After a memorable 6 days in Ladakh, today was our 7th and final day of sightseeing. Our trip was coming to an end, and we were ready to conclude this incredible journey by visiting some places which we could not visit earlier, thanks to some issues with our driver. Rigzin, our driver, informed us on Day 6 that he would not accompany us on Day 7. He instead sent one of his colleagues to take us on a drive to Lamayuru along the Srinagar-Leh highway. That actually turned out to be a blessing in disguise, because his colleague was brilliant. He was a young man in his early twenties and extremely polite. He showed up on time, at around 9 am, and we started the day with a short drive to Shanti Stupa. Our homestay, Tukchu, was located literally at the foot of the hill on which Shanti Stupa is built. When we reached the Stupa, there was no one else there. We had the whole place to ourselves!
We bought tickets and made our way to the top. Normally, Shanti Stupa is a tourist magnet, as almost every visitor coming to Leh has the Stupa on their itinerary. As a result, it gets quite crowded in the evenings and during the day. But we encountered none of that, as there was literally “Shanti” when we went. Even the wind was barely noticeable. We took some fantastic pictures, since early mornings tend to be clear and sunny in the spring. We took our time to check out the Stupa and the various colourful paintings on the structure. On the way back down, we met a group of monks who were quite friendly and chatty. We interacted with them for a bit and then left for Lamayuru. Our new driver suggested that we visit Lamayuru first and then come back to Gurudwara and Sangam (confluence of 2 rivers). We agreed with his advice, but I was a little disappointed because I really wanted to get some langar at the Gurudwara. The problem was our timing, it was just not right because we would be too early if we went there before Lamayuru, and too late if we came back after Lamayuru. So, langar at the Gurudwara remains an unfulfilled wish and something for us to look forward to on our next trip to Leh.
(a prayer hall inside the Shanti Stupa complex)
(carving of Buddha on a wall along the way to the top)
(the colourful Shanti Stupa)
(vibrant paintings on the wall of the stupa)
(statue of Buddha on the stupa)
(views from the Stupa on a clear morning)
(snow capped mountains are visible in late April/early May)
(another great view from the top)
Once we were out of the Leh area, the scenery was just incredible. The drive from Leh to Lamayuru was another gem and one of the best of our trip. I highly recommended this journey to anyone visiting Ladakh. Almost the entire journey runs along the beautiful Indus river, with hills of varying colours on both sides. Along the way, we passed Ule Tokpo, which had a couple of resorts right next to the river, and they looked absolutely stunning. We would definitely try to stay there for a night or two during any future trips and do a river rafting session. A few minutes after Ule, we reached Khaltsi village where the driver took a breakfast stop. We tried to find a restroom on the main street but there was none! This was the only downside of the journey to Lamayuru, no proper restrooms once you are out of Leh.
(views from the highway once we were out of Leh)
(the mighty Sindhu (Indus) river)
(confluence point of the Indus (top) and Zanskar (bottom) rivers)
(stunning views from the highway)
(snow capped mountains seen from the Srinagar-Leh highway)
(purple coloured mountains were quite a unique sight)
(the rich emerald green colour of the Indus)
(most of the journey to Lamayuru runs along the Indus river and it is a spectacular drive)
(the dramatic bend with step-farming background must look incredible in July with some green cover)
(another amazing view of the river)
(Khaltsi village had a classical Himalayan ambience)
After the driver was done eating, we carried on further and reached the famous Moonland rocks after a few minutes. Moonland rocks are uniquely shaped rocks which look like the surface of the moon – hence the name Moonland. I don’t know if it was because of the touristy nature of these rocks, or because the month of May had started, but we were seeing significantly higher numbers of tourist groups throughout our drive on the Srinagar-Leh highway. We had not seen so many visitors during our previous 6 days in Ladakh. Whatever the reason, we were glad that we completed most of our trip in a relatively less crowded environment. We took a few pictures of the “moonrocks” from the highway and then drove on to Lamayuru monastery.
(road to Lamayuru after exiting the highway)
(going towards Lamayuru, with a tributary of the Indus flowing alongside)
(these were proper Himalayan roads)
(the famous Moonrocks of Lamayuru)
(they are called Moonrocks because they resemble the terrain on the moon)
(another brilliant view of the Moonrocks from the highway)
(we saw plenty of such boards with funny messages throughout Ladakh)
The monastery was alright, nothing too special, and it gave us some more views of the Moonland rocks. By the time we were done visiting the temples and prayer halls of Lamayuru monastery, it was lunch time. There were a lot of tourist groups at the monastery (interestingly more non-Indians than Indians). More importantly, there was only one restaurant at the monastery. We thought of going there but almost every big tour group went to that restaurant. It was as if the tour operators had a deal with the restaurant. The menu at that restaurant was quite expansive and the food looked good too. But there was utter chaos at the place with so many people pouring in. Perhaps for the first time in our trip, it felt like a typical tourist trap. We asked the waiter about ordering, and he said the wait time would be 1 hour! There was no way we were going to wait 1 hour to get our lunch, and so we left for Khaltsi village. We had noticed lots of eating places at Khaltsi earlier in the morning and were confident of finding some decent lunch there, rather than waiting at Lamayuru monastery. Our decision was proven correct, as we managed to get some tasty hot parathas and sweet lassi, that too without the crazy crowds. This is another useful tip for potential visitors, get lunch at Khaltsi village if the restaurant at Lamayuru monastery is not feasible.
(view of Lamayuru village from the monastery)
(entering Lamayuru monastery)
(prayer wheels at Lamayuru monastery)
(colourful paintings at Lamayuru monastery)
(Moonrocks seen from Lamayuru monastery)
Another thing which we had noticed earlier when we drove through Khaltsi was the presence of apricot shops. We were curious to check them out. So after lunch, we decided to visit an apricot store right next to our restaurant in search of some genuine and good quality dry apricots. The shop had heaps of apricots. They were from the previous season, but the quality was genuine. We had learned from Hussain in Turtuk how to spot real apricots from artificially sweetened and coloured ones. Using our newly acquired knowledge, we bought a kilo of the good stuff. We ended up buying some apricot oil too in the process.
With our shopping all done, we headed back on the highway towards Leh. Our next stop was Alchi monastery. This monastery was perhaps the most unique of all the monasteries that we had visited. The reason being, it was an 11th century monastery – 1000 years old! One has to walk a few metres through narrow roads to get to the temple complexes. There were about 3 or 4 of them. Each temple had massive (2-storey and 3-storey tall) statues of Gautam Buddha and some colourful wall paintings. Amazingly, the wall paintings and the statues were in excellent condition. The colours had not faded much, and it was incredible to view something so old and yet so vibrant. We met a monk in one of the temples, who explained how painstakingly the paints used to colour the walls and the statues are made (even today!). After visiting all the temples, we walked along a path behind the monastery which led us to a view point to see the Indus river. Alchi monastery was one of the most incredible monasteries in Ladakh and we were glad that we visited.
(1000-year old Alchi village)
(walking to Alchi monastery)
(the 1000-year old Alchi monastery was the most unique monastery in Ladakh)
(these ancient carvings were still in decent shape)
(one of the many temples inside Alchi monastery)
(another temple at Alchi monastery)
(Indus river viewpoint behind Alchi monastery)
Leaving Alchi, we carried on towards Leh. Before hitting Leh, we stopped at the point where the Sindhu and Zanskar rivers meet. We had originally planned to go down the hill onto the banks of the river. But one member of our traveling group was not feeling very well. So, we decided not to go all the way down, and instead settled for some pictures from the highway itself. A few minutes later, we reached Gurudwara Pathar Sahib, where we met a group of army men who were also visiting. We went inside the Gurudwara while covering our heads (as per Sikh norms) and prayed at the rock from which the gurudwara derives its name. There was no langar obviously as it was almost 5 pm, but we got some hot Sheera and tea as Prasad. The Gurudwara was the last sight of our journey and we ended our day trip at Tukchu homestay. We thanked the driver for the wonderful drive and called it a day. We still had to pack our bags, as our return flight out of Leh was early next morning. We felt absolutely tired from all the traveling over the past 7 days, but what a week it had been. It was a life changing journey, an eye opening trip. We did have an interesting time at the airport with some unique rules and processes. More on that in the next blog post.