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Report 1932: Ladakh Takes Your Breath Away

By Eleanor from UK, Spring 2011

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Page 5 of 25: Leh - the Capital of Ladakh

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Selling produce in Leh

Leh is the capital of the Ladakh region and lies in the fertile valley of the Indus. It is very green and lush and irrigated by melt water from the mountains. The town is dominated by Leh Palace with Namygel Tsemo above. The crumbling ruins of the old town cluster round the base of the Palace. Small mud brick buildings with flat roofs line the winding streets which are too narrow for cars. Streets have a central drain carrying ‘grey’ water away from the houses. Many of the buildings look unkempt or derelict although the Tibetan Heritage Fund is beginning to restore some of the buildings and build covered drains in the roads.

The newer town spreads out below the old town. There is a one way traffic system round the centre of the town. This is always busy with traffic and no parking is allowed. The cars weave in and out in attempt to overtake and there is much sounding of horns.

Main Bazaar Road and the one running parallel to it to the east are wide and lined with a range of small shops including tourist shops.

There is a fruit and vegetable market run by traders from Kashmir.

Local women come into Leh in the afternoon, settle down on the pavements of Main Bazaar Road and sell a range of home grown produce (salad crops, mouli, turnips).

Along another street, men from the surrounding areas sit on the pavement selling dried apricots, fruits, almonds, cheese, yeast (for bread and beer). They stay in Leh for about a month, renting cheap accommodation, and then return to their village when they have sold all their produce.

It is worth exploring the small alleyways off the main streets. These are narrow and packed with small shops selling shoes, hardware, materials (with separate tailors and dress makers shops), clothes, material for home shrines, traditional dress, religious books, bookbinders, goldsmiths...

There is a bank and ATMs in Leh, although there are always long queues and ATMs often run out of money.

We were struck by the absence of litter and graffiti on the streets.

Further from the centre is more rural and made up of several smaller villages. This is where most of the guest houses are found. There are no restrictions on building new houses and as the tourist boom has increased many people have built guest houses on their land. Houses are more spread out and surrounded by trees and farmland. Streets are narrower and lined by high stone walls.

Willow and Poplar trees grow everywhere. The poplars are very tall and many have lower branches removed. These are used for window frames, rafters and beams in buildings and for scaffolding. The willow branches are used for infill between the main beams. Many of the trees are very old and have been pollarded hard many times.

Land holdings of the different families are surrounded by stone walls. Beyond the fields, the desert begins and the mountains rise steeply from the river valley. In Early June these were still covered with snow which melted rapidly during our 12 day stay.

Grand Dragon Hotel

We were booked into the Grand Dragon Hotel, which describes itself as the only luxury star hotel in Leh and is the best (and most expensive) place to stay. It is on the outskirts of Leh on Old Leh Road. It is a large white building with brown window frames with attached conference centre and banquet hall. There is a small garden in front with chairs and canopies. Entry is into a large reception area with lounge and small shop selling post cards, books and a range of gifts to the right and restaurant and coffee shop down the corridor to the left. There are stairs and lifts to the upper floors. We were dealt with quickly and efficiently when we checked in.

We were given a room on the third floor with views south over the Stok Range (bare rocky mountain sides with dusting snow on top overlooking flat river valley with trees and fields), golf course and a muddle of mud brick housing with prayer flags on the roofs. Rooms on the other side of the corridor had views to Leh Palace.

It was a large room with big comfortable bed, two armchairs, table and desk/working area with flat screen TV above and a hanging area. The bathroom had an effective shower but no bath. There was a supply of toiletries and the towels were good. Both bedroom and bathroom were spotlessly clean. The room was warm.

Internet is available in the room at 200 rupees for 60 minutes.

The dining room has considerable style with beautifully painted woodwork. A buffet with a range of vegetarian dishes and one or two meat options was laid out on a long table at one end. There was high staff presence in the dining room. Staff were very friendly and helpful and explained the different dishes and how they were cooked. They kept us well supplied with black tea and were very concerned we had enough to eat. (We enjoyed the food so much we ate more than enough). We especially enjoyed soup and naan.

Breakfast was a help yourself buffet in the coffee shop, which got all the morning sun. There was cereal, a selection of Indian dishes, eggs and toast.

We had an all inclusive rate. Bottled water was charged 55 rupee extra, but there was no charge for cooled boiled water or tea.

The electricity supply in Leh can be unreliable and would cut out for a few minutes, which made us think twice about using the lift.

We enjoyed our stay here. It was a nice room with a great view. The staff were excellent. We can recommend it as a place to stay in Leh.

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