Ladakh, India: Monasteries and Mountains - Page Three
The entire main Bazaar of Leh is lined by restaurants. Usually located on the second or third floors, these small cafes offer stunning vistas of the surrounding mountains and the street below. Catering mostly to the tourist crowd, their menus always consist of a fusion of Western, Indian, Chinese, Tibetan and sometimes Ladakhi and Kashmiri cuisine.
The food quality is decent, though hardly differing from the shop next door. It pretty much depends upon the owners luck in getting hold of a capable cook for that tourist season.
The best place to enjoy an authentic Ladakhi meal is in any of the various family guesthouses, most of which offer home-cooked, usually vegetarian, meals to their lodgers at very modest prices.
A number of small eateries can be found in the small bazaar lanes, patronized by the native population. Very economical, but of suspect hygiene, they serve only limited choices; Momo (Tibetan steamed stuffed dumplings) and Thukpa (Tibetan noodle soup), or simple Indian meals like rice, dal (lentils) and vegetable curry. Some eateries beside the Leh mosque offer authentic and unpretentious Kashmiri meat dishes and parathas (flat bread).
Surprisingly every bakery and confectionery in Leh calls itself a "German" bakery, so there are no less then five "German Bakeries" in town with new ones springing up each season. Prices are comparatively high for India: a slice of sweet cake or pie costs about a dollar. But when youve got to have sugar, what choice do you have?
Places along the tourist circuit such as Stok or Thikse have full-fledged restaurants with a wide choice of food and bottled drinks. Once off the beaten track, however, a humble request for a meal in any villagers house usually procures a small feast. However, many villagers vehemently refuse to take any payment for their efforts. Make it a point to try out the thick Ladakhi bread and Tsampa porridge (baked barley).
Leh is packed with shops selling various curios, handicrafts and (supposedly) Tibetan and Indian antiques, manned by pushy Kashmiri merchants eager to make a sell. Entering any of their shops (unless you have been dragged inside), initially makes you think you have stumbled upon a lost stash from some medieval caravan of the silk route: the small shops are filled to bursting with Tibetan relics, Buddhist paintings, silver jewelry, masks and carpets--yards of them.
But before you fall for the sales pitch and the complementary glasses of Kashmiri spiced tea, do keep a few things in mind. The most sincere sounding shopkeeper is still going to quote rates several fold higher, so it pays to check out the prices in the market and then bargain shamelessly. Start by offering a third of what you are quoted and work up.
Apart from the jewelry and some traditional Ladakhi handicrafts, most of the items are made outside the region or brought in from Nepal. And, unbelievable though it is, almost all the objects for sale in Ladakh can be bought much cheaper in Delhi.
Note: As tempted you may be to purchase an antique, keep in mind that most are fakes, and even if you come across a real one, taking it out of India is a punishable offense (if caught).
Traveling in Ladakh without witnessing a single festival is next to impossible. Usually religious affairs, these events are customarily held in various monasteries on different calendar dates, mostly during summer. Not to be left behind, the government started organizing an annual Ladakh Festival in the month of August.
Invariably crammed by camera toting affluent foreign tourists accorded preferential treatment, these festivals are increasingly coming under flak from different quarters for becoming business events and not religious ceremonies. But in any case, they are excellent opportunities to observe intricate Himalayan Buddhist rites and religious dances in their Ladakhi flavor.
During the Nagrang festival, two lamas or monks are selected by monasterys elders to embody the two oracles called Rongzam, for a period of three years. The chosen monks then go into a trance, and adorned with old weapons, run over the nearby mountain ridges and the monasteries roofs. On the first day, they act very aggressively, lashing out at all around, but the following day they passively make various divinations and answer to peoples questions.
Other Monastery Festivals
For exact dates of festivals,culturalindia.net/ladakh.html
Ladakh is open year-round for tourists. However, with winter temperatures well below zero, it remains a destination for specialist travelers only during the winter months. Temperatures hover between 85 and 35 degrees F from April to September, the main tourist season. Nights can be chilly and warm clothing is necessary. Stock up generously on sunscreen as the mid- day sun can cause very severe burns. Despite being a desert, summers can have pouring rains lasting for weeks. An umbrella and decent waterproofing are advisable.
Getting to Ladakh is half the fun, irrespective of the mode of transport chosen, and yet none of the ways are equally without their own limitations and hardships. The best way to get to Ladakh is from Delhi, where there are planes and buses available. There are also buses and shared taxis available from other northern cities and towns, especially Manali, which is a common departure point.
Flying out of Ladakh is also not without hassles, as the slightest climatic problems have the airliners grounded or flying out empty. In any case, planes always leave Leh with only about half their seats occupied due to the high altitude takeoff. As a result, there is always a long waiting list for tickets, and at times even a confirmed ticket does not mean a seat on the plane.
For travelers on a budget, there is a cheaper government run bus service--fairly uncomfortable with non-reclining bench seats. For the hard-core bus fan, there is a marathon three-day Delhi to Leh bus service departing from ISBT in Delhi.
Note: Motorcycle 12 V batteries get stolen in Leh and are almost impossible to buy. No spares for foreign bikes either. Similarly dont expect to find Shimano replacement gears in the local cycle repairing shop.
Local busses connect Leh to most of the points of interest and the major monasteries. Some run several times a day, others less frequently. Consult the timetable at the bus stand. Local taxis operating under the banner of the Ladakh Taxi Operators Union work against a fixed tariff, and hiring a car or a jeep for a day costs about $15-18 USD. Hotel and guesthouse owners are often able to find you a vehicle at lower prices.
Though no separate permit apart form a valid Indian Visa is necessary for visiting Ladakh, keep your passport handy as there are numerous check and registration points en-route if traveling overland. Visas must be obtained in advance of arrival and are valid for one or six months. Travelers will also have to pay a small tax upon arrival in Ladakh (Approximately $10).
Some areas are off-limits to foreigners, while others require a special permit obtained from the Deputy Commissioner's office near the Polo Ground in Leh. The friendly neighborhood travel agent can also get permits and supply the necessary "Letter of Introduction", with a commission, of course.
Permits, which are provided only to a group of four (or for one, provided you pay for four and your application is accompanied by Xeroxes of three other passportstravel agencies are good at providing these "extra" passports), are required to visit Tso Moriri and Pangong Tso lakes. Similar passes are required for Nubra Valley across the Khardung La (considered to be the worlds highest motorable road at 18,380 feet) and for visiting the Hemis High Altitude National Park.
The Indian Rupee (approximately 45 Rs = $1 USD) is the currency in Ladakh. There is a State Bank of India in Leh and a Foreign Exchange Office (Forex), where you can cash travelers checks. Outside of Leh, there are no money exchange opportunities. Credit cards are not often accepted, so bring money with you.
Though slowly modernizing in every way, communication facilities in Ladakh are still almost medieval. Telephone facilities are now moderate, a far cry from what they were a couple of years ago, when calls were monitored by the owner with a stopwatch.
For postal assistance, it makes sense to walk down to the General Post Office, as the sub-post office on the Bazaar street in Leh has very lengthy lines.
Slight bouts of mountain sickness or High Altitude Sickness may occur above 3000 meters. Symptoms include shortness of breath, headache and dizziness. Normally, it goes away with acclimatization that takes 2 or 3 days. In case of a severe attack resulting in nosebleed and acute nausea, the patient should immediately be brought to lower elevation eg. Choglamsar, if in Leh. Though rare, deaths from HAF are known in the region. Alcohol does not help during HAF and is known to aggravate conditions. Gastric problems are also widespread. Oral contraception is also not advisable in higher elevations.
The altitude is also known to cause teeth to ache because of change of atmospheric pressure. Stocking up on anti-inflammatory analgesics is advisable for people with dental problems, as there is next to no dental care in Ladakh.
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