Amid the mountain desert of India, Leh has it own hidden secrets. Patterns of amber, yellow, brown colored mountains, with patches of greenery in between, and the sublime Indus flowing across the land, the mountains of Leh engulfing the vast plateau in front comes with a stunning beauty of its own. My journey here is not only about going back to the mountains, but knowing about them once again.
I have traveled across most of the mountain regions in the North East India and far east. The one thing that I can confidently say is that no two places along the Himalayan region are the same. Whether it is the steep mountains of Uttarakhand, where it almost seems that one set of wheels are always on the edge of the road, and the valley seems almost infinite, or the gradual grassy slopes of the North Eastern mountains with lots of thick jungle cover all the way, every encounter is a varied experience. The journey to Ladakh too, has a different story altogether.
The Mountain Desert
The Mountain deserts of Ladakh and Zanskar Ranges hold the touristy Leh town in between, with the Indus river as its necklace. The clouds float through the mountain ridges as the thin rays of the sun filter through them, leaving layers of shadows on the summit. These young mountains are yet to form a strong and stable mountain formations, and get extreme variations of heat and cold, forming the mountain desert.
Artificial Grass lands
Not even a decade ago, there was hardly any greenery on this desert. If it would not have been the initiative of the locals here, to pour life into this barren land. Today, much of the greenery that one sees here is due to the plantations done by the locals and is responsible to add to the diversity of this region. The irrigation system has improved, however challenges still remain.
Prevailing Water Crisis
Although the Indus brings in all the all the mountain water to this desert, but it does only more harm than good. With most of its water saline and highly iron rich, the crops cannot survive. Extracting pure water from the land through bore wells is a better solution, thanks to the high water table here, but still remains a challenge at large for the locals. As a matter of fact, the Zanskar and the Ladakh ranges mostly constitute metamorphosed layers of metals, which usually attributes for the reddish colors of the soil on the mountain layers. Over years however, the greenery has paid off, helping the irrigation in the region.
The Touristy Way
Although tourism contributes to the major part of the economy, the season is limited for tourist activities. The locations are wide-spread and the natural challenges at high altitude are many. The Leh town surrounds itself with several small hill tops dotted with some impressive monasteries, temples and fortresses. Life here is slow, and time warped. For a change, you will enjoy all communications cut off. The only one that speaks here through the silent mountains is the whispers of the wind.
The Tibetan market has the largest collection of the traditional Tibetan items. Gems, jewels, polished stones, metals, wood work, antiques and woolens form the major items on display. And if all those does not interest you much, the many modified motor cycles for the mountain safari are sure to attract your attention.
Do not be surprised if you also come across local organizers who conduct desert polo, that of course use the horses of the region for the sport. Adventure is a way of life here, and the mountains seem to invite with open arms, the adventurers who are up for the challenge.
The Spiritual Vibes – Gurudwara Pathar Sahib
The history of Gurudwara Sri Pathar Sahib goes as far back as the mid of 16th Century. The Spiritual Guru of the Sikh Faith – Guru Gobind Singhji on his spiritual journey across India, halted here for some time, on his way to Tibet. Legend goes that this place was under attack by a demon who used to perpetually harass and kill the local population. Tired of this harassment, the locals summoned the spiritual Guru to intervene. Guru Gobind Singhji decides to meditate at the hill-top and wait for the demon to arrive.
The devious demon on the other hand, decides to kill the Spiritual Guru by trying to run him over with a huge rolling stone from the mountain top. The stone tumbled down and when it struck the Guru’s meditating body from behind, it melted like a wax and immersed his body inside the boulder before coming to a halt. When the demon comes down to check the fate of the Guru, he is shocked to see that Guru Gobind Singhji was still alive. Out of fury, he then tries to kick the stone down the hill and while doing that, his feet slips into the ‘wax-like’ stone and gets stuck there. The demon tries his best to remove his feet from the boulder, but it wouldn’t come out. It is then that the Guru introduces himself and makes the demon realize his sins. The demon acknowledges his spiritual powers and promises to protect the people and interests of the land. Even today, the stone bears the mark of Guru Gobind Singhji and the foot of the demon. The stone is placed inside the prayer hall for the visitors to witness the remarkable incident. The locals still know and acknowledge Guru Gobind Singhji as the ‘Nanak Lama‘.
Things here are pretty simple as you enter this Gurudwara. The soothing tunes of Gurbani playing in the background, a comforting silence of contemplation in the prayer hall and the langar food that leaves you mesmerized.
Remembering the Real Heroes – The Hall of Fame
There are some heroes whose legend often remain unspoken for time. Yet their valour stays in the air. The hall of fame archives walk you through the legends that shaped the history of this country. Their silence speaks more of the supreme sacrifice – the sacrifice of life, that not many dare to tread, and choose to stay away from.
The museum has war archives that include small arms, weapons and equipment recovered during the Sino-Indian conflict in 1962. The walls are full of stories of the war heroes who fought against all odds- both against the weather and the enemy. Today, this memorial holds the national flag with pride, letting the world know that the warriors still behold the land, to their last breath, and will stand for it again, and every time.
My stint with Leh was short and I admit that there is little I could see and know about it, in my own words and experience. But, that leaves me with another reason to head back for those mountains, as no secret is too quick to be unfolded in one go….