After a very hot two months we decided to escape the heat and see a different side of India. And so it was, that we were flying precariously over snow-capped mountains on our way to Leh in Ladakh, in the far north-west of the country. The landing was particularly hairy with peaks all around the runway and very little space to land. Luckily the pilots have special training for what is one of the world’s highest airports.
After settling into a sweet homestay and drinking copius amounts of cardamon tea to help us acclimatise (Leh is at 3,505m) we organised a trip to the Nubra Valley. The next day we set off in a minivan (when all other groups seemed to have a 4WD) with two Brits and quickly climbed to over 5,500m (the world’s highest motorable pass).
There were stunning views throughout the journey but we all felt sick and dizzy so we quickly moved on (and down) into the Nubra Valley. We passed thick snow and crossed icy ledges until we wound our way down to the arid valley. Strangely our driver seemed to speed up on the most precarious and windy sections. It was starkly beautiful with the odd patch of green and the occassional turquoise glacial river.
We finally stopped in a picturesque village and found another nice homestay to spend the night. Our driver showed us the surrounding sights which included stupas, a huge Buddha and a monastery built into the side of a rock.
The next day we drove to the small village of Hunder, almost on the border of Tibet. We were astounded to see sand dunes at the bottom of snow-capped mountains and even more amazed to see double humpbacked (bactrian) camels!
Back in Leh we explored the streets of the small town poking our noses into monastries and markets.
Finally we visited the monastry at Thikse which was stunning and set in the side of the mountain.
We had been recommended Ladakh as a alternative to Tibet, as we were unable to go when we were in China. Unlike the rest of India (which is majority Hindu) Ladakh is mainly Buddhist and this made it feel like another country. Apart from the beautiful stark landscape, the people seemed more relaxed, the streets were cleaner and Tibetan food was ubiqutitos.