There are many awe-inspiring gompas, or Buddhist monasteries, dotted throughout the former Himalayan kingdoms in the vast, high mountain reaches of Ladakh, a region of northeastern India. While formally belonging to the state of J&K, Ladakh’s native language is of a tibetan dialect (along with Spiti) and its high remote position atop the Chang Tang or Tibetan Plateau means that it shares more in common with Buddist Tibet than say, Jammu and Srinagar, whose populations are largely muslim.
It is too an odd fit with the plains states and Hindustan at large, though its position along side both China and Pakistan make it understandably relevant to India’s security. Wonderfully stark, it is also a difficult place to live for those that remain throughout the winter. While the capital, Leh (11,500 ft) has a sizable and capable airport maintained by the Indian Army for year round commercial traffic, once the Leh to Manali highway closes for the season in late October, an ancillary route through Kargil and Sringar, having only one high pass, remains the only other terrestrial option.
Boarder Roads Organization maintains the treacherous if not gorgeous mountain roads that cut high above the steep gorges of the Indus (as at Nimmu), to seemingly infinite switchbacks that climb loose talus and rock (as at Chang La). A stated objective of BRO is to create networks of challenging roads that connect villages, and well as provide logistical support to the Indian Army, which keeps numerous bases and watch over the many miles of disputed boundaries. Where construction off such road is underway, workers can be found sleeping nearby in makeshift tents, often directly along the road. Many other locals are hired to maintain the completed sections, such as the men and women who carry away talus and sweep away scree using handle-less brooms in an inefficient bent over position, periodically retreating out of the way for passing cars.
Likkir (west of Leh)
A mid-september visit to Likker, just off of the Leh-Kargil road while returning with the German from Lamayuru. On our travels to Lamayuru, we also stop to explore the dark, crawl-to-enter painted prayer chambers of Alchi, where photography is prohibited.
A hired Impulse bike with front shockers makes the 30km trip east-southeast of Leh a treat. With time on the bike remaining, I pass Leh on my return for a white knuckle zip along the narrow scree covered route that follows the Zaskar to Chilling.
Along the Zaskar, Nimmu to past Chilling
Just past Nimmu, Basgo can be seen perched above the Leh-Kargil road. My first effort to reach the monastery is thwarted by a bridge out, and work-around approach that I dismiss as humor. Only on the second trip did I cross the river bed and climb towards the monastery.
Matho by tiny bus
Sumdo, others picnic
A journey by bike and car from Nimmu with the ‘french girls’ and the Austrian.