You return to the main road and turn towards Leh. A little further along the road, you take another right turn and climb up towards Shey Monastery, (3386 m; 11,105 ft), barely 16 kms from Leh. The lake at the bottom of the hill reflects the monastery behind which is the ruined fortress. As this was once the capital of the kingdom of Ladakh, there is a palace here as well. There is supposed to be a two-storeyed high statue of the seated Buddha Sakyamuni, built in the 17th. Century by King Deldan Namgyal, in the temple behind the palace. This is supposed to be the largest statue of the future Buddha. Also, there is a fine chorten just behind the palace. Many stupas litter the grounds below. Unfortunately, the entire place is locked by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI). After the conquest of Ladakh by the rulers of Jammu & Kashmir, the royal family shifted to Stok Palace in 1834.
- Religious Travel
For Thiksey monastery, you retrace your steps towards Leh from Hemis monatery. On the way back, there’s a sudden right turn. You take that turn and the imposing mountain with the monastery suddenly hits you between the eyes. The village of Thiksey is barely 20 kms east of Leh. The first sight is an impressive one as the entire mountain appears to be a cluster of houses. Perched atop the mountain is the monastery, a replica of the famous Potala of Lhasa. Founded in the 15th. Century by Paldan Sherab, the nephew of Sherab Zangpo, the monastery belongs to the Gelugpa order.
By the time you reach this monastery after Hemis, you’ll be starving. Luckily, once you enter the intricately carved iron gate, there’s a good restaurant on your left. There are also some rooms here that may be rented out. A huge prayer wheel is to your left as you climb up the steep steps to the main courtyard. To your immediate right is the Maitreya temple which houses the exquisite Maitreya (future Buddha) statue. The statue was completed only in 1981 and is three-storeyed high (15 m; 50 ft.). You view it from the top floor. When you go close enough to the statue and look down, you see the Buddha in the classic ‘lotus’ pose with both soles of the feet facing the ceiling.
Next to this is the Dolma Lhakhang room with its 21 images of Tara and of Avalokiteswara and Tsongkhapa. These are all encased in glass-covered shelves so switch off your flash while taking photos of these images.
Right across the courtyard is the Dukhang or Assembly Hall where the monks pray. It also houses rare religious scriptures, images of Sakyamuni Buddha and other paintings on the walls. Next to it, on the second floor, is the Gonkhang. This has images of other deities like Vajrabhairava, Paldan Lhamo and of Chamring. Some beautiful paintings adorn the walls.
- Religious Travel
Make peace with yourself at Shanti Stupa
You MUST visit Shanti Stupa while at Leh, it makes for an excellent getaway from the touristy 'gullies' of Leh. Perched on the hilltop of Changspa, it gives you a great view of Leh city, flanked by the snow capped Himalayas. It is also one of the most accessible places within Leh, you need to drive up the fort road to reach the gates. None of these places are truly handicapped friendly, but the thing in India is even if you are unable to climb the stairs at the Stupa, just ask at the reception and they will find a way of getting you to the top.. :)
It was founded in the mid-eighties by a Japanese Buddhist Organization, the temple even till date has priests who chant 2nd BC mantras in Japanese....but truly this experience of meditation at the temple with the chants tells you how it is not at all a prerequisite to understand the mantras, the mere sound of the chants tugs at your hearts and makes you want to sit longer. When we walked in they had just begun the chants, we sat until the end of the poojas and then walked up to the Stupa for a glorious sunset. The intent behind the construction of this Stupa was to commemorate 2500 years of Buddhism, to our luck we met the man who had constructed the place- Buddhist Bhikshu Gyomyo Nakamura. He explained a lot more than we'd otherwise understood! :)
The Stupa itself has two levels, The first level features the central relief of Dharmacakra with deer on each side. A central golden Buddha image sits on a platform depicting the "turning wheel of Dharma" (Dharmacakra). The second level has reliefs depicting the "birth" of Buddha, the death of Buddha (mahanirvana) and Buddha "defeating the devils" while meditating. Both levels feature a series of smaller meditating Buddha reliefs. Do see the pictures for further details.
It was disheartening to see my own friends screech and scream out instructions on how to pose at this divine sanctuary. The word 'Shanti' means 'peace'. It is a place that invokes you to stay calm and reflect on your life and existence. I just wish people who visit this will realize that upholding it's purpose is far more important than getting the 'perfect picture' in places like these!!!
- Religious Travel
Wild Ass -Near Tsokar
In the valley as we were driving up to Tsokar we spotted a herd of wild ass. They run into ladakh from China since they are hunted there for their meat. These creatures are so beautiful and as the ran by our van it was a memorable sight to see these powerful creatures!!
On the way back from Tsomoriri to Leh we took a necklace route and returned via Tsokar. The lake in itself had shrunk since the last time some thers had been there..but it is one place where you can get some picture perfect reflections! We reach Tsokar just before we reach Taglang la. Just as we passed the viewpoint the guys found a yak carcass and even posed with that!! There was a well that was full of carcasses..our driver said this yak could have only been brought down by a snow leopard...wonder if that was true..??
Tsokar is much much smaller than Tsomoriri or Pangong, it is located in the Rupshu valley. Rocks at the viewpoint have tibetian mantras engraved in them! There were 9 mountains flanking the lake all with snow capped peaks.
Yaks are long haired bovines found through out Ladakh, so keep your eyes open for them. They are not necessarily tame nor friendly. So please keep your distance from them as they are heavy weights capable of crushing humans when angered! We spotted a family of Yaks near Tsomoriri, they are truly wonderful creatures!
Look out for Marmots
Even as you drive from one place to another keep a look out for Himalayan Marmots- they live in colonies and pop out from underground out of nowhere! They are vegetarian creatures and are extremely friendly...this is rather sad and it may very soon endanger their lives! Most tourists feed them and pet them, I am guilty of the same as they are quite irresistible..on hindsight I regret it very much!
When we drove in to Tsomoriri, nature was out in all it's fury! Sleet rains were lashing out and the lake itself seemed to be furiously heaving at the land around it!! Our jaws dropped at the beauty that this fury brought out!! I for one was wondering if this was indeed heaven...turquoise waters, lush green conservation areas, brahminy ducks, bar headed geese, a furious grey sky and some rocky roads made for a terrific storm setting! The next day we had some glorious weather and our camp site looked like it was indeed set in heaven! The views from the village of the lake and the mountains are something I'll never forget....again when it was time to leave we really didn't want to!!
Please do not meander around the lake without being conscious of the fact that there are many birds nesting in this region.
Get 'high' at Chang La (Pass)
At 17,590 ft, Chang La (pass) is a high altitude pass, the Changla Pass is on the route to Pangong Lake from Leh. It is named after the sadhu Changla Baba, to whom the Pass temple is dedicated. 4 steps up to this temple will leave you gasping for breath!! The small town of Tangste is the nearest settlement. This was the first high altitude pass we were going thru, it took a huge toll on me...I actually don't remember much about what we did while n this pass. I do remember a military canteen that served some free tea..but mostly I just got back in our vehicle and curled up to sleep!
Visit Tso Pangong
We had seen a bit of Tso (lake) Pangong since it featured in a popular Hindi movie 3 Idiots, however nothing can really prepare you for the magnificence of this place! A high altitude lake nestled amid-st the majestic Himalayas is sure to take your breath away! And that's exactly what happened to us both literally and figuratively! :)
After the stressful drive over Chang La we reached Pangong a little breathless and fatigued. However it was a gloriously sunny day and the deep blue waters of the lake juxtaposed perfectly against the burnt sienna of the mountains! Needless to say we got our cameras out and headed to the lake shores. Straight away it was disheartening to see the litter around the lake. A 7 UP can was floating in the pristine waters....gosh!!! How could people have the heart to litter this place?? It deserved to be worshiped!
This is a 134 km long endorheic lake that extends well into China, in fact two thirds of the lake is in China. Unfortunately this lake is in disputed land... the LOC cuts across the lake but in the process of establishing where exactly the line exists some 20 kms of the lake is disputed. You need a permit to visit Pangong, it can be got from the Leh Tourism Office.
We saw numerous gulls and grebes on the water. The water is so clear one can see the water bed clearly...the colors of the water were marvelous and the sun made it change colors every few minutes. It was fascinating to say the least. We camped just around the Lake, in the night being so high up, we got a clear view of the star studded sky! In fact the cross section of the Milky Way was distinctly visible! There were moments on the shores of th elake when we thought "Is this the road to heaven?"
Stop for the views after Khardung La
Once you cross the pass the drive to Nubra Valley offers some spectacular views!! We made several stop en-route to get some pictures, but then honestly none of these pics do any justice to the actual view. Hope you enjoy the pictures!
Double Humped Camel Ride in Hunder
Once you drive into Nubra Valley the scenery amazes you! But one activity that was an unforgettable experience for me was the ride we took on a double humped camel- the Bactarian Camel. The setting is perfect- high altitude sand dunes, by the Shyok River with the snow peaked mountains for a back drop. While the activity itself is extremely commercialized...wen you ride into the dunes, the views are amazing and the local guide can tell you a lot about the place and its wonders. the irony was that while I was sighing and wishing I could live here forever, he was telling how he'd be more than happy to trade places with me and head to city life!! :)
Shanti Stupa 2
This tip is to share with you all the fantastic panaromic views that one can have from the terrace at Shanti Stupa. Do take some time to soak into the surroundings and feel at peace with nature in all it's glory!
Khardung La 2
This is a continuation of the previous tip, but I have to add some more pics. So doing it here... There is also a small temple up at this pass and a souvenir shop. We didn't buy much at the shop though..
- Road Trip
Khardungla- Highest Road in India
We headed from Leh into Khardung La (Khardung Pass, la means pass in Tibetan), with an elevation of 5359 m or 17,582 feet it is the highest motorable road in India. Thankfully by the time we reached Khardung la, we were more acclimatized to the heights and we really enjoyed this trip!! We stayed for almost 40 minutes on the pass thanks to some glorious weather. Some of our military comrades made it all the more memorable by teaching us some Ladakhi dance! The canteen has some awesome noodles and hot tea. You can even try some Momos there.
The pass on the Ladakh Range lies north of Leh and is the gateway to the Shyok and Nubra valleys. The Siachen Glacier lies partway up the latter valley but we didn't go all the way there. Built in 1976, it was opened to motor vehicles in 1988 and has since seen many automobile, motorbike and mountain biking expeditions. Maintained by the Border Roads Organisation, the pass is strategically important to India as it is used to carry supplies to the Siachen Glacier.
Khardong La is historically important as it lies on the major caravan route from Leh to Kashgar in Chinese Central Asia. About 10,000 horses and camels used to take the route annually, and a small population of Bactrian camels can still be seen at Hundar, in the area north of the pass. But these animals are now largely there for commercial riding and while I normally don't enjoy such activities, this time around I did! More on that in another tip.
One caveat is that while the roads in leh/Ladakh are generally of excellent quality, the route to the passes are tough. 5 Kms to and from the pass are largely just roads on loose boulders and so do be mentally prepared for the same.
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