John and I are staying in Leh for the weekend to relax a bit before we hit the road on Monday with our reconnaissance for next year’s trips, but we did get up at 5.30 to wave the group off. We’d asked for a cup of tea for people but the hotel had actually prepared a full breakfast! Because we expect the unexpected on this trip, it wasn’t much of a surprise to find that Tashi had a puncture and had to change a tyre before taking his passengers to the airport. Fortunately, we’d left lots of time.
I went back to bed to read then John and I met for second breakfast at 8 – it did seem a bit odd without the rest of the group. Because neither of us are very good at doing nothing, we decided to climb up to Leh old palace and fort, just above the hotel we stayed in last year – not something we’ve had a chance to do before.
The Namgyal Tsemo fort and temple above Leh
To save a bit of walking time we took a taxi up to the centre of the old town then climbed up through the back streets and out onto the steep hill track which leads to the Namgyal Tsemo fort and temple at the very top of the hill.
Walking through the backstreets of old Leh
We were pleased to be managing this, though with plenty of rests. They had even laid on entertainment for us, in the shape of some sort of passing out parade. Groups of soldiers started off marching around the ground to fairly conventional band music, but eventually there was line dancing and pipers playing the Skye boat song!
The views from the top of the hill across the Indus were fantastic and the monk in the temple very friendly.
The walk was supposed to be a fun, ‘day off’ activity but, in the end, turns out to have been a useful reconnaissance for next year. There is a road right up to the back of the fort so it might be good to take people up to the top and let them walk down afterwards. The views across the Suture Zone would be a good introduction to Leh.
Looking down from the fort to Leh old palace
We had delicious iced coffee and salt lassi at the ‘Castle view’ restaurant near the old Leh palace, with lots of British students sitting at the next table, then walked along to the palace itself. This is another World Heritage Site and is in the process of restoration – it is modelled in the Potala palace in Lhasa. There is little inside to see, except for some not-very-well-labelled old photographs and old carved wood in some of the royal apartments but there were more lovely views.
Inside and outside Leh old palace
Afterwards we walked down through a maze of tunnels to the main bazaar and lunch in the Leh-Ling bookshop/café. Real Americano coffee and chocolate doughnuts and cinnamon buns was the perfect antidote to a fortnight of Indian food! I also bought some delicious apples from one of the street ladies.
Lunch in Leh-Ling bookshop
We walked back via cashpoints and a pashmina shop for me. I also managed to but a new computer mouse to replace the one I left in Srinagar – hurray! I discovered I have sporadic internet in my room so worked on my blog here for a while then John and I sat in the garden and thought about the route to Shimla and what we want to do and see en route. We are both feeling fine at altitude now – even the steps in the hotel are not much of a problem.
We had a lazier start on Sunday – Shahid arranged a car as we thought a visit to Stok palace, on the other side of Indus, might be another appropriate visit for next year. Stok is the current home of the Ladakhi royal family so many rooms are not open to the public but there is a small museum inside, full of interesting artefacts.
The building sports the same sort of ‘corn dolly’, if grander, as we have seen on other much more humble houses.
The views across the Indus to Leh are lovely but access to the rocks on which the palace is built is much more difficult than, for example, at Hemis. That probably means we wouldn’t bring a group here instead next year.
Across the Indus valley to Leh from Stok palace
Afterwards we visited the huge gold Buddha on the hill by Stok gompa. It turns out this was consecrated by the Dalai Lama just a week ago! Our driver for the day was at least as interested in seeing it as we were.
We got back to the hotel to find there had been an issue with the tips from our group – about half seemed to have mysteriously disappeared from the envelope before it got to the manager. The friendly head waiter was being blamed and we tried to stand up for him but it’s impossible to know what really happened.
They brought us lunch in the garden, which was lovely – far too much food though. We rested for a while then decided to walk towards the Shanti stupa when we thought it would be cooler but it turned out still to be very hot and we went the wrong way. In the end, we headed back to the bookshop for coffee and caught a taxi back to the hotel. Last chance for some western comfort food for a while!