Yak Yak Yak Ladakh

Well it’s been a few days since we’ve left Leh and I’ve finally got round to sorting out some photos for this posting. We’re back in the Punjab – it’s much cooler than when we left it….around 38C (instead of 47C) but with the severe humidity it actually feels worse!!!  (Yeah I know – you just cannot win).  But at least the monsoon has finally started.

Anyway – back to Ladakh…I know you’re all itching to know all about it.  We were there for just over a month – I wish I could say we trekked all over the region and conquered many of the 5000 metre passes, but we all too easily got into the Ladakhi way….relax and unwind!!!

Leh (the capital of Ladakh), where we stayed is at 3500 metres altitude…we actually stayed on the outskirts of the town, at a place called Changspa (maybe up to a 100 metres higher).  The altitude took some getting used to – it actually felt worse than the 4000 metre pass we crossed while doing the TransRockies last year.  Maybe it was the lack of training or maybe the drier air in Ladakh had a bearing (the dry barren land sucks any moisture out of the air) but it really took some getting used to.   We stayed at the friendliest place in town, the Oriental Guest House.  It’s a family run affair, mostly we had dealings with brother and sister partnership, Dawa and Phuntsok, who were amazing….very friendly and going out of their way to help wherever possible.  We didn’t do much for the first week – just getting to know some people at the Oriental Guest House, especially Nigel, from Bournemouth in the UK and David from Vancouver (although his accent gave him away as really a Brit too – actually a fellow northerner as he was originally from Lancaster).  We also did the odd walk up the 500+ steps to Shanti Stupa:

Four hundred steps and counting!!!

Four hundred steps and counting!!!

Shanti Stupa

Shanti Stupa

But the views at the top were well worth the effort.

Worth The Effort

Worth The Effort

The little patches of green in amongst the sand in the picture above (left and right of Jo’s legs!) is apparently the highest golf course in the world – I’m not a golfing man but I suspect this golf course would provide plenty of bunker practise!!!  Also the larger of the two peaks in the above photo is Stok Kangri, a trekkable 6000 metre mountain.  Over the month of our stay at the Oriental we had several schools (from the UK) come to stay.  They were there with World Adventure – their itinerary included projects at village schools in the area as well as a trek to the summit of Stok Kangri.   Lucky kids – all we had when we were at school was a day trip to London Zoo!!!

Anyway we got chatting to the kids from Stamford High School…they seemed like a great bunch – far more switched on than I was when I was their age (but that’s not saying much!).  We made friends with several of the teachers and World Adventure organisers, especially Sue and Carl from Stamford High and Mr Bolton (erm – I mean, Stuart) from World Adventure….hopefully we’ll be catching up with them again soon.

One downside of Leh was that Jo and I did seem to take it in turns being ill.  Jo started with a cold and I took over with severe heart burn…all in all I think we had a total of about a week each of illness during our stay.  I think it’s the altitude – although we didn’t suffer from altitude sickness we did suffer due to the body having to work harder at altitude, hence in our weakened state we picked up several bugs over the month.  Anyway, once we’d recovered from our first illness phase, we decided to stretch our legs by going for a small hike from the village of Spituk.   This is where the Markha Valley trek (a very popular eight day trek) starts from – we were keen on checking out the start since we were considering doing it.  It turned out to be a hard day – hot and dusty, but it was good to stretch the legs.

Bridge Over The Indus

Bridge Over The Indus

Buddist prayer flags can be seen all over the region, hanging from just about anywhere.  Write your prayers and let the wind carry them – what a great idea…and they look great.

Prayers In The Wind

Prayers In The Wind

We walked along the Indus river for a couple of hours, although the terrain was unchanging we did have some great views across the valley.

View Across The Indus

View Across The Indus

We also got chatting to a very friendly Pony Man – we should have asked him his rates as we found later in the week that local firms charge silly prices for organised treks.

Back at the guest house we made friends with some Canadians, Alison, Ali and Heidi…and I can safely say that we still haven’t met any Canadians that we have not got on really well with.  It was the Hemis festival so we shared a taxi with Alison, Ali and Heidi, visiting the festival as well as several other gompas (monasteries).  The Hemis festival is a very famous annual event in the region.  Every 12th festival they unfurl, what is reputed to be, the world’s largest thanka (Tibetan Buddhist religious painting on cloth). The last time it was unveiled was in 2004 and so the next time this is revealed will be in 2016, i.e. we didn’t see it!

The weather was a bit strange that day, we basically had everything – sunshine, rain, hail and snow all in the space of a few hours but (once I purchased some warms socks) it was a great day.  The Hemis Festival itself wasn’t really my cup of tea – it was just chaos.  It was horrible seeing so many westerners impose themselves on what is effectively an important day for the local Buddhist population.  The prime seats around the square were predominantly taken by westerners, while the locals fought to try and get a place to sit (typically on the floor while westerners blocked their view).  Also most of the “press” were westerners and they thought it was fine to stick their massive cameras into the faces of the priests – I’m sure they got superb photos…not!

Crowded Hemis

Crowded Hemis

The VIP section – used by army officers and their western guests – was pretty empty.  There was also a sub-VIP section, consisting of a dozen empty chairs.  This was on the ground – in the way of everyone wanting to sit on the floor and watch proceedings – when I asked the soldiers guarding the empty chairs to shift the chairs or let people use them they said “they’re coming” (meaning their guests)….and an  hour later their reply was the same….another hour later they finally got rid of the damn chairs and freed up some prime seating space!!!

Ignoring the crowds though, there were some great sites – just wish I knew what was going on!!!

Hemis Priest

Masked Priest At Hemis

Masked Priest At Hemis

Dancing Priest At Hemis

Praying For Calm!

Praying For Calm!

Best Seat In The House

Best Seat In The House

After the chaos of the actual festival we headed off to see the inside of some of these great gompas.  It was a refreshing break from the crowds as most of the gompas were deserted – guess everyone was still at the festival.

Tranquilty

Tranquilty

Buddhist Deities

Buddhist Deities

Another Buddhist Deity

Another Buddhist Deity

In the Matho gompa we (the men that is) were allowed in to the oracle room (no not a database room – an all-seeing, questions answered type of oracle!).  The Room Of The Oracles is strictly men only – apparently women would ruin it – I think that’s a great idea….they just needed to put an Xbox in there and a fridge full of beer!!  As it was, the room was dark and ancient – the floor was covered in grain taken from every field in the village to ensure a successful harvest for the next year.  Unfortunately no photos are allowed in the room – shame, as it’s walls were covered with grotesque masks and weapons (no doubt to keep the women out!!).

Architecturaly most of the gompas are pretty impressive – being built on mountains and rocky outcrops (long before they had access to machinery to help them).  Sorry I cannot remember which gompa was which – after a while they all blurred into one.

Gompa

Gompa

If it wasn’t for Allison and Ali I think the tours of all the gompas would have been a bit tedious, but because Ali’s Hindi was so good and Allison’s knowledge of all things Buddhist was very impressive the monks really warmed to us when they showed us around.  Let’s just say I think we were treated to a better level of service by the monks than I think most other tourists.

The next day (being about a week and a half into our stay in Leh) we decided to do what they call a mini-trek.  We wanted to do a trek under our own steam – and the Likir to Temisgam trek can be done from guest house to guest house,  so no need for guides, ponies, tents etc.  In the end it turned out to be quite a mammoth trek – let’s just say I’ve never been so knackered in my life (and that includes the TransRockies last year).

So rather than hack a write up quickly I’ll leave that for another day – I’d do another posting (or two) on our Ladakh adventures.  Hopefully this little write up (and the photos) are enough to whet your appetite for the moment.

We’re off to Delhi tomorrow – flying to London the day after…so I guess we’ll be back in the UK when I get to complete the Ladakh write-ups.  I’ll try not to keep you waiting too long for it ;)

Regarding my book – I’m stuck on chapter 11 at the moment.  Having been away from my baby (aka laptop) for a whole month I haven’t been able to make any progress on the book…Jo’s netbook’s keyboard is a nightmare to work with.  Ladakh did however provide me with plenty of inspiration so it’s all good.  Looking forward to making some real progress on the book in the coming weeks.

Thanks for reading and hope you like the photos – I’d like to think that it was worthwhile me lugging several kilos of camera equipment around in the Ladakh mountains….guess it’s good training for Nepal (incidently we’ve booked our flights to Nepal – we depart, from Delhi, on the 16th of September!!) :)

Take care

Sat


One Response to "Yak Yak Yak Ladakh"

  • Wow, Ladakh looks amazing, no wonder you said we’d love it. Shame we’ve just booked our honeymoon flights to Argentina! Can’t wait to see you guys sooooooooooooooon. xxx

    1 geepster said this (August 5, 2009 at 15:54)