Rain, hail, dark clouds and wind. That was yesterday. Today, we woke up to an absolutely beautiful day in Leh. As usual, we are early risers waking up everyday at exactly 5:30 am then some coffee. Wifi was completely down for a day and this morning, it was still down so we ate a quick breakfast before getting ready for our bike ride.
Surrounding Leh are many Gompas or monasteries. Buddhism is predominant in Leh but not all over Ladakh. Leh is a city of Ladakh and Ladakh is a district of Jammu and Kashmir. Just from the name Jammu and Kashmir, it is a split between Kashmirs and Buddhist culture in Ladakh. Our destination today was to go to a small village called Karu via the highway then use the back roads to get back to Leh.
It was a not so busy Sunday on the roads and the Manali-Leh highway is so smooth it made the ride so enjoyable. We took the long down hill from Manali-Khardungla road then to an off-shoot of another back roads down to Manali-Leh highway.
Passing by the monasteries is very spiritual. I often chant, “om-ma-ni-pad-me-um” whenever we pass any type of Buddhist monument or monastery on the bike. If I see a prayer wheel, most of the time I would spin it clockwise to ring the bell to send out prayers. I always wear a prayer flag on my back pack, it’s a reminder of many things in life for me and for Doug. We are always on a pilgrimage in life. The many chortens or Buddhist monuments that looked like vanilla ice cream cones scattered around the area. These are ancient chortens built from mud then painted in white. Interestingly, it’s rare to see Stupas which are also monuments but these are the ones with the eyes staring at you from all for corners of the monument. Stupas are also bigger than chortens but here in Ladakh, chortens can be gigantic! Some of them are newly built specially the ones right by the Gompas.
All Gompas are located on top of a hill and some of them built in a rock. Thiksey Gompa was fascinating with small Gompa villages below the temple itself which is located at the top of the hill. We dropped in to take a photo of the outside and saw a few monks sitting outside looking at our bikes. There is an expensive hotel across from the Gompa and is managed by the monastery.
We continued on to Karu which is a ways ahead and it’s also the village to cross over a bridge over to Hemis Gompa which is farther top of the hill in between two mountains. We didn’t stop by Hemis but saw it from afar.
The back road is so quiet with no cars at all today. The road is a combination of dirt and paved passing through small villages with heavy densed trees and orchards. Apricot and apple orchards are popular.
As we passed Shey Gompa from the backroads we saw a group of people walking in the middle of the street and there were flags, horns blowing and people chanting. Some people were carrying a box that looked like a small casket. We weren’t sure what it was but it looked like someone had passed away and the parade was to mourn for the dead. We didn’t want to interrupt or disrupt in any manner so we didn’t take pictures. I find it disrespectful in all regards to take a picture in this case.
The rest of the ride down to Spituk Gompa is my favorite. It just rolls along barren land and high desert view of many kinds of sand formations. It’s breathtaking.
It’s always a grunt back up to Leh as we climb almost a thousand feet back to the guest house with some steep sections before the main market. I call that section the “cork screw!”
We got back and ate left over vegetable over pasta with local shredded cheese. The chicken store was closed once again so we are back to being vegetarian another day. Meat is really hard to find here because almost everyone is vegetarian. Some Kashmir restaurants serve meat dishes which are so delicious but again, we don’t quite get the business hours because every time we are down for lunch at noon or dinner around 5:00 pm, they are closed or not quite open. Fortunately, eggs are always available and interestingly, the eggs in Leh is tiny – there is no jumbo sized or large/x-large sized eggs here! Vegetables are also super small compared to back home and it’s perfectly fine for two people, no waste.
By the way, in my 10th try my Ladakhi bread came out delish. I love this bread because it’s easy even though I had to make a few to really get it but once you got it down, it’s lovely specially when it’s warm with lots of butter.
The market is about 400 ft down and up so it takes us about an hour to go to market for food. It’s a good workout but once we get up, we’ve eaten half of what we bought! Try going up and down twice or three times a day. Sometimes, we would eat a the market and then walk up or make sure we eat before we head down. Carrying heavy groceries up about 2 mi with an ascent of 400 ft is a good workout everyday!