Indagare member Ritchey Howe spent time in India during her gap year. Here she recounts her experiences in Ladakh.
Ladakh, located in the North Eastern corner of India, could not feel less like India. The Ladakhis are soft-spoken, don knock-off North Face and Patagonia fleeces, and relate more to their Tibetan neighbors than their fellow countrymen. Hindu temples are replaced by Buddhist prayer flags fluttering in the wind. The smog and constant honking of rickshaws are substituted by the towering Himalayas and the turquoise Indus River. The heavy foods are exchanged for simpler vegetables, locally grown apricots and thukpa (a noodle soup). Instead of masala milk chai, tea houses serve salty butter tea. That this region is located in the same country as the Taj Mahal and the beaches of Kerala exemplifies the diversity to be found within India.
I took off in the sweltering heat of Delhi and landed at 11,000 feet in the arid city of Leh. The short plane ride through the Himalayas gives all passengers a glimpse of the formidability and splendor of the world’s tallest mountain range. There is a strong military presence throughout Ladakh, which is very evident in the airport, since the region boarders both Pakistan and Tibet. However, the presence of men in camouflage does not diminish the landscape’s dramatic beauty.
Adventurers can embark on treks that range from day hikes to two-week endeavors. Trekkers from Europe and America venture here in the summer months as the nights are not as brutally cold. Other Ladakhi activities range from mountain biking and rafting, to jeep safaris and tracking the elusive snow leopard.
Trekking in the Himalayas cannot be compared to anything else—there were times when I completely forgot that I was on the planet Earth. The red dirt and intense silence seemed to belong to Mars instead.
It is also possible to enjoy Ladakh in a less physical fashion. There are cars and taxis that can take you to various Buddhist monasteries tucked away in the mountains. Within these monasteries are beautiful statues of the Buddha in his various forms. Pilgrims from all over the world visit these monasteries to pray to these figures, leave ghee to be burned by monks, and place decorative scarves around the figures. As I meditated in the Hemis monastery, I felt the spiritual energy of the hall.
Another highlight of Ladakh is Tsomoriri Lake. The eight-hour drive on winding and poorly-maintained roads is well worth the sight of this high altitude lake. Located at an altitude of 15,000 feet, the lake is surrounded by beautiful snow-peaked mountains and nomadic villages. The temperature at night drops below freezing and oxygen is sparse, but words cannot describe the literally breathtaking beauty in this secluded, untouched area of the world.
Ladakh gives a glimpse to an India that is rarely advertised or encountered. Being here, there are many moments when I need to remind myself that I am in the same country as Bollywood, factories of major brands, and Slumdog Millionaire. The Buddhist serenity and happiness of locals are hard to find in other areas of India; the powerful views of the Himalayas are impossible to find anywhere else in the universe.