Ladakh – Arrival

The flight from Delhi to Ladakh is an early flight – I was up at 3am. But boy, was it worth it.

About half an hour into the flight, I looked up from my book and glanced out the window. Mountains. Under a beautifully clear sky. As far as the eye could see. The Himalayas bathed in the soft glow of sunrise. It was a sight so awe-inspiring and I felt a presence and majesty so completely overwhelming I was left breathless. I was struck with wonder at this impossible beauty outside my window and overcome with gratitude for my own good fortune to be witnessing it. I am not a religious man, but in that moment I can tell you truthfully I felt the touch of the divine.

Himalayan beauty

Looking out at this view, I had an idea. Music! Yes! This scenery deserves a soundtrack. I plugged my headphones in… Dirty Deeds by AC/DC came on random. No… not quite the mood I was looking for. Fall of Rome by James Reyne… guh. Definitely not. Material Girl by Madonna… *blush*. Taking matters into my own hands, I selected a song from my childhood which was perfect for an aerial view of snow-capped mountains.

So, where exactly IS Ladakh?…

Ladakh, located in the far north of India.

Ladakh is located in the far, far north of India in the disputed region between Pakistan, China and India. It is an area with a rich and colourful history, both ancient and more recent. Having moved from being an independent state to being a part of Jammu & Kashmir, Ladakh was incorporated into India in 1947 when the Maharaja of J&K signed the Instrument of Accession, ceding authority over the region to India. There are a number of matters surrounding the accession which are in dispute and are the basis of some of the tensions between Pakistan and India. The ubiquitous military presence in Ladakh (and it IS everywhere) is a constant reminder of the region’s status. But I will leave politics for the moment and come back to it in another post.

On the ground in Leh

On arrival in Leh, I negotiated my way through its tiny airport, past the machine gun-toting soldiers and found myself a cab to take me from the airport to the Students Education & Cultural Movement of Ladakh (SECMOL) Campus near Phey, about 30 minutes’ drive away.

Directions…

My cab wended its way up the valley and, after stopping briefly to ask for directions, we turned off the road. Driving cross-country, I took confidence in my cabbie’s friendly, sure-footed demeanour and the fact that this track appeared fairly well travelled.

Lunar landscape…

I was being introduced to a landscape of an alien beauty – kind of what I imagine the moon to look like. It is a desert climate with very little rainfall and an environment which seems to abhor moisture.

Exhibit A: Shopfront in Leh – yes, that’s a lot of moisturiser. Without it, you’d come back looking like a dried apricot.

That said, there is, of course, the Indus river, which starts in Tibet, runs through this area and on to Pakistan. Rounding a bend, we began the final approach to the SECMOL Campus.

River Indus on the outskirts of the SECMOL Campus

SECMOL, and its purpose and contribution to Ladakh, is a whole story in its own right. But I’ve included a short medley of photos of my time there to introduce you to some of the characters who shaped my stay. I’m very privileged to have seen this place and to have met these extraordinary individuals.

My room at SECMOL (don’t ask about the travel pillow)
SECMOL solar cooker
Chapatis with eco-warrior Neelakshi
Me on top of “Mt SECMOL” looking down on the campus and the Indus
Kia ora, Mt SECMOL!
My partner-in-mountain-climbing, the incomparable Serena
Executive Chef Binoy – amazing guy
Crazy Indians (and one crazy Swede) dancing in the kitchen
Mr Nikunj – changing the world in Mumbai, but still needs proof of his cooking for Mum!

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