D H I T I

The road to Leh : Part 2

In Culture, India, Photography, Places, Travel on April 29, 2012 at 12:20 pm

Lamayuru monastry. Our first halt since Kargil and we were itching to do more than just drive through the mountains. There had been nothing much to visit since Srinagar so we were really looking forward to some sight-seeing!

(This post follows my earlier post The road to Leh: Part 1 which covered our journey starting from Srinagar in Kashmir to Kargil and a bit beyond. )

Our first view of Lamayuru assured us that we were right in staying there for the night.

We were dropped off at the bottom of the hill on which the monastery was built. We checked into a hotel before we went searching for food, for we were starving and having finally set foot in a Ladakhi village with a nice and proper monastery to prove it, we wanted Ladhaki food!

We headed expectantly to the hotel restaurant, looking forward to enjoying our first real meal in two days. I was already dreaming of momos and tea with yak milk when the menu thrust in front of me jolted me to reality. I was outraged! Aloo Paratha? Aloo gobi? When did Punjab invade Ladakh?

(Aloo Paratha=a type of bread stuffed with potatoes. Aloo gobi = potatoes with cauliflowers. Both of them quite popular in north India, mostly in Punjab.)

I hesitatingly pointed out that their menu was all wrong and that their restaurant was in the wrong part of the country. My demand for momos was met with a firm shake of the head indicating that it was not available. Not keen on having north Indian food, we left as politely as we could to continue our quest for local food. We ultimately found a place well hidden from any kind of view where I think the people were so happy that we had found their place, they were ready to make anything for us. And we were so tired and hungry by then that we would have eaten anything. So a happy compromise was easily reached.

We spent the afternoon exploring the village and the monastery.

We were only a handful of tourists at that point and it felt nice to finally get some exercise. The village around the monastery still showed signs of the flash floods of the year before (2010) and a lot of people were working on their houses. Summer is the only time when they can work in the open and practice agriculture. In winter, when there is snow all around, they are confined to their houses where they literally live in one room with the entire family comprising three generations. Not because they don’t have more than one room but because it works better when all you have is a stove to heat yourself.

In the evening we spent some time talking to the restaurant owner at our hotel. He told us that he was a resident of Kanyakumari, the southern tip of India, around 2,900 kilometres (1800 miles) from Lamayuru and he spent the 4 summer months in Lamayuru every year working at his restaurant. He knew everyone in the village and seemed to be on friendly terms with them all except that the people working at his restaurant were not locals.(He said it was difficult to find ladakhis to work at hotels or get them to make north-indian food the way the tourists preferred.)

In fact, the two young men working for him informed us that they were residents of a small town some kilometres from Delhi but they would take jobs like working at restaurants in far off places whenever they could. It was how they travelled and saw the country. They did not like Ladakh though. “There is nothing but barren mountains here. There is nothing to do.”, they said in despair.

Coming back to our restaurent owner, we asked him how long he took to travel from his hometown till Lamayuru and he guffawed with laughter. Then on a more serious note, he said it depends on whether he can afford a flight for part of the journey. If not, and if he had to take trains,buses etc. it could take him a month.

We left Lamayuru the next day. We planned to make a stop at Rizong, Alchi and Basgo. Our stay at Lamayuru had convinced us that there was no point trying to get to Leh as fast as possible, there were too many things to see on the way. The road we took was empty and the mountains around us were bare. It is probably the only place in India where you can travel without bumping into someone else every few meters. I assure you, as an Indian, I am so not used to that in India and therefore after an hour of driving, during which we saw not another soul, in silence amidst barren mountains, I was sure we were lost.

And then we suddenly took a turn and…

…we were at Rizong!

The Rizong Monastery was built on the face of a rocky mountain. Today, apart from the monastery, there is also a school for the local girls. There was a lot of construction work going on at Rizong which made our uphill climb to the monastery slightly difficult and the monastery itself was deserted. We finally found a monk who could open the monastery and show us around. The fact that Rizong is slightly off the main route between Lamayuru and Leh probably explains the lack of tourists here.

It was easier for us to get here by car. Public transport can work too, if you have a lot of time on your hands, which we didn’t. Buses will drop you at least 5 to 10 kilometres from Rizong but more than the distance, it was the frequency of buses which posed a problem for us and since we were in Ladakh for a very short while, to make the most of our trip, taking a car was the most logical solution.

From Rizong, we went to Alchi and then Basgo of which Alchi was packed with tourists and at Basgo, we did not see a soul apart from a few villagers at the foot of the hill. Maybe because we were there around lunchtime? Whatever the reason, it was almost errie to explore the village and the monastery without bumping into a single person. I would have taken it to be dead if not for the tell-tale signs of life like clothes hanging from pegs, plastic bottles for oil at the monastery etc.

We arrived at Leh late afternoon and having spent the last four days in villages with the last two in mostly deserted areas, arriving in Leh was a shock. Leh is a bustling city with modern amenities that are hard to find in the other villages. Electricity and hot water from the taps, among others. I leave you with some of the pictures of our road trip till the moment we arrived in Leh. We did other road trips from Leh afterwards, mostly to Pongong Lake but that is another story.

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  1. […] The road to Leh : Part 2 (1garamchai.wordpress.com) […]

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