“The lands so barren, and mountains so high, That only the worst of our enemies or best of our friends would want to visit us” goes on old Ladakhi saying.
Situated between the Himalayan and Karorkaram mountain ranges, Ladakh is one of the most beautiful places on earth. Called by many as the roof of the world and rightly so, Ladakh encompassing an area close to 80000 sq km is lies at altitude ranging from 10000 ft – 20000 ft ASL. With the mountain passes here being some of the highest in the world, Ladakh meaning ‘the land of high mountain passes’ has been aptly named.
Owing to such terrain, it is but natural that Ladakh is isolated from rest of India. Although the connected to rest of India by air through out the year, this northern most region of India bordering Tibet, stays disconnected by land, save for a few months of summer from June to September and even during these few months the journey is a treacherous with one having to traverse across one of the most challenging as well as dangerous roads in the world.
Therefore once the highways to Leh, the capital of Ladakh open up, one can see loads of adventure enthusiasts making their way to this land of surreal beauty.Trekking, cycling, motorbiking or driving across the rugged or sometimes completely non existent roads that wind up to a high mountain pass, people try to pacify the adventure monster raging within themselves and at the same time try to find peace within. It is no wonder therefore that this place has enticed and inspired explorers, poets and artists with its unspoiled beauty and grandeur.
And although the number of visitors have increased over the last couple of years and the infrastructure being improved, the people of Ladakh still embrace their customs and traditions tightly. To an outsider it would seem that time decided to stand still and help preserve the medieval way of living. Ladakh is a forgotten moment in time with even today the houses built of clay, villagers still collecting dung and to make dung cakes that will help them heat their homes during the sub zero winters, and agriculture still being the main activity during the few months of summer.
Religion plays an important part in the Ladakhi lifestyle that places more importance on spirituality over material comforts. Buddhism still flourishes in this places as is evident in this places where prayer flags, chortens and monasteries situated on a mountain cliff overlooking the valleys until the horizons are a common sight. And so are the monks clothed in red, sometimes donning the latest backpack or cool pair of sneakers, conducting their worldly affairs with an unworldly manner.
While the people are radiant, smiling and always ready to welcome you with a cup of salty butter tea and showering you with their warmth and affection. Probably because they understand that you are away from home, just like a good number of them, who are Tibetian in descent and staying in Ladakh as refugees. The influence of Tibetian culture therefore highly pronounced in the arts, music, festivals. In fact, Ladakh is often referred to as Little Tibet.
Ladakh, lying at the northern extreme of India is indeed a land of extremes. A place where you may get sun burnt and frost bitten at the same time. A place where a barren and cold desert is punctuated by colourful prayers flags here and there. Where you can see snow capped mountains, grey deserts, serene lakes, gushing rivers and green valley, all within a distance of few kilometers. Where the unforgiving nature of the land gives way to the welcoming hearts of the people.
I have been to Ladakh thrice in the last three years and still have not got enough of it. In fact over the last couple of weeks thoughts have started once again wandering to my heart about riding those valleys this year once again. Who knows…may be I will