India: Getting to Ladakh and the things you should be aware of
January 1, 1970
by Anita Jerše
More than 2 years ago I met my first Indian friend in Ljubljana, Slovenia. He started to introduce me to Indian culture and recommended me a movie called Bhaag Milkha Bhaag. Ever since I saw that movie I wanted to visit that North part of India, Ladakh – land of high passes.
GETTING TO LEH
Leh-Ladakh is part of the state Jammu & Kashmir in the North part of India and is a land like no other. Bounded by two of the world’s mightiest mountain ranges, the Great Himalaya and the Karakoram. It is surrounded by the international borders with China and Pakistan. Culture and history is highly comparable to Tibetan. The principal language of Ladakh is Ladakhi but educated Ladakhi understand Hindu and also English. It is one of the highest places on earth (altitude between 8,800 feet and 18,000 feet approx.) with very dry and cold clima. In winter temperature reaches -40 degrees Celsius. I read somewhere that only in Ladakh can a person sitting in the sun with his feet in the shade suffer from sunstroke and frostbite at the same time. The beauty of the place cannot be expressed in words. It has breathtaking landscape with Buddhist monasteries (gompas) and beautiful spiritual messages written on colorful fluttering prayer flags.
So we decided, two girls, to go and travel around India for almost a month. You can reach Leh from New Delhi by bus or flight. Since we had in total only 25 days to visit India (Ladakh, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Goa and Maharashtra) we decided to take the fastest way to reach Leh. On 26.9.2015 at 10:00 pm we arrived to New Delhi and step on Indian land for the first time. Our connection flight to Leh was the next morning at 5:15 am from national airport, so we needed to change the airport. People were telling us that we need to take a taxi to get there but since I always prefer to travel with local transport I insisted to go by bus. We exit the airport and there it was our first cultural shock. Firstly the heavy, hot and smelly air which made it a little bit difficult to breath in the beginning. And then we enter the empty bus which got immediately packed with Indian men who were staring at us. There were no women on the bus as the time was late in the evening. Many people were warning us about traveling in India especially when I said we reserved train tickets in a sleeper class. At that moment, being the only women on the whole bus we thought to
ourselves that maybe we are really a bit crazy to travel like this. But we wanted to experience the real India with everything that comes along. We arrived to the airport and we still had 6 hours for our next flight to Leh, Ladakh. What to do. Since the chairs are really uncomfortable for sleeping we decided to follow some of the other Indian people and we put our sleeping bags on the floor next to some huge plants right there in the airport. Of course we were already really tired from the whole travel from Prague to New Delhi, so we fall asleep immediately. One guy woke us up that our flight is already leaving so we packed our sleeping bags as soon as we could and run towards our boarding gate. The flight over the mountains lit by a sunrise was so incredible that I was screaming inside from all the joy and excitement.
The altitude of the capital city Leh is 11,562 ft (3,500m) which can cause some problem to tourist which are not acclimatized to this attitude. When we landed we could see everywhere warning signs about high-altitude sickness. Pay attention to your body, drink a lot of water and keep it easy first couple of days. You really need to be careful and if you neglect first signs of high-altitude sickness it can follow to high altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE) or high altitude cerebral edema (HACE), which can be fatal.
You should find a doctor immediately if you are experiencing any of these signs:
- heavy headaches,
- shortness of breath,
- nausea or vomiting,
- persistent fast pulse,
- dry cough,
- sensation of tingling or burning of the skin,
- swelling of hands, face or feet (late symptom),
- social withdrawal (late symptom).
In Leh we experienced completely different clime than in New Delhi which was just 1,5 hours ago. Here the air was rare, dry and cold. The lack of oxygen makes you tired already after few steps.
After getting our backpacks we went to bargain for the cab and search for a guesthouse in upper Leh a.k.a Changshpa which was recommended to me by one friend. Changspa road is really a nice place with a lot of homestays which are hygienic and cheap as well. The golden rule while traveling in India is to always, regardless what you are buying, always bargain for the price.
The thing you should know if you want to visit some places around Leh you will need to obtain a special permission which you can get at any tourist agency in Leh. You will need to leave this permission to any checking point around Ladakh so be sure to make more copies of the permit. After we got settled down in our room and had a nice morning sleep we went to walk around the city to arrange the permission, withdraw the money and trying to book some trips. There was Sunday so it was difficult to arrange anything. We visited some tourist agencies to explore our options for the trips but we didn’t arrange anything. Nonetheless we had some really nice talks with the locals.
Our first delicious Indian lunch was in a lovely little restaurant on of the rooftops with a view on the city and the mountains. We had some delicious Palak Paneer and some nice garlic naan (Indian bread).
Through narrow streets we walked up to Leh Palace from where there was an amazing view on the whole valley. Colorful flags, blue sky, mountains covered by snow and green grass made just the perfect combination of colors. The music from monasteries when monks were playing on dungchen was echoing through the valley and the sound was just magical. Dungchen is a long trumpet or a horn used in Tibetan Buddhist ceremonies.
Big part of the city was under construction and it was interesting to see how cows are just wondering around all the public places in the city. As you probably already know cow is protected animal in India and Hindus do not eat beef. After walking around the city my friend started to become really tired and experiencing some headaches so we return slowly to our room and went to bed.
When we woke up the next day my friend felt really bad. Her heart was beating really fast, she had big pressure in her head, problems with breathing, felt nauseous and dizzy. I become really worried so I went to look for the owner of the guesthouse and he provided a taxi for us so I could take her to the hospital. In the hospital I needed to fill some forms and we waited for the doctor. Experience in the hospital was interesting as well. There were cleaning ladies cleaning the floor on their knees with really dirty cloths and had masks over their faces. The doctor concluded that she has high-altitude sickness and that she will be fine. He prescribed some pills and she needed to be plugged on oxygen for an hour. Already after only 15 minutes of oxygen she felt much better and I was really relieved she was doing so much better. She fall asleep for a while and during that time they brought one old lady on the bed next to us. There was an old men with her and he started to take selfies with us in the background. Hospital was in a quite pore state with only really necessary things. After an hour my friend felt like reborn and we headed home. We stopped in the pharmacy to get the prescribed medicine and stopped small van who was driving to the center.
My friend went to sleep and since she was feeling much better I went for a walk around the city to get her some food and to visit Shanti Stupa. Shanti Stupa is a Buddhist white-domed stupa (chorten) on a hilltop which was only a couple hundred meter away from our guesthouse in Changspa. Once you overcome all the stairs you see an astonishing panoramic view of the city with mountains in the background. One of the many reasons why people take a trip to Ladakh is to take a break from the everyday schedule and re-assess their lives. It is definitely a great place to invoke some thoughts from within to asses yourself in life.