After a particularly hectic and crazy phase in our lives, we needed a break. And we couldn’t have chosen a better place than Leh, Ladakh. We have been trying to go here for the past four years but somehow the trip never happened. Maybe it was meant to be now. We are back a week later bursting with the beautiful energy that Ladakh fills you with !
Ladakh is an area of Jammu and Kashmir marked by a ruggedness that melts your heart with its toughness. Brown, dry and unforgiving, the landscape mesmerizes you in a way that is hard to explain.
Here’s why we fell head over heels in love with Ladakh and you will too.
It goes without saying. The landscape here is breathtaking and shocks you with how often it changes. Endless rugged mountains, valleys with streams and rivers and a desert which appears out of nowhere. The towering mountains with its precariously winding roads can really make you feel insignificant. One of our favourite moments was this long stretch of road on the way to Nubra Valley with a rocky plain just stretching out for miles and miles on either side.
The city of Leh is magical in many ways. Enchanting and easy to navigate, Leh will captivate your heart. Dotted with monasteries and stupas, Prayer Wheels every few miles, crumbling buildings of the Old Town and a bustling, colourful market area; Leh is a place to fall in love with. Grab a delicious meal at Chopsticks or Tibetan Kitchen, shop at the Tibetan flea market, make your way through the various monasteries and find some peace at Shanti Stupa. Leh has something for everyone.
This is one place where the journey is as beautiful as the destination, if not more. Drive through snow capped mountain ranges, traverse the Khardungla Pass- the highest motorable road in the world, meander through plains and valleys, follow the gorgeous Shyok river and eventually wind up in Nubra Valley, a high altitude desert. What greets you there are gorgeous sand dunes. Ride a double humped camel or just enjoy some solitude on the glimmering sand dunes as the sun sets behind the mountains.
So everyone has seen 3 Idiots. And everyone imagines what Pangong Tso will look like. But nothing prepares you for that moment when you first see it. The setting is just perfect. Sprawled across India and Tibet, the lake mesmerizes you with its myriad hues of blue water that is so clear it’s almost a mirror for the mountains around. Sit by the banks of the river and watch time move slowly as you see clouds float against a backdrop of rugged mountains that nestle within them a lake of such beauty.
Tip : Leave as early as possible in the morning from Leh to avoid the crowds and get some alone time by the lake.
Get prepared. When travelling through Ladakh anything can happen. Anytime. One of our most memorable days on the trip was our journey back from Nubra Valley. We were climbing up the mountains, making our way along the precarious roads up to Khardung La Pass when suddenly we see white flakes falling against our window panes. Slowly, as we watched, the brown earth and rocky mountains around us were enveloped by sheets of white and everything around us was transformed. We were lucky enough to experience the first snowfall of the season, and what an experience it was.
There is no better feeling than enjoying piping hot Maggi in sub-zero temperature. Of course after the ban it’s not Maggi but its local equivalent that is being served everything not nevertheless it is a feeling you will never get eating the same back home ! Add some egg to it and it is a meal to remember. Our two favourite places to have maggi and chai ? The Army run canteen at Khardung La Pass, where it is exactly what you need to revive your frozen hands and brain. And a small nameless eatery a little before Khardung Village where the egg maggie it just delicious !
So when you already need to wear layers of clothes to keep warm you really question whether rafting in the ice cold waters of the Zanskar is the sane thing to do. We also went back and forth but after hearing so much about it from our friends at HopSkipAndFly we decided it must be done ! It is so cold that they give you diving wet suits to raft in ! And you still freeze. When that first rapid splashes all over you it’s almost as if your insides freeze. But it’s worth every bit of it. Navigating the various rapids, holding onto the raft for dear life, rowing with all your might, and getting attacked by the ice cold water; rafting in the Zanskar, cradled in between mountains, is an experience to remember.
Tip : Please remember to book your rafting slot before hand to avoid undue waiting or missing out on this activity.
Probably one of our favourite days on the trip. If you don’t plan on doing the entire trip on bike, you should hire one for at least a day and ride around Leh. There is nothing like hitting the open road in this terrain. Take the road towards Sangam where the Indus and Zanskar rivers meet, stopping on the way at Hall of Fame, Spituk Monastery, Gurudwara Pathar Sahib and Magnetic Hill. Try reaching the Gurudwara around 1 pm in time for their delicious Langar. The experience of riding on these roads, with a landscape to die for is definitely one thing to be checked off your bucket list.
This place deserves a special mention. A cute little cafe on the main market road, do not miss having the coffee and butter cookies or the Nutella on toast! If a meal is what you want to have here, the bruschetta is cheesy and sinful and basically delicious. Try the Shakshouka, the sinful Bruschetta and the Pizza as you while away time in this rustic cafe while reading about the various happenings in the city on its walls.
Last, and most certainly not the least, are the wonderful, warm and generous people of Leh, Ladakh. Half the charm of the place are the ever smiling faces you see around you. From our hotel staff to our driver to people selling stuff in flea markets, everyone has a smile on their face and a feeling of contentment about them that is quite enviable. Always willing to help, the people here have a warmth and energy that truly touches your soul.
Our driver asked us a very interesting question, “Ladakh is dry, brown and difficult. What is it that people find so beautiful and interesting about it”. It’s quite simple actually. Ladkah, in all its ruggedness and hostility in terrain, is as warm, welcoming and positive in its people and energy. Definitely a trip you want do sooner rather than later.