Friday, July 31, 2009

Leh(Ladakh) - Day 2 - Leh Palace

31st May 09

I woke up and walked to that edge of the balcony where there was sunlight and absorbed it’s warmth. The occupants of the neighbouring room, a German lady and an American gentleman were having breakfast. I had a conversation with them and requested my host to give me breakfast.

Home-made Ladhaki bread and apricot jam. It was soooooo yummy… I had many spoonfuls of the jam just like that…and then tea and omlette.

By the time I oiled my hair and finished my bath (hot water was supplied in buckets by the kind host), it was noon. I set out.

The plan was to cover the Leh palace, Shanti Stupa, Nyamgal Tsemo and Shankar Gompa in one day.

I first went to Wonderland restaurant. I went to the terrace this time. I had Mix Veg Thukpa with French fries for lunch.

After lunch I had slight body pain and I knew I would need to rest immediately if I did not want to upset my plans for the next few days. So I walked back to my hotel room and tried to sleep. By about 5 in the evening I set out again.

I just could not get enough of these pictures.

At the market circle, I took a left, went past the mosque complex and entered a narrow alley. After a few steps, the climb to the palace began. The alley became a mere passage as I climbed further. There was dirt, plastic, the smell of urine, stray dogs, mean looking hovels and dilapidated buildings…This is something that has befallen every tourist place in India. Rishikesh, Haridwar, Kedarnath, … Much more than anything else, these places offer one thing in abundance. Disillusionment.
Like a glimpse of hell that Yudhishthira had to compulsorily see before he entered the gates of heaven.

And then after a stretch, I rose above men and their mean dwellings. I could see the 9 storey palace looming before me but I stopped every few steps and turned behind… to face the vast expanse of land, mountains, snow and the greenery of poplar separated by an eternity of space.

Facade of the Leh Palace

Entrance to the palace – an intricately carved wooden porch standing on fluted columns with snow lions carved on the cornice. It is called the lion gate.

From the travel guide that I bought the previous evening,
“This is Ladhak’s most imposing edifice. One of the best examples of Tibetan secular architecture. Ladakh’s greatest king Sengge Namgyal 1616-1642 built this in early 17th century. It was damaged in 1685 by invading forces of Tibetans and Mongolians and wrecked by conquering soldiers of Zorawar Singh’s Dogra army in 1836, forcing the Ladakhi royal family to abandon the palace and move to Stok, a village across the Indus. The structure has no foundation. Its soaring walls taper a little to give the building the required stability. Also lending stability is the way the walls were constructed, following the traditional system adopted across the Himalayas of alternating stone with timber... neatly dressed stones with a layer of timber every 3 meters. This arrangement helps the structure to absorb shock and survive earthquake. Upper walls of palace constructed with mud bricks. Edifice is in advanced stage of decay and archeological survey of India (ASI) is restoring parts of it. Many sections of castle are closed to tourists”

The Chamba Lhakhang (Maitreya temple), Chenresig Lhakhang (Avalokiteshwara temple) and Soma Gompa at the foot of the palace, that I was so eager to enter, were closed :-(

You can see the temple tops just outside this courtyard at the foot of the palace. As I take this picture, the palace is behind me.

I entered the dark and gloomy palace not feeling good about it at all. Ruins hurt. Especially the ruins of a palace.
There was a staircase inside and I climbed to the floor above. Long, uneven muddy dark corridors led to openings in the palace outer wall through which you could get a view of the town below and the faraway mountains.

Along the corridors were enclosures that were perhaps rooms and quarters for members of the royal family once upon a time...
I entered these enclosures, dry, dusty, muddy and broken down… walked past all the debris to the balcony or window that gave another splendid view…

I continued to climb and then came to a rickety old wooden stair and after that I found myself on a landing that was in the open

The 360 degree panoramic view was breathtaking.

My visit to various parts of the Himalayas last May, all of them differing in landscape, vegetation and water content had confirmed my preference for greenery and fresh water over any other kind of landscape.
The only reason I chose Ladakh, knowing that it was arid was this. Abhishek had mentioned the Sindhu river many times and that had appealed to my heart and my soul – the river that gave its name to our civilization, our country and our religion… it was like the memory of a solemn past that I had never seen, ‘like the smell of a house that I had never lived in’.
Further, from whatever I had read about Ladhak (which was not much), I had gathered, to my disappointment that, it was a desert, dry, dusty and hot. There was no water and no greenery. When I came across the phrase ‘beautiful lunar landscapes’ in an article about Ladakh on the net, I smiled at the cleverness of the writer.

When I landed at the Leh airport and saw mountains all around that were stark naked, I did not jump with joy. Later on, patches of poplar here and there had given me some respite.

But standing now on the roof of the palace, I could not believe my eyes when I looked down and saw a carpet of greenery that spread out over the plains

It was rather queer… brown jagged dry mountains with not a blade of grass on them and a lush green carpet of greenery between the plains separating them…like a god made collage… a landscape that was ‘assembled’.

The red and white building on top is Namgyal Tsemo…
Ok… look below now… can you see me by the ladder?

You see the horizontal line on that snow mountain, kind of dividing the mountain into halves… that’s the road leading to Khardongla pass…the highest motorable road in the world.

It was getting dark. I walked back …

As I continued down, I stopped by this roadside jewelry shop put up by two women. They were selling stones…Jade, Turquoise, Carnelian, Onyx, Coral…Bracelets, Necklaces, Finger Rings, Ear Rings…

I bought two necklaces…one with Jade and black onyx, for which I will have to find a matching dress now…and another one made of carnelian stone… for 600 bucks…after dignified bargaining.
Now it was really dark… I entered wonderland. I did not want to try different restaurants; I wanted to try out different things on the menu from the same restaurant :-)

Tonight I order Veg Momo with soup and French Fries… it was good…just as I was going through the desserts in the last page, the waiter said “Waise aaj Banoffee pie bhi hai”. What more could I ask for? :-)



Beautiful post, Sowmya. :-)

Satish said...

If you ever wanted a photo of human envy, you could use a photo of mine now......

The palace looks in ruins... Not sure if ASI has not managed it well or time has taken its toll....

However, the view is panaromic....

P.S. - Visited shivanasamduram lately. Quickly went back to your post to see if i had missed anything to be seen and i didnot miss any.... With the abundant rainfall the falls are back to their full beauty

Anonymous said...

it has been my long lasting dream to visit leh/ladakh. i so envy you. i intend to go there this year. maybe we could've gone together :(

- ghost rider

Sowmya said...


Thanks for your nice words and welcome back...

Satish, do mail me your picture of envy :)

Ghost rider, your condition of anonymity does not permit anything of that sort!