Chapter 4: Leh, Ladakh

May 29-30

After lunch on Saturday the three girls and I decide to explore just outside of the city. Ravi wants some alone time. We find our way through the streets to the entrance to the Leh palace, an impressive structure built on the ridge of the steep hill over looking Leh in the 17th century. The palace has a commanding view of all Leh, perched high on the hillside. We explore the rooms and views over the city sprawled out between the hills; the simple block structures of the homes helps me to imagine what it would have looked like 400 years ago.

Click on image to see larger

Don’t stop here, more story and images inside —>>

Inside the temple in the palace

Rock on mr. five arms

We hike further up the hill to the monastery that sits atop the peak surrounded by Tibetan prayer flags. After every few steps you have to stop to rest, completely out of breath because of the elevation (after living at sea level for almost a year, 11,000 feet makes your lungs really work to get their oxygen). We climb to the very top of the monastery, using very sketchy wooden ladders, but what you see from the top is worth it.

Traveling with a group of friends has its benefits, namely, fun group photos

The Leh Monastary

Another view of the Monastary from GraviT Cafe

Leh from the Monastary

Self portrait overlooking Leh

Vendors selling dried apricots on the street while religiously spinning their prayer wheels

Ravi stays back again Sunday to meet with the pastor of a Moravian church, while Carrie, Taylor, Cammy and I head to the mountains. We catch a bus to the village of Stok, a name the group started calling me after our bus driver couldn’t pronounce my name. It drops us at a tea stall at the base of the mountains. Our tea, coffee and pineapple juice finished, we begin we begin our trek along the rocky river bed that cuts through the valley between the arid, loose rock peaks while snow capped behemoths taunt us from just beyond our reach. Wonderful blue skies surround us on three sides, but dark gray clouds spitting precipitation sit directly over the path in front of us. As we head into the gully the storm seems to move away as if we were pushing it. Wild horses gather in the riverbed to eat any grass that may be growing between the stones.

We’re crammed onto a minibus, heading to Stok

A few kilometers after we start, we see something resembling human made structures topping one of the peaks in front of us. Carrie reasons, “If someone built something up there, it can’t be hard to get to.” The slope leading up to it is full of landslide-threatening loose sedimentary stones with a few solid rock lines intermittently rising to the ridgeline. I start climbing, digging the sides of my feet into the loose stones and thrusting my way up till I reach solid rocks to climb, still wary of the crumbly rock’s habit of coming loose in your hand. The girls are much more timid in their climbing, try to use both hands and feet, which causes their feet to push more out than down, making them slip far more frequently than if they would confidently trust their feet and press directly down. With much encouragement, we all reach the top and climb over the man-made stone wall into the remaining foundations of an ancient monastery or palace. Some of the structures remain partly intact with the help of mud mortar, but many are just rocks stacked no top of one another. While we eat lunch, three local girls come bounding up the backside of the ridge like they do it every day and make it to the very top of the structures. Now we have to do it.
Carrie and Taylor scrambling up the sliding mountain face

The incredible view from the top in the undecisive weather. (Behind us were still rain clouds)

The ruins of the fortress or monastery

The views are incredible looking back over the valley. The weather is constantly changing, giving the surrounding mountains different characteristics. We go down the way the three girls came up, and I find it easier to slide with the loose rocks like I was snowboarding than to carefully pick my way down. The girls again are more timid and make their way down the solid rocks. Eventually, we find the remains of the staircase that led up the mountain now mostly buried layers of loose rocks.

Sometimes, you just have to look up and enjoy the clouds

The bus conductor told me the bus would be back at 3:30, so at 2:00, we start back towards Stok. I don’t like taking the same trail twice, so I walk on the opposite side of the river, bushwhacking my own trail, jumping from stone to stone. I enjoy this kind of hiking immensely – it uses much more of my brain capacity having to carefully place every step.

Showing Cammy why I carried this big plastic circle (my ringflash) around with me the whole day. To take portraits

We reach Stok just after 3:00 and wait for the bus at the tea stall. We wait. 4:00 PM, no bus. We ask when the bus should come: “5:30.” I suggest we start walking back towards Leh rather than just waiting, and we find a taxi willing to take us for a very fair price. The views are spectacular of the mountains from the taxi as the sun dropps lower in the sky and plays on the on the backs of the clouds sitting neatly over the peaks.
This can never be a good thing

Here, all of the cows seem to have horns, but you can tell when what you’re looking at is a bull. They just look meaner

When I saw this, it somehow reminded me of a Creme Savers candy – how the clouds create a patterned shadow on the mountains.

Great example of Virga: precipitation evaporating before it reaches the ground

Every night we would meet with Ravi at an ice cream shop and have mango shakes. It’s a tradition I don’t mind repeating. We find a restaurant open late called Tibetan Friends, where the waiter serves us with an enthusiasm unmatched by any waiter before him. Ravi suggests, “I think he’s the only one open because he suffers from insomnia. That’s the only way to explain his craziness.”
Mango Shakes!!!!

Don’t stop here, read the next chapter, “Pangong Tso”.