12 July 2010
One of my childhood wishes was going to be fulfilled! We spent many summer months with family in Kashmir but never managed to go to Ladakh. There was always a really good reason to keep it for "next time". The reasons ranged from "road washed away", "an avalanche has blocked the road", "heavy snow and difficult driving conditions", "road blockade because of a security alert", .... You get the picture. In those days it took a good 3 days to travel from Srinagar to Leh and it was not meant for the faint-hearted. It needed serious preparation and planning and my folks were not ready for this while on vacation!
Fast forward to July 2010. We were on a late night flight from Baroda to Delhi, with plans to stay at the Delhi airport, so we could take the 6AM flight to Leh (all flight to Leh get there early morning to avoid heavy winds later in the day). It was the middle of summer and it made little sense to step out of the airport and find a place to stay for 3 or 4 hrs! Given the excitement of going to Ladakh, I was not going to be inconvenienced by anything. What is a few hours sitting in a bucket seat at the airport?
The 6AM Kingfisher Airlines flight took off on time. The short 1 hr flight was expensive. Flights to Leh cannot exceed 75% capacity and needs highly skilled pilots for the tough maneuvering & landing.
The approach to Leh is dramatic! You can see the skyline dotted with ragged peaks and suddenly you see mountain peaks blocking your view! It is eerie as the pilot navigates through the gaps in the tall mountain ranges to get to the Leh valley.
The airport itself is on top of a mesa. The length of its runway is just about the minimum needed to land safely. The aircraft goes to the mountains at the end of the valley and must take a 180-degree turn before approaching to land.
We stepped out into the thin air of Leh Kushok Bakula Rimpochee airport, which is at an altitude of about 11,000 ft.
The drive from the airport to our home-stay place on Fort Road was short. However, the 50 mtr walk from the main road to Sia-La guest house was laborious!
We ended up having breakfast and lunch with the family we stayed with and tried to get some rest. Our room was comfortable. Sia-La home stay is run by a Ladakhi family Gulam Nabi and Zareena. They are warm and wonderfully hospitable people.
It is hard to just lie down in bed, when the excitement of being in a new town is tearing you apart. We decided to step out early evening and check out the town. We made arrangements for car/driver, "inner line permits" and planned out our trip for the next 7 days. We worked with the Dreamland Trek & Tours , who are located on the main street.
Leh is a quaint town with interesting sights and stores.
We got back exhausted.... we were hoping to acclimatize in the next few days before we headed off towards even higher areas of Ladakh.
(See here for more Ladakh photos)