Leh is a nice town. Quite deserted because the road was not yet open, we heard about the fullscale war in Kargil that had closed the Srinagar-Leh highway as well. Leh was cut off except for the irregular flight service. Townspeople anxiously inquired about the outside world as restaurants did the best they could without supplies. You can wandered aimlessly in the streets and alleys examining wares and bargaining for turquoise in Moti Bazaar. The warm sun, gigantic prayers wheels, cliortens crowding the horizons, the palace guarding the market, smiling lamas and other vignettes formed the collage that is Leh.
There is much to do in and around Leh. There are monasteries, lakes and a drive to Khardungla, the highest motorable pass in theworld. Many guidebooks are easily available.
The palace looks like a miniature, though older version of the Potala in Tibet. Built in the 16th century and now deserted, it is in a state of utter disrepair. Walk through the emerald fields against a backdrop of bare hills, the steep sandy golf course, the magnificent Shanti Stupa and the gompas tucked away in the alleys and you will fall in love with Leh.
Ladakh for trekkers and climbers is a different world. Exploration of Zanskar, Nubra, Kargil and the Suru Valley, the Tso-morori and Pangong lake circuits, exciting river rafting options and climbing many brown mountains, all is possible. It is a mesmerizing land. Go there only if you can risk getting hooked to the desert mountains.
Left Leh and arrived at Rumtse at the base of the Tanglang La. Fresh snow had covered the pass and the road, the top of the second highest motorable pass in the world once again. This time you can see the other side. It was exhilarating. The drive back is different because of ice conditions and the military convoys heading for Kargil from this side.
The towering cliffs and shattered landscapes had become our world for these weeks.
How and Where
Leh can be reached by air from Srinagar or Delhi. The flight offers one of the most beautiful vistas of the great Himalayan desert. Overland, Leh can be reached from Srinagar or Manah. The Srinagar-Leh road is usually open from June to October. It is a 24-hour bus journey with an overnight halt at Kargil.
TRAVEL TIP TO LEH
For the two-day trip to Leh, there is a choice of buses. The most comfortable are the HPTDC buses cost including an overnight stay at Sarchu Camp.
If you plan to travel on this road only one way then fly to Leh and take a bus/ taxi to Manali. The journey will be more comfortable as you will have acclimatised in Leh and so the effects of high altitude and the discomfort of a road journey will not strike all at once. Also leaving Leh by air involves major uncertainty as flights are often cancelled due to bad weather.
Jeeps make the journey more flexible, particularly as you cross the Zoji La pass. If you are there before the road is officially open, you can get transport up to the pass, cross over by foot and get transport again on the other side. This can be hard work so you have to be well equipped.
The Manali-Leh road is open for a shorter period, from late June to September. There are buses plying from Manali as well as Keylong that halt at Sarchu or Pang for the night.
If you are driving yourself, remember to carry adequate diesel/ petrol and a car repair kit. There is no habitation on most of this route so it is better to travel in a group of two or more vehicles. A four-wheel drive petrol vehicle is the best. A one-way road journey is a good idea.
The roads are an ode to the per-severance of man. We came across men and women with hands blackened with frostbite clearing landslides and repairing roads. The roads were never left unattended for long in these remote parts. Often, the workers flagged us down to chat and ask for a couple of cigarettes. They were wonderful.
Ladakh is a high altitude cold desert with a low level of atmospheric oxygen. If you fly, you must give yourself time to acclimatize. Common symptoms of Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) are headache, nausea, lack of concentration and orientation, disturbed sleep, etc. These occur during the first 36 hours after arrival. Prolonged symptoms should not be ignored.