Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Travel Diary: May 18 - 22

Day 11 – Monday – May 18


Woke at 8.00 A.M. Had a hot bucket bath. Left the hotel at 9.00. Had a luxuriously long good breakfast of mushrooms on toast & coffee (Rs.60) at Lamayuru Restaurant.

Walked to the Shanti Stupa junction north on the outskirts of town and then took the long winding road right and round towards the series of steps cut into the side of a hill that serves as a sort of back entry directly towards the gompa above Leh palace.

The steps form a winding tiring path up the hill. I climbed them steadily with lots of breaks. On reaching the gompa, I found an Am/Can man who showed me another way down – a kind of steep dirt path between the palace and gompa that would take me directly to the palace below. I hadn’t seen this on my last visit to the palace, and including the long approach road for vehicles, would make up the third way to reach the gompa.

I looked around the gompa and the fort above it a bit. This has got to be the highest I’ve ever been to in Leh, and is probably Leh’s highest point. The views from up here are indescribable. It’s lonely up here, and windy. The gompa was closed, and I didn’t see any other tourists save that one man during my time there.

I decided to walk down from the gompa to the palace using the dirt path between them. Easier said than done. The path essentially runs down a very steep slope, zig zagging from one end of the slope to another so as to enable you to keep your balance. I started off a bit shaky at first because of the height and the slipperiness, but made it down to the palace entrance, then climbed down from the palace into Leh town, following the drain and moving between houses as before.

I met P at the shake place, and we walked to the Tourist Information Centre to get directions to the Snow Leopard Conservancy office, from where we hoped to get details about the Markha valley trek. They drew it out for us on a map.

As we walked to the office, I realized for the first time today hot it was. My back was soaked. It’s probably the first time I’ve ever sweated since arriving in Leh, and possibly the first warm day of the year. There was no wind at all today, come to think of it, and even a few minutes in the sun were enough to make you want to get back in the shade, where the temperature dropped dramatically.

Still, for all our efforts searching for the office, and finding it, no one seemed to be in. We made plans to visit tomorrow, and I walked to the SBI ATM, only one of two ATM's in town, and where lines during the daytime are really long. It’s best to go there early in the morning or late at night.

I chilled at the hotel, had a shave, and then went to see P & T. We go to Summer Harvest Restaurant, a pretty expensive place. Still, the portions of food were generous. I had a chicken biryani (Rs. 110) which was very substantial with egg and a lot of chicken so I couldn’t complain. I wasn’t able to finish all the rice unfortunately.

I went back to P & T’s place after dinner and drank vodka with Miranda and Sprite, watching Office Space and the CSK vs KKR IPL match side by side.

I went back to my hotel at just before 12.00, wary of the street dogs on the two minute walk to my hotel. The dogs here are really shaggy – they seem to be covered with a mountain of fur. I noticed it wasn’t cold outside, even for this time of night. I didn’t need my gloves or scarf or sweater. Left the monkey cap on though.

Day 12 – Tuesday – May 19

Awoke late today – 11.00 A.M. The hotel now has running hot water so I had a hot shower today for the first time in 12 days. Went to Lamayuru Restaurant for brunch at 12.30. Had a paneer mushroom with rotis (Rs. 70).

Walked to the SLC office again. They were in this time. Very friendly people. They gave me details of the trek and a tour organiser who could arrange homestays along the way.

I walked up to the Shanti Stupa junction again and took a left this time to go to the Hall of Fame museum. I was sure this road would lead me there. The walk went on for at least four kilometers. Most of it took me past army barracks and buildings on my right.

A section of the army structures are built against a mountain which seems to have sand running up almost the entire length of it. It was very windy in some parts along the road, creating sandstorms that I had to pass through or stop for occasionally.

The Hall of Fame museum was nice. The three rooms to the left are dedicated to Ladakhi history, culture, flora, fauna, and industry.

The centre room contains a large display of the important Ladakhi mountain passes, with information on some of the key personnel involved in helping to capture them.

The three room to the right contain information and displays about the air force and their role in Ladakh - like the 114 helicopter squad that’s responsible for airdropping supplies to soldiers at high altitudes.

The two rooms on the first floor contain information on the army’s presence in Siachen and the special equipment used by soldiers there - like their clothes, boots (which are really shoes within shoes), supplies, and pictures of them performing their duties.

The walk back to Leh town was mostly the same way, only uphill, but I took a right turn about 15-20 minutes before coming to the Shanti Stupa junction through a village like area. I thought it would be an interesting detour back into town, and I wasn’t mistaken.

The detour took me past some beautiful two-storey village bungalows with large green lawns, yards and pastures; then guesthouses and finally taking me to Fort road, where all the best restaurants are and where P & T stay, my hotel being on the road next to it and meeting it at the taxi stand junction.

I rested at my hotel for a while. It’s definitely cold today, more so compared to yesterday’s heat. I then walked to the tour organizer I was recommended earlier, who gave me additional details about the trek.

I went to P & T’s next. Drank a vodka and pineapple juice – it had quite a kick – and watched Species. We went to Happy World restaurant for dinner, where I tried Italian food for the first time. I had a Pico chicken lasagna. It was just chicken baked in white sauce, which I’ve had before, but in layers. A bit boring.

Went straight to bed afterwards. Quite tired, and in no mood for more alcohol.

Day 13 – Wednesday – May 20

Woke a little after 9.00 A.M. Had breakfast at Gesmo Restaurant. A mushroom omlette and coffee (Rs. 50). Then back to the hotel for a hot shower – real nice.

The guys and I decided that we’d meet at 11.30 at my hotel. P showed up, and we decided to join a family going to Pangong Tso lake tomorrow.

We then walked around, and went back to their hotel where I borrowed a book to read – Mark Tully’s India in Slow Motion. We went looking for lunch at 1.30 - Gesmo again – where I had a yak cheese chicken sandwich with chips and salad (Rs.80).

We went to see a movie at 3.00 P.M at the Women’s Alliance of Ladakh – Ancient Futures: Learning from Ladakh – based on the book by Helena Norberg-Hodge.

Went back to the hotel to read for a while, and then to P & T’s at 6.30, where I watched a bit of the RR vs KKR match. We went to the newly opened Dreamland Restaurant for dinner, where I tried Kashmiri food for the first time - Rogan Josh and rotis (Rs. 100). The mutton had a distinctive taste I’m not used to in the mutton I usually eat. It’s not my favourite kind.

I got a water refill and went back to get a good night’s sleep. We’re supposed to meet at 6.20 A.M tomorrow for the lake trip.

Day 14 – Thursday – May 21
Leh/Pangong Tso

Met P at 6.20 today. We left at 6.45 A.M in a jeep with the Indian family we’re sharing costs with. A husband, wife, and their son who seemed to be around six or seven.

We climbed up into the mountains south east of Leh and crossed the world’s third highest motorable road – Chang La. On the other side, we breaked for breakfast at 10.30 at Tangtse village, where we had paranthas and salty tea (Rs. 40). Pangong Tso lake is a 40 km drive from the village, through desert like land where we saw a few wild asses.

The lake is beautiful, and large. The different shades of blue were the first thing that struck me about it. That, and it’s size. We couldn’t see the end of it, and I’m told most of it lies in China. It’s bordered by mountains for the most part, and the approach road that we drove on only took us so far. There’s a small army encampment at the lake, it being a sensitive area, and all visitors require permits.

We got out of the vehicle and spent about a half hour at the lake, just walking around it’s shore and taking pictures. There were other visitors as well – a lot of package tourists in jeeps and vans. I saw a few gulls over the water, which was cold. The lake area itself seemed to be colder than Leh, and this didn’t seem like the time to picnic there.

We drove back to Leh, reaching it at 5.30 P.M. The drive was uneventful both ways, and the trip cost us 1,100 per person.

Back at Leh, I freshened up and met the guys for dinner. We went to Budshah Inn Restaurant, the same place we went to on our first night here. I had a chicken tikka and rice (Rs. 170) and a bit of the gravy from the chicken mughlai (sweetish) and chicken tikka masala (stronger) that my friends ordered, though I still felt a bit hungry. The chicken tikka is sure not enough for Rs.150.

Day 15 – Friday – May 22

Woke at 10.00 A.M. Breakfast at Lamayuru again – coffee, beans, mushrooms and French toast (Rs.50). Very filling but the mushrooms were in the bean sauce – I prefer my mushrooms dry.

I caught a bus to Spituk, a town just outside Leh, about a half hour’s journey. My destination was the monastery. The bus dropped me at what seemed to be a real isolated place. I found and walked up the approach road to Spituk monastery, where I took a lot of pictures. A separate approach road leads to a large Buddha statue above the monastery.

I walked back down, not sure where the bus stop was, and decided to walk to Spituk town. Luckily, I saw a bus approaching from the opposite direction, flagged it down, and returned to Leh, where I hit the ATM, and rested at the hotel.

I had lunch at Tenzin Dickey Tibetan Restaurant on Fort Road at 3.00 P.M – fried veg cheese momos (Rs.60) & Sorig Tea (Rs.20). Then spent a little time on the internet.

I met P & T for dinner. We went to a newly opened place again – Bon Appetit restaurant. A lot of activity seems to be taking place this week. Restaurants long dormant have been lifting their shutters and the number of visitors has been increasing. I guess businesses are anticipating the opening of the Manali–Leh road. That should bring in most of the tourists.

Anyway, I tried Italian food again. I had the Pasta Napolitana. Not very good and boring as well. I should stay off Italian food for a while. Or at least Italian food made by Indians in India. We then went to a bar nearby. I had a 60 ml of rum (Rs. 30) and a pepsi, watched the IPLK semi final – DC vs DD. Adam Gilchrist can bat!

Went to bed at 11.30.


No comments:

Post a Comment