Leh, India is a sleepy, remote town in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, once the Himalayan kingdom of Ladakh. It is set at just about the northern most point of India, and in fact sits very close to highly disputed borders with China and Pakistan. The great majority of the local population is ethnic Tibetan, Tibetan Buddhism is the majority religion, and after spending months in Tibet, I can say that it has a very Tibetan feel to it.
I’m writing about Leh now, 5 years after I visited it, simply because I’ve been researching places to travel this summer, and this one is high one the list. I’m afraid that it has been so long, that I really don’t have much to write about. I’ll just give you a few memories, and of course a few pictures!
My story of Leh actually started a few hundred kilometers to the south in one of the northernmost, ethnically Indian town called Manali. I was lucky enough to hitch a ride on the very last bus to headed north for the whole season. Soon the snows would fall in the high passes all around Leh, making road travel impossible.
The drive from Manali to Leh normally takes two days for the bus, which is considered quite quick by local standards. As we soon found, it includes time for broken suspension, flat tires, and god knows what other mechanical problems. It took us three full days, and two different buses.
But the scenery was nice…
Arriving in Leh… um… some time later… I remember feeling as if I was entering a fairy tale valley. The drive from Manali goes through beautiful mountains, but all the landscape is very dry, without vegetation. The valleys around Leh are green and fertile. And at this time of year (mid Sept), everything was being harvested. It really felt like the Autumn back in Pennsylvania… Truly heaven.
And yet it was a busy city, with loud trucks and busy markets. I remember the old town being quite nice, like most old towns are. There’s an old Tibetan palace and a few temples overlooking the city. Also, despite being mostly Tibetan, there was a good representation of Muslims, with their beautiful mosques and serene calls to prayer.
Besides the memories of those beautiful fields and trees, the memory that sticks most in my mind was renting a small motorcycle and going for a ride. Just north of Leh, is Khardung La, the highest motorable road in the world at 18,380 ft, 5,602 m, or 3.5 miles!
I was completely unprepared: No helmet… No winter clothes… I had to wear every article of clothing in my travel bag and put socks on my hands as gloves… The bike barely made it… It was SNOWING when I got to the top… IT WAS AWESOME! I might even be doing it again this summer, but driving the motorcycle all the way from Manali.