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Report 1932: Ladakh Takes Your Breath Away

By Eleanor from UK, Spring 2011

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Page 17 of 25: The Drive to Lamayuru

photo by Michael

Old Bridge over the River Indus

Lamayuru lies on the main highway from Leh to Srinagar.

From Leh the road runs past the airport, overlooked by Spitok Gompa and across a flat expanse of desert with views of the distant hills. These still had a dusting of snow on the tops in mid June. There is no vegetation or settlement apart from army camps, the Leh Berry factory, small flour mill and a small Sikh temple maintained by the road workers. To the north is the green oasis of Phyang with its Gompa overlooking the settlement. There are some new half built houses lining the road.

Like all good tourists we stopped for Magnetic Hill. If a vehicle is parked on a certain point on the hill and the ignition turned off it begins to move. An optical illusion makes it seem to be going uphill. We weren’t convinced.

The Indus begins to cut down into a deep gorge with the road running above it. We stopped to take photos of the Zanskar confluence where the brown swollen flood waters of the Zanskar river met the paler blue grey waters of the Indus. The Zanskar river is popular with rafters.

Next is the settlement of Nimoo, spread out on both sides of the main road with chortens, guest houses, shops and restaurants. The road continues along the broad valley of the Indus across stoney desert. We drove across a new bailey bridge into Basgo. The previous bridge had been washed away in the floods in 2010 which had scoured out the river bed and brought down huge boulders. Basgo is dominated by its Gompa and remains of the 11thC Palace on a very eroded bluff.

The road climbs up the side of a big bluff beyond Basgo with good views back over the Gompa and Palace, before dropping back down to the valley. It then follows the river valley on a narrow ledge cut out of the hillside. There was excellent new tarmac in places, other parts were rough and very bumpy. There were many people working on the road, although there seemed to be a lot of time spent sitting... All work is done by hand including crushing rocks. There were small, temporary road camps off the road for the road workers to live.

We drove through Saspol, a nice settlement with trees, orchards and a few shops, again dominated by its Gompa. We passed the turn to Alchi with the small oasis of Giara on the opposite bank, surrounded by many beautifully made terraced fields no longer in use.

The road crosses a rudimentary iron bridge with a weight limit and only one vehicle allowed at a time. The washed out road to Rizung ran above the river. The new road goes off later. There are a few resorts along the road before the tiny settlement of Nurla.

Khalse, in a fertile oasis with orchards and farmland, is the main service centre for the area with many small shops along the main street and restaurants. Beyond the settlement, just before the bridge, is a police point where permits and passports have to be shown. The road crosses desert scenery with a huge lorry park and restaurant doing a roaring trade.

The old road to Lamayuru turns off here. The main road (poor surface and rough and bumpy in places) runs alongside the river, up through a narrow gorge, with very steep, bare mountain sides. A small Peace Temple has been built in the bottom of the gorge. The road then turns right, up an even narrower gorge before climbing up through several steep hair pin bends to the plateau above. The soft white rocks of the ‘Moonlands’ are on one side and green fertile oasis of Lamayuru on the other.

The ‘Moonlands’ were formed from a dried up lake in a giant crater-like depression. The sediments are made up of a very soft pale yellow rock and have been eroded into ‘badland’ type scenery.

Lamayuru village and fields lie around the base of the Gompa. This stands on a promontory like spur well above the village with sheer eroded sides. There are many old deserted houses around the base of the Gompa. They are not pulled down, but left as the spirits still live in them.

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