Ladakh. Even the name sounds infinite and mysterious, just like its otherworldly vistas high up in the Himalayas.
Part of the disputed territories along the border of India and Pakistan in the state of Jammu & Kashmir, Ladakh is known as the Land of High Passes. It has a remote otherworldly beauty with desolate landscapes populated by caramel colored mountains, beautifully striated, punctuated with reed thin poplars amidst the lush plains. The Indus, a turquoise river snaking through the valley of the same name, runs parallel to the road so throughout the stressful stretches of the drive one is imbued with a sense of calm and serenity.
Passing through the high altitudes invokes the sensation of moving through clouds, many roads flanked by 10 ft tall sheaths of ice.
The exhilaration of crossing the Taglang La, the 2nd highest road pass in the world at 17582 ft, and feeling like the vast entirety of the world lay at one’s feet. The trip peaked at the glorious lake Moriri, of the dusky pink sunsets, verdant meadows, crystal clear waters, and golden peaks; with horses and goats clambering up the mountainsides, untouched by mass tourism the lake felt very serene and otherworldly. The shores just teeming with unique shapes of crystal, and shimmering shards of mica perfect for gleefully skipping stones.
White washed Stupas everywhere jutting out from the side of the road. Ancient monasteries such as Thiksey and the more well known Lamayuru are perched perilously on the mountainside, with newer additions stacked helter-skelter. Gorgeous prayer wheels of various sizes and indeterminate ages tactilely compel you to take a spin, and friendly monks are more than happy to impart their knowledge of Tibetan buddhism and the history of this disputed territory.
The capital city, Leh, affords breathtaking views of the snow capped mountain range at each twist and turn of the hilly road.
The quirky linear architecture built with the unique climate in mind, ornately carved windows so large that panoramic views of the blue, blue sky are prevalent. Wood paneled interiors with splashes of primary color for pop and decorated with Tibetan artifacts, instill a cozy feeling in its inhabitants. And exteriors adorned with clusters of multiple prayer flags fluttering in the wind.
The hillside Leh Palace offers quite the arial view after the arduous climb to the top, and the Ladakh Arts and Music Organization (LAMO) teaches you about the burgeoning cultural vision this region of India is intent on solidifying. Sweet, non aggressive (for India!) shopkeeps are excited to offer you tea, and extol the virtues of their reasonably priced wares. Off season, before the rest of India flock to Leh to escape the stifling heat elsewhere in the country, there are relatively few tourists and one can enjoy the charms of amazing local restaurants such as Bon Appetit and Tibetan Kitchen without much of a wait.
Finally the amazing group of stylish, progressive and creative Indian friends from Bombay and Goa that I was lucky enough to spend time with, and continue on to amazing road trips in Kashmir once our time in the peaceful, welcoming state of Ladakh is over.