I originally started this blog as a way to document my travels through Asia as I was coming home from Thailand. That sort of fell by the wayside due to sporadic internet access and our fairly mad travel schedule. I would still like to document the trip, so from now on expect the odd travel related post.
Perhaps my favourite place out of anywhere we went to was Leh in Ladakh, Northern India. It took us (my partner and I) a harrowing (this is not an exaggeration) 20 hour bus ride, during which my partner came down with his first India related case of food poisoning, through the mountains to get there. It was definitely worth it.
Ladakh is a strangely beautiful place. It is an alpine desert set on the feet of the himalayas. Stark is probably the best way of describing it. Until you get to the human made greenery of Leh, the only colours in the landscape are grey, yellow and brown. It has an elevation of 3524 metres, which is higher than Mount Ruapaehu so even though the mountain bus is harrowing it will probably leave you feeling better than flying in as you have time to acclimatise to the altitude. The climate is dramatically different between summer and winter, with temperatures rising to the low 30’s (Celsius)in the summer time while remaining well below freezing in the winter. Leh is inaccessible by road during the winter (October to March) so the only time to go as a tourist is in the summer. Since Leh averages 300 cloudless days a year you are nearly guaranteed good weather. We spent 10 days there at the tail end of the tourist season and could already feel the difference between the beginning and the end of our stay, with the weather beginning to get much cooler.
When you live on an island like I do, you tend to think of countries as being discreet entities that change where the borders are. Going to Ladakh was a reminder that borders are just lines on a map and that nation states are human creations which fade in and out of each other. The people of Ladakh have more in common with their Tibetan neigbours, in terms of language, religion and culture than they do with their country people further south and the unique mix of Tibetan and Indian culture is something wonderful to behold.
There are plenty of things to do there for most types of travelers: trekking, white water rafting and motorcycling for the adventurous sorts; yoga, massage and meditation for those seeking a quieter sort of thrill; and many historic palaces, temples and monastries for those interested in taking in the culture and heritage of the area. We happened to latch on to a fun group of people and ended up sharing a taxi van with six other people. This was a very affordable way to get out of Leh proper and see the monasteries plus the odd palace scattered around the area. Some of these are fairly ancient and give you a real sense of how long this area has been inhabited.
It is hard not to fall in love with the brutal beauty of Leh and Ladakh. Water and other resources are scarce and the environment is fragile. There have been a number of initiatives by local community groups to ensure that Ladakhis continue to live in harmony with their landscape, including the Ladakhi Women’s Alliance successfully lobbying for the ban of polythene bags in the area, and a structured effort to provide solar panels for Ladakhi households. If you do go to Ladakh, please think about the ways you can minimise the impact you have on the environment around you.