During August and September 2002, I spent three weeks in northern India visiting Ladakh - a region in the Himalayan mountains. I travelled with three friends from university with the principal aim of completing a trek in the arid and magnificent mountains of the area.
Ladakh is actually situated in the state of Jammu and Kashmir though is currently considered safe to travel to being far enough from the troubled areas along the Line of Control with Pakistan. The landscape is incredibly dry in the main though the valleys tend to be filled with lush green - part natural and part due to the ingenious irrigation systems of the locals. The culture has more in common with Tibet than India with many locals having moved from that country in the past fifty years since China took rule there. The principal religion of Ladakh is therefore Buddhism and the region is scattered with Gompas, chortens and mani walls.
Our trip commenced with an internal flight from Delhi to Leh, the administrative capital of Ladakh and eastern J&K. Leh is situated a few kilometres north of the River Indus which flows through the heart of Ladakh from its source in Tibet to the east and on into Pakistan to the west. The airport in Leh is used for both civilian and military traffic and is one of the highest airports in the world at 3400m. Landing at the airport on the outskirts of town is also one of the most demanding landings in the world with planes approaching along the Indus valley and touching down at almost twice the speed of a typical landing due to the altitude.
Air is the only year-round means of access to Leh with the roads being cut off for much of the year due to snow. This has led to a four month tourist season during the summer when the area thrives with activity - the climax being the Ladakh festival at the beginning of September. Many tourists visit the area to trek on one of the many routes through the surrounding mountains. We completed the one of the most popular treks - the Markha Valley - a route to the south of the Indus typically taking 8 days to complete. We also decided to attempt one of the trekking peaks in the area, Kang Yaze, extending the trek to 10 days.
After completing the trek, we finished our trip by returning to Delhi overland. This included a two day jeep ride along the Leh-Manali highway, a 450km route through the Himalaya and one of the most spectacular road trips in the world.
If you are planning a trip to Ladakh, you may find my travel in Ladakh page of use.
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