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Thursday, August 16, 2012

Laid Back Leh

On the roof of the world, at over 3500 m, abutting the Chinese and Pakistani borders, you have Western Tibet, officially part of the Indian State of Jammu & Kashmir. It is far more like Central rather than South Asia in many aspects. The climate is desert-like. The region only gets 55 mm of rain a year. Altitude sickness affected me slightly for a few days. 

Kashmir is a remote outpost if ever there was one. Our mobiles stopped working as soon as we disembarked, not be see a signal again until Delhi. The electricity worked for less than half the time. Internet service was barely available, and when it was, at excruciatingly slow speeds.

But the physical topography defies all description, what with the majesty of the Himalayas. And speaking of majesty, the Dalai Lama was in town, and we went to hear a sermon by him. Interestingly, for a religious figure, the day's lesson was about not accepting any religious doctrine that does not stand up to logical or scientific scrutiny. He even gave an example of a Tibetan astrological text that clearly implied the world was flat. He had rejected it.

Leh also seems to attract a very interesting sort of backpacker. And friendly, too. Even though our previous destination had been Delhi, and it was indeed a 10-day long social encounter, Leh was with new people who were genuinely curious about all sorts. There was a French guy who managed to bag a 5-year visa to India, such the veteran that he was. There were two amazing Polish Indologists, with whom we struck up a friendship and hope to meet again in Cracow. Toward the end we met a Croatian medical student who was developing an incipient interest in oriental carpets. I could go on. 

Despite having a stuffed nose, little appetite, and being rather unable to exert oneself as one runs out of breath very easily, we had a wonderful time enjoying the place, the people and the visitors. We went on three field trips. The first was a series of monasteries, some ancient, others less so, around the Leh area. The humbler the monastery, the more beautiful the setting. We went up to Pangong-tso lake, at over 4000 m, and even stayed overnight in an uncomfortable tent. We also did a day trip on the World's Highest Motorable Road (I dispute the 'motorable' label), at over 5600 m, featuring quite the panoramic view. 

Throughout the sojourn, and indeed before, in Delhi, I was dealing with the Austrian Immigration authorities regarding a slew of form filling, document sending, and otherwise seemingly pointless clarification exercises. I'd like to think that at the time of writing they finally have everything they need and can make a decision in short course. Fun as India always is, it does seem high time to get to Europe and get back to work. 

Realizing that the visa is coming, Adam decided that he needed to spend a few weeks of quality time with his family before we well and truly depart. After Leh, I took him to Delhi and put him on a plane for Bangkok, before departing myself to  Varanasi. In coming to the Shiva City, I have now fulfilled the great pledge of this trip: to visit all the places I had previously refused. Sometimes it's good to prove yourself wrong.


Jaem Prueangwet said...

Andre. this was amazing. i am so glad to hear that you seemed to have a wonderful trip meeting cool fellow travellers. I have been reading and looking at travel books of Leh for so long. They mentioned it's not every year that Dalai Lama would precide there so you're obviously lucky. But nothing is ever a coincidence ;) . Adam must be Ting? I hope you have a great time at the next destinations. James/Jaem ;)

Skye Frontier said...

Leh was the place with the most Thais. Something about it pulls them in, unlike any other place in India.