Day 9: Leh (Monasteries)

August 31, 2012

I woke up around 8:00, washed up (the only disadvantage of my room was that it didn’t have running hot water; the guy would bring a bucket in the morning when asked for), and went to meet the German couple, hoping that they’ve decided to come along with me. But they had other plans (they wanted to go on a 10 day hiking trip, and see the town later if they had time). I was kinda disappointed, and started enquiring on how to reach monasteries by bus. That is when the Indus Guest House guy suggested I rent a bike instead, and roam around the place. This was definitely more enticing than the bus, and was way cheaper than the taxi. Now, I had a new plan in mind.

I decided to rent a bike for 2 days, go visit the monasteries on the first day, enjoy the Ladakh Festival in the morning of the second day, and then go visit more monasteries. So I went looking for a bike. I was told that an Enfield would cost 1000 bucks, while I could get other bikes starting at 600. I thought I’d rent a Yamaha FZ (for it’s my bike back home, and am comfortable with it). There’s a street full of motorcycle rent shops near J & K Bank in the main market, but there was only one guy with FZ’s. I tried the couple of bikes he had, and both were in terrible condition (no brakes on one, drag on the other, both with broken clutch and brake levers). So I went into another shop (Himalayan Adventures) and he offered me a Bullet. I took off on the test drive, but wasn’t so comfortable with it. Bullet is a heavy bike and I didn’t wanna test it on unknown roads without having ridden it in the past, so I asked for something else, and he offered me an Avenger. I got lost in Leh while on the test drive, but somehow managed to get back. I decided to take it for it seemed to be in good condition. He asked for 700 and I bargained to 600. While I was talking to the main guy, the helper was tuning the bike and managed to break the gear lever. They tried fixing it for a quite a while, but were unable to. While they were doing this, I walked into a restaurant nearby and had yummy Aloo Paratha for breakfast. It was already past 10:00 AM, and it looked like it was gonna take longer for them to fix the Avenger, so I asked for an alternative, Hero Impulse. He said 700 again, and I managed to get it for 600, again :D. It was a relatively new bike and didn’t need a test drive. I took the helmet, enquired a little about the routes to the monasteries, and finally hit the road. Oh no, actually, I first submitted my PAN card at a tourist center for the permit before I it the road.

Tip: Make sure you test the bike before you rent it. Do not take it even if you are wee bit uncomfortable. Also make sure that the bike has a yellow registration board (taxi). It is less likely that the cops will catch you if it’s yellow. Finally, ask the guy how much mileage the bike will give you, so you have an idea on how much gas you’ll require. And do bargain on the prices. 

My first stop was Shey Palace, located on the Manali highway, about 14 kms from Leh. I reached the place around 11:00 AM, parked my bike, bought a ticket for 20 bucks and started climbing the stairs up. And by the time I reached the top (about 50 steps), I was as good as dead. I didn’t have altitude sickness, thank you, but the altitude was definitely taking a toll on my body. I had to sit and recoup all my energy before I could walk in and enjoy (really??) Shey. As I already mentioned, there is nothing much to see in a monastery (which makes one wonder why I decided to spend a day on them!!). There are a couple of rooms with paintings and Buddhist artifacts, and then in the end, one room with a large statue of Buddha (pretty much the same in all monasteries). There is also a dark room full of diyas. I took some pictures, sat for a while on the top, and then got out after an hour.

Next stop, Thikse Monastery, 5 kms from Shey. The 3 Idiots school was on the way, but I somehow missed it. Thikse was bigger than Shey, and crowded. It had an entry fee of 30 bucks. The walk up the hill made me pant again, and once in, it was pretty much the same sight. It was a little more colorful, had more rooms, lots of space, and a better view of the surroundings though. There was also a museum, which had artifacts of the ancient Buddhist era.

I then headed off towards Stakna Gompa, 8 kms from Thikse. If it wasn’t for the road sign, I wouldn’t have noticed this monastery. It was comparatively small, totally deserted, and had free entry. There was a long drive up hill, and I noticed that I was the only visitor at that moment of time. All the rooms were closed, and were being opened by an elderly monk as I walked in. It look less than 10 minutes to wrap up the place.

Hemis Monastery was the farthest of all, 20 kms from Stakna and about 50 kms from Leh, and the largest of them all. It is located quite deep in the mountains. The ride up to the monastery was quite an adventure in itself because of the zig zag narrow roads. The entry fee was 50 bucks this time. Again the same old stuff. The monks kept dancing in the main yard for a long time, which was fun to watch. This one had a huge museum with more artifacts than Thikse.

Once done, I decided to call it a day with the monasteries. I was tired of looking at the same stuff (which I didn’t understand a thing about). It was almost 4:00 PM, and I was hungry, so stopped at a small dhaba on the way back from Hemis. I had a Thali with unlimited roti, Rajma, Aloo Gobhi and Dal. The food was finger licking good. Met a couple of guys here who were suggesting I ride a bike even to Pangong Tso and Nubra Valley, but only if I could find more biking partners. That was something to be thought about.

Now, it was time for an adventure – time to get lost. The Himalayan Adventures guy had told me that there was a parallel road from Stakna to Leh, which had a better view than NH1, and also passed through Stok Monastery. So in search of this road, I went back to Stakna, and instead of taking a right, I took a left, onto the road leading back to Hemis. The road signs pointed Hemis, but having forgot that I just got back from Hemis, I kept riding. This road was pathetic for it was full of swamps and open drains. And I kept riding in all this like an idiot. I almost fell into one of the swamps, but kept going. It was not until I drove more than half way did I realize that I had already been to Hemis!! 😛 I turned around, and drove back through the same swamps all over again to finally reach Leh at around 6:00 PM 😀

I was told that Santi Stupa in Leh provided a beautiful panoramic view of the city during sunset. Driving through the chill in the air, I reached the place right on time. And boy was it beautiful. I could see the entire place from up here, and the sun setting made the mountains shine gold in color. I took loads of pictures and then headed down to the small cafe to have some Butter Tea. While I was enjoying my tea, the Blue moon rose. It was just amazing to see the sun set on one side behind the mountains while the full moon rose from the other. Magical!!

It was time to call it a day, but not before I had some dinner. I also had to collect my permit. It was ready by the time I reached the tourist guy, and was for 5 days, to Pangong and Nubra. I then headed to Tenzin Dickey, this time to taste their Thukpa. The place which was packed at around the same time yesterday was empty today. It took quite a while for the Thukpa to be served, and I thought it was alright. It was the first time I was gonna order for it 😛

Once done, I headed back to the room, and crashed!!

Day 8 : Kargil – Leh
Day 10 : Leh (Magnetic Hill)

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