Leh'ed Again

Finally I made it to Leh again. This time with Disha. It was my third time in last 4 years. I could not go last year because I was busy doing other things e.g. my engagement and marriage :) This year also I was almost about to miss it - first already quite a bit of holidaying - New York in May and home in July, and then cloud burst in Leh on Aug 6 which caused lot of devastation there. But then somehow I managed to get in touch with Dawa (a friend in Leh) and came to know that things were really fine in Leh. That was very relieving and encouraging. I decided to not let it go this time, and booked our air tickets for Leh for the last week of September, just before our marriage anniversary :)

Disha was super excited when she saw Himalayas from the top, in our Delhi to Leh flight. It's an amazing sight actually. Mountains feel so close, and then you realize some of these peaks are 7k+ meters high, which doesn't leave a lot of gap if your plane is flying at around 9-10k meters altitude. From the top, snow looks like as if someone has spilled milk over these mountains and the sun seems powerless as it cannot melt the snow even though there are no clouds, of water vapor or pollution, standing between its fury and the snow.

I have kind of gotten used to Leh's landscape. But if it's your first time and you're flying to Leh, the moment you reach there, it feels like you have landed on a different planet altogether. You see mountains of all different colors all around you - all made of different types of rock with some of them donning a white cap of snow. A huge plain at an altitude of 3500m, supporting these mountains. Lots of empty spaces. Dry winds. Disha was awe-inspired and even more excited :-)

We took a cab to Oriental Guest House in Changspa - a place run by Dawa and his family. Dawa and his family have become an essential part of my Ladakh trips now. They are amazing people. Very hard working, still always cheerful, warm, no pretense and always smiling. I love staying with this family. I feel at home. I can connect to anyone and have a hearty discussion about simple things in life. The guest house is also placed well - far enough from the main market to ensure peaceful stay, but still not very far - just 15-20 min walk. Also, it's located just below Shanti Stup, a place I cherish a lot.

A short drive of 15-20 min from the airport and I was in that familiar house once again. Always cheerful Phuntsok, Dawa's sister who pretty much manages everything in the guest house, was very happy to see us. She immediately offered us the tea. Dawa's father greeted us with his warm smile and asked about our wellness. We felt at home. We were taken to our room directly with no formalities (we did them later at our own convenience). Disha liked the room and was pleasantly surprised actually. She thought I was taking her to some old house with mud walls and old cots :) On the contrary the room was tastefully decorated and featured wooden flooring, warm bedding and amazing views.

We took first 2 days easy as is advised when you go 3500 m up directly, to avoid AMS. First day we went to the main market in the evening, an easy stroll. Next day evening we visited Shanti Stupa - 500 stairs up. Believe me 500 stairs at an altitude of 3.5k are much harder than 500 stairs at normal altitude. But Shanti Stupa is definitely worth those 500 stairs or even more. It embodies the spirit of Ladakh, peace, Buddhism, and brotherhood. It's hard to explain. You feel all alone there no matter how many people are there. All alone, but still close to everyone - close to humanity. It looks ethereal in the evening, when the sun is dim and the wind is flowing - just before the sunset. We had utterly gratifying time there. Only thing that I disliked this time was the railings that they have put around the platform there. I liked the earlier arrangement better, with no walls around.
Shanti Stupa

Rest of the story and the pics to follow soon.

Update: Next part.


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