Monday, August 03, 2009

La la Leh

One falls short of words while describing the delightful show: 59 Royal Enfields cruising through in a formation of two, across a verdant green valley of unadulterated lushness and entering the Leh district of Ladakh after having surmounted the Indus River. I had never seen skies so blue, while it never even crossed my mind that such an intoxicating climate could have its own hazards like sun burn within a few minutes. Surrounded by craggy mountains and almost no greenery, Leh stood apart like a haughty emperor; so unalike the green landscapes characteristic to the other parts of the Himalayas.

The streets seemed like those ancient Indian lanes portrayed in RK Laxman’s Malgudi Days. However, a look at those who inhabited Leh diffused that impression, for the population consisted a considerable number of Europeans and Israelis.

The market was replete with shops that were meant to arrange and book adventure treks, safaris and cultural expeditions in the Trans-Himalayas. Walking a few meters meant exhaustion, but I was quick to gulp down two bottles of ‘Gul Badan’, the fresh apple juice from the Kashmir valley. I spotted some sophisticated, city girls shopping for Pashmina Shawls, but preferred not to go for one. The roads led me to Moti market, which depleted my pockets considerably, while I had to buy an oversize bag to fit in the gifts that I had bought for my friends. The market was flowing with imported jackets, woollen wears, embroidered and custom made t-shirts.

Leh can be undoubtedly termed as a foodies’ paradise, for it had everything- right from Punjabi dhabas to German Bakery to the Tibetan Kitchen. The shopkeepers would call it a day at 8 pm, which nudged the party goers’ to chill out at their favourite cafĂ©.

The street had some handcarts and barbecue stands which served sumptuous mutton (Ladakhi goat) specialities prepared the Kashmiri style. Yakhni, which is meat fried with curd, Rishta, which can be referred to as meatball curry and Sarvan, i.e liver curry, sold like hot cakes. I chose seekh kabab and boti kabab, which in plain terms was barbequed meat rolled and served in paper-thin parantha. The delicacy cost me a mere Rs 15 per plate which was too meagre a price to pay considering its heavenly sensation on my taste buds.

The experience at a backstreet restaurant, however, remains to be quite exciting. They served me and my co-riders some suds and a whole lot of drama. The restaurant didn’t have the licence to serve liquor, and the owner certainly didn’t wish to lose out on some business. After we ordered our beer, the waiter was quick to apologise, ‘Sorry sir, we don’t serve alcohol,’ and added, ‘But let me do something.’ He came back with a tea pot and glasses with straws in it. We thought the waiter had lost his mind and thus, asked him who had ordered the tea. He smiled and said, ‘Sir, it’s your beer.’ Beer in a tea pot and glasses wrapped with tissue paper with straws in them? This definitely proved to be worth its while for the six of us.

At a distance of 17 km south of Leh, I planned a visit to the most beautiful monastery of Ladakh, the Thiksey Monastery. An outstanding specimen of Ladakhi architecture is a glorious Buddhist monastery located nearby Leh. It flaunts numerous stupas, Thangkas, statues, swords, breath-taking wall paintings and a large pillar carved with Buddha’s ideas and preaching, all in a mammoth 12-storey building complex. After spending few hours I headed to another tourist attraction, the Magnetic Hill and an Indian Army managed Gurudwara. Magnetic Hill is a gravity hill that is assumed to have magnetic properties that can even pull cars uphill and also coax a passing aircraft to increase its altitude in order to escape the potent magnetic interference. After witnessing something so unbelievable I thought of not getting into the scientific details with a commerce background that I have. The properties of the hill are contradicted by claims which say that the effect is merely an optical illusion created by the gravity hill. The Gurudwara is rich in its historical importance as Guru Nanak Dev Ji, the first of the Ten Gurus of Sikhism, meditated here in the 15th century.

I don’t know the actual truth behind Magnetic hill, but Leh surely has some magnetism of its own. So much so that I surely want to go there again…all the way riding on my Royal Enfield.

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