I left my mark on Leh
Trip Start Aug 27, 2011
99Trip End Jun 01, 2012
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When we finally landed in Leh, I took a turn at being a stunt man for a few minutes. I thought I could carry two large backpacks from the roof of the bus, but seeing as the last rung of the ladder was missing, I jumped off and held my balance for a second. Then, like a slow falling tree, I was lying on my back on the dusty bus station unable to get to my feet. Luckily, with some help from Sonja and removing the backpacks, my stuntman days were over.
We stopped off in the main high street in Leh to have some Tibetan food and said goodbye to the NZ lady as we headed to the Changspa area to find accommodation. We found a wonderful 'green' guesthouse that had solar panels for the hot shower water, a toilet that recycles your waste (on farmland) and a pot of tea on our arrival. The room was 'homely' large and we spent 6 days in Leh. Partly to recover from the stressful journey getting here, but partly avoiding the upcoming stressful journey to Manali.
Leh is a low thrills backpacker hang out. The town features numerous cafes, pizza joints, souvenir shops, travel agents and foods from around the area. The Old town still encompasses mudbrick houses and Stupas. An obvious feature to Leh is the Palace situated on top of a steep hill, overlooking the Ladakh valley. The view from the top is exceptional and the scenes inside were just as stunning!
Leh also has a donkey sanctuary. With our joint appreciation of animals, we soon found our way to the sanctuary and were greeted by some hungry donkeys. They are saved from the streets of Leh and sent to the sanctuary for a nice retirement. One of the donkeys was pregnant and she seemed very hungry. She kept nudging Sonja and I for food, and eventually she got some.
On another day we took a day trip out east of Leh to see Thiksey Gompa and the small village of Shey. A steep climb leads to glorious Thiksey Gompa covering a large rocky outcrop with layered, white washed Tibetan-style buildings. It's one of the biggest and most recognisable monasteries in Ladakh.
Shey, once Ladakh's summer capital is an attractively green, pond-dappled oasis from which rises a central dry rocky ridge, inscribed with roadside Buddha carvings. The ridge is topped by decrepit fortress ruins and by the small if photogenic Naropa Royal Palace.
We also checked out the Tsemo fort which sits higher above Leh Palace. Connected to the Tsemo fort is the Gongkang Gompa. The climb was steep and pretty dangerous and we took it slow. On the way down, we found the more sensible path.
Sonja also had a couple of friends that were in town. So we met them for a couple of dinners and one very cheap, long and delicious breakfast.
Our last adventure before leaving Leh, was to finally travel to Alchi, the town we were supposed to travel to after Lamayuru. The ride to Alchi was about two hours and when we got there, we nestled into a pot of 'Milf' coffee (I think they meant 'Milk') and some pastries for breakfast, as ever, from the most famous German bakery in the world. Hundreds of bakeries, in India, are German. Anyway, Alchi was remarkable. One of my favourite historical sites in India and the day was a true treat. Alchi strikes a wonderful balance between rural gompa village and low-key tourist getaway. The main attraction is the Chhoskhor Temple Complex. Constructed in the 11th century, they are the crowning glory of Ladakh's Indo-Tibetan art. Wooden carvings, impressive mandalas and Buddha figures, we were so happy to explore the area after feeling that we just weren't meant to visit Alchi.
We enjoyed lunch in a local restaurant and then had a bit of a nightmare making our way back to Leh. We boarded our bus on time, but after 5 minutes, it broke down. Thirty minutes later, spark plugs, were being pulled out and the driver was covered in grease. We left the bus and caught a small bus to the end of the road. We had to job down a hill and walk to the bridge that leads to Alchi. We crossed the bridge and attempted to hitch-hike. We've never properly hitched before, so it was a new experience. But seeing as it was mid-afternoon, we wanted to get back to Leh in daylight at least. A truck stopped an drove us for fifteen minutes. We walked some more then stopped at another bus stop. We knew there were few buses heading to Leh at this time of the afternoon but we believed we would get back. Ironically, the bus that picked us up, was our broken down bus. We lost our seats and had to stand. Luckily, we made it back in one piece and can add hitch-hiking to our list of adventures.
In leaving Leh we had to wake very early (3am) to walk in the dark to the bus station in order to catch a two day bus to Manali. You can now see why we spent so much time in Leh! The walk was a little daunting due to the pitch black evening and the number of angry stray dogs roaming the streets. A few of the dogs I had to approach, talk to them sweetly and ask if it was ok to pass. They sniffed me, sniffed Sonja and let us pass. We arrived at the bus station to find the driver and conductor asleep in the bus, with a couple of bottles of alcohol for company. We were already tense about the upcoming drive, and that didn't really help. The best we could do, was to find some Chai and sit at the front of the bus.
In two days, we would be arriving into Manali.
Next stop, Manali, via Keylong.
Thanks again to Sonja for sharing her pictures for the blog.