Tour de Ladakh [Day 6]: A Lazy Day at Leh

Leh, the capital of the erstwhile kingdom of Ladakh easily would top the list of ideal places to settle down after retirement for many bikers! Sadly, that’s difficult due to a myriad of political reasons. Leh at 11,562 ft., flanked by icy peaks on all sides is blocked from the rest of the country for the most part of the year. The stunning picturesque beauty combined with the warm Ladakhi hospitality of the locals, this small Himalayan town undoubtedly is my favorite place in India. It has all the charms of a idyllic small town as well as modern day luxuries. The cultural potpourri of tourists here can be challenged only by Goa in India. Finally, after a non stop, high adrenaline journey from New Delhi, we had a day to cool off, do some old school sightseeing, get our permits done, repair our motorcycles and eat some real food for a change!

Today, there was no pressure to wake up early, no pressure to rush and stick to the schedule, no frantic calculations of how much more fuel is left i]with us and can we cover the distance without running dry. Call it the aura of Tibetan Buddhism (The predominant religion of this charming town) or the effect of us staying in the dorms of a monastery, the peace of mind when we woke up in the morning was exhilarating. After four long days, we finally had the chance to take baths. All the peace and leisure apart, we still had some work left for the day.

  1. We had to line up at the Leh DC office to get our permits to ride till Pangong Tso, Chusul, Khardung La and Nubra Valley. For the uninitiated, every tourist has to get permits from the DC to venture to most places outside Leh as these are restricted areas due to border disputes with China.
  2. We had to get our bikes checked, Rahul’s Pulsar’s rear wheel repaired, change the engine oils of our bikes and a numerous other tweaks.
  3. We had to rent another bike as Sukesh was having a hard time in the pillion due to the horribly bumpy roads.

Thankfully we didn’t have to do the daily ritual of carrying our saddle bags and tank bags and go through the boring process of mounting and fastening them to our bikes. In a jiffy we went out exploring the town of Leh. We stooped at the famous ‘Pumpernickel German Bakery’ in the main market. This bakery has cult status among the tourists visiting Ladakh. We ordered a Choco Danish, a Lemon Cake and a Majripan Cake, all for Rs 150. The Majripan cake in particular was tasty. Then, we walked around the streets, withdrew cash from the ‘World’s Highest ATM’ and window shopped at the countless interesting curio shops in the main market.

The Majestic Leh Gate.
The Famous Pumpernickel German Bakery. Try the Majripan Cake here for sure!
Lots of Curio and Junk shops like this can be found in the main market. And yes, have some ‘Gulbadan Mango Juice’ as well!
That’s the Leh Palace.
Soon we yet again stumbled across those familiar faces; Robbin and Neha. We decided to have lunch together at the ‘Tibetian Restaurant’ before heading out to get our permits. There we ran into another familiar face, Vinay; The guy who was stuck with a puncture and a clueless American tourist yesterday. He was pretty happy that we helped him out yesterday and he gave us his local contacts to rent a bike. We had a heavy lunch. The best were the Fried Momos; hot and spicy that we could have breather fire if we had any more of that dip.
Then we head out to get our permits at the DC office where I met Karan Uppal and Group, A fellow BCM Touring member and also a Duke owner. He had reached Leh from the Srinagar side. In the coming days he would be having incredible adventures of his own. Would love to read his travelogue if he writes one. We took the required form the Photocopy Shop behind the office, took photocopies of ID proofs, passports, vehicle registrations, etc. and stood in the line. This seemingly uninteresting routine is more nervy than you can think owing to the fact that most of the places you want to visit would be struck off by the officials. People just get the passes for the conventional places like Pangong Tso, Khardung La and Nubra Valley. And more exciting spots like Chushul, Marisemik La, Siachen Base Camp are struck off. In fact no one has been issued the permit to go to Chushul in a long long time ever since a couple of bikers accidentally ventured into the Chinese Territory and were detained. So, applying for permits for these parts are more like a shot in the dark.
Call it an impossible stroke of luck or being at the right placer at the right time, the officer who was issuing our passes was nearing his shift end and accidentally missed striking off Chushul from our form and our permits for were authorized! He did strike off Siachen Base Camp and Mariseimik La but all that was okay. We will be the lucky ones to be allowed to ride till Chushul, the battleground of the 1962 Sino-Indian War!
Next, we headed out to the Famous Leh Palace which sits like a dominating figure overseeing the entire town. It is a pretty interesting piece of architecture. Mostly constructed from Mud, wood and stones, this palace was in ruins before being recently restored. The palace was constructed in the 17th century, to serve as the residence of King Singge Namgyal. It is quite similar in appearance to the Potala in Lhasa, though it is much smaller in size. Building this must have been a logistical nightmare due to low availability of wood in this region. Wood had to be brought from Tibet by a fifteen days long journey. After paying the nominal entry fee we entered the dark and dingy interiors of the ‘Palace’. It sure was exciting, but was hard to believe that a Royal Family was staying in this. Having seen palaces in the rest of India, to us it resembled more like a huge prison rather than a palace. It had it own charm though. The balconies offered breath taking panoramic views of Leh. Some pictures would do greater justice.
Sukesh, Robbin and Neha trying to find a decent parking spot where the bikes wont roll off the cliff!
There we are. The Leh Palace!
Awesome Views of the City from up here.
Yes, that’s surprisingly a ‘Palace’!
The green side of Leh.
The Royal family must have had quite a view every morning from their palace.
Some scriptures inside the Prayer Room. All written on wooden planks.
That’s the prayer room.
Pretty scary how everything is supported by just wooden beams.
A restored room.
Leh Palace has lost most of its colors, but has retained its charm.
Most areas are weak and out of bounds. We had a couple of incident of dust and small debris falling on our heads due to tourists walking on the floor above us!
Many interesting murals were painted and a huge collection of rare photographs and interesting historical facts were displayed on the walls in regular intervals. The pick of the lot was the excerpts from the Travelogue of Ernst Lothar Hoffmann and Ratti Petit, The German gentleman and a Parsi artist who embraced Buddhism and changed their names to Anagarika Govinda and Li Gotami. They started on one of the first ever documented expedition to the mystical lands of Tibet from India after the Second World War. During the course of the journey which lasted for years, they had taken many photographs of previously unseen places, art, architecture, documented literature in the mysterious kingdom. Those were the days when travelers had to get permits Lamyiks from the Dalai Lama to travel those roads and to ensure that they would be supplied food, water, shelter and transport without fail by the villagers en route. These were very important in Tibet because if one didn’t possess these Lamyiks, no one was allowed to sell the mentioned amenities to travelers which would definitely end in major disaster. The photographs and documents taken by Li Gotami and Govinda are one of the only remaining evidence of many excerpts of the Tibetan culture after the Chinese destroyed them during the conquest of Tibet in the later years. 
A small Gallery/Museum inside the Leh Palace.
The Plan.
Leh Palace. Before and After the Restoration.
Adventurer Li Govinda with her yak. Yaks were the motorcycles those days!
One last view of the city from the top before heading out.
Next, we moved on to explore the outskirts of Leh. Our next stop was the Shanti Stupa. It was a regulation unexciting stupa. So, me and Rahul decided to stay back and hang around in the ‘Shanti Cafe’ while Sukesh, Neha and Robbin went on their short spiritual journey. The Cafe was pretty neat cozy and nice with a large assortment of tea to choose from and some really outdated magazines to laze around with. We had some maggi and experimented with some Tibetan Herbal tea.
In love with the view from up here.
Near the Leh Palace
Panoramic view of the city.
Tibetan Prayer Flags atop a small hill.
Lots of small stupas like this on the way to Shanti Stupa.
Outside Shanti Stupa
Outskirts of Leh
Really really old books at Shanti Cafe!
Rahul, outside Shanti Cafe.
We chose the tea with the longest name. Too unconventional for us!
A 17 Year old Newsweek on the tables of Shanti Cafe!
Lots of informative maps in the cozy interiors of Shanti Cafe.
We returned back to the main market next and paid a visit to Mr Stanzin Dorjay, the contact that Vinay had given us for Bike Rentals. Sukesh picked up a brand new Pulsar 200NS and we all went to refuel the bikes and for the check up of the Duke and the Pulsar 150. Rahul’s trye-tube was changed, both our bike’s nuts and bolts were tightened and the engine oils were changed. Our stallions were all set for tomorrow’s challenges! We had our dinner at the ‘Pizza de Hutt’. We ordered a large Tandoori Pizza and a Galetto Pizza with some piping hot soup to build up the appetite. We chatted away for hours in this nice little terrace restaurant from everything, starting from our unexciting jobs and studies, memorable college time anecdotes to the anticipation of visiting Pangong Tso and Chushul and about what adventures we will be facing next!
Leaving Shanti Stupa.
Getting our stallions all prepped up for tomorrow’s adventures!

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