Travel to Ladakh: Live with natives, do yoga by Yarab Tso Lake and trek in the Himalayas

If you are travelling by yourself to a place like Ladakh, staying at a homestay can be a good decision especially for the first few days when your body is acclimatising to the new environment

Heena Khandelwal Published :  24th December 2021 01:55 PM   |   Published :   |  24th December 2021 01:55 PM
travel-to-ladakh

Postcards from Leh and Ladakh

The minute we landed in Ladakh, we were fascinated by the majestic mountains and the surreal landscape. But, our happiness was short-lived. Minutes after landing at Leh airport, we started feeling throbbing headaches and nausea, a common experience for tourists due to Ladakh being at a higher altitude. The acclimatisation process takes at least one whole day and it is important for one to take plenty of rest and fluids. Thankfully, in another forty minutes, we were at our destination, a homestay by Airbnb in collaboration with the local Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA).

Sixty-three old Konchok Yangskit and her husband welcomed us into their beautiful double-storey home in Phyang village. The table in the living room was filled with tea, puli (Ladakhi biscuits), fruits and a big bowl of apricots and almonds. Soon came lunch, a homely meal of dal, carrot-spinach sabzi and rice served with tomato chutney, the veggies for which came from her own garden. The arid, mountainous variety of spinach worked wonders with carrots and we thoroughly enjoyed this combination. Just as we were about to finish, our host returned with a watermelon, freshly plucked from her garden. It was a pleasant surprise that it could satiate our post-meal sugar cravings.

 Konchok Yangskit and the meals we had at her residence 

But even after the meal, the headache persisted. Our host comforted us saying that the acclimatisation process will take time and suggested we take a nap and keep having something hot to drink. We retired to our room — a spacious double bedroom with a large cupboard, a dressing table and an attached bathroom. Everything was clean and kept in an order one would find at home. We changed and slept, waking up hours later to a gentle knock. The host’s granddaughter was at the door with their traditional gur-gur chai. The buttery textured tea offered a mix of salty and sweet taste and the all-pervading warmth definitely made us feel better. As we stepped out of our room, we noticed that our host was busy putting together a meal of soup, noodles and momos for us, with the help of her younger son and granddaughter. Their kitchen was as big as the living rooms back in Mumbai. While one side had the usual cooking setup with stove, utensils and a sink, the remaining three sides had mattresses and wooden boxes turned into tables for dine-in. Multiple carpets covered the floor with a television in the corner.

During our conversations, we learnt that among Ladakh natives, the kitchen isn’t restricted to women. The entire family comes together to prepare the meal and then have it in the kitchen itself since the cooking process keeps it warm. We also learnt that our host wasn’t working until a few years ago. It was the flash floods of 2010 that made many Ladakhi women like her to find avenues to work in order to support their families financially. While she has been associated with SEWA for some years now, she recently opened her home on Airbnb for tourists. She has even made some changes like attached bathrooms to offer the guests a more comfortable experience. She fed us like our moms would and after multiple servings of momos and soup, we called it a night. It was surprising that we could sleep again for hours!

The next morning, we sipped on tea while overlooking the snow-capped mountains. A variety of blooming flowers in their kitchen garden added to the beauty. Soon we left for the SEWA Centre in the village to meet other hosts and members of the community. There, we were served a hearty breakfast of Ladakhi bread and sabzi alongside apricot juice, which was divine. During our interaction, we learnt more about their journey to financial independence, how SEWA came to their village post the flash floods and helped the native women hone their skills. Today, just like our host, many of them are involved in small businesses like food processing, stitching womenswear and creating shawls and fabric on looms using Pashmina wool, which is integral to the Changthang region in Ladakh. The latest addition has been in partnership with Airbnb where they have opened their homes to tourists. Post our session, we headed out for some sightseeing in Leh. Gurudwara Pathar Sahib offered a very calming experience and Sangam — the confluence of the rivers Indus and Zanskar, was serene. It was a perfect place to watch the sunset.
 

In the evening, a cultural night was put together by SEWA members at another host’s residence. We saw the women, their daughters and granddaughters in their traditional attire called kos/goncha — a voluminous robe worn by both men and women. Over music, dance and a lot of food, we bonded with them. While we tried dancing to their native songs, our host was enthusiastic enough to learn the steps of London Thumakda (from Queen) and danced her heart out on Besharmi Ki Height (from Main Tera Hero). After hours of fun and dance, we ended the night with a heart full of gratitude. The morning after, we checked out from the home stay and left for our journey onward but not without a bag full of apricots and almonds. The acclimatisation process can be a difficult process for many and staying at a home stay where the hosts look after you as their own can make a whole lot of difference. Not only did we get the best hugs, but we also ended up learning a lot about their culture. It was like a home away from home.

Other experiences:

Gurudwara Pathar Sahib

One of the most revered places, it is said that it was here in Leh that Guru Nanak Dev, the founder of Sikhism, conquered a demon. If legends are to be believed, Guru Nanak, who had embarked on his journey across Asia to teach people the message of ik onkar (one God), was meditating in the hills when a demon threw a big rock at him to obstruct his prayers. But instead of hurting Guru Nanak, the rock turned into soft wax upon touching him. Seeing this, the demon asked for penance but was forgiven. That holy place has been turned into a gurudwara, managed by the Indian Army, and has the rock with the imprint of the body of Guru Nanak Dev and the footprint of the demon, on display.

Sangam
 


It is amazing how nature demands you to forget everything and live in the moment. Sangam, the confluence of the rivers Indus and Zanskar, is one such point. One can see the two rivers, slightly different in colours — Indus has tones of olive green whereas Zanskar appears sand brown, meeting each other and taking their journey forward as one. The best time to visit this point is in the evening. It also houses a café and one must have a cup of tea or coffee to sip on as they enjoy the beautiful sunset.

Khardung La
 


One of the highest motorable passes in the world, Khardung La is also known as the gateway to Shyok and Nubra Valley. At an elevation of 5,602 metres, it is one of the most sought after attraction points for bikers who are looking for an adventurous experience. One can also always find snow here and we did too, but it is advised to spend limited time as the oxygen levels here are pretty low.

Yoga by the lake
 


During our stay in Nubra’s Lchang Nang (booked via Airbnb), we indulged ourselves in several experiences. An all-girls picnic in the evening and an early morning yoga session by the lake was the highlight. The picnic was set up within the premises of the resort, while for the yoga; we left early in the morning and did a short hike to reach the holy Yarab Tso Lake, which is hidden between hills. We did a 45-minute long session by the lake, and it was quite an experience. 

The author was invited by Airbnb to experience Ladakh.

Email: heena@newindianexpress.com
Twitter/Instagram: @heenakhandlwal

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