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.
Diskit Monastry in Nubra Valley
Diskit Monastery also known as Deskit Gompa or Diskit Gompa. We were driving in from Khardungla and reached this monastry in the afternoon. Even from outside it looked beautiful, as we were only just getting acclimatized to the height we took our time climbing the stairs and reaching the top. But once we did, what a view it was!! Magnificient mountains surrounded us even as we overlooked a glorious Nubra Valley. The scenery was stunning and wonderful!! This is the oldest and largest Buddhist monastery (gompa) in the Nubra Valley of Ladakh, northern India and once you are here your mind automatically just soaks in the beauty and forgets everything else!
It belongs to the Gelugpa (Yellow Hat) sect of Tibetan Buddhism. It was founded by Changzem Tserab Zangpo, a disciple of Tsong Khapa, founder of Gelugpa, in the 14th century. It is a sub-gompa of the Thikse gompa.
The monastery has statue of Maitreya Buddha in the prayer hall, a huge drum and several images of fierce guardian deities. An elevated cupola of the monastery depicts a fresco of the Tashilhunpo Monastery of Tibet.The Monastery administration runs a school, with support from a Non-Government Organization (NGO) known as the "Tibet Support Group", which has computer facilities and teaches science subjects, in English, to Tibetan children of the region. There is a 32 m high Buddha Statue outside the monastery that faces Pakistan on the Nubra Valley by the Shyok River, this statue was constructed recently in the late 2006 or so. I really wished I could be reborn as that statue so I could just sit and have this view for the rest of my life! The photos do no justice to this place...it is meant to be experienced and so I urge you all to travel there and spend at least a day in this monastery.
- Arts and Culture
- Historical Travel
Leh / Ladakh - Landscapes Unparalleled
We did Shey Palace, Thiksey, Hemis Gompa, Shanti Stupa, Pangong Tso, Chang La, Khardung La, Diskit ... 7 days ... rested on Day 1 ... Took 1/2 Dimox in the morning and 1/2 at night ... had no trouble whatsoever related to High Altitude Sickness ...
Ladakh is beautiful ... unparalleled landscapes ...
- Hiking and Walking
Ladakhi Women’s Travel Company
I thought it was best to book a trek before coming to Leh. I was not sure how easy it would be to walk around in Leh on arrival to find a trek leaving, and coming back, within the time I was planning to be there. While searching on Internet I came across Ladakhi Women’s Travel Company. It is an agency owned by a women and they only have women guides. I liked the fact that they have small groups and stay in homestays along the Markha Valley trek (and other treks where those are available). Many tour companies in Leh do camping treks and use ponies to carry the luggage. To stay in a homestay is more ecofriendly, it gives the villagers an income and you see more of the Ladakhi culture.
I sent an email to Ladakhi Women’s Travel Company and they told me there was one person doing the Markha Valley trek at the same time I wanted to do it. They emailed her and asked her if it was okay that I also joined the trek and it was. The trek was going to be a nine-day trek. The Markha Valley trek can be done faster, but I was happy with nine days as you then get time to relax and do some walking around the homestays (and one day the camp in Nimaling). The price when we were two persons was Rs 11 100 each (July 2010). In the end the other woman couldn’t arrive to Leh in time because of landslides along the Manali - Leh road (I’m glad I had changed my plans and taken the airplane instead). So now I was suddenly alone with a guide and the price changed to Rs16 400. It was more money that I had counted with, but as I was very satisfied with the trek and arrangements it was absolutely okay.
Included in the price is: a guide, accommodation and bedding, three meals per day, wildlife and innerline permits and transportation to start and from end of trek.
I got a very nice and knowledgeable guide called Padma. She’s from Stok and had worked as a guide many years, and she spoke very good English. As she had done the Markha Valley trek many times and stayed in the homestays she knew the women in the houses very well. And as she was from Ladakh she cold tell me much about the Ladakhi culture. Along the trek we met a couple with a guide from Nepal, who didn’t speak much English. With Padma they could discuss where it was best to spend their last night and then Padma could tell the guide. I was lucky too have such a good guide as Padma!
Along the trek we also met some people doing the trek without guide. This is of course a much cheaper option as the homestays only cost Rs 350 - 400 per person (July 2010) including dinner, breakfast and packed lunch. But I’m glad I didn’t have to worry about finding the right way myself. One day when we were crossing the Markha River at the first crossing , we met some people who were wet almost up to their waist as they had already crossed the river twice (they had taken the wrong path).
Ladakhi Women’s Travel Company is not only for women, but men are just as welcome to do treks and tours with them.
- Hiking and Walking
- National/State Park
Annual festivals are celebrated in the monasteries of Leh ladakh region. A number of of people visit it. In coming days, the largest monastery of the the region, Hemis monastery will celebrate its annual festival which is known as the Hemis festival. The festival celebrates the victory of good over evil and marks the birthday of Guru Padamasambhava who is considered the founder of Tibetan Buddhism. The masked dance form is the highlight of this festival. The festival will be celebrated on 21st and 22nd June this year.
Apart from this, a little earlier , on 12th-14th June, Sindhu darshan festival will be celebrated. The festival projects Sindhu river as a symbol of India's cultural and religious diversity. Water from various other rivers of India are poured into Sindhu river for this purpose.
- Historical Travel
- Religious Travel
To visit K-Top
To visit Khar Dungla or K-top ( the highest motorable road in the world ) a permission from the local govt authorities is required, therefore when you reaches Leh arrange for this permision. Your hotel staff or local tourist agents will do this for 100 Rs. somtimes it takes one full day.
As oxygen is less there than don,t smoke and drink heavilly. it can harm you and your tour.
If you are intersted in bikes than you can hire a Bullet for Rs 500 per day but drive safely in these mighty hills.
Thak Thog (Thak Thok) and Chemrey
My first gompa in Ladakh!!! There's not much I can tell you about this place, except that it's the only monastery, er, gompa (going to have to get used to this), of the ancient Nyingmapa order and it has a collection of yak butter candle sculptures made by the head lama. Not a brilliant start to this.
That said, this was a good chance to meet the locals and the following women were visiting the monastery (it's gompa - this is Ladakh!!!) to pay their respects. If you remeber my comment elsewhere about local women wearing Kashmiri clothes because they're more comfortable, look at the top of the steps for two such ladies.
Poll (second photo) is taking a closer look at the Drugpa (Red Hat) sect Chemrey Gompa (at last, got it right), founded in 1664 as a memorial to a local king. Chemrey is one gompa that is seeing a decline in numbers of monks - whilst it is true that many young people are shunning a monastic life, Chemrey seems not to be seeing the expansion other monasteries are seeing. This apparent expansion in the face of modern life is one I find a little confusing and might be more a bricks and mortar thing rather than an expansion in monastic populations. That said, despite the growing numbers of Moslems from Kashmir, Buddhism in Ladakh appears to be very healthy. This may be a direct result of the presence of Tibetan refugees in the area, probably boosting mostly the Gelugpa or Yellow Hat population in a traditionally very strong Drugpa sect area.
Oh, I forgot about the archery competition - Pradeep, if you ever read this, don't give up the day job lad.
Thiske, Matho, the Maitreya at Thiske
The Gelugpa Thiske (or Tiske or Tiskey or Thiskey - take you're pick) Gompa is another place which, like the ruined palace in Leh, is seriously over photographed - I wouldn't be surprised if the monks ask for the photography to stop, in case all those camera flashes going off make tourists mistake the place for a nightclub. It's resemblance (from it's eastern side at least) to the Polata Palace in Lhasa is quite remarkable (a mini version if you like).
The gompa has seen a remarkable upsurge in fortunes since the arrival of tourists in 1974 and the money from tourism has allowed major renovation work and rebuilding to be carried out. The Maitreya (Future Buddha) Temple (the Buddha itself is shown below) is one example, it being inaugurated by the Dalai Lama in 1980. However, two problems that the temple does have is that the influx of tourists (it's only a short drive from Leh) make meditation difficult and the local Rinpoche has become involved in Kashmiri politics, thus it's reputation has suffered.
Apparently, prayer time is a good time to visit if you want to hear the giant Tibetan trumpets being played. Thiske is also a good vantage point to look at the rest of the upper Indus Valley - from it, you can see Shey and Stok (the current residence of the Ladakhi royal family) to the west, Matho (pictured below) across the Indus with the mountains rising away behind it (some people have advertised this as 'Alchi' elsewhere???), and also Stakna to the south. Thiske's chortens also have another use - protecting cars from the weather. I wonder if Thiske charges for the use of it's car parking chortens?
Buddhist Wall Paintings, Hemis
Right, let's hope I get this right too.
In this photo, the elephant can't reach the fruit in the tree, so he gets he monkey to help. The monkey can't reach either, so he holds a rabbit up as high as he can reach. The rabbit can't reach, so along comes a dove and finally, they can all get the fruit off the tree. The moral, working together achieves more and sometime you the help of others to achieve your aims.
However, it does puzzle me why the dove needed to be held up to the tree to reach, when it could have flown up to get to the fruit itself. It must have eaten too much on a previous visit to fly.
As for the rest displayed below, I'll fill in the information when I get a chance to read up on them.
Beefy at Hemis
If nearby Chemrey is in decline (see my other tips), Hemis is not in such bad nick (though is quiet outside festival time). The Drugpa (Red Hat) sect Hemis Gompa is the largest in Tibet and made famous by the very accessible festival here in late June. The Hemis Festival is one of the biggest draws not only for followers of Buddhism but for tourists too. My own plans were to go at the time of this festival (firstly in 2004 then 2005), however, it was fully booked up (and this back in January). I finally got there in late July, a month late. The moral of story - this you sort out a year in advance.
Hemis is home to a giant Thangka (a Buddhist scroll or banner depicting, for example, the lives of Buddha, medicine, astrology, saints and deities, Tibetan theology or mandalas - mandalas are described on the Alchi page), which so it can be looked after is only brought out every twelve years. The last time was 2004 (yup, I missed it) - next is 2016. I'll be back in 2016 (even if married with mortgage and kids), that's a promise.
Locals (High Street and Old Town)
The local Ladakhis in general are not very pushy and you'll get all the time in the world to look at souvenirs. If you do get approached, it will most likely be by one of the Kashmiri shop owners (hint, if politics is mentioned, be discrete - if worst comes to worst, blame America, even if you are American). Whilst you do get some women in the older style Ladakhi clothes (as in the picture above), most seem to be opting for a Kashmiri style dress, which can make it seem if there are more Moslems in town than there actually are. The truth of the matter is that the local women just seem to find the Kashmiri clothes more comfortable to wear. As for the men, the younger lads look as though they've been shopping on a British or American high street (unless they're a monk - even then, you'll see plenty Nike trainers under their orange robes).
As regards buying stuff here, you're not going to force the price low. My normally very effective haggling tactics could not budge them down to less than 70% of first price (and you still have to work hard) - the 30% or so you get in Mogul territory just isn't going to happen up here.
Then there's the dogs, man's lovable four legged friends. No hassle during the day, they just seem to run past you in a hurry to get nowhere in particular; however (especially in Leh it seems), they seem to have this sport known as 'keep the tourist awake for as long as possible'. The winners go forward into the next round the following night. The overall winner is declared at the end of the tourist season when the last tourists are wishing the Koreans would open up restaurants in town (the Koreans really like dogs).
Unbelievable, I've not used the word 'chorten' for once - put simply, chortens are the same as stupas and 'gompa' is the local word for monastery.
Shanti is Japanese built and funded - if you want something a little different and your Buddhas in 3D instead of 2D, it's actually worth the walk. The views of Leh are actually better form here than the palace. Anyone heading for Leh and wanting to have a look, just head north past the west side of the palace on the main road, veer off and you'll find yourself in backpacker hostel territory. Keep heading along this road and you'll come out somewhere near the bottom and some great whacking steps. Oh, this is the one place you'll actually get some Indian style hassle in Leh, from a bloke with a motorbike, offering you a cheap lift to the top.
Basgo lies at a distance of 42 Kms west of Leh.The castle known as Basgo Rabtan Lhartsekhar is situated there on a hill of clay. The Dharmaraja Jamyang Namgial and Singay Namgial, father and son built it. The Principal image there is that of the so-called’Golden Maitreya,’ a sacred copper-gilt image of the Buddha Maitreya, two storey in height. The Dharmaraja Singey Namgail as funerary build it to his father, king Jamyang Namgial.There is also an image of the Buddha Maitreya made of clay three storeys in height, which can be seen at the top of the castle. The ruins of a temple and a stupa build by Rinchen Zangpo, the translator can also be seen.
Situated on a hillock 15 km south of Leh, Shey Gompa was previously the summer palace of the Ladakhi kings. A prince of Ladakh installed the 12 m tall gold-plated copper statue of Sakyamuni Buddha, which can be seen here. The Shey Gompa celebrates its annual festival on the 30th day of the 1st month of the Tibetan Buddhist calendar.