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On the Top of the World

On the Top of the World

Sentinel Digital DeskBy : Sentinel Digital Desk

  |  19 Sep 2019 8:01 AM GMT

The cherished dream to visit Ladakh was lying in the cold storage for years. The little over one hour flight from just 777 ft MSL of Indira Gandhi International airport, New Delhi and landing at an altitude of 10682 ft of Kushak Bakula Rinpoche airport at Leh, one of the highest airports in the world, was exciting. The Leh valley appears from nowhere in the banks of the river Zanskar and the Indus. Leh, the largest urban dwelling in the valley, located towards the eastern side of Jammu & Kashmir, is the headquarters of the district. Perched on an altitude of 3505 metre MSL, Leh presents an unique topography of silvery mountain peaks and golden barley farmland, running together with rock and snow with lush green patches here and there. With its amazing ecological and geological features Ladakh attracts thousands of nature and adventure lovers, both domestic and foreigners. The beautiful, typically intricate Ladakhi wooden carved doors and windows of the hotel presented an awesome view of the silvery peaks and Leh Palace atop a hill.

At Ladakh, a lot of tourists suffer from Altitude Sickness. Also known as Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS), is a pathological disorder caused by exposure to low partial pressure of oxygen that occurs beyond an altitude of 8000 feet. Though the symptoms may vary from person to person, acute headache, fatigue, drowsiness, lack of appetite, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, sleep disturbance, nose-bleed, shortness of breath etc are common. AMS can progress to High Altitude Pulmonary Edema or Cerebral Edema which are potentially fatal. Allow yourself rest for at least twenty four hours and drink a lot of water to avoid dehydration. Intake of Diamox tablets twice or thrice a day recommended. Gradual acclimatization helps. The best, in fact, the only season to visit Leh-Ladakh is from May to September. Ladakh experiences harsh cold desert climate during extreme winters from November to March with temperature falling to about (-)40 degree Celsius. However, summer temperature can go up to 30 degree Celsius. Known as ‘cold desert’, Ladakh is probably the only place in the world where you can get a sun-burn and a frost-bite at the same time. The weather is largely arid as it falls under the rain-shadow area of the Himalayas. Snowing starts from October and there after the place is virtually cut off from the rest of the world.

In and around Leh there are many palaces and Gompas (Buddhist place of worship) to be visited apart from the well laid street shops stocked with brass and wooden items of Buddhist worship, typical Ladakhi art with natural colours, artifacts, masks, souvenirs, dress items, Ladakhi hats, etc. and can be any lady shopper’s delight. Spectacular Thiksey Gompa, is one of the largest and architecturally most impressive. Shey palace and Gompa are another impressive structures that houses a 7.50 metre gold plated copper statue of Buddha, one of the largest of its kind. Leh palace, a 17th century nine storey structure built by King Senge Namgayal stands at one corner of the city like a sentinel over-lording the minnows below. Shanti Stupa, Sankar Gompa, Namgayal Tsemo are the other monuments worth visiting. All these structures represent typical Ladakhi-Tibetan architecture built on high hillocks. Upper portions of the walls are built with mud-bricks (not kilned or burnt). Although predominantly inhabited by ethnic Buddhists (about 77%), Ladakh also has a sizeable Muslim population of about 14% followed by 8% Hindu. The ancient inhabitants of Ladakh were Dards. King Senge Namgayal consolidated the Ladakhi Empire and was an independent country since the middle of 10th century.

Our trip to Nubra Valley was most memorable. The steep dicey road was just climbing up and up till it reached the world’s highest motorable road point, Khargung-La( pass), at an altitude of 18380 ft., 39 Km from Leh. Yes, we were virtually at the top of the world, excited and exhilarated by sipping hot fuming cups of tea in supposedly the highest cafeteria in the world! Atop the pass, enjoyed the magnificent view of the mighty Karakoram hill ranges at one side and Ladakh (Himalayan) ranges on the other. It lies in the historic caravan route to Kashgar in Central Asia, a historically famous silk-route. Travelling along the silently flowing Shyok river through the colourful barren hills to Nubra valley, came across a desert like area at Hunder with sand-dunes. What a wonder of nature where snowclad peaks, sandy and rocky barren hills, dancing springs, a desert with sand-dunes, are all found together. Then one comes across herds of double-humped Bactrian camels and the huge sky-touching statue of Buddha sitting atop the hill in Diskit Gompa. The next day, crossed Chang-La (pass) at 17586 ft, the third highest motorable point in the world and were extremely lucky to experience the season’s first snow fall. On the way we came across very large rabbit-like wild Marmots playing and eating merrily along the spring side. Marmots are large ground squirrels, constantly eat vegetation during summer months to accumulate lots of fats and then hibernate inside their tunnel like burrows for 6-7 months during winters, huddling together. Also saw Pashmina goats that grow a secondary layer of very soft hair during winters and shed during summers. Those are collected to weave famous cashmere Pashmina shawls.

Mind blowing Pangong Tso, is the highest brackish (salt water) lake in Asia, at 154 KM South-East of Leh, at an altitude of about 14,270 ft, is about 134 KM long of which 60% lies in China. During winters the lake freezes completely despite of saline water. Surrounded by hills of varied colours, presents a stunning sight! Dancing with the sun rays the colour of water changed magnificently, every now and then. In the flight back, wondered: what a varied, diverse, colourful and luxuriant my country is!

(The author of the column is a former Vice President of Reliance Defence & Engineering Ltd., Gujarat. Presently, he is a freelance writer, management consultant and professional trainer. He can be reached at

Parag Phukan


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