On a journey to Ladakh, in the shadow of the Himalayas, I travel the world’s highest road and come across cultures and religions so diverse – yet they are just a few kilometers away from each other.
Once off-limits, the region welcomed its first tourists in 1994. Ladakh is a high-altitude desert in remote Far North India; It’s a region in the state of Kashmir.; along its eastern edge runs India’s border with China; while to the West is the Line of control, where the decades-old Kashmir dispute with Pakistan continues to play out.
In a predominantly Hindu country, I travel in a region where I find the most intact Tantric Buddhist society left on earth. But I also find untouched Muslim villages along the way. As I drive across the Indus and Nubra valleys, I realize I’m in the middle of something extraordinary. On the rooftop of human settlement, in the most majestic mountain range in the world – the Himalayas and the Karakoram mountains – it takes me a while to grabble with the grandeur and intensity of it all, both in visual and spiritual terms. I feel irrelevant. But I also feel fundamentally alive.
When not in the monasteries, Monks walk across the Grand Bazaar Road, in Leh – Ladakh’s capital and largest town
In the past, Leh was an important stopover on trade routes along the Indus Valley between Tibet, India and China. The Grand Bazaar – its main road – still has the Silk Road ambiance, with locals trading all sorts of goods.
Overlooking the Himalayas, the Leh Palace is an authentic Tibetan construction from the 16th century
Monks at Shanti Stupa in Leh
The old town of Leh
Buddhists in Ladakh are firm believers of the influence of the spirits on their everyday lives. Astrologers and oracles play the key role of mediators between the world of humans and that of the spirits
Ladakhi woman, in the remote Thiksey village – 20 km east of Leh. The traditional headdress is a symbol of economic status, composed of a strap of leather studded with semi-precious stones
The Ultimate Travelling Camp in Thiksey
In Thiksey countryside, in Leh valley, I always find more women than man working the fields
Inaccessible to travelers in the past two decades, Ladakh’s geography protected it from ravages of the Chinese cultural revolution. It contains the most intact Tantric Buddhist society left on earth.
Robbed Tibetan monks each morning sound through Thiksey valley with conch shells
Traditions that go beyond generations in the morning prayers at Thiksey Monastery
A young monk-in- training at Thiskey Monastery. He prepares to serve butter tea during the pray.
We travel across Khardung La – world’s highest motorable pass – at 5,600 meters altitude. It marks the boundary between the Indus and Nubra valleys.
The road to Khardun La.
The road cuts through the rugged terrain in a zigzag manner, leading from one place to another amidst its dramatic mountains and valleys.
In empty Nubra valley – North of Leh – Diskit monastery is perched precariously on a mountain spur much like the famous Tiger’s Nest in Buthan.
Nubra valley from Diskit Camp
Monks in the prayer hall of Diskit monastery after the main ceremony.
The centuries-old buildings of Diskit Monastery are raw and crumbling and falling in one themselves.
After Nubong Ladakh’s eastern edge lies India’s once contentious border with China; to the West, the Line of Control, disputed territory with Pakistan – hence the military presence.ra, we cross the wilderness of Shyok valley.
Along Ladakh’s eastern edge lies India’s once contentious border with China; to the West, the Line of Control, disputed territory with Pakistan – hence the military presence.
Chang ma village, in the very border of India to Pakistan. As we stop to rest, these little girls come up near our motorbikes. There was no hostility in their gaze, just the curiosity of an observer.
Divided by a border, Turtuk village is located a few
kilometers from the “Line of Control” between India
Turtuk is a Muslim village, in a Buddhist region, within a majority-Hindu country. The first tourist arrived in 2010. Ladakh woman in the field.
The culture, language and clothing change quite drastically as we cross over into the muslim town of Turtuk. It was under Pakistan’s control until 1971, when India took over this strategic area. Many locals have their relatives living across the Line of Control, just like this man in the photo.
We traveled to Ladakh from August 3rd to August 9th, 2017. We flew from Singapore to New Delhi with Singapore Airlines and stayed at the Scarlette New Delhi. From there, we connected to Leh with Air India and stayed at The Ultimate Travelling Camp in Thiksey and Diskit.