We are aboard AirAsia X Airbus A330-300, reg. 9M-XBC, for the flight from Kuala Lumpur KUL to Delhi DEL, en route to Leh IXL. A long 6-hour overnight layover in DEL awaits us.
Yeah, this is the plan.
It’s great to be using Terminal 3 of Delhi’s Indira Ghandi International Airport, opened seven years ago, as we transfer from AirAsia X to Jet Airways. I was last here ten years ago, using the old decrepit terminal.
Our flight from Delhi to Leh is just 620km, crossing the jagged Himalayan mountains around Manali as the day breaks. Spectacular landscape indeed as the plane heads straight to the north, into Jammu and Kashmir.
Safely on the ground in Leh, the landing was sheer airmanship, flying in between sharp mountain peaks, as the approach is always from the north due to terrain. The shortish B737-700 is ideal for the high altitude where the air is thin. Leh has one of the highest commercial airports in the world at 10,700 feet above sea level.
A quick transfer in a smallish bus from the plane to the terminal. We get to sit next to the driver. Sunny but freezing cold, it’s autumn.
The prepaid cab office at the Leh airport terminal was deserted, so I asked the security guy where to get a cab. He pointed at this car, and wa-hey, this is the prepaid office! Here is how it works. A customer approaches this side of the car/office, and tells the guy at the driver’s seat the destination. On the other side of the car are the drivers, so the guy scribbles on a chit and straight away gives it to a driver who beckons the customer to follow him to his car. Works well, if not too crowded.
This is our ‘cab’, well, a well-thrashed mini-van. A tough little fella, as we discover soon enough as it trundles along the bare roads of Leh.
The driver assures us the bags would stay put on the roof, as we travel to our guesthouse a few kilometres away.
At the guesthouse entrance we are greeted by this curious sign. Apparently tourism in Leh virtually stops in late October as the city prepares for winter — guesthouses are shut, to be reopened in April. Tough winter indeed, road links in all severed.
But autumn is still in the air, with fruiting apple and pear trees a welcoming sight in the courtyard.
This prayer at the entrance to the office of the guesthouse says: “May peace prevail on Earth”, in Ladakhi script. Apparently Ladakhi and Tibetan scripts are similar but pronunciations are different. Ladakhi people are descended from the Tibetans. I told Sonam, the landlord, you are lucky to be in India and not in Tibet under China. He nodded. I’ve been to Tibet and saw the conditions on the other side.
A tired traveller falls asleep in the office while waiting for our room to be ready — we arrived a tad too early obviously.
After the wait, a nice comfortable room awaits us. Hot water is available, and a portable electrical heater is provided if it gets too cold, for an additional fee. Views out the windows are awesome.
Autumn colours and the Himalayas, right from our bedroom window. Simply gorgeous, especially in the morning sun.
In the cold courtyard we wait for traditional breakfast, mainly parantha, prepared by Sonam and his mum. Apples all around us. We are staying at the Mentokling Guest House, superbly-run by Mr Sonam Wangchuk. We recommend this place very much.
From the guesthouse to the centre of Leh is just a short stroll, so we go searching for lunch at the main bazaar strip. We find this nice Kashmiri halal joint, and order their finest mutton and chicken. Good decision, tasty lunch at RM80 for 4 pax, truly value for money! The Kashmiri immigrants control the meat and chicken supply chain here (since the Ladakhis are vegan Buddhists), so everything is halal, no problem.
The main bazaar strip of downtown Leh, if I may call it so, is an interesting spot, especially for people/critter watching. There are three mosques here, two Shiah, the other Sunni, both founded by Kashmiri immigrants from the west. Over there Sunnis constitute 80% of Muslims while 20% are Shiah people. Here in Leh (population a bit more than 30,000) it’s 10% Sunnis, 10% Shiahs, and 80% Ladakhi Buddhists. And they seem a happy and prosperous lot. By the way, the Shiah mosque is decorated for the holy festival of Ashura, whose climactic procession will happen tomorrow. That should be fun!
Apples and apricots are in season. The local apricots are quite small in size and very sweet too.
The people seem to take care of the strays — they look contented sunbathing and well-fed. I don’t know how winter would treat them though.
More of a wish-list, but really, Leh is more presentable then most Indian cities I have been too. Nevertheless it’s an interesting place, unlike the rest of India.
Back at our Mentokling Guesthouse, I bump into the delightful Mr Sonam Wangyal (Senior) who is dad of Sonam Wangchuk, our gracious host (middle of pic). Sonam Snr summited Everest in 1965 when he was only 23, the youngest person ever to have done so. The Indian Govt rewarded him with this piece of land in Leh where our guesthouse is. If you are coming to Leh, please whatsapp the son Sonam Wangchuk at +91.985.839.9142 for excellent service, and more tales from Senior. 😀
Pics with legendary Indian mountaineer and soldier, Mr Sonam Wangyal, who summited Everest in 1965 at 23 years of age, making him the youngest person to do so in the world then. He is in his traditional Ladakhi garb.
~ THE END ~