Posted by: Talie Morrison | June 10, 2015

Kathmandu, Nepal & Leh, Ladakh, India

 

April 9th (just 3 days after I left New Zealand), I flew to Kathmandu (through Guangzhou, China).   I only had a couple of hours at the airport – so I didn’t consider it one of my “countries”… (But my way home, I had a 16-hour layover, got a free hotel room, and took a bus into town – so I guess I can consider that I have been to China now!).

In Kathmandu, my friends, Ishor and Raj met me.   Raj is a special friend of my Kiwi friend, Dianne, and I had a delivery to Raj from Dianne (with a “tablet” and clothes).   That worked great, and Raj was back on a bus and headed back to Chitwan, where he lives and goes to school, shortly thereafter.

 

Ishor plunked me on the back of his motorbike and off we went to explore Kathmandu.   Kathmandu is “crazy” whether you are in a car or walking – but on a motorbike it is even wilder!!!!   It took me a couple of trips with Ishor till I stopped having a “death grip” around his waist!   Luckily he didn’t pass out from not being able to breath J. We visited some of the temples and sites of Kathmandu – and in hindsight, I was really glad I was able to visit them when I did (since after the earthquake – those that didn’t collapse were closed from danger of collapsing).

After just 2 days in Kathmandu, I was back at the airport and on my way to Leh, Ladakh, India.   When I put this trip together, I decided that I was “close enough” to go to India to visit a monk, Sonam Rinchen, who I have been corresponding with for about 10 years.   That came about when some Buddhist Monks visited Crested Butte and did a sand mandala in the Center for the Arts.   I was so impressed with the time and precision and effort that went into the mandala that I signed up as a sponsor.   Sonam and I have been corresponding since then.

Sonam is adorable! He met me at the airport (at 7 am) and dropped me off at the hotel where I had booked a room for my 10-day stay.   We had discussed prior to my arriving, that I would need to “take it easy” for the first couple of days because of the altitude – Leh is at 11,500 feet!   So I took a nap first thing – but woke up at 11 am with Acute Mountain Sickness – woofta!!!   By that evening, the hotel owner took me to the hospital where I got all the treatments: Oxygen, Dexamethazone, Diamox, etc.!   It took me a couple of days to get close to “normal” again – but I was glad I didn’t have to cancel and head home!

Leh, Ladakh, India – is an amazing place!   It is definitely a mountain desert region!   And being there in April, it was before the growing season began.  I enjoyed watching for 10 days the start of spring with trees budding out with fresh green leaves and blossom.   There are apricot trees everywhere!   Sonam took me to see all the monasteries within about 50 square miles! It was great! He had borrowed his brother’s car – so I felt really special having a driver, tour guide, and monk all in one! Like I say, he is SUCH a sweetheart! His English was good enough for us to communicate with basic understanding.   He took me to have dinner with his mother and sisters one evening – awesome!

I had my friend, Joni, send me Red Lady Prayer Flags for this trip – so it was fun to hang them up in India and Nepal.   Sonam helped me hang them up at Shey Monastery outside of Leh.   Very fun!

I booked another driver (we needed a bit of a stronger vehicle) to take us over the mountain pass to the Nubra Valley.   This is how Lonely Planet describes Nubra:

Ladakh – the ‘Land of the High Passes’ – is among the most stunning parts of the Indian Himalayas. Wedged between Pakistan, Tibet and Xinjiang Province (China) and India’s Himachal Pradesh, it forms the eastern part of the contested state of Jammu & Kashmir. North of Leh, Ladakh’s ‘capital’, lies a far-flung and austerely beautiful enclave cradled by rugged mountains ‒ this is the Nubra Valley (often simply abbreviated to Nubra), a tuft of land on the very scalp of India.

The region actually comprises two valleys: Nubra and Shyok. Both their rivers rise amidst the remote and heavily glaciated peaks and troughs of the Karakoram Range. The Nubra joins the Shyok in ‒ as far as tourism is concerned ‒ the region’s heart near Diskit before flowing westwards into Pakistan to eventually join the mighty Indus. Local communities once prospered on an extraordinary trans-Himalayan trade which originated with the Silk Road. Comprising huge mountains, yawning valleys and vast uninhabited hinterlands, most of Ladakh’s boundaries may look almost impenetrable on a map. Yet for centuries great caravans of wool and cloth, opium, spices and skins, coral and turquoise, gold and indigo negotiated several routes and their hazardous passes mainly between Leh and Yarkand (in China). The already withering trade finally died in the late 1950s when China largely sealed its borders.

Far more relevant to today’s visitor is the journey to Nubra on what is claimed to be the world’s highest motorable road. Climbing steadily out of Leh and the Indus Valley, the road officially crosses the Khardung La pass at 5602m (18,379ft), although this height is now disputed and the accolade is probably incorrect. But don’t let the maths or contested measurements spoil what is still a great drive.

Someone once told me that to feel “truly alive”, I should do something that scared me every day.   Well – after driving over Khardung La pass, I think I have 3 years “in the bank”!   The road was snowy and icy – no one has 4-wheel drive, but everyone puts chains on their vehicles – and there were LOTS of trucks and cars – all trying to pass each other on the basically one-lane road! Yikes!!!

I booked the same driver to take Sonam and me over another pass a couple of days later – to go see Panglong Lake – am I crazy or what??

Pangong Lake is an endorheic lake in the Himalayas situated at a height of about 4,350 m (14,270 ft). It is 134 km (83 mi) long and extends from India to Tibet. Approximately 60% of the length of the lake lies in Tibet. The lake is 5 km (3.1 mi) wide at its broadest point. All together it covers 604 km2. During winter the lake freezes completely, despite being saline water. It is not part of Indus river basin area and geographically a separate land locked river basin.

 This pass was equally scary and we got totally stuck in a traffic jam at the top.   Driving on these mountain passes was pretty amazing – I am glad I wasn’t behind the wheel (we would still be there!).

Wandering around the town of Leh was also very fun.   I was there before the tourist season really got started – so the merchants were pretty “hungry”!   They would come out of their shops and talk to me and try to entice me into the shop.   By the end of my stay in Leh, when I walked down the street – I would keep hearing “Hey “Colorado” – how are you today?   Come in and have some tea!”

So even though I was in “India” (which gives me visions of hoards of people, pick pockets, and dirt), I felt very safe among the “mountain people”.

 

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