Leh or the capital city in the land of Gods8
Leh, finally, after a flight of an hour and twenty-minute from Delhi, I reached the capital city of the (semi autonomous) sub-district of Jammu-Kashmir. Far from the heat of Delhi (40 degrees celsius…almost unbearable), as soon I put a step in the airstrip I can feel the fresh and thin air (around 15 degrees), what a relief !
While waiting for other passengers to get down of the flight, my eyes were caught instantly by the majestic view of the scenery, we are literally surrounded by massive dry and white cape mountains (it’s like icing sugar was poured on the top of the mountains…).
The airport in Leh is as minimalistic it can be but organized, it took me just a few minute to collect our bags and go outside where a taxi driver was waiting for us.
15 minutes later, after a quick ride through the suburb of Leh, we reached our lovely guesthouse (Padma Guesthouse). We can already feel the altitude effect (we are at 3500 meters). The Ladakhi owner recommended us to stay the entire day in the guesthouse just relaxing, drinking plenty of water (we drank around 4 liters each that day …) and tea (ginger or mint tea), so our body could acclimatized smoothly. We slept badly that night.
The time for acclimatization really depend on people, for us, it took us 3 days. Don’t neglect that aspect if you travel on high altitude.
The next day, after a very chaotic night (dogs barking all night), I was awake around 6 Am by the muezzin calling for the prayer, immediately followed by the roar from the hive of the buddhism psalm broadcasted by the several speakers in the city. A real cacophony but surely a spiritual place where buddhism, Islam, hinduism live in a happy harmony. Ladakh is often called land of gods, I started to believe that Leh was without any doubt its capital !
Leh has a serious challenge regarding the abundance of dogs, so many of them everywhere. I didn’t witness any anger from dogs (as most of them are sleeping during day time..) towards my person, but after speaking with a local, I was told they may bite occasionally…..and it’s common that dogs may carry rabies …The authorities in Leh are now taking some measures by catching dogs and administer them some medicine that prevent them to reproduce and get rabies treatment …
A local legend say that in Ladakh, Gods are going down in Ladakh to set the night
After a light breakfast, we decided to go for a stroll in Leh.
Leh is at first glance a very small and dusty city dominated by the Royal Palace (a replica of the Potala in Lhasa). However what I found interesting is the architecture of the city and how well-preserved and unified it is, Ladakhi didn’t sacrificed their Ladakhi style in the name of the growing tourism.
Most of the houses are made with mud bricks with flat roof where they can stock grass in sufficient quantity their stabled livestock during their long and harsh winter.
In the city center, you will find lots of trekking agencies (you may consider to organize your trek once you arrive in Leh), souvenirs shops, and restaurants. If you go aside of the main street (in the tiny and narrow streets), you will find small groceries or covered little markets, traditional bakeries, shoes repairs shops and some interesting book shops. Stupas, mani stones, prayer wheel and prayer flag are part of the scenery …
Also, you will find a couple of flees market owned by the Tibetan Refugee (they represent a good portion of the population in Leh). In those market, you will find “silver” jewelry, Tibetan art craft but also shawl made with yak hair ….
Leh, as a capital city, is not an aggressive and noisy city as you may expect, on the contrary, I found the city being very relaxing and peaceful. On a different note, Leh is without any doubt an excellent base to prepare your outdoor activities in Ladakh.
Military presence in Leh:
You can’t ignore them, they have several camps outside the city and it’s very common to see them in the city but also in the entire Ladakh. The main reason of their presence is the proximity of China. Relations between India and China has always been sensible.
I asked one local person living in Leh (he is Ladakhi) how he felt by the heavy presence of the army in Ladakh.
His answer was simple and straightforward: the government is spending 50 to 60% of their annual budget on the army and a lot of people will be in favor to see the budget better allocated so they could see improvement in many fields such as health sector, education, transport, ecology ….
During my stay in Leh, I witnessed one strike protest (maybe 100 people, not more ..), apparently the protest was about the raise of the oil price. I was really “impressed” and surprised about the number of policeman (all heavily armed) around the protesters ..I didn’t see any violence, it was rather peaceful protest. But still, I was wondering if it’s necessary to have such heavy contingent.
What to visit in Leh
If you have the chance to come to Leh, I would suggest you spent a couple of days in the city, there is enough to make you busy for a couple of days. I would recommend to visit the following:
- Shanti Stupa (you can go by walk)
- Royal Palace (easy reachable by walk also from the city center)
- Tsuma Gompa (you will get the best view of the city, and the little temple is one of my favorite)
- Tibetan Market (there a few of them..)
- Main street on early evening, so you can stroll around the local selling their vegetable in the street
- Visit some outdoors clothes shop (cheap price for rain jacket, pants, camping gear …high chances it’s fake …)
- We found out, it was interesting to change money in Leh, the rate was higher than the rest of India. (we were getting a rate of 1 euro= 70 rupee instead of 65 ..)
- If you are sensible with dust, you should take with you a mask or eventually wear a scarf.
- Leh can be very crowded during summer (peak season), you need to book your flight (supposing you come by flight) well in advance.
- When planning your trip, check if roads are open towards Leh
- Take good quality warm clothing with you, you might have snow even during Summer time