Ladakh: Glimpses of Adventure and Culture
My last post combines bits of adventurous and cultural Ladakh. Though I did not indulge much in adventure sports, I realised this is a growing attraction of Ladakh. Trekking or hiking is the biggest attraction of all. There are a number of well-defined and increasingly popular trails including in winter when rivers and lakes are frozen. I hope to go trekking in Ladakh at some point in future but perhaps not in an overly challenging one!
Among the other attractive sporty activities are mountain biking, river rafting and motorcycling. One could see hordes of motorcycle groups in Ladakh especially on Royal Enfields. Our group tried river rafting as it was a part of schedule. We went river rafting in Zanskar River. There were a few other river rafting options in Ladakh including on Indus. This was my second rafting experience. The first one was in Rishikesh a few years ago (see the post on Go Himalayan: Three Women and a Desire). To me, after rafting in Ganges, rafting in Zanskar proved to be kind of mild. At the same time I was more confident, felt like a veteran. The fun this time was that the entire raft consisted of my co-travellers. Not all members of our group went rafting. Some chose to stay back.
We occupied two rafts. Rafting is used as a team bonding activity in corporate outings. And for good reasons - it can be a competitive sport. We tried best to keep our raft ahead of the other one and acted in unison in for this. We rafted in wetsuits for 17 kilometers. Wetsuits, we were told, would keep us warm in case we fall in the freezing water. This bit of the experience was different as in Rishikesh there were no wetsuits.
Another sporty thing many of us in the Group tried out was riding double-humped camels in Nubra Valley. Though it didn't look too interesting to me. But this experience was a different one than my earlier experiences of camel ride for two reasons. One, these were double-humped Bactrian Camels - can be found only in high altitudes in Central Asia and two, I rode a camel ina high altitude desert with mountain ranges on the either side. The camels looked somewhat under nourished. I was told it was because they lost their body fat in the winter. They would feed on new vegetation growth in the summer and regain their healthier self. They were also stripped of most of their hair in recent weeks, so looked even thinner. Camel hair is widely used as wool. I hope it was the truth.
Thanks to our organiser – WOW - we managed to get a glance of the daily life of Ladakh. One of the evenings we were taken to Stok village (30 minutes drive from leh). We went to an old traditional Ladakhi house, well maintained but uninhabited. We were guests of the family that evening. The family lived next to the old house in a newer, more modern one. A lot of Ladakhi life was centered in their kitchen. Households would prepare for cold harsh winter by storing food. They used to be self-sufficient - made their own clothes, shoes and other items at home. A Ladakhi man, we were told, had to know how to make shoes. After showing us around in the old house, the family served us traditional Ladakhi dinner in the kitchen of the new one. The food was made mostly of barley including homemade alcohol of barley. The experience was intriguing though some of my companions did not like the food much.
On the evening before we were leaving, we were also exposed to a bit of Ladakhi culture. Traditional Ladakhi music and dance were organised for us at our hotel in Leh. Even within Ladakh - sparsely populated as it was - traditional outfits, dance forms and music vary between regions. The men and women who performed that evening were dressed in colourfully elegant outfits. They changed their dresses for each different dance. They were singing and dancing to celebrate daily life, friendship and wars.
Ladakh left a deep imprint on me. There seemed to be a lot hidden in its high mountain ranges, monasteries, friendly people and adventure sports. I feel an urge to go again – to see, know and challenge myself more.
Text and photos: Sanchita Chatterjee 2014