Where’s Leh? Click here.
After arriving to the Leh bus stand tired and after dark we decided to take a tout up on his offer of going to look at his guest house with a free ride in a taxi to get there. The guest house turned out to be just what we were looking for, run by a friendly family, and the right price. We spent the next couple of days trying to acclimatise to the 3,500 m. (11,483 ft.) altitude and taking long walks around Leh. We walked the long line of shops selling Pashmina and Kashmiri shawls every day on the way to the city center, and looked at a few Tibetan refugee markets. There was beautiful turquoise, coral, and pearl jewelry, but the prices were as much if not more than back home and we decided to spend our money on all the delicious Tibetan food instead.
Where ever you walk in Leh the impressive nine story Leh Palace is always looming over you. One of the mornings that we walked up to the palace we noticed a bunch of Ladakhi locals tearing down the walls of one building and throwing the clay bricks into a pile where a woman was adding more water and clay from the hillside to form more bricks. After watching the workers for a while a Polish woman wandered up the hillside and told us about the renovations going on at the palace. She was a volunteer who had come for the summer to help the Ladakhis by making architectural plans and ordering supplies for the workers, while the workers tore down the walls originally built in the mid 17th century and put the walls back up again using basically the exact same clay and dirt. It was a pretty amazing process to watch.
Leh is kind of a small town and eventually we got a bit antsy and decided that a trek would be a great way to see the gorgeous countryside of Ladakh. Following the advice of some Belgian house mates we decided on walking the four days from Lekher to Nurla where we wouldn’t need a guide and after staying in small village guest houses we could catch a local bus back to Leh.
We unpacked all of our worldly belongings from our backpacks with the exception of a pair of clothes each, the first aid kit, and the water filter and left a full duffel bag with the mother of the guest house to look after while we were gone. Our first stop was Shey Palace and gompa (Buddhist temple) where we saw more clay bricks laid out to dry in the sun the same as they were five hundred years ago and had a great view out over the valley. The same afternoon we decided to walk a few kilometers down the road to the town of Thicksey where there is a very large gompa housing around one hundred monks. It was nearing the end of the season and we were lucky enough to get there three days before the monastery closed up to tourists. They offered simple but clean rooms with a spectacular view, and the quiet peacefulness reminded me of sleeping up in an isolated fire tower back home. The power outages that has us resorting to candles also contributed to the rustic feel.
The following morning Andy and I got up early to go watch all of the young monks perform their morning puja (prayer)
which involved lots of musical noise with the banging of drums, chanting, and the playing of some sort of ancient looking horn. Another important aspect of the puja was the eating of butter tea with sompa (barley flour) and little monks were running around with huge tea kettles, almost too heavy to carry, filling up the older monk’s bowls then passing back by again with huge containers of barley flour. Some of the younger monks were getting fidgety after sitting still for so long and after getting a little too rowdy they ended up being yelled at by an older monk. It was pretty funny to us how little boys the world over act pretty much the same, even if they are monks.
After grabbing some breakfast at the only restaurant around we walked down to the road and hopped on a local bus heading back to Leh, where we then caught another local bus to the start of our trek at Lehker.