My flight to Leh is early morning one and got up early and headed to Delhi domestic airport around 4.15 am. The check-in is fast and comfortable unlike my previous experience in India when it used to be a common check-ins for all flights with long waiting hours. India is leap forwarding in infrastructure in certain sector. New Delhi’s domestic terminal is modern. The number of shops and variety in the terminal is lesser for international crowd but better for local travelers. The book shop has more business/management/self-help books than any other topic. It explains the reason being the developing nation on its feet and people are motivated to achieve and the self-help books do a good sale. I am surprised to see a Costa and my latte is pretty decent to Indian standard. Then came the long wait for boarding.
When i planned to travel as my assignment came to close, I came across a canadian traveler from China on a lonely planet forum planning a similar trip around the same time. She has advertised for a travel companion. I got in touch with her and agreed to meet up in Delhi or Leh. She was travelling a day before me to Leh in Jet Airways. Its a surprise to know that no passenger by name Cassandra Tsang traveled in Jet airways yesterday. I guess I still have to check it again in Leh as I am not comfortable with the way the lady in the counter checked the name. If Cassandra Tsang was not in that flight, then I have been duped but it didn’t make any sense why she has to do it. Also it wont be a problem as I cant do this travel alone.
I am lucky to have an aisle seat in the domestic flight to visualise the breath taking view of an hour flight cutting straight across ladakh/karakorum mountain range. The flight journey from Delhi to Leh is incredible as the flight seem to flew very low to the ground but it actually didn’t. The Ladakh/Karakoram mountain range has risen close to the cruising height of the jet, the flight seems like flying close to land. At one point when the flight made a 30 degree turn, the wings seemed to touch the tip of a mountain. An illusion which is mind blowing. Also for the first time I have the visual of the clouds in vertical slide when the flight took another turn exposing the cloud. It’s like a nature’s slide made out of fluffy cloud. Also the panoramic view of the clouds looked like ever ending scoop of fluffy ice creams. When the flaps of the wing rose, I realise that the flight is going to land but otherwise there is no clue to judge flight’s landing in that place. I cant see from my site a valley where its going to land and then s green patch of land appeared with few blocks of fields in a valley. It looks like a green patch on highly serrated brown canvas. Then the spectacular view of the runway tugged between the mountains in a narrow valley folded before my eyes. The flight has to go around a small hill (might be a mountain) in a circuit at low altitude to prepare for landing. The trucks & mining machinery in the land resemble that of Lego toys. The landing is bumpier that i visualised as the runaway is not that long and also the flight landed in high cross wind condition.
Leh Airport is the smallest public airport i have seen. Its a military sensitive region as it stands on the border of India-Pakistan-China and therefore all foreigners has to go through registration and security vetting. Leh Airport is 3 km (brain resisting to change to metric system) away from Leh town centre. Beeky, one of the manager of Padma Guest house, is a very shrewd and approachable person who took us to the rooftop restaurant and is served with Ladakhi pumpkin tea. Ladakhi pumpkin tea is the best tea I ever tasted in my life so far though I am predominantly a coffee drinker.
From the rooftop restaurant of the hotel, I can see Stok Kangri, the highest (6150 metres above sea level) mountain in that range and not far from Leh. Looking at its height, its still the taller than any mountains in Europe, Africa, Arctic and Antartic. In Himalayan range, one is considered mighty only if it crosses 8000 meters and has a dead zone to its pride. Even then, difficulty to climb weighs equal to height. If you consider both, the most daunting mountain to climb in the world is K2 than Mt. Everest. Unfortunately for me, its on the Pakistan side of Himalayas.
The guest room is one bedroom with common toilet which didn’t appeal to me. So I choose to stay in the hotel room which has separate bathroom & dish TV. Electricity is very fluctuating & Internet connection is down most of the time. I am told by Beeky and the owner to rest to acclimatise to the altitude as I landed straight into Leh which is 3500 meters above sea level. Sleeping is difficult and can only do few hours.
When i got up around 2 pm,I can’t resist going for a walk around Leh and familiarise myself with the place. I have read that its a small town and easy to explore my walk. I started walking side alley ways in Leh to take some good photos and stumble across a path to Leh palace. It’s a short route through numerous alleyways and resemble that of a proper maze sometimes.
I reach the palace and have to pay a fee to enter it. I end up seeing a local football match from the high ground of the palace. The players must have huge lungs to play the match in such an altitude as i am struggling with my breathing pattern.
Leh Palace is multi floor palace with each floor has rooms in a maze structure. I start to explore every floor and walk through the maze. The palace is totally empty except for a small temple in the second floor. The view of the town and the valley from the top floor is breath taking.
I climb down the palace & started walking to west side of the town. The view from there is pretty amazing. The afternoon went well and the walk did gave me an idea of how demanding is oxygen in this terrain and altitude.
Its time to have some proper local cuisine for dinner. There is a kitchen handled by Prakash, the kitchen manager – a nice bloke who travel and work in different places in India based on tourise season. He did promised me Ladakhi chicken Momo, a steamed chicken and stuffing similar to duckling for dinner. Its delicious and can feel my apitite is dropping due to altitude.
I have plans to take pictures of palace when its fully illuminated with focus lights in the night. Its football world cup mania sweeping through the globe and ended up in watching Brasil vs Netherlands World Cup quarter finals in common guest room. Seated among them is privately schooled Miss Nina Flitman, Cambridge educated Lancashire girl, who currently lives in London’s Shepherd’s Bush. Contrary to my expectation, She has good knowledge about football team, players & supported Netherlands in that match. She said her mom is poorly and therefore stuck here in the hotel without being able to visit many places in Ladakh. After the match, I am back in my room and slept undisturbed for a while. My plan to take the pictures of the palace is futile.