The Silk Road - Return to Ladakh

Buddha Statues Himalaya Ladakh Leh Travel Diary

Inauspicious starts to our trip to Ladakh

Chinese and Indian troops had a stone throwing altercation on the shores of Pangong Tso, the lake that is partly in India and partly in disputed Chinese control after the border war in the 1960's.

This is the region we intend to visit in a couple of weeks. Then I badly stubbed my little toe, broken or bruised the treatment is the same: painkillers and elevated leg position, not ideal for a couple of weeks trekking.

I'm hoping for bruised only, currently it's a blackish colour. Thirdly, our guide Stanzin has emailed that there is trouble again with the Kargil taxi drivers union which could mean we have to reverse our trek route and face high passes at the start, which is more problematic for acclimatisation. Hopefully it will get resolved before next week when we start the trek.

Flying over the Greater Himalaya to Ladakh

Unexpectedly I'm acting as postman to take some gold and maroon wool cloth to Delhi where eventually it will get picked up and delivered to the Tibetan Karmapa Lama to be used for the seat of his throne. It's from Lama Rigzen, our Tibetan friend who lives in Sheffield, following a meeting they had when the Karmapa was in the U.K. earlier this year.

The Karmapa lives in Dharamsala, northern India, and his representative will come from there to Delhi, in the meantime we'll keep it with Tsering our Ladakhi friend who's currently studying at Delhi university.

Flying over Ladakh, the seemingly uniform brown landscape is actually full of colour.

The next day we're up at 2.45 for the early morning flight over the greater Himalayas to land at Leh Ladakh where we're greeted by Stanzin, our guide. Landing is always dramatic as the plane descends steeply through the mountains that surround the Leh valley and passes within a few hundred feet of the Spituk monastery perched on top of a rocky outcrop.

A short drive into town then ginger tea with Stanzin under the shade of apricots trees in the garden of the Kang Lha Chen hotel. Stanzin has updates, we can go to the lake so we'll go there first to give my toe time to recover, and the taxi dispute is resolved so our trek itinerary is intact. The Kang Lha Chen is one of the oldest hotels in Leh and just uptown from the shops around Market Street with some ironic shop signs. More Junk Upstairs.

Leh shop signs, More Junk Upstairs

Where exactly are we? Ladakh is at the very top of India sandwiched between Kashmir and Tibet. It's a high altitude desert, sort of an extension of the Tibetan plateau. It has an ancient Tibetan Buddhist culture which is a big part of the attraction.

The first signs of Buddhism in Ladakh go back to the fifth century, the first great wave of monasteries began a thousand years ago when Buddhism was resurgent in nearby Western Tibet. Leh is at an altitude of 3500 metres, almost 12,000 feet, so there's less oxygen and a lightheaded feeling when you move quickly. So you don't. You also drink a lot of water to flush out the carbon dioxide, otherwise it's bad headaches and nausea. The next two days are for taking it slowly.

Leh shop signs, More Junk Upstairs

Read more about Buddhist monasteries and trekking in Ladakh and Zanskar.

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  • Silkroad Gallery on

    Hi Win,
    Thanks for sharing your memories, one of the main delights of the Silk Road Gallery is sharing experiences. This a difficult time in Ladakh – Covid; no tourists so no income for guest houses, shops & trekking guides. Then add to that the incursions the Chinese army keeps making into Eastern Ladakh. The Chinese are trying to push the border line further into India, so they cross the border then retreat – but each time there is loss of life & a build up of troops. China is a mightier power & India is desperately struggling with Covid. The fighting in the last week was near Chussul where we went last summer.
    On a more upbeat note, one of our friends has just finished the harvest in her village of Hanupatta and another is finishing her MSc at Chandigarh, online from her home near Leh. We are paying for our trekking guide’s children’s education while he sells street food near the polo ground.
    I too feel at home there and would love to stay for a much longer time. Maybe that could happen.
    An interesting book came out this year called The Frozen – River Seeking Silence in the Himalaya by
    James Crowden. An account of a winter in Zanskar in 1976.
    Stay well, kindest regards, Peter

  • Win Browne on

    Hi Peter
    I’ve been looking at your website again after some time of not…’s fabulous. Just looking at the pictures and reading about Leh, sends shivers up my spine. A few good years ago, I was in Ladakh on two separate visits and each time, came to a realisation that there was so much I recognised – but couldn’t think why – because I wasn’t from there …..yet, home can mean many different things. It’s how I feel in Istanbul too. What got me each time in Leh on landing, having circled down between the mountains, was the smell of juniper and the Buddhist chants in the town itself. Not sure if they have that now in 2020….? In Istanbul, it’s the sounds first and the sight always, of the pencil thin minarets and of course, that incredible, ancient ‘door step’ on the threshold of Hagia Sofia or The Sofia, as I call her.
    Thank you for this wonderful trip down Memory Lane.
    Kindest regards- Win B

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