I have to be honest – while the photos of Rajasthan make our adventures look like we’re having a blast all the time, we actually struggled a little bit during our time there. City after city, rain, long travel days and the Indian mentality of a lot of people we encountered began to get to us, and in turn we got to each other. While we understand that we’re in a privileged position and everyone here is struggling to make their way in life, sometimes it feels like you only encounter people here who are out to con you into something, dupe you out of something, sell you something or take you somewhere. The irony of traveling to open our eyes to the world but not wanting to make eye contact with anyone was beginning to wear a little thin.
Luckily, if Rajasthan was chalk then Leh was yak cheese. We flew into Leh’s tiny airport early in the morning, only just over an hour flight from Delhi but a world away. Leh is basically a little Tibet in far north India – many Tibetan refugees have settled here after being displaced thanks to Chinese occupation. They all call “Jullay” to each other for everything you could need to say to each other – hello, how are you, yes, thanks, see you later, I understand… everything. People literally have a whole conversation with each other by simply saying “Oooohhh Julaylaylaylaylaylaylaylay”. Seriously – the owner of our guest house had a conversation with a lady that consisted of only that and told us that the lady was actually saying “I am going to the birthday celebration next to the hotel that you own”. Jullay quickly became our favourite word.
We found ourselves a great little guest house and spent our first day there catching up on some much needed sleep and wandering the streets, admiring the tibetan handiworks in the markets, eating amazing food and catching our breath – at 3,500 meters above sea level, you’re often left feeling like you’re struggling to suck in enough air after walking up a small flight of stairs. The cold also left all of us with dry skin and big smiles through cracked lips.
The next day we climbed up a small (though seemingly huge) mountain to a Buddhist stupa that looked out over the whole town to the snowcapped mountains in the distance. The walk only took around 15 minutes, though most of that time was spent pausing after each 5 steps to pant for a few minutes.
We spent our next day in Leh driving up the world’s highest motorable road to 5,600 meters above sea level and then riding mountain bikes all the way back down. 2 hours to drive up on an extremely sketchy “road” and only 2.5 hours to ride back down. Both the views and the altitude were breathtaking, as were the moments where you would come around a corner with a huge army truck coming the other way!
Next up we headed out of Leh to Pangong Lake – only 135-odd kilometres as the crow flies, but over 5 hours drive thanks to the mountains. The lake was both stunning and freezing. As soon as the wind picked up and the sun disappeared behind the mountains there was nowhere to hide from the cold except for under a huge duvet. Liam got some amazing shots of the stars, though I have no idea how he managed to stay outside for so long in the cold – the beer may have had something to do with it. Before we left the next morning, we walked for a few hours along the lake, which changed from clear, to aqua green to deep blue as it got deeper.
We spent one more day in Leh before literally bouncing our way back to Manali. We took an 18 hour bus overnight to travel 470km on some of the worst roads we’ve experienced yet. 7.30pm to 1.30pm the next day with next to no sleep thanks to the bumps, the cold and the bollywood duets that were blared the whole way to keep the driver awake (though we cant complain about that one). Thankfully we made it safe and sound and are currently enjoying adventures in Manali.