8th October 2003
TRAVELS WITH MY CAMERA /ANU MALHOTRA
LEH: THE INDIAN SHANGRI-LA
“This must be the best view of Leh.” I think, filming from the Shanti Stupa, built on a hill overlooking the main town. The old Ladakhi capital spills across the valley and is literally surrounded by the snow-capped peaks of scraggy desert mountains. Parts of the valley shine green with farmland and trees, over which hangs the blue bowl of the sky and fluffy clouds. Picture perfect.
We drive into the main street to film local colour- shops selling Tibetan thankas, peraks (traditional turquoise studded women’s head dresses), silver jewellery; kashmiri shawls, carpets. Local woman in gonchas
(traditional long dress) and jaunty tophats crowd the vegetable stalls, elders walk about spinning prayer wheels; enticing smells of steaming momos and thukpa
(soup) wafts out of tiny cafes. Lording it over the old town from the top of a craggy granite ridge is the derelict palace of the 16th
century ruler, Sengge Namgyal.
Southeast of Leh, the Indus Valley broadens to form a fertile river basin of brown snow-capped mountains. We film Spituk Gompa which affords great views of the Indus River and drive to Stok palace, home to the Ladakhi Queen. We film the elegant four storeys Stok Palace, scenically surrounded by fields, whitewashed farmhouses and chortens
, in the shadow of the Stok Kangri peak. The Queen or ‘gyalmo’
, Deskit Wangmo, a former member of parliament, graciously grants me an interview-“I’m really happy with the upsurge in tourism here. It gives us an impetus to preserve and showcase our culture and lifestyle.”
We move on to the Hemis Monastery, which is decorated with colourful prayer flags and locals crowding its rectangular courtyard, for the Hemis festival. Monks in their ceremonial gear of yellow chogas
and red hats blare long trumpets and kettle drums while a huge thanka
of Guru Padmasambhava is unfurled down from the roof. The scene is infinitely colourful like the Thanka
itself-locals dressed in top hats, heavy turquoise studded peraks
, coral and pearl jewellery. Suddenly, the cymbal crashes, drum rolls, trumpets blare- and lamas dressed in opulently brocaded silk costumes and ghoulish masks mime episodes from Buddhist mythology.
The next day we set off early for the 140 km drive towards Tso Moriri Lake, in the Rupshu Valley. Enroute we film Shey, the old Ladakhi capital. The palace sits astride the ridge below an ancient fort. Crowned by a golden chorten spire, its treasure is the colossal 12 metre metal statue of Shakyamuni Buddha, housed in its ruined temple. The next stop is the 15th
century Thikse Gompa, atop a craggy cliff. As I walk up, I see a long line of young monks walking up, spinning the prayer wheels that line the side of the temple. We filmed the Maitreya temple, which houses the 15m high gold statue of the “Buddha of the Future”.
Soon, we are on our way, driving through some spectacular terrain. Mountains of all colours loom and pass by- ochre, mustard, turquoise and even purple- its quite amazing. After the dusty and dramatic drive, the driver halts and points ahead. The Tso Morari lake gleams an enticing blue, set at the base of rolling snow-capped mountains and skirted by a lime green meadow.
As we set up our tents on the meadow next to the lake, the sky is ablaze with a cloud burst of sunset colours, a bunch of nomads graze their herds of cows, goats and yaks nearby and a flock of geese take to the sky. Aah! Our Indian Shangri-La.
TRAVEL TIPS YOU CAN’T DO WITHOUT
- The best time to visit Leh is between June-September. The Hemis festival is in July and the Ladakh festival is from Sept. 1-15th
- Ladakh is easily accessible by both air and road. IA and Jet Airways operate regular flights from Delhi to Leh.
- They are plenty of accommodation options to suit all budgets. Hotel Kanglachen, Omasila and Ladakh Sarai are a few recommendations. There are also local houses where one stay as a paying guest.
- A few popular restaurants in the main town are the Highlife Restaurant, Amdo Restaurant and Tibetan Kitchen.
- Leh is popular for Tibetan handicrafts like thankas and silver jewellery. Ladakh Art Palace is the place to head for.
- You may experience mild attitude sickness initially, especially if you fly in. so take it easy till your body acclimatises. Drink lots of fluids.
- To book packages, contact Dorjai at email@example.com