A great three week mix of mountains and monasteries – and almost every day brought bright blue skies and glorious sunshine to the bright, barren landscape of Ladakh. High and very dry, I’d like to return to do more walking in this part of the world – nicknamed Little Tibet, it also has elements of Central Asia which I so loved about my few days in Pakistan’s portion of Baltistan and on my travels in Xinjiang.
Moon over Rumbak, ridges
Highlights included following the pilgrims from Himachal Pradesh around the various chapels at Alchi gonpa, the ruined palace and the old and (relatively) new gonpas in the lower Ladakhi capital of Basgo, and Spituk gonpa, perched on its rocky buttress with wonderful views out over the Indus river valley in one direction and of the airport and army base in the other!
Many a happy hour was spent mooching around the old town of Leh and strolling the two newly pedestrianised streets of the main bazaar, whilst sundown at Shanti Stupa provided super views out over the town nestled between the jagged rock ridges, the tree and field lined Indus river and the embracing mountains, snow topped, beyond. The Brazil Cafe did likewise from its roof top lounge high above the bustle of the bazaar below whilst also providing proper coffee and cheesecake.
Leh Old Town
We also coincided with the 5th Ladakh Marathon, the Naropa 2016 festival at Hemis Gonpa and the Ladakh (Tourist) Festival, which culminated in a high octane polo match where we joined the local fans cheering on the Ladakhi Scouts and Animal Husbandry teams and scampering up the step seats when the players and/or the ball came hurtling towards us. Seeing everyone dressed in their best at (or going to/from) Hemis was wonderful too.
Polo match, Leh
The week’s sightseeing at 3500m meant we were well acclimatised for our 8 day Markha valley trek. Wonderful support from our 8 strong Rimo Expeditions team – fabulous food and lots of laughs, even if our ponies did do a runner from Nimaling! Every day took us through different environments and brought us into contact with wildlife galore – blue sheep, marmots, mountain hares and the supercute mouse hares (pika) at ground level, golden eagles and lammergeier soaring above. And not forgetting the magic views from the two passes – the Ganda La (4970m) and the Kangmaru La / Kongmaru La / Gongmaru La (5200m).
Our beautiful base in Leh was the Kang Lha Chan hotel, 5 minutes stroll from the bazaar and 2 mins from the shops and eateries that line Chanspa Road. A really lovely hotel – the tranquil courtyard garden with apricot-laden tree provided shade for afternoon teas, and beers after the trek – and super staff. Highly recommended.
End of trek beers at the Kang Lha Chan Hotel, Leh
With 13 hours between flights in Delhi, we squeezed in a hot half day’s sightseeing (Delhi’s 500R foreigner entry prices to historic sights stunned us after Ladakh’s 30R norm) rounded off by a smashing Dosai Dinner at the Sarvana Bhawan South Indian Restaurant on Connaught Place…. And then the long flight home.
Dinner at Saravana Bhavan, Delhi
Big thanks to Val Pitkethly and Rimo Expeditions for organising, to Pemba Sherpa and our lovely trek team for taking such good care of us in Ladakh, and to Vijay and his staff at the Kang Lha Chan hotel.
Ladakh, I’ll be back!