Finally the long awaited day has arrived. We are off to Ladakh and a dream begins to come true and the expectation and excitement for this trip is really huge. The flight departs on time and despite the fatigue we keep our nose glued to the window waiting to see the mountains. And here we are satisfied as the show that appears is just awesome with snow-capped peaks of the Himalayas, interspersed with large and arid valleys.
Ladakh is a magical and timeless place where you can breathe silence and the purest spirituality. Leh is the main center and the starting point for discovering the extraordinary natural beauty of Ladakh and its monasteries, suspended between heaven and earth. Known by the name of Little Tibet, Ladakh has attracted in recent years, increased numbers of tourists, while maintaining fully unchanged its great charm.
Equally exciting is the landing as the plane goes down into the valley, surrounded by high peaks and then slip in the valley in which is located the city of Leh. The track consists of a long tongue of asphalt, while the airport is a simple and small construction without any kind of service.
We are really looking forward to getting in touch with a reality so different from ours, and confront cultures and traditions that are so important to the local people. Few years ago was born in us the desire to make a trek to Ladakh. Nepal and Tibet in the period of August are not suggested because of the monsoons that make roads impassable and therefore trekking is preposterous, but surfing the internet and especially after seeing a movie, we realized that Ladakh was our goal.
After leaving our bags at the hotel, we decided to begin our exploration of the city to dive free among the people and the traffic of chaotic Leh. We see the smiles of the people and their proud look to see how many people from all over the world come to visit Ladakh. Leh was a city a bit in step with the times. Obviously nothing is missing but, wandering the streets, we meet women washing clothes in the water channels along the way, and the donkeys and cows that roam undisturbed through the city. Its still exciting to deal with a reality so different from ours.
In the afternoon we visit the Leh Palace, the Tsmepo Gompa, which offers a spectacular view of the city, and Shanti Stupa. It is in this last place that we see the prayer of Buddhist monks. We remain fascinated by their song Om Mani Padme Hum, punctuated by the sound of the drum which creates a whole atmosphere particularly evocative.
The story of Leh is shrouded in mystery until the tenth century, a period in which was founded the kingdom of Ladakh by the Tibetan prince Skyid Ide Nyima Gon. For centuries Leh was an important meeting point of the caravans of traders from India, China and the Central Asia carrying salt, grain, cashmere and cannabis.
The construction of the first royal palace took place in the late sixteenth century, at the hands of King Tashi Namgyal. It was elaborated by the king Sengge Namgyal partially destroyed after the invasion of Zarawar Singh, the building of the Leh Palace, the royal residence that still stands on the city from the Victory Peak. The Leh Palace is spread over nine floors and was built on the model of the famous Potala Palace in Lhasa. It was abandoned by the royal family in the mid eighteenth century, following the invasion by the army of Kashmir. In 2014. Leh hosted the visit of the Dalai Lama during the Kalachakra, a set of teachings and practices of Tibetan Buddhism.
Matho Nagrang is the very essence of Tibetan shamanic Buddhism, a religion that embraces whose origins date back to the practices, rituals and beliefs. On the 14th and 15th day of the first month of the Tibetan calendar, two oracles of the monastery appear in public, in their full spiritual form. These are two monks, who spent a month in isolation and meditation to prepare to reach the state needed to invoke the spirits.
During the festival, the two monks, in a trance, call upon the spirits and welcome them into their body, running along the ramps leading to the monastery, jumping from steps and performing stunts, all while blindfolded. Its a unique, indescribable and very different to that offered by the most famous festivals that take place in the summer months and which attract many tourists.
Now we are in the evening, tired after the long day, but happy to have started living our Ladakhi dream. The next day we set off for a tour of two days entirely dedicated to the visit of the monasteries in the area around Leh. The town is home to fascinating religious buildings such as the Hemis Gompa, the Sankar Gompa and Jo Khang Gompa. After about two hours we head to Thiskey.
We came to the village to visit the monastery is truly magnificent. It is one of the largest complexes of the entire Ladakh and find that inside there are small shops, a school and even the rooms in which you can stay. The first prayer room has a really impressive Buddha statue that is made not only for its size which is more than 12m high but above all for the beauty and the wealth of detail.
After about two hours we deviate from the main road to reach the village of Likir and visit the monastery. The road winds along a valley characterized by large barley crops. The landscape is really amazing and after getting to the resort we head immediately to the monastery. The first of the prayer hall is really interesting as it houses the seat for the Dalai Lama and is very rich in decorations.
We continue our visit until arriving at the museum, where we meet a monk who greets us with a broad smile. But the best is yet to come. After visiting the museum full of objects, manuscripts and decorations, we enter into another room where we find a group of four monks intent on making a mandala, an image that for the Buddhist religion is an aid to meditation and to achieve awareness of themselves.
We remain to observe the accuracy and the technique with which they trace the various elements. Using real compasses of various sizes, the monks trace with a pencil the signs which will then be marked with a white line obtained by the use of a wire covered by a white powder. The wire is placed in the desired position, taut and with a simple pinch you leave the sign of the mandala plot.
We are enchanted to observe the work of these monks, always available to give us a smile when our eyes meet. I must say that spirituality which reigns in these places is really palpable even without fully understanding the meaning of all that we see. These monasteries transmit a peace and quiet that you would want to stop to regain the ability to appreciate the little things and the beauty of SIMPLICITY.
We continue our journey towards Lamayuru. The road in some places it is very difficult; the landscape that accompanies us is extremely arid and along the way we pass through villages where the world seems to have stopped long ago. Finally we arrive at Lamayuru and go now to visit the monastery. Visiting the hall of prayer we come imbued with a sense of mystery or something similar perhaps because we see the prayer of a monk, whose ritual is accompanied by the sound of bells, plates, all executed with strict accuracy by helping to create an atmosphere very spiritual.
The simplicity, the smile and liveliness of these children is disarming. We remain to observe them for a while with them exchanging smiles and a few words in a very simple and spontaneous manner. This trip also generates sadness thinking how we are increasingly losing the pleasure and taste of the little things.
The next day we witness the morning prayer, the puja. While not understanding the meaning of the rituals, the spirituality of prayer recited pervades our soul. It was amazing for us to see the religiosity of the people, by continuing to pray as they walk the way around the monastery several times continuing to spin the wheel of prayers.
We return to Leh, stopping to visit the monasteries of Alchi and Bangse. And here is the long awaited day. We are off to the Markha trek, a 5 day trek that goes inside the Markha Valley. Having made the acquaintance of our guide, his aide and the ponyman attendant to transport luggage, we go to Chilling from where we will begin our journey. Down the road the scenery is fantastic, in the Zanskar valley, where we see the river tributary of the Indus.
We pass through a village crossed by a water channel used by the inhabitants as irrigation and as a source of running water. The calm and serenity that emanates this place is truly amazing, but even stranger is finding an active elementary school that provides basic education to the children of these villages. The path continues gently uphill until you get to Skiu where is located our camp.
After visiting the small monastery overlooking this village is the time of relaxation. There does not seem true to be able to sit in this beautiful valley to read a book in complete peace. We are convinced that we will spend a wonderful few days walking free from stress, free from confusion, along with people from the great humanity and simplicity!
We cannot help but stop to admire the beauty that surrounds us surrounded by a wonderful feeling of freedom. It is as if our wings, kept closed for too long, suddenly opened in all their majesty. Today we understand how they feel about the eagles to fly where as wind. Here we are so free to move in this valley where there is peace and brotherhood.
After a fairly quiet night we begin the second leg of our trek. The trail runs along the river in a valley surrounded by spectacular mountains. The sky is crystal clear, and if a high rejoices us, we will discover in the day how difficult walking in full sun with a stifling hot without even a breath of air. Along the way we encounter the tea shops, organized by the locals where you can find something to drink and rest a moment; It is obviously also a way to ensure the locals a little gain since their only source of income is made up of the little they manage to produce during the summer months.
We buy water, which is kept cool in a cellar that consists of an underground tunnel which is accessed by a trap door. We can not waste too much time, so after a quarter of an hour we are back on the road. The heat is really stuffy but we are surrounded by a beautiful landscape and so any time is good to stop and recover a bit of breath.
After about 7 hours we arrive at the village of Marka, surrounded by green fields of barley that give a sense of relaxation and tranquility. Always driven by curiosity to discover new places, we decided to go visit the monastery, but halfway the fatigue is felt, and so we decided to return to camp and enjoy a little 'well-deserved relaxation. Tomorrow we expect a further 5 hours of walking to get to 4200m. It is essential to recuperate.
The following day is the departure to the third stage and we leave from Markha camp. We continue and after a short encounter the small monastery of Tacha, built on top of a rock, with a steep zig-zag from the base leading to the entrance of the monastery We are looking upwards to admire this wonder, quand 'emerge here is a monaco that quickly begins to fall along the path. This is exactly what we wanted to finish and make it even more real this postcard.
Now the trail climbs decided to reach a plateau where lies a village. We sat admiring these expanses of barley, only source of income for the few villagers who live there permanently throughout the year, when we realize that next to us there are some people talking in turn with a man sitting on a bench. Our guide explains that it is a doctor who goes through all the villages in the area to visit the residents. Continuing our journey, the landscape changes dramatically as the barley fields gives way to rocks, with the Markha River flowing impetuously.
The silence of the night is broken only by the sound of the stream, that water, flowing without stopping. The next morning we were again ready. Caressed and encouraged by a beautiful sun we head into the last field along a path that climbs decided, the landscape illuminated by the first light is totally unique. Going up we surprised to see the edelweiss that we are a rarity but here are a group. Continuing we have the pleasure to admire the majesty of Yatze Kang (6400 m) with its impressive seracs, surrounded by a deep blue sky. We have never seen such mountains of many colors, from reddish streaks, with green and brown spots.
They are so fantastic that being here to admire them in all their majesty causes us a great thrill. Yes, you can touch the face of such beauty and harmony. After a short stop we share, the path becomes more gentle but the road is still arduous. In the distance we see the path that will take us tomorrow to Gomgmaru step, the highest point of the trek. For now it is best not to think about it and continue until you come to spot our camp located on a large plateau which runs through the Markha River. As we approached the camp we meet a huge flock of goats and sheep.
During the afternoon a cold wind gets up, and we hope to finish and especially the temperature does not drop too much at night, even now begins to make a little cold. Dinner is at 6:00, the usual binge but with final surprise. Our guide has prepared a chocolate cake with our names written on it. It was a really unexpected surprise that excited us so much. It is not easy to describe in words the emotions that these people are able to pass with small gestures and especially with the wonderful smile they truly open our hearts and make us understand that the important things in life are those related to the simplicity and sincerity of relations between people.
After a pretty tough night for the cold and the bad weather, at about 5 o'clock we open the curtain and discover that during the night it snowed, and has not stopped. At 9.00 we are off! Going up the only sounds we hear are our breathing, our feet getting heavier and the tinkling bells of the horses. A few minutes of rest and then down a long, long descent that will take us six hours after the end of our trek through small canyon, fording streams, crossing small villages.
Arriving in Leh, the next day we drive to the valley of Nubra crossing the Khardung, the highest motorable pass in the world at 5606 mtrs. Once at the top we stop for some photos and then we continue for the long descent that will take us in the Nubra valley. Once in the valley, we head to the Summor monastery focusing only on the interior as the rain stops us to admire carefully the exterior of this great monastery.
After the visit we continue towards our campsite to deposit our belongings in the hope that the weather will allow us to do some exploratory walk, a hope that goes in vain. The next morning we wake up and we realize that the blue sky is making its way with difficulty through the clouds but we are happy and confident that the day will be great.
We head for the Monastery of Diskit, a complex perched as ever on a rock, where in the lower part there are small houses of the monks and the highest part of the prayer halls. It's a very ancient and interesting monastery with a spectacular view of the Nubra valley. The next day we set off for our last excursion. We spend three days between the lake Tsokar and the lake Tsomoriri. The road is very good with an unique landscape.
After about 6 hours we reach the step where we glimpse the Tso Moriri lake surrounded by large grassy valleys at the foot of rounded mountains. After arriving at the camp, we decided to go to the village of Korzok located nearby. We visit the monastery and witness the prayer in the very crowded hall by monks intent on continuously repeating their mantra.
We decide not to bother over and we decide to go to explore the village even if it is very cold because of the strong wind. We climb on a hill overlooking the village which offers a wonderful view of the lake with a body of water of an incredible blue surrounded by beautiful mountains. The night was very difficult because of the very strong and bitter cold wind!
The next morning we head towards the lake Tsokar. We admire the majestic lake surrounded by mountains slightly whitened. The evening shows us that this is the last wonder that we see being very close to the day of departure for the long return home. We assail us a bit of nostalgia aware that we will be forced to leave this place, these people, these landscapes, these emotions back to the bustle of everyday life full of rules, constraints which make everything more complicated.
Of all the trips we did this is definitely the most beautiful not only for the magnificent and impressive landscapes but above all for what people sent us.
Visiting Ladakh is to discover a magical place, full of spirituality and mysticism, where the monasteries and villages are gems set in a stunning natural landscape. Visiting Ladakh is to discover its ancient history, its religious celebrations and the most remote destinations in the world like the Nubra valley.
Ladakh Itinerary through the Road Route:
Day 1: We have breakfast and depart from Srinagar on a long trip in the mountains, which has as its goal the Ladakh, a name that means Land of Passes. It is an immense desert plateau here and there punctuated by the occasional verdant oasis. Between the south-west Himalaya and the north-west Karakoram, Ladakh or Little Tibet does not seem to come out of his secular isolation that began when the Earth's caravan traffic was interrupted in favor of maritime.
Ladakh was an important kingdom of western Tibet. The imperial families prospered, who built imposing monasteries and were ruled by dynasties. Then, geographical isolation and lack of cultural and economic exchange forced the country to integrate with the major powers. Administratively speaking, it is part of the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir, having given up its monarchical status and joined the Union of Indian states during independence in 1947.
We cross the Zojila pass (3550 m). After arriving in Kargil we stay in a modest hotel for dinner and rest overnight.
Day 2: Kargil - Lamayuru - ULEYTOKPO (3100 mt)
We have breakfast and depart early in the morning for another long transfer journey through spectacular mountain landscapes. We stop in Mulbekh, where the beautiful Lamayuru Gompa is located, where you can admire a statue of Maitreya Buddha, depicted standing, carved in the rock and dated to VIII century BC.
We continue to Lamayuru over two passes, the Namika La (3780 meters) and the Fatu La pass (4091 meters), the highest of this route to Leh. At Lamayuru, the Lama City, is the oldest monastery of Ladakh built around the tenth century, which is surrounded by high rocks with a thousand shades. Its name means Village of the Masters, because at the time of its peak housed up to 400 monks.
We also visit the major temple, that of Chorten, the Cenresik, the five statues of the Buddha, stupas and libraries of all sizes and age. Thus exceeding the pace at Khalsi (3350 meters) we arrive to Uletokpo for dinner and overnight stay in a tented camp.
Day 3: ULEYTOKPO - LEH (3550 Mt)
After breakfast we visit Rizong, Likir and Alchi. The first is located a few kilometers from the main thoroughfare along a stony road where will meet the first female monastery Julichen and then, located at the bottom of a gorge and perched on the rocky slopes of the mountain, the spectacular monastery of Rizong. Famous for its monastic discipline, the Gompa is very clean and tidy, a sign that the estimated 150 monks of the Gelukpa sect, who live, have access to even a certain amount of money for landscaping and maintenance.
Likir monastery was founded in the 14th century and was the first to be built under the direction of Tibetan monks. Its name comes from the term Klu-kuyil. The Klu or naga in Sanskrit, is a snake-god of Indian and Tibetan mythology, which according to local beliefs, surrounds and protects the monastery. Built in the fourteenth century. by the then King Gyalpo, it is still home to over a hundred monks of the Gelukpa sect, keepers of splendid wooden statues that betray a Tibetan fashion. The vitality of the Buddhist faith is evidenced by a giant statue of the Buddha, built recently in the perimeter of the monastery.
Alchi, a monastic complex which is based on the street reformed by the Yellow Hats dating back to the eleventh century. Alchi, wanted by King Atisha, is a veritable museum of murals, which include the many epiphanies of the only divinity that expresses itself in the soul forces and those of nature, assimilated in the magical symbolism of Tantra.
After proceeding to Leh we stop to visit at Likir, where the eleventh century monastery which houses a hundred monks of the way of Gelukpa, smiling custodians of splendid statues in sandalwood and a major thangka collection of ancient texts. We also visit Phyang. The gompa is inhabited by about seventy monks, whose abbot is one of five religious leaders of Ladakh and holds the post of head of the province.
The five-storey complex is lying on the mountainside surrounded by low walls and chorten, includes three temples with wall paintings, Thangka (paintings on cloth) and the VIII-X century statues. Do not miss the statue of Buddha erected in the ninth century bronze.
Continuing east, we return to skirt the river until we reach the village of Bazgo. Historically it was very important as it was from here that the king Bhagan in the sixteenth century finally managed to reunify the whole Ladakh and then he founded the Namgyal dynasty, whose last descendant lives in Stok palace. Again while traveling to Leh, We cross villages full of greenery between barley crops and apricot trees.
Now the road runs at an altitude of 3,000 meters and this explains the radical change in vegetation. Barley, along with canola is grown during the short summers and both serve to feed the men and to give the necessary nourishment to the animals, so that the latter during the long winter gift milk and butter, foods necessary for survival in the great Himalayan ice.
The fuel for the fire, in the absence of trees, is given by forms of dried animal excrement. Near the village of Nimu, we stop to photograph the unusual setting of the confluence of the river with Zanskar river. Here we see all the colors of the Ladakhi land with the variety of ocher and gray sand and rocks, the dark color of the muddy waters of the river Indus contrasting with the green of the river water Zanskar from neighboring glaciers and the inevitable turquoise sky.
At the end of this long day, we finally arrive at Leh, a medieval central asian village. It is home to a melting pot of different races between them, like Tibetan, Ladakhi, Kashmiri and Sikhs.
Day 4: LEH (Shey- Tikse- Hemis)
After breakfast we visit the Shey monastery, located 10 km. from Leh, along the road that runs along the banks of the high Indus. This gompa, which refers to the way of the Red Berets, houses a gigantic gilded bronze statue of Buddha dating from the seventh century AD Continue to Tikse, the twelfth-century monastery which recalls for majesty and structure the Potala in Lhasa and spread over 12 floors.
Inside is a magnificent statue of Maitreya, the future Buddha, tall as two floors, beautiful wall paintings as well as Chorten and other precious statues of deities. A Tikse live eighty school unreformed Lamaist monks and, in a separate convent, some nuns belonging to the same school. Even forty minutes away and you reach Hemis, one of the largest and most important monastic town of Ladakh which is located in a side valley of the Indus left.
The three-storey building overlooking the valley is plastered in local stone with large carved wooden balconies and brightly painted. The interior preserves a precious statue of Tara (deity representing the female aspect of enlightenment) on the lotus throne surrounded by 84 arhats (saints or sages). Return to Leh. Overnight.
Day 5: LEH- Pangong Lake - LEH
At 6 am we depart for the salt lake of Pangong (320 km), located at 4,420 meters above sea level, the largest lake in the chain of Karakorum, whose shades of blue literally take our breath away with their beauty. We get there through the Changla pass, 5,290 meters. Pangong is the world's highest salt lake, measuring 160 km in length and 60% of its area belongs to China, the remaining 40% of course remains in India.
There is no more beautiful thing, if you do not stroll along the banks of the lake and admire the beautiful views that this lake nestled in the high mountains offers and enjoy the wonderful feeling of isolation and silence! We return to Leh by the same route.
The path winds initially along the Indus valley towards Manali, then at the height of Karu town, turn left towards the northern region of Changthang, an arid desert plateau at an altitude of more than 4000 meters on the border with China. Then we travel the road from Karu that rises towards the Chang La pass located at an altitude of 5268 meters and then descend to the settlements of Tangtse And Mulgik. The Pangong is part of a group of large lakes that are derived from an ancient lake system that covered this area in past eras
Its name means wide concave and it is believed to be deposited in this basin there are a large amount of minerals, carried far from the water due to snow melting. This valley is sparsely inhabited; addition to the inevitable and ubiquitous military garrisons where live the Chag PA, one of the many ethnic minorities in Ladakh. The Chag PA are skilled horsemen devoted mainly to herding and continually transhuman with their flocks, because due to the high altitude where they live, should be able to use as rationally as possible the scarce pasture and care so the most of their unique riches consist of yaks, sheep and goats.
The favorite hunting prey is the wild horse, whose complete their meat diet, to another low in protein, consisting mainly of milk and barley flour. After the forcible annexation of the Tibetan region of China and the end of the Indo-Chinese War of 1962, broke down drastically the many trade routes between the Near East and Central Asia, thus reducing these highland regions in almost desert, where few inhabitants vie to nature their survival. We note that the morphology of this valley is completely different from all those covered so far; the valley is very narrow and hilly terrain is quite tormented, due probably to a slow evolution due to the lifting of the Himalayas.
A few kilometers before arriving on the lake, we admire the valley floor a small desert formed by fluvial sand here, where once flowed into the lake. The arrival happens to coincide with lunch time and we can finally get off the jeep to stretch our legs; in this remote area of the Indian sub-continent it opens before us a landscape of primeval beauty, immersed in a wild and rugged nature. The mountains surrounding the lake have warm colors, typical of magmatic rocks, which act as a magnificent contrast with the different colors, blue, green and purple, which the waters assume depending on light levels.
After a frugal meal, at this altitude the appetite is not, let's stay for a couple of hours, before returning to Leh, on the banks of the lake to work full shutters of our cameras, enjoy the peace and quiet and imprinting well in our mind the extraordinary spectacle that offers this remote mirror lake with its crystal pure air at almost 4,300 meters in height nestled between mountain ranges that reach 6,500 meters.
We return to Leh towards dinner time tired from the long trip, but happy to have been able to admire a landscape of extraordinary beauty of this impervious territory. A frugal supper and then to rest, because the next morning we return to the entrance to the Nubra Valley.
Day 6: LEH
After breakfast we proceed for sightseeing to the Royal Palace Changspa, the Palace of the monastery and the small monastery of Shankar, located just two kilometers to peak above Leh. It retains a representation with a thousand heads and a thousand arms of Avalokitesvara, among the great Bodhisattvas, disciples of the Buddha returned to earth to help other people. In the afternoon visit Spituk, the famous center of pilgrimage for Buddhists.
Day 7: LEH - Sumur (Nubra Valley)
We depart from Leh in the early morning climb to the pass of Khardungla (71 km: 2 hours) which, from a height of 5603 meters, boasts beautiful views of the majestic peaks of the Karakorum, and descent into the Nubra valley. In this scenic valley, where the river Nubra flows in a wide river bed gravel bordered by granite walls overhang, which culminate in the eternal snows of high mountains from 6000 to 7000 meters, passing the caravans laden with precious silks, wool, pearls, gold and silver, during the long journey that led from central Asia and Tibet to the Indus valley. On the way stop at villages that stand out with the lush green barley fields in the desert high mountain environment.
After arrival in Sumur, which is 4/5 hours we stay at the camp. Then we leave for the village of Dishket, which rises to 2900 meters high surrounded by fields and orchards, and visit the oldest and largest monastery of the valley. Before returning to the field, we stop at the monastery of Hundar for a panoramic view situated on a rock.
Day 8: SUMUR - Panamik - INSA
Going up the Nubra valley you get to Panamik. We visit the village and the block monastery of Insa. It is possible to reach the monastery only via a steep and challenging path with a walk of an hour and a half, in the picturesque view of the valley with the sand dunes silhouetted against the glaciers. We continue up to a tiny lake of rainwater which occupies a valley bordered by steep Pareto in a landscape of rare beauty.
The day promises to be clear and serene, after two days retrace the ascent to Kardung La, our gaze sweeps at 360 ° on the incredible landscape that surrounds us. In eastward dwell the glaciers of the Markha Valley and west an impressive tangle of mountains hide the remote Zanskar Valley. We are lucky in Nubra reigns an apparent tranquility and then the military personnel of the checkpoint downstream of the step gives us the permission to continue.
We expect an exciting descent to 3,300 meters of the Shyok river valley, which we then take to a vast plain where the same meets the Nubra River. We stop several times along the way to admire and of course photograph the walls of the mountains that present a kaleidoscope of colors ranging from purple to brown, from red to gray.
The Nubra Valley is the extreme tip of India wedged in the southern foothills of the mighty chain Karakorum. Now this remote valley slowly opens our eyes where the Shyok River, a tributary of the Indus, is the only carrier of life; where there is the presence of water is green and these incredible odds you can safely cultivate cereals and fruit.
Here in one summer you can also have three crops of barley, while in the courtyards of the houses and monasteries grow small and tasty apricots. The Nubra owes its fertility to an incredibly mild climate and the monsoon rains, which allow various types of crops, otherwise impossible at this altitude and at these latitudes. The products from these crops provide the ability to supply the entire region, thus earning the orchard appellation of Ladakh.
The Nubra Valley virtually start from the small, dusty village of Khalsar continuing north-east, the road forks the left continue towards Hundar, while on the right, following the course of the Nubra river, you get to Panamik. We head in the direction of Hundar town, where up here at nearly 4,000 meters above sea level we find unexpectedly a kind of Himalayan Sahara; a remote world and poignant at the same time, likely to remain intact for a long time.
Here is a small population of Bactrian camels, bred for transport purposes and also used to accompany tourists in a small safari on sand dunes. These camels, reminiscent of ancient caravan eras, are two-humped animals that appear to be less high and less clumsy against the dromedary that will be experienced in the Saharan regions and which has a single hump; neck, face and shoulders are covered by a thick and soft wool.
The Hundar bridge is the northernmost point of our journey, along the valley that continues for several kilometers to the north, where is the border. The Nubra Valley is inhabited also by a Buddhist community nestled on a rock there appears Diskit architectural jewel, a small but well-preserved monastery (depends on what the most important Tikse) which is a reference for the valley communities.
Belonging to the sect of the yellow caps, built around 350 years ago, the monastery is the oldest of the valley and is home to about seventy monks; Here you can see in it a rich library and numerous fine paintings.
In Nubra there are no real hotels and then heading towards Sumur we prepare to spend the night in the beautiful Laharimo Camp. The curtains are military, cozy and spacious, the facilities are located side of the field in masonry structures; to the 18,00 the camp owner informs us that it will be readily turned a boiler fueled by wood that will make us have an unexpected and very welcome hot shower.
The evening was pleasantly warm, and together with the other two only guests of the Indian national camp, we are going to dine in the main building; the night gives us a clear sky carpeted with millions of stars, the moonlight illuminates the white vertical walls of the mountains and the glaciers that dwell there.
The next morning we eat breakfast outside; everything around us appears to our eyes a superb setting; to the north the snow-capped peaks of the Karokorum chain silhouetted against the blue sky are the protagonist. We head to Sumur, the biggest village of the valley, to endorse his monastery that houses a large community of young monks. The atmosphere is of profound peace and the welcome is as usual very friendly; we are led in the monastery courtyard where dozens of young monks are studying religious texts under a scorching sun.
Thus we have the opportunity to spend some time in their company; kids proud monks show us their little rooms that host them during their stay in the monastery, we offer them some small gifts and together we take some pictures. We take leave of this small monastic community, and we are preparing to go back along the road that will take us back to Leh, where along the way we can admire the beautiful Chorten.
The word Chorten means receptacle of offerings and are nothing more than the construction with a height that varies from a few centimeters to a few meters, they are usually made of stone and mud, often whitewashed with lime and are near the monasteries or at the entrance of villages, to honor the ashes or relics of Lama.
We look back to the last time the Kardung LA Pass where rows of prayer flags, the colors red, blue, white, green and yellow, make an ornament to the highest point of the pass is a tradition of these expose the flags at the points most exposed to the wind, that the prayers that are written there, go up high in the sky spreading and thus to ensure the protection of the faithful.
The formula that is repeated countless times on the flags, as in small scrolls that are located inside the wheels of prayer is Om Mani Padme Om. These words are given a great beneficial power and for this reason are continuously repeated, written and painted everywhere. The next day is the last day that we spend on earth Ladakhi; the entire day to devote to attend the biggest and most important festival of the region, the one that takes place at the beginning of every summer at the monastery of Hemis.
Hemis is located about 45 km south of Leh; left the main route, turn right along a road that runs along the river crossing the INDO numerous fields, leading to the well of the monastery doors. The construction Hemis Gompa dates from the early seventeenth century. Also known by the name Chang Chub Sam Lim Gh, which means lonely place of the compassionate person, is home to a large community of monks. The pilgrimage to this gompa also has a deep religious meaning for those who profess Buddhism, and the faithful are obliged at least once in their lives to go there on a visit.
The importance of Hemis, the most famous and known monastery in Ladakh, is due to the fact that here, once a year, for a period of two days, held a celebration commemorating the birth of a great Indian sage Padmasambhava, who went to the ends of the Tibetan region to preach the Buddhist faith. The name of this festival is Set-Chu, the event which usually takes place between the end of June and beginning of July.
Every 12 years throughout the year of the monkey, the festival takes on a tone of considerable importance, since it is exposed to the vision of the faithful a huge thangka, which is considered the largest in the world. The departure from Hemis takes place early in the morning, and this allows us to witness the arrival of pilgrims dressed in the typical costume which then crowd the courtyard of the monastery.
We also have the opportunity to go inside the monastery to attend the prayers and the habit of the monks. Actually we are in the throes of some emotion, because we are about to witness an ancient religious manifestation of centuries and of which we have said and heard much. All around the monastery arose as if by magic a tent city where the faithful mingle with Western tourists who chose to spend the night in the vicinity of the Gompa.
Once over the imposing entrance gate, we see the magnificent white façade of the monastery, with its colorful and protruding balconies in wood. At the base of the facade there are many wheels of prayer for the faithful to rotate with the right hand in a clockwise direction. In front of and next to the entrance to the monastery, there is a covered gallery that houses the local political and military authorities as well as the many Western tourists who, upon purchase of the ticket, have guaranteed a seat.
The agency had reserved a couple of seats in the gallery, even though, to be able to take some nice pictures, I spent almost the whole day standing in the yard, as close as possible to the dancing monks. Before the start of the festival, you will have the chance to get inside the monastery to assist in the preparations they make the monks before going down in the backyard.
Despite numerous signs prohibiting the use of cameras inside, virtually almost all snap bursts of photos, in almost total indifference of the religious. Meanwhile the courtyard cordoned off the monastery is filling up with tourists and faithful from all over the region. Men and boys cover their heads with the characteristic cylindrical felt hat, covered with red silk and with flaps raised to a point.
The most admired is the "Preak", the famous headgear that is worn by women, where a heavy felt strip, covering the neck and back, is embellished with turquoise and other precious stones coming from the valleys of LADAKH. Tradition has it that this hat steps from mother to daughter and is constantly enriched with jewels, such as coins, corals, shells and silver jewelry. The pilgrims access to the fenced yard of the monastery reciting mantras and widening their rosaries; At the same time, with a repetitive gesture, rotate the axis on which is threaded, a prayer wheel in which copper cylinder is placed a precious parchment where it is written the unchanging prayer Om Mani Padme Om.
Standing in the courtyard, tourists and Ladakhi are mixed eagerly waiting for the start of the ceremony; Meanwhile, we note with interest a masked boy who wanders through the crowd and tourists with a white bandage scarf and then releases them only after receiving a donation in cash.
Meanwhile, some monks with their musical instruments were already stationed outside the entrance of the monastery, under the honorable gallery that houses the authorities. Finally, upon completion of the prayers, the sound of drums, cymbals and gongs, the dancers out of the monastery and announce that His Holiness is going to go down in the yard, to sit on his throne, and so give the start to the actual ceremony.
Needless to say that the exit of His Holiness is all a rumble of shutters; good to see if he could make the monetary account of the total value of the various cameras and professional objectives in the hands of the West at the party, I think the value of the Gross Domestic Product of the entire LADAKH would increase dramatically !!! Now finally begin the dances; the monks who wear colorful costumes and their face is covered with masks made of leather and copper, performing traditional dance called Chham Dam.
The Hemis Festival dances tell us about the history of the monastery and the eternal struggle of good against evil, of the benign spirits against the demons. The monks-dancers themselves in a circle and following the steps of the master of ceremonies form with their movements and their gestures the lines of a mandala imagery.
At the end of the dancing, there is a break of a few hours and in the afternoon the ceremony resumed with other ritual dances. Opportunities to photograph were innumerable, you have sought above all the close-ups of the masks, really beautiful and original; so at the end of the ceremony will be really so many rolls of slides made throughout the day.
At the conclusion of the dances, the last act of the festival will be an exhibition on the facade of the monastery of a huge thong. Now the party is really over and pilgrims, exchange joyful "julee", as they run back to their homes, while most of the tourists will come back to their hotels in Leh.
Day 9: SUMOOR - LEH
We return back to Leh (120 km: 5-6 hours) via Khardungla Pass. In the afternoon we visit the Leh market. It is in the city center and is a succession of narrow alleys between a stand and the other where the Tibetans sell a bit of everything. Besides the classic tourist handicrafts, there are many more stands selling things in common use, below cost, for Tibetan refugees who are in Leh from clothes, pots and pans, utensils. An authentic insight into everyday life which by tradition is shifting to the awkward modernity.
Useful information to visit Ladakh
Mulbekh is a village where you can visit the beautiful Buddhist temple with its ancient statue, which is very authentic and is a little outside the traditional tourist circuits.
If you are interested in traveling to Ladakh below you you can find many useful information. Ladakh is located in the far north of India and is part of the state of Jammu & Kashmir, bordering Pakistan, China and Tibet. It covers an area of about 60,000 square kilometers, with altitudes ranging from 2,600 to 7,600 meters.
The particular natural conformation makes the land routes impossible from October to June. The best way to reach Ladakh is in plane with a flight to the only airport in the region, located close to Leh. Leh is the main hub of the areas of the region, namely the Leh-Srinagar and Leh-Manali road.
For foreigners passport and Indian tourist visa is required. In some areas, like the Nubra Valley, it is also required special permission for non-residents.
As in India, the Electricity is 220/240 volt outlets with two and three round prongs, and you should bring an adapter. Electricity is present but the power cuts can vary considerably depending on the areas where you are until it disappears completely in the most remote places.
The local currency is the Indian rupee, which you can change in banks and in some hotels. The credit cards are accepted only in few hotels.
Internet is only available in some cafes in Leh.
Remember to take with you a sweater as the temperatures can be quite cool especially at night. Clothes should be appropriate, especially when visiting religious buildings.
If you are love shopping, there are several cooperatives that sell typical products, reinvesting the proceeds in social projects. This way you can take home a souvenir of your trip by contributing positively to the development of local communities.