Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Ladakh, the Indus Valley beyond Leh

Ladakh, Confluence of the Zanskar and Indus Rivers ©Solange Hando

Unlike much of India, Ladakh is the perfect place to visit in the summer months when skies are blue and temperatures pleasant. The only thing to remember is the altitude but if you come on the high road  from Manali rather than fly, you'll enjoy a wonderful drive and minimise the risks.

Leh may keep you spellbound but my favourite place is the Indus valley beyond the capital, past the confluence of the Indus and Zanskar rivers. Few visitors venture that far but the colours alone are well worth the trip, land and water glistening like gems in the clear mountain air. 

Seated Buddha in Likir ©Solange Hando

Later, you reach the impressive Likir monastery perched on a hillock above the barley fields. There are myriad shrines and temples filled with holy images and paintings and up on the roof, a 25 metre high seated Buddha framed by the snowy peaks of the Indian Himalaya.

It's an inspiring place where the chanting of monks fills the air with vibes as farmers bring in the harvest while old folks sit in the shade, twirling prayer beads.

Chortens in Lamayuru ©Solange Hando

Those who come here often take a break in Ulektopo, a remote tented camp set among the apple trees, before heading to Lamayuru where tucked into the barren hills, the monastery seems to mark the end of the land.

A row of chortens adds a little colour to this deserted landscape where flat-roofed houses just melt into the earth and the only sign of life may be a monk or a black hairy yak.

Moonland in Ladakh ©Solange Hando

This is the edge of the 'moonland', an eerie mountainscape of eroded clay and sand frothing out of the barren earth like a giant cappucino. No human habitation as far as you can see, just jagged rocks and an empty road far below heading back towards more hospitable lands along the Indus.

Oasis West of Leh ©Solange Hando

For down there in the valley framed by high peaks, marigolds bloom in the monastery and poplars and willows meander across the arid land, just one of many oases in Ladakh blessed by the Indus and the generous snowmelt from the Himalaya.

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