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THE ABODE OF LORDS
Jul 18, 2015 06:49 PM 29971 Views

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Yesterday evening we had returned from one of the most memorable tours that we had undertaken. It lasted for seventeen long days and we had covered an impressive distance - from Delhi to Leh to Kashmir. Barring for a short bout of fever that I had suffered near the end of our Ladakh trip, our health coped up with the strain quite admirably.


I have been mentally comparing the beauty of Ladakh with that of Kashmir ever since we have completed our journey. Yes, they are quite different from one another but then aren't ultimately both are hill stations where people flock to escape the heat of the plains? Now if someone asks me to chose(or may be recommend), which one of the two will get my vote? Before expressing my opinion, let me give a brief account of my impression of both he places.


From the moment I had a glimpse of snow clad Himalayas fromthe aeroplane window just before landing at Leh airport till the moment we waved goodbye to Ladakh on our way to Kargill, Ladakh had me in its spell. To speak the truth, initially I was a bit apprehensive about going to Ladakh as I knew that trees are rare there and what is nature without trees? Yes, snow clad mountains can have our attention for a while but would not one be bored by too much of the same monotonous view? But I am happy to confess that I was wrong. Time and again I was stunned at the majestic view in front of me - huge expanse of flat land gradually rising to majestic heights; the mountains covered itself in different shades of brown and grey with the taller ones invariably capped in crystal white snow. And then there was sky - its limitless blueness was soothing as well as dazzling, often  it played the role of a canvas on which the spotless white clouds made its art work.


I was frequently reminded of Lord Shiva while in Ladakh who represents truth and beauty in all its purity and bareness. Shiva is no Lord of the weak - he demands strength and effort and so does Ladakh from its explorers. A traveller to Ladakh should possess a strong set of lungs and sturdy feet. He is required to cover hundreds of kilometers for a glimpse of places of indescribable beauty - be it the ethereal Pangong lake or sublime Nubra Valley. In other hill stations one wait hours for a clear glimpse of mountain peak while in Ladakh whichever way you look - you are served with a spectacle. An awestruck spectator involuntarily lets out the sacred mantram, 'Shiva, Shiva' on facing Satyam, Shivam, Sundaram which is on display there in abundance. There were some beautiful monasteries there too but according to me their chief claim to fame is the view the provided of the surroundings.


Arguably, Pangong Lake is most beautiful place in Ladakh. It is situated over one hundred and fifty kilometers away from Leh and requires a journey of around nine hours by car(both ways). The roads in Ladakh are excellent when compared to that of any other hill station and it was no exception here too but still there were moments when our heart would try to escape through the mouth. The lake is huge in size and the colour of its water would change with the angle at which our eyes would look at it or with the colour of the sky. Its beauty is at its height when there is almost no wind and the water is absolutely still for then it would reflect the image of the mountains that surrounds it and the effect is magical. Initially, we also witnessed still water but after a few minutes our luck deserted us and strong wind started blowing. This disturbed the stillness of the water but the view was still breathtaking. Grey and brown mountains provided a nice contrast to blue water. We all sat at the bank of the mighty lake and tried to absorb the wonderful atmosphere through our senses. But we could not stay for long for in the back of our mind was the concern for remaining journey back to Leh.


In Nubra valley too the time flew a bit too fast for our liking. In a place called Hunder, we witnessed cold desert and rode the famed double humped camels which are mostly found in Central Asia. The view, as usual, was fabulous with sand, mountains and pure blue sky creating a panorama of art which was rare as well as precious. And did I mention the Indus River that flowed through the valley and also gave birth to fair bit of vegetation around it?


No visit to a hill station is complete for people like us unless it involves some frolicking amidst snow and Ladakh does not disappoint in this score either. En route to Nubra Valley we are required to cross the famous Khardungla Pass which holds the record of being world's highest motorable road. On either side of the pass, there is huge layer of snow and people happily enjoyed throwing snow balls at one another there and posing with ice swords which are formed naturally and available in abundance. Similarly, we travelled through snow while approaching Pangong Lake as well - here the name of the pass was Changla and its height too is impressive at 17380 feet above sea level. Later, we got fair amount of snow while travelling through Kargill via Zozilla Pass - lesser in height when compared to the other two but far more thrilling due to its sharp twists and narrow, precarious roads.


To conclude, Ladakh is unlike any other place visited by me till date and probably there is no other place like it in India. It provides out of the world views of mountains and valleys and whichever way you turn, you are faced with a view that you would like to hold in your mind forever. The people of Ladakh are simple and honest and a disarming smile is always pasted on their faces. They are happy people who do not want much from life and are easily satisfied. Their children are extremely cute and will flash their happiness in exchange of just a chocolate. But journey through Ladakh is also demanding on your body. Due to lack of oxygen at great heights, the body is likely to get tired at slightest activity and as such one should take plenty of rest in between long journeys. We also lost our appetite during our stay there and the taste of food in the hotels too were mostly mediocre(with the exception of the one at Nubra Valley).


On our descend from the heights of Ladakh to valleys of Sonamarg in Kashmir, we were greeted with lush greenery which was a welcome change from the rugged landscape of Ladakh. Tall pine trees and green grassland now covered the mountains amidst which horses roamed around happily. We were happy too and both my mother and wife started their shopping spree in right earnest. In the morning, myself and Manisha went for a short lazy walk on the slopes and spent some delightful moments overlooking the valley and soaking in the still mild rays of Sun. Srinagar, however, looked disappointing on first look. There were too many people and too much smoke - the combined effect virtually killed the image we carried of Kashmir in our subconscious. But the things improved the very next day when we made a detour of four beautiful gardens of Srinagar. Flowers and trees lifted our mind considerably and we happily posed in front of flowers, fountains and trees for innumerable photographs. True, our presence spoiled the photos somewhat but how else one could prove that we were actually there to those places? We were most delighted to be introduced to magnificent chinar trees. Their leaves resembled to those of maples and frequently their age were in excess of 400 years. That means they are eye witness to the valour and follies of the mighty Mughals. But these trees are mightier - their heights often exceeded 70 feet and had girth to match it. However, their best feature was the coolness they provided to the tired souls under their shadow.  People repeatedly proclaimed that the breeze under a chinar tree is cooler than one could experience inside an air conditioned room and I can't agree more. In fact, there is no comparison between the two for under the chinar tree one is served with magnificent view of the gardens, fragrance of the blooming roses and sound of chirping of the playful birds - thus not only the body is rested but the mind is also soothed.


Next we travelled to pretty Gulmarg but unfortunately the place is overwhelmingly dominated by much vaunted Gondola rides. Now don't get me wrong - the ride is pleasant and it also provide a grand view of the valley but somehow I feel its importance is overemphasised and people behave as if that is all there is in Gulmarg. To tell the truth, one could spend their hours far more fruitfully by just walking around the place at leisurely pace and soaking in the calmness of the places that are free from the hustle and bustle of Gondola. We utilised this learning fruitfully on our visit to Pahalgaon, perhaps the most beautiful place in Kashmir. Tall pine trees, a river flowing with all its vitality and snow clad mountains in the background - all combined together to give the place a magical air and we happily undertook several long walks there - on picturesque roads as well on the mild slopes. On the way back to Srinagar we stopped by the factories that manufacture cricket bats. While I had plans of purchasing one for Om, I ended up purchasing one for myself too(may be it will also be used by Om only - couple of years down the line). Anyone who has played cricket would know the thrill of holding a cricket bat and once I held one of the heavy and sturdy bats in my hand, I could not let go the temptation of possessing it.


Before leaving Kashmir we stayed for an evening in famed house boat and also undertook Shikara ride in the dal lake. While the Shikara ride was a rejuvenating experience, the stay in houseboat left us feeling a little suffocated as our movement were severely restricted within that houseboat only. However, the decoration inside the houseboat was beautiful and it provided a nice view of the dal lake.


Before ticking off, I would like to mention about the sighting of a bird similar to'bird of paradise'. Now, I know that Kashmir is not likely to have birds of paradise and the colour of the bird that we saw was Snow White while normally birds of paradise are lot more colourful. But the size, looks and elaborate tail of the bird had a striking resemblance with birds of paradise. Myself and Om just had a glimpse of the bird for a few seconds but it would remain in our memory for years.


The people of Kashmir, however, were in a stark contrast with those of Ladakh. They always looked for taking some advantage of the tourists by charging extra for services or selling goods at unreasonable rates. The information provided by them were unreliable too and after having unpleasant experience with them for couple of occasions, we stopped asking them about any information. But looking back, I cannot fully blame them. Tourism is the major source of income for the people there and the season lasts for hardly three to four months. Naturally they look to earn as much as possible during that limited period. Though, the situation in Ladakh is too somewhat similar, there tourism is just taking off and thus there exists ample opportunity for people there while in Kashmir the industry is reaching saturation point and too many people are chasing too few tourists.


So which place is better? Is it raw and rugged Ladakh or the green and colourful Kashmir? Is it the Tandava of Shiva or the graceful moves of Parvati? It depends on your mental inclination really for while Ladakh provides something which is found nowhere else, in Kashmir you would found what is there in all other hill stations and more. If you are a lover of adventure and novelty, go for Ladakh while if you are looking for restful walks and colourful views, Kashmir should be your choice.


But why bother choosing?  Is Shiva complete without Parvati or Parvati without Shiva? Go for both to have a complete view of masculine and feminine aspects of nature for both provide experience worth having and after visiting them you will feel blessed to have born in a country like India which have such boundless natural bounty to offer its explorers.


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