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On the Way to the Top of the World

Ladakh-128The minute we left Leh the road started climbing, zigzagging endlessly to the highest point we both have ever been: Khardung La, the highest motorable pass in the world at 5.602 meters / 18.380 feet. At the foot of the mountain we passed Gangla Village, a wide ribbon of grass and fields that spreads over the semi-flat terrain. Not the last bit of green on the way to the top, but the largest one. Even in this high altitude desert, once in a while small patches of grass run down a slope, nourished by tiny streams gushing straight from the bowels of the mountain. Continue Reading →

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Adding Another Hospital

Gilles at the hospital in Leh, Ladakh

Gilles at the hospital in Leh, Ladakh

Vietnam… Cuba… Cambodia… China… Uganda… And now Ladakh! On our third day Gilles had difficulties breathing and a splitting headache. Luckily we were in Leh, the capital.

At Leh hospital, the large crowd in front of the registration office was disheartening. We would never get admitted was our first thought. The taxi driver who took us to the hospital judged the situation within seconds. He dove into the mass and returned with a piece of paper: Our registration, but in HIS name, as we found out later. Of course this friendly chap did not know our names and was only trying his best… Continue Reading →

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Dalai Lama Is Coming

Domchot at Likir Monastery or Likir Gompa, with monks singing all day long, Ladakh, Jammu & Kashmnir, India

On our third day in Leh, the city was buzzing and eventually came to a standstill. The Dalai Lama is coming! Everybody was running down to the big roundabout near the petrol station – this is where the convoy had to pass through on the way from the airport to the Dalai Lama’s retreat Buddha Garden. Continue Reading →

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Monastery Hopping

Thikse Monastery or Thikse Gompa, Ladakh, Jammu & Kashmnir, India

Thikse Monastery or Thikse Gompa, Ladakh, Jammu & Kashmnir, India

Despite Our initial plan was to take it easy the first two days in Leh and get our bodies used to the 3.500 meters. But we simply could not resist. We rented a semi-automatic 125cc motorbike (Gilles has some experience with those) and off we went to see the monasteries around Leh. Another plan that failed was to leave so early that we would be able to attend the Puja (religious ceremony) at Thiksey Monastery at 06:00 am. By the time we reached Thiksey the ceremony was almost over and the steep climb up to the monastery added another question mark to this undertaking. Most discouraging though were the busses on the small parking lot. This meant quite a crowd visiting the Puja and the last thing we wanted in our photos were tourists taking photos of monks. So we decided to move on. Continue Reading →

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Leh – A Mess of a Hub

Man selling pruning knifes in the market of Leh, Ladakh, India

Man selling pruning knifes in the market of Leh, Ladakh, India

Friends had recommended the Oriental Hotel, which was a 20 minute walk from the center, at the very end of Changspar Road, the touristic epicenter of Leh. Luckily, they had room for us. And what a room! On the top floor with a view that was worth every of the 1.800 Rupees / 24 Euro! We were so happy to be there… To be away from the center of Leh was a priority. This place – jam-packed with honking cars, hotels, guesthouses, tour operators, souvenir shops, restaurants offering Chinese – Indian – Italian – Israeli – Korean cuisine and zillions of tourists milling in-between – was simply too much! Continue Reading →

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Kargil to Leh Highway

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Kargil, on the way from Srinagar, Kashmir, to Leh, Ladakh, India

Canyons so narrow that you wonder how a street would possible fit in and valleys bright green with vegetable gardens and wheat fields. This was our most pleasant diet after leaving Kargil. The closer we got to Leh, the more the term “high altitude desert” – took on a real meaning: mountains, rocks, sandy slopes, no vegetation. Only the gushing milky blue Indus provided a contrast to the light brown cascades of mountain ranges, once in a while a snow capped summit peeks from behind. Continue Reading →

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Small Town Kargil – Our New Favorite

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Balti Girl in Kargil, on the trip from Srinagar, Kashmir, to Leh, Ladakh, India

We fell in love with small town Kargil. Not that is particularly attractive, but it was the first city in India where you are not blown off the street by honking drivers and can leisurely walk along the shop lined streets. Balti people dominate the second largest town in Ladakh, though Kargil is a fascinating wild mix of people. Women, no matter what age, still wear the traditional Pashwamra with a colorful headscarf. Small girls also do. Nevertheless, we never saw women wearing an Abaya or completely covered like we did see in Srinagar. Here the dress and headscarf seem a matter of tradition, not religious statements. Continue Reading →

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Kargil War Memorial

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Kargil War Memorial, Ladakh

If the Kargil War Memorial doesn’t ring a bell immediately, don’t be embarrassed. We were as clueless… About 60 kilometers before we reached Kargil, we saw a lot of commotion going on in the middle of nowhere. Soon we got another taste of Indian patriotism. In June 1999, Pakistan managed to intrude and conquer Tiger Hill, a big mountain range about 50 kilometers from Kargil. The Indian army managed to drive them back. Lots of blurred photos praise the Indian heroes in the small museum. Continue Reading →

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Srinagar – Kargil: The Best Guarded Road

"Highway" from Srinagar, Kashmir, to Kargil, Ladakh, India

“Highway” from Srinagar, Kashmir, to Kargil, Ladakh, India

One of those trips you could rave about and rave about without finding the proper words. Spectacular? Breathtaking? Amazing? Whatever … The windy road was hewn right into the steep mountain slopes and has many faces: from a super narrow, bumpy one-lane track to a brand new smooth asphalt road. It snakes its way up high passes, down into narrow valley and follows the milky-blue river faithfully like a good companion. We cannot remember ever, ever, a nine-hour road trip passing like the blink of an eye: snow-capped mountains, green slopes fed by gushing water coming straight from a mountain face. Add fierce-looking, wind-beaten trees and once in a while colorful dots giving away the tents of Gujjar and Bakarwal nomads tending their large flocks of goats. These fearless creatures balance on the steep slopes nibbling the juicy grass. Continue Reading →

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Srinagar’s Other Attractions

Heidi on a Shikara at Lake Dal, Srinagar, Kashmir, India

Heidi on a Shikara at Lake Dal, Srinagar, Kashmir, India

Mughal Emperors loved Srinagar and retreated to these cool altitudes in the summer. The Mughals are long gone, but the terraced gardens they had built still bear witness of their sense for refined architecture. In Nishat Bagh, once twelve of those terraces cascaded all the way to the lake. Now it’s only eleven – the terrace closest to the lake had to make room for a road running along the shore. Continue Reading →

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