Ladakh – Leh first impressions at 3600metres
Lucky in Ladakh – Part 1 of (3):
I have decided to take a short 4 day trip to Ladakh to go and visit the…
Druk White Lotus School . We have raised a little funding for this school through two music festivals at the Duke of Cumberland in Henley, W Sussex.
Please visit Duke of Cumberland website.
The quickest way to fly from Mumbai is the 230 am Jet Air to Delhi and then pick up the 530 am Jet Air to Leh. So, after a final tasty fish supper with Frank Boyd and Sanjay Jadhav in Mumbai I am casually sitting in the hotel thinking of what time I need to be at the airport for the 2.50 am flight….a little voice in the back of my head says ‘check the time of the flight’. I look at my email…2.30 am…oh dear..have I blown it .Should be there an hour before?
Little hurried goodbyes and I go to pick a taxi out front, the concierge says 30 mins to the airport, oh no, I have screwed it up…….
Yellow non AC cab drives up, and I am told he is good and a regular at the hotel. I say please ask if he can get me there in 15 minutes? No problem Sir….the great universal answer.
I get in and the cabbie heads off. The streets of Mumbai are deserted now at this time, what a contrast to the constant jams, horns and bustle of the daytime. I look at the time….it is ticking but we are moving….this cabbie is great….I begin to see signs for the airports…….on we go…more signs…time ticks……
1.30 am. We pull into the domestic airport, I am going to see how strict they are on times…it is close.
Pay the taxi, he has made the journey in 15 minutes, deserves a good tip.
Airport security, I have no paper ticket just an email……a Jet Air person comes and goes to print one off….I am told 45 minutes before departure is the new last check in time..relief….I am going to Ladakh and not back to the hotel.
All goes fine from here, check in bag which will be sent straight through to Leh. On the flight and take off in time…..
Delhi is the same as when I came though to Mumbai, Marks and Spencers, W H Smiths, Early Learning Centre and the major bling brands……
Grab an early breakfast…veg curry and Indian breads with a coffee….then on to Leh flight…
Early light is in the sky as we begin to climb, the flight will be 1 hour 30 minutes.
After 30 minutes we begin to see the mountains in the early morning light and the sun begins to rise over the Himalayas.
As the sun rises and more of the land below is revealed I can see miles upon miles off brown low mountains…this is a dry land.
The approach to Leh is spectacular and the captain informs us we have a BA pilot on board for the experience. The plane snakes through mountain passes. We begin to see small settlements nestling in the valleys, green patches irrigated by the melt water that comes from high up. This melt water seems to be decreasing and there are concerns for these high, remote communities.
The plane drops and turns and we see Leh stretching below along a valley. This is quite a steep and winding descent to come into the fairly short runway….we drop down and make a last turn to line up mountains rising on each side as we make the final approach. Touch down, very powerful reverse of engines and we come to a quick stop. Impressive flying.
This is a contrast to Mumbai, the air seems thin and the temperature is cool. You can sense life is slower here. A Lama dressed in robes is on the flight reinforcing the understanding this one of the remaining areas where high level Tibetan Buddhism is the main spiritual movement. The terminal is small and we are quickly through, bag pick up just five minutes. Outside I get a taxi to take me to the guest house, called Jullay Guest House, meaning ‘Hello Guest House’. I feel decidedly chipper for no sleep for 36 hours…..
After the driver asking a few people I am dropped and a sign points up an alley to my place of rest for the next few days.
I am greeted by the owners who say ‘Jullay’ and I reply the same. I am shown to my room…large windows and nice set out with a shower room attached. Simple but comfortable….
£4 per night so can’t complain. A thermos of hot water and tea and milk are laid out on the veranda for me. I am advised….’rest for the first day…take it easy…..’
The altitude is 3600 meters and I can feel it. I have picked up from a reputable Ayurvedic doctor some pills for altitude and I take some….pour a cup of tea and take stock.
After a while I hear voices downstairs and go and check it out…a French couple are downstairs and we chat a little….they have rented a motor bike for their stay and are going to pick it up in a few minutes..I decide to go with them…
I really feel the walking…it is about 500 meters but I have to say I don’t find it easy….feeling light headed….catching breath…..I just about keep up and go see the place..best deal they say 700 rupees a day. I think I have to go lie down so turn back and rest up..more tea, keep those liquids up, it is dry here.
The population is mainly Ladakhis, Tibetans and Kashmiri and the Buddhist temple sits close to the Mosque.
There seems to be no friction with this and the sense is these communities have lived side by side here for centuries. I begin to get my bearings a little and have my first invite into a shop for tea….
Beautiful Pashminas, carpets….all hand made….the Pashminas do feel so soft but I know little of these things so ask questions and say I will return.
Most of the town seems to be involved in Tourism now, selling clothes and carpets, offering treks and white water rafting….renting motor bikes. Leh was the main trade centre between China, Kashmir and India but the border was closed to China in the 60’s. Since then the centuries old trading has stopped, with Kashmir suspending a lot of tourism and the Indian Army moving in en masse to Ladakh, money has been poured in to this region and tourism seen as the major way forward with some hydro power projects.
Some traditional selling of fruit and vegetables still goes on by farming families on the streets and a few of the old provision shops remain that the traders would use.The sun begins to set around 6 30 pm and I head back to rest some more and take more Ayurvedic Altitude pills…I am experiencing a slight headache…drink more……
Tomorrow I will venture out again and try to see how to hire a bike and then head off to visit the school and explore the surrounding areas…..I am told a lake at 5300 meters is spectacular and an azure blue if I can make that.
More pills, more tea, water…lie down to rest……the covers are thick and needed, it is getting cold here at night now and there is no heating……Mumbai seems a warmth away…..
Please see some of my photos taken in Ladakh and surrounding areas here….