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Review: Leh


Leh, India

Leh, the capital of Ladakh

  • By SilverTraveller ESW

    2468 reviews

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  • Jun 2011
  • Husband

122 people found this review helpful

The flight from Delhi to Leh which takes about 75 minutes. It is an exciting trip as the flight takes you over the top of the Himalayas with fantastic views of the snow covered peaks and ridges. All flights are in the morning as the wind gets up in the afternoon which can make it dangerous to fly. The plane flies up the Indus valley and with Leh and the airport below, before turning steeply round the edge of a mountain ridge and dropping rapidly to land.

At 3500m (11500’) Leh literally takes your breath away. We spent the first day doing nothing and spent the second day around Leh while we adjusted to the altitude. Walking was hard work and steps even worse. Unfortunately there are a lot of steps in Ladakh… DDA hasn’t reached here yet.

Leh is the capital of the Ladakh region and lies in the fertile valley of the Indus. It is very green and lush and irrigated by melt water from the mountains. The town is dominated by Leh Palace with Namygel Tsemo above. The crumbling ruins of the old town cluster round the base of the Palace. Small mud brick buildings with flat roofs line the winding streets which are too narrow for cars. Streets have a central drain carrying ‘grey’ water away from the houses. Many of the buildings look unkempt or derelict although the Tibetan Heritage Fund is beginning to restore some of the buildings and build covered drains in the roads.

The newer town spreads out below the old town. There is a one way traffic system round the centre of the town. This is always busy with traffic and no parking is allowed. The cars weave in and out in attempt to overtake and there is much sounding of horns.

Main Bazaar Road and the one running parallel to it to the east are wide and lined with a range of small shops including tourist shops. There is a fruit and vegetable market run by traders from Kashmir. Local women come into Leh in the afternoon, settle down on the pavements of Main Bazaar Road and sell a range of home grown produce (salad crops, mouli, turnips). Along another street men from the surrounding areas sit on the pavement selling dried apricots, fruits, almonds, cheese, yeast (for bread and beer). They stay in Leh for about a month, renting cheap accommodation, and then return to their village when they have sold all their produce.

It is worth exploring the small alleyways off the main streets. These are narrow and packed with small shops selling shoes, hardware, materials (with separate tailors and dress makers shops), clothes, material for home shrines, traditional dress, religious books, bookbinders, goldsmiths…

There is a bank and ATMs in Leh, although there are always long queues and they often run out of money.

We were struck by the absence of graffiti and litter.

Further from the centre is more rural and made up of several smaller villages. This is where most of the guest houses are found. There are no restrictions on building new houses and as the tourist boom has increased many people have built guest houses on their land. Houses are more spread out and surrounded by trees and farmland. Streets are narrower and lined by high stone walls.

Willow and Poplar trees grow everywhere. The poplars are very tall and many have lower branches removed. These are used for window frames, rafters and beams in buildings and for scaffolding. The willow branches are used for infill between the main beams. Many of the trees are very old and have been pollarded hard many times.

Land holdings of the different families are surrounded by stone walls. Families can grow enough crops on 5 acres to be self sufficient and have extra to sell. Fields are tiny, about 6ft by 3ft and each is surrounded by a built up wall of earth. All work is done by hand. Melt water is used to irrigate the crops and flow is controlled by a series of sluices with each land owner allocated a certain time for watering. A break is made in the earth wall and water allowed to flood each of the small fields in turn. This makes most efficient use of water as there is no wasteful run off. A wide range of crops are grown and planting is much more dense than we are used to in the west.

Beyond the fields, the desert begins and the mountains rise steeply from the river valley. In Early June these were still covered with snow which melted rapidly during our 12 day stay.

We stopped in The Grand Dragon Hotel in Leh (see separate review).

Our pictures of Leh are here

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