Leh2009, Adventure, Cycle Touring, Holidays, India, Indian Himalayas, Travel

Lonely Leh Gompa
Lonely Leh Gompa

Imposingly the Leh Palace is built on a crag overlooking the town, above it a little gompa (monastry) is perched, almost lonely against the vast blu, cloud-puffed sky. Below the old city, densely built, slowy crumbles and decays. The main bazaar is a bustle of old Ladakhi ladies selling their fabulous apricots and vegetable grown in their home gardens, chatting and knitting with their long grey braids, the belching tata truck and horn blasting jeeps do little to disturb them.

Ladakh opened to the rest of the world in 1975, and since then according to researcher Helen Norberg Hodge the rate of transformation has not suprisingly been to the detriment of Ladakhi society: socially, economically and environmentally. Once  upon time 20 years ago this sustainable and self sufficient society was literally bombarded by the West as the road opened- goods, army and tourists flooded in.  ‘Poor’, dependant and polluted are always a conveniently forgotten result of ‘progress’. Its not difficult to see even as a first time visitor. That said parts of  the town have to some degree retained the rural nature: typically double-storied wood and mud brick homes with large gardens of vegetables, barley and wheat. While concrete blocks exist side by side, coupling with tourism and blossoming businesses means more pollution and less water in a very water scarce environment. Yet we too are part of the problem and hopefully a solution, as Helena says. 

We followed the milky green Indus River to Leh. The flood plains were brilliant shades of green: barley and wheat and apricot trees.
We followed the milky green Indus River to Leh. The flood plains were brilliant shades of green: barley and wheat and apricot trees.
Thiksey monastry on the way to Leh. Typically Gelugpa sect (Dalai lama) monastaries we built off the plains high up on rocky outcrops.
Thiksey monastry on the way to Leh. Typically Gelugpa sect (Dalai lama) monastaries were built off the plains high up on rocky outcrops.

 

Chortens of Thiksey
Chortens of Thiksey

 

 Hemis Monastry is the largest Monastry in Ladakh with around 500 lamas. We stayed in a local homestay in the village.
Hemis Monastry is the largest Monastry in Ladakh with around 500 lamas. We stayed in a local homestay in the village.
A ferocious dog I met guarding the entrance to the main prayer hall at Hemis.
A ferocious dog I met guarding the entrance to the main prayer hall at Hemis.
Our timing was perfect for the last day of a 5 day visit from none other than the 14th Dalai Lama. It was quite something to arrive at Choglamsar, 10km from Leh to find 1000s of buddhist devotees from all over Ladakh gathered to listen to his Highness's teachings. It was like one mass family picnic attended by the oldest and youngest.
Our timing was perfect for the last day of a 5 day visit from none other than the 14th Dalai Lama. It was quite something to arrive at Choglamsar, 10km from Leh to find 1000s of buddhist devotees from all over Ladakh gathered to listen to his Highness's teachings. It was like one mass family picnic attended by the oldest and youngest.
The big Ladkhi picnic: Families came from far and wide. The blistering heat didnt seem to deter anyone either.
The big Ladkhi picnic: Families came from far and wide. The blistering heat didnt seem to deter anyone either.

 

Yak butter candle, features in all monastaries.
Yak butter candles, feature in all monastaries.

 Leh is pushed up against the sandy eroding slopes that rise up to the 5600m Khardung-la pass, apparently the highest pass in the world according to the Indians. Ha! well we checked it out for ourselves, yes we cycled once more up another mega pass just to see if it really was 5600m.  Our alt metres  only just made 5300m,  a huge difference! But when you are selling T-Shirts, thrilling bike rides and Jeep jaunts up the “Highest Pass in the World”, you can easily round it off to 5600m.  5300, 5200 or 5600m doesnt really matter, it is dam high and hard  – a 40km uphill of almost 2000m. At least it was a merry expedition with Matt, Rich, Ben, Carlos and Tom, and we didnt get views of K2 either, not possible, but it was rewarding to some of the peaks of the Karakorum way off in Pakistan. Leaving Leh. Up the  Khardung-la pass, supposedly the “Highest Motorable Road in the World’, at 5600m. An almost2km vertical climb over 40 tough kilometres.

 

Leaving Leh. Up the 40km Khardung-la pass, supposedly the "Highest Motorable Road in the World', at 5600m. An almost2km vertical climb over 40 tough kilometres.
Leaving Leh. Up the 40km Khardung-la pass, supposedly the "Highest Motorable Road in the World', at 5600m. An almost2km vertical climb over 40 tough kilometres.
Although we had climbed a few before, this was without doubt the toughest. Great that we had each other to commiserate with! Carlos, me, Ben, Rich and Matt.  The reward: views of the Karakorum Range.
Although we had climbed a few before, the Khardung-la was without doubt the toughest pass. Great that we had each other to commiserate with! Carlos, me, Ben, Rich and Matt. The reward: views of the Karakorum Range.
We were also in time for the start of the 10 day Ladakhi festival. These turrqouise 'Peraks' are typically worn when I woman gets married as well as for other special celebrations. They heirlooms and stones can be added as time goes on making them extremely heavy.
We were also in time for the start of the 10 day Ladakhi festival. These turrqouise 'Peraks' are typically worn when a woman gets married as well as for other special celebrations. They are heirlooms and stones can be added as time goes on making them extremely heavy.
The monks showed their support and turned up at the opening parade too.
The monks showed their support and turned up at the opening parade too.
Women wearing their traditional 'peraks' did a very slow shuffling dance. I could undestand why, I wouldnt want 3kg of turqouise to shift off my head and rip all my hair out either!
Women wearing their traditional 'peraks' did a very slow shuffling dance. I could undestand why, I wouldnt want 3kg of turqouise to shift off my head and rip all my hair out either!
Zik Zik Guesthouse in Karzoo, Leh was a great family to stay with and very relaxing being under the apricot trees.
Zik Zik Guesthouse in Karzoo, was a great family to stay with -relaxing under the apricot trees.

Bridget Ringdahl

Pedaling has been natural to me since the tender age of three. Cycling is practical, fun, it gets you to the corner café, across countries, continents, keeps you fit and is by far the most efficient and environmentally friendly transport option around, being virtually carbon neutral.

I live in Howick, KwaZulu-Natal which is great cycling country, within 10 minutes I can be bouncing along some of the finest single tracks in the province.

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