Featured Writer: Sukanya Ramanujan
My first visit to the Himalayas
A visit to the Himalayas is an often chosen theme in many books- both fiction and non-fiction- to illustrate self discovery, transformation, the endless search for truth and inner peace or more simply just to reconnect with the tranquility of nature. The remoteness of the mountains has always been something that tugged at my heart strings and I had always longed to do a journey to the greatest mountain range of the planet. So it was with delight that I finally managed to pack my bags and set off with a few friends to an unforgettable journey to Ladakh in the month of July earlier this year.
The bus ride from Delhi to Manali itself proved memorable as we went to sleep driving through plains and woke up to discover the bus snaking its way through ever taller mountains. Lush green mountain slopes interspersed with rushing torrents of river water, bridges and tunnels made a 13 hour back breaking journey to the renowned hill station of Manali tolerable.
We only had the briefest opportunity to enjoy the charms of Manali before making our way to Leh on the famed Manali- Leh highway. However any hopes of an uneventful and low stress journey were soon dashed to the ground when we found ourself stuck in the wrong lane in a narrow mountain path amidst two other lanes of trucks for over 24 hours trying to cross Rohtang Pass. The situation was made worse by the incessant rain and the imminent threat of landslides finally forcing us to abort the attempt and return to Manali. A second attempt finally saw us crossing the pass after about 8 hours. We were finally well and truly on our way to Ladakh. The road lived up to its reputation of scenic beauty- there were no shortages for picturesque locations for photographs or even meditation- only the ever present shortage of time. We were already too late to make it to the Hemis festival at the Hemis Monastery close to Leh and would lose out on even more sights if we did not rush along.
We finally reached Leh two days later than we had originally planned. The town has a long and fascinating history- of kings and competing cultures trying to take control of the place and of religions- where Buddhism, Islam and Hinduism have all left their mark and shaped the local culture. Once can find tourists from every country in the world- and there is no dearth for international cuisine or comfort anywhere. The absence of mobile coverage on a majority of networks was a bit painful but there are more than adequate public phones and internet cafes in Little Tibet. One cannot say enough about how friendly the Ladakhi people are. I was simply struck at the warmth and hospitality of the people there towards complete strangers.
Even though we had missed out on an opportunity to visit Hemis monastery, we paid a visit to Thiksey monastery which is home to a large statue of Maitreya (Buddha before englightenment). Thiksey also has a souvenir shop where one can shop for genuine artefacts from the region at reasonable prices. If you hate haggling like I do, this shop is paradise.
No visit to Ladakh is complete without a visit to Lake Pangong- a completely spectacular inland brackish lake that makes an excellent destination for photographs with its sparkling blue waters. We overnighted in tents on the banks of this seemingly serene lake which also forms the border between India and Tibet.
With time running short to return to regular life, I had to soon leave Ladakh and get back to Delhi and then to Chennai via flight not before I had an adventurous and very turbulent flight trying to land at Delhi during the monsoons. One thing is certain though- you don’t visit the Himalayas- the mountains call out to you. My visit to the region has not satisfied my curiosity about the place but has only stoked my interest to visit the region again and for longer to drink in more of the essence and beauty of this fascinating place.
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