We took the first flight from Delhi International Airport at around 5:15 am and landed at Leh Airport ( Kushok Bakula Rimpochee Airport ) around 6:30 am. The first thing you cant help but notice is the vast calmness that surrounds you. The hills really seem to take your breath away. For folks like me who are from the southern part of India, It took a while to catch a deep breath. The freshness of the air and also the thin oxygen content suddenly hit hard on your lungs. The first few welcome signs at the airport warn you of Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) which one needs to be wary of. The airport itself seems very obsolete with respect to technology. It is maintained by the army and is one of the world highest airports. Though previously the number of flights here were very few, the numbers have increased quite considerably due to the increase in tourism in the past few years.. Thanks to a few Bollywood movies.
Once we got out of the airport, we took a prepaid taxi to Chospa Hotel, Old Road, Leh. Had our bookings already done through Stanzin.. A fine young chap whos done his bit of travelling around in India. The taxi cost us Rs.200. The hotel itself is adjoined to the house where Stanzin and his family live. They have a garden with a few chairs and a table. I think that’s where they source their veggies from. The hotel at a distance overlooks the Leh Palace and Tsemo Nagyal Gompa from the roof top.. I also had my first experience of seeing an apple tree :) Another thing which we liked was the proximity of the hotel to the market area and the taxi stand.
Reaching the hotel, we had a porter who came to help us with the bags.. I told him, i would carry my own bag.. Had picked up a Quechua 70L trekking bag from Decathlon for this trip.. Still unsure why coz this wasn’t meant to be a trekking trip😉 Anyway.. after i picked up my bag from the taxi and started walking about 10m from the road, I started panting and gasping for breath. I hadn’t realized that walking up a minor incline of 10m could do that to me. Not that i boast of being very fit but 10m.. come on.. i have done hiking trips in the past. That’s when it struck to me that this trip is gonna be an absolutely different experience🙂
The rooms in itself were very warm and cozy.. moderately priced. The food was tasty and filling.. another thing we were surprised was the rooms had running hot water 24hrs and also had a DTH connection to keep us from getting bored. What i could not get away from was my fren constantly itching to watch the typical indian Saas-Bahu soaps and i had to give in every time😛 (PS: Stanzin, If you are reading this, i think next time check us in to a room without the idiot box😉 )
The weather in Leh throughout the day was pleasant however the rooms started getting hot.. I for one was always at the receiving end due to this. I had told my buddies that based on AccuWeather, Leh average temp is gonna be around 4-12 degrees in the month of Sept. However we were almost left sweating in the room during the noon. I finally managed to get away from my nagging buds once the fans started running in the room. I guess its time to sue accuweather reports😛
A lil while into the day, the altitude started to get the better of us.. We started feeling a bit of weary headed and also a mild headache started making us doubt if our trip is going to proceed as per plan. We decided to take it easy and take a good noon siesta. The siesta turned into a somewhat long affair waking us up quite late in the evening. The sun was almost setting and we decided on taking a walk in the market to finalize on the cab for the rest of the days in Ladakh.
All cab booking rates in Ladakh are done through the Leh Taxi Union. And they have decided on specific point to point rates for each trip which can be found in their fare list. We managed to find a 2012 rate card online. Based on all the info we gathered online from various forums, we learnt that it was best to hire a driver directly from the taxi stands in Leh rather than calling the Taxi Union and Booking it in advance. Also the other advantage is that negotiating with the drivers directly can land you with an discount of 10-15% on the listed price of the tour. We ran into a small hiccup after the driver we negotiated our deal with stood us up at the last minute. While thinking of an alternate plan, we decided to grab a quick dinner at an Indo-Italian restaurant named Il Forno. The place is right above the german bakery in Leh market overseeing the Leh Palace and the Tsemo Namgyal Gompa. The food was quite nice but the problem we faced was it didnt stay hot for long since the eatery was an open air place and the weather starts getting pretty cold in the evenings. So it takes seconds for piping hot food to turn into cold naturally refrigerated bread😉
After a cold dinner and a nice walk back to the hotel, we met Stanzin. He had by then got our permits for the Pangong and Khardungla trips. These places fall in the restricted zones and hence require special permits issued by the DC office at Leh. We explained our ordeal of being stood up by the cabbie and he immediately helped us with the number of a driver who would pick us up the following day and he would also provide us the same deal which we had previously negotiated for.
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