The plane’s landing at the Leh airport was an event in itself. You have the mighty snow-capped mountains that surround a lake brimming with turquoise water (sadly, my seat was on the other side), you have tufts of clouds playing hide and seek with the mountains, and then you look at the clear blue sky, the clarity that comes from being cleaner than the skies in a metro, and you instantly forget that you’ve hardly slept the night before because of an early morning flight.
I was smiling like a child on her first visit to the Disneyland, like a diabetic old man who just got to taste jalebis, like a bird whose cage was mistakenly left open albeit for a short while. 🙂
(Image: View from the plane; Image Source: Author’s Own)
It is a great advantage if you or your near ones work for an airline and I’m thankful to Vistara, the airline for which D works, for making things so much easier for me. Firstly, the ease of getting flights on a short notice, secondly, having people who’d help you out like a friend, like the station manager at Leh who was so sweet and helpful and some of his warm-hearted colleagues cum (both our) friends who’d keep texting me to know whether I needed anything (since D was in London). I cannot thank these people enough. 🙂
I stayed at Hotel Dragon Leh which is located on the Old Leh Road, very close to the main market. Upon reaching the hotel, I just wanted to throw my bags in the room and run outside. The mountains seemed to be calling me and I just couldn’t sit at home, right? Wrong. The manager and the staff at the hotel (who again were extremely caring and somewhat protective towards me, seeing that I was traveling alone) asked me to take rest after having some breakfast. The manager said that I needed some time to acclimatize to the high altitude, so maybe I could explore the nearby area in the evening.
At this point let me tell you, I’d carried a cart full of medicines with me. These included:
- Diamox (for altitude sickness)
- Montair FX (for my allergies)
- Pudin Hara
- Eno Pouches
- A tube of Odomos
It is easier to get acclimatized to the high altitude if you’re coming by car but with flight, the change in altitude is pretty drastic so it’s prudent to take precautions. However, I didn’t face any problem with the high altitude. I did need the Montair FX, Pudin Hara and the Odomos at different times, so I’d suggest that you too carry a basic medicine kit along with your regular medication, if any.
I also carried a rechargeable torch with me and though I didn’t require it, it’s advisable to carry one in a hilly region.
At the hotel, I asked for a room on the top floor, of course, for the scenic view. However, I experienced a little breathlessness every time I climbed those four flights of stairs and I think it was due to the high altitude.
Anyway, that slight unease faded every time with the view that waited for me once I reached the top floor corridor. It was heavenly! I’d sometimes sit on the corridor and keep staring at the mountains that seemed so close to me.
(Image: View from the corridor; Image Source: Author’s Own)
So, on my first day, I spent the rest of the afternoon resting and reading the novel Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows by Balli Kaur Jaiswal. Now, this book was a treat that I devoured with all my senses during the trip. Though I carried my Kindle for the journey, the airport bookshops somehow managed to seduce me! 😉 And I’m not complaining. I love associating my trips with books, and since I was going for a leisurely vacation, I wanted the tactile feeling of holding a real book in hand, sometimes inhaling its seductive scent, and carrying it with me wherever I go. I’m lucky for having chosen this book. It was a delectable treat and I couldn’t have chosen a better book for my first solo journey.
In the evening, I finally stepped out. The first thing that caught my attention after wading through rows of stalls selling t-shirts (with cliched taglines like, ‘My friend went to Ladakh and all I got was this bloody t-shirt’), Kashmiri and Tibetan showpieces, manned by some overtly friendly bordering on the verge of aggressive salesmen, was this German Bakery. I went in and ordered a ginger-lemon tea and a chocolate croissant and started reading my book while looking up from time to time to stare at the hills. There was no other customer at the cafe. I sighed with the satisfaction of a happy dog. This is how I’d imagined spending my holiday in my head. 🙂
(Image: Tea, croissant, and a book, with the mountains in the backdrop-what more can a girl ask for?; Image Source: Author’s Own)
After my tea and croissant stop, I started walking towards the main market. Two little girls in school dresses were having strawberry ice creams at a corner stall. I asked them for directions to the nearby monastery.
‘Come we’ll take you!’ One of them held my hand.
‘Won’t you be late to return home?’
‘Nah, it’s alright.’ Replied the other one.
‘What are your names?’
‘Gretchen and Tani.’
‘Which classes are you in?’
‘Eighth standard.’ And then with the excitement that only children are capable of, she said, ‘You know, we study in the same school that was shown in Three Idiots!’
Over the course of my travel, I realized that Bollywood was a significant contributor towards increasing the popularity of the Leh Ladakh region. People tend to say things like ‘Oh you should visit the Pangong Lake where Three Idiots and Jab Tak Hain Jaan were shot.’ Though I believe it should be the other way round. The beauty of these places should be a talking point in the movies as these exquisitely breathtaking regions do not really need the stamp of approval from movies to validate them.
Once we reached the monastery, I requested my new friends if I could take a picture with them and the friendly kids readily agreed. First day, and people were already being so nice. I was happy.
(Image: Selfie with Gretchen and Tani; Image Source: Author’s Own)
The only slightly annoying thing that happened was on my way back to the hotel. One of those Kashmiri shopkeepers started making a conversation that took a weird turn.
After exchanging hellos, he asked me whether I’ve come alone. Like a fool, I replied in the affirmative to which he answered, ‘I’d like to chat with you for sometime.’
I replied, ‘I don’t want to talk with you’ and kept walking.
Why do women need to be in the company of family or friends to be left alone in most places in India? When I texted him about the incident, D asked me to avoid the lane for the next day. But I made it a point to look straight ahead and pass that shop every single day for the rest of my stay there. Why should I let a creep curb my movements? I had decided that if he tried to talk or in case he disturbed me in any other way, I’d create a huge scene right there. Maybe, the expression of grit and sternness were clear on my face as he didn’t try talking to me again. Only on the last night of my stay, while I was returning to the hotel he commented, ‘I see you are avoiding me. I don’t understand why.’
After I passed his shop, I couldn’t help bursting into a laughter. I mean, just imagine the level of male entitlement! 😀
So, that was the lesson that I learnt on the first day of my solo trip: Make friends but also understand when you need to be careful.