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India: Ladakh

Click here for a tale of trekking, cycling, socialising and marvelling through the remote, otherworldly and harmonious cultural and ethnic crossroads of Tibet, Nepal and India, sitting high towards the heavens.......or simply, heaven itself!

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Ladakh

The wondrous region of Ladakh comprises large eastern section of the state Jammu and Kashmir, bordering the Himalayas.
It is a predominantly Buddhist society, with an even mix of smiling Tibetan, Nepali and Indian faces, thriving in a harmonious community they call their own, with a unique language and set of traditions.
His Holines the Dalai Lama was in town when I was there to give a set of discourses at the Leh Temple.

This welcoming community coupled with the staggering, jaw dropping Himalayan landscape (and adventure sports on offer) makes this one of the best places in the world to travel.

This is my last stop in India and I will be leaving (literally and figuratively) on a high note.

Ladakh is by far my favourite place in India, and perhaps the world, for so many reasons.
I hope this entry helps explain why...

om mani padme hum

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Bumpy 17hrs to Leh

I took the bumpy 17 hour ride on share bus along the The Manali-Leh highway. A largely unsealed dirt track; sometimes no track at all - where drivers just pick a path through the open plains flanked by the huge Himalayan mountains.

This is a magical journey through the barren, stone and dirt mountain ranges at 4-5000 metres - through the clouds and a constant view of enormous Mars like contoured hills.

There are no towns en route, just small tented stops for chai / supplies (they also offer beds for travellers who get stuck).

Up here there is space, snow capped mountains, clear views, clear air, roaming nomads, ongoing construction on the highway (those guys do it really tough) and an amazing atmosphere of just...... wow

The views made the uncomfortable journey all worthwhile.

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All roads lead to Leh (new and old friends)

As the guidebooks say, Leh is very traveller friendly - everything you need is here - nice guesthouses, plenty of restaruants serving great cheap food, social atmosphere, and an abundance of travel agents offering adventure tours, etc etc.
I bumped into so many folks I met in different places over the past 6 months - it seems like all roads lead to Leh.

Lodgings

After arriving from the mega bumpy journey, I headed straight for Saser Guesthouse as it was the top pick in the Lonely Planet.
It is indeed a nice place, but not the best value…. Rp500 for a room with run down bathroom, grubby linen (the silk liner came in hander), and hot water rarely on.

Later in my stay I went to Zik-Zik with my trekking buddies. This is THE best place to stay (out of the few guesthouses I checked out).
The family who run it are super friendly and everything is comfy, clean and new - including gleaming western bathroom, thick mattresses and wifi… Rp600

Leh

I caught up with my buddy, Ryan from Sivananda / Andamans / Kolkata / McLeod and we explored the town.
There are vantage points everywhere to get a great view of the town, with the enormous mountains encasing it... cradling it.

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Happy faces everywhere, speaking Ladakhi (Julee!), some in traditional dress, others in western clothes.

There is a shanti, yet vibrant kind of buzz here.

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In the evening we went to a restaurant that I'm best not to name, and sat by the fire with other travellers from Egypt, South Africa and Israel.
The proprietor was planning a secret party out in the wilderness (locals, rightly don't want parties ruining the shanties of Leh) and really talked it up.
Rp500 to join party out in the Himalayan wilderness - sunshine, BBQ, music, plenty of up for it travellers... what more could you want.
We put our names down....

Party In the Himalayas

Along with 60 or so other party goers we arrived at the restaurant in the morning, in time for our secret buse, taking us to the mystery location.
The party was great - very social and international.... Germany, Canada, France, Norway Israel, USA, and fellow Aussies, all doing full enjoy
Great food, and company and nobody was shy to bust a move. The surrounding scenery actually made the experience a little surreal - in a good way!

It was a good move to keep the party away from Leh.
Though I had a great time, I think this kind of thing has ruined other parts of India.

Pangong Tso

I got a nice surprise after the party…. a trekking pal from Sikkim, Natalie messaged me and was also in town. She was organising a trip to Pangong Tso with a big group and invited me to join.

We were a small UN representing Australia, USA, Israel, Chile, Belgium and Holland.
It was indeed a very bumpy but picturesque ride through the enormous valleys to Pangong Tso.
On the way we stopped at the world's 3rd highest pass for some tea.

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Pangong Tso (lake) is an enormous lake sitting at around 4000 metres, and sits within both India and China.
Words really can't describe it…. please have a look through my pictures (link below) to see.

Morning view:
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We roamed the area during the late afternoon and enjoyed a nice dinner in one of the cafe tents on the bank. We were so far from anywhere, the dark sky was awash with bright stars.

In the morning, our Chilean representative, Connie led a magnificent Kundalini yoga, mediation and chanting session on the banks; a very powerful experience, heightened by our truly amazing surrounds as we looked out to the enormous blue lake with multicoloured grey, brown and red mountains in the background.

Late afternoon view:
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On the way back we stopped at several active Buddhist monasteries, built into the mountains, and some other gorgeous settlements nestled into the valleys.

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This was definitely a major highlight of my Indian experience.

Cycle down Khardung La (the highest pass in the world!!!)

Khardung La is the highest vehicle pass on earth. It reaches over 6000 metres!

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What else to do but get some mountain bikes and cycle down it.
The road to the top stretches 34 mms from Leh.

I joined my group via one of the agents (just down from World Cafe), and we took a 4WD, carrying our suspension, super tough bikes to the very top of the mountain!

The journey up was quite exciting - only one small lane at the edge of the mountain - and trucks and cars trying to pass in both directions - it is amazing, how close the vehicles get both to each other and the cliff edge!

When we got to the top we enjoyed some tea at the world's highest cafe, then set off down.

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It was a bumpy ride down the unsealed road. Plenty of opportunities for some jumps and passes through small rivers.
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As road smoothed out towards the bottom (and eventually became sealed) we got some serious pace.
It was a fantastic ride, and the astounding view really forced me to pinch myself…. surely it doesn't get better then this.
The Himalayas (literally and figuratively) rock!

Stok Trek

You can do any kind of trek in Ladakh - from overnight home stay strolls to full on month long expeditions with sherpers and ponies carrying tents and supplies, requiring ice picks, abseiling gear and tons of stamina.
I felt a little trekked out from the past couple of months of ramblin' and the high altitude living.
The English lads I met on the biking trip were keen for an overnight home stay trek to Stok and invited me to join.
It is always cheaper to trek in bigger groups… I tried to rouse some of the party goers from the previous week but they were a bit withered. All roads lead to Leh, and many end their Indian journey here….

So, the three of us joined our guide early in the morn' and set off to the Ladakhi montain ranges just outside of Leh.
This is gorgeous scenery - barren, but enormous, with vibrant contrasting colours, interesting wildlife (we saw a lot of cheeky marmmots, wild mules, yaks, etc).
The first day was an easy warm up - 3 hours walking along the flowing river up to our home stay at the base of the Stok ranges.

Our Ladakhi hosts served us a delicious veg curry and dahl for dinner. Our room had clear views of the valleys, and the surrounding farms.
So peaceful, so remote… if God exists he smiles so proudly and warmly over Ladakh.

Day 2 was a tough one. We slowly ascended to the peak, up the steep stony path, with jagged mountains surrounding us - it kinda felt like Lord of The Rings… we were leading up to something.

When we reached the peak, a sense of achievement and wonder emerged in the group. The views were worth the climb. Only pictures can describe.
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We met other trekkers from Spain, France and Austria at the top, and a convoy of locals herding ponies carrying their village supplies came past.
Julley! (Ladakhi for hello, thank you, goodbye, etc, etc)

The descent was great fun, and of course the views were stunning.

At one point the gradient was too steep for walking, and since it was just dry dirt and hardly any rocks our guide led us to skate/ski down on our shoes.
I stood side on, recalled my Noosa surfing lessons (crouch, one arm bent sideways, the other pointing forward with fist clenched). We got up some nice pace and descended several hundred meters in a few minutes!

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The remainder was a nice stroll into Stok.

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Goodbye Ladakh

This region is up there with my favourite places in the world, and a great way to end my time in India.

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I leave here; sated, fulfilled, amazed, calm, inspired, full of wonder, with great memories and wonderful new friendships.
Most of all, I feel so blessed and thankful to be able to roam and experience this amazing, intriguing, puzzling, ancient, inquisitive, staggeringly diverse country, and be so welcomed everywhere.

A farewell letter to my gracious host to follow…..

Om shanti friends…..

Keep smiling, loving, rejoicing, living…..

lift your skinny fists like antennas to heaven

Posted by SkinnyFists 03:56 Archived in India Tagged ladakh lah trekking_india pangong_tso khardung_la parties_india

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