashing in on it. There are small canteens and eateries right there on the lake with names such as 3 Idiots restaurants and Phunsuk Vangdu hotel.

Its about a 100 kms from Leh and on bikes it took us almost 6-7 hours to reach it through the twists and turns, bad roads and melting snow water gushing across roads forming small rivulets.

Tip - Its best to leave for Pangong early morning as the water levels on the roads start increasing as the sun comes up, threating to flood your bike or car silencers, making it difficult to ride across.

We stayed overnight at this little military town called Tangtse. This is the last settlement before Pangong-tso, which is another 15 kilometers ride through mountains.
We visited Pangong in the morning and then back to Leh by nightfall.

Next post - Khardungla!

Monday, May 6, 2013

Ladakh Part 2 - LEH

Most of the people I have spoken to about my ladakh trip after I returned had a huge confusion about Leh and Ladakh. Everybody thought that Leh and Ladakh were two different destinations. And almost nobody knew that Leh was part of Ladakh.

Its quite understandable considering that this region was largely blocked for tourists until recently and there's still the constant tussle with China about who owns which part of Ladakh. 

But Ladakh is the largest of the 3 region of the state of Jammu & Kashmir, the other two being Jammu and the Kashmir Valley and Leh is the main town and Headquarters of the division of Ladakh.

Ok, enough geography!!!

Leh, to me looked like this cute little town surrounded by tall white mountains, and nestled in the lush green Leh valley. Half the people around were tourists, the other half a mixture of Tibetan refugees and Ladakhis themselves. Ladakhis as a community are the friendliest and sweetest people I've ever come across, and that includes the Tibetans as well.

The first couple of days after we arrived in Leh, we decided to take it a little easy and go around Leh and get ourselves acclimatized to the high altitude before we venture out farther.
So we visited the market and the monasteries, and then got our permits.

Map of Leh-Ladakh
Leh market has all these amazing shops lined across the roads, filled with clothes, jewellery, shawls and tapestries, post-cards, prayer flags, meditation bowls, prayers wheels and what not. And then there are the Tibetan refugee which have some of the most gorgeous silver jewellery I have seen my whole life.

But all these trinkets are pricey, so even if I was tempted to buy every beautiful stuff I laid my eyes on, I restricted myself from spending much.
Also, as we found out, that it's always good to move around, see the entire market and ask around the prices before you buy. There are some shops in Leh where they are not trying to make easy money and can give you a good deal for the souvenirs that must be bought. 

(Check out the bottom for the list of stuff I feel you should not leave Leh without)

Silver Jewellery in Tibetan Refugee Market
So there I was, in the Tibetan Market looking at the jewellery shown above, and I just turned around to exclaim in delight to my friend, how gorgeous the stuff was, in Konkani (official language of Goa). It was then that the shopkeeper looked up at me and asked me just as delightedly, "You are from Goa!"

Here's the thing how he knew that! Leh is open for tourism only about 4-5 months in a year, because the rest of the year the roads leading to Ladakh close off due to landslides and snow. The only way in and out of Leh is through air. The temperatures here can go down to -25 degree Celcius during the day in winters. Life here in those times becomes difficult and trade impossible.
So all these shopkeepers who sell jewellery, carpets, clothes, pack their wares and move to... voila, GOA!
They stay in beach-side Goa for the rest of the year and carry on their business selling to the tourists who flock Goa through winters and summers!

It was fascinating to meet this Konkani speaking Ladakhi, who then he let me click photo of all his jewellery even though I din't buy any from him. :)

Later, we hired the BULLETS! :D

And we were off...

Leh-Karu road

On the way to Hemis Monastery

Hemis Gompa (Monastery)

Hemis Gompa Museum 
Thiksey monastery
Prayer bells in the monastery
View from Thiksey and the prayer - OM MA NI PADME HUM
Thiksey monastery stupa
Stupa up close
Shey Palace
Shey Palace

Stupas that decorate Leh... they make a beautiful sight!

Leh monastery

View of Leh town from the Leh Palace - Photo by Vignesh

Leh Palace - Photo courtesy Vignesh

Shanti Stupa - on top of Leh

Night view of Shanti Stupa
On Leh roads
On the way back to Leh...
We did not cover all these sights in a day, its all worth 2-3 days in Leh. And there are more monasteries and museums and sights we couldn't find time to see.

Hall of fame - by Vignesh

Hall of Fame - by Vignesh

Spituk monastery - by Vignesh
And finally, the list of things to buy - 
  1. Tees with witty embroidered messages. eg. How I Got Leh'ed. This one comes with the entire map of Leh marked with the famous destinations.
  2. Prayer flags with the most holy and common buddhist prayer - Om Ma Ni Padme Hum. It literally means 'The jewel of the Lotus Flower' and its carved in stones and prayer bells and written on prayer flags used in most ceremonies to enhance the spell.
  3. Meditation bowls and buddhist prayer bells
  4. And the pretty silver jewellery... it was expensive but so damn gorgeous, I couldn't resist it.
  5. Tapestries, if you are a fan of those... cos you'll find some of the most beautifully woven and embroidered tapestries here.

Next Post - Pangong

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Ladakh - A Photo Essay (Part 1)

It was July last year (2012) that I went on my dream trip... to Ladakh. It was a vacation of 10-days of excitement, adventure and beauty... such beauty, which was beyond any of my wildest imagination. It was sheer bliss! Even using these so-often and so-casually-used adjectives makes me feel like I'm corrupting the heaven that I experienced.

And yes, I did get some amazing clicks...

I had meant to do this for a long time now but I somehow restrained from sharing my pics, almost as if I was not ready to share Ladakh (especially my Ladakh) with anybody.

But I'm done hiding them, finally uploading the best for you to see...

Before I begin, a word...
At least once in your life you have to experience the Himalaya. It has the power to make you feel larger-than-life and extremely-small all at the same time. And even long after you've left, it holds a part of you within itself, which repeatedly tugs at your heart and keeps beckoning you back. But you'll never know what I'm saying until you've experienced it yourself. And trust me, no photograph will ever do justice to that magic. EVER!

Yes, I'm that much in love and in awe of the Himalaya and Ladakh both!

I'm not going to take you through Delhi and Manali, cos I'm sure there's nothing more that I can say that hasn't already been said or heard before. Besides who was really interested in Delhi and Manali when I was heading to Ladakh? I blind walked through them quivering with anticipation, my mind filled with nothing but the vast imagination I had already conjured up of the heaven that awaited me.

So I'm starting right from Day 2 & 3 - en route from Manali to Keylong and then to Leh! Its a two-day journey from Manali to Leh in a cab with a overnight stop at Keylong, cos people don't travel at night. And for good reason, as we found out on our return trip back to Srinagar form Leh. The roads are narrow and treacherous with high rocky mountains on one side and deep gorges on the other. And this continues for most part of the journey. It is difficult enough to travel on these roads during day-time without trying to achieve this daring feat at night. (More about the return trip later)

But there's another reason why I'm glad that overnight journeys are avoided here. The Manali to Leh journey is pegged as one of the most beautiful journeys in the world. It is flanked by snow covered mountains, deep valleys, rivers, fresh water lakes, and some of the most beautiful rock and sand natural formations. Every half a kilometer the view changes and just when you begin to think that the journey cannot possibly surprise you any more, you take the next turn and are left breathless with the next marvels. The most beautiful part of the journey for me was the Moorey plains.

The entire Journey -

Rohtang - First stop once you're out of Manali. Ah... pretty Rohtang, place that made me drink tea, 2 cups of it, at 13000 ft, after god knows how many years (I generally don't prefer tea)

This one was hanging from the little tea stall at Rohtang!

On Day 3 - We left early morning from Keylong where we had stayed overnight in a little but comfortable hotel.

On our way - Suraj / Vishal Taal... (Image borrowed from Vignesh.)

At Nakeela - Covered with prayer flags!

Unfortunately, by the time we reached Nakeela, which was just after we stopped for breakfast at Sarchu and before we reached Pang, the legendary altitude sickness had kicked in and I spent most part the remaining journey with my eyes closed waiting for the headaches to die down.
Altitude sickness is very real, something I had not expected to have such severe reaction to me. I had headaches, made worse by the cold I had caught just before we started for Delhi from Pune. My stomach was threatening to throw up the breakfast, and body hurt just from sitting in the cab through the bad roads
The ultimate result of this was that my lens missed some of the gorgeous views that were to follow! :(

Rock and sand formations - Image borrowed from Vignesh

Lunch at Pang valley -

My favourite part - Moorey plains

Last was Tanglangla - The second highest motorable pass in the world. And then it was a short distance from there it was another 100 kms from Upshi & Karu to finally Leh!

Next Post - Leh!

And of course, thanks to Vignesh for the photographs!

Friday, March 29, 2013

Strangers on a Train

The background score of the first 5 minutes of Alfred Hitchcock's 'Strangers on a Train' made me feel like I was watching some strange human version of Tom & Jerry. NOT KIDDING!

Now I don't know if that's true for all old Hollywood movies, cos I haven't seen any old Hollywood movies... ever! With the only exception of 'Pink Panther' (1963) but the score in that movie was supposed to be like that, like the cartoon we have all seen. 

But since I have never seen any old Hollywood movies (I haven't seen that many Bollywood ones either), and I keep hearing so much about them, I thought I ought to see a few. And I started with the one I recently heard about in an old episode of a sitcom, and which I hoped would enlighten me about the phrase 'Straight out of a Hitchcock's movie'!

Maybe, I'll see Sholay next! :P

Anyway, moving on...

Up until now, this was my take on old movies - I always thought, just like technology, that movies and stories got better with time. Direction, acting, screenplay must have improved and these old movies were just experiments. I also have a huge problem connecting to anything that doesn't belong to the 21st century, and believed old movies would be stuffed full of age-old melodrama. And of course, since nowadays nothing is original anymore, I was sure that I wouldn't enjoy watching an old movie, not when they've all be done and redone so many times over the years anyway.

What was I thinking? I realize now how extremely stupid I sound.

'Strangers on a Train' is a story about a psychopath who gets hold of an unsuspecting stranger on a train and tries to talk him into plotting what he feels is the perfect murder. Don't worry, I haven't given anything away, cos that's how the story starts. What follows is a nightmarish experience for that stranger. So what happens next? Do they do it? Do they get away with it?

The movie is tightly paced and has a gripping story. Even when I knew beforehand what the story was, I was still hooked! What amazing story telling, what beautiful cinematography, and marvelous direction... no loose ends!

And the acting... (swoon)

Robert Walker (Bruno Anthony) is a natural, such a marvellous actor. He brings the psychopath to life. He's scary... in every sense of the word. In fact, every actor in the ensemble was perfect, maybe with the exception of Farley Granger (who plays Guy Harris) who never really looked quite convincing to me.

The movie released in 1952, the same year that Robert Walker died at the age of 32. And this is celebrated as his best performance.
And I was surprised to see that back in 1950's they had escalators at train stations and buses that looked more modern than the PMT buses that we have currently running around in Pune.

That said, I'm in love with Alfred Hitchcock, much to my amazement! And my only advise to you about this movie is - WATCH! I BEG OF YOU!

Next movie on my list - All of Hitchcock's thrillers and... Breakfast at Tiffany's!