One would imagine that Leh, the hottest holiday destination of the country this season, would be teeming with excited tourists. You would have to get past a lot of pushing and shoving to get a glimpse of the 'must-sees' of the place, and the shopowners of the trinkets' stores would be screaming at passers-by for attention.
Strangely, Leh in the Ladakh region of Jammu and Kashmir reveals a very different picture; the picturesque little town, cocooned amid the hills, is drowned in calmness. You can savour every little moment and enjoy your holiday in the true sense of the word. Leh, you realize, is not just a destination; it's an experience.
Leh, at an altitude of more than 11,000 feet, is blessed with nature's bounty. Simple things like waking up to an azure blue sky and the sight of snow-capped mountains, or star-gazing at night (you would have hardly seen so many stars in the night sky!) and wishing upon the scores of shooting stars leaves you with happy memories.
Although it has an airport with direct flights from Delhi, Jammu, and Srinagar, most people prefer taking a road trip to Leh. One, because the journey through the changing landscape, whether you go via Manali or through Srinagar, is in itself a lifetime experience. Plus, you get to drive past the 'magnetic hill' (from Kargil to Leh) when your car defies gravity to move a short distance of slight road elevation on its own! And second, as most travel experts would say, a road trip prepares you better in the acclimatization process.
Having said that, while it is only natural for your body to take some time to get used to the low pressure and thin oxygen levels, help is always at hand in case of medical need. The Indian Army base hospital in Leh gets a lot of tourists who take tips on how best to fight altitude sickness. There is also an army medical unit in the snow-laden Chang La Pass - at 17,586 feet, the third highest pass in the world - as well as an army tea stall serving complimentary hot tea!
From Leh, one has to cross the Chang La Pass to reach the breathtakingly beautiful Pangong lake, made more famous by the movie "3 Idiots". The lake, 60 percent of which lies in Tibet, is striking amid the surrounding barren hills. One can count at least seven shades of blue in the water!
The Nubra valley, at a distance of 150 km from Leh, is again a must-visit. Famous for being a cold desert, when there, a ride on the double humped camel, also called the Bactrian camel, is worth experiencing.
Text: IANS correspondent Azera Rahman
Image: A bird's eye view of Leh town.