What does it take for a walk in the clouds? You heard it right. A walk in the clouds, along the highest mountain ranges. A trek in Leh in no-man’s land, between the Himalayas’s highest peaks, is verily, like a tourist’s badge of honor and a slice of history in your own backpack. Gift it to your grandchildren and they will have glimpsed at heaven on earth. It’s a high from where you can never climb down.
Leh. Three letters that make for a cornucopia of natural bounties, towering peaks, hiking trails, serenaded by palaces and little box-like buildings, bristling with brushwood stores on the roof, in an oasis of green fields, picturesque and quaint villages, colorful bazaars, monasteries, mosques and churches, and oh-so-much-more.
Leh’s birth is history unrivalled. Confined by two of the world’s highest mountain ranges, the Great Himalayas and the Karakoram, Leh, Ladakh was formed a few million years ago by the buckling and folding of the earth’s crust as the Indian sub-continent pushed with irresistible force against the immovable mass of Asia.
Leh is very Tibetan in many respects; check out the ‘stove-pipe’ hats and felt boots with turned-up toes. The imposing Royal Palace which looms large over the town reminds one of the Potala in Lhasa. The string of Tibetan Buddhist monasteries, large chortens, prayer flags and mud brick houses with flat roofs offer a dramatic contrast to wherever you are journeying from.
Leh sits austerely in the lap of Himalayan ranges at a height of 3,505 meters above sea level. The sparkling white snow-capped mountain peaks, and ruins of Tibetan palaces and forts add a romantic dimension to the un-spoilt virgin beauty of Leh wrapped up in an aura of Tibetan-Buddhist culture. The colorful gompas, snow-covered mountains and the backdrop of azure skies is picture postcard perfect and a magical draw for tourists from across the globe.
For those who prefer to discover and experience on their feet, Leh more than meets their desires. Trekking in Ladakh offers a large diversity of landscapes The green oasis of the Markha Valley guarded by Kang Yatse and stok Kangri, the Changthang Plateau with famous lakes such as Tsomoriri, Tsokar & the Pangong lakes, and some of the oldest monasteries in Ladakh & Zanskar, at above 11,000 feet are nothing like what you have seen or experienced before.
The trekking routes wind down many scattered high villages, each with irrigated fields of barley, wheat and mustard, and the Hemis National Park, where, if you are lucky you can have your own wild life moment.
One of the well known treks is the Markha Valley trek, where National Geographic made an award winning documentary in the Rumbak valley on Snow Leopards. One of the good things about doing Markha Valley is that it has been rated to be only moderately cumbersome, and offers a quick sniff of Leh’s flavor in a short time.
Another famous trek trail is in the Changthang Plateau, well known for its unique landscape, nomads and the lakes. This region is known as the land of the nomads, and is guaranteed to give you an experience that will last a lifetime. Here, you get a close glimpse of the nomads’ traditional lifestyle in what is essentially a wildlife sanctuary, harboring snow leopards and wild asses, as well as various species of birds, such as Black Necked Crane.
The winding roads, hiking trails and the trekking pathways offer a fascinating study of the complexities of life in high terrain open to the vagaries of nature. There’s a touch of humor too in the roadside, as can be seen from the anti-speeding signs like, for example, “Better to be Mr Late than Late Mr.”.
Leh has its own special significance to India. This tiny regional capital sits high in the Indus Valley, from whom India gets its name. The continent’s first humans established themselves alongside this river.
To Leh’s north is the Ladakh Range and beyond is China. Across the Indus River, to the south, is the Stok Range, a famous haunt of trekkers. To get there, you need to first get past a rocky goat track chiseled out of valley walls.
In Leh, small is beautiful, and size does not matter. In many places, a campsite, a little stream and a handful of people is all you will find. After the campfire night, just try NOT taking a walk and you will know the magic that wraps up Leh.