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#22 – From Zanskar to Khardung La

Travel with Henry > All adventures > #22 – From Zanskar to Khardung La


Center map

the local story – what happened

There has been slightly more than 100 km left from Lamayuru to Leh – the Capital of Ladakh region – on the well arranged Srinagar-Leh Highway. The first day on the high planes spreads an elation. It was like coming home. I’ve been here for several times – last time being there was 4 years ago, while crossing the whole Himalayas on foot. Looking back, I’d just to face positive experiences and vibes in this part of the world. Lamayuru and its Gompa (Buddhist monastry) as well as the very close located moon-valley has a lot to offer.

During the 11th century, Naropa, one of the greatest Buddhist masters and renowned scholar was meditating on-site in one of the caves  for a while. Afterwards, a monastery was constructed around this cave and it became a place of pilgrimage for worshipers from all over the world.

The monastery of Lamayuru serves as a daily meeting point for a couple of elderly Ladies. They are walking, praying and chanting around the Mani stone walls and prayer mills, providing themselves tourists as photo-scenes for a small tip. If somebody tries to take a photo without paying an expected or appropriate fee, they can get really very grumpy.

After climbing this small hill behind the monastery, you have an excellent view of the lower Gompa as well as the moon-valley with its bizarre limestone formations behind.

Between the 8th and 15th century, Zanskar was a Buddhist kingdom. During the 2nd half of the 20th century, this region as well as also other regions in Ladakh was declared as restricted area for Foreigners – triggered by Indian conflicts with their neighbors Pakistan and China. Since this region is open for tourists again, Zanskar’s rugged landscape with its remote villages and hidden monasteries turned into a popular Hiking destination for international mountain enthusiasts. Many of this remote villages were just to reach on mule tracks before, but the Indian Government has increased their investments in road construction over the last years now. While crossing Zanskar on foot, I’ve been really concerned about this construction activities. Making this villages reachable by car means an explosion of mass tourism has to be feared – this would cause an inevitable loss of the unique originality of Zanskar. Thankfully it is not so easy to build up new roads in this inhospitable mountain area. Natural catastrophes are destroying constantly the work which has be done before – it will take still years to get Zanskar cross-able by cars.

At least one part of this area is to discover on motorbike now – it was a good opportunity to head towards south, daring a detour in this unique region.

In Photoskar, a small village further south to Lamayuru, we’ve been hosted by a peasant for lunch. To get something to eat works quite easily here – you’ve just to ask from house to house. The most people are very pleased about foreigners having lunch or dinner with them. An additional income is taken with pleasure, it relieves their meager life. We got directly invited into a normal private open plan kitchen and our host started immediately to prepare a basic meal for all of us – rice, lentils and some local veggies. In the meantime his wife carried on doing her field work.

On the way to Leh we stopped in Alchi, one of the most attractive and interesting Buddhist monasteries in Ladakh. Taking photos is not allowed, therefore I’d to take just few secret shots.

A 3-day-stay in Leh was perfect for meetings with local friends and preparations for our upcoming stages on high mountain areas. It was a real pleasure for the Royal Enfield shop that I got there  because of the expenses I’d to take for fixing my bike again. Beside smaller parts it was also to change the entire drive set – it means both sprockets and the chain.

The fastest way to get to Nubra Valley in the north of Leh is to cross Khardung La, with 5.602m (18.380 feet) the highest motor-able mountain pass on earth. At the beginning of June there are holidays in India. Cheap flights from Mumbai or Delhi to Leh combined with a fast growing Indian middle class were responsible for hundreds of thousands domestic tourists within the last 3 or 4 years in Ladakh. The fact is, that unexceptional everybody of them has a similar itinerary. It is their objective to see in shortest possible time as much as they can. One of their benchmarks for success is obviously visiting Khardung La. This was the reason for a totally overcrowded pass. According to vivid Buddhist tradition in Himalayas, we also had fixed our prayer flags over the pass.

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