A Travellerspoint blog

Delhi - Leh

♪♫♪♪♫...Leh, lady Leh...♪♫♪♪♫

sunny 30 °C
View Mountains, monasteries and much more - Lakakh and Kashmir 2013 on Grete Howard's travel map.

It was a very early morning start today (3am alarm) as our flight time had changed to 05:45 this morning. David managed to divert a baggage disaster at the check in desk – the clerk was just about to send the bags down the chute when David noticed his case did not have the label on it, the clerk was still sitting on it! Phew, that was close!

Today's pet peeve is airplane etiquette: when you reach your allocated seat, quickly put your bags in the overhead lockers. Surely you realise you are going to want your camera/glasses/book/purse/snacks BEFORE you get to that point? Pack them in a small bag just inside your hand luggage so that you can quickly grab it when you get to your seat. Better still, carry it separately in your hand, that's what I do. Do not spend five minutes standing in the aisle rummaging around all the pockets in your bag with your bum blocking the entrance for all the other passengers behind you. When you have found your stuff, there is no need to carry on standing in the aisle any more, chatting to your mates, completely oblivious to the people trying to squeeze past you to reach their seats. That was today's musings of an inconvenienced co-passenger.

We checked in on line last night to ensure we got a window seat, but the only ones available were over the wings (the plane carried a large French tour group and an English Explore group), but I still managed to get a few photos as we flew over the Himalayas. Daylight was only just breaking as the flight left the plains and entered the Shivalik Hills. At first everything was shrouded in a heavy mist, then the first 'little' peaks started appearing above the clouds, bathed in sunlight. Then more and more peaks come into view, until the whole horizon was jagged; the mist soon magically disappears and you were given magnificent views of the mountains below. This is said to be one of the most spectacular air journeys you can make in India and I would go as far as saying the landing was one of the most spectacular and dramatic we've ever experienced!

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Suddenly you go over the edge with the mountain peaks giving way to a fertile, inhabited plateau, and the plane starts to spiral to lose height, seemingly missing some of the lower peaks by just a few feet with the wing-tips before you land at Kushok Bakula Rimpochee Airport, one of the Highest Airports in the world at 3,256m (10682 ft) above sea level.

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Absolute chaos ruled in the terminal building, with two conveyor belts servicing luggage from at least three flights, all at random. Kashmir (and Ladakh by association) is a sensitive area, and foreigners have to register with the police on their arrival. As you step into the terminal building you are given a form to complete, which they collect as you leave the building. Surprisingly efficient and smooth for India.

Indians are masters of bureaucracy and they certainly don't make it easy for visitors to their country. The first point of contact with Indian red tape is the visa application. This being our eighth visit to India, you would have thought they'd store the information on their computers wouldn't you? Oh no, we have to go through the complete process each time. There is an added complication as I have a Norwegian passport, so they needed my address in Norway (!) where I haven't lived for 40 years. On the plus side, the Price of the visa for Norwegian passport holders is less than half that of British citizens.

Ladakh
The name Ladakh means "the land of high passes" and has affectionately been described as "The Broken Moonland", "Little Tibet", the “Land of Endless Discoveries”, the “Roof of the World”, and even known by some as "The last Shangrila". Nestled between Pakistan (or Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, depending on which side you are batting for) and Tibet, Ladakh is one of the most remote regions of India, in the state of Jammu and Kashmir. This high altitude desert (much of it lies at over 3000m and the Himalayas create a rain shadow preventing the monsoon reaching this area) is a part of the Trans-Himalaya as well as the Karakoram mountain ranges . Human habitation is confined to narrow strips of arable land clinging to the glacier rivers and divided from the mountains by sheer walls of rock and ice. Isolation has preserved a historical way of life, dictated by the changing seasons – until the arrival of aeroplanes, this region was only accessible by high mountain passes which were closed for large parts of the winter. An authentic land, like a forgotten moment in time, Ladakh is faithful to ancestral customs where life is characterised by intense spirituality. A mysterious place of myth and legends, set in an enormous and spectacular environment at an unbelievable height and surrounded by dramatic mountains, this is the highland bridge between the earth and the sky!

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For nearly 900 years, from the middle of the 10th century, Ladakh was an independent kingdom, its ruling dynasties descending from the kings of old Tibet. By the beginning of the 19th century, the Ladakhi king Tshespal Namgyal was dethroned and exiled to Stok, and the the kingdom was incorporated into the state of Jammu and Kashmir in 1846. It still maintains considerable autonomy and relations with Tibet, with the rugged region being home to one of the last undisturbed Tantric Buddhist populations on earth, protected from colonial interference, rampaging Mughals and the ravages of the Cultural Revolution by sheer force of geography. Ladakh is in fact one of the main centres of Tibetan Buddhism outside Tibet. When monasteries were destroyed in Chinese-occupied Tibet, Tibetan Buddhist culture was kept alive in Ladakh. The area was only opened to tourism in 1974.

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The Foreigners (Protected Areas) Act requires foreigners to obtain a Protected Areas Permit (PAP) or Inner Line Permit (ILP). For this, you require two photocopies of your passport and Indian visa as well as a completed form. One of the beauties of having an agent arrange your trip for you, is that they take care of that. As soon as we arrived, the guide collected the passports to go and arrange the permits for us.

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Theoretically you are supposed to travel in a minimum group of four people and to be accompanied by a liaison officer, but I suppose the local agent has managed to get round that somehow. Despite getting the permit, there are still restrictions on where you enter the area and where you go once you're there. The reasons for the restrictions are said to be twofold: for security reasons (Kashmir is a hotly disputed area) and to protect the culture of the local people from outside influences.

You are required to carry at least six copies of the permit with you when you travel, to show at check points.

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Leh, lady Leh...♪♫♪♪♫
Leh is the land of Lamas (the Buddhist Monks, not the animal), located at a crossroads of the old trading routes from Kashgar (on the Silk Road in China – we visited there three years ago), Tibet, and Kashmir. Its importance as a trading town slowed down with the partition of British India, and ended with the closure of the border in 1962 during the Sino-Indian war. We found the town to be small, compact, friendly and akin to a cross between Kathmandu in Nepal and Lhasa in Tibet.

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Altitude sickness
As recommended by nearly every website and tour agent I consulted, we have given ourselves 24 hours after arrival to acclimatise to the altitude before doing any sightseeing. Although the altitude here in Leh is not as high as it is in Lhasa (3505m in Leh against 3650 in Lhasa, Tibet, where we had no significant problems when we visited in 2005), I wanted to make sure we followed the sensible guidelines (it's not like us to be sensible, I know) as the only cure for severe altitude sickness is to remove yourself to lower ground. However, it is normal to feel slightly nauseous, light-headed and fatigued as well as having difficulty sleeping for the first 24-48 hours, the symptoms of which can mostly be relieved by taking paracetamol or ibuprofen.

We have been taking Diamox® which is said to cut the time process of acclimatisation by up to 50% by forcing the kidneys to excrete bicarbonate (the base form of carbon dioxide) which re-acidifies the blood and thus balancing the effects of the hyperventilation that occurs at altitude in an attempt to get oxygen. Alcohol (and smoking, which doesn't apply to us) is said to slow down your breathing, which could obviously cause quite a problem at this altitude, so we are staying teetotal, at least for the first few days. Contrary to what many believe, air is not sucked into the lungs but rather it is pushed into the lungs by atmospheric pressure. As altitude increases, barometric pressure decreases and therefore less oxygen is pushed into the lungs. Other physiological changes that naturally occur at altitude include increased heart rate, increased respiratory rate, increased metabolic rate, and sometimes an increase in blood pressure. We have brought a pulse oximeter with us to be able to monitor our blood oxygen levels and pulse as we ascend to ever greater heights... Normal Sp0²for me (at home) is 98-99% and an at rest pulse of 64-65. When we arrived in our room here in Leh, the SP02 was 84 with the BPM (beats per minute) being 106. Apart from feeling out of breath much, much quicker than back home, and a little bit of facial tingling when we stepped off the plane, neither of us have felt any real effects of the altitude. Yet. My roll-on deodorant on the other hand, suffered badly and exploded on me as I tried to apply it. At least my entire left side will not be suffering from smelly perspiration today.

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Having three girls half my size carry our luggage up three flights of stairs seemed so wrong when I was struggling to carry myself (and my rather heave camera bag) up to the third floor. Not a bad view from our room though being so high, and we have large opening windows with a small sitting area, making it almost feel like a balcony. The hotel is slightly downhill from the main town, but has lovely grounds with lots of seating areas dotted around outside. I am not sure I would have combined green and pink though...

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Great view from the room

Normally we hit the ground running when we travel, so having the luxury of free time on arrival at a destination is new to us, but how to spend it? First of all we took a much needed nap, then tried out the wifi in the hotel lobby. Not working. Walking into town, we found a café advertising wifi, so ordered a lassi and a cake to get in touch with my dad to tell him we'd arrived safely as unfortunately neither of us have any signal on our mobile phone. Although the wifi was working fine – I could send and receive mail via Facebook for instance – my iPhone suddenly decided the email accounts (gmail, Outlook and Yahoo) all needed a password, which it then didn't accept. So still unable to contact my dad.

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Chocolate brownie cake and sweet lassi - just so that we can use the wifi!

Our next choice was to use a PC at a proper internet café, but even that proved to be complicated, as Outlook needed to confirm it was us (because we'd never logged on in this place before apparently), and could either send a text to our mobile (not much good with no signal), or an email to our other registered account, gmail. That was fine, except we had the same problem getting into gmail! Eventually we managed to get round it by answering some security questions and got our security code for Outlook so that we could email my dad. Why does everything have to be so complicated? We even have two dongles – a British Vodafone one, which of course doesn't work here as there is no signal, and an Indian Tata Photon Plus which has been de-activated as I haven't used it since we were in India two years ago.
More walking around, more café stops for cold drinks, more photos, then back to the room to write my blog. In the evening we walked back up to town to go for dinner, taking the laptop with us to use the wifi in the café we found earlier with the good signal. Guess what? The battery on the laptop was dead! We seemed to be doomed with this blog here in Leh.

We had dinner in one of the recommended restaurants called Summer Harvest, which serves local Kashmiri and Tibetan food. We ordered a selection of dishes to satisfy our curiosity, but found it exceeded our appetite.

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Summer Harvest Restaurant

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Chicken Kanti

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Steamed mutton momos with spicy dipping sauce

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Rogan Josh

Despite no alcohol touching my lips, I still felt drunk this evening and retired to bed early. I went into a deep sleep, but it didn't last as the bed was so hard I woke up every 15-20 minutes having to turn to stop my hip hurting. It was also very warm, so eventually we opened the windows – the only sound outside at midnight was the dogs barking.

Posted by Grete Howard 09:39 Archived in India

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Comments

Love reading your blog. Perhaps baby powder would be a non-exploding option for deodorant.

by Helen

Just imagine how lucky you guys are since we will now have to pay about Rs.3,00,000 as a security bond over and above the already high visa fees for the UK. The Indian visa fees are high for people from the UK because the UK charges very high visa fees for Indians visiting the UK. Tit for tat!!!

by Aadil Desai

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