Heaven Descended, A Week In Ladakh

Heaven is supposed to be that ethereal place which has the best and unreal landscape, kind and amazing people, great food and lots of peace. That is exactly what Ladakh is!

This area besides the lake was made famous by the movie "3 Idiots".
This area besides the lake was made famous by the movie “3 Idiots”.

On being asked to share my Ladakh experience with this feature, I began to pen my thoughts. I pondered over an appropriate adjective as a title for this article hoping that it would do justice to the place that had captivated my spirit in abundance. Would you believe me if I mention that I googled ‘adjectives for Ladakh’?  Many words popped up on my screen – mesmerizing, magical, ethereal, breathtaking; but none of them seemed enough. These words paled in comparison to the unfathomable experience that I and my other half had had just over a period of few days. What a delightful place this was and then it struck me- keep it simple – Heaven on Earth! Nothing can describe it better. The images that I have conjured up of heaven in my mind, is of this ethereal place which has the beautiful, surreal landscape, kind and amazing people, food to die for, and lots of peace. And, that is exactly what Ladakh is!

Where else would you find snow covered mountains co existing with sand dunes, hot springs at one end and a cold blue lake at another?

There were times when we wanted to sit down and soak in the surroundings. We were so taken by this enchanting place that we often forgot to click pictures. That is the beauty called Ladakh! Back from just eight days in Ladakh, we couldn’t get enough of it and are planning to return. The one thing we would do differently perhaps, is travel by road.

There are some absolute must-haves and must-dos in Ladakh:

  • Guest house or home stay: they actually become your extended home. I had an upset stomach one day and they made khichdi for me!
  • Interact with the locals: they love talking to you and getting to know you better and they are an absolute delight to talk to.
  • A bike ride: if not for a long trip at least around Leh for 50-70 odd kilometres. The drive in the midst of mountains will take you a different world.
  • Tibetan cuisine in Leh: Some of the best momos, thukpa, sabagleb, the tastes of which will linger in your mouth for quite some time
  • And finally don’t miss – the chirping of birds in the morning, the absolute silence of the surroundings, and the star-studded night sky – you will miss these when you are back in a heavily populated and polluted city like Delhi.
These double-humped Bactrian camels are well equipped to handle the harsh weather and terrain of the region.
These double-humped Bactrian camels are well equipped to handle the harsh weather and terrain of the region.

Riding the bike on the Leh-Srinagar Highway bike till Alchi village (70 km from Leh) is an experience of a lifetime. The entire road is surrounded by picturesque views on either side. Miles and miles of no man’s land, just crazy wind and a Royal Enfield (Or as we Punjabis call it – Ride a Buultt!!)

I am not a religious person per se but the peace and beauty of the monasteries in Ladakh leave you spell bound. The Shanti Stupa situated on top of a hill gives a beautiful 360 degree view of the city of Leh.

The Khardungla top, at 18,380 feet, is the highest motorable road in the world. What is incredible is that even during the peak of winters, the Indian army works 24*7 to keep this road completely functional as this is the only way to connect Leh with the rest of Nubra Valley which is quite close to the Line of Control (LOC).

[blockquote]The sand dunes and the double humped camels at Nubra valley. You cannot miss the camel safari while in Ladakh. And the camels are just so cute with their innocent faces and lovely names  The camel I rode was named Shorabhi.. What a coincidence! Completely mesmerizing is the sight of the sand dunes right next to the snow clad mountains.[/blockquote]
Tibetan Butter Tea is a local staple, but takes some getting used to.
Tibetan Butter Tea is a local staple, but takes some getting used to.

We drove for around 80 km beyond Nubra valley along the river Shyok to the beautiful village of Turtuk. It is one of the last villages before the LOC; in fact before 1971, it was in Pakistan. The Indian army took Turtuk under their control during the 1971 war to protect the Nubra valley. Since 2010 civilians are being allowed to visit Turtuk. The lifestyle and features of the people of Turtuk is completely different from the rest of Ladakh. The sharp featured women and kids in this lush green village are really eye-catching. Spend a night at a home stay right in the village if you happen to visit -it’s an experience of a lifetime!

Pangong lake looks straight out of a painting, as if someone has sketched these perfect mountains. How can something be so flawless? This 134 km long lake runs from India to China which is just around 45 km from where the Pangong campsites are located. This place soared in popularity after the movie ‘3 Idiots’ was shot here. The place where the last scene of 3 idiots was shot, where Kareena Kapoor comes riding a scooty towards Aamir Khan, brought back some fun filled memories of the movie that I watched with my other half.

Food in Ladakh

Being a foodie, how can I not talk about the food here? While in Ladakh, you absolutely have to taste the Ladakhi tea (also called as Butter tea) that is made from a particular kind of tea leaves, and is repeatedly churned with milk in a special vessel to bring out the flavours. A perfect winter drink, no one really stops at one. Let’s not forget the famous Thukpa, a wonderful broth made with stock and assorted vegetables and served over egg noodles, a regular in Ladakhi households during winters.

Pangong Lake offers a breathtaking view of a water body flanked by rugged mountains.
Pangong Lake offers a breathtaking view of a water body flanked by rugged mountains.

And finally Sabagleb – bread stuffed with chicken or mutton and bursting with flavours at each bite. You will also find excellent momos (delicious dumplings stuffed with meat and often served with Thukpa) here. I wonder if I will be able to enjoy momos in Delhi for some time to come after having had them in Ladakh!

Ladakh in summers is full of fresh fruits. Perfect juicy little apples and apricots crowd the trees in the backyards of most houses here and the locals would be happy to pluck some for you!

That’s majorly what we could cover in a week. But next time, we want to visit the Tsomoriri lake (which apparently is prettier than Pangong lake), Zanskar river, Kargil/ Drass and the Panamik hot springs. We actually want to do a full road trip from Manali to Leh and then back from Leh to Srinagar. Can’t wait already!