Learn about India’s high passes, ancient Buddhist temples and people of the Himalayas
“No hurry, no worry!”
We drive past yet another road sign, warning cars to slow down and be careful behind the wheel. “After whiskey driving risky” “ if you sleep, your family will weep”
Ask any traveller in Ladakh and you’ll hear of the many humorous speed warnings they have encountered while driving on some of the worlds highest motorable roads. They can be narrow and steep with no safety rails and looking through the car window we’d occasionally see a vehicle that has fallen down into the depths of the Himalayan mountains. If I was ever genuinely worried for my safety on the road, this was it.
Ladakh is an area in the Indian Himalayas, and translated literally it’s name means land of passes. It is famous with its many Buddhist monasteries, scenic landscapes and friendly locals. Home to the worlds third highest pass Chang la at 5360m altitude, the area is hard to visit in the winter months October to May, and is often only accessible by plane during that time. Most travellers head to Ladakh between June and September when the snow is gone and you can explore the beauty of the Himalayas while trekking or driving through the mountain passes.
Flying into Ladakh, planes take you to the capital Leh. It is a beautiful town and after the hustle and bustle of central India, Leh felt like an oasis of calm and serenity. In these remote parts of the world where air is much thinner and weather conditions harsh for big part of the year, I met some of the friendliest people during my travels. With their laid back attitude and genuine smiles they welcome visitors with open arms, eager to assist anyone planning a trek or trip up the mountains.
Historically, Ladakhis are closely related to Tibetans, they use Tibetan transcript and their language was described to me as a Tibetan dialect.
Thiksey Monastery, Leh
Only 19 km from Leh you will find Thiksey monastery, often referred to as the small Potala palace due to its strong resemblance to the famous Tibetan palace of the Dalai Lama in Lhasa. Getting there is easy, a local bus or taxi will take you to the monastery in no more than half an hour. Early morning when there are less tourists is a great time to visit and witness the first morning prayer for the day. The monastery is built on top of a hill at 3600m above sea level. The view from the small terrace on top is absolutely breathtaking and I must have spent hours there just taking in the panoramic sights. Young monks would often run past, on their way to morning prayer.
Ladakh is famous with its out of this world landscapes and hidden away monasteries with a “frozen in time” air around them. Nubra Valley with its surreal desert surrounded by snowy hills, the lakes Pangong Tso and Tso Moriri, Zanskar valley with it’s remote trekking trails and monasteries, these are just some of the places that make Ladakh a favourite destination for off the beaten track travellers.
As you move through the mountain passes the landscapes change dramatically the higher you go. Lush green valleys surrounded by dry rock hills; melting snow filling up streams and rivers whose water will eventually make its way down to towns and villages in all parts of the Indian subcontinent; moonlike landscapes so fantastical in appearance you get a sense of being in a different dimension.
It is 120km from Leh and a couple of hours drive should be enough to take you there. Situated at 3510m height, Lamauyru monastery is the oldest and largest gompa in Ladakh, dating back to the 10th century. Some believe it may have been built before buddhism, when Bon was the religion of the people there. The village is also famous for its surrounding rock formations, known as “moonland” It has been suggested that this unique geology is the result of a dried up lake some 40000 years ago.
The village of Lamauyru is small with some 100 houses. Guesthouses and family stays can be found if you are looking to experience life in this remote part of the Himalayas.
Worlds highest saltwater lake at 4350m above sea level. It is 160km from Leh and travelling to the lake offers some of the most spectacular landscapes you will ever see.
One third of Pangong Tso in India, the remaining part belongs to Tibet.
The lake is situated at 4522 hight, 240km from Leh. Reaching Tso Moriri requires a long 6 hour drive and we stayed overnight with a family on the banks of the lake.
When to visit
Best time to visit Ladakh is from May to October. Once in Leh, give yourself a couple of days to adjust to the high altitude. Avoid long walks and just take it easy as the thin air makes the slightest of exercise feel like you’ve been running a marathon and you will be grasping for air.
Tour company supporting young women in Ladakh http://www.ladakhiwomenstravel.com/
Up to date information and news from Ladakh http://www.reachladakh.com/