Part 6. The land of High Passes

A good night's rest followed our arduous journey and we decided to do our rounds of the city of Leh. Tibetan cultural icons surrounded us and it was like a different country altogether. like most tourst places, Leh's economy is entirely on the short tourist season from late May to early September. During the rest of the year, it is too uncomfortable for touristy activities cut off from the rest of the world by road. During this time, the only access the town has is the tiny airport which is smaller than the Shivajinagar bus stop in Bangalore.

Leh in peak season, takes on a cosmopolitan hue with tourists and backpackers from all around the world thronging the narrow streets and filling up the market place and hiking up prices for the rest of us. The Great Indian Family Holiday was quite conspicuous by its absence and it looked like we were one of the few Indians who dared to venture into this corner of our country.

The shops were filled with Ladakhi and Tibetan handicrafts, woolens, knitwear, used books (I guess lots of people dispose of their books), more German bakeries, parantha places, exorbitantly priced sweet tea and some more handicraft stores.

Lacchi decides that we've had enough fun and takes us on an acclimatisation walk up to the Leh Palace, built in the 1600s and to this day, dominates the old city. Its an old mud structure and benevolently looks down upon the city. We trudge through small bylanes of the old city and through the doors, little eyes peeked out. The overall feeling was that we had walked back in time and were back in the 17th century.

From Leh and the great Trek

From Leh and the great Trek

From Leh and the great Trek

From Leh and the great Trek
We chose to climb in the middle of the hot afternoon and me in my sandals and without my trusty water bottle ended being exhausted and the last in the line of trekkers. If this was to be a preview of the days to come, I was ready to collapse in the gravel and roll down back down hill. But the trek up lasted about an hour or so and once we got on top, it was totally worth the view.

From Leh and the great Trek

One can only marvel at the mud structure that has lasted through the centuries. As I walked through the rooms and saw the straw roofs that sheltered Ladakhi kings over the years, I couldn't help but wonder at how they managed to build a city in such a desolate and extreme environment. The cool interiors of the palace gave us some much needed respite form the scorching sun and the fact that we didn't can carry enough water for this trip didn't help one bit. The extensive rooms were slightly dilapidated with stairs crumbling beneath our feet and
overhead beams threatened to crash down upon us. Walking through the musty smelling corridors brought us to a room that was being renovated by Kashmiri artisans who said that they came from Srinagar and had just a few weeks left before they went back before it gets cold.

Once we trudged back down to the city, we ate lunch at at vegetarian Tibetan restaurant which had "Free Tibet" flags all over. The food was filling and we went on our way to explore the market place and make phone calls. I go around a bit and see this guy who looked like he was a southie.

Very tenuously, I ask him "ഇവടെ വല്ലേ Phone booth ഉണ്ടോ ?" ( Are there any phone booths here.. in Malayalam ...excuse my spellings..) And to my surprise he responds in the affirmative in Malayalam and points me down the road and says that its right next to the Kerala Ayurveda Center, which happens to be owned by his brother. I get talking to him and he tells me that he and his cronies come to Leh every year for 5 months to run the ayurveda center giving the traditional ayurveda massages to tired trekkers then get back to Kerala and run a beach resort near Trivandrum from November to February.

This reminded me of the Garhwali owner of the restaurant in Varkala (in Kerala) beach who heads to Haridwar in the summer running a lodge and to Kerala in the winter running the restaurant. Two towns, both highly dependent on a floating population for its income, migrant population for its work force and whose economy rests solely on 4-5 months of hectic activity by back packers, wannabe hippies and the like. Two towns seperated by more than 4000km, but having the same reason for existence - Being the playground for the rich, the vagrant, the wanderer and the wonderer.

The evening saw us hunting for some spare woolens and hats which we had either forgotten to pick up or had lost on the way and in the process, managed to embarrass ourselves by being atrociously bad bargainers. Following dinner at a German cafe in candle light ( the whole region has very erratic power supply) , we marched back to our rooms, in cool evening with the vapour forming as we spoke in hushed tones in the darkness.

Some of us decided to climb a rickety old ladder and get to the terrace of the hotel . As you looked up, you could see literally millions of pin-points of light, a scene which I do not think have ever seen before. You could actually look at the milky way, a band of light across the skies. The scenery was absolutely ethereal and you could make out features on the nearbye mountains just from the light of the stars. Occasionally, a shooting star would zip past and quietly, we would asked each other " Did you see that ?" and we would reply in the affirmative even if we didn't. But we did not mind. It was heaven to just be there in the cool outdoors and sound of the breeze in the poplar trees that surrounded the one storey building. Sleep came soon at the end of eventful day and we prepared for the following day as the real journey was yet to come.

Trampled byY Trip at Sunday, September 07, 2008


Post a Comment