|Madhavi Krishnamurthy is a Business/Systems Analyst with Digital Globalsoft She believes in living life kingsize! From sales, marketing, ERP and CRM consulting on the professional front to organizing music festivals, writing poems & articles, painting, gardening and making friends for life on the personal front - she's done a bit of everything! Thanks to her travel-loving husband Ankur, they've done off beat travel in India and walked the much treaded roads abroad too. Madhavi loves everything that life has to offer except weighing machines, inch tapes and calorie charts - in that order :-) Manage to get invited to her place and you can be sure she'll dish out lip smacking stuff. Until then, enjoy the flavors of her travel experiences.
Madhavi Krishnamurthy can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Spiritual Capital of Leh...
Last summer we decided to go to Leh. It's the capital of the Ladakh district in Jammu and Kashmir. Nestling amidst the mighty Himalayan range of mountains, at 3505 meters above sea level is Leh's airport - the world's highest. Leh is located to the north of the Indus River. It is believed that India was given her name due to this river. Leh has been the spiritual capital for Buddhists in India. However, none of these were reasons why we planned to go there. We simply wanted to touch and feel snow. We were then visiting our family in Delhi and Agra. The scorching heat exhorted us to take a break and get away. The mere anticipation of visiting a place where temperatures rarely cross 25 C was simply irresistible! People said, "why not Kulu or Manali - they are beautiful places too, you know?" Well, we did agree but the ice desert held an exotic charm incomparable to any other place in India. And thus, began our journey to Leh.
I felt slightly strange packing woolens and hot water flasks during peak summer, but this only heightened the excitement that soon, we'd be rolling in snow! Lists of must see places, do's and don'ts, medicines for emergency, etc., were all in place. I almost knew them by heart. Having churned out all necessary information from our friendly world wide web, we were fully prepared. Or so we thought, until we looked at the breathtaking sight below, from Jet Airways flight 9W 609. One can never be 'prepared' to stop oneself from exclaiming in sheer awe, looking at the Himalayan and Karakoram ranges that we flew over. Spotless white and velvety smooth snow draped the peaks crowned with the golden hue of the rising sun. We kept flying over such pristine beauty that stretched for miles and seemed sans boundary. The childlike desire to make footprints or drill a finger into the snow was very high. Just about anything to connect with the flawless sheets of snow and leave a mark at such dizzying heights.
Feeling 'high' we landed at the airport to be received by a warm and smiling - Poon Chong. He was the efficient concierge from our hotel who transported us to our abode giving us ample description of the places we passed by. Ashraf, the hotel owner welcomed us the traditional Ladakhi style by draping a white silk scarf-like fabric around our necks. As we chose our room, Ashraf mentioned the names of several popular Hindi film heroes who'd occupied those very rooms till a couple of days ago. Was he fibbing? I wondered, which wasn't necessary as he promptly exhibited photographs of the entire 'LoC' (movie in Hindi by JP Dutta) unit - Kool huh? Shortly, as we climbed the two flights of stairs more than a couple of times, I realized what 'acclimatization' actually involved. Leh, due to its altitude and terrain, contains about 40% lesser oxygen than normal conditions. The body needs to get used to a different breathing pattern. So, during the initial days, climbing upwards could cause more gasps than usual! We rested throughout our Day1 and reset our breathing patterns. Short walks did help. The next day was filled with visits to various monasteries and palaces. We feasted all day on the age-old styles and color of paintings and other art forms of the region. We also appreciated the nuances of the Buddhist religion as a monk explained them to us in heavily accented Hindi. Army vehicles were a common sight in the market place, as were Chinese and Tibetans. Shopping in Leh is delightful. The woodcarvings in Tibetan style, the wall hangings, precious stones, etc., were some of the stuff we found irresistible.
The acclimatization was getting us impatient. We decided to put more action into Day 3. This resulted in Poon Chong driving us down the Shrinagar-Leh highway to the 'sangam' of the Zanskar and Indus rivers. The Zanskar valley presented splendid contrasts in shades of brown, grey and blue mountains against the sky blue waters. As we climbed down the mountains to reach the river, the terrain transformed from boulder to rock, rock to stone, stone to pebble and pebble to fine sand! Splashing in the waters was fun but chilling all the same. We had heard the phrase - dwelling in nature's lap- this was when we felt what it possibly meant. Covering vast expanses of arid land on our journey back, we stopped for short intervals to visit the Kali mandir, the Kargil memorial and the Pather Sahib gurudwara (the 'langar' food is delicious but the service of the army personnel stationed here impressed us more). Towering mountain ranges followed us everywhere, frequently displaying myriad hues of the ruggedly beautiful ice desert. Muted silence everywhere, yet expressing so much... Completely rejuvenated we were sipping the salt tea and other regional delicacies that we began looking forward to, these days.
The next day was scheduled for Pung Yong Lake. This lake is 15,000 ft above sea level and spreads across the glacial India-China border. However, to reach this lake, we would also need to cross the Chung La pass that was 17,000 ft above sea level. I was mentally preparing myself for the journey and was pleasantly welcomed by a bright sun the next morning. The 3 hour long onward journey passed quietly except for the rumbling of our Maruti Gypsy's tires against the terrain. Ashraf had a heavy lunch packed for us; we had a short break and resumed. Ultimately we reached the Chung La pass. We were surrounded by snow on all sides - much as we wanted to jump out and play in it, the prohibitive temperature and severe dip in oxygen levels checked our enthusiasm. The Chung La army check-post had some basic facilities for tourists in transit. There we saw 2-3 vehicles returning towards Leh. Upon speaking to those drivers Poon Chong got to know that there was a landslide enroute the journey to the lake and therefore the others were returning. This was so disappointing. We had a co-passenger from Leh who was constantly warning us that we should return. He joined us in fact, because he had no one else to travel with. However, during the journey he made such a nuisance of himself that we regretted having helped him. Nevertheless, determined to travel 'the extra mile' we discussed the situation with Poon Chong. He reiterated that he was quite confident of reaching safely to the lake. So we moved on.
After a short while we saw an army officers' vehicle return from the other end. Now, we were again in doubt if we should proceed. The constant banter of our Uncleji didn't stop either. Poon Chong helped the army vehicle recover and now they were also safely parked next to us. The decision had to be taken. We were 17000 ft above sea level. Mountains covered with snow were all we could see everywhere. Oxygen levels were almost prohibitive. As we were wondering what to do, Poon Chong saw a snow tractor nearby. So, he went and asked the check-post folks when they would be clearing the snow. They said, the vehicle was leaving just then and we could follow it if we intended. Hoorah! Both the vehicles followed the snow tractor as it drilled into the snow and shoved it away. We were delighted to find the road that was earlier lost beneath snow. In a short while we reached the Lake. Wow! It's a splendid sight. The lake was not only vast and serene but also very colorful. We had read that it displays different colors, but actually sighting 7-8 different colors in the same waters was an enchanting experience. Shades of Blue, purple and green were splashed across the lake and it looked gorgeous. After a short picnic there, we returned home at the end of a quiet long journey. Later we came to know that ours' was the only vehicle that performed the journey safe and sound. This experience exposed us to the harsh conditions of the terrain and climate of the region. We were amazed to think the Border Road Organization and the Army toiled day after day to provide facilitates along such routes. One can't help but feel patriotic at such a moment. The next morning was our flight back to Delhi. We were full of gratitude for the Hotel staff and especially to Poon Chong for having made our holiday absolutely marvelous. The next morning, as we flew past the mountain ranges we felt a sense of discovery - it was like telling them "Hey! Now we know what's hidden in there!" And yes, I would love to go back there, anytime.