Not long ago, my wife and I went on a holiday to Ladakh, India, a beautiful place located away from the usual tourist routes in the Himalayan ranges.
It was autumn then, and we trekked in the Hemis National Park and climbed the Stok Kangri mountain (6,153m).
Ladakh is culturally and geographically similar to Tibet. It has a high altitude, desert environment where the air is thin and the weather extreme. The altitude starts from 3,500m above sea levels.
When we arrived at Leh, the main city of Ladakh, we felt disoriented and had some difficulty breathing because of the high altitude (Leh is 3,524m above sea levels). I think it would take at least a day or two for even the most fit person to adapt to things.
We spent the first day exploring Leh which used to be an important stopover on the ancient trading route. The Leh Palace was restored recently and turned into a museum. We went all the way to the top rampart to get a good view of the place and were rewarded with a panoramic vista of lofty snow-capped mountains and the Indus river.
The main shopping street was lined with shops with lots of colourful prayer flags flapping in the wind. There were the occasional goats and donkeys roaming the street, too. Souvenirs include cashmere shawls made from local wool, and fruits and nuts from the nearby farms. The fresh apricots and apples were delicious!
We recommend you try the sea-buckthorn juice.
The famous Shanti Stupa is a large white-domed choten built on a hill overlooking the valley. It is an important pilgrimage site today because it holds a relic of Buddha under its base.
We also visited the Thiskey Gompa, an important Tibetan Buddhist monastery which also resemble the Potala Palace. It is a functioning monastery with monks and nuns learning scriptures and chanting Buddhist hymns. The focal point there is the 15m-high statue of Maitreya, the largest in Ladakh.
After a simple lunch consisting of “thupa”, a Tibetan noodle soup, and butter-milk tea, we went to Hemis Gompa. The highlight of Hemis Gompa was its intricate and colourful mural depicting mystical creatures and stories from Buddhist scriptures. We were lucky to witness a prayer session with soothing chants, drum-beats, gongs and horns. It was deeply mesmerising.
On our third day, we began our hike with a drive to the trailhead at the Hemis National Park. It would be a three-day hike with guides and donkeys, and we would be camping under the stars.
It was a gradual ascent and we trekked at a moderate pace, passing through desert-like terrains with occasional shrubs along icy glacial streams. During the day the weather was hot but at night it was really cold. We saw the most awesome Milky Way and a shooting star too!
Hemis National Park is known for snow leopards, a rare and endangered predator but alas (or luckily) we did not get to see any. Nevertheless, there were plenty of marmots, birds of various sizes, Himalayan mountain goats and Bharal (or blue sheep).
There weren’t much flora and fauna at the basecamp, however, which was just a collection of tents situated at the base of the majestic Stok Kangri mountain (6,153m).
It was 2am when we started our climb to the mountain. The weather had been great up until then. As we crossed the glacier with the aid of crampons on our boots and ice picks, it started to snow. It wasn’t a heavy snowfall so we decided to push on.
Unfortunately, as we got higher, it became harder to see and we were very cold; it was getting dangerous to continue. We stopped at 5,900m and turned back to the basecamp.
To cheer us up, our cook prepared a cake for us at camp.
Although we did not summit, our adventure in Ladakh had been very rewarding. We were uplifted spiritually, intellectually and physically while humbled by the majesty of mother nature.
The views expressed are entirely the reader’s own.
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