The flight from Delhi to Leh is a wonderful one hour flight over the Himalaya. Coming in to land you appreciate that Ladakh is a high altitude desert, grey brown mountains with rare threads of tiny green valleys. Of course, once you’re in the landscape it’s full of colour - greens, purples, ochres but from a distance all you see is a maze of mountains and valleys - no such thing as flat!
Our guide Stanzin meets us at the airport, we go to the hotel and a local cafe for breakfast. Leh is at 3500 metres. The air has half the oxygen compared to sea level and is very dry, the sun burns in the thin air. It plays havoc with the inside of your nose. Bring Vaseline.
The first mission is to gather enough drinking water to flush out the carbon dioxide that builds up in your blood. Dzomsa is a women’s co-operative that tops up your water bottle. Since their inception they’ve saved the need for over 780,000 plastic bottles. Rs7 (approx 8p) per litre. A brilliant initiative.
Today is for doing very little while we start to acclimatise. We stay in the Kanglachen, a favourite old hotel with a shady apricot orchard and friendly owner. The roof has views of the distant snow covered mountains to the south and the nearby ruined fort and Royal Palace that towers over the old town. It looks like a smaller version of Lhasa’s Potala Palace in Tibet and was built by the same architect.
We sleep poorly and late. A knock at the door and we’re woken by our dearest Ladakhi friend Tsering Dolma. What an utter delight! She’s flown up from Delhi on the early flight for a short holiday from her MA at Chandigarh. She’ll see her parents and come with us for a four day trip we’ve planned to a lake called Tso Moriri. We’ve often joked that we’ve seen more of her native land than she has but this is the first time we’ve been able to travel together in Ladakh.
We meet Jigmet the hotel owner who’s a nephew of another friend Wangchuk. Jigmet’s cousin has a retreat centre in the Leh valley that we may use for a retreat next summer - I’m working up a plan to bring some friends for a tour of Ladakh. We make plans to go and check it out.
In the late afternoon we walk along to the village of Changspa to walk around the beautiful Gomang stupa hidden away in the old village. Over the years we’ve seen it in various stages of restoration, it’s been well looked after and is beautiful in the soft golden light, shadows from smaller stupas falling on the walls of the big stupa. Stupas are characteristic of Buddhist landscape, reliquary buildings containing teachings and prayers and the ashes of great lamas.
We look inside a small guest house that overlooks the stupa, the delightful Gomang GH is in a wonderful location and run by a friendly family. We’ll recommend it to a friend who’s coming out soon.