I have always dreamt of my first trip to the Himalayas - staring at the lofty mountain peaks, trekking, drinking fresh water from a flowing stream, experiencing snowfall, and just soaking in the views and culture.
Bucket list, fantasy, desire; for me Ladakh was all of that and more. What started off as a mere conversation between my friend and I unfolded into a magical 2 weeks in the land of high passes.
Considering our expansive itinerary, we were pressed for time and decided to fly directly to Leh. A late-night flight out of Bengaluru, a short layover in Delhi, and we were on our much-awaited flight!
I have truly fantasized about the day I see the mighty Himalayas, feel snow for the first time, and experience the magic of the mountains.
My first time just had to be Ladakh.
A little over 30mins into the flight, there it was! The first sight of the mighty ranges! Endless shades of browns and whites.
Everyone was glued to their widow seats and the early morning flight brought with it a beautiful sunrise too.
Ranked amongst the world’s highest airports, an incredible runway nestled between the mountains at 3,200+ m above sea level, landing in Leh's Kushok Bakula Rimpochee Airport is quite the sight in itself. Alighted the aircraft and the most awaited trip began.
Transport arrangements were crucial as we had a bunch of places to visit. We wanted this to be a hippie, caravan sort of experience.
A group of 7 and luggage, a tempo traveler was our best option. We had conversations with a couple of agents, picked one who shared pictures of a decent-looking tempo and paid an advance. Through this journey, you'll see how our driver bhaiya became family, and the integral role he played in making this trip what it was. As for stay, we were lucky to be hosted in Indian Army accommodations across Ladakh.
Mutup Bhaiyya, our very cute and shy host was waiting for us at the airport and drove us to our first transit camp in Leh. We arrived around 8 am, sleep-deprived and hungry. After a quick breakfast, we crashed for a bit.
A shower later, we were ready to dig into some good food and soak in Leh.
We picked the popular and quaint Tibetan Kitchen for our first meal and enjoyed a hearty lunch - Thukpas, momos, and all things authentic. Walked to the lovely Leh market right after and got exploring.
Colorful prayer flags line the Main Bazaar, flanked by shops selling, pashminas, dry fruits, and beautiful Buddhist and Tibetian souvenirs. Munched on some fresh apples and apricots, window-shopped, and picked a silken scarf from one of the shops.
Acclimatization is key for the first 48 hours so we didn't want to exert ourselves on day one. Yet, itching to explore, we took a short walk up from the market to watch the sunset from Leh Palace.
Panoramic views of Leh city, the boundless mountains in the background, and a beautiful sunset - an absolutely incredible start to the trip.
It was pretty much the perfect frame, watching the city from the Palace windows. And as we climbed further up the Palace levels, the balconies and terraces gave us expansive views of Leh set amidst the scenic Himalayan peaks.
After dinner in the room, we went for a walk around the camp and found a nice spot overlooking the city lights. Some fun conversations and laughs later, we called it a night.
The next day was all about getting touristy in Leh, and we headed straight to the market for breakfast. After a very very average brekkie in Forno (apparently a popular spot, but IMO, the breakfast at least, was too poor, had almost no options, and was overpriced), we arrived at Shanti Stupa, a place that truly lives up to its name.
The white-marbled beauty stands tall, offering incredible views of Leh and the snow-capped mountains. While it gets chilly in the evenings, daytimes in late August vary from pleasant to hot in Leh.
Perched atop a mountain, we just stood there mesmerized by the view of Leh's scenic vistas. Just us, the cool breeze, and the endless Himalayas. Does it get better than this?
From Shanti Stupa, we were off to Thiksey Monastery, our first of many monastery experiences in the mountains.
The first sighting of the stunning, intricately crafted, towering, two-story idol of Mythreya Buddha - I just stood there in awe with folded hands. Absolutely majestic.
Buddhism has always intrigued me, and a memory etched forever from this trip is meeting Chemba 🙏
After walking around the monastery, I happened to see him sitting near a window, and greeted him. He smiled instantly and we got talking. What started off as a regular conversation slowly turned into a wonderful articulation of stories around Buddhism and the 'Wheel of Life'.
For a few minutes, while he spoke to us, I was in a trance. It seemed like one of those movie scripts or a page from a novel.
A monk narrating tales about the intricacies of life as we know it, the Himalayas in the backdrop, and nothing but peace surrounding us. What an idyllic setting! It all seemed quite surreal.
After a truly unique experience in Thiksey, it was time to feed the tummy. Our next stop was Shey Palace and we found a lovely cafe right opposite it.
They gave us a spot on a terrace-like seating - uninterrupted views of Shey, the Himalayas, a lake, and scenery all around. Add to that some piping hot momos and fried rice.
AH, YES! THE GOOD LIFE. A softy ice cream seemed like the perfect wrap to the meal and I devoured it whilst watching nature do her thing.
And we were off - crossed the road and ascended Shey. The first sight of this massive buddha inside Shey Monastery was equally magical. The main statue is a towering Shakyamuni Buddha that's three storeys tall! The tranquility was unreal.
I took a few rounds around the statue to truly appreciate it and take in all the grandeur before getting seated on the floor. It seemed almost impossible to not take a few minutes to sit down with folded hands, meditate, and thank the creator for all that life has given me.
After spending some time around the monastery, we decided to climb further up the palace and explore the ruins. The first of many 'I'm so glad I forced everyone to do this' moments, that was totally worth it.
We climbed right up to the top and were rewarded with unparalleled views, fresh mountain air, and a stunning sunset.
Like true royalty, we sat amidst the palace ruins and watched the sun set amidst the Zanskar ranges, into the Indus Valley. Some moments are truly priceless and this was one of them. The changing colors, watching the final rays of the sun light up the Zanskar peaks, and the prayer flags flutter to the cool mountain breeze.
We decided to get dropped at the Hall of Fame for the popular light and sound show.
Tales of the mighty Indian Army - battles fought, stories of unequaled grit and sacrifice, and what it truly means to put the nation first. While the laser and light show is great, it's the stories that will leave you with goosebumps and thoughts for a long time to come.
My salute to the Indian Army and Armed Forces. There is truly nobody like you and we cannot thank you enough for what you do and go through for our country and people. Jai Hind! 🇮🇳
In the works, Chapter 2 - The stories of Kargil and Drass Valley.