31-Jul-2008

Ladakh - Fact Sheet

When to go – July and August have the best weather. Though they are also the peak tourist seasons and hence require flight and hotel bookings to be done atleast a month in advance.

How to get there – (a) fly to Leh (b) fly to Srinagar and travel by road to Leh (c) travel from Manali to Leh. This route was voted the best road journey in India by Outlook Traveller’s mag. We took option (a) and flew down (Note – sit on the left side of the plane for the best views)

Stay and travel – Get in touch with a travel agent who will fix up your itinerary, book your stay, fix your jeep and get your permits for places that require one. We used Plan Himalayas (good guys) run by Abdul Qayoom – 94198 15333

High Altitude Sickness – Yeah, it exists. We all took Diamox as per our travel agent’s reco. Then happily climbed Shanti Stupa on the evening we landed, travelled to a couple of monasteries the next day. On day 4, I had the mother of all headaches. More diamox and plenty of water helped solve the problem. Met several people who had to be given oxygen. Note – (a) take Diamox after consulting with your travel agent/doc (b) take rest on the first day and do some mild travelling on the next. High Altitude sickness does not dramatically hit you when you land. It creeps up on you unawares, usually in the first 36 hours. (c) drink plenty of water. I don’t know how it helps, but it really really helps.

Weather – is very strange. It was hot in the day for most part. It was cold enough in the night to wear thermals in some places. So – (a) carry long sleeved cotton clothes for the day. Keep a jacket handy in case the weather suddenly drops (b) carry woollens for the night (c) gather up all your sunscreen, chapsticks and moisturiser and then go out and buy somewhere (I finished a big jar of Nivea Crème in just ten days). It is really dry (d) pack your cap and sunglasses.

Other stuff to carry – (a) Money. Credit cards not popular. Saw only one ATM in Leh (b) bedsheets/sleeping bags - most places had quilts that definitely made me want to put another layer between me and it (c) mineral water. Usually available everywhere, but sometimes the road trips are long and you are so dehydrated your consumption goes up (d) food is not great in some places. Carry along ready – to – eat foods if you are very particular. In Tso Moriri and Tso Kar, food is served in the camps where you stay at ridiculously high prices (250 Rs for a meal of dal, rice, French fries and veggies). If you are on a budget, better to carry food along for these days (e) wet wipes – some places too cold to even wash your face (f) torch lights – most places switch off electricity in the nights (g) lots of music CDs if you are on a road trip (h) eye drops and nasal drops. Eyes tend to water if you remove your sunglasses. Noses get blocked because of the desert dust.

Random stuff to remember – (a) Take guides for monasteries. (b) non-veg food not too good. Only veg food available outside of Leh. (c) hand baggage not allowed in the return flight from Leh. Only cameras or women’s purses allowed.

What to do – We did a road trip since it was the first time for all of us. Treks are also recommended though walking in this altitude would require some acclimatisation. Broad categories of places to visit – (a) lakes – Tso Moriri is the most stunning of all. And has a stunning array of birds in and around it. Tso Kar is a stop over on the way to Leh from Tso Moriri. Pangong is however the most popular since part of it falls into Tibet and everyone loves to say that they saw China. (b) Monasteries – unless you have a good context of Buddhism, most of them are wasted trips without a guide. Hemis was a bit dilapidated but had a good museum (with some excellent bloopers – later on that). Thikse, Lamayaru all feel the same without a guide. Shey Palace was again dilapidated. Stok Palace is where the current generation of the deposed Royal family lives. Some interesting exhibits available. Very nice rooftop café there. Alchi was awesome even without a guide but do get one (c) valleys – we saw Nubra. Stunning place. Did not make it to Dah-Anu which is a cradle of Indo-Iranian faces (d) white water rafting and cycling - did not do these but plenty of opportunities available

To shop – usual touristy emporiums run by Kashmiris exist. Pashmina sweaters and shawls are famous and require some shopping around. Tons of Tibetan Refugee markets where you can pick up curios. I also liked the normal shops in Leh’s main market where the populace of Leh shops. Some decently priced smart sweaters and clothes available if you can fit into small clothes.

Recommended reads – Ok, I really did not read any books but wish I had read something on Tantric Buddhism. Carry literature on Ladakh birds. It is good fun to identify some of them. Bookshops in Leh have decent stock of books on Ladakh if you are particular.

30-Jul-2008

Post holiday blues

Being back from a long and awesome holiday is the perfect recipe for getting post-holiday blues. It has been less than twenty four hours since I stepped back into Mumbai from the pristine mountains of Ladakh. I am already choking at the idea of going back to work, getting my house organised, sorting out my mail and reconnecting with the outside world.

Ah, what fun it is to have no clue if your government survived or not. And to find out two days later at a remote town called Tangste where the waiters kindly interrupt their watching of ‘KavyAnjali’ soap on Star Utsav to update us on national affairs.

Imagine bursting into spasms of laughter. Having to hold your stomach since your side is aching. And at what would be considered a silly joke in normal life.

Just hanging around in the middle of a cold desert while your driver patiently stalks a black necked crane for half an hour with your camera. And then comes back and sheepishly informs you that he forgot to put the camera in zoom mode. When you have nothing to do and nowhere to go, time really does not matter.

Stopping at roadside streams to wade through the icy cold water, running down steep sand dunes, drinking endless cups of tea, having bumpy rides on Bactrian camels, waking up at six every morning and not being cranky from lack of sleep, looking at the Tso Moriri lake and wondering exactly how nature managed to achieve that particular blue of the waters and the red of the barren mountains.

You wonder how your motley gang of five will get along, everyone not having met atleast one person in the gang before. Then things just fall into place and countless hours are spent in cracking wise remarks, berating each others taste in music, fighting about who will sit in the last seat at the back, swapping stories about life back home, getting tons of information on tea, cars, cameras and then suddenly bursting into spasms of laughter…

I love it when life temporarily presses a pause button and just lets you be. And sweetly throws you with a bunch of people, who for all their madness are just the type you wanted to be with.