Saturday, July 7, 2007

In Leh...

Having spent a relaxing five days in Srinagar, outside of me stressing out about whether to buy an exquisitely embroidered, baby-bottom soft, natural colored pure pashmina for a cool $850-- which I correctly didn't buy, it was time for me to move onward toward my final long-term destination of my trip-- Leh.

Leh, which is approximately 400 km east of Srinagar, lies in the state known as Ladakh, which is one of the few areas in the world outside of Tibet, whose natural inhabitants are Tibetan. Leh is also the summer home of the Dalai Lama, who will supposedly be here in August teaching.

Although I knew that the long journey to Leh, two days by bus with an overnight stop in Kargil, would take its toll on me, I couldn't wait to see the scenery that awaited me along the way.

The area in between Srinagar and Leh is desolate and known for its striking natural beauty, that, unlike most of this part of the world, is still relatively untouched due to its remoteness. The scenery would not disappoint.

As our "deluxe" bus climbed high into the mountains, we were greeted by large, lush valleys just starting to flourish after the long winter (most roads here are only open four to five months out of the year due to snow blockage). One couldn't help but notice the huge sheep (approximately the size of a small horse) grazing in the emerald green valley, which was fed by the snow-capped mountains above by means of what must have been a chillingly fresh river.

As we crossed a unnoticeable 5000 meter pass, the mountains turned from snow capped to arid, wind blown splendors-- something the like of Star Wars. The views we mind-blowing at nearly every turn as we made our way to Kargil.

We arrived in Kargil around 7pm and a group of French guys and I (five in all) stumbled around the dusty, outback of a town (although it is the 2nd largest city on Ledakh) and settled on a creeky, dirty dorm room for an astonishingly high 80 rupees ($2 USD) for the night. I was in bed by 9pm after having eating a few delicious kebabs, which I would pay for the next night in Leh, and trying to ready myself for the 3:30 am wake up call the was awaiting me. The fellas stayed up until the wee hours of the morning complaining that there were too many bugs in our room (I awoke once to something crawling in my ear but otherwise saw nothing to speak of) and that it was too warm. I hardly noticed a thing and slept wonderfully otherwise.

Morning came before I knew it, and the guys and I staggered slowly towards the bus. We hit the open road at 4:30 am and most, including myself, slept. As the sun made it's appearance, I slowly began to wake-up and took notice of the astonishing views outside my window. The mountains, still arid as the day before, somehow played with the air, forming masterful pieces of art-- the only way to describe such beauty.

As our bus wound slowly through the pallet, we encountered multiple wonders of nature.

Hours later, after witnessing countless natural splendors (and a few man-made ones as well, in the form of accidents), we inched closer to our destination-- Leh.

My first impression of Leh has to include the military force here. It is not nearly as apparent as in Srinagar, where endless amounts of soldiers line the street, but it is very difficult to miss the massive air force base on the outskirt of the city-- a humbling site in the middle of this arid wonderland.

I was a bit disappointed by the city upon arriving at the city limits. It seemed to be more drab than I had envisioned and was not the mystical desert land I had fantasized about in my head. Upon further review, however, I think that it might warm up to me and become what it probably is intended to be in the first place, at least in the historical sense-- a rest point for caravans headed elsewhere.

I am looking forward to doing some day trips to the surrounding areas in the next few days. (I initially wanted to do some trekking here, but I don't think that I will have the time to do so without rushing. I would rather wait until next time to trek properly before setting off on a time-limited trek.)

I will most likely be here until the 13th or 14th before I start the 2-day (and supposedly spectacular) journey to Manali and then continuing on to Delhi overnight. I have yet to decide whether or not to take the 23-hour train from Delhi to Mumbai or pony up for the 2-hr flight... The flight is starting to sound very appealing, especially since there has been massive flooding in Mumbai-- good thing I haven't been taking my Malaria pills-- but thought of a relaxing journey by train seems to be calling my name at the moment. A trip to a travel agent today might settle that for me, however.

I hope that all is well in your worlds. I look forward to seeing you all soon and sharing my experiences with you, although it should be noted that I really wish I could stay in India longer-- I am having the time of my life!



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