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Mountain Desert Holiday Package
Ladakh is a place that transforms geography from a theoretical subject into a superb adventure of altitude and terrain. A drama in which you can thrill to any ramdom reference point, The Great Himalaya, the Indus River, the Zanskar Range, Siachen Glacier and you can explore it through some great odd journeys discovering as to how this path shapes the local culture and life on the `Mountain-Desert’ Holiday Package!
The Great Himalaya ascertains the glorious heights of Ladakh and prevents monsoon clouds form crossing over to this area, putting it in the `rain shadow’, making the terrain a `mountain desert’. The Zanskar Range has its backdrop of grandeur and snow, resting Padum as the base for treks and visiting monasteries such as Karsha and Phugtal.
The Indus enters Ladakh and local meltwater streams that flow into it, were the only means of irrigation for people who settled here. Besides these water channels they created these jewels of green fields, poplars and willows, the gold-and-orange palettes of autumn, white-washed houses, Buddhist traditions and monastery treasures…..all bursting out of a brown canvas! The place is a litany of monastery-villages such as Hemis, Stakna, Thiksey, Stok, Shey, Leh, Spituk, Phiyang, Basgo, Likir, Alchi, Ridzong and Lamayuru. Hemis is popular for its Hemis Festival, dedicated to Padmasambhava, the greatest treasure, an enormous embroidered thangka embellished with pearls, is ceremoniously enrolled to a delighted audience, entertained by a pageant where monks dress up in masks, and dance in slow rhtythm motion to the sounds of clashing cymbals and the great trumpeting of long horns. The Stakna Gompa is perched on an isolated hill and offers excellent all-round views of the valley! The Thiksey monastery has maintained its murals and paintings and a huge three-storey Buddha is housed here. The Stok Palace Museum has a collection of swords, shields, quivers, bows and arrows, and matchlock guns. You can also see old coins and seals, old photographs and fine old thangkas. The Spituk gompa rests picturesquely on a small hill and has a chapel devoted to the deity Tara, a manifestation of brilliant craftsmanship! Basgo stands majestically tall on a hill, its ruined temples and fortifications rising dramatically into the sky! Acknowledged as the most beautiful temple here, the Maitreya temple here has the only surviving original sixteenth-century murals of Ladakh. The Likir gompa has a lovely location and a stunning collection of thangkas and manuscripts. Alchi is the ancient centre of learning and you may spend a day learning the frescoes and roaming under its apricot trees, and also studying its preserved murals. The Sum-Tsek temple has architecture unparalleled in the Himalayan region, and houses the giant figures of three four-armed Bodhisattvas. At Lamarayu, ensure that you get to see the Naropa’s cave enclosing a life-sized image of Vairochana Buddha, and murals, worn from the passage of time, of mandalas and tantric deities, and a novella carved doorway!
The Nubra region towards the north-east Ladakh, consists of valleys and Nubra and Shyok rivers and and is known for its picture-postcard charm, for its abundance of seabuckthorn, for the double-humped Bactrian camels, for sand dunes along the Shyok River and Diskit, Hundar, and Panamik villages, here are known tourist spots. Within such a collection of peaks and ridges that meltwater here finds no proper slope to flow away, forming the beautiful saltwater lakes of Pangong Tso, Tso Moriiri and Tso Kar. Drown yourselves in these oceans of fantasy on the `Mountain-Desert’ Holiday Package!
Coming from Srinagar to Leh, there is a stunningly changing landscape, on the Kashmiri side, alpine beauty, and on the other side there is not a tree to be seen. It’s just the Drass area of western Ladakh that is snow-covered for months, after which comes the lush oasis of Kargil followed by the Buddhist village of Mulbekh.
The Lahaul area is where you may stay in Keylong, a harbinger of the unsettling treeless beauty to come. Later in the journey, the stark mountains become as if delicate watercolours of ochre, rust and pink, red, blue……are shading off into each other! The campsite of Sarchu, is a dry windy moonscape and a grazing area for the Changpa nomads and their herds of sheep, goat and yak. Another striking feature of this journey is the Morey Plains, a long stretch of flatness, where the Changpa set up base camps. In Lunglacha La, the twisted, rugged shapes of wind-eroded rocks are particularly magnetic! The road leads to the settlement of Lamayaru which is the best example of the phenomenon of village houses clinging to steep hillsides, lending spectacular views of the roads and its loops for a great distance below, and these green oasis-villages finally bring relief from the epic starkness! You are thence in the capital of Leh, for some quick sight-seeing! Tiny Leh is itself a thing to `do’, either by whiling away the hours in some rooftop restaurant, gazing at the snow of the Stok Kangri Range while your sizzler or kahwa appears, or walking about in a quiet suburb like Changspa and the lush fields and dancing streams in it, or by taking a taxi to the gorgeous monasteries around! You may visit The Temple of the Garden Deities (Tsemo Gompa), which is built on the Namgyal Tsemo Hill and is a part of a fort, with the King’s court scenes adorning the walls and recognised as the first royal residence to be built in Leh. The nine-storeyed Leh Palace also exists here, an imitation of the great Potala in Tibet. A pristine white stupa inaugurated by the Dalai Lama called Shanti Stupa has a beautiful, calm ambience and fabulous views of the Zanskar Range and you may quickly visit the General Zorawar’s Fort which is a mud edifice encircled by a shallow moat and has some stables and rooms, which are occupied by the mules and ponies of the Indian Army.
In winters, it is celebration time in Ladakh, and families, friends and neighbours get together and feast on rice beer, two-week-long weddings are held. Music making and story-telling takes centrestage!
Get out of this mountain-desert region and head for another round of cool plain hilly resorts, on this `Mountain-Desert’ Holiday Package!
The journey starts with Dehra Dun, in Uttarakhand, which is recognized as a quiet, small valley-town, famo-Desert us for its basmati rice, lychees, new shopping centres, hospitals and café outlets, and its old-styled bungalows. Today, it is a bustling town with a botanical garden and a remarkable Greco-Roman colonial building housing six museums, on social forestry, pathology, silviculture, timber, non-wood forest products and entomology. It takes pride in being lined up with the cross-section of a seven century old deodar tree. The cantonment area has a Military Museum and is a serene option for quiet green walks. The sulphur spring at Sahastradhara has therapeutic qualities while the river and caves are smoothly fluous but crowded. The Robber’s Cave also called Guchhu Pani, is a nice picnic spot as there is a little rivulet which disappears underground and reappears a little distance away. Lacchiwalla with its streams and stands of deodars is a popular outdoor getaway for school picnics and family outings. The Tapkeshwar shrine which is a naturally formed Shivaling in a cave rests on the banks of the Tons River. For the Sikh pilgrims there is the Guru Ram Rai Gurudwara, and in contrast the adventurous Malsi Deer Park is set amidst the green environs and its grounds, where rabbits, birds and deer make for a fun family outing, especially for kids. The Tibetan Buddhist Centre, as the Mindrolling Monastery houses one of the world’s largest stupas with a fine painting of the Maitreya Buddha and murals within several shrines also showcasing Tibetan religious art and architecture.
Coming to Uttarakhand, would also entail a discovery of the popular Wellness Capital of the World, the Ananda in the Himalayas, beautifully settled on a mountain ridge with its extensive range of spa therapies based on Ayurvedic treatments, to Thai and Swedish massages, hydrotherapy facilities, a beauty institute, an outdoor swimming pool, saunas, steam rooms, a gymnasium and even a 7-hole golf course. The Sivananda Kutir in Uttarkashi along with the
Sivananda School of Yoga imbibes teachings based on the five precepts of exercise, breathing, relaxation, diet, positive thinking and meditation. The Vipassana Sadhna Kendra in Dehra Dun which is located in the heart of a rivulet for which you either wade across the stream if the water level permits, or do the crossing in a trolley running on a rope. The Patanjali Yogpeeth, Haridwar, is another centre for Ayurvedic formulations, yoga asanas and Pranayam along with dietary advice to the patients.
Pour in some happiness and make an effort to visit Chopta, a village located in the Uttarakhand state, and is a base for trekking to Tungnath, the third temple of Panch Kedar and the Chandrashila Peak which offers a splendid view of snow clad Himalayan peaks. An unspoiled natural beauty destination that offers amazing views of the mountainous range including Trishul, Nanda Devi and Chaukhamba is surrounded by forests of pine, deodar and rhododendron which are rich in the variety of flora and fauna. The Tungnath temple and Chandrashila are covered with snow during December-March. Some activities around the village include camping and trekking, yoga; snow trekking, snow skiing - rock craft, rock climbing, and rappelling.
Then there is the Deoria Taal, also spelled as Devaria' or 'Deoriya, a lake located on an uphill trek from the villages of Mastura and Sari, on the Ukhimath-Chopta road in Uttarakhand. At a very high altitude, it has heavily wooded, lush green surroundings with snow covered mountains in the backdrop.
Souvenirs, carpets, jewellery, woollens and handicrafts are distributed throughout the Leh bazaar. The Tibetan market is set up here with plenty of curios, handicrafts and jewellery, pottery and gemstones such as turquoise, rubies and lapis lazuli!
Shopping in the hill stations of Uttarakhand and adjacent resorts, would perhaps entail picking up some souvenirs and confectionery, jam and honey, cakes and patisserie The Shops have quite a few curios stores with a blend of modern market items as well as cameras, sweaters, shawls, clothing, mufflers, stoles, caps, wooden sticks, wood and metal craft, jewellery, souvenirs and essentials to fulfill tourist needs.
Leh’s rooftop restaurants offer Indian, Italian, Kashmiri, pancakes, sizzlers, along with beer! You may also find a variety of cinnamon rolls, brownies, apple pies and lemon tarts, besides a profusion of Continental and Mughlai eateries. There are pizzas, Chinese, Israeli and Thai meals spread all around in restaurants and cafes!
Most of the speciality restaurants and streetside stalls, in Uttarakhand, serve a variety of food, including Indian, Continental, Oriental, South Indian, Tibetan and fast food fare such as hot masala Maggi, pancakes with maple syrup, pastries, rolls, brownies and snacks. There are places serving excellent dishes such as pasta, bread, jams, and preserves, organic food consisting of salads, herbs, seasonal vegetables, fruit preserves and pickles, Burmese noodles, speciality pork, Indian, Mughlai, English, Italian and Chinese cuisine, hot mutton curry, dal, rice, rotis and great desserts! In some of the resorts, if you want a preparation of your desire, the staff would customize the same for you or else you are welcome to enter the kitchen, in case you want to cook yourself!
Most of the passes are open between May and September, though it is also possible to fly and enjoy a bitterly cold winter visit only to play with the snowflakes or perhaps try out some skiing or trekking over those frozen white sheets, with equipped woollen attires!
Uttarakhand hugs a very cold climate during winters with a cool, pleasant air and sunshine during the summer months. The monsoons contain heavy rainfalls, and except for those places and resorts which are closed during the monsoons or winters, the region is recommended for a visit throughout the year as there is enough to keep you occupied indoors and outdoors, even if it is a short or a long blissful escapade, on the `Mountain-Desert’ Holiday Package!