Mesmerizing Leh: Its mystery and challenges

Pangong lake in Leh

Indian Army at Leh Ladakh

The Indian army and Leh Ladakh have been hand in hand since the country’s Independence in 1947. Since Pakistan came into existence, so did the Indian army in Leh. No words can describe the contribution of the fearless Indian soldiers for the ‘safe-keep’ of this district and in turn, the country. Even when access to this place is difficult, the Indian armed forces manage to reach here even in the worst possible climate, to ward off any threatening enemy. They’ve always been on the alert here because of the disputes with China and Pakistan. India lost many precious lives in the highest battle ground on earth — The Siachen Glacier (154 kms from Leh) and in Kargil.

Ladakhis live in harmony with the armed forces, who not only give them business throughout the year but also help them in natural disasters like the awful ‘cloud-burst’ of 2010.

The Hall of Fame

Hall of Fame, Leh, Jammu and Kashmir
Hall of Fame, Leh – In the memory of the brave soldiers of the Indian Army

A visit to the museum, The Hall of Fame was thus mandatory, to pay respect to our fallen heroes. The two storey museum is located near the Leh airfield. It was constructed by the Indian army in the memory of brave soldiers lost in the Indo-Pak war. The army maintains it. The entry ticket is Rs 25 (USD 0.4) and an additional Rs 50 is charged for photography.

Hall of Fame museum Leh
Hall of Fame museum from inside
Hall of Fame museum
Hall of Fame museum, Leh

The reality of life stares at you when you see the sombre exhibits on display – photographs of our martyrs, the model of the harsh glacier terrain where our heroes fight, the type of clothes worn by them to ward off the biting cold, weapons used by our army, the enemy weapons captured by them, the living conditions on the glacier.

A tribute to war heroes
In honour of the martyrs

It saddens you immensely when you see “The Last Post”- which displays a letter written by Captain Vijayant Thapar (age 22) to his father, few days before becoming a martyr, and his fathers encouraging reply to him. How many Indians can boast of such patriotism?

General Zorawar Fort

General Zorawar Fort, Leh
General Zorawar Fort

The neat and clean bricks, stones and clay fort of the ‘Conqueror of Ladakh’, stands silently at the edge of Leh City. Also known as the ‘Riasi Fort’, it once held the wealth of the Dogra rulers of Jammu. It is dedicated to the valiant warrior, Zorawar, who was consistent in his effort in warding off invasion by the Chinese. His name is etched prominently in the chronological history of Leh Ladakh.

A motorable road goes all the way to its entrance. Enthusiastic trekkers like to take this 30 min trek from the city centre.

There is not much to see inside the fort, except the museum which displays arms and ammunition of that period, Zorawar’s statue and description of his valour and conquests.

Magnetic Hill

Magnetic Hill in Leh Ladakh, India
Magnet Hill also called “gravity hill” near Leh in Ladakh, India

Anybody who comes to Leh, makes it a point to visit this most intriguing and enthralling stretch of road, 30 Kms from Leh on the way to Kargil. When a vehicle reaches the dip in the road, and you switch off the engine, it continues moving forward on the curve, at a speed of 20Kms/hour, for some time.

The local driver will tell you supernatural stories explaining this phenomenon saying that the road leads to heaven while the scientific minded will explain it as a characteristic of ‘Gravity Hills’, where the road ‘appearing’ upward is actually going downhill.

It’s now up to you to believe what you want.

Gurudwara Pathar Sahib Ji

This beautiful Gurudwara, located 25 Kms from Leh, on the Srinagar-Leh national highway, is constructed, maintained and managed by the army, in memory of Guru Nanak Dev ji. This Gurudwara escaped miraculously during the Leh cloud burst.

Gurudwara Pathar Sahib Leh Kargil Road, Ladakh India
Demon rolling the boulder at Guru Nanak ji.

The story of the Gurudwara goes like this: A demon used to trouble everyone in this region. One day, while Guru Nanak Ji was passing through this place, he sat down here to meditate. As his presence graced the place, things started improving for people of that area. On seeing the people happy, the demon got enraged at the Guru and rolled down a huge boulder at him while he meditated, hoping to crush him to death. But when the boulder touched the back of the Guru, it turned into wax and an impression of his back was formed on the boulder.

Pathar Sahib Gurudwara, Leh
Impression of Guru Nanak Dev Ji’s back

The demon realised the greatness of Guruji and begged to be forgiven. The benevolent Guruji forgave him and asked him to serve the people instead of troubling them.

After this, the Guru left for Kashmir via Kargil.

Chang La Pass on the way to Pangong Tso Lake

Pangong Lake Leh Ladakh
Pangong Lake Ladakh

To visit the Pangong Lake, you need a full day since the 222 kms from Leh takes almost 5 hours. Many stay overnight at tents that are pitched here. We pulled a few strings and stayed overnight at an army mess half way back.

Camp near Pangong lake
Pangong Lakeside Camp

Needless to say, the lake comes in the ‘must-do’ list of Leh. Do carry your woollens and a cap for sure, some knick knacks to eat and tea/coffee in a thermos if possible. Those prone to mountain sickness, take your medication. The rarified air at that altitude may not suit everybody, so old people need to be careful.

Leh mountains
The hair-pin bends on the mountains

The road hits the mountains in just about half hour. The view all through is mesmerising. As the road winds into the rocky Himalayas, it becomes quite treacherous as trickle of water from dead streams cross the road at places. Unless you are a pro at driving on mountains, its sensible to hire a local car and driver. They know what lies exactly on the next turn – on those hair-pin bends. But the road at places can be all soil and gravel and very high chances of skidding exists.

Indian Army trucks near Chang La Pass
Row of army trucks

There was hardly any traffic on the road and the sight of columns of army trucks winding their way up was both reassuring and scary (when you realise you are so near the border) at the same time.

Snowfall in Leh
First glimpse of the snow

An hour or so on the mountains and you can see the snow clad peaks in the distance.

The driver refused to stop anywhere on the road for mundane things like stretching the legs or photography; from safety point of view. The view was so beautiful that if I had my way, I would have stopped after every half kilometre to soak it in and still not have enough of it.

Chang La Pass

The Chang La pass, Leh
The Chang La is a high mountain pass in Ladakh, India.

Around 75 Kms from Leh and one and half hours after we started, we reached the second highest motor able road in the world, that passes through Chang La (Meaning-Pass to the South). The ascent is quite steep in the last few Kms and amazingly, although there is snow all around, it was not freezing cold for us. We only pulled our jackets closer because we ‘saw’ so much snow. The air is really thin here and we were getting breathless with every step we took. This is a place where you can get some refreshments in the form of hot tea, biscuits and wafers and a washroom of sorts. Medical facility is provided by the army in case somebody gets too uncomfortable.

Chang La, Leh
At Chang La

Everybody pays obeisance at the temple dedicated to Changla Baba here, before proceeding further and prays for a safe return. We just couldn’t make that walk to the temple because we were so breathless. We just bowed our head at the gate and prayed for a safe journey back.

At the Chang La temple
Chang La Baba temple in Ladakh, India

As it was advisable to not stay at this altitude for more than half an hour, we bundled right back into the vehicle.

The descent was steep for come kms till we reached the National Sanctuary you need to cross to reach the Pangong Tso Lake. (You need to take a permit at the entrance for your vehicle to pass through the sanctuary)

The Marmot in Leh
The Marmot in the sanctuary, waited patiently for the photo-shoot to be over

Amazingly, only the mountains near the Chang La pass was completely covered with snow. The minute we started our descent, the mountains started appearing rocky again.

When you first get a glimpse of the lake from a strategic turn of the road, it leaves you dumbstruck. The line of blue water surrounded by brown, even from afar, is so unrealistic that you cant wait to get near it.

Leh lake
The first glimpse of the lake

As the lake got closer with every turn on the mountain road, the water got bluer. We waited with bated breath to touch the water of this magnificent, largest, brackish lake of Asia, situated at a height of 4,250 meters.

The air was absolutely chilly when we stepped gingerly on the rocks leading us to the lake from the car park. The water was in 3-4 different hues of blue and the mountains surrounding them in hues of green, violet and brown. Our fingers froze when we dipped them in the ice water.

It seems the lake completely freezes in winters and an ice-skating event is organised here then.

Only 1/3 rd of this lake is part of India and the rest is part of China.

Since the last bit of the Amir Khan movie, 3 Idiots, was filmed here, locals have commercialised the spot and the films’ locales have become a big crowd-puller.

'3 Idiots' point at Pangong lake
‘3 Idiots’ shooting point at the Pangong lake

We were extremely excited to see domesticated Yaks – the largest animals of this cold desert, with bright colourful seating on their backs. They are shaggy creatures with curved horns.

Yak in Leh
Yak have hollow hooves which help them walk on snow easily.

Our head had started hurting a little with the altitude and we decided to head back to avoid any medical problems.

Other highlights

Bactrian camels – Found only in Leh
River Rafting at the Sangam
River Rafting in the Sangam

There are many other adventurous activities to pursue like river rafting at Sangam, biking to the Khardung La pass to reach the Hunder Sand Dunes in the Nubra Valley and enjoy rides on Bactrian camels.

Adventure activities in Leh

Also read: Mystical Leh Ladakh: Its palace and monasteries

Poonam Beotra

Poonam Beotra

Poonam Beotra has been a teacher for over 10 years and is currently pursuing a career in writing. Her work has been featured on leading portals such as MSN and Yahoo. Poonam's forte is travel and lifestyle. An avid traveler, she is also a photography buff.

3 thoughts on “Mesmerizing Leh: Its mystery and challenges

  • March 16, 2018 at 1:58 pm

    Very informative… Very different from rest of the India, the climatic conditions in which the army survives, the fauna, food and architecture and stark landscape…

  • July 29, 2017 at 4:51 am

    Poonam, I have been following your articles for a while — you do have a marvelous narration style! I have never been to Leh, but now it feels like I made that trip! Keep writing 🙂

    • Poonam Beotra
      August 12, 2017 at 7:48 am

      Its a beautiful place and so accessible now. Do try and visit. Avoid the winters, unless you love the bitter cold.

Comments are closed.