Day 1 | Delhi – Leh | Bon Voyage
All I dreamt of was the vision of myself standing tall at the Stok summit with a tough grin on my face & my not-so-frost-bitten hands holding the selfie stick up high capturing a 360-degree video with the endless Himalayas in the backdrop. Each frame spoke of the pain & rigor invested to get there; priceless! I just hoped I’d get there.
There are a handful of airlines that fly to Leh namely GoAir, Air India, Jet Airways, Spice Jet & most recently Vistara. I wanted to reach Leh in the bright Himalayan light, so I chose the early morning GoAir flight. It’s no surprise that the flight was full, for it was the season for visiting the crowned jewel of the Indian Himalayas. Departure time was 05:30 am from the T1 terminal of the Indira Gandhi International airport & I reached the airport at 04:50 am, thanks to my Uber driver who took me for a stroll down the road to the T3 terminal. Somehow, I managed to reach the designated gate by 05:25 am, just to find the doors closed & the staff of GoAir looking at me in suspicion. Long story short, I pleaded them to let me board the flight & after some persuasion, they did. It was the first time I had the flight doors shut behind my back seconds after boarding the flight. Lesson learned; always reach the airport on time!
We took off & I couldn’t be happier. I was traveling towards my dream at a malignant speed to discover my own vigorous self. It felt numb but immensely satisfying. Needless to say, Delhi looked splendidly fabulous at dawn with mild lights spread across the city. Here’s a glimpse:
The flight was pleasant, not to mention I dozed off minutes after the takeoff. It has been imperative with me; I can’t sleep a night before I have to travel. Had a sound sleep for a while before I woke up to acquaint with some of the most beautiful views of Himalayas, any flight in the world can offer. I’d only heard & read about the aloof & enormous landscapes of Himalayan canvas from the flights bound for Leh, this was my chance to get up close with them. The distant views of the white canvas resting precariously on the massive territorial grounds took my breath away.
The moment I moved to stare out the window, I realized I’d booked the seat on the wrong side of the aisle. But nevertheless, I managed to get glimpses of the magnificent colors down under. While the flight made its way through the pebbles of cold slate, there was utter silence in the cabin. Probably everyone was busy capturing the spectacular beauty of the Himalayas. It was a proud moment.
Here are some instances from the moments I captured sticking my camera at the heavens underneath:
We landed at the humble Kushok Bakula Rimpochee Airport in Leh at 07:45 am. It was a bright morning with a plush blue outfit & the crimson-colored peaks surrounding the quaint airstrip. It was almost like we landed in the middle of a Star Wars movie. The sight at the airport was different from any other airport I’d been to in the past. The bare minimum infrastructure & the limited number of luggage belts were apt for the crowd the city gets. It was a compact setting with hundreds of travelers, yet it was surprisingly charming.
The modest breeze added to the aroma of the air. I got down the airplane & the first thing I noticed was the spectacular sight of the famous Stok ranges of Ladakh eyeing at me from a distance. It was then when I felt eager to step up & head for the peaks. Everything looked barren yet alive. The air was dry & chilly but was truthful to the harmony of the extravagant city of Leh. I mumbled to myself, “I’ve arrived”.
The sight was mesmerizing & at the same time the realization of the fact that I had to reach the summit seen in the distance in the next 5-6 days, kept me at ease. I was thrilled but content; overjoyed but yet calm. I asked a fellow passenger to click one photograph of me with the destination in the backdrop. I was longing for this picture for years, now was the moment. Here it is:
I noticed the air was clearer on the city roads as we made our way to the hotel I’d booked for the first 2 days of my stay in Leh. I learned from the driver that the Ladakh Marathon 2016 was due in some days & that settled my curiosity regarding the numerous people jogging along the tidy roads. I managed to capture the moments of the city roads in my GoPro camera; a compiled video of the same should be coming up soon.
I took us about 45 minutes to reach the Yangphel Guest House on Upper Tukcha Road. The guest house owner Priyanka greeted me with awe as she abruptly mentioned: “Are you here for the Stok Kangri trek?”. She said she could tell from my rucksack, trek pants & the rugged trekking shoes. I nodded in affirmation & smiled humbly. I checked in & settled my luggage. It’s evident for the locals to meet trekkers headed for Stok Kangri or Zanskar Chadar trek when it’s the right time of the year. It was September, an apt time to scale down the Stok range.
I planned my travel such that I had two days to myself in the city of Leh before we take on the mammoth trek up the hill with the Bikat Adventures group. That would give me ample time to acclimatize to the attitude & breathe easy. Leh is perched at a little over 11,000 ft, so it is advisable to spend some relaxing time here before moving to higher grounds. After getting the lovely breakfast prepared by the in-house cook, Shankar, I stepped out to take a walk. The guest house was a just a 10-minute walk from the Leh market & the road conditions are reasonably good to walk on. I explored the local market, especially the local cuisine. The Himalayan Café on the main street in the Leh market is a must visit if you wish to try out some amazing Ladakhi and Tibetan cuisines. I clicked my way through the local shops & streets, soaking in the aura this delightful place had to offer. Scroll down for some clicks:
It was 5 pm in the evening & I realized I should at least visit the Shanti Stupa up the hill before dusk to appraise with the crimson-kissed sunset upon the valley. I marched towards the Shanti Stupa & as expected found a plethora of tourists crowding the holy attraction.
The way up to the Stupa is a vast staircase cut around the cliff. Those countless steps may seem difficult to counter at first, but the view from the top is outstanding. You get the best view of the Leh city from the Shanti Stupa with the lush green cover clouding the city & the flamboyant Stok ranges in the backdrop. Since it was a little hazy, I couldn’t witness the sunset clearly, but the colorful skies made my day.
From the warm crimson shades of the valley to the cold damp aura of the soil, the evening had everything I desired. And what better could have been than a wonderful cup of coffee at the café porched right under the ridge where the Stupa is sited. I was there until it was dark enough to make descending down the stairs a little tricky. But it was blissful & the spirituality of the place had a captivating effect on the moments I spent there. And as is evident, I was busy clicking the way of life.
The first day in the enrapturing city closed with a mild dinner at the guest house on the rooftop with countless jewels in the feeble dark sky lighting up the gathering. Plan for next day is to rent a mountain bike & explore the city on two wheels, just not in a hurry. Plus, a visit to the Leh Palace up the ridge is a must. I tried to get a taste of the city’s locale, and on the go, learned heaps of facts.