On our way into Leh we’d passed through a couple of villages with white hilltop monasteries and lots of white stupas. We decided to head back to the furthest of these.
Thicksey is home to one of Ladakh’s biggest monasteries which tops a large rocky hill with layers upon layers of Tibetan style buildings that pretty much form a village. The main gompa of course sits at the very top. Before leaving town we saw another mask dance at Leh’s central gompa then caught a local bus, they are like small buses that run every 30 minutes and they have bugger all leg room. It took us a bit of finding at the bus station, but unlike in Delhi locals do give you help and correct information and after a bit of asking around we were pointed to the right bus.
There was just us and locals on the bus, when we thought we could see the white monastery building we asked the old man squashed in next to us and the young guy in front also joined in to help. They told us to get off the bus at the back of the monastery and walk up that was as it was a ‘shortcut’ the old man said. They even stopped the bus for us. They were right. It was an easy walk up, we arrived when the monks that open the temples were on their lunch break but it is one of the most beautiful monasteries we have seen and the view was stunning so we were quite happy to meander around the courtyard until they returned to duty.
The highlight of the monastery is a stunning 14m high sitting Buddha that was consecrated by the Dalai Lama – even he said it was one of the most beautiful he has ever seen. The temple that houses it you enter on the first floor, about level with it’s head. Lastly we visited the monastery museum which had some cool stuff in it including something like a skirt made from human bones.
We left by taking the front route down to get the visual impact of the monastery. We had a bit of a wait on the road but eventually a bus came along so we flagged it down and jumped on.
Day 4 in Leh and Emma was sick. We’ve done pretty well, it’s been 3 months and this was the first time one of us has got full on sick. It started in the early hours of the morning. Luckily no headache or fever meaning there was no doubt it was just a gastro illness. Despite carrying an entire pharmacy each the best thing to do with gastro is to let your system get rid of whatever it is it doesn’t like. She was quite chirpy initially for someone who had been up half the night. Then Marie went for breakfast and Emma could hear everyone talking at the outside tables and suddenly felt very sorry for herself. Marie then went out for the morning, not being keen to stay in close proximity to the sick one. She returned at lunchtime with cornflakes as had been requested. The one lying in bed dismissed them with a groan and looked properly sorry for herself. Marie hung around for a bit and did a token spot of laundry as a gesture to do something useful and then went out again for the afternoon.
When Marie returned late afternoon she sat on a chair on the balcony and talked to the dying one through the open door, consequently Emma got to socialise without leaving her bed. Ingrid got back and came over to see how Emma was and gave her some organic green tea. Then Bruno got back and stopped for a chat, Emma managed to perk up slightly to talk to them. Marie spent the evening talking to Bruno, Emma managed to shower then slept all through the night. It was a good place to be sick though, friendly people and a nice tranquil setting. For the first time this trip we have actually had the time too, given we were spending 8 days in Leh. So timing wise it couldn’t have been much better.
The next morning Emma felt much better but was tired and delicate so we had a slow day, and did exciting things like wash our thin fleeces and Emma’s day sack. That night we ate at the guesthouse and Emma had her first meal in 48hrs. We had intended to have dinner with Bruno as he was flying out the next morning but he had returned that afternoon with his own dodgy tum, he thought the momos he had for lunch weren’t properly cooked but had eaten them anyway. He had recovered enough by the evening to chat briefly and say goodbye. Milon had left a couple of days before to walk back to Keylong in his own form of pilgrimage – a journey that should take about 20 days.
We were thinking of going out to an old monastery at Hemis but it was a 2hr bus ride each way so the following day we decided to test how well Emma was by taking the short trip to Shey Palce, with the intention of maybe going to Hemis the next day. We took an off the tourist trail route to the bus station, located the bus and got on to find heaps of tourists going to Thiksey. Luckily we got seats near the front as Shey is the stop before and it made getting off the bus easier. Having passed the palace twice before and knowing what it looked like we gave the signal to stop the bus and jumped off, happy to leave the others behind.
One of Ladakh’s royal capitals, the 17th century palace sits across a ridge top with a series of fortress ruins above it. Buddhist mantras are painted and carved into the rocks around it and prayer wheels line the path up. After getting up to the palace in the full sun all Emma could manage was ‘I don’t think we are going to Hemis tomorrow’- discovering this alone made it worth the trip.
The palace is almost entirely reconstructed and is empty apart from 1 massive prayer wheel and a temple housing a 7.5m gilded copper Buddha. It was no where near as nice as the one at Thiksey but before leaving we slowly scrambled up to the first ruined fort and round the stupa on the far side of the palace. We just missed a bus so had bit of a wait with some sleeping dogs under the shade of the roadside trees. Eventually a bus came and we flagged it. We were happy it was just us and the locals and not to be surrounded by loud tourists.
When we got back to Leh Emma felt well enough to get a haircut. The guy in Delhi had made a mess as he used a comb as he had no guard for the shaver. This time she made sure they had a guard and she jumped up quick after it was done so no extras could be added – but as is typical of Ladakhi culture, they did what she had asked, were careful to make sure it was right and no more was offered – it was a bargain price of 60 rupees and she looks much better (if slightly shorter – more Buddhist like – than usual).
The rest of the afternoon we spent at a cafe drinking black tea. Then with the town having no internet connection yet again we borrowed a computer to sort some photographs before heading back to the guesthouse for showers and dinner.
Our second to last day in Leh and with a trip to Hemis ruled out we started to head to Shankti Stupa but then came across a small internet cafe that had a connection. There had been no connection all day the day before and we’d had a good look around town and all internet cafes were closed with a few with signs saying the server was down. Not knowing when our next chance would be we jumped on. Afterwards we decided the stupa could wait as we wanted to go to Ladakh Festival’s closing ceremony and first needed a bite to eat.
We knew from the previous festival events that we should get to the closing ceremony a little earlier in order to nab a spot we could actually see from. Then the guest of honour – the Governor of Punjab State was late. Then the Chair of the Festival spoke for a long time and only then did it finally get started. The performances were traditional Ladakhi dances in traditional costume. The dances were very slow and they only did two then the guest of honour spoke. He was an awful speaker. Basically him and the festival Chair both spent their speeches welcoming the tourists and asking them to spread the word about Ladakh and to take the message of love and peace from Ladakh to the world.
As the dances were so slow and we ditched it after the dance following the guest speaker – we had been standing in the crowd for long enough. Police with batons patrolled the interior edge but locals seemed to pay little attention to them. It was cosy, we could barely move and yet still more people pushed their way in. We had bailed as we started to lose our view.
After an obligatory tea stop and calling into a couple of shops on our way back we finally headed to Shanti Stupa, a large hilltop stupa built in 1991 by Japanese monks to promote world peace. To get to it we walked through a whole other part of town. The route up was steep steps, which sucked, but the view from the top made it worth it. We were also able to buy more laundry soap (which Emma really likes) from another eco shop as the one in town had ran out. Leh is really ahead of us on the eco front. Plastic bags are banned and there are shops where you can go and refill your plastic water bottle with clean safe water. Many houses are self sufficient with fuel and food with lots of organic veggies being grown despite water having to be channeled from the mountains (this is what stops Leh becoming a desert) and a short growing season and where all seeds have to be sown by hand as nothing grows naturally. By the time we had walked back it was time for dinner. We found a very nice Asian place.
Our last day in Leh started rather cold. We had arrived to hot days and warm nights but within a couple of days it had shifted to getting cool at night and then to cloudy and cool in the day too. A very noticeable change in a short space of time. We had even noticed more snow on the mountains and everyday we saw more falling up there.
We did a repack of the bags and Marie actually parted with her smelly and now scruffy t-shirt she bought in Borneo. She also bought a second coat in Manali with the intention of binning her other one but decided the original one isn’t actually ready for the bin yet. Something had to go in order to get everything in properly. We also gave the bags a good clean as they were dusty from the trip up. Once again the rucksack covers are trashed showing how good they actually are at keeping the bulk of our rucksacks clean and tidy.
The only exciting thing we did that day was walk to the donkey sanctuary. It was a long walk in the sun, which when it is out is still pretty hot, and we weren’t entirely sure we would find it but it was a really pleasant walk past traditional houses and veggie gardens. We eventually found it, it had eight donkeys including a couple of small ones and was very peaceful. Emma loved stroking them and feeding them. A baby one nibbled her hand- we concluded that no, donkeys do not have rabies so it was probably ok. We left finding it hard to imagine the abuse they have suffered as they are so friendly and tame. On the way back we saw some yak, someone had shaved their wool off but there was no mistaking them, they are huge compared to cows. We took a detour to explore the really cool houses and at the bottom of the back path to the fort we climbed the other day and we had a wander a little way up the steps to get a bit of a view. The snow capped mountains were no longer visible and rain was really far down into the valley. We made it back into town and to a tea shop before it rained in Leh.
- The electricity is off more than it is on (though it’s usually on at night) which means stinky generators pumping out smoke into the narrow streets.
- When the electricity is on the internet server is offten down (and it can stay down for days) making internet access a dog.
- The mud brick houses on the sides of mountains around Leh are reminiscent of Afghanistan and when you look at a map and realise it isn’t very far away.
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