Travel Picks – My Top 10 in Leh,Ladakh

Julley, Welcome to Leh.

Reaching Leh is the end of one journey and beginning of another. One can spend days on end just exploring the local sights and then proceeding to short trips around Leh. If you are staying in Leh you are most likely living in or near the Leh market. Although, online bookings beforehand will ensure availability of hotels & tours on reaching, you’ll find many tour operators in the market for the spur-of-the-moment plans.

In fact, there are flyers and posters in internet café and shops with info about the trips one can take, and availability of space in shared tours.Depending on your interest, time and level of fitness there are monasteries, architectural delights, lakes, valleys, treks, biking, camping, eating & drinking joints and much more available here.

Here are my Top Ten must do in Leh. Please note that it is impossible to rank them so they are in no particular order.

LEH MARKET

Since you’d already be in LEH MARKET, I think it is best to start there. You know, get into the groove of taking life easy and enjoying the little things in life. There are small Tibetan bazaars, general stores and some souvenir shops spread about in the many lanes of Leh Market. Get a custom made embroidered patch made in an hour, some pashmina shawls, prayer wheel or flags and silver artifacts.

The best part about this market is the food; you’ll find influence from all over the world. If you feel the restaurants remind you the vacation you had last winter in Goa, it may be because you went to the very same restaurant in Goa. Most restaurateurs move to Goa in the winter season. What a life! Right?

We spent many hours at a German Bakery run by a sardarji & watched a FIFA match with bonfire at Summer Harvest. Good Times!

PANGONG TSO

Now that you are acclimatized, lets venture out. My list starts with the mighty PANGONG TSO. It is about 150 km from Leh and I can bet you have seen nothing like this before. On the way we crossed Chang La.  It is the 3rd highest motor able road in the planet! Pangong is an army outpost, requiring one to climb 17,500 feet before descending to 14,000 feet to reach there. Some trivia – the lake is 134 km long, 6o% of it is in China and the rest in India. It is an Endorheic Lake, meaning it is a closed drainage basin that retains water without any outflows to rivers or oceans & the Lake freezes completely in the winter even though it is a salt water lake. There is a garnet hill near the lake, and I have actually picked up rocks with teeny-tiny pieces of the red garnet in them.

KHARDUNG LA

KHARDUNG LA lies at a distance of about 40 kms of Leh. It is believed to be the highest motorable pass & road in the world, 5602 meters above sea level . To visit Khardung-la foreigners need to obtain special permit in Leh.

NUBRA VALLEY

NUBRA VALLEY was a stopping place on the historic Silk Route. Caravans of traders along this route used the double-humped Bactrian camels. People travel far and wide to see the camels today. To get to Nubra Valley, one has to take the road through Khardung La. The drive to Nubra Valley is enchanting, especially crossing the Shyok Valley. Permits will be required here also.

TSO MORIRI

TSO MORIRI in the Rupshu Valley is a remnant lake, these lakes are originally structural but represent the remnants of vast lakes. Some other examples are Tso Kar, Pangong Tso and Dal Lake. Tsomoriri Wetland Conservation Reserve is heaven for wild life photographers. Since you are there, check out the Korzok monastery which lies on the western bank of the lake is one of the oldest settlements of the world.

MONASTRIES & GOMPAS

MONASTRIES & GOMPAS are and will always be the major attraction for tourists travelling to Leh. My recommendation is seeing Hemis, Thikse, Spitok & if time permits- Shey.

Among all the monasteries in Leh, I have a special place in my heart for Hemis. I saw the Hemis festival many years ago and can still recall the fascinating images. The annual festival of the gompa is held in the summer in the honour of Guru Padma Sambhav’s birth anniversary. Situated 40 Kms from Leh, Hemis is the wealthiest, best known and biggest Gompa of Ladakh. It also has the largest thanka in Ladakh which is unfurled once in 12 years. The next unfurling will take place in 2016.

Thikse is located about 17 kms south of Leh travelling towards Karu. It is probably the most photographed monasteries of Leh. A magnificent complex with its red and yellow main building rising grandly above the numerous monk cells. The Chamba lhakhang houses an impressive Maitreya Buddha. The roof of this monastery provides a panoramic view with the Zanskar range in the backdrop.

Spitok stands prominently on the top of the hillock at one end of the airport runway. The fifteenth century monastery houses, what many consider to be Kali Mata. I have read that it is actually Yidam Dorje Jigje. There is also a collection of ancient masks, antique arms, and an awe inspiring 600 year old painting in the temple.

Shey Monestry, 15 kms upstream from Leh, the palace was once residence of the royal family. The palace is believed to have been the seat of power of the pre-Tibetian kings. A 7.5 metre high copper statue of Buddha, plated with Gold, and the largest of its kind, is installed in the palace. It is now in ruins and restoration work is going on.

HALL OF FAME MUSEUM

Learn some facts about Ladakh at the HALL OF FAME MUSEUM. The Museum houses information related to Leh culture, way of life, history, vegetation and animals. It is a fascinating place run by the Indian Army showcasing the history, glory and the tools of the trade related to army operations defending India in some of the most hostile terrain in the world. It also has a captivating display on the Siachen battlefield – the highest and more arduous battlefield in the world.

SHANTI STUPA

SHANTI STUPA was constructed by a Japanese Buddhist organization, known as ‘The Japanese for World Peace’. I recommend a visit for the spectacular views at sunrise and sunset.

GURDWARA PATHAR SAHIB

GURDWARA PATHAR SAHIB is just 20 kms away from Leh. It is a must stopover for hundreds of truck drivers who pass through the Leh-Kargil road and also for Army convoys and has an interesting legend behind it.

CHUMATHANG

Enjoy a spa experience by diving into one of the hot springs at CHUMATHANG. The hot sulphur water springs are known to have healing properties for various ailments like arthritis.

Places of interest that didn’t make it to my top ten lists are

The Leh Palace, that includes Namgyal Tsemo Gomp and Tsemo Castle. Alchi Gompa 70 kms from Leh. Phyang monastery 17 kms from Leh. Lamayuru 125 km from Leh. Other almost famous monasteries – Chemrey Monastery, Deskit Monasteries, Stok Monastery, Matho Monastery, Karsha Monastery, Phyang Monastery, Shachukul Monastery, Dakthok Monastery, Sani Monastery,Soma Gompa and about a dozen more. Jama Masjid a historical mosque is situated in the heart of Leh town and Masjid-e-Shah-e-Hamdan in Shey village.

Some other non-religious attractions include Magnetic Hill, Panamik- another hot water spring that bubbles out of the earth and is reputed to have therapeutic qualities.

Sangam of Indus and Zanskar just 4 km before Nimmu village. Enjoy the rafting experience on Indus and Zanskar Rivers only between July and September.

Drokpa Valley, where the main attraction is the Drokpa Community resides, considered as the last race of the original Aryans.

There are many opportunities for adventure sports lovers like trekking, camping, river rafting, mountain climbing, cycling, camel safari, yak safari…the list is endless.

I can bet on one thing. Whatever you see or do, you will not come back with any complains.

 

(c) Photographs by Ritika Sabharwal and Sharninder Khera

 

Delhi Restaurants -Ambiance, Price & Food: getting the right mix?!?

Delhi now has a range of eating options – Fast Food, Casual Dining, Pub- Cafés, Fine Dining and the it’s many variations – Bakeries, Coffee houses, Dhabas, Buffets and thousands more. What differentiates them is primarily,  Food preparation style, Service (speed, quality and self/full), Ambiance and Pricing.

The top of the list is the Fine dining restaurant. They offer their diners the finest in food, service and atmosphere: hence the exorbitant prices.

My question is- Although, most average sized restaurants in Delhi call themselves Fine Dining, yet why can one never be sure of what one will finally experience?

In the last few months I have noticed that most restaurants in Delhi are a bit confused about their identity or they are just trying too hard to make a niche for themselves. Now, I agree, that it’s difficult to pinpoint what level of service and ambiance will justify the tag  of fine dining, BUT if the rating on 3 out of the 4 factors is not up to the mark then getting full marks on Pricing cannot be the ONLY factor to be a FINE DINING Restaurant.

What I basically want to say is, on an average, a meal for two excluding drinks and including taxes is about Rs. 1000, no matter what you eat – Thai, Chinese, Indian, Italian- whatever!

Actually, I don’t mind paying the thousand bucks also, as long as I am happy with what I have paid for. You can never be certain about – how good/authentic the meal will be? What quantity will be served to you? How  your overall experience will rate?

Try this simple test. Have a ‘Chicken Penne Arrabiata’ or a similar pasta at Big Chill (INR 375), Mrs Kaurs (INR 365) , Route 4(INR 325), The Kitchen (INR 300), Amici (INR 320), Café OZ (INR 350) and Urban Café (INR 350). Notice, they are all in Khan Market and within the same price range. Now compare the quantity, quality of the food and the overall experience in service, décor etc.

Or is it that the restaurants in Delhi have become so expensive that at 500 rs per head all you get is the bare minimum?

Another discussion I have had many a times is – The Food vs. Ambiance debate.

I have thought long and hard about this, for me, if the food is terrific, the place is good. Sounds oblivious enough!

But this is not true for everyone and they do have a good point. People go to restaurants – especially high end ones – for the whole experience. I have actually heard people say the place is so great but the food is ok!

To be blunt I could care less if a place is trendy. If the food isn’t good I don’t want to pay an arm and leg for it.

Take for instance the restaurant Gunpowder (22, Hauz Khas Village). It’s difficult to reach the restaurant on your own, especially the first time (including the four flight of stairs). The ambiance is average at best. The food however, is authentic and tasty.

But if you search for the review of the restaurant you shall find these as the top two reviews.  Anoothi Vishal at India food and Travel Guide starts her review by saying “It’s not a place that the average Dilliwallah”. And Chefatlarge gave it a rating of 2/5.

To each his own I guess!

All I really want is to find a restaurant with a perfect balance of Taste, Ambiance and Price and if it is close to where I live, that will be the cherry on top.