You wish if your journey could extend just by a day. For us, that place was Leh.
This was a trip which was due for a long time and when this plan finally materialised, our happiness knew no bounds. We tried to capture every single moment, right from the airport. We were eagerly waiting to board our flight to Leh and then we saw this announcement :-)….
Since this was Ankur’s first trip to Leh, we had asked for the window seat. After all, you cannot afford to miss the majestic views of the trans Himalayan range from up above. The range starts to appear about 20min before landing in Leh. And it’s an experience to cherish and a sight to behold. Especially in winters its all the more ethereal because you get to see the snow covered mountain ranges.
Finally it was time to land in Leh. Just prior to the landing, air hostess made a final announcement about the temperature being 11 degrees below zero (Actual words in Hindi being – “बाहर का तापमान शुन्य से ग्यारह डिग्री कम है “). The sheer thought of it gave us the chills. So we quickly wrapped ourselves in layers of clothing and now we were set to step out.
Many people are confused between Leh and Ladakh. For them the 2 are the same, and many a times they use them interchangeably. The fact is, Ladakh – now a union territory was earlier a separate region in the state of Jammu Kashmir, within which falls the city of Leh.
Within Ladakh there are 2 districts Leh and Kargil. Leh is covered with three trans-himalayan ranges – the Zanskar, the Ladakh and the Karakoram. 3 rivers, the Shyok, the Indus and the Zanskar flow between these ranges. While the mountain ranges in and around Leh have a more barren look, the ones in Kargil are greener. And it goes without saying that both the places have amazing views to fall in love with.
Leh offers so much to a traveller, even 10 days aren’t enough to cover the whole region.
Some of the touristy but beautiful places to cover are Khardungla Pass, Rohtang Pass, drive to Pangong Tso lake , Nubra Valley, Tso Moriri lake and mamy more…
Since we visited Leh in the month of Feb and had only a day at hand to spend there – none of these were the ideal options. Why? Because most of the routes are blocked/closed in the winters due to the heavy snowfall. Especially, if you are on a time bound trip, it’s quite risky to travel to those places. So we decided of going local with our itinerary. What would have been a better time to explore Leh than right now. With less crowd around, Leh dons a very different Avatar! We agree that most of the shops were closed and the sheer loudness and the city hustle bustle was missing making Leh a bit calm, but it surely wasn’t dull. Plus, with less crowd – we got many good chances for solo clicks. What better motivation …right?
We made quick a plan to cover Hemis and Thiksey monasteries which are not very far from the city of Leh. Alongwith it we planned to cover Army war memorial and of course Shanti Stupa which is situated right in the middle of the city. Alchi and Lamayuru monasteries alongwith Magnetic hill are some more places nearby which can be covered in the short visit, but we skipped due to shortage of time.
After finalising our day’s itinerary we quickly booked a cab that picked us up from our resort at 9 AM in the morning. Howmuchever early we wanted to start our day, this was the best we could do in that cold. Its very hard to leave the warmth of your bed when temperatures around are minus 11 degree celsius and below 🙂
(Rating – 8.5/10 )
We put up at the Mahey Resort. And we so loved the location of it. In the morning – the first view from our room that we set our eyes on – was the mighty Stok Kangri range – all snow clad. Even though it was chilly but we did not close our windows because the view outside was breathtaking. The rooms were pretty cozy. Comfortable bed, heater, running hot water WITHOUT frozen pipes(which is a way of life in Leh during winters), good breakfast and a good lawn. But the best part was the view. According to us that is the USP of the resort. And shanti stupa was quite near to it as well and so was the market. All in all a perfect location to put up in Leh.
Only issue ,we faced was that it was a bit isolated. While returning from the market at night, the whole street was really dark and quiet with an eerie silence. There were no street lights. We had to take out our phone torches to figure out the way. Now this could also be a winter thing when streets are this cold and quiet. Probably during summers that might not be the case.
If we were to rate our resort, it would be 8.5 star rating on the scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being the highest.
We started with monasteries. Leh has lot of monasteries and pretty huge ones at that and of course quite famous as well. If we were to tell which monastery did we like the most – then it’s gonna be a divided opinion.
Well, I loved Thiksey and Ankur fell in love with Hemis. Though I must say that I loved the drive to Hemis monastery which was about 45 min drive from the city of Leh. The beautiful River Indus was flowing very calmly with a charisma – enchanting us with her beauty and adding a surreal charm to the backdrop of that location which was enroute Hemis. The blue waters with snow clad mountains all around formed a picturesque frame.
As a monastery it is Thiksey that I loved. Especially the Maitreya temple housed within it. Thiksey is perched on the hilltop. The surrounding views from up there are lovely. This monastery consists of the numerous temples – of which Maitreya is one. Others being Tara and Mahakal – the guardian deities in Buddhism.
According to buddhism, Maitreya is a bodhisattva. He is touted as the future Buddha – who is not born yet. A bodhisattva is the one who seeks awakening. A monk sitting outside the temple informed us that there have already been 6 Buddhas in the past. Gautam Buddha being the recent one.
I loved this temple for the 2 things – one, a larger than life statue almost 50 ft high, of Maitreya in the inner sanctum of the temple. Unlike other monasteries this statue is situated inside the temple and not in the open air. Turquoise stones and lapiz lazzuli beautifully adorned the statue. The face of Maitreya keeps smiling at you from up above – with a very peaceful and a content look. The other thing that I liked about this temple is the view from the window. The landscape that you witness from up there is very scenic with the composition of fields and the hutments with majestic mountains in the backdrop.
When you stand on the porch of the monastery, this very view turns into a panorama. You just can’t stop capturing it – be it in your memories or with your camera.
I vividly remember an incident that happened here. When we were in the Maitreya temple, 3 teenage friends came in and they started writing their names on a diary kept there. I was quite intrigued and asked them “What are you doing?”. Interestingly – if you make any monetary donation in the temple you note it down on the diary kept there. They did not tell me the reason for it. Probably they did not know themselves. But it was something pretty unique that I found. I haven’t seen it happening anywhere else.
The monasteries symbolise an ascetic life but when it comes to kids, who have to follow such life it can get a little hard. We were pleasantly surprised to see some of the cute child monks playing football just outside this monastery in their monk attire. It was so much fun to see them play and of course play along with them. But man – they had unmatched energy levels.
Ankur loved Hemis monastery. Though Thiksey has its own charm, but the temple inside Hemis was colorful enough to enchant an art lover like him. The beautiful Thangka murals on all its walls – each one telling a different story with 2 prominent Mahakaal on the sides of the entering gates. He just fell in love with them. All these beautiful paintings surrounded the main statue of Buddha. And the yellow lights lit up the whole scene, giving the sanctum a golden touch.
Thangka is a contemporary Tibetan art. Mostly Buddhist monks practise this art. Though you do find some Hindu murals adorning the walls as well. Theme of the paintings is generally either a Buddhist deity or a fable or a mandala. There are many Buddhist deities including the fiercest ones, protectors, Buddhas and Llamas. Some of the common ones that you will witness in most of these paintings are Mahakaal, Vajrabhairava, Padmasambhava, Tara, Dakini.
While talking about the fables they are taken majorly from Vajrayana Buddhism. A Mandala art is a geometric representation of space/universe and is used mostly in tantric buddhism. The practitioners use it as an aid in meditation. It is something similar to yantras in Hinduism conceptually. One of the most common Mandala is kaalchakra – the circle of time and life.
The unique blend of art entangled in the grasp of spirituality is very interesting.
While at Hemis Gompa, we also climbed up the stairs to the top of a hill right opposite the monastery. It took us good 10-15 min to reach the top.
There was a beautiful statue of Golden Buddha – with lots of prayer flags fluttering around. And of course the view had Hemis monastery and the shelters of the monks with magnificent mountains in the backdrop. Hemis is one of the richest monasteries in Leh with around 2500 acres of land holdings around Leh and Zanskar.
While the 2 monasteries are at the outskirts of Leh, far from the hustle bustle of the city; but even within the city, you do not get disappointed. Be it Leh Market, Palace, resorts, Shanti Stupa – each and every place offers you a sight to behold.
Shanti Stupa is one place we visit every time we are in Leh. The view of the city from up there – is one to die for. If you go in the morning or noon, you get to see the greens of the fields and the whites of peaks and the browns of the desert and the blues of the sky. But if you go late in the evening or at night, you see the whole city glittering and twinkling.
You need to climb up 550 steps to reach the stupa. So if you are up for a challenge and some physical effort then do take this route. We did that when we went there in the morning. But you can always go via road as well – in a taxi, not stressing your body and that’s exactly what we did during our evening visit to the Stupa.We walked all the way from market to the base of the stupa. Since it was quite late, it would have taken us good half an hour to reach the top had we attempted stairs. And the stupa would have closed by then. So in the interest of TIME , we took a cab.
The stupa has open and close timings that change according to the season you visit it in. We were there in the winters and Stupa closes by 7PM during that time. The moment we started from the base, temperature was around -11 degrees. But up at the top with the wind blowing, it felt like -20. It was very cold and chilly. To enter the Stupa, you have to remove your shoes. The cold was piercing through our feet. I quickly wore my shows back and just stood on the huge porch outside the stupa enjoying the glittering view of the city. While Ankur braved the cold and roamed around the Stupa bare feet.
Many people climb up the Stupa with their shoes on when no one’s watching. But we took them off even though we were alone there. It’s about respecting the place you are visiting. That’s the least a traveller can do for a place one is visiting – show some love and respect. This Stupa is a 2 storey structure and had 3 scenes from the life of Buddha depicted on the wall. When you climb the stairs, the first thing that you notice are 2 beautiful deers built on the sides of the Buddha statue. They are beautifully carved. This was the first stupa we were visiting in India and unlike the many stupas we visited in Sri Lanka, this one was adorned with the Tibetan art.
It’s really beautiful, especially when u see it in the bright daylight. But in that cozy darkness as well it didn’t lose it charm with subtle light falling on it.
After seeing the whole stupa, we decided to lay on the porch there, even in that cold, so that we could witness the starlit sky. Yeah it might feel as if we did some daring stunt, but honestly at times these are not show-offs, but the calls that you take to capture the moment and not miss on the spectacular views around. Of course it was a new moon night which is why the whole sky seemed like a black blanket glittering with stars. It was just mesmerising. It would have been wonderful, if we were to spend the whole night staring at the sky, but of course we could not do it for 2 reasons. First, it’s not allowed and second, of course the cold. It gets you even before the authorities do. So, we packed up our memories and gathered our experience and headed back down.
Besides monasteries and the stupa, we also covered one more place that day which holds a very special place in every Indian’s heart – The war memorial. Whether or not you are patriotic, or believe in surrendering your lives on your motherland, but a mere glimpse of this place brings out that SOLDIER lying deep within you. It’s a place that might not interest many but we think it is a must visit. The memorial gives you a glimpse of whole Ladakh, it’s surrounding lands, flora, fauna, culture, tribes etc. And then it takes you through the journey of the life of a soldier who made and keep making India proud. Who laid their lives so we could live. Who endured hardships and pain so we could enjoy our luxuries.
This memorial gives you a detailed tour of the soldiers who laid their lives in wars, their last letters to their families, the extreme conditions they live in, the gears which they proudly wear like medals so that they could stay up at those freezing temperatures and high altitudes to protect our lands and us civilians. Yes, we are talking about Siachen – the highest army post in the world.
Engraved on the wall were names of all the personnels who have won the honour of highest deeds (Paramveer Chakra, Maha Vir Chakra, Vir Chakra, Ashoka Chakra, Kirti Chakra and Shaurya Chakra). And with this we ended our tour of the city of Leh.
Leh is undoubtedly a jewel in itself and every place in Leh leaves you in awe when it comes to the view and probably that is why is it one of the most visited tourist location.