Posts Tagged With: India

LEH – The Rugged Jewel of Far North India

The great country of the Taj Mahal, of vast deserts and ancient imposing fortresses, of beautiful coastlines and vibrant cities and the sacred Ganges river. A billion people and more spread amongst the plains, deserts, deltas and cities that is known the world over.

But look to the far north, where the high hills rise and rise to become part of the mighty Himalayan mountain range – resides the small city of Leh at an altitude of 3500m in the Indus river valley, of the beautiful Ladakh region.

Once a hugely important trading city serving as the crossroads between Kashgar in China, Kashmir in India and Tibet – the city of Leh is considered one of, if not the only city in the world where Muslims, Buddhists and Christians live harmoniously together for many centuries; a testament to its diverse and rich history as part of the Silk Road, and seeing trade and influences from both East and West melding together over time.

*One of the many Buddhist monasteries and temples in Leh*

*Posing with the unmistakable Palace of the Kings in the background*

*Leh’s main bazaar was a quiet affair, with many shops closed during winter weekends*

*One of the rare merchants still opened, but during the summer months Leh becomes a bustling marketplace for locals and tourists alike*

The first few days for any traveller or trekker upon arriving in Leh, is acclimatizing for the high altitude. Unlike the start of the Inca trail hike to Macchu Picchu or Everest Base Camp walk which both sit at much lower altitudes to start, upon landing in Leh by plane you are thrust into a much higher altitude from the start, which can be disconcerting to many, even experienced trekkers in the first 48 hours.

The imposing and beautiful Palace of the Kings of Ladakh overlook the small city, this served as our reference point to navigate around the town centre on foot, albeit with the occasional slips and falls due to the icy conditions. Traveling to Leh in mid winter is beautiful, but many shops and restaurants were also closed for the season, but fortunately essentials for trekking and daily comfort is still easily accessible.

*Fitting snow chains outside of Leh before the slippery climb to the monasteries*

I remembered during the hair-raising landing and turbulence coming into Leh, I noticed a huge monastery perched upon a hill away from the city. Upon investigating it was the famous Thikse Monastery – and a day trip was quickly on the cards.  For world weary travellers, Thikse Monastery bears a strong resemblance to Potala Palace in Lhasa, Tibet – in other words, it was a beautiful and sombre sight to behold, and seeing young Buddhist monks no more than 10 years old playing in the icy snow, as older monks carry back supplies from the nearby town before sunset, was an unforgettable experience.

*The silent serenity was beautiful and thought provoking amongst the deep snow*

*Our exploration was not that easy due to our group still acclimatising to the altitude*

*A young Buddhist monk who stopped to say hello after collecting fire-wood*

*Young monks enjoying their free time in the afternoon away from their studies*

*From a high point at Thikse Monastery overlooking the snow covered landscape*

*Thikse Monastery in the background at sunset – it was an unforgettable view*

Perhaps the most unexpected and unusual sight in Leh during our acclimatisation phase, was seeing the Guinness World Record being broken for the highest altitude ice hockey game ever played between two professional Indian teams. We accidentally stumbled onto this sporting event by curiously following large crowds of people heading in the same direction, and it had seemed half of the city’s population was there too, shivering, huddling together but enjoying a tense game of ice hockey at high altitude.

*A huge part of Leh’s population of 30,000 people gathered here to watch this spectacle*

*As this was a Guiness World Record attempt, many officials were there to spectate also*

*It was a surreal view for us in the shadow of the Palace looming over the game*

After several days exploring the city and its surroundings in our high altitude acclimatization period, we were almost ready for the Chadar Trek.  Some last minute shopping saw a rush to buy Gumboots for the trek, crucial for the river crossings we will have to face in minus temperature. In hindsight, we should have bought Gumboots back in Australia – as they would have had better cushioning, better traction on the soles, and most of all – insulated fur linings for the extreme cold. The local Gumboots in comparison were of much inferior quality, but we had no other choice but to wear them.

*Buddhist monks returning from the markets before sunset*

Early next morning, it was a 3 hour drive to the famous frozen river and the start of the Chadar Trek, it was to be one of the most unique experiences of our lives.

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The Himalayas to the Thar desert – NEPAL & INDIA

The name Chomolungma, or Sagamartha depending on which side of the Himalayas you are coming from; has resonated strongly with avid travelers like myself for years. Many yearn to climb her but only a few lucky ones will ever succeed. While many are simply content to stand in her shadows and see with their own eyes. Maybe one day I will attempt to summit the peak, but for now I was just happy to be in the same country as Mount Everest!

The main objective of my first ever visit to Nepal was to get a taste of what to expect for future hiking trips in the region. Due to our limited time in the country I opted for the Annapurna range via Pokhara upon hearing of its serene beauty – of both the town and the surrounding hills and mountains. With the first few days in Kathmandu for sightseeing and trying out different variations of the local delicacy ‘momo’ (fried dumplings) – we took the well worn 6 hour car ride to Pokhara.

Looking back, there is nothing I can write that hadn’t been covered before about Pokhara or the Annapurna. All I can stress the importance of is shoes! Looking back, everything else I planned for or equipped for was fine, except for the shoes. I have a nice pair of lightweight Columbia water proof trekking mid-neck shoes (not boots), and worn in enough from previous travels and activities etc. Making the ascent was fine, it was not until the descent that I realized the shoes fit a bit too snugly and my toes were hitting the end of the shoes with every step down. Times that by thousands and thousands of steps and suddenly you are in a lot of pain with no one to blame but yourself. Always buy hiking shoes/boots with room for your toes to slide or move a bit, you will be grateful for it. My fault:)

Then there was India.

This was a love it or hate it type of country. I loved it, but some of my friends didn’t. Our gruelling and tight schedule did not help either. For many years I had dreamt about visiting Jaisalmer and staying in the fort in the desert, and was adamant we had to get there somehow.

From Delhi to Agra to see the Taj Mahal, then to Jaipur, Jodhpur and finally Jaisalmer – everyday was roughly 6-7 hours in the car traveling to the next city. This was the most cost effective way with the short amount of time we had, as last minute trains and flights did not match to what we needed.

The colours, my gosh the colours of the Rajasthan region was breathtaking! You see it on television but to see it in person or through the camera lens was like looking through a kaleidoscope of vivid scenes. I love history and culture, and to see the famous forts in each city of Jaipur, Jodhpur and Jaisalmer – I tried to imagine myself walking through those narrow streets or battlements hundreds of years ago.

We wrapped up India in a relaxing, albeit slightly hot and painful manner. Camel riding in the Thar desert, and slept overnight on the sand dunes. A nice and surreal way to end what had been one of our most physically tiring trips so far, in terms of duration spent driving, flying and training it. Add in white water rafting, para-gliding and that unforgettable and arduous ‘little’ hike we did in the Annapurna. I hope to return as soon as possible!

Below are some images from both countries during the journey, enjoy:)


Our first day in Kathmandu, finding our way to Durbar Square and trying to get through the afternoon traffic.

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Local sellers in Durbar Square in the late afternoon.

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People watching in the local market – Durbar Square.




Young monks at the Boudha Stupa – Kathmandu.





I shot this of a fellow para-glider in front of me whilst up in the air, with Pokhara and its serene lake in the background.





Another shot of a para-glider skimming over the ridgelines near Pokhara. It looked a lot more cooler in person:)









The long and amazing ascent/descent/ascent etc to Panchasse village for the night – Annapurna hills





One of the most unforgettable nights I ever had on my travels around the world. Sitting around the village campfire getting to know travelers from around the world and sharing food with the local women who looked after us.





Stunning view of the Annapurna Range when the clouds lifted from our hotel room, with Diana in the foreground. We all rushed to take photos when it became visible.

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The ubiquitous Taj Mahal + crowd shot:)





There is a certain beauty in the aesthetics of Amber Fort in Jaipur, the flowing walls and layout made for a less imposing structure than another photo below in another city.




Mehrengarh Fort in Jodhpur the blue city. Atop the hill overlooking the city, its imposing structure stands at a vast contrast to Amber Fort in Jaipur. It has never been conquered by any army.

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The view of Mehrengarh Fort from our haveli. You can see why this is referred to as the ‘blue city’.

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Another fort, this time in Jaisalmer in which we stayed inside and was a highlight in terms of exotic locale and customer service. The city of Jaisalmer resembled something from the Middle East in some parts, you wouldn’t think you are still in India.





The camel ride out into the Thar desert, an hour outside of Jaisalmer. It was a painful experience for the guys, for obvious reasons:)





This was the moment we woke up in the early morning in the Thar desert.

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Inside our accommodation in Jaisalmer Fort. One word = colours!

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