The Leh in Ladakh — concluding crimsons
I think one of the things I will miss the most on this trip of mine is sitting in front of the massive snow-clad mountains on the terrace and writing about the things that come to my head. The sun has set but its rays remain. The flags unsuccessfully flutter. I say unsuccessfully cos they don’t go anywhere. Come back once the wind has had its turn. There are some clouds. Some light grey and some pure white. A huge one to my left. I always found clouds fascinating. It was like their shape and size were so mysterious. Probably cos I had not learnt that much about them yet they are like this strange thing that goes over our head every time and no one asks anything about it. We are all just content that this is a part of our world. Yes, this random writing in front of the snow-clad mountains, I will miss.
There is a lot about Ladakh that I had had in my mind. An image built through the years thanks to the pictures on the internet, and the stories from other people. The tough roads, the roads so tough, the road trips on the tough roads, the bike rides on the tough long roads. You won’t find anything else different in the previous line. Because in hindsight, that is what I had known of Ladakh. Opens for 2 months in the year, road trip (also read as RE and bullets only), and yes yes it is also beautiful. But as I stayed here for the last 2 weeks, there is so much more to this place.
Let us start with the obvious. The road trip. Unbelievably amazing roads. I do not think I have seen such amazing well-done roads in the cities across the world as much as I saw in Ladakh and thanks to the BRO. These roads have survived seasons, rains, landslides, and scorching summer and they are so perfect, not a pothole in stretches of kilometers. And to imagine the route. The roads I went on, were through daunting massive mountains, long stretches of desert, and villages with their attachment to older times. For a normal human like me, if I can be amazed at the magnificent part of this road construction, it has to be an engineering marvel. There, yes the roads are the absolute ones you would want to go on for a road trip. Everything else would be a waste of your time. I have fallen into that. I prefer two-wheelers to four. Hence most of my road trips in Ladakh were in a gearless Access 125 (5159 ). Yes, it is doable and you don’t have to give up on this amazing feel of a bike trip because you don’t have a geared bike and no, you don’t need to only have a RE or Himalayan.
What a lot of my friends did not tell me when they exclaimed ‘Ooh Ladakh trip, road trip, tough roads, macho man’ was the ‘what’ made these road trips even more amazing was the view. What can I say? One of the few times the vocab So far in the last 2 weeks, I have been to Dress, Kargil, Lamayuru, Hanle, Mahe, Khardung la, within Leh, Alchi, Cholgamsar, Hemis, Thiksey, Basgo, Sangam. And each one of these has been a tremendous experience in itself. Forget each one, each hour or each turn on each of these roads was so magnificent that it invokes the poet in me. Each one. And no I can’t do justice to speaking about them in a short blog. But what it did make me realise was that Ladakh had so much to offer. From the mountains to enchanting clouds, to the mighty Indus (oh my god what a beauty), to the patches of green long trees. There are just so many varieties. I saw colorful mountains, a dirty brown Indus, long stretches of no human at all (my favorite part), sandstorms, huge winds, swirling sandstorms, rainbow clouds, apricots just hanging there, monasteries, monasteries, and monasteries. There was just SO much to offer.
If you are familiar with Ladakh and have been here before, you will see m list does not have the usual ones cited as tourist places as of 2022. I got lucky there. With a bike in my hand and a roaring engine, I stepped away from the usual and went into the not-so-common ones. And that is how I got lucky to be able to have a whole Basgo tour to myself. The exploration. Or the long stretches of 10-hour rides to Hanley, hardly anyone else. I skipped the lakes. I do have a pinch of regret. But all other places I went, made up for it. And that is what was nice. Exploring all these not-often-seen places, gave me a whole different taste of Ladakh. It is not just the world’s highest motorable road(then) or the turquoise lake. Ladakh was no longer a tough road. It is a whole different place, a one I have never been to before.
Having said that, I did take a ride to Khardung la. The 2nd highest motorable road as of today. Cliched as it is. I wanted to have that standard pic taken. What can be the big deal? Everyone does it. I have gone on mountain passes before. I have gone down long and undefined roads before. But that is not the case. Khardung la tested my riding skills, my ability to identify my body and its signs, and definitely my mental state. More about it in another blog. For like I said, every place here, warrants a blog.
And how can I not mention the people here? What made my stay so special foremost was my homestay folks. I don’t think I would have cherished this place so much without the long chat with aunty where she took me through the history, or the daughter lending me her book(which I was not able to finish), or my good friend Wong, being much too hospitable all the time. This felt like a ‘home’ stay truly. Oh yes, their 3 cats whenever came to me and their dog, Lucky, who managed to fill the small gap I had in my heart of having left my Juno behind. From Lucky, I learnt, that all dogs judge you :D . It was not just Wong and his family, across all places in Ladakh, the people are friendly and polite. Hospitality seems to be in their nature and culture and one that they are proud of. The monasteries and museums and houses produce display their heritage. I am almost sure that is what got me closer to Ladakh because I was not only seeing it from how beautiful it looks but also from all that it has endured for centuries. The museum in the heart of Leh boasted about Leadakh’s evolution for the last millennia. The Basgo palace where I had the privilege of being the only tourist was a 10th-century monastery. Just imagine the history that runs through its walls. Or even the very well-maintained monastery at Alchi. The paintings and the walls are standing for centuries. Loom closer, you will also find twigs on the walls. These inch-long twigs are not just a few hundred years old. They are from thousands of years ago.
Evolution and anthropology have always fascinated me. Buildings that stand the test of time. Trees that feel like the ol’ grandpa. Nothing ever beats that.
So today as I sit here in my final evening at Ladakh, I don’t know if I will return here. In some ways, I hope I do not. Because tourists have ruined this place in all ways possible. From throwing garbage to consumerism overtaking the culture, to not respecting monks because, ‘well do you know who the frock I am’
and even if I don’t do any of these, I know in some way I am harming this beautiful place. Tourism, pros, and cons will always exist.
But all that part aside, the sky has turned crimson and the big cloud to my left remains. The other clouds have moved on as I must too. If there is a power above all humankind, may Ladakh continue to remain as magnanimous and embracing as ever.