In 1992, we travelled by train to Manali where we picked up a jeep that was to take us over the mountains to Leh. We were already at altitude so we took a couple of days to acclimatise and then we set off through this barren landscape.
Situated at an altitude of 16,040 feet, Baralacha La Pass is a high mountain pass in the Zanskar range in Jammu and Kashmir. … This mountain pass, one of the highest passes in Ladakh is around 73 kilometers away from Keylong on Manali – Leh road.
On our route we passed snow falls and glaciers crossing the roads at one point we crossed the highest pass in the world at 17,582 feet.
Even at 16,000 feet we started to get breathless and nauseous and frightened. We only stopped very briefly to take a photograph and quickly got down as soon as possible.
Hundreds of kilometres from anywhere in the most barren valley we had a puncture. Much to our surprise the driver announced that he had a spare wheel but no jack to change the wheel We immediately went into an extreme panic as we had not seen any houses or signs of life for many miles. We sat there in sweltering heat without any shelter and drinking water and praying for a miracle. Amazingly and suddenly four Sikhs with turbans riding two Lambretta motorcycles came over the hillside road and stopped to ask if they could help. In very little time they had lifted up the side of the jeep to allow our driver to change the wheel. We had never been so relieved.
In Leh we hired the services of a man who worked at the local historical institute and spoke good English. He was to spend the week with us and took us around many of the incredible monasteries in the region. Lamayuru, Spituk, Tikse amongst others were fascinating and usually dated back a thousand years
Our guide knew many of the monks at these Gompas who we met and we had a very privileged inside view of these buildings, their kitchens and shrines.All had fabulous views across this barren landscape and yet there were lush green rice field down in the valleys irrigated by the river. This province of India, showed us more of the Tibetan way of life that could be seen in Tibet itself.
The monastery of Spey perched high up on an outcrop of rock in the valley was the most memorable.The shrine was ancient and mysterious. The atmosphere was heavy and very spiritual. The chanting of the monks very moving in their deep voices. Women were not allowed in the back of the Gompa and I was escorted to the Gonkang shrine at the back.
The heads of the statues of the deities were shrouded in dusty cloths and were dark and sinister. I was deeply moved and felt a deep sense of spiritual presence. Apparently, some of the monks prayed and chanted here throughout the night on a regular basis.
When it was time to return, we discovered that the airplane that was due to fly us back to Delhi was not going to fly because of bad weather. We took the only other option and decided to retain our jeep and driver and take a dangerous mountain route over the mountains to Srinagar. Although beautiful and exciting mountain scenery the route involved driving on a road with incredibly steep slopes, narrow bends and was full of lorries determined to have right of way. It was a night mare. Half way on our journey, moles from anywhere we were stopped at an army check point and told that the road was impassable and that we were forbidden to travel. We found this extraordinary and were suspicious of the army officers motives. They were adamant despite our pleading to let us pass and we began to reconcile ourselves that we had a very long and dangerous drive home in the night on roads without lights or “cats-eyes” and steep precipices hundreds of feet high to one side of the road. In desperation one of our party offered the army officer money and suddenly everything changed. At the right price we could go through and suddenly the road was unblocked!
A day and a night later we got down to the bottom of the valley and arrived in Srinagar. We were taken to the most beautiful wooden boat hotel on Lake Dahl? and treated like lords in luxury. In the night we could here shooting coming from the city. That morning we had a boat ride around this beautiful lake and bought a carpet in a local store. We were told that the tourist trade had been dead for years and carpet trade in decline. We then had to drive to the airport. On the way we were conscious that there were machine gun posts at every main crossroads in the city and we were stopped and searched twice on the way to the airport by armed troupes. A very troubled city.