We’ve often said on these trips abroad that we would like to stay in one place for a while and get a feel for the place and the people. To give the locals a chance to get a good look at us, how we interact with them, how comfortable we feel with their circumstances.
We’ve done it a couple of times: Melbourne and Cairns, Australia, Istanbul, Turkey and Bangkok, Thailand (twice). All but Melbourne were at the end of a trip, and all but Cairns big cities. With well over three months for India, and no great epic mileages planned, we hoped for such a stay on this India trip. What we had in mind was another end of trip stay, probably in or near a city.
But our first stop, Leh, nestled between the Himalayas and the Karakorums and just off the tip of the Tibetan Plateau, captured our imagination. It’s walkable, half tourist town, half agrarian regional center, mostly Tibetan Buddhist with a mix of Muslim, Hindu and a few Christians; countless stupas and monasteries and two mosques. All these people seem to get on famously, as far as we can tell, while nestled in one of the hotspots of sectarian/political tension, the India/Pakistan border region. There were shots fired a week or so ago, not close to Leh, but not that far away either. However it was more talked about in the Delhi media than on the streets of Leh.
Before we left home, Claire found us a guest house on the internet. There were many to choose from, most of them beginning with A or another early letter of the alphabet. So she went to Z, found Zeepata, and booked it for the first couple of days. Except for our Zippy trip across Khardung La into Central Asia, we’ve been here. Besides comfortable rooms and good food, for a very reasonable price, the main reason was Mom. She earned the honored title by how she has treated us. And her smile, and laugh, broken but earnest English, made us feel like we were home. If we built a third seat on Zippy, she’d willingly come along and we’d be glad to have her. Though we have to say goodbye to her, we’ll still be friends on Facebook.
There are lots to recommend Leh as a destination: a long history including many conquests and kingdoms, crossroads of religions and an important branch of the Silk Road. It is the nexus of three world powers, India, China and Pakistan. They have managed an uneasy peace for the past fifty years, but visitors to Leh will soon realize the Indian Army presence is huge and you’ll feel safe. The six flights into Leh each day means there are facilities for many levels of need.
You’ll be able to read more about Leh and the Ladakh region in an upcoming Desert Leaf Great Escape column.
The internet will be silent for a while as there are only a few small villages and parachute tent camps along the way. Worse than the passes – one of them the second highest in the world – is the news that there is nothing to eat along the way but Maggi, Ramen style noodles. Gag. Wish us well.