June 20th: The day long journey to Leh was really tiring and I had planned to sleep till it was late afternoon to compensate. But 'twas not to be, Vinayak's cellphone woke me up around ten. None of our phones were working in Leh. Only BSNL and Airtel have a presence in the valley, but even Airtel allows only post-paid phones to roam inside Jammu & Kashmir. So I asked the hotel guy for directions and headed out towards the town to make some calls.
Our guesthouse was called Tse-Mo View and somehow seemed stuck between a pun for See More and Same 'Ol. It was stuck on the westward side of the palace, in between the Tse-Mo monastery and the Santhi Gonpa. The market was hardly a kilometre away, but the getting used to the alitude is more of a gradual thing.
But it was a bright day, with blue skies like I've never seen before. We spent most of the day just sitting around in the hotel. There is an SBI ATM in Leh which is a boon to travellers and I headed there to withdraw some much needed cash. After an attempted lunch at the La Terrase, we stuck around in the guesthouse, waiting for Amol and planning the trip ahead.
After meeting up with Amol, sometime around 7:45, we went to a pizzeria where a TV set was attracting football fans. After a pleasant half-hour of discussions, we got back to the guesthouse. My dinner consisted of a flattened noodle like preparation called the Thupka.
June 21st: We had plans to do some sightseeing today, to visit some nearby monasteries and local sights. But the obvious communication gap caused by the lack of cellphones prevented us from co-ordinating this with the other group. But we woke up early, nonetheless. Eventually we decided to take it as another day off to acclimatise.
But we managed to meet up with the rest of the gang by lunch and planned to trek up to the Tse Mo monastery and the Namgyal palace. The palace and the monastery sit up on a crumbling gravel sided hill. There is a motorable road which goes up to the palace, but you could see a shorter foot trail on the north face of the hill. We decided to get our body into gear with a climb up. Rishi however was experiencing a full download, if you know what I mean, and did not accompany us.
So, equipped with a water bottle full of honey lemon water and morale high, we ended up behind the masjid trying to find our way out of the twisting lanes. The lanes finally gave way to steps up to the palace.
The palace overlooks the entire town and is under restoration. It has the smell of fresh varnish and drying soft-woods. Considering the traditional architecture, the palace does indeed look like it is fit for a king. But to the naive traveller, it looks like a dive suitable for somebody with an aversion for windows. The central courtyard on the roof was quite interesting, as was the wood carvings on the pillars. But we still had the foot trail up to climb and did not waste too much time inside the palace.
The trail up was really scary. Until I got some confidence and my second wind, I was really not sure I'd get to the top. Our shoes weren't made for the terrain and neither was our minds. Every slight slip you made, every time you looked downwards on what awaits on a fall, the message was hammered in by your brain. We took about forty full minutes to climb the three kilometres of the gravel trail.
We got to the bottom of the monastery and then the next challenge awaited. The monastery was on top of a few more rocks which seemed like a bad idea to try. But given the success we'd so far had, we went for it and climbed to the very top. And the view was definitely worth the effort.
After spending twenty odd minutes on the top, we started to walk down by the road. Soon we realized that the road would take us far out of Leh, before it took us home. Despite my objections on climbing down in the dark, we took the first downhill path we found. The path got a little tricky further down, but we literally crawled on all limbs to get across to the safe path down. The it was all downhill and we literally ran down the slope.
Took a long look backwards and ended up at the hotel. But instead of heading to the town for dinner, Vinayak decided to eat at the guesthouse. I headed out to the Ibex restaurant for a completely horrible dinner. Thanks to a crowd of american tourists, our orders got pushed back for nearly an hour and eventually we got something we didn't order. Anyway, after a few complaints to the manager and a 20% discount, we headed back unsatisfied with the food.
I was extremely tired, but still slightly excited from the trip up. I slept like a log.--
Fain would I climb, yet fear I to fall.
-- Sir Walter Raleigh