Chants of the old-world Shangri La beckon in the sublime mountains of the Himalayas
Deep shades of brown and blue fall into this visual palette of rocky mountains, all rising against ethereal lakes. The hems of this landscape are already riveting, but inside its doors are much more to offer, like secrets hushed from the outside world, for the Himalayas do not share their secrets.
1. The Gateway to Heaven
Ornate archways stand to greet at the entrance of Himalaya’s mountainous precepts—a winter-bound region brocaded with barren, brown mountains and seemingly abandon paths. Cars are a rare sight, buildings are sparsely built, but here, a hidden community clings to the foot of the mountains, which seem to have thrived in the jagged rocks that intimidate from a distance.
2. Leh in the morning
Leh, the capital of Ladakh, is aptly called The Land of the High Passes, formerly a stopover for trade routes in the Indus Valley between Tibet and Kashmir. As the sun peeks through the apex of the rocky terrain, the charming city glows with a tranquil radiance, opening its embrace to any wanderer who successfully found their way here.
3. Pangong Tso Lake
Pangong Tso, in Ladakh, means “grassland lake,” an enchanting body of brackish water with, ironically, low vegetation and a small number of crustaceans. But the beauty of Pangong Tso is found in the glorious reflection of the earthly giants over its surface. During winter, the lake freezes completely, acting as an ice-cold path to those who dared to navigate Ladakh’s realm in freezing temperatures.
4. The night sky of the Himalayas
Stars dot the night sky of Ladakh, and constellations are drawn across the dark, best seen in Pangong Tso. As tiny lights sparkle against the shadows of the mountains, people camp by the lakeside to see the gorgeous vista, where the stars are reflected on the glassy surface, and photographers make their aim to capture the cosmic landscape.
5. Diskit Monastary in Nubra Valley
A sprawling gompa with immaculate colours of white opposes the dusty hues of the mountains on which it sits on. The oldest in the district of Nubra is home to about 100 Yellow Hat monks where apprentices are taught languages and science, allowing them to communicate with ease and guide lost wanderers to the right path.
6. Cascading river and fluttering prayer flags
The region’s mountainous vistas are nothing less than magical, but so are its waterscapes, celebrated by the townsfolk with a bounty of flags, signalling their silent prayers to heaven. The rough terrain is made softer with the lush flowing of lakes and streams, gurgling into rapids, or flowing into lofty cascades.
7. Trek along gushing rivers
During winter, the commanding mountains near Zanskar are covered with snow, leaving an icy trail of water in the Chadar Trek—a famous gorge that has always been in a thrillist’s bucketlist. When the temperature drops, the lapping blue waters of Zanskar River turn into a thick sheet of ice, allowing one to walk atop its frost-bitten surface.
8. Frozen waterfalls
In summer, Zanskar river runs between the jagged walls of the canyons. But in winter, the tributary of Indus transforms into a thick sheet of snow, becoming an accessible road to trekkers wrapped in winter jackets. The sun atop the peaks shines over the spectacular rock formations, showcasing the sharp edges of the mountain-scape where riverside caves are decorated with flags.
9. Easy riding along ancient passes
The howling winds of the mountains are met with the growling mufflers of motorbikes, all darting their way through the Rohtang Pass, with rising altitudes. One of the most glorious stops is Pangong Tso—the river on the left, the mountains to the right, and the sun casting its shadows, creating a distinct set of colours upon the mountainous facets.
10. Thiksey Monastery in Leh
The twelve-story monastery of Thiksey resembles Lhasa’s Potala Palace, a mountainside fortress that contains many Buddhist remnants—stupas, thankas, and a two-story statue of the Maitreya Buddha, commemorating the 1970 visit of the 14th Dalai Lama. ◼
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© This article was first published online in Feb 2020 – World Travel Magazine.