Saturday, August 24, 2013

Leh, Ladakh, India 1 -13 Aug 2013

Leh is located in the northern part of India, in the Indian State of Jammu and Kashmir, border to China on the east, Afghanistan and Pakistan on the west. Not many people know about this place, people asked me how did I find out about this place. I think I saw a friend's photos online some time ago and it was stunning, ever since North Indian has been in my list of to go places. August to October is the best time to trek in this region. So there I was...

Leh town
This place is nothing I have ever seen or imagine, bare rocky mountains, bare sandy plains, sharp peaks, monasteries after monasteries unique by itself, prayer flags flapping, stupas guarding the mountains, green valley emerge from nowhere and friendly and warm tibetan people. It's India but not India at all!

We planned our trip way back in April, I will be able to take leaves by August and to take advantages of the long weekend in Singapore. 5 days of leaves, 2 weekends and 2 public holiday gave us total of 11 days holiday. We booked our tickets with Jet Airways, Singapore - Delhi - Leh. The fastest way to get there and a direct ascent to 3500m. We were advised to stay in Leh to acclimatise for 2-3 days, which leaves us 8-9 days for hiking.

One month before the trip, we train ourselves once a week at Bukit Timah and I was alternating between salsa and jogging. It was the best we could do. We did some research and found some information online about the weather, hiking path and places to stay. We were all set!

Himalaya range

1 Aug 2013
We spent one short night in Delhi airport, modern, big and clean which was a big surprise for me because when I was there in 2008, it was a crappy old airport. We catch the early morning flight to Leh, flew over the Himalayas range. It was stunning with endless snow capped mountain peaks!

Sia-La Guesthouse
2 Aug 2013
A short flight later we landed at the Kushok Bakula Rimpochhe Airport, one of the world highest airport at the altitude of 3,256 m (10,682 ft). We were surrounded by bare rocky mountain and flat sandy plains, looks a lot like the desert. The air was fresh early in the morning, we took a taxi to our pre-booked guesthouse - Sia La Guesthouse. There were probably more than 50 guesthouses in Leh, this one was our choice, located just 5 minutes walk to the center and they responded to my email efficiently. We arrived at a beautiful vegetables and flower garden and welcomed by the owner, she served us tea and told us to relax and don't do much today. :-) We got a huge room on the 2nd floor with the view of garden and mountain peaks afar.

After a short nap, we were ready to explore the town. Just a short walk to town and we already spotted several stray dogs. There were travel agents and souvenir shops lining the street. We chose one of the many German bakery to have our brunch not that we want to eat the German bread. We ordered 2 local famous dishes momo and tukpa, momo is like chinese dumpling and tukpa is basically noodle soup. We felt energized after the meal. 2 french ladies join us, they couldn't bother to speak english, chatting away in french with Kareen. I understood that they were here to do some charity work.

We have to get going to search for a travel agent for our trek. We first drop by the DreamLadakh Agency, asked for several options of trek and prices. There were several options of trek we can do in 8-9 days. 
1. Markha Valley Trek 
2. Lamayuru - Chilling 
3. Rumste to Tsomoriri 
4. Phyang to Hunder

There were all camping trek, which means there will be guide and horseman and ponies carrying camping equipment and food. We will need good sleeping bag and camp along the way. We got a shock when we were given the price. It was extremely expensive. We opt out option 1 as this trek is pretty busy and crowded, option 3 is out of our budget, option 4 is out as it is difficult to get horseman and ponies in short notice. We are left with option 2 but this trek only need 5-6 days. We pop into another travel agency, this one doesn't even convince me, I was doubtful, even though the price is cheaper. 

Mosque in Leh
Finally we went to the Ladakhi Women's Travel Company ( I contacted before the trip. This company is run by Ladakh most experienced female guide, they employed only female guides and porters to encourage the women of Ladakh to show their abilities and skills. Their treks are homestay base, which means we stay in the Ladakhi home in the village, their homes are always run by the women, while the men are out earning the family’s income. By using the homestay system, we help the women to achieve the same status as the men. It also provide extra income to the locals and encourages people to remain in their villages instead of seeking employment in the cities. When using the homestay system we will get a closer look at the traditional Ladakhi way of life in a way we could never experience in a guesthouse or camp. We like the idea and we were sold! The ladies were very helpful in planning our trip, we finally put together 2 treks, a 3D2N Sham trek from Likir Monastery to Temisgam and continue to a 5D4N from Lamayuru to Chilling. We leave the day after. Another day to acclimatise in Leh.

We were feeling light headache the whole day from the high altitude. My eyes were itchy from the dusty surrounding. At night, I was feeling horrible with the headache getting worst and the rejection of the day brunch. We didn't get our dinner, instead we drank loads of water and sleep. The first night was terrible with the stray dogs fighting and barking at the neighborhood. We didn't sleep well.

3 Aug 2013
On the 2nd day, we struggle awake with the headache still lingering around. Ahhhh! I took 2 panadols to calm it. Today we plan to go easy as well, we will visit the famous Leh Palace and the stupa at the top of the mountain. Buy some supply that we need and pack for our trek. We decided to get a porter for our 2nd trek as we will be crossing 3 high passes above 4000m and we will pack more cloths for the coldness at night. For the 1st trek, as it is an easy trek, we will carry our own backpack.

Namgyal Tsemo Gompa
The Leh Palace stood atop the Tsemo Hill, overlooking the town and the mountain of Stok Kangri in the Zangskar mountain range. The palace was built in the 17th century, a ruin, is currently being restored by the Archaeological Survey of India. We took a slow walk thru the mud brick houses and narrow lanes of the old town up to the palace, stray dogs are everywhere and rubbish as well. The view on the way up was spectacular. We paid 100rps to enter the palace, the restoration work was almost finish. There were rooms after rooms and a museum inside with old chinese painting which are more than 450 years old.

Maitreya Buddha
We proceed to the Namgyal Tsemo Gompa above the Palace, it has a three-story high gold idol of Maitreya Buddha. It is still visited by monks everyday to light the butter-filled lamps in the morning and evening. The last structure at the top is the old fort that is almost a ruins now. 

Leh town is small, easy access by foot. We found a restaurant and had a delicious Indian vegetarian dinner. I have decided to be vegetarian the whole trip. Let see how it goes... This night I put on my ear plug with hope to get a good night sleep.

4 Aug 2013
On the 3rd day, we were all set to be pick up at 7:30am to start our 8 days trek. Stanzin our guide was there on time. The adventure be continue....

Sia-La Guesthouse – ( 1200rps per room/night with attached toilet, hot shower, TV. Breakfast - 100rps pp

Jet Airways - SG-DELHI-LEH return S$846 pp
Taxi to guesthouse - 200rps per taxi

Entrance to Leh Palace – 100rps pp
Entrance to Namgyal Tsemo Gompa - 20rps pp
Entrance to The Fort - 20rps pp
3D2N Sham trek - 7800rps pp (
5D4N Hemis NP trek - 11160rps pp
1 Porter for Hemis NP trek - 3500rps

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