Eight things we learned in Ladakh, the highest desert in the world

Eight things we learned in Ladakh, the highest desert in the world

The Good Life With IQ

If you want tips, tricks and insights on travelling, being vegetarian, sustainability and India, and from someone who’s been there and done that, then The Good Life With IQ is a good place to be! The inspiration for this blog was a trip to the Lakshadweep islands in early 2017. We had a really tough time trying to figure out how to plan our trip, and the fact that there wasn’t really much useful information on the net was really frustrating. When we got back, I decided to write a post on how we planned our Lakshadweep trip, so that other travellers could be spared our frustration. But once I got started, it was difficult to stop. And that's how The Good Life With IQ got where it is today.

From Martian landscapes, endless roads, and deep blue lakes to extreme temperatures, deceptive distances and strict schedules, you experience some interesting things in Ladakh!

It was 2008, and we were hankering for the mountains again. We had always wanted to visit Ladakh, in the foothills of the Indian Himalayas, and decided this was the time.

Luckily, through family connections, we managed to get ourselves invited to stay with the Indian army in Leh (pronounced ‘Lay’), the largest town in Ladakh. During our week-long holiday, we used Leh as a base to explore the fascinating otherworldly landscape of what they say is the world’s highest desert. And learned some interesting stuff along the way.

1. It can be both blisteringly hot and blisteringly cold—at the same time

They say one can get both sunstroke and frostbite at the same time in Ladakh, and we found out that that might just be true. While the icy wind can rip through the warmest of clothes, the thin air does nothing to shield you from the harsh sun.

Leh - View from guesthouse - Eight things we learned in Ladakh

The view from our guesthouse

2. The local stray dogs look like bear cubs

We encountered a sweet little pup during our visit to Chang La pass, and with his fluffy brown coat, we could easily have mistaken him for a bear cub from a distance.

Leh - Chang La doggie - Eight things we learned in Ladakh

Almost-bear cub pup

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3. The mountains aren’t as close as they look

It took us city slickers by surprise: the way the mountains can warp one’s perception of distance. The sheer size of the mountains made them look so much closer than they really were, and made long distances seem much shorter.

Leh - Road to Zoji La 1 - Eight things we learned in Ladakh

Mountains flank the Leh-Srinagar highway near Zoji La

Leh - Roadside mountains - Eight things we learned in Ladakh

So close, you can almost touch them

Leh - Storm capped mountains 2 - Eight things we learned in Ladakh

Storm-capped mountains beyond Leh

Also read: 5 awesome mountain holiday destinations in India

4. Most of Ladakh’s Pangong Tso lake actually lies in China

We knew the approximately 140 kilometre-long saltwater Pangong Tso lake was one of the more popular sights in Ladakh, with its deep blue water mirroring the deep blue sky (only when it’s sunny, of course). What we didn’t realize was that it stretches across the border into China (the Tibet Autonomous Region, to be exact), with only about 30 kilometres or so in India.

Leh - First view of Pangong Tso - Eight things we learned in Ladakh

Our first glimpse of the lake

Leh - Pangong Tso view into China - Eight things we learned in Ladakh

Looking into China

Leh - Pangong Tso 2 - Eight things we learned in Ladakh

The way back home

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5. The mountain passes must be crossed before 3 o’clock in the afternoon

During our jaunt over Chang La pass to Pangong Tso, and again on our visit to Khardung La (claimed to be the highest motorable pass in the world), we were expressly told that we needed to get off the pass before 3:00 pm. We soon saw why: the torrents of afternoon snowmelt running across the roads make them extremely dangerous.

Leh - Snow en route to Khardung La - Eight things we learned in Ladakh

Above the snowline

Leh - Icicles - Eight things we learned in Ladakh

Icicles from snowmelt along the road

6. The valley stretch of the Leh-Srinagar highway is a biker’s dream

One of the days we were there, we hired ourselves a cranky old Royal Enfield Bullet Electra and rode along the Leh-Srinagar highway for a few hours. The road quality was great, we were almost completely alone, and we had some of the most awe-inspiring landscape on earth unfolding around us.

Leh - tanking up - Eight things we learned in Ladakh

Tanking up to a view

Leh - Road to everywhere - Eight things we learned in Ladakh

The road to everywhere

Leh - Road trip 5 - Eight things we learned in Ladakh

An invitation to keep going

Leh - Road trip 4 - Eight things we learned in Ladakh

“Look how far we’ve come!”

Leh - Road trip 3 - Eight things we learned in Ladakh

Infinite possibilities

Leh - Road trip 2 - Eight things we learned in Ladakh

On top of the world

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Also read: What you experience on a 7-day, 2000-kilometer motorcycle ride along India’s east coast

7. After a while, your eyes ache for the colour green

The landscape and mountains were a fascinating array of patterns and shapes, but they were all in shades of brown and yellow—with a bit of snow-white thrown in here and there—and all under a roof of glowing blue or grey. After a while, the need for the colour green became almost a physical ache! The little patches of green clustered around the rare springs and rivulets—or even painted on a wall—always came as an intense relief.

Leh - Blue green and brown - Eight things we learned in Ladakh

A welcome sight!

Leh - Spider on mess wall - Eight things we learned in Ladakh

Spider on a water-stained wall

Leh - Hill monastery 1 - Eight things we learned in Ladakh

An inviting-looking hilltop monastery

8. The Himalayas are just as majestic when seen from above

The mid-morning flight back from Leh to Delhi allowed us to see the mountains from above in bright sunlight, and they were just as magnificent as when seen up close!

Leh - Himalayas from plane 2 - Eight things we learned in Ladakh

Goodbye, old friends!

Leh - Glacier from plane - Eight things we learned in Ladakh

Frozen rivers

Leh - Himalayas from plane - Eight things we learned in Ladakh

Powder sugar and cotton balls

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Also read: Six great experiences to have when you’re in Kalimpong

Top tips when visiting Ladakh

  • Take warm clothes, but also sunglasses and sunscreen. You’ll need both. At the same time.
  • Plan a day or two of zero activity to help you acclimatize. Altitude sickness—with its headaches, nosebleeds, nausea and dizziness—is real.
  • After a long, cold day, nothing is more satisfying than a steaming bowl of thukpa—a hearty soup with noodles, meat and/or veggies, similar to the Vietnamese pho, but more solid.
  • A bike ride along the valley road will give you an unparalleled sense of freedom.
  • When driving through Ladakh, prepare for long travel times and bumpy rides. The winding mountain roads are shattered by the snow and ice each winter.

Leh - War memorial - Eight things we learned in Ladakh

At the Kargil war memorial in Dras

Leh - Mulbek moonrise 1 - Eight things we learned in Ladakh

Moonrise over Mulbek

Leh - Confluence - Eight things we learned in Ladakh

The Indus and Zangskar rivers migle, while army trucks look on

Leh - Mountain Ganesha - Eight things we learned in Ladakh

An elephant-headed guardian emerges from the mountain

Leh - Snow bike at Chang La - Eight things we learned in Ladakh

Frozen Bullet at Chang-La

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