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The well-known book 1000 Places to See before you die recommends Ladakh as a destination. It is politically Indian, but geographically Tibetan as “it shares age-old cultural and religious ties with the latter, and though it was closed to tourism until 1974 it is now attracting visitors who are drawn to the region, but put off by the troubles in Tibet to the north and east and in Kashmir to the west. “

I arrived in Leh, the region’s bustling capital, from Delhi. The altitude is 11, 483 so acclimatizing is key. Ladakh is located between two of the world’s highest mountain ranges, the Karakoram and the Himalayas. I had my own guide and driver for my trip. While November is great for travel in Rajasthan, it is not as perfect for Ladakh. It is very cold at night so make sure your hotel has heat. Mine did but it consisted of a propane gas heater in my room and a central system that was diesel powered. I thought I might die in this remote area due to the fumes but kept my windows open for ventilation and therefore am still here to write about my journey. If I went back I would go during the summer months when no heat is required!

Despite the heat issue and the not so great food, the high desert area was very fascinating. The mountains are totally barren which makes it look like a moonscape I saw during the Apollo missions. In town, I walked the main street and visited the market. People were selling dried fruits, fruit, general merchandise and some craft items.  Stores are open in the front with people buying right from the street.

Everyone seemed somewhat dirty as were their clothes. The homes I saw were dusty and dirty also. They were painted white and had wood trim, walls and roofs. Most have prayer flags and often have hay or feed stored for the Winter. Women wear the traditional dress pants with a tunic top which goes down below the knees. I saw some interesting Tibetan hats plus men’s long coats which often had colored belts.

I saw the abandoned Leh Palace which is in the same tradition as the Potala Palace in Lhasa Tibet and visited a farm. I also went to the Spituk Gompa, or Monastery, built in the 15th century on a hill above the Indus River. I saw wonderful old tangkas and old ceremonial masks. It is the oldest establishment of the Gelugpa sect in Ladakh. Also in town, I went to the Moravian school as I had met the principal on the plane. I loved taking pictures of the students as they broke for lunch.

I also went to Phiyang Gompa which was built in the 16th century and one of only two that represents the Drigungpa sect.  It has a collection of Kasmiri bronzes of Buddhist deities dating back to the 13th century.

One of the highlights of my trip to India was a visit to Thikse Monastery for morning prayers. Before prayers, two monks with gold headdresses blew shell horns calling the monks to prayer. I watched from the back as the monks entered and prayed, ate porridge of butter tea and a type of flour or grain. They began to chant from long prayer books distributed to each one. The sound of the prayers was mesmerizing. I was offered butter tea and a biscuit and given a white silk scarf when I left, as a blessing. What an incredible experience!

The next day, after a long 3.5 hour drive, we visited Lamayuru situated in the moonscape terrain. The Monastery was built in the 10th century and is the oldest in Ladakh. I saw young monks in the school nearby, plus heard an older priest chanting and praying while beating a drum in a sunlit window. There were nice stone carvings of deities with great faces. After the Monastery, I visited the village below which was preparing for a wedding ceremony.

We then visited Alchi Gompa, which is one of the treasures of the Buddhist world and dates back to the 11th century. The five temples have wonderful Buddha statues and murals. It is known as a great center of Buddhist art. On the way back we saw a small village with many Tibetan refugees living there.

I think Ladahk is well-worth visiting.  I will never  forget:

Seeing the Himalayas in the distance,

The barren sand and rock mountains,

The one lane roads,

The  orange colored Indian trucks with their colorful decorations,

Old women with pigtails and wrinkled faces,

Men with prayer wheels,

Stupas which dot the countryside,

Large prayer wheels in the ancient gompas,

Colorful Buddha statues and paintings,

Herds of goats and sheep in the villages,

Small packed buses,

Round Tibetan faces… often dirty,

Small shops,

Wonderfully cute children and

Tibetan hats

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