Ladakh is an enigmatic place. It’s a cold and white high-altitude desert. It’s a faraway place situated at the northern-most end of Indian subcontinent. It’s the farthest north you can travel in India. It’s barren and surreal beauty can’t be described in words.
Then, why am I attempting to write about Ladakh ?
Why does Ladakh beckons a traveller ? No obvious reasons but people visit Ladakh simply because it’s there… up above the sky……near clouds. So, if you have few days to live your life…visit Ladakh. There is no other reason…there can’t be.
Some people would say that in the year 2022, such high mountain passes as in Ladakh (it means land of high passes) have been photographed umpteen times and Instagram-like apps and travelling websites provide all photos you can ask for .
But, discovering a pristine landscape has it’s own charms. It’s like delicious food from a famous restaurant. People may say that food is delicious and heavenly.
But, how do you realize it ?
There is only one way…..go and eat it.
Ladakh is like that only…you may read that it’s beautiful…blah..blah…..but you need to see vistas of unreal beauty through your own large and bulbous 02 eyes to believe it.
Don’t worry , it’s equally good ..even if you have small eyes.
Since early 1970s, when tourists were allowed to explore Ladakh, many intrepid travellers have gone through this chillingly cold mountainous region where temperatures can plummet to a – 40 degree Celsius during extremely long winter months.
But, believe me…..mark my words …. your life is wasted till date if you haven’t visited Ladakh……it’s one of a kind in in the world.
Nowhere, can you find such a diverse variety of arid landscape. For people living in crowded cities…..it’s heaven, descended in the form of a beautiful painting.
For smartphone-wielding warriors or should I say youngsters born after the year 2K, every frame is delight for connoisseurs, you turn left, there is grey mountain…you turn right there is a pink and reddish colour mountain……your head can not even recognize the colours of the snow-capped peaks as these are dispersed with non-snow peaks of red , grey or white coloured-peaks….. your head goes up and there is an azure blue mountain of unbelievable clarity, full HD or 4K picture clarity of an OLED screen.
Don’t get flabbergasted….I am talking about sky in last sentence.
Yes, but the words are true, snow-capped mountains are so high in Ladakh that you forget that where the peaks of mountains end and skyline starts……in some cases colours are also similar.
Air is so pure in Ladakh that if you want pure oxygen in your lungs……there is no need to use oxygen canisters.
Just take a deep breath and it will revitalize you.
But, remember one tricky fact that amount of air is pretty less as compared to plain areas. So, your lungs may ask for more air if they are habitual of devouring black and dirty air of some modern cities.
Especially, if you are travelling by air , which most people do, the difference in quantity of air can make or ruin your plans for exploring Ladakh.
Keep in mind that roads are a better way to enter Ladakh region but it’s not meant for faint-hearted people.
NH – 01 reaches Leh from Srinagar and NH-03 winds it’s way from Manali. Both routes are spectacularly beautiful and will take your breath away. But, you need time and sturdy all terrain 04-wheeler or a mountain bike having 02 wheels but a big heart and extraordinary powerful torque to take you past the unfathomable passes.
But, road travel to Ladakh is a different story altogether and I will talk about it some other time.
Let’s talk about seasons to visit Leh.
All seasons are damn good in Ladakh but not meant for everyone. So, for a normal person, who loves his junk food round-the-year and has no major illness, June to September is the official summer season in Ladakh.
Ladakh gets it’s majority of tourist during this short window of 04 months.
You may visit during May. It’s equally good if not better in May.
Tonight, I will talk about the easiest way to reach Ladakh that is through air.
All leading airlines operate daily flights to Leh from Delhi and some other major cities of India.
It’s a short and sweet ride of around 45 minutes.
Windows of your metal tube (don’t get confused)……..I am talking about Boeing and Airbus aircraft, goes through varied emotions of despair as well as joy in this short ride.
From Delhi, you pass through verdant fields of Haryana and Punjab…then flora and fauna of Pir Panjal Range mesmerizes your glass windows….then comes bowl-shaped beautiful Kashmir Valley …….your metal tube may be thinking about landing at beautifully enticing Srinagar airport but your driver (I don’t know the logic behind calling Plane’s driver a Pilot, why give them a distinct identity. Are Truck’s driver made by lesser Gods ?) takes a slightly left turn and snow-capped mountains are visible to people sitting in left side of aisle and right side people curse their fate for choosing wrong side.
You can even touch the Zero Point of Zojila Pass (no one lives there) if you stretch your limbs a little longer but freezing weather outside your tube made of metal alloys prevents your wish for any misadventure.
Airline crew may also take steps to stop you from going out for a stroll in mid-air. It’s not advisable….I don’t know about feasibility as haven’t tried yet.
Approach to Leh airport is as tricky as curves on mountain roads in Ladakh. Your driver does many unpredictable manoeuvres in the air that sometimes you feel that he has lost his marbles.
You can’t see airport for a long time …mountains are just wide enough to let your aircraft pass through and you are watching a large mound of mud-type structure on both flanks.
You wonder how will this incompetent driver land on slope of such high mountains ?
Can your plane go up on a slope on mountain like an ATV (All Terrain Vehicle) ?
You hear whispering sounds of air as if a ghost -like creature waits for you on the ground. People get religious during these tense moments when Plane shakes like a leaf in the air and start giving you mild jerks. You feel that road journey would have been a better option.
Finally, you land on the smallest strip of an airfield , just long enough for runway of your aircraft.
You heave a sigh of relief on seeing other aircrafts sleeping on the tarmac.
Your metal tube gives a high five to fellow airplanes and ask for any traces of bad weather on the ground.
Keep in mind that aircraft land and take-off only till afternoon as tricky wind movements and large clouds (sleeping in air) makes it difficult to fly a Plane.
Why only Plane, even birds of Ladakh don’t prefer to fly in afternoon. They love their siestas in caves of barren mountains.
But, the real fun begins when you come out on the mystic land.
Your head feels little lighter and your senses are overwhelmed by the sheer beauty of landscape. But, you notice one thing…. where are trees ?
It’s like God has used a marble polishing machine to denude this beautiful land of all trees.
Why on earth Leh is deprived of large trees ? People say that due to less amount of rainfall , large trees don’t prosper in this land. But, why do trees need rain if large swathes of snow-capped mountains are providing perennially-flowing rivers in this land of scarce resources ?
It’s good that science has strange ways of explaining things.
It’s an irony that Ladakh doesn’t have large trees. You can find artificial kind of trees in other parts of city but nothing grows on rude and moody mountains near airport.
At the cost of comparing apple with oranges, I must say that Kashmir valley situated few hundreds of kilometres away has many 700 to 1000-years old Chinar trees.
I don’t know about geography but this is illogical ?
Why deprive such a beautiful land of such beautiful trees ?
Something is missing or may be messy . Gods are not fair but that’s a different story.
Coming back to Leh….
You can experience the cataclysmic difference in mean sea level from around 700 feet in Delhi to around 11500 feet in Leh.
It is empowering. It is spiritual. It is an out of this world feeling. You are attacked by the gutsy and powerful winds which tries to blow away your senses, or may be your soul.
You are awed by the magical beauty of fresh air, uncharacteristically arid and dry but bone-chilling weather.
Wise people say that do not hurry in mountains. Small steps on an uphill track can help you in exploring many unconquered peaks. The moment you hurry up and take long steps, you will become out of breath and mountain gods will make sure that you won’t be able to go far.
So, once yo reach Leh, forget that you are a tourist. Take a deep breath, drink lots of warm ginger-flavoured water, eat hot and spicy food, sleep well for long hours.
Your body isn’t a machine and imposing landscape of Leh teaches you to live life in a slow lane. It’s an important life lesson which you can carry even after departing from land of high passes.
Government regulations say that you must spend 48-hours acclimatization in Leh before moving to high mountain passes. It’s not an advisory. It’s a life-saving tip which helps in making your stay a memorable one in high mountains. Medical facilities are rudimentary in this part of world, so, ignore this advisory at a considerable risk to health of a loved ones, especially if you are travelling with kids or elderly persons.
It’s getting late in night and I haven’t even arrived at arrival lounge of Leh airport.
So, let’s call it a day.
Will write about Leh some other time.