4am. It’s dark. Standing in a bus lot, no clue which bus is mine. But as always some friendly local comes and helps me onto the right bus and then I’m fast asleep. The journey from Kargil to Leh goes through some beautiful landscapes of geological wonders, particularly near Lamayuru, and then once we are within 3 hours or so of Leh, we start passing through meticulously organized green Buddhist villages. AH, so this is what Leh Valley is all about.
I arrive in Leh at nearly 5pm since our bus broke down, and it is certainly a world away from Zanskar. Western tourists are wandering around in shorts and tank tops. Signs for pizza, falafel, internet, and dozens of tour companies line the streets. It takes me about an hour to find a place that has a room available – yes, it’s that full – but I am satisfied with my choice. I go for my first non-local meal in a month – since I left Dharamsala – and oh my oh my I do love pizza.
Leh and the surrounding area feels very much like Tibet, except with a whole lot more tourists than I encountered in Tibet. I have to remind myself I went to Tibet in the dead of winter before the railroad connecting Lhasa to mainland China was completed, and it possibly has the same amount of tourism as Leh does now. Ladakhi people are beautiful, and are renowned for their ecological awareness and lifestyle truly harmonizing with nature. The fragile balance of the harsh climate they live in, and how they manage it and respect it, are an example that can certainly be learned from.
The next morning I head off to Phyang where Phayang Tsedub is happening – an annual festival where Tibetan masked dances take place. The bus stand in Leh is a bustling mass of confusion for me, but I make it on the right bus and 40 minutes later we arrive at the monastery. Phyang village itself is very beautiful, with neatly squared off barley fields and the irrigation channels just wide enough to hop over. The dances are interesting; it’s the first time I’ve ever seen these masked dances, and a lot of other tourists are there to spectate as well. I don’t stay too long, and head back to Leh.
In the afternoon I go to Thikse and Shay, which are very close to Leh. Thikse is the largest monastery in the Leh area and it is huge, built into the mountainside and very very well maintained. The main hall is an explosion of color, and there is a huge Buddha statue as well. Shay was the former capital of the Leh kingdom and we visit the palace ruins which affords wonderful views over the valley.
Leh as a city (town) certainly serves its purpose. Wonderful food, compact enough to get around, with little organic hotspots and it seems to have a nice market although I generally steer clear of markets. A great little base, and it’s nice to be back and connected.