Paul and Rita - India and About, 2005/6 - Ladakh


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Ladakh is an area of the state of Jammu and Kashmir, approximately the size of England, but with a population of only 130,000.  Altitude varies from 3000 metres with the highest peaks at 7500 metres.  The people of Ladakh are of Tibetan extraction, so much so that the area is known as Little Tibet.  Although these days, there are many people from other parts of Jammu and Kashmir State and elsewhere in India and Nepal who come to work and trade in Ladakh in the tourist trade. 


Itinerary - click link to jump to day

Sat 10th Sept - Arrive Leh 
Sun 11th Sept - Leh

Mon 12th Sept - Leh
Tue 13th Sept - Leh
Wed 14th Sept - Leh
Thu 15th Sept - Leh - Ladakh Festival Closing Festival
Fri 16th Sept - Leh
Sat 17th Sept - Leh
Sun 18th Sept - Leh
Mon 19th Sept - Leh
Tue 20th Sept - Leh
Wed 21st Sept - Leh
Thu 22nd Sep - Leh to Uley
Fri 23rd Sept - Uley to Ang
Sat 24th Sept - Ang to Leh
Sun 25th to Thu 29th Sept - Leh


Saturday 10th September, 2005 (Continued from Delhi)

We were given a smaller snack on the Leh leg of the flight, I don't think I could have managed another breakfast like the last.  The views over the Himalayas were quite spectacular, especially when we dropped down between the Zanskar and Ladakh ranges on the final approach to Leh airport.  We were greeted in the arrival building by a Ladakhi women wrapping a short, thin white scarf around our necks. Because this was an internal flight,, we didn't have any immigration procedures to go through, although we did have to fill out a registration form for the tourist registration people.  After collecting our checked in bag from possible the shortest carousel I've ever seen, we got a taxi for the 10km drive up into the old part of Leh.  The town starts almost outside the airport, and is spread along the roadside, climbing several hundred metres to the old part of town at the top of the valley.

We had picked the Ti-Sei Guest House as it was fairly close to the town and but very reasonably priced. Negotiated 300 rupees a night for a double room with a fantastic view over the vegetable patch.  Oh, and a pretty good view of the Himalayas as well!  There were 2 bathrooms across the hallway, no hot water on tap but available by the bucket with 20 minutes notice.  Our room was fairly plain, one chair, two single beds with extremely firm and thin mattresses, pushed together, and a couple of recesses in the walls with a few shelves and glass doors.  The ceiling was a traditional Ladakhi build, with 6 - 8 inch thick tree trunks forming the joists, and 1 inch diameter rods laid closely together over the top and at right angles to the joists.  On top of this, but not visible from within our room, was placed a layer of special type of grass, and on top of that was a 6 inch layer of mud!  From what we could see, most floors and ceilings in Ladakhi houses are made this way.  Ladakh has a very low annual rainfall of about 50mm, most of which falls as snow, so I guess erosion of the flat mud roofs is minimal.

After a couple of hours rest and chill-out, we walked slowly back into the town centre.  Our plan was to take it very easy for at least the first three days, to gradually try to acclimatise.  Rita especially, but me also on occasions, had had terrible problems in South America with going up to altitude, not helped by the fact that we only spent a few days at altitude before returning to the coast, only to repeat the exercise a few days later.  Pressure of time meant that we couldn't spend longer than a couple of days in the high altitude places before moving on, and moving on to the next place invariably involved going back down to sea level.  But now, we had almost three weeks in Ladakh, plenty of time to take things real easy.      

Lunch at La Terrasse consisted of  Indian mixed veg for Rita and a chicken Jalfrenzy (yes, thats how it was spelt on the menu) and dhal fry for me, helped down by some Kingfisher beer and pineapple juice, not together of course.  Starting to feel the effects of the altitude, so wandered back to the hotel, picking up a few essentials on the way such as toilet roll, bottled water, and a nice big shiny stainless steel padlock for our bedroom door.  It seems that we end up buying a nice shiny padlock in most countries we visit, I'm sure Rita thinks I've got a fetish about them, but I like to feel secure, and a piddly little padlock doesn't do it for me. 

The power supply in Leh is a bit temperamental, but elsewhere in Ladakh its non existent, so I guess we should be glad to have it occasionally.  We were back in our room by 8pm, but with the light going out and coming on again a infrequent intervals, we called it a day and went to bed.    Back to Itinerary

Sunday 11th September, 2005

The beds were harder than at first feared, and the pillows were pretty ineffective too. We were both feeling under the weather to say the least, with symptoms other than those you would normally associate with altitude sickness, so it was a very long, uncomfortable night..  I started with a dose of Delhi Belly, rather an appropriate name as that's probably where I collected it from, but I also developed muscle aches, somewhat akin to flu.  Rita was also suffering, she had the headaches in the top of the skull, the usual place for altitude sickness pains, but was also suffering from the flu like muscle aches.  What a pair, eh?

Late breakfast of Ladakhi bread, butter, jam and a cup of coffee, at our guest house.  Didn't notice until afterwards that breakfast is served from 7 'til 9, but they didn't say anything when we ordered at 10.  Not the most difficult meal to prepare, though.  The bread is a round flat bread, similar to a naan bread, but cooked in an oven instead of a tandoor.  

I wandered into town to look for a two pin power lead, the 3 pin lead I had bought in Delhi should have been sufficient, but our room only had one power point and that was a two pin socket, which I couldn't quite get the 3 pin plug to fit.  Being Sunday, some stalls were closed for day, but a lot of Muslim traders were open.   If I was looking for a kerosene cooker or spare parts for one, or shoes, clothes or radios, I would have soon been sorted, but it was 20 minutes of walking down to the old bus station before I found a suitable shop.  And he had an appropriate adaptor, for only 50 Rupees.

After a quick beer break in La Terrasse restaurant, I returned to collect Rita from the hotel, and we strolled, slowly so as not to exert ourselves, to the Mentokling Garden Restaurant.  We had spotted it on our brief foray into the town yesterday, and it looked like a quiet spot, away from the traffic in a pleasant garden setting.  After a fairly dull start, the weather was perking up a little and the sun was even popping out occasionaly.  We had a kadai veg. and a mixed veg., accompanied by a dhal fry and some garlic naan and roti.   The curries were quite bland and oily, and the sun didnn't seem to get through to the garden at all, too many trees.  This could be our last visit to the Mentokling.  Back to Itinerary

Monday 12th September, 2005

Rita feeling a bit better this morning, me - slightly worse.  The fast and furious hasn't really subsided so I start on the Immodium.  I don't like to take Immodium as soon as problem begins, because I'd rather let my body sort it out itself, which it often does.  But after 24 hours, it was time to give it a hand.

Breakfast time, so I'll stop talking about toilet habits, for now anyway!  We'd heard a few good reports about the World Peace Cafe, attached to the Pumpernickel German bakery.  There are apparently at least 4 German Bakeries here, hadn't noticed that many German tourists but I guess they don't check your passport when you go in, so we should be OK.   Rita had an Israeli breakfast, consisting of an omelet, bread, salad, humus and a cup of coffee. I fancied something solid, and maybe a bit binding, so I had what was described as roast potatoes on the menu, but which turned out to be mashed potato fried like a thick pancake.  Not what I was expecting, but quite nice all the same.  After a few coffees each, the bill came to a reasonable 200 Rupees. 

Spent most of the afternoon in our room, with me making frequent visits across the landing.  By evening, things  had slowed down a little, so we watched one of the DVD's we had bought with us, on my laptop. Potato crisps and biscuits for tea, what luxury!.  Back to Itinerary

Tuesday 13th September, 2005

Role reversal this morning, I'm feeling better and Rita has worsened, she has a bad headache, probably due to the altitude, she hasn't had any alcohol for a number of days so we cant blame that.  I went into town at 8:30 to see if I could find any of Rita's migraine tablets, but I'm told the chemists dont open until 930.  Back at the hotel I had my first hot wash since we arrived, from a bucket.  It's not bad really, like a shower but you pour the water yourself using a small mug.  The only drawback is the water goes all over the bathroom floor, but thats a common feature of most showers in Asia, 

Back to town to check out the chemists, no luck with the migraine tablets, although they had heardof them and they were sold under a different brand name in India, they didn't have any in stock.  They didn't seem very interested in getting any supplies in, either.  "It will take a week for them to arrive, they have to come from Delhi" I was told.  "We're her for 3 weeks, so we can wait" I replied.  "Oh no, they will take too long, they have to come from Delhi."   "'s...we're.......", why bother, he obviously isn't going to order any.

After a quick check for emails at an internet cafe, I returned to the hotel again, at least I'm getting a bit of exercise today.  Rita is up and about and feeling a little better.   Returned to La Terrasse for lunch at around 1pm.  The weather had been closing in all morning, and now it was starting to rain, so we sat inside rather than in the rooftop restaurant.  It was quite busy in there, I guess the rain was taking everybody off the streets, it was quite heavy, quite unusual, we were told.

Found and internet cafe that would let me connect my laptop to their network so I could get on to the internet.  Connected up ok, but it was painfully slow.  Rita tried to check her email on another terminal but couldn't get past the log on screen.  After half an hour I'd managed to download two messages and gave up.  

After exploring some of the old town for a while, we had tea at the World Peace Cafe, I wont bore you with the details of my meal but Rita had a fabulous falafel sandwich.  

I know what you're thinking, all we seem to be doing is eating and walking between the hotel and the cafes.  Well, that's what your supposed to do when you trying to acclimatise, take it real easy!    Back to Itinerary

Wednesday 14th September, 2005

I'm still having a few problems in the toilet department, but I've carried on with the Imodium and thinks are improving.  Just thought you'd like to know.

Late breakfast in town, followed by a spell in another internet cafe that will let me connect my laptop.  The connection is better, but it keeps on stopping and everyone despairs.  Perhaps this is all we can expect this far up in the Himalayas?  Although this place we're using at the moment is supposed to have a satellite connection, I think they might be sharing it with a number of other places.

3pm is the highlight of the day, as far as the Ladakh festival is concerned, anyway.  It's the final of the polo competition today.  There has been a match every other day during the festival, but we haven't made it to any of them.  Yet.  This final is between the Ladakh Scouts (not boy scouts, I thin they're a branch of the Indian Army) and a team called Animal Husbandry (probably also something to do with the army but could find out, must be a secret).

We reached the polo ground, not far from the centre of Leh, a little after 2pm, a bit too early for the 3pm kick off but at least we could pick our seats.  I've never been to a polo match before, so I wasn't quite sure what to expect, a bit like hockey on horse back, I supposed, and I wasn't far out.  The local variation of the game has few rules and play is fast and furius. There is a referee, but his job seems mainly to be to chuck the ball in the air and blow his whistle when a goal is scored.  The Ladalh Scouts overwhelmed the first half and scored 3 goals to nothing.  The second half was slightly better for Animal Husbandry in that they scored a goal, but the end result was 8 - 1 to the Ladakh Scouts, a fair result.  

Wandered back into town with the rest of the crowds, but, unlike the others,  we headed to the Norling Restaurant, a place we hadn't tried before.  Quite a nice chicken fried rice (I'm still taking it easy on the stomach front, need something to help slow tings down a little) and Rita was more adventurous with dhal mackenie and roti.  The waiter, originally from Nepal, spoke to us at length about how good his Indian food was, but said the Chinese food was only so so.  Perhaps he should have told me before I ordered my dish!        Back to Itinerary

Thursday 15th September, 2005

Gave the Noorling another try, this time for breakfast.  I had a standard breakfast, a bit below standard if you ask me, Rita plumped for the Israeli breakfast, just for a change.  Not over impressed, wont come back here for breakfast.  It perhaps wouldn't be so bad if the waiter didn't go on about how his place was.

We are changing hotels today, for a number of minor reasons.  1. When we arrived, we told the manager we'd be staying for 5 days, (mainly to try and squeeze an extra bit of discount out of him but it hadn't worked).  2. The beds were rock hard, surely they weren't this hard everywhere!  3. We wanted to try a different part of the town.  4.  We were getting a bit fed up with the toilets in our old hotel, especially the state of the toilet seats, and we seemed to be the only people who flushed them (often the flush didn't work so you had to fill a bucket of water and pour that down.  Not too difficult, really).  Why am I justifying it, we were moving, that's all.

The Rainbow Guest House had a good write up in the Footprints guide book.  There were some en-suite rooms which she would let us have for 250 Rs, normally 300 Rs but because it was nearing the end of the end of the season she reduced it without asking.  Bed was still pretty firm, actually very firm,, and the pillows weren't much better.  But we had our own toilet.  The views were not as good as described in the guide book, in fact from within the grounds of the guesthouse there were no views to be had at all, but if you walked back up the road a little way, stood on a small pile of boulders and craned your neck, you could just make out the top of the Shanti Stupor, a distance over to the west.

Back to town in the afternoon for the closing ceremony of the Ladakh Festival, at the polo ground. Arrived  a little late to get a good spot, but later realised that what might have appeared to be a good vantage point at the start would not necessarily be later on. There was a long line of people dressed in traditional costumes spread across half of the polo ground, obviously lined up waiting for a procession of some sort.  There were a lot of foreigner, us included, strolling along the line taking photos.  I was a bit embarrassed at times by the gall of some of the foreigners, practically sticking there cameras up peoples noses without a please or thank you.  There are limits.

Soon the local dignitaries turned up in their posh Ambassador cars.  I say posh, the Ambassador was one of the only cars produced in India at one time, so they were used for all purposes, from a (wealthy) family car to taxis and official cars.  These days, there are all sorts of imported cars and cars manufactured by foreign car companies within India, but the Ambassador still seems to hold a special place in the hierarchies of government and the civil service.

Now the VIPs were here, the procession started.  The VIPs walked to their reserved seats in the main stand, followed by the costumed people, who paraded past the stand and continued on to a waiting area.  Then there was a long speech to welcome the dignitaries and every other Tom, Dick and Harry.  While this was going on, the hordes were kept at bay by the local police, patrolling the limits of a large space in front of the main stand, cordoned off by metal railings, and waiving there rattan canes at anybody who dared to poke their nose into the cordoned area. 

Just as we were about to go home from boredom, thinking we'd seen the procession and that's probably it, bar the shouting (or speeches), the costumed people began doing their party pieces.  The cordon was gradually abandoned, with groups of people being allowed to sit on the floor, within the cordon, closer to the performance area.  It was a shame that the performers seemed to be performing mainly to the people in the stand, in a small carpeted area just in front of the stand.  During the speeches they had said a great deal about how the Ladakh Festival was designed to bring in more foreign tourists, but the closing ceremony seems to be for the benefit of the local dignitaries.  The police were very good at keeping the crowds sitting, especially with their big sticks, but, because there were so many of them and because they were standing between the crowds and the performance, as the crowds got closer it became more and more difficult to see the performance!  Despite this, we did see some wonderful costumes, if thats the right word to use.  

Dinner at Grand Norling.  The waiter said he would do something special, a surprise.  Rita was game for it, but I knew what I wanted and didn't fancy a surprise.   Ritas special dish turned out to be a veg sizzler, something taht a lot of the cafes do.  I'm not sure its especially a local dish, I think it is of India origin, but is basically a hot cast-iron dish covered in a layer of cabbage leaves on top of which were numerous vegetable cooked in various ways.  It was okay, but was also one of the most expensive items on the menu, especially for a veg dish.  This could be our last visit to the Norling. 

Reviewed our photos from today and the last week on my laptop.  I've also got a DVD writer now, which should hopefully reduce the number of discs we have to carry.  During our recent world tour, we ended up with 35 cds full of our photos, with DVDs that would have been reduced to 6 or 7 discs, quite a saving it weight and volume.  But tonight I'm having problems writing to the discs I've bought with me. Hopefully its just that the DVD burner doesn't like the brand of discs I've got, rather than the DVD writer is on the blink!  I'll have to try and get some more blank dvds to try.  In Leh?  I think I'm going to be pushing my luck find them here. 

Back to Itinerary 

Friday 16th September, 2005

Spent ages in the internet cafe, downloading other versions of DVD burning software, just in case its the fault of the software.  Tried out 3 different programs, but none would write to my DVDs.  The Nero trial I downloaded expired as soon as I installed it, now thats what I call a short trial period! I thought it was supposed to be 30 days, seems more like 30 seconds.

Didn't do much else today, walked around the town and ate and drank. We are on holiday, after all!.   Back to Itinerary

Saturday 17th September, 2005

Did even less today than yesterday.  Still no joy on DVD front.  Back to Itinerary

Sunday 18th September, 2005

Our first trip out of Leh since we arrived.  Both feeling a lot better today, taken some time but you cant rush these things.

Dull and cloudy today, hopefully it will brighten up later, as it seems to often do, although the clouds look a little different today.

Up early, breakfast at World Peace Cafe, then walked to the bottom end of town to the new bus station, about 20 minutes walk. !0am bus to the Thickse Gonpa, a Buddhist monastery, about 25km, or an hour on the bus. Started out not toobad, but as we got to the outskirts of Leh, more and more people got on.  Not sure how they got on, a lot of pushing and shoving and they disappeared into the back of the bus, somewhere.  I think the bus had about 25 seats, but there must be have been at least 60 people in there at times, and I don't know how many were on the roof!

The view of the gonpa as we got off the bus was quite impressive, sat atop the end of a ridge above the village and Indus valley below.  Shame about the electric pylons and wires spoiling the view.  It was not as difficult a climb as either of us thought it looked from the bottom, and we were soon at the first of several temples in the gonpa, not too out of breath and actually feeling quite good.  

The most impressive sight was the huge Buddha in one of the temples, it was seated on the ground floor of the temple but its head reached up to the top of the second floor.  I think the temple had actually been built around the statue.

After a cup of tea with the monks in their communal kitchen, which they wouldn't take payment for but accepted a donation, we headed back down to the main road to catch a bus back to Leh.  Stopped off to take some photos of some farmers threshing their barley, all manually of course.  Had to stand for the hours journey back to Leh, could have been worse, at least we weren't asked to sit on the roof.     Back to Itinerary

Mon 19th September, 2005

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Tues 20th September, 2005

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Wed 21st September, 2005

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Thur 22nd September, 2005

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Fri 23rd September, 2005

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Sat 24th September, 2005

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Sun 25th to Thu 29th September, 2005

After our 3 day trip out in the homestays and visiting the monsateries, not to mention the walking, we decided to chill out in the last few days in Ladakh.  A lot of the shops and restaurants were starting to close down at the end of the season, but we still managed to find a few good ones who were staying open.    Our hotel was staying open at least until we left on the 29th, and possibly longer, but there were fewer and fewer guests as the days passed.

Our departure from Leh airport was marred by what we now call the battery incident.  We had arrived early at the airport, too early to be allowed to go through to check in, so we waited in the outer waiting hall.  

When we passed through to the check in desks, we were second in line.  The lady at the check-in desk said we weren't allowed hand luggage, so I said it was all fragile and valuable things that couldn't be checked in.  She didn't argue, but did say they may not allow us on the plane with it.  

We then went though another scanning process ( our third since arriving at the airport) to get through to the departure lounge.  I use the word "lounge" loosely.  Nobody seemed to object when I put my hand luggage on the x-ray machine conveyer belt,  I thought I was home and free.  But then the guy operating the machine shouted out that I had two spare batteries in my luggage.  So?  You're not allowed to take spare batteries in your hand luggage, it seems.  His assistant got me to open up my bag and get the batteries out.  Something was coming back to me, I vaguely remember something about Indian airlines being a bit funny about batteries in hand luggage.  I pulled out the spare battery for my camera, an expensive lithium-ion jobby.  She wanted to know where the other one was, I said I had no others but she checked the rest of my bag, missing the spare battery for my laptop. Phew.  I was then told that when I went out to identify my checked in luggage, I could put the battery in there.  No problems, I didn't mind doing that.  The problem was that the man with the gun guarding the checked in luggage didn't want me to touch the bag, let alone put anything in it.  I went back to the x-ray machine guy, who took me back out and had a long argument with the man with the gun.  Rather him than me.  No, I cant put my battery in my checked in luggage!    Next option, I hand over the battery and somebody will give it back to me in Delhi.  What do you mean, somebody?  Who is this person? Do I get a receipt? Will I get compensation if it doesn't make it?  The nly answers to these questions were shakes of the head.  Finally, Rita came to rescue and offered to check in her hand luggage with my battery in it, a solution that seemed to please everybody. 

The bizaar thing about this no batteries rule is that it only applies to spare batteries.  The identical battery that was in my camera was perfectly ok to take on as hand luggage, but because the spare was not in the camera, it was not permitted.  How stupid is that?  If I was a terrorist and wanted to take a battery on board or some illicit reason, I would just have to put it a battery operated device and I'd be on my way, to heaven and the attentions of 72 virgins, probably.

The rest of the flight was uneventful, except for the specatular views of the Himalays, of course, which we weren't allowed to photograph for security reasons.  Give me strength.

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