After having worked on a pretty
demanding and time-consuming project over the last 2 months (leaving me no time
for the May dispatch…), we were glad to take a plane and fly during almost
three hours Northwards to Leh, the capital of Ladakh, a region in the Jamu
& Kashmir state.
LADAKH WAS POLITICALLY CLOSED UNTIL 1974 AND IS PHYSICALLY “CUT OFF” FROM
THE REST OF INDIA
- Ladakh can be reached only by plane during 8
months of the year
Ladakh, literally “many passes”, is a region 3.5 times the size of
Switzerland situated in the Indian Himalayas. It has roads to Srinagar in
Kashmir and Manali in Himachal Pradesh but both are closed during the
winter. Planes to/from Leh are then the only communication mean with the
rest of the world.
- Due to his borders with Pakistan and China
(Tibet), Ladakh still witnesses a significant military presence
having disputed borders with both Pakistan and China (Tibet), this region
was not open to foreigners until 1974. Since then, tourism but also a
strong military presence became the main sources of income. Today, the
military tensions with the Chineses are almost minor but the conflict in
Kargil at the Pakistani border in 1999 is still in many memories and
“fortunately” hinders slightly the tourism activities. However, this is
now changing rapidly.
- Most Ladakhis look like, dress like and behave
lies in the centre of Muslim, Buddhist and Hindu influence. However, the
Tibetan (Buddhist) culture significantly dominates. This is visible
through the traditional dresses that men and women carry, the Mongol like
character of their face and their absolutely different approach to
tourists. Ladakhis basically speak slowly, greet frankly everybody with
this magic universal word “Julley” that means so much like “hello or thank
you or welcome”. It is definitely a pleasant experience after six months
in the hectic Mumbai.
LANDSCAPES THERE JUST TAKE
YOUR BREATH AWAY, ESPECIALLY WHILE TREKKING AT 5240 m OVER SEA LEVEL
- The flight to Leh over the Himalayas showed us
that Switzerland has by far not the monopole on wonderful mountain
flight from Delhi to Leh was bloody early (check in 04:30 in the
morning!), but the views at the sun rise over the Himalaya was definitely
worth the lack of sleep. The Himalayas chain is so long and so broad... In
the far horizon, you can see some 8000’s clearly stretching on the top of
the other “lower” mountains. It is just amazing!
And suddenly, lost in the middle of the snow capped summits and glaciers,
the plane starts its descent and finally lands in a
lovely green valley (0.9 MB) bordered by dried and bald mountains.
As Leh lies already at 3500 m over sea level, the drop of temperature
(down from an extremely hot Delhi at 45 deg. C to 10 deg C within
forty-five minutes) was not without charm. The price however was high.
Having spent 6 months at sea level, we suffered from altitude sickness and
it took us three days to get rid of these headaches and fever like
feeling. But finally we were ready for our main objective in Ladakh,
trekking in the Himalayas.
- One guide, one horseman and three ponies lead us
through fantastic landscapes during 8 days trek
caravan might sound quite impressive, but at this time of year the tourism
season had hardly started and, unlike in Nepal, there were no tea-shop nor
guesthouse along the way where one could have found food and sleeping
opportunities. We had therefore to hire a guide, an horseman and three
horses to carry our luggage, tents, cooking gears and food for eight full
days. Very soon we got used to this “luxury” and very much appreciated the
hot tea served first thing in the morning by the cook just at the entrance
of the tent.
- The views from the high passes compensate
largely for the cold night spent in the tent
day, we walked from ca. 7:30 am to 1:00 pm and took some rest during the
afternoon. As many campsites laid above 4000 m, the nights were pretty
cold. During a particular cold one, the river beside our tent even got
frozen. No need to tell you that we did not sleep that much then. However,
landscapes the day after just let you forget everything. It was really
breath taking, in the real meaning of the word, as twice we had to cross
quite demanding passes (the first at 4940 and the second, higher, at 5240
m). Our guide however seemed not hindered at all and could still smoke
small cigarillos at this altitude...
Back in Leh, we just
enjoyed the pleasant weather and spent two last relaxing days reading books and
eating “momos” (kind of Chinese ravioli). But every good thing has an end (no,
I am not that pretentious to mention the quality of this dispatch) and we had
to fly back to a rainy Mumbai, where the monsoon had already started.
Last updated: 6/19/2003 9:59 PM More about Mumbai Back home