Travelogue Ladakh


Part 3 – Ladakh 1, Leh - Matho - Sham-tour

( map)

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English is not our native language, so we apologize in advance for translation- spelling- and grammar errors

Day 12 - Sunday, June 12

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Jan did not sleep well this night. The whole night he had a heavy nose bleeding. Due to the height perhaps? In the morning a group of Dutch guests arrives in the hotel. They're going to do a trek.

The tour guide has a oxygen/saturation meter. It is easy to see on the meter who has just been flown in and therefore is not yet domesticated and who is already adjusted to the new environment in Ladakh. Saturation values that will bring you in hospital in Holland, are normal here on arrival.

Anywhere in India we´ve been to till now, you greet people by saying Namasté. Here in Ladakh the right word to use is Jule / Jullay (pronounced joo-lay). ... ...

We haven´t planned a lot of activities for today. We sit on the balcony for a while and enjoy the view. When it becomes too hot to sit there we leave for Leh. Leh is a nice town to walk around. Tibet is not far from here and through our eyes the Ladakhi resemble a lot like Tibetans.

There are many shops. It is not difficult to find some fine souvenirs here. We buy bracelets from an old woman. She doesn´t mind when we take her photo. We buy a wooden box and some junk. There is a market and the sheep heads are hanging outside the meat shops with of course a lot of flies on the flesh.

We need money . Therefore we are looking for a ATM. We find only one ATM in the city centre. There is only one machine. In front of the ATM is long queue of men waiting to get money. When we look closer we see that there is a second row. De second row is for the women only. We find it illogical, but well it's their system so we adapt. The row of women is shorter but that is no guarantee for a quick enter. The choice for the next to go inside produces much bickering. If two men enter together the women get angry and when two women try to go together the men get angry. When it is your turn, there is always someone who tries to slip inside with you. A silly system but eventually we get our money.

Internet is down in Leh and also our phone has no coverage here (vodafone).

So we are deprived of information We never had experienced that in India before. We have dinner at our hotel.

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Thundup joins us in the evening. He wants to talk about the program we´ll be doing next day . We would like to go and visit his family in the village Matho (about 25 km outside Leh). There is a monastery in Matho too. Thundup likes the idea. He is never at home during the tourist season so it will be a great opportunity for him also to meet his wife, son and parents again.

At night in bed we watch the pictures and movies we made till now on our little laptop. 

Day 13 - Monday, June 13

At 9 o'clock we leave the hotel with Thundup and another man. First we visit the Abbey of Matho( map)  It's a beautiful 16th century monastery situated on a hill overlooking the village. A monk gives us a tour at the monastery. We witness the beauty of Buddhist culture in Ladakh.


There is a very old praying hall but they also decorate a new praying hall in the monastery. The big Buddha statue is already placed but the eyes are not yet painted. That moment is saved for the opening ceremony. The paintwork is done by special paint artists from Nepal. The monk talks al lot about Tibet.

The monk let us realize how many art treasures and ancient monasteries have been destroyed in Tibet under Chinese rule. And how Terrible it was for all those who have experienced the misery of the occupation.

After visiting the monastery we go to the house of Thundup. Very nice! There is a large living room with kitchen area where the whole family joins all winter. They live here with 9 persons! We are welcomed with butter tea, chai black tea and delicious cookies. Later, Thundrup and his wife offer us momo´s (is a type of dumpling, a traditional delicacy in Ladakh) vegetables and rice. All very tasty. Hospitable people! In the winter-kitchen annex living room is a large, very nice stove. The stove is for cooking but also for heating in the winter as the family collects around the stove. It looks nice, but you can imagine that it not always easy to be locked up with your whole family for several months. The family has an entire winter supply built.


The family is in possesion of 2 cows and a herd of sheep and goats. In December, January and February the children have holiday from school. In these months temperatures can be -25º Celsius ( -13º Fahrenheit) . There is no heating in schools. Therefore it is impossible to go to school in the winter. In summer the children don't have holidays.

In the spring Thundup plants crops and works in the fields. In the summer he is gone from home, working in Leh as a guide (but also on expeditions in the mountains). In the autumn back for harvest and then home again in the wintertime. The father of Thundup is a shepherd. In the summer he leaves home for the mountains with his sheep and goats.

 In the winter, when everyone is at home, the women make woollen crafts while the men do repair or other work in and around the house. The village is a very close community. When people get married, have a child or when someone in the familie dies, nearly everyone in the village comes to visit. That's about 400 men.

After the extensive Mantho visit we drive back to Leh. We go to out room for some rest. In de afternoon we first go to the local monastery.

There is a polo match in Leh this afternoon. Polo is really a very popular "national sport" in Ladakh. We have never attended a game. Entrance is free. This is an important match. A lady minister will attend the match. So - as can be expected - we have to wait a long time before the minister arrives in a big expensive car and the mach can begin.

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The players introduce themselves. Fanatical youngsters on small agile horses. Shortly after the start of the game there is great amusement as the referee and his horse fall upside down on the floor!

Dignitaries receive cookies, cake, lemonade and water. It's a fast game.

The galloping horses and players are fanatical. The referee is shambling between the players and keepers ride like hell from one side of the field to the other side when a goal is made. The passes often are bad and the ball often is missed, but still, there seems to be a system in the way the game is played. The lady minister is far more interested in cookies and nuts than in this sporting event, but we really enjoy the opportunity to be present at this unique event.

The game ends in a draw, and everyone gets a box by the Minister. We don't have a clue what's inside the box. But for sure it won´t be any alcohol!

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After the match we walk around in Leh. There is finally an internet connection! Nice to hear from everyone at home. The center of Leh is small and there are many tourists. Therefore there are also many restaurant to choose from. We opt for an Italian restaurant with a garden and eat outside in the light of a candle.

We only need a vest here in the evening, unique when you consider Leh is situated at 3500 meters altitude!. We eat for 155 rupees pp, which is about 2.25 euros (pasta, mineral water and a tea). Many dogs wandering around in the streets. They form real packs. Many dogs are crippled. The dogs are tolerated but are not taken care of. Too bad there is no medical care for the animals

Day 14 - Tuesday, June 14

The next three days we make a tour in the Sham Area (north west of Leh   map)

We are picked up at our hotel at 8.00 am by Tsewang Thinles a young guide who later turns out to be an excellent cook and Jigmet Namgiyial the driver. We use a 4WD Toyota again. Today we will drive from Leh to Lamayuru. It's a wonderful trip. The scenery en route is reminiscent of the Atlas Mountains in Morocco. The same kind of colors too. We make a stop at a place where we have a nice view at the point where the Zangskar river joins the Indus River. One clear river, the other cloudy and full of mud. Fascinating to see the two rivers flow together.

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We visit the famous Alchi klooster built in the eleventh century (3100 m).

It's a beautiful monastery complex which is managed by monks from the Likir monastery. The monastery was built by master Rinchen Zangpo (958-1055), also known as Lha Lama Yeshe O'd or Mahaguru. He was a principal translator of Sanskrit Buddhist texts into Tibetan during the second diffusion of Buddhism in Tibet. He is said to have built over one hundred monasteries.

 The monastery contains the most beautiful wall paintings and clay statues of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas throughout Ladakh. Unfortunately we cannot take pictures inside, not even without flash. Monks are busy making butter figures for the full moon ceremony tonight . Many different gods and Buddha figures are very nicely decorated. We donate a monetary offering to the God of compassion. This God could use some extra power and influence! ... ...

We drive along many ravines, but Jigmet drives very carefully so we don´t have pinched buttocks. We pass through the Indus valley and over the "Magnetic Hill", a hill which - falsely - proclaims to have magnetic powers , strong enough to pull off cars up and disrupt the radars in aircraft.

At noon we stop at a restaurant for lunch. To our surprise, the meal doesn't come from the kitchen of the restaurant but from the boot of the car. It appears that the mother of Thinles has cooked for us and her food is now served to us at the terrace of the restaurant. Rice and vegetables served in various containers . Great, what a surprise and how delicious!

After this surprise lunch we follow our beautiful route to the monastery of Lamanyuru ( map)

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We make frequent photostops, but that is no problem. Thinles and Jigmet give us all the time we need. They are very nice people to travel with!

Lamanyuru (3470m) is beautifully situated on the mountains! It is the oldest monastery of Ladakh, also from the eleventh century. We are driving to our guesthouse, moonlight hotel, uniquely located overlooking the monastery, simple but good.

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In the afternoon we drive to Fotula pass (4100 meters). Lovely weather. Winding roads, hairpin bends, beautifully decorated trucks, stray donkeys and sheep.


Very nice!

We stop on top of a hill and enjoy the view. All around us mountains, all above 7000 m altitude. Lots of wind and waving flags. After this great tour we go to our hotel.

Not much later we walk to the monastery.

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Enchantingly beautiful, very old too. Monks are at work. They have a lot of fun together. The unique Sengge Lhakhang, the most ancient original temple in the village dated from the time of Rinchen Zangpo (see Alchi). We visit the meditation caves.

We fool around with some young monks who had just came outside from lessons. We give them a couple of bouncing balls. In no time, the balls fly over the courtyard and the screaming and smiling monks are running after the balls trying to catch them. Always a success those bouncing balls.

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Back in the room Thinles and Jigmet bring us some tea and biscuits. Thinles later knocks on the door: dinner is ready. There is a restaurant, but outside is a table covered for two. How thoughtful and caring they are again. Lovely day today! We even have a few hours electricity in our room so we can recharge. We made many photos and shot a lot of film. ...

How thoughtful and caring they are again. 

Lovely day today! We even have a few hours electricity in our room so we can recharge. We made many photos and shot a lot of film.

In bed we have a small presentation on the laptop.

Day 15 - Wednesday, June 15

At about 9 am we leave the hotel. With pain in our hart we say goodbye to this unique place. But let´s be fair, everything is beautiful here and this day will bring us to yet another special area! The first part of the ride leads us back to the same valley as yesterday. Then we take a turn and drive into the Dha Hanu Valley ( map). Nice gorges again. The valley in the main settlement of the Dards in Ladakh called Drokpa or sometimes pronounced Brokpa.

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The Dards of Dah Hanu are nominally Buddhist but also worship their own Pantheon of gods. They have an Indo-European appearance in contrast to the predominant Tibeto-Mongol inhabitants of Ladakh. They are believed to the descendent of pure Aryan race, migrated to this area via Gilgit around 1000 year ago from Central Asia. They live in very primitive conditions even when judged by the standards of Ladakh.

We drive along the Indus River again. The river is very wild here with a strong current. Several monuments along the road where cars has disappeared in the river memorize the dead. A year earlier they had severe flooding with many casualties in Ladakh. This area has also been hit hard. Traces of the flood are every were. Here and there whole sections of the road and bridges are disappeared in the swirling mass.

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The only way to reach Dha is by foot. It's quite a climb to the village. We violently panting by the effort we have to make and the lack of oxygen.

In the center of the village a number of women and children are eating together under a large tree. We take some pictures, but they are not very friendly here.

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We can´t make any contact.

There would be a guesthouse in the village were we could stay for the night, but it is closed en no one is there to give us some information. So we eventually leave the village in search for an other sleeping-accommodation. Thinles talks with some locals near the road. Suddenly someone comes forward offering his house as sleping place. So we accept.

Our host and his family are nice people and the room is good. In the evening there is even some electricity. In the afternoon we find a nice quiet place outside in a field with view on the Indus river where we can relax. We sit and read a little. This excursion in our opinion could have done in two days because we were ready in Dha at 1 p.m.


Today Thinles and Jigmet made us another delicious meal.

After dinner the grandfather of the family suddenly came in our room with his turning prayer mill. He wants us to make a photograph of him. Later a brother of our host who lives in a house next door brings us a visit. He has heard of the picture and loves it. We need to take photos of him and his wife in his own home too. The house is very old, rather dirty, but very authentic. Ingrid should come to him. He wants to sit with her on the photo. He finds it all very nicely. We get something to drink. It looks like a dirty kind of chai, but it turns out to be cham, a home brewed beer. Very acidic! You should take a bite of the hops with it. Jan burst out in laughing! A cloud of hop leaves his mouth. We have a lot of fun. The brother makes photos of us dressed in their traditional clothes.

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We get the impression that they don´t see much foreigners here and that they like it when they come to visit them. Quite an experience. The brother continuesly offers us drink and food.

When we're back in the room Thinles en Jigmet are anxious! They had smelled that the brother had been drinking beer and are happy that we are back safely!

Day 16 - Thursday, June 16

Another great breakfast. Thinles and Jigmet do their very best to make something good out of it! In a large iron trunk is everything they need to make the meals. This time we have pancakes with honey and eggs for breakfast of. And black tea naturally.


After breakfast the journey back to Leh begins. We drive from about 9 am till 3 pm We stop again for tea, and lunch. Good lunch again, rice, peas carrots etc. very well-seasoned.

Quite a long journey. Some parts of the road is of good quality, others are truly bumpy .The views are wonderful again. 

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In the valley flows the Indus. Again snowy peaks and many military and military vehicles everywhere. The vastness is great. We are relatively close to Afghanisatan, Pakistan and China. We see a lot of military vehicles .The outside of Leh, in our opinion is very dominated by military camps.


In the evening we return to the Italian in Leh. We're both pretty tired. Jan has suffered tinglings in his face. Perhaps due to the Diamox we swallow for better absorption of oxygen in the blood. We decide to stop taking the medication. We had it on their own initiative bought at the pharmacy. 

We had three unforgettable nice days. We've seen a lot and the company of Thinles and Jigmet was very pleasant and unique.