I had arrived in Leh on the evening of May 10th, 2009, and decided to explore Leh palace on the morning of the 11th. My guesthouse being way out of town meant that I had to walk all the way to town first and then somehow find my way to the palace.
Now, my research warned me about avoiding any physical exertion during my first few days in Ladakh, due to oxygen deprivation, but since I had arrived via the Srinagar-Leh highway, which was supposed to help you acclimatise, and I didn't feel any high altitude effects the previous evening and night, I thought I was good to go. Big mistake. I should have rested at least another day or two.
So after breakfast at a restaurant mid-way, I made my way into town, looking for a path to the palace, which I soon found.
Pretty steep eh?
As I climbed up, I realised I was running out of breath quickly. Every 10 steps I took seemed to leave me with the same exhaustion that running a 100 metre dash would at a lower altitude. I had to take numerous breaks just to get enough energy for the next few steps. So climbing up what looked like a short hill ended up taking a really long time. I did utilise my breaks to take lots of pics along the way though.
There was Munshi house about halfway up the hill, in the process of being restored.
There were a lot of divergent paths around here, but I didn't bother exploring too much. I was getting tired, and figured that all the paths could be used to get to the palace as long as you kept heading upwards.
I got an excellent view of the old part of the town from behind a rock wall a little further up.
Did you notice the crowded open ground in the photo above? Here's a closer look at the action.
It must have been a political rally, what with elections being only 2 days away. I can make out political posters near the top left of the photo. My own finger had alreday been inked back in Mumbai on April 30 of course.
Shifting my view right along the panorama that is Leh, the old town gave way to the newer, posher part of town.
Here's a closer look at the burbs. A lot of quiet homestays & guesthouses are situated here. Accommodation is really cheap, at Rs 200-300 a night to begin with.
I was quite high up now and had a clear view of Shanti Stupa, that holy Ladakhi landmark built by the Japanese, lying on the outskirts of Leh, pretty close to my guesthouse. I'd be climbing up there in a week's time.
I won't bore you with descriptions of the hills and mountains surrounding the town; after all, what can I say about sights like these?
I reached the top of the hill soon after, and had to scramble around this little stupa to get to the palace.
I was amazed looking at its sheer walls. This is truly a massive structure, built in the 17th century.
I was at the side of the place, at its west end. I made my way around to the front, walking east, simply content to spend some time here. I noticed these lights set up along the palace front, used to light up the palace at night.
I turned a corner again, coming to the palace's east side, and there was the main entrance, with a separate approach road for vehicles leading right up to it. The palace looked really grand from this end too.
So I went inside after a short rest. There wasn't an entry fee for Indian nationals. Upon entering, I noticed a lot of restoration work happening, some of which made for good photography.
The palace grounds brought up many an interesting sight.
Check out the two types of doors that I saw around the palace, below. The first one is a typical Ladakhi front door also found at people's homes. Note the garnishing above it.
And this is the typical monastery (gompa) door. The palace had its own little gompa or prayer room within its premises. This was the first time I saw one, even though the gompa was closed. I would be visiting many other gompas with similar doors over the next two weeks.
There was an exhibition on the archaeological heritage of Ladakh, and restoration projects across Kashmir, in one the palace's inner rooms, but photography wasn't allowed. I'm lucky I caught the exhibition at all, there being no signs around, and the palace being such a maze.
I left soon after, both thirsty and exhausted. I didn't each much for lunch or dinner that day, and it would be a while before I got my appetite back. An entire account of my first few days in Ladakh can be read here.
Let me leave you with one last really high-up picture of the old town from atop the palace. Striking, isn't it?
Do you have any interesting Ladakh experiences? Share them in the comments section.