The Himalaya is not a tourist destination for me. It is home. In spite of its uber popularity, I have found hidden gems here. I have discovered beauty in places, cultures and people from fresh angles, every time I visit it. Unlike a tourist, much like an explorer, I try to get off the beaten path to discover serendipity. I look for soulful reasons to connect with the places I visit.
One such serendipitous trip was my recent trip to Ladakh, where I discovered unique faces of beauty. Not just landscape beauty but beauty of heart and soul.
Here are my 11 Soulful Reasons to Travel to Ladakh
- Treat your groggy eyes to the best sunrise and sunset at Tso Moriri & Pangong Tso Lakes: While three Idiots put Pangong Tso Lake as ‘must see’ destination on every Indian’s bucket list, Tso Moriri is still an unexplored destination. Pangong Tso is shared between India and China but Tso Moriri is all ours. The first views of the lakes left me completely spellbound. Flat, calm, unending they were so impossibly beautiful to accept if I was daydreaming or were they real. Places where nature gets to paint its own verse on its own canvas. Words can never do justice to their beauty. When visiting these high altitude lakes, do not miss the sunrise and sunset.The romantic symphony of the sun, sky, mountains and water is such a spectacular sight, that you'll be left awestruck. Also, en route to lakes keep an eye on seeing the beautiful fauna of Ladakh – Himalayan Marmot, Ibex, Djo, snow leopard and many more.
- Rejuvenate your tired soul by spending time at Shanti Stupa – Japan’s gift to India: Many people visit Leh-Ladakh to assess and rediscover life. And what better place than Shanti Stupa. The Japanese Buddhist organization constructed Shanti Stupa to promote world peace and prosperity and to commemorate the 2500 years of Buddhism. It offers the panoramic view of the entire Leh city. And if you are a photographer, you would be mesmerised by the magnificent views of the sunrise and sunset from Shanti Stupa. Adorned with glittering lights, the stupa looks breathtakingly beautiful at night.
- Enlighten yourself spiritually by exploring the Buddhist monasteries and learning nuances of life from the red robed monks: Ladakh is a jungle of Gompas, Stupas and Monasteries. These holy structures are an integral part of Ladakh region. Visit any monastery for peace, tranquility and life enriching philosophies. A small talk with any lama will enlighten you more than a textbook would ever do. Also, if you love to learn and imbibe the local culture then club your trip with local festivals like The Hemis Festival, The Gustor festival, The Lamayuru festival, The Phiyang Festival, The Yuru Kabgyat festival; held every year from July to September.
- Rafting in foothills is for kids, Rafting in icy cold Zanskar River is the real deal: Being an adventure buff, I have experienced lot of thrilling adventures but Zanskar river rafting gives you a different kind of high. I took the 28 km white water rafting challenge. What an enthralling experience it was in the freezing Zanskar. Mighty rapids were determined to overturn our raft but our determination proved to be mightier. The whole rafting experience from pickup to providing rafting gear to in-the-river experience to serving lunch to drop off, everything is professionally managed. So next time you are in Ladakh, don't miss this adrenalin rush activity.
- Participate in India’s very own ‘Tour De France’ - Go Mountain biking in the land of high passes: Till sometime back Mountain biking was a challenge accepted by foreign cyclists only. But now lot of Indians are embracing the challenge. Met a 15 members group from Bangalore, who cycled from Manali to Khardungla Top in 11 days. The sheer joy of having a cup of black tea and Maggie at 18,380 ft after cycling for 516 km, is something MasterCard can't buy, only human spirit can earn. If you don't want to exert yourself so much then there is always downward mountain biking option which is less taxing on body but great test of nerves and control. So junk that SUV and get on the cycle!
- Experience the Gold Standard Hospitality. Stay in a Homestay: Ladakhi homestays are home away from home. Might not offer you luxuries like fancy hotels but the same is overcompensated by unflinching love and care of hosts. My homestay experience in Ladakh made me their fan for life. Ladakhis go out of their way to make you feel at home and ‘No’ doesn't exist in their dictionary. Surely Hospitality Industry can take lessons from them in how to achieve Gold Standard in Hospitality. For more information, checkout http://www.himalayan-homestays.com or http://www.ladakhiwomenstravel.com/homestays.htm
- Share a roof with the real descendants of Alexander the great - the Brokpa Community:The Brokpa (or Drokpa) community is spread in five villages Dha, Hanu, Biama, Garkon and Darchig. They're claimed to be the purest Aryans in the world, direct descendants of Alexander the Great. Brokpas have distinct features and culture. They are tall, well-built and fair complexioned with blues eyes. Their traditional dress and way of styling is also very distinctive. They speak their own Brokpa language and follow Islam. They are shy, but like Ladakhis, they are warm and welcoming. The custom of marrying within the community, to retain the purity of their Aryan genes, has however, limited the population of Brokpas. The community hardly numbers over 2000. So before they become an extinct species from an endangered species do visit them.
- Visit the once LOC battleground, now a tourist ground – The Turtuk Village: A little hamlet which was part of Pakistan till 1971; Turtuk is one of the remotest and most beautiful villages of Ladakh. 80 kms ahead of Hunder, it is at the last corner of Nubra valley at LOC and situated on the bank of Mighty Shyok River. Since it was opened to tourists in 2010 only, therefore it is culturally intact, untainted by tourism and delightfully pristine. It is one of Ladakh's greenest area where you'll find more Apricot and Apple trees than anywhere else in Ladakh. Turtuk's apricots are the sweetest in the entire Ladakh region and only thing sweeter than them are the smiles of Turtukians. Visit this little hamlet before it gets corrupted by tourism.
- Click till you drop in photographer’s heaven: The Ladakh region offers the confluence of three different landscapes – mountainscapes, riverscapes and desertscapes; all in one. It's your Kodak moment experience to capture a world of landscapes in one single trip. So clear is the air, so large the canvas, so vivid the colours, any photograph taken here is bound to look a masterpiece. So visit Ladakh and become a pro photographer overnight.
- Be party to a three-day party. Attend Bagston – The Ladakhi Buddhist Wedding: Ladakhi weddings are not your usual Band Baja Baarat type big fat Indian weddings. They are big yet simple. The wedding ceremonyis called ‘Bagston’ - a social gathering of minimum 1000 people in which the entire village contributes monetarily, with gifts and providing free labour. Instead of outsourcing marriage arrangements, everything is self-handled. A big tent is erected. Pots of Chang and plenty of local food is prepared. The seating is done in Ladakhi style - Tibetan carpets and colourfully painted Ladakhi Tables. Everyone dressed in traditional Ladakhi outfits - colourful silk and brocade robes. The bride wears an attractive headgear called ‘perak’, made of black lambskin studded with semi precious turquoise stones. Traditional songs are played. Slow, calm, and beautiful dance goes on with ‘Chang’ and butter tea flowing through the night. So if you get invited to one such wedding, don't miss it at any cost.
- Volunteer in Ladakh – let your vacation bring a smile on someone’s face: Who says holidays are just meant for clicking pictures for Facebook? How about creating everlasting memories that could bring happiness in someone’s life. Why not work towards a cause while romancing the beauty of Ladakh? The picturesque Ladakh is the most difficult terrain to live in and people here have limited resources and education avenues. Ladakh has many NGOs working for the underprivileged. You can take up various volunteering positions at NGOs, according to your skills and time in hand. PAGIR is one of the NGOs that won my heart. It works for people with disabilities. One of their program ‘Himalaya On wheels’ promotes tourism for people on wheel chairs and senior citizens. Check out http://www.pagir.org.in/
I can cite hundreds of soulful reasons to go to Ladakh. But I would stop here. Somethings should be discovered not just read.
So what are you waiting for?
Get. Set. Go.