Ladakh is quite an uncharacteristic definition of beauty. Bestowed with a very different kind of natural vistas – a mix of blue lakes, desert, barren mountains and some lush lands, the unmatched experiences make a trip to the Land of Lamas an unforgettable experience. Here’s sharing some must-do activities, indulgences and adventures.
Monastery hopping in Leh
Gompas are the most distinguishing feature of Ladakh’s landscape. There is no better way to start the day here than joining the monks in early morning prayers at Thiksey Monastery. After having butter tea with the monks, you can soak in the views of the Indus valley plains and appreciate the splendid statue of Maitreyi Buddha. Some 25 km away from Leh stands five-century old Matho monastery. It is one of the only two in Ladakh representing the Sakyapa sect of Tibetan Buddhism. Famous for its annual Oracle festival, it also boasts of a rare collection of thangkas (a painting on cotton, silk appliqué, usually depicting a Buddhist deity or a scene) dating back to 600 years. The next stop should be one of the richest Tibetan monasteries – Hemis. While its museum displays are full of precious metals and stones, the copper-gilded statue of Lord Buddha is a sight to behold. The most precious possession, however, is the 350-year-old three stories long thangka of Guru Padmasambhava which is unfurled every year during the Hemis festival.
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Ride a Bactrian camel
Getting their name from the ancient region of Bactria in Central Asia north of Hindu Kush mountains, these camels have two humps on their backs as compared to their more popular and familiar counterparts from Rajasthan. They are usually found roaming or giving people leisurely rides among the sand dunes of Nubra Valley. With their ability to sustain high altitudes, cold and drought-like conditions on minimal nutrition, they were the mode of transport during Silk Road days.
Meet a village oracle
One of the strange ways of exploring this mysterious land is their oracles. Apart from the ‘lha-mo’ (female oracle) or ‘lha-pa’ (male oracle) associated with various monasteries and believed to have powers to look into future, there are some in the villages that help in healing of ailments. A séance session with the oracle of Choglamsar village was an experience of a lifetime. After she entered trance and donned a multi-coloured robe and headgear, she started telling a local woman why her illness persisted. She then sucked out toxins from her body with the help of a thin pipe. I was particularly interested about a peep into my future, but was advised otherwise. They say different oracles have different powers and they should stick to that.
Tie prayer flags at Khardung La
When visiting a market, remember to pick some prayer flags and the get them blessed by a monk at a monastery. Though Ladakh is dotted with these flags tied at numerous spots, nothing compares to tying yours among the many at one of the world’s highest motorable passes (at 18,379ft) – Khardung La. Through the long and winding road, among the snow-covered peaks, you have to see it to believe why it inspires scores of bikers and expeditioners. Depending on the time of the year, you might even get fresh snow en route to and at Khardung La. After tying the flags, beat the chill up there by gulping down steaming hot momos and black tea at a cafe.
Chance to meet Dalai Lama
Your best bet to meet His Holiness the Dalai Lama is on a trip to Thiksey’s TUTC Chamba Camp. During his visit to the place some time back, this is where the spiritual leader chose to grab a bite. The camp staff is believed to be skilled enough to be able to arrange a private audience for the guests too. The luxury tents standing on the land owned by 15th-century Thiksey Monastery are not only one of the best way to be closer to raw nature but also a foodie’s wish-come-true with their local and global flavours, in carefully crafted menus.
Hike to a distant village
When the temperatures become intolerable many villagers come down from the high mountains to lower parts of the land. Hiking up to one is the best way to see their way of life from up close. However, that would mean passing through treacherous roads or the absent ones and then tiptoeing through old creaky wooden log bridges to reach the upper villages. There you not only find welcoming and smiley faces, working on their plans to brave the winter but also see many dzos (a hybrid between cow and yak) grazing away to glory.