Ladakh – A paradise on Earth

It was hot afternoon of March when I decided to visit Leh and Ladakh to experience the chillness, visit Gonpa and spectacular locations in 7 nights and 8 days. Without any planning, I called up my friend and associate in Ladakh, Tundup Dorjey and he immediately agreed to make the reservations for me and help me in my quest of understanding Ladakh better.

My main focus of this visit apart from seeing wonderful landscapes were to understand facilities provided by various hotels and transport.

Ladakh is sometimes referred to “Last-Shangrila” due to its influence with Tibetan Buddhism and culture. The magnificent landscape and centuries old Gonpa’s and virgin customs of Ladhaki’s would make this place unique and also interesting for a traveler like me.

You should never miss to visit this paradise once and the season starts from May to September end where all passes and lakes will be open and gives a panoramic effect of spellbound landscapes and moonscapes.

My 7 night itinerary was planned as under:

Day 1 : Arrive @ Leh and relax for the day for ensuring proper acclamitization
Day 2: Leave to Lamayuru and visit the Gonpa and Moonscapes.
Day 3: Leave to Khardungla situated at 18,380 feet and visit Nubra Valley
Day 4: Leave back to Leh from Nubra and visit Gonpa’s on the way.
Day 5: Leave to Tsomoriri Lake
Day 6: Local sightseeing of Leh
Day 7: Leave to Pangong Tso via Changla at 17,586 feet
Day 8: Start back after taking memories of Leh & Ladakh

History of Ladakh : The earliest known inhabitants of Ladakh were Khampa nomads who are from Tibet and domesticated Yaks. You can find these Khampa nomads in Tsomoriri lake area during months of May to August when they keep on moving.
The Tibeto-Burman and Indo-Aryan descent inhabited Ladakh and the culture has major influence on Tibetan Buddhism which is predominant across Ladakh.

About Tibetan Buddhism: It’s another big topic all-together but keeping in view of the reader information, listing out key information.
Tibetan Buddhism is part of Mahayana Buddhism (greater vehicle) also called as Thekchen in Tibetan language and followed across Himalayas, China, Japan and Korea. Tibetan Buddhism is form of Tantric Buddhism which was first propounded by Guru Padmasambhava, who is also known in entire Himalayan region as “Guru Rinponche”. There are various schools of Tibetan Buddhism and also identified by the “hats” they wear and following are various sects found in Ladakh.

1. Gelug-pa : Yellow Hat
2. Drukpa Kargyu : Red Hat
3. Kagyu-pa: Oral lineage
4. Ningma-pa: From Red Hat sect based upon teaching of Guru Padmasambhava
5. Saskya-pa: Cause of Effect school
6. Karma-pa : Based upon Vajrayana branch.

With this much introductory note on Ladakh and Buddhism, let us start the journey into Ladakh.

Day1 : Took a late night flight to Delhi from Bangalore and better to either take Indigo Airlines which has flight @ 8:35 pm and reaching at 11:30 PM or Jet Airways starting at 10:35 PM and landing Delhi at 1:20 AM. After landing, tried by best to sleep in the new T3 terminal which is an awesome sight. But due to mosquitoes, could not sleep well and was too excited also to catch flight from Delhi to Leh at 5:50 AM.

Delhi to Leh flight was interesting due to the fact that the entire flight was full and the people from Tibet. Interacting with them and understanding the culture was indeed an fascinating experience.

Day 1 experience of Leh

Day 1 experience of Leh

Day 2: Visit to Lamayuru and other Gompa’s with visit to various hotels.
This day was fascinating day where sun was up with clear skies and making Stok

Kangri peak visible in the background of the hotel where I was staying.  After breakfast, our first visit was to Indus river sangam and it is a fabulous sight. On the way, saw various streams and time to stop at Magnetic Hill on way to Nimmo. Beautiful dotted landscapes marked my day and I was busy clicking the photographs and it was like dream come true.

By 11:30 AM, we were climbing towards Lamayuru and enroute you enter “Moonscapes”. It gives you such a fascinating sight that it seems like you want to be here for a long time and enjoy those craters which have come out of earth and shines as in moon. After spending good amount of time, we planned our next stop at Fotula which is highest pass on Leh-Srinagar route after Lamayuru.

Leh-day 2

Various shades of Ladakh landscapes

Reaching Fotula Pass was a fabulous experience. After spending sometime there, time to visit Lamayuru Gonpa and Rizong Gonpa followed by visit to Tsekarmo Gonpa (Royal Palace) and various resorts and hotel. Visit my blog on Accommodation in Ladakh and Leh for more information.

Amazing Gonpas near Lamayuru

Amazing Gonpas near Lamayuru

After visiting Lamayuru, it was time to visit Alchi Gonpa on way to Leh and also visualize fantastic scenic view back to Leh. Had very good discussions with my friend and associate Tundup Dorjey and was right time to hit the bed with sweet memories of Lamayuru and Moonscape.

Gonpa's and landscape on way to Leh

Gonpa’s and landscape on way to Leh

Day 3: Leh to Nubra Valley and Panmik Hot springs

This day was the most thrilling day where we would cross Khardungla Pass at 18,380 feet into Valley of Flowers called as Nubra Valley. Beyond that visit Panamik for having a hot water bath in chilling cold with Sulphur Springs, return to Hunder for viewing captivating sand dunes and camels, finally visit Deskit Gonpa at Deskit and relax for the day in fantastic hotel at Sten Del in Deskit.

Splendid Valley of Flowers (Nubra Valley), Hunder, Panamik and Deskit

Splendid Valley of Flowers (Nubra Valley), Hunder, Panamik and Deskit

Day 4: Return to Leh from Nubra Valley

We started back to Leh at 7:00 AM just to ensure that at Khardungla Pass, we don’t get stuck. However, the weather deteriorated and it became too cloudy and misty. By the time we reached North Pullu, it started snowing and the car’s started getting caught in the snow. We had to push many cars and also our car was pushed by some people who helped us to reach Khardungla Top. 14 kms of distance took us around an hour and half to reach the top point and then final descent. Planning to publish the video of our pushing activity of cars and how it all worked out. One thing for a traveler who have asthma or cold attacks, better to come prepared with medication and oxygen cylinders as the air would be thin and makes it difficult for people to breathe in rarefied air.

Various shades of Kardungla Pass during snow storm

Various shades of Kardungla Pass during snow storm

Day 5:  Visit to Tsomoriri Lake situated at 15,075 feet and over nite stay at Yak Camp
This day, we planned to visit Tsomoriri lake. Knowing very well that the lake would be frozen due to cold, but was worth a try and have an adventurous journey. On the way to Tsomoriri, another fascinating spot to visit is Chumathang which has hot springs coming out of Indus River (Sindhu). It was such a fantastic experience to see hot water oozing out of nowhere whereas the Indus river was so cold to touch. Next to the river are these small sprouts of hot springs coming out of ground with such a noise as though snake is hissing at the river bed.

Hot springs at Chumathang on way to Tsomoriri

Hot springs at Chumathang on way to Tsomoriri

On our way to Tsomoriri, we spotted Snow Leopard which was crossing the sheet of ice. Tried to take a good photo shot of that, but since the distance was huge, it came as a very small fame in my photograph. Proceeding further 15 kms, we reached the police checkpost where the permits are to be checked to proceed towards Tsomoriri. The bridge connecting to village cannot be photographed but after entering the village, various scenic curves takes you the high point of Tsomoriri and the small stream turns out to a very huge lake.

Legend has it that a woman shepherd once while taking care of yaks saw one of the yak going towards the lake (in Tibetan language, Tso represents lake) and started yelling at the yak “riri” and her name was Mo. Thus the name was coined as “Tsomoriri”.

Various shades of Tsomoriri Lake

Various shades of Tsomoriri Lake

Since the entire lake was frozen and no people living in the village, we decided to turn back to Leh and at 4:00 pm started our return journey. Return journey was equally thrilling one as with darkness, we saw many Himalayan birds and spotted the fox near our car. Our staff wanted to pick up a dog since it is believed that Tsomoriri dogs are very faithful beings and very mild in their behavior. Maybe due to teachings of Buddha they are not aggressive !!!. Aungchuck picked up a good looking dog and with the help of Indian Army, he was able to secure it well in a bag to be carried back to Leh. Our driver and guide were both happy with the pickup and since the weather was very chilling, the dog stayed with us in warmth of the inside of the vehicle to cover 210 kms from the lake.

Various shades of Tsomoriri while getting back to Leh

Various shades of Tsomoriri while getting back to Leh

Day 6: Leh local sightseeing
This day, we thought of taking rest by visiting various sightseeing spots in Leh which gives us a break from hectic travel. After finishing the sightseeing, was back in office and started my work. The sightseeing consisted of visit of Spituk Gonpa which is just behind the runway and you can get a fabulous look of flight taking off and landing from the top of Spituk gompa. This was followed with visit to Shanti Stupa which was constructed in 1985 by Japanese which really makes one peaceful. Visited the Leh Palace which is now in ruins and was back in the office by afternoon.

Leh local sightseeing

Leh local sightseeing

Day 7: Drive to Pangong Tso and visit Hemis, Thikse and Shey Palace
This day, we planned to drive to Pangong Tso which was fully frozen. People who visited this lake a day before our planned visit explained to me that the road is very slippery due to snow and water and very hard to climb up or down to Changla. Chang La is situated at 17,486 feet and Pangong Tso becomes visible after passing this pass. The weather was pretty good and so we started the climb after passing though the checkpost at Kari. Beyond that, passing thorough monasteries and vistas reached near Changla. But then the weather became very bad and the vehicle was not able to pull up. To complicate the matter, gusty wind took away my permit and was not traceable either. Thus, was in no way to make it to Pangong without the permits. So my dream of making to Pangong Tso to see the frozen river ended in a dissapointment. But on the best side, we were safe and while we got down, visited fabulous Hemis monastery and Thikse to have a good meditation in these monasteries. Later, visited Shey palace and returned back to office.

On way to Pangong Tso

On way to Pangong Tso

Hemis, Thikse and Shey Place

Hemis, Thikse and Shey Palace

Day 8: Was time to depart from Leh and with a promise to visit very soon to the lovely country of Ladakh and Leh – The Last Shangria.

As they say in Ladakh : JULLEY (meaning GOODBYE !!!)

 

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