Ladakh for a month?
Are you out of your mind? What would you do for a month?
What is there to see for a month?
After hearing this from almost everyone, I was firm to explore the unseen Ladakh with all the more enthusiasm. And I have now ended up planning another visit to this Land of Lamas because, a month was certainly not enough to explore the secrets of this fairyland.
Living the life on road is a dream for many. And when it comes to solo traveling, most of them think it to be insane. But my solo traveling in Ladakh would give you the real picture of what solo traveling actually looks like.
The people of Ladakh have made my solo travel all the more interesting. Being a solo traveler, I could meet so many beautiful souls on the go and could even explore some off beat ‘strictly for a traveling soul’ haunts. A fixed itinerary to Ladakh would just ruin your traveling and you won’t be able to experience the essence of any place that you would stumble upon.
I had roughly planned for a few places before landing at Leh and then I just moved on the advices of the locals I met. The people were so generous that they did not only let me stay in their homes but also had been the best hosts ever. The Ladakhi mothers literally didn’t let me feel that I was away from home and mom. Fresh milk, khambhir cooked on chulha and butter tea would be fed every morning with utmost love. The people, many a times, were worried when I denied having butter tea. With all the zeal they would jump up to make ‘mitha chai‘ (milk tea) for me. When I would deny even for that, they would discuss among themselves about what they could offer me. In one of the brokpa villages, an old lady was so sad that I did not have lunch or tea at their home. She, thus went all the way to a distant neighbour’s house who had stored some dried apricots and brought it just for me. She, with a peculiarly broad smile, offered it to me saying that I cannot deny eating apricots. 🙂 Obviously, I couldn’t deny!
Not even once I was advised that I should not travel alone. Honestly, I have felt Ladakh to be the safest place for the female solo travelers.
Against all the prevailing norms of what ‘ a lone girl shouldn’t be doing’, I hitch-hiked, hiked alone and even stayed at unknown people’s place without any fear.
I had read somewhere that the main causes of all diseases are fear, tension and anger. While traveling in Ladakh I had no tension or fear of anything and this kept the evil named anger far away from my untamed mind. In fact, a few of them told me that they hardly feel the need of any doctor or hospital. The people here grow their own organic food in their fields, be with the nature, stay happy and thus are living a peaceful and contended life.
Ladakh is a dreamland which is still untouched by the evils of modernization. And I had the best experience of it during my month-long traveling in the interiors.
This post is my tribute to all the amazing souls I met during my journey. Here is why my journey became a life-time memory.
At 3 pm on a hot sunny day, I was waiting at Indus Cafe, for some vehicle that can drop me up till Hanu Gongma. Indus Cafe, on the way to Kargil via Aryan Valley, is run by Indian army and they provide hot and spicy samosas, momos and vadas in the land where nobody knows what spices mean to the other Indians down the hills. Here, I met Sonam Rigzin, the expert cook working for this cafe. After talking for a while, he cordially invited me to his place, to know more about the Brokpa culture. It is a tribe secretly preserving its rich culture in the Ladakhi Himalayas. He also sent me along with his friend to the forbidden land where Indian Army might not allow other tourists. Apparently, I was the only outsider at Hanu Gongma and Hanu Yokma. But, thanx to Sonam Rigzin, I was treated like a VIP guest wherever I went in the village. His uncle who had studied and worked in Mumbai was a great source of information about the declining Brokpa culture and the newly developing mixed culture in the village of Hanu. Their’s is the only proper home stay available in this village.
The lady sitting beside, was my Brokpa model for the day. She took all the efforts to make 12 plaits of her hair and dressed up like a proper Brokpa lady, just for a perfect photograph for me.
And yes, I am already invited for the Brokpa marriages to be held the coming winter. 😉
The whole day I was just bored and could hardly understand the language of the locals at Hanu. Finally, in the evening, when Sonam Rigzin invited me to come down in the main kitchen of the house, I met these lovely ladies who were almost my carbon copies. These teachers became friends of mine just while discussing about ‘our’ profession while the delicious Ladakhi food was being prepared by our landlady. To be precise, we would have talked for around 3 -4 hours continuously. I wish we had had more time to have more fun. I am going to meet them again by the end of these year. 🙂 Who knew I would get to meet such long-lost friends in a village that doesn’t even have land line phones.
My next destination was the beautiful village of Garkone. Thanx to instagram, I already knew about the Payupa family at Garkone. After visiting their ancestral house, we cooked food together and talked about the customs of the village. By evening, the people kept on visiting for some ‘Chai pe Charcha‘. Each visitor enthusiastically sang and explained me a historic song of this unique Aryan culture. We had a great fun having photo shoot with that flowery Brokpa cap. Even Diskit sang a sweet song for me. It was a really a memorable day here with Diskit and her cute little daughters who are missing in the picture.
“Should I be submitting my permit to you, sir?”, I asked him with extra politeness. And this was how I met this great army officer whom I would call Singh Sir. He didn’t only help me with my aim but also showed keen interest in what I was researching about. For around half and hour he keenly listened to all the stories of Brokpas and then asked me what would I take in return of the knowledge he had gathered from me. Such politeness and modesty from an army man was really least expected. (All the while I was just under the impression that I was being enquired suspiciously :P) The stay, food and meeting with the researchers and singers at Darchik was all arranged willingly by him. Later on I came to know that he had also instructed a few people in the village that I should be provided proper lunch and dinner. I would never forget the dairy milks and biscuits he gifted me and asked me to keep up the energy as I would need it during my exploration.
The rest of the time at Darchik became an unforgettable part of my journey. Scroll to know more.
“What would he even know about our culture, he is an outsider,” commented a local lady when Singh Sir asked me to meet Sadiq Ali. He is a teacher in the middle school at Darchik. After meeting him, I came to know that we were sailing in the same boat and were researching on the same topic of Brokpa songs and customs. The following day I stayed at their place, cooked some spicy fried rice and had a long discussion about the history narrated in the Brokpa songs.
It was a random decision to stay for an extra day at Darchik and visit the school to teach them some basic English conversation. (Can’t stop being a teacher, after all)
Mr. Ali has just joined the school a few months ago and has already brought revolutionary changes by installing sports equipment in the playground, colouring the walls and beautifying it with inspiring quotes.
The next evening we went up till the last village before Pakistan towards Batalik region. The venture was followed by an adventure of climbing up a rocky hill in the village named Gargardo, just to meet a singer in search of some unheard stories of the Dards (Brokpas) and songs.
I never thought of visiting Kargil just for the Vijay Smarak. But thanx to these people, I ended up staying there for around 2 days. We explored all the nooks and corners of this place having interesting history. Only with their guidance I could explore the unseen parts and unknown facts about Kargil.
Yangchen Dolkar is the first female Educator to start a school in Kargil. Her secular school is indeed an inspiration for the entire nation. She joined our gang for Kargil exploration and as it said, more the merrier. 😉
Our gang then reached the Pakistan border at Kargil, what you can see in the background of this picture is the POK (Pakistan Occupied Kashmir). With my extra zoom camera, I could literally see the Pak soldiers’ movement in the desolate village which was once a part of Kargil.
Hunder Man was the lost part of Kargil which was retrieved by the Indian army in the year 1971. We could explore the ancient settlement which is still untouched by so-called development and modern facilities. The stone houses here are still kept intact and preserved as a precious heritage of the village. Sadiq Ali was an integral part of the team that helped in the restoration of this village which was neglected for years. It has been accessible for the Indian tourists only since past 2 years.
Suleman Khan, a localite from the village took us to the shelter where the whole village had to stay during the war of 1971. He narrated the spine chilling stories of being undertaken by the Indian Army. Listening to his experience of being in Pakistan and surviving the war left us all speechless. We then revived his good memories of having lunch and dinner with the whole village right at this place, while the armies of both the countries were busy attacking each other. While having juice and chips, we listened to his stories of bringing food from a common kitchen for all the people who had to hide inside the shell.
Kashmiris are conservative and reserved, is what I had heard from the people. But, this wrong notion was soon dispelled as I met a few of the families in Kargil. They were as proud Indian as any soldier might be. Sadiq’s family welcomed Yangchen and me with great warmth. We were offered the traditional dishes like kholak and sattu especially made for us by Sadiq’s mother. Not even for a moment did I feel that I was sitting among any conservative family. Sadiq’s elder brother, who is a part of the ministry of renewable energy, talked about how they are working towards the development of the nation. He indeed seemed to be a great visionary.
Kargil was another memorable picture in the reel of my journey. The next day Yangchen dropped me to Khangral and from there I hitch-hiked till Abapa House in Chiktan, a village with the most fascinating history and the architecture.
The children of Abapa family are really the bundles of talents. While Tsanzin just completed his Grade X exam from Leh, he also knows how to grow organic food in his farm and cook some lip-smacking dishes. That day he cooked potato – capsicum while his mother made Ladakhi rotis. The other son has learned the art of building mud houses. He travels around teaching the same to other artists and has a plan to build a meditation centre only using the mud bricks. The interesting thing about this family is that, they are the only Buddhists in this Muslim town and still never feel to be odd one out.
The next day, I had to move to Kukshow, which was just 21 km from Chiktan. I was told that the road is very difficult to cover by walking and I would not find a single vehicle that can drop me. My adventurous mind denied listening to anything and I headed towards Kukshow, all tired just after walking for around 20 minutes. The workers at the last house of the town told me that even those who regularly travel to Kukshow had already left. I hardly had any hopes and started moving on the steep roads with only the mountains in my sight. I was still chanting mantras under my heavy breaths and was trying to please Lord Shiva for some help on this desolate path. As usual, my prayers didn’t go unheard and God sent a Messiah in the form of this man. Sonam Palghis was moving back to Kukshow after dropping a few of his relatives to Chiktan. He turned out to be a distant relative of the Abapa family and insisted that I be the guest at his sweet home. The village of Kukshow doesn’t have a single guest house and thus, his invitation was like God calling me to stay in heaven as there was nothing else beyond the 7th sky. 🙂
This was the sweetest family ever. His wife was like my most caring mother for the day. She made it sure that I eat properly before starting my hike to Dargo village till Achinathang. She packed a few chapatis and bananas for me to eat on the way. “God knows when would you reach Dargo and whether you would get anything to eat or not,” she said in Ladakhi which was then translated by her son.
After walking continuously for around four and a half hours, I finally reached to see the miraculous spring water source at Dargo. Needless to say, I was the only living being on my way. Not even a dog or a cow could be seen during this long tiring walk with all my luggage on. (So getting any vehicle was far beyond expectation.) From there, I still had to walk for around an hour to reach at Sonam Phuntsog’s place in Achinathang.
“If you really wish to know about our History, meet Sonam Phuntsog,” said whosoever I met. So, I spared a day to meet this great man and discuss some interesting facts. His knowledge about Ladakh and its culture is indeed unbelievable. At the age of 80, he went all the way walking up to the main village just to get a book weighing around 10 kg for my reference. The book written by Wazir Hazmatullah Khan in 1936 was really a treasure of historical information. We spent the whole day discussing about the Brokpa culture and the historic establishment of the villages of Dargo, Kukshow and Chiktan.
I easily reached my next destination by hitch-hiking upto Khaltsi and then to Lamayaru from Achinathang. There, I even handled the shop of my home stay owner for a few hours. (I could sell three bottles of minute-maid :-P, I bleed Gujju after all) The next morning, I left early considering that I wished to reach Leh as early as possible. The destiny certainly didn’t want me to go as per my plan.
My adventure started when I boarded a car going in the opposite direction… I had reached half way till Kargil when I realised that I had taken the wrong route. But this mistake of mine took me to Fotula Pass, which I would have missed otherwise. When I got down at Khangral, there was only one human being I could see working in his field. There was no bus going to Leh in next few hours. I tried to stop a few vehicles but none of them were going to Leh or Lamayaru.
Then came the troupe of these saviours from Maharashtra who were on their leisure trip in Ladakh. I boarded their vehicle and had fun laughing at their jokes and comments. Not to mention the old melodies sung by these lovely people. I even vomited on the way; but Ms. Doctor in the bus immediately came to my rescue with medication.
I bade them adieu at Lamayaru as they proceeded towards the monastery. I again had to wait for another vehicle to move towards Leh. This time I opted for a truck that moved at the speed of a snail. I eventually had to board another car in order to reach on time.
And finally, I reached Leh to meet this crazy family of Tashi Angchok. He was the guide behind my off beat exploration in Ladakh. The mornings here were spent gazing at the sparkling peak of Stok Kangri right from my room window and writing about my journey. The afternoons were even more enjoyable as I cooked the lunch of my wish and talked for hours to Tashi’s mother who didn’t understand even the ‘H’ of Hindi. 🙂 But that was the real fun. We both kept on talking in our own language and ended laughing at each other as we wouldn’t understand anything. One day I had even kneaded the dough of sattu believing it to be the wheat flour. (the whole dough then had to be given to the cow 😐 )
The evenings would be spent with the naughty kids showing their talent in fighting like Bruce Lee or singing some bollywood movie songs.
By the time I took this last picture of my journey, this little heroine had already fallen asleep. She really is a drama queen. I was always entertained with some dance moves and acts by her. This picture is clicked after I asked her to command GoPro to take a nice picture of us. She commanded in her kiddish Ladakhi tone, “Go Pou, take a Phoutooo,” accompanied by the above expressions. Hahaha I would soon upload some cute videos of these crazy kids.
It was really hard to leave this place, not just because it is beautiful, but I was now much attached to the land and its people.
Obviously, a traveller can’t choose to just stay at one place, and thus I had to start my journey to Manali where I would be volunteering for a few months with the Healing Himalayas Foundation.