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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!

Unfortunately to avoid Leh is difficult to impossible, unless you had a tour operator organize everything for you in advance (which is actually absolutely not necessary). But one has to organize / book the treks, the excursions – Nubra Valley, Tso Moriri – and get the “inner permits” for all those place. To be precise, it is the tour operators who get the permits from the magistrate in Leh, but they need the passport to apply for it.

During the summer months this is all the magistrate does – issuing permits -, having to neglect their actual work. But the military insists on these meaningless papers, providing the countless checkpoints on the way with a job to do.
Apart from logistics, those who fly into Leh usually just stay put there for a couple of days allowing those red blood cells to increase and pump more oxygen into your puffing lung. You could do that acclimatizing in Alchi, a bit lower than Leh and very quiet, but it lacks the infrastructure mentioned above.

Since we travelled by jeep from Srinagar, we had gotten used to the high altitude, except the ever present headache and sleeplessness. Within hours upon arrival we had organized our excursion. Heidi even found a beauty parlor where she had her hair done. But first we had to jog through Leh to find hair dye other than black. The closest we got was dark brown but the lady hairdresser managed.

Quite interesting is the make-up of the tourist population in Leh – about 50% is made up of young, rather loud Israeli and ever so friendly smiling Koreans. The rest of them, we would place in Europe, mainly France. Talking about young travellers: not a small number rents motorbikes without ever haven driven one before. We overheard a conversation among some guys in their early twenties who seriously considered crossing Kardhung La (5.602 meters, the highest road in the world) on their first motorcycle outing.

Even in the capital of Ladakh, power cuts are a daily routine. The Internet can be down for days – a slight inconvenience for tourists, but a disaster for businesses. Most of them complained about the steep decline of arriving tourists that summer. We wondered what the city must look like with even more people, translating into more jeep / taxi / motorbikes.


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