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