20 Jun - 24 Jun 2011 Leh

South Asia
Republic of Incredible India, the world's biggest democrazy
Jammu & Kashmir
Leh (c. 3,500 m above sea level)
Kailash Guest House +919906999135 omtara_ya@yahoo.com
Spacious and clean double room (the Zanskar-named first-floor "sun room" of this khangpa, a traditional Ladakhi house), with shared bathroom and great views of the white six-thousand-metre giants of the Stok Range smashing up into the sky, for only INR 300.- or US$ 6.70 per night. Friendly and helpful staff, very good English.
Beer: 650-ml bottles of lukewarm “Godfather Super Strong” (8 % alc./vol.) for INR 100.- per large bottle freely available from the guest house; a better deal: INR 65.- per large bottle at the local English Wine Shop in down-town Leh.

Click below for an interactive road map of the Kailash Guest House in Leh, which we would highly recommend, and for directions:

Studying the delicious vegetarian cornerstones of Ladakh's cuisine at Norzin’s Ladakhi Kitchen Restaurant +919903874998 and indulging in (i) Tibetan momos (steamed dumplings, filled with spicy veggies), (ii) skyu aka chu tagi (eggless pasta of various shapes, served with spicy veggies), (iii) tsampa aka paba (roasted barley, grinded and kneaded into a heavy dough, accompanied by trang thur, the Ladakhi, herb-based version of the ubiquitous Indian raita), (iv) thukpa (noodle soup) and (v) tigmos (pleaded steam buns, accompanied by spicy aloo ping).
"You leave a little buttered tea in the bottom of your bowl and put a big dollop of tsampa on top of it. You stir gently with the forefinger, then knead with the hand, meanwhile twisting your bowl round and round until you finish up with a large dumplinglike object which you proceed to ingest, washing it down with more tea. The whole operation demands a high degree of manual dexterity, and you need a certain amount of practical experience before you can judge correctly how much tsampa goes with how much tea. Until you get these proportions right the end product is apt to turn into either a lump of desiccated dough or else a semiliquid paste which sticks to your fingers. Sometimes you lace this preparation with a form of powdered milk, made from curds which have been dried in the sun."

Visiting the 17.5-m high blue-haired Maitreya Buddha, attended by Drukpa monks from Hemisin, in the palace gompa (admission: INR 25.- per person) of the 17th-century royal palace of the Kings of Leh at Shey, located at an important vantage point in the Indus Valley, c. 15 km southeast of Leh (local minibus from Leh to Shey for INR 20.- per person, one way).

Exploring the wealthiest and biggest (350 residing monks) monastery in Ladakh (admission for foreigners: INR 100.- per person, admission for Indians: INR 50.- per person), the very touristy 17th-century Red-Hat (Drukpa) monastery at Hemis, c. 45 km south of Leh on the west bank of the Indus River (local minibus from Leh to Karu for INR 30.- per person, one way, plus a strenuous 7-km uphill walk past numerous chortens and mani walls), watching fit and humble Ladakhi lamas practise their sacred dances in the main courtyard and watching fat and cocky nouveau-riche tourists from New Delhi watch those agile young lamas.

Hiring a rumbling 350-cc Royal Enfield Thunderbird vintage chopper (“Made like a gun; goes like a bullet...”) from Adventure F2 +919622991956 for INR 500.- or US$ 11.10 per day, taking our protein pills, putting our helmets on and honking our way up, through many steep hair-pin bends along the old Silk Route, to the 5,602-m high Khardung-La Pass, the highest motorable pass in the world, for an exhilarating high-altitude experience and for amazing views over the Indus valley.

"Get your motor runnin'
Head out on the highway
Lookin' for adventure
And whatever comes our way

I like smoke and lightning
Heavy metal thunder
Racin' with the wind
And the feelin' that I'm under

Yeah Darlin' go make it happen
Take the world in a love embrace
Fire all of your guns at once
And explode into space

Like a true nature's child
We were born, born to be wild
We can climb so high
I never wanna die..."

Leaving the dry, arid plateau of Ladakh and taking a H.R.T.C. (Himachal Road Transport Corporation) rust bucket from Leh along scary roads (with ongoing rockfalls and landslides, meltwater streams crossing the way and deep ravines right next to the bus) over the 5,370-m high Taglang-La Pass (traversing the Zanskar Range), the 5,065-m high Lachalung-La Pass, the 4,950-m high Nakli-La Pass, the infamous Gata Loops (a series of 21 hair-pin bends, carved out of a massive scree slope of the Zanskar range, which take the road from an altitude of 4,740 m all the way down to 4,200 m over a span of less than 8 km) and the 4,880-m high Baralacha-La Pass to the Upper Lahul’s village of Keylong, set amidst fields of barley and buckwheat, surrounded by brown hills and snowy peaks (c. 420 km, 15 hours, INR 510.- per person).

Click below for a summary of this year's travels
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