The few people I spoke to [who had been to Leh] told me to take it easy the 1st day, and pop a pill [Diamox] to help with any acclimatisation issues . Since Leh is at 11000 ft above sea level, our body takes a bit of time to settle in. The whole high altitude and less oxygen levels could prove hard for some- dizziness, vomiting, nausea, difficulty breathing etc are some of the symptoms. Not to forget the dip in temperature!! And so I was prepared, armed with meds and clear thoughts in the head.
The flight landed in Leh around 11 am and we reached the Lzakar Guest house within 10 mins and are shown our rooms. It is a quaint guest house that has about 8 rooms across ground & 1st floor.The rooms are big, spacious and beautiful.. the ones in the front side have a view of the hills while others have a view of buildings around. All rooms had two beds, a TV and a clean bathroom with hot hot hot water through the day.. We checked in, and decided to just chill that day. Some slept, while I watched TV for a while before snoozing off for an hour or so. Woke up, got downstairs and went out towards the market for a short walk.
The main Leh market is just under 1.5kms from the guest house and since it was daytime, I went for a stroll. All the while my brain is sending me signals saying “go slow”, “take it easy”, “you wouldn’t wanna fall ill on the 1st day and ruin the holiday”. So I paid heed to it and go back to the room within a hour for more chilling. In the evening we all caught up for tea, followed by dinner. The temperatures had dipped further, to around 8degrees and we could feel the chill in the air. We were all wearing a few layers, inners and sweaters/jackets, socks, gloves etc…
The next day was when the holiday began officially, with the agenda being to explore Leh – Shey Palace, Thiksey Monastery and Shanti Stupa … We were up early, and ready to leave by 8am having gobbled down a few slices of hot toast and omelette, and couple of cups of tea. Bundled up, packed our backpacks, water bottles, snacks and we were off.
After being on the road for about half hour or so, we reached the parking zone for Shey Palace. As with all buildings in Leh, this too was situated atop a hill. It was almost like the forts we find across our country, how they are all situated beyond reach and you need to put in effort to get there.
Across the palace was a water body with lush green grass and it was quite a sight from the top. We got off, carrying just out back.. The path is long and winding before you see a flight of steps up to the main building. You really have to crane your neck to get a full view of the palace. There are numerous prayer wheels along the trail which suggest the existence of a monastery within the royal palace.
The village ‘Shey’ was the old capital of the upper Ladakh. The Shey Monastery [Gompa] and the Shey Palace complex are mostly in ruins now, was built first in 1655, near Shey village, by the king of Ladakh, Deldan Namgyal [or Lhachen Palgyigon as he was called]. Infact this palace was used as a summer retreat by the kings of Ladakh. However, back in 1834 the royal families abandoned the Shey Palace and Leh Palace due to invasion of Ladakh by Dorga forces of General Zorawar Singh and moved to Stok Palace [ located at about 13Km from Shey Palace]. Today, Shey Palace is a historical monument and is maintained and managed by the Archeological Survey of India.
The Palace is famous for two things- it has the largest Namgyal Chorten (victory stupa) in Ladakh, the top of which is made of pure gold. Secondly, the monastery is renowned for its giant copper with gilded gold statue of a seated Shakyamuni Buddha [said to be the second largest such statue in Ladakh].
As we walked down the winding path, my hands reached out the prayer wheels, spinning them one by one while my mind was wondering what it would have been like to live in a place like this….