My guesthouse was comfortable and clean, with a spotless bathroom – funny how bathroom cleanliness quickly becomes one of the most important criteria by which to judge lodgings whilst on the road – and a nice sunny garden in which to enjoy breakfast.
Breakfast was Tibetan bread with butter and locally harvested and made apricot jam, washed down with tea. My hostess was a lovely woman, ever solicitous, wanting to know whether I would like anything else. But I was quite happy to sit there, drinking tea, enjoying the view and the warmth of the sun (as opposed to most places where I had been recently where I tried to hide from it) in the cooler climate of Leh. She continued to work in the vegetable garden in front of me.
I spent a couple of low-key relaxing days wandering around Leh, getting used to the altitude (3500 m, 11500′). It’s very picturesque, with distinctive architecture and quiet back lanes connecting the ‘main’ thoroughfares (most of which are just wide enough to allow vehicles to pass). These walled back lanes and alleyways weave off in all directions, offering views of the distinctive housing and neighbourhoods. Very relaxed, very pleasant. And comfortably cool in the shade.
There were quite a few foreign travelers but they didn’t seem to detract too much from the general atmosphere of this city of about 150,000 smiling and friendly people. A couple of the main roads are largely devoted to satisfying travelers’ needs: motorcycle rental; restaurants; tour companies for trekking; T-shirt shops; local crafts … all the usual tourist wares. But there was none of the high pressure sales that are so prevalent in the rest of India.
There are busy bazaars, crowds of people, and pockets of quiet and peace. And maybe even a little ice-cream envy.
Leh Palace is a large impressive nine-storeyed building visible from most of Leh; it was built in the 17th century and occupied until the Royal Family exciled to the nearby Stok Palace in the mid-19th century. It is reputedly modelled on the Pothala Palace in Lhasa, Tibet. The walls slope gently inward to increase the strength of the building. The upper storeys are constructed out of mud-bricks.
The Tsemo fort and monastery is a steep walk up from the Ladakh Palace.
On my second day, with breathing not too much of a problem, I walked up to the Shanti Stupa, on the outskirts of town. There were wonderful views…
… and a sign that got me thinking! Thinking of renting a motor bike, learning to ride it, and then going for a jaunt over what was supposedly the highest motorable road in the world!