Audacious title, I hear?
Having booked during October which is the off-season and pretty much end of the tourist season (after which the roads apparently close due to snow) we took advantage of some relatively cheap tickets and on one wintery morning, landed on the pretty ‘little’ Leh airport. But wait! That was just not ANY landing! Towards the last 15 minutes of the flight, the landscape had transformed from the usual white-clouds-and-blue-sky to a vivid mountaneous region with snow-capped peaks. Amidst a spellbound expression, one hurriedly pulls out the camera, at the same time remembering the air hostess’ warning not to use it, but really should anyone care? Some quick captures just to freeze that moment for the future, and then we are back staring out open-mouthed.
So yes, back to the li’l airport with an army base nearby. After collecting our luggage we hop into a small van that takes us to closer to the city centre. And then off walking into a small lane and we are directed to our haven for the next few days: Sia-la guesthouse.
Sia-la, a little gem that was discovered by chance on the internet after hours of research, since we were particular about getting a home-stay kind of accommodation. The guesthouse is synonymous of its lady owner Zarine – charming, warm and welcoming. All you have to do is ask her for tea and be assured to spend the next couple of hours in her living room sipping traditional chai and biscuits, hearing stories of the city, her ancestors and the changing youth of Ladakh. To me, Zarine signifies 3 notable characteristics I observed among the ladakhis during my brief stay – humble, hospitable & peace-loving.
Step out of Sia-la and what you will not miss in this land are:
- Bare-brown mountains and ice-blue waters
It could have been the timing, but late October and the onset of winter allows one to witness an expanse of bare brown mountains with a few snow capped peaks. Not an iota of green. A trip from Leh to Dikshit/Hunder goes through 2 gigantic mountains and a ~3kms long road that connects them. Its BREATHTAKING. It makes you appreciate nature so much more. It can just make you fall in love all over again! Oh but I digress….
And then there is the Pangong-Tso, one of the most picturesque lakes in India, with every hue of blue that you’d find on a paint catalogue! A lake that has been kind enough to be 25% Indian – the rest of which is in China – and allow travellers to experience its beauty. And if you can brave the cold, stay overnight right near the lake in a few available tents!
- Pagodas and Buddhas
You see them all along – little white structures called ‘chortens’ on the side of roads, on hilltops – just about anywhere. And the famed Sanchi stupa from where one can have a birds eye view of the city. Then, the monasteries – beautiful colourful structures that stand apart in the region. While there are the more popular ones like Shey & Thiksey, if you’re ready to rough up a ride – do not miss Sumur monastery in the Nubra Valley. Set amidst an amazingly picturesque village with out-of-nowhere greenery, this 150 year old structure provides a fascinating view of the valley, and has a storehouse of a huge collection of thangkas (buddhist silk paintings) and is surrounded by apricot and apple trees!
- Thukpas and Yak-cheese
The food is super-delicious! More than due credit given as winter sets in and consumables are hard to get (the roads close and much cant be grown in this region) so how restaurants whip up varied stuff is beyond me! A must-try are thukpas (veg/meat noodle soup) and ofcourse, yak-cheese pizzas! And on road journeys, don’t be surprised to encounter little joints that serve hot paranthas or Maggi noodles!! Maggi – SO popular even in places where local noodles should be ruling!
And while we are at it, the road from this little paradise on earth leads to Kargil-Drass and towards Srinagar….