Ladakh Travel – Adventures in the Himalaya

posted in: India, Photography, Tourism, Travel | 3

Ladakh one of the World’s most amazing places

Ladakh in the northern Indian State of Kashmir which borders Pakistan and China or to be more specific Tibet is a high altitude desert region in the Himalaya Mountains. Half of Kashmir is the eastern side which connects India to Pakistan with topography of verdant rolling hills and snow capped Himalayan peaks (Vale of Kashmir) and the other half in the East bordering Pakistan and Tibet is dry arid much like Tibet with its share of towering white mountains and snow capped peaks.

King of the Road – Indian Truckers in Ladakh
Stereotypical Indian truck or ‘king of the road’ as they are often referred to venturing across the roof of the world in the high altitude desert region of Ladakh in the Indian Himalaya where the average altitude is around 12,000 ft (3,500 m) above sea level.
Buddhist Gompa (monastery) at Mulbekh on the Srinagar – Leh highway
Ladakh part of Kashmir in the Himalayan range of northern India, is a wonder to behold hence it just has to be on the list of Most Amazing Places on Earth!
I am aware of the wild and rugged beauty of say the Grand Canyon in the States (although I’ve never been but everyone knows about the place through its immense popularity and staring role in many a film), we have the beatific desolation of the Saharan desert (another world famous and earthly landmark) in Northern Africa, the lush and green jungles of the Amazon in South America popularized through film and by celebrities “wishing to appear to be doing their bit” for the long suffering tribes and the planet (naming no names!) And finally we arrive back to India, known the world over as a country being saturated with poverty and filth, with peoples engrossed in a million and one Gods and Goddesses and for, of course, the Taj Mahal.
thikse gompa buddha statue in leh ladakh
Lord Buddha at Thikse Gompa in Ladakh
Well I can tell you India is far more than that, you can find all the religions of the world there, poverty and wealth both physical and spiritual and beyond that a vast array of differing peoples and landscapes upon which they dwell.
Sunset in Nubra Valley ladakh
Sunset in the Nubra Valley
Ladakh is one such place, a high altitude desert region with an altitude averaging 3500 m or 12,000 ft above sea level like neighbouring Tibet in China to the East. This is not only where the similarities are to be found ‘next door’ as it were. Its landscape is a continuation of Tibet, if borders were created based on landscape this area would be in Tibet along with Spiti valley (to the south of Ladakh which also lies in India territory).
Bactrian camels on the ancient Silk Road in the Nubra Valley
Bactrian camels on the ancient Silk Road in the Nubra Valley
diskit buddhist monastery on cliff in ladakh
17th Century Diskit Gompa in the Nubra Valley
As with Tibet the monasteries were strategically placed to afford the best possible view for contemplation and for protection, these Buddhist Gompa’s date back many centuries to when not only traders but warring tribes and bandits traversed the silk route.
The Majority of Ladakhi peoples are Buddhist as is obvious when one beholds such mind boggling structures as the monasteries (pictured above) perched high up on lofty precipices affording spectacular views of the valleys which they overlook. Perfect spots for meditation, contemplation and observing the workings of the mind whilst surrounded by some of the oldest visible geological rock formations on the planet and these rock formations are no ordinary rock formations but twisted and gnarled uprisings from the clash of landmasses millions of years ago which has created an unbelievable and stunning landscape.
young buddhist monks on the himalayan mountains
Brave young monks scaling the Himalayan heights
The Manali to Leh road in the Himalayan region of north India which runs from Himachal Pradesh to Ladakh stretches 500 km and covers a wide variety of mountainous terrain with stunning landscapes, vistas, unusual rock formations and snow covered mountain passes ranging from 4800 m to 5300 m above sea level. A journey to be marveled at if travelling overland.
stunning himalayan scenery with snow white mountains
Scenery along the Manali – Leh Highway
At times you wonder where you are, “where on earth am I?” is a question I often  found myself repeating, am I on the planet Mars or the moon even or some other undiscovered planet in the far reaches of the galaxy! The scenery is such that at times it is hard to mentally digest it but one thing is certain, it stimulates the mind and invokes a feeling of amazement, wonderment and awe at the earthly processes that occurred to create such a natural wonder of our world.
aerial view of leh in ladakh
Aerial View of the Capital Leh taken from Leh Palace
Little known Ladakh…..One of the most amazing places on the Planet
Home to Asian peoples (differing in race to Indians, yet classed as Indians), having there own Ladakhi language which is similar to Tibetan and living a lifestyle that is far removed from the way Indian people live down at sea level on the vast plains of mighty Bharat (India). The way of life is tough in this region where access is limited to  several months of the year, the remainder finds the people snowed in as it were with the passes into the valley being blocked by vast snow drifts and ice. But Ladakhi people are resilient mountain folk who take it all in their stride, a tough but extremely friendly bunch, always helpful peaceful and hospitable.
tibetan woman turning buddhist prayer wheel
Tibetan woman turning a prayer wheel
The population density is so much less than the crowded and congested plains of India, the air is clean though lacking in oxygen for those that have not been there long at 12 to 14,000 ft A.S.L. Altitude sickness for the newcomer is common, a given if you like whether you fly directly from down below or whether you take a couple of days to arrive by land on some form of transport travelling over numerous high altitude passes ranging from 3,000 m to 5,400 m above sea level. You will know you have arrived when you are short of breath and the headache ensues and the first few nights sleep are as restless as a monkey with its tail on fire.
leh gompa buddhist monastery in ladakh
Leh Gompa (Namgyal Tsemo Monastery) atop Tsemo hill
The houses of Ladakh blend beautifully into the surroundings being constructed of local natural materials. Clay bricks are handmade the traditional way by extracting the clay from the earth mixing it with water and straw for strengthening purposes before compressing it into a rectangular mold which is then left to dry in the sun. It’s a cheap method of construction but has stood the test of time and along with wooden beams, window and door frames blends perfectly, even camouflaged amongst the ocher coloured landscape.
Ladakhi adobe at Mulbekh
Sunsets in Ladakh can be breathtaking when the ocher coloured mountains look absolutely resplendent. The colour is simply mesmerizing and something that a painter would be proud to replicate. And this is yet another facet of Ladakh that makes it a phenomenal place to visit. The contrast of colours in this high altitude desert are amazing especially during the spring and summer months when the skies are clear and deep blue, the mountains around 6000 m in height are laden with perpetual snow and the towns and villages situated along the great river Indus are not too dissimilar to oasis with an over abundance of foliage of which the tall and majestic poplar tree plays a dominant role.
desert oasis at saspol in ladakh
Desert Oasis at Saspol in Ladakh
Ladakh was off the beaten track some years ago but as time goes on it is becoming an increasingly popular destination for not only foreign tourists but also for Indian tourists. The passes for road traffic open around June until September/October and the main tourists invasion occurs during the month of june for Indian tourists when the kids are on their school holidays and during July/August when foreign tourists start arriving due to their annual holiday period. Either way, the climate at these times of year, outside of the ice cold winter months is perfect reaching 30 degrees and above by day and neither to hot nor too cold at night.
lamayuru village landscape photography image
Lamayuru – life below the Gompa
If trekking is your thing there are a multitude of travel agents in the capital city of Leh who will be willing to help and if you want to do a trek independently then get yourself a good map and hit the road, there are a number of homestays in lesser known valleys where you can find a bed and have home cooked meals at reasonable prices.
Transport is by way of taxi, shared or un-shared and local buses which aren’t too frequent or by doing as I did most of the time and that is hitching. It is a normal thing to do what with the terrain being so difficult and transport options being limited. Passing cars or Indian truck drivers are always good for a lift and not only helpful to outside visitors but it’s also the done thing with locals alike. For me it was very much appreciated and some of the best travelling moments I have experienced.
indian truck with truck driver in ladakh
Indian Truck with Kashmiri truck driver
To be going over a 3650 m pass in the dark, travelling in the cab of an Indian truck carrying 15 ton of cement and lurching from side to side as it traversed the uneven surface of a winter battered road with a fear of going over the edge on one of the switchbacks, whilst the drivers assistant cooked rice on a hob connected to a butane gas cylinder was a once in a lifetime experience. We passed through snow fields, through walls of snow reaching 20 ft either side of us not knowing if we would make it or not, after all the pass was only recently opened and still not free of ice, of course it was dangerous!
But we did make it and stopped for rice and subzi (vegetables) when we eventually got down the other side and of course the complimentary glass of indian chai (tea) to celebrate before turning in for the night and wondering what would encounter us on the road the following day.
On the road to Leh and the Zoji La (pass)
Who needs fairground white knuckle rides when you can do this on the roof of the world for free……..

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3 Responses

  1. Senad R

    This is great!
    Amazing shots, what a journey!

  2. Gary O'Connor

    Looks awesome mate and the shots, as usual, are very good indeed. Exactly a year since I was in Spitti on a clapped out Enfield, my shots don't compare though, but the scenery is similar as you know. I may consider this in the future, but on a decent bike.
    Keep up the great work fella

  3. Noushka

    A fantastic journey so well presented, it's like travelling with you!
    You are living the true life, my friend!
    We are trying to sell pour french property and follow your tracks in Asia!!
    I'll certainly be back for more…. especially your dragonflies, LOL!!

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