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Srinagar to Leh


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After some consideration, we settled on making the 450 km trip from Srinagar to Leh in two ten hour days in a crammed “shared” jeep. After commandeering the front two seats for ourselves (three in the front) we set our on the twisty curvy road over a pass of 3529m (11578 ft) to our overnight spot of Kargil.
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View of the road crawling out of the Kashmir Valley
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Meghan gets her passport Checked at on one of the numerous checkpoints
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Tall snow banks on the road to Kargil
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Kargil

After an evening of second hand clothing shopping and searching for a vegetarian meal in a meat loving Muslim town we embarked for the second leg of the journey the next morning. This leg we found ourselves traversing high arid hills, surrounded by snowcapped jagged peaks as we pressed further and further into the Buddhist ex-kingdom of Ladakh. Ladakh is a high altitude desert with an average of 300 days of sunshine a year and precipitation levels nearing that of the Sahara! Today, the high point was over Fortu La at 4147 m (13605 ft) before descending into the Indus River Valley and the capital of Ladakh, Leh.

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We left behind the green of Kashmir for the arid hills of Ladakh
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The Road climbing to the mountain pass
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Green irrigated pastures hugged closely to small villages lining the Indus River

Ladakh is home to one of the last undisturbed Tantric Buddhist societies on earth, with a culture and people more related to Tibet then India, this area is truly a distinctive corner of India. We arrived in time for the much visited Tse-Chu festival celebrated at the Hemis Gompa (Monastery), an hour bus journey from Leh. This festival celebrates the birthday of Padmasambhava, an important Buddhist teacher of the 8th century who was elevated to that of the “Second Buddha” The main attraction was the masked dances performed by the monks.

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Dancers making their way out of the temple, surrounded by merrymakers.
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Gives you an idea of how many people turned out.
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Children taking in the view from above
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Traditionally dressed Ladakhi women

The next few days we would find our selves just relishing the quite streets, friendly and kind people of Leh. Although not short on tourism (the main center of Leh is home to a quiet large Tourist Zone area) the laid back feeling of the mountain people makes it feel not so oppressive and the noise level on the streets is in stark comparison to anywhere else we know in India!

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Yes, this is the view from our room

We arranged a jeep tour with 4 other people (Kasha whom we stayed with in Srinagar, Julia from France, Marc from the UK and Juno from S.Korea) and headed out on a trip to the Nubra Valley. Our first day took us over the mountain pass of Khardung La at 5602m (18,380 feet!) and touted as “World’s Highest Motorable Pass”. Again, like world highest lake in Nepal, there is some question to this validity. Never the less, 5602m is really high and the views and lack of oxygen was something else!
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The Nubra Valley crew sucking wind at the top of the pass
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Tri colored Stupas infront of “stupadly” good looking couloirs
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We saw Pashmina goats on the way down the pass… The tuft of hair under the chin is the source of the super soft Pashmina wool
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Switching up the snow covered pass

Nubra Valley stretches north to the Pakistan border and is home to the Siachen glacier where a notable battle took place between India and Pakistan and today is still heavily disputed. I read that India spends about 1 million dollars a day to station soldiers in the Nubra valley and that more have died from winter exposure or falling in glacier crevasses then in combat. The toll on the environment and limited water supply is a whole other story. As for tourism, foreigners must obtain special permits and are restricted to visit only a few villages. After descending from the pass we spent the night in the village of Hunder at the west end of the Ladahki sand dunes. Two humped camels, descendents from the era of the silk route, attract tourists (mainly domestic) for a quick jaunt around the dunes. Buddhism is fully evident everywhere and prayer flags , mani walls, and white washed Gompas (Buddhist Temples) decorate the hills side.
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Sand dunes in an afternoon dust storm
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Mani wall and white washed stupas, Hunder
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One of the thousands of engraved stones making up the Mani Wall.

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My humps, my humps, my lovely little lumps
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Am I a baby two humper or an ostrich?!

Peter set off on an afternoon hike with Juno that climbed up above Hunder. Here many old ruins were found including tow temples and a decaying fort.
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Stone staircase leading up to one of the hillside temples.
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Statues of Buddha found in the small and unoccupied temple
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Hilltop fort

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Panoramic view of the Nubra Valley

In our next stop in the village of Diskit is the 17th century Diskit Gompa The monastery is home to 140 monks and some 16 or so novice monks. The buildings surrounding the gompa appear to just rest on an out cropping of rock and is built in traditional Tibetan style.
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Diskit Gompa, just holding on
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Walking up the many steps around the gompa
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Young monk looking over Diskit
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The prayer hall in which the monks will sit and chant mantras.
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Pretty common scene, these large prayer wheels were found through out most villages

In Sumur, we visited the Samstemling Gompa, where we found much hustle and bustle in preparing for the Dalai Lama’s visit on the 21th of July. Young monks were busily painting window sills and banisters, while women from the village were sewing brightly colored flags. Elders walked around in jubilance monitoring the progress. The road leading up to the monastery was being upgraded, and in traditional Ladaki culture both women and men come out to help. Young children would either sleep or play near by while their mothers worked side by side with the men. We are told that the Dalai Lama last visited in 2003, and would be making the journey over the 5602m pass in a helicopter!
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Notice baby sleeping in foreground
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View of Nubra valley from the gompa in Sumur
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Valley View as we made our way back over the pass
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View of Leh from Khardung La

After our trip to the Nubra valley we returned to the Dorje Guest house were we plan to spend at least another two weeks exploring Leh and Ladakh.

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View From Dorje Guesthouse

Posted by pmunson 22:41 Archived in India

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