One Snap?

joylani-thumbnail.JPGI admit that there have been many times when I have pointed out the odd tourist to Matt and had a giggle. Purple pants. Knee-high argyle socks with knickers (no golf course for miles). Safari vests when there is obviously no safari. It’s a little bit different being at the other end, when other tourists are entertained by you. So far, this has happened blatantly happened twice during our time in India. The first was by Dharamsala. Matt and I had hiked up to a waterfall and I was cooling my feet in the water while he got us a snack from a nearby stand. All of a sudden I found myself surrounded by 3 or 4 young Indian males who I recognized from a group of vacationers we had passed earlier. The rest of their friends were on a clump of rocks about 10 feet away. “Okay,” I thought, “I guess they just want to check out the water over this way, maybe their sense of personal space is a little different from mine.” But then they started talking to me and it became apparent that this group of tourists wanted to take a picture with me. Not in the mood, I promptly said, “No,” and tried to turn away (which was hard to do since I was surrounded). I told them I was waiting for my husband, which worked to briefly deflect them. Unfortunately, just as I thought they had given up, Matt came back and agreed to take their “one snap” which turned out to be several pictures on multiple camera phones. Oh well.
It happened again yesterday, but this time I was caught so off-guard that I didn’t have the presence of mind to say much of anything in response. I had run upstairs to our hotel room to grab something I had forgotten while Matt waited in the driveway below. I saw them out of the corner of my eye as I hurriedly unlocked our door. Two older Indian gentlemen, sitting in plastic chairs outside of their room down the corridor. As I reemerged from my room, one of them approached me.
“Excuse me please, you from Japan?” Common question, I thought, worth an answer.
“No,” I matter-of-factly stated.
“Oh, haha!” he laughed. “My friend just wants to take one picture,” he informed me as the other gentleman swiftly walked towards me as the first guy, camera in hand, walked further down the hall to get a good shot.
“Um ok, but please be fast, my husband is waiting,” I tried to use the husband factor again to deflect attention.
“Husband waiting, ok. Haha, he just wants one picture,” the second guy informed me. I half smiled, he snapped, and then it was over. As I turned to make way downstairs one of the guys bid me farewell with, “Japan. God bless you.”
Not only was that the first time I’d heard “God bless you” in a while and in that context, but as I walked away I wondered what part of “no” as in, I’m not from Japan they hadn’t understood. Oh well. At least they seemed happy to have gotten their picture, I’m not famous enough to end up in the Enquirer or Star, and in the end no harm was done. But it got me thinking, maybe I need to work on my “snap” collection of the interesting tourists I see?!

Life in Leh


joylani-thumbnail.JPGWe’ve been in and about the town of Leh for two weeks now and plan to stay another week to catch a polo match and the opening of the Ladakh Festival. By now we are familiar with the main part of town and have developed a bit of routine, which, mostly for the benefit of our parents J, I will share below.
Each day begins at about 7am when we easily awaken to the sounds of someone sweeping outside our door, the sun coming in through the window, and often a cow mooing or donkey making whatever sound a donkey makes. I think it’s called braying but it really sounds much more miserable than the word lets on. (Sadly, we also wake up early because we’ve gone to bed usually well before 11pm since there’s not much to do after dark and the dim lighting in our room isn’t too conducive to reading.) I get up and close the window to block out the smell from the daily trash burn outside our window. At about the same time, give or take 15-30 minutes, the water is hot enough for a shower. I take mine first, and then while Matt takes his shower I wash undergarments in the sink. The rest of our laundry is sent out every few days because: 1.) We’re not technically supposed to do laundry in our bathroom (I do the aforementioned laundry because I don’t want a stranger stomping on my undies in a bucket of cold soapy water used to wash who knows how many other people’s clothes, and then hung up in our hotel courtyard for everyone to see) and 2.) We’re too lazy to take it down to the stream. (I did try it though. Once. I took a bunch of dirty socks in a bucket down to the stream and did my best to wash them while local women doing their laundry stared at me, probably critiquing my amateur technique.)
Our bathroom is in the front of our room, with a little window for light and ventilation facing the outside corridor. Most of the window is painted orange to provide some privacy from passersby, but there is a small strip left clear at the bottom of the window (right at eyelevel). I don’t know why the painters didn’t leave the clear strip at the top of the window instead. One of the first things I did when we got our room was scotch tape some pink toilet paper across the clear portion which has worked pretty well so far. The only other problem with the window is it is a little awkward to be doing your business and hear someone walk by, just a foot away from you, but thankfully on the other side of the wall.
In case you are wondering why I wash clothes the same time as Matt showers, well, in my sad little mind I try to hide the obvious sounds of washing clothes with Matt’s shower so that they won’t catch on that I am doing the forbidden laundry in the bathroom. It seems to work, but I’m sure they (the hotel staff) must be a little suspicious that we don’t send out any undergarments to be washed. After I wring out the clothes I hang them up on our makeshift clothesline-speaker wire (doesn’t stretch!) tied between two plastic chairs, to dry. Matt and I brush our teeth with Aquafina (even the hotel recommends not to drink the water from the tap), and we lock up our room (deadbolt on the outside of the door secured with a padlock) as we begin the 10-minute walk into the main section of town to our favorite breakfast spot, Pumpernickel Bakery and Peace Cafe.
There are four tables outside and seven inside. We sit inside because the tables outside are always full, except for once when we managed to snag one only to end up swatting flies throughout the meal. The inside has dim lighting, but the teal paint on the walls and colorful lanterns give the place a relaxed atmosphere. Also, much to my relief (you would understand too if you had to listen to the same tape of Hindi music 15 times over in one car ride), as long as the electricity is running, classical music plays in the background. Not Indian classical music, but the Western stuff, like the kind you can get on AM radio, or playing on some college stations at random times. It’s a nice way to start the day at the Pumpernickel. Once I did see a mouse scurry across the floor and under the refrigerator, but the food tastes good and since the place is almost always full, I figure the food must be pretty fresh. I order the same thing each day: muesli with banana, honey, and curds (plain yogurt). It looks a little funky and lumpy, but it tastes great and is healthy too. Matt usually orders either a pancake with lemon and sugar or the set breakfast: eggs (little ones with yolks that are a pale yellow-gray, he gets them hard-boiled), hash browns (more like country fried potatoes only not crispy), toast, and tea.
On days when we aren’t out seeing the sights by jeep, we usually head back to our hotel after breakfast to read and write. There is a little courtyard with some plastic tables and chairs surrounded by fruit trees. We stay out there swatting flies, chatting, and writing until it gets too hot. At that point we’ll go up to our room to continue trying to be productive until we get either too bored or too hungry. Then we’ll, as we like to say, “head back to town” for something to eat or to run errands. “Errands” may consist of buying supplies such as bottled water or toilet paper (not supplied by the hotel), spending 2+ hours at the Air India office picking up handwritten tickets, visiting multiple tour agencies to find people to split the cost of a jeep for side-trips, Matt getting a shave…I know what you may be thinking because I have thought the same thing. That’s it?! We quit our jobs to travel around, and now we’re just going through the days eating, sleeping, and hanging out?!
I admit that this isn’t quite what I had imagined for this part of our trip; I thought maybe we would be doing a little bit more, but I’ve reasoned that it’s ok. Having exhausted the nearby gompas, Buddhist monasteries, (or is it that I’m exhausted of seeing them rather than that we’ve seen them all? J) and gone on a few jeep trips to see the areas surrounding Leh, it is nice to have a block of down-time to think through everything we’ve done so far. Matt and I have finished up a rough plan for the rest of our time in India, compiled a few photo albums which we’ll post as soon as we get a decent internet connection (aka arrive back in Delhi), and each of us has had plenty of time to catch up on writing, something that’s hard to do when you’re on the road or site-seeing back-to-back days. Even though waiting an extra week just to catch the beginning of the Ladakh Festival is longer than we would have preferred to stay in Leh, being able to catch up on the aforementioned items has been good (and hopefully the Ladakh festival will be good too!). In the meantime I’ve stopped having dreams about finding a new hotel room (we usually look at at least 2-3 places before deciding where to stay). It has definitely been nice having one place for the last two weeks.
The sun starts to set just as dinnertime rolls around; deciding where to eat dinner, Matt and I throw around the names of the few restaurants we’ve deemed worthy of our pallet. Leh View? (Service is slow but the Kashmiri kahva tea and the view are nice.) Grill and Curry? (The food is ok, but seeing the waiter using the public urinal [see next paragraph] was a little strange.) Pumpernickle? (Not again!) We finally decide on a place to go. Once at the restaurant we give the menu an obligatory once over, even though we usually already know what we will order. Having had too many bad bowls of fried rice and strange tasting chow mien, Matt and I are slowly coming back around to eating Indian fare for dinner. Chicken tikka, dal, paneer and naan have become our staples once again. Since almost all the restaurants cater to the tourists, most have a “continental” section on their menu which we avoid at all costs. Selections include: Maxican beans, pinecakes, soushee…One time I ordered chocolate pudding, which turned out to be a bowl of hot fudge. It was tasty, but not quite what I had anticipated. At least by ordering local cuisine, we know more of what to expect.
After dinner, and maybe some internet, we head back to our hotel. To get back, we must brave the shortcut, or Poo-poo Alley as I have affectionately named it after an alley by where I used to work in San Francisco. It’s ok in the daytime when you can easily spot where a donkey has been and avoid the mud puddles, among other things. But in the dark without a flashlight, navigating our way back is a little bit more challenging. The shortcut is really just a side-street; some parts are just wide enough to fit a car and a pedestrian, if you stand close to the wall. A polluted stream flows alongside the path, attracting donkeys and mangy dogs that sip from the water and rummage through the trash that collects on the rocks. Just off the main road about 30 yards from the last set of shops (including Penguin Bakery, which has the best bread rolls in town), the Alley passes by an open lot on the right, surrounded by a stone wall. There is a wooden door, but I don’t think anyone uses it for anything other than a urinal. (In addition to the unmistakable smell of urine, we’ve seen several of the local fellows using it as the spot to relieve themselves as many of the restaurants and shops don’t have their own restroom, and, anyways, male public urination is common in India.) I try to walk by this section as fast as possible, holding my breath at the same time. Various other points have a similar odor, and I try to avoid stepping in anything that has trickled into the road. Further down the road we pass by simple homes and driveways to various guesthouses. (One of my favorites is the Auspicious Hotel, where “hospitality is our slogan.” Gee, I sure hope so. You’re a hotel for goodness sake.) Today we passed by a dead dog, kinda freaky. Unlike the Poo-Poo Alley back home though, I have yet to see a syringe. Luckily, even on the nights when we’ve forgotten our flashlight, Matt and I have had no incidents involving the Alley’s namesake. Nevertheless, we never know what we will see during our daily walks to and from town.
And that concludes this little section on our life in Leh. Hope you liked it!

164_6445-4.JPGAs Joylani mentioned, we began our morning routine today by walking to town to grab some breakfast. As we walked, it seemed quieter than normal and when we reached town everything was closed. Not just a fraction of places like the usual Sunday or Monday, but everything. The only places I saw open were two tour-operators, a dhaba, and a restaurant. Besides eating breakfast at the one open restaurant, we asked a few people why everything was closed. We didn’t get any good answers which ranged from maybe there was a special puja going on to it was an annual rest day (like American Labor Day). I knew it wasn’t a religious holiday, because everything was closed, not just one religion’s shops. With literally nowhere to go, we headed back to our guesthouse.
Back at the hotel, our host was able to explain the day’s mystery. On this day in the early nineties, violence broke out between the Muslim and Buddhist communities. Rioters burned buses and vandalized shops, many people were injured, and three young men were killed. So today is a memorial day of sorts, although he also told us everything would open at around 2 pm. He said very few people know the reason behind today’s state holiday, because many of them weren’t here 15 years ago. But he said he remembers everything clearly because as a Muslim he was very scared. He fled predominantly-Buddhist Leh for Srinagar with his family, until things calmed down.
Also, as Joylani mentioned, we have about another week in Leh (we’re waiting for the opening ceremonies of the annual Ladakh Festival, after which we’ll leave). Being a small city and having seen almost everything in the surrounding region, I am kind of dreading spending another week here. But I think it could be good for a couple of reasons. Before I get into those though, from a realistic perspective we first have to consider our alternatives. The alternative being heading for south India now, instead of in a week. That would be fine, except we have to be in Trivandrum to catch a flight in mid-October. So we can either be here for a week or somewhere in Kerala for a week. Either way, we’re going to have some time to kill before mid-October. Leh’s not a bad place to chill out and plus, until we reach Kerala, we’ll be traveling every few days for a month. So having a few days to tie up loose ends before a month of hectic travel is probably okay. So from a pragmatic standpoint, there’s probably no better alternative.
But like I said, I still think this week could be really good. A week of “nothing” can be good. It may challenge our patience (which India already does anyways) and help us work on just being content- not needing to be on the move constantly seeing and doing new things to sustain a “travel high.” Most of the world has routine, if not boring, daily lives and it’s not going to hurt us to chill out in the Himalayas for a week. And lastly, our trip was partially motivated by the prospect of having time and spending it together. This really is like a honeymoon in the sense that we spend all our time together, just hanging out and getting to know each other even better. We’ve never had this much time together and we probably never will again (until retirement), so we should make the most of it, if not enjoy it.

Have you heard the news?


joylani-thumbnail.JPGMatt and I just got back from a three-day side trip to some of the more remote places outside of Leh. After eating our first good meal in a while, the first thing Matt did was buy a couple of papers. Since it was a weekend, the papers were two days old (no incoming flights on certain days to bring new news), but we didn’t care. In addition to the markets (of course), here is some of the news we caught up on:

  • On the discovery of what could be the oldest human footprint found in Egypt, the secretary general of the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities had this to say, “It could be the most important discovery in Egypt.” (Obviously WAY more important than the discovery of the Valley of the Kings, Tut’s Tomb, etc…)
  • Girls streaking in bikinis may be the cause of India losing cricket match to England. (I guess the Indian team got distracted.)
  • 12 year-old boy in Britain to appear in court for throwing a sausage at elderly man. (Matt and I both wish someone would throw a sausage at us. An all-beef frank would taste so good right now…)
  • After yet another fatal accident, the state of Rajasthan is cracking down on overloaded jeeps. In one day police ticketed over a thousand jeeps, each with 25-30 passengers. (And we thought 11 people in a jeep was full!)

We were also enlightened by a full-page advertisement/application for the sailors for the Indian Navy. Traveling in the Jammu-Kashmir region we’ve passed by numerous military check-points, bases, and supply caravans. Observing the height of the soldiers compared to other people we’ve seen doing non-office jobs, we wondered exactly what the selection criteria were. Here is some of the information the recruitment ad had to offer us:

  • Must be unmarried.
  • Minimum height requirement: 157cm (no wonder they’re all tall).
  • Weight and chest should be proportionate.
  • Application should include a summary of sports achievements.
  • Teeth and ear cleaning recommended prior to physical examination.

Road Signs

MattandJoylaniThumbnailDriving anywhere in the Indian Himalayas, one of the first things you notice are the countless safety signs put up by the Border Roads Organization (BRO). Between five and six feet, these painted concrete signs are intended to increase traffic safety (although the usually just increase our laughter). Never mind that most truck and taxi drivers in India can’t read, much less English while driving. Nevertheless, the signs are well-intentioned. For instance, some signs warn of driving under the influence:
If you drink and drive, you won’t survive
Driving with whiskey is very risky
Cars run on horsepower, not rum power

Then there are signs that warn against speeding (although they don’t always make sense):
Speed is a knife that cuts life
This a hillway, not a runway
If you drive like hell, you’ll end up there
If you fly at 90, you’ll die at 19
Better to be Mr. Late than late Mr.
Better to be Mr. Late than Mr. Never
If married, divorce speed

And the commonsensical rhymes:
Don’t be a gama in the land of the lama
Safety on the road is safe-tea at home
Lane driving is sane driving

And of course clever signs with a hint of sexual innuendo:
I like you, but not so fast
Calm your nerve on my curves
Be gentle on my curves

The Nubra Valley


164_6445-4.JPGWe just completed our third and final “jeep-safari” from Leh. This time we visited the Nubra Valley, which is actually a Y-shaped valley with one side being the Nubra River and the other, the Shyok.


Much of the scenery was the same as our other trips (spectacular), but there were some variations. While we’ve seen a few oases that could support small towns or villages, the entire Nubra Valley was filled with small shrubs and trees.


This is probably due to the fact that, besides the rivers and streams, it actually rains in the region. While we were there, it drizzled briefly twice, which is unimaginable in many parts of desert Ladakh. One our first evening there, Joylani and I were scurrying back to our hotel from a walk, because we saw a pillar of rain moving towards us. We later discovered it was actually a huge dust-storm that was moving through the valley. I’d never seen sand stretch from the ground to the clouds like rain before. It made sense though as there were huge sand dunes about a kilometer away from Hunder, the village we were staying in. The dunes were larger than any I’d ever seen in Rajasthan and the main attraction there was to ride the double-humped Bactrian camels.


Aside from the geo-climatic differences, this trip was full of extremes. Sort of. To get to the Nubra Valley and back, we had to twice traverse Kardung-La, the highest motorable pass in the world at 18,380 feet.


Acclimatizing in Leh really helped, as I did not feel any of the effects of altitude sickness when we stopped for a few minutes at the summit. Although having been to all these high passes the past couple weeks has kind of killed the novelty of it all, we still took a photo next to the sign- it’s the highest in the world!


The other extreme we went to was the northern extreme. We visited the village of Panamik on our second day, which happens to be the northernmost point non-Ladakhis can go in India. I asked a chai-wallah there how far the LOC (Line of Control) was, which he told me was 60-70 kilometers. Other than that, we saw awesome scenery and some cool monasteries. Nothing truly extraordinary, but a fun side-trip nonetheless.


Road Workers


164_6445-4.JPGAfter several road-trips around Ladakh, I think I’ve discovered the most miserable job. Road building is the worst possible way to make a living. Much, if not most, of the roads in Ladakh are unpaved. Thus, we frequently drive by road-building camps and crews. The crews are usually all men, although we’ve seen some women too. From what I’ve witnessed, there are many different jobs. One of the very basic ones is breaking rocks. Men with sledgehammers just trying to crack large rocks and boulders. Bring the hammer up and then drop it straight down. They slowly and rhythmically do this over and over until the rock cracks. Then others with smaller hammers come and break the pieces down even more. Breaking rocks all day- talk about an unfulfilling job. Then there are the diggers and shovelers. Forget about the CAT, it’s all done by hand. One person drives the spade into the ground and then another person pulls on a short rope tied to the base of the shaft. Drive, pull, drive, pull. I guess it’s easier and more efficient that way than digging and shoveling by yourself. And then there’s the worst job, that of the tar-workers. These guys just mix small rocks into burning barrels and troughs of tar all day. The mixture is then applied to roadway, which is eventually run over by a giant tractor-roller. Sometimes women constantly wipe the giant rollers, while some just have some rags hanging to mop up the residue. Even with the windows closed, the fumes almost choke us whenever we drive by. And with the exception of a few that I’ve seen wear handkerchiefs, the road workers are just breathing the toxic fumes day in and day out. As if the dry air and high-altitude desert sun aren’t enough. If you’re working near a camp, that’s one thing. But sometimes we see three or four-man crews working out in the middle of nowhere, who try to stop us for water. Imagine doing manual labor in the desert and not having enough water. Miserable. Oh yeah, the minimum wage was recently raised to approximately 2 USD per day.

Joylani: Ok, so I know that there obviously aren’t the same standards for worker’s rights and workplace conditions in India as are in the US, but for a government sponsored organization, come on. It was upsetting to see the conditions the people were working under. How hard would it be for BRO to provide their workers with clean and adequate amounts of drinking water, and for goodness sakes, give them some masks to filter out some of the sludge they have to breathe in day in and day out.

Pangong Tso


MattandJoylaniThumbnailOn the seventeenth two people flaked on us and we couldn’t go to Pangong Tso. We could have gone on the eighteenth, but waited til the nineteenth to go with people we knew. But then one of them got sick, so we were delayed again. Finally on the twentieth we departed Leh with two women that had been looking for partners to go to Pangong. We were a bit delayed on the way out, having first forgotten our permits and then stopping to have the spare tire repaired. We took an alternate route at first, heading south along the western side of the Indus River rather than the eastern route. Apparently there was a lot of traffic on the main road, which was only believable in Ladakh because the Dalai Lama was speaking. I started out in the front and got to know our driver, Sevang, a bit. Between my broken Hindi and his broken English, I understood him to be ethnically Tibetan although his family has been in Ladakh for generations. Meanwhile, Joylani got to know our travel mates, Shella and Stephanie. Shella’s lived all over the world and had recently retired from Doctors Without Borders. Stephanie was a Swiss student who was on the tail end of a multi-month journey from SEA to India.


Before we knew it, we were high above the upper Indus Valley, staring down at the green fields that carpeted the valley floor. Cubic Ladakhi houses dotted the square fields, which were separated by stone walls. It was not long before we summated and were descending Changla-La, the third highest motorable pass in the world. At the summit and along the descent, glaciers and ice mixed in with the rocky landscape. We zigzagged down from the pass, before driving along the bottom of the glacial valley. We passed several villages and a few military camps and checkpoints, but most of the drive was through enormous valleys. At any point during the drive, we could look out and see tons of different mountains. We could see series of peaks rising in the distance, behind the giant ones in front of us. We would pass rocky peaks and then descend into a valley with slopes of eroded shale sliding down, only to emerge at the base of some snow-capped peaks we’d first glimpsed an hour ago. We passed boulder-strewn meadows in valleys that were full of wild horses just grazing, being dwarfed by the rocks around them. The wildlife was pretty exciting to see, as we also saw cows, goats, yaks, and marmots.


By mid-afternoon, we reached Pangong Tso, an amazing sight. Even more so after hours of staring at mountains and valleys. The deep blue water had bands of bright turquoise and light green, which made it look more tropical than central Asian. The Himalayan peaks rising out of the water reminded us where we were though. Since we arrived late in the day though, the glaciers were melting relatively fast which resulted in increasingly large and powerful “streams” pouring down the mountains into the lake. Several vehicles were stopped, the drivers checking out the situation. Then, one jeep attempted the rough crossing and made it. Then another truck tried to cross but got stuck. We watched as the passengers got out and tried to push, rock, lift, and anything else they could do to get the truck going. Watching them, our driver said we’d gone as far as we could- he wouldn’t attempt the crossing. It seemed like a good idea, as Joylani pointed out the stream was growing in width, branching out down the mountain. After about 20 minutes, the stuck truck got unstuck and made it across. Then another jeep tried and made it. Not to be outdone, our driver said he’d try. It was rough, with our jeep falling in and bouncing out of submerged holes in the path. We made it across without incident though, unless you count being stuck for a few seconds at the very end while some helpful observers quickly threw some rocks under our tires. All the vehicles made it across, with the exception of one car which was too small to attempt the crossing.


We drove along the lakeside for about five minutes, until we came to the village of Spangmik. We pulled up to the only official guesthouse, where our driver tried to negotiate a rate for us. However, seeing that we were foreigners, they quoted an exorbitant amount. Our driver pleaded with them to be reasonable and then I did with one of the English-speaking guys, but they wouldn’t budge. Refusing to pay such a ridiculous amount, we began driving back, our driver cursing them as dogs all the way. But just about 200 meters up the road, our driver stopped and yelled at a couple women in front of a small home. It turned out they had a couple spare rooms available, so we negotiated a rate. After checking out the rooms, we dropped off our bags, and headed out for walk. Pangong Tso is in a bowl of mountains, whose glacial runoff feeds the lake during the summer. Consequently, our walk (like our drive) traversed several streams, where we had to hop rock to rock to get across. The scenery was fantastic in a true sense of the word, which I hope my photos convey. A few interesting things about Pangong: 1. At 150 km long and 5 km wide, it is the largest brackish lake in Asia, which accounts for the countless dried-out shrimp shells that lined the beach. Shrimp were the last animal I expected to see in Ladakh. 2. It borders China, so although we were about 60 km from the border, we could see Tibet. In fact, the family we stayed with was half-Ladakhi and half-Tibetan. We got back to the house just as the sun was dropping below the mountains behind us, which was cool because we could see the shadows ascend the mountains across the lake.


We snacked on bowls of Maggie, which tided us over until dinner. Waiting for dinner, we watched the villagers end their days. Two little girls brought all the cows in, while a grumpy old man yelled at the goats. I thought to myself, “This is the farthest we’ll be from home.” A five hour drive from any town of significance, in a village of 60 people, powered by small solar panels on their roofs, and watching the farm animals returning to their pens. Dinner was simple. We sat along the perimeter of the room on their beds, which were straw mattresses on the floor. On the short tables in front of us, we were presented with dahl chavel (lentils and rice), some vegetables, and chapattis. The women just sat and watched us as we ate. It wasn’t too awkward though as one of them had a 15 month-old son, who was pretty entertaining to watch. I’ve never liked any butter tea that I’ve tried, but I thought maybe Ladakhi butter tea made with local Yak butter might be different- I still hate butter tea. Their black tea wasn’t much better, as I learned that Ladakhi’s add salt to their tea. Luckily dinner was pretty good. Despite leaving two full cups of tea, I cleaned up two full plates of food. After dinner we chatted for a half hour or so, until we realized they were waiting for us to finish before they would eat. So we headed to bed. The room looked so good when Joylani and I inspected it earlier in the day. But night was a different story, which I’ll let Joylani recount.


Pangong-Tso, some things Matt left out.
For the most part, Matt does a pretty good job capturing various events throughout our travels. This time he left out a few things that I found to be amusing, so I’ve taken it upon myself to fill in the details :)


We left the tour agency almost on time, impressive. Matt and the driver hit it off and were speaking broken English (driver) and Hindi (Matt) to each other. About 20 minutes later we made a pit-stop at a tire garage to have the spare tire fixed. Good. Our driver informed Matt that the jeep we were in was kharab, loosely translated: terrible. Not so good. As we waited he pointed out a field in the distance where some ammunition accidentally went off a couple weeks before. Nice. The tire was soon fixed and we were on our way again. The driver asked Matt if he wanted to drive. Matt replied (in Hindi), “No, they want to live,” pointing to us three women in the back. The driver laughed. He gave each passenger a Ladakhi name, Matt’s is the only one I can remember, Dorje. We had a somewhat uneventful drive the rest of the way to the lake, and listened to the same music tape about 10 times in a row.


Upon arrival at the lake, our driver helped us to find a place to stay for the night. Options were few and we settled on a family-run guesthouse: two bedrooms, a pantry, and a kitchen/restaurant. Our room had a little goat in it when we arrived. It was only about knee high (smaller than the one-year-old kid who was toddling around the place), and still figuring to what was edible and what was not, as evidenced from its attempts at eating rocks later that night. The driver opened the windows in our room, smiled, and said, “AC.” Matt and I laughed to each other. It was only 3 in the afternoon, but the mountain air was definitely already too cold to warrant any type of AC, natural or otherwise. The outhouse was down the hill, and washing could be done in the glacial stream since there was no running water. I will correct Matt in saying that the room looked good enough, not “looked so good,” as Matt put it. The place was quaint (adobe brick walls, sticks for the ceiling, and of course a picture of Lhasa, a staple of Tibeten decor), definitely had that “village feel,” and the goat was cute. Upon initial inspection there were no visible spiders, I didn’t see any fleas jumping around, and besides, where else would we stay?


the kitchen/dining room
One of the women in our jeep, Shella, a seemingly experienced traveler, had decided to sleep in the jeep instead of the house because, “I stayed in a place like that once and it ended up having fleas that I had the hardest time getting rid of.” She also told us a story about how a Doctor’s Without Borders co-worker had fallen into a latrine when the floor collapsed as she was using it. I let her stories get to me, and by nightfall I was feeling a little bit uneasy about our shelter decision, in addition to being afraid to go to the bathroom for fear of falling in. (The floor did seem a little unsteady.) Matt and I opted to share one twin-sized cot which we pulled out from the side of the wall into the middle of the room. (That’s my logic for making a bed less accessible to bugs, not sure if it actually works, but it makes me feel better.) I dressed for bed, wrapping a scarf around my hair, tucking my pants into my socks and my undershirt into my pants before climbing into my sleep sheet and then sleeping bag, pulling the drawstring tight to keep out any bugs. (If you haven’t caught on to this by now, I HATE bugs.) I awoke a couple hours later sweating from all my layers. That’s what he meant by the AC, I realized. Those mud buildings can get pretty warm inside. Bravely I consented to take off my long sleeve shirt and the socks, but I still tried to wrap myself as snuggly as possible in my sleeping bag. It was only midnight and I had 6 more hours to go until the sun brought its sweet relief from my nighttime paranoia.
Matt and I both had a rough night’s sleep, but thankfully we survived with little incident. There was an oversized grub-worm thing in one of the hotel provided blankets (luckily we had our own), and a few large insects that Matt heroically squished, but no fleas, bedbugs, or a single bite. Even still, morning brought a sense of calm as we emerged from our nighttime enclosure to the fresh outdoors. Breakfast was a simple affair: boiled eggs and chapattis with black tea (the unsalted variety) to wash it all down. I didn’t feel so bad that Matt didn’t finish his tea the night before when, after a couple bites, our driver made a sour face and said his Ladakhi breakfast tasted horrible. His meal consisted of hot yogurt, yak butter, and flour. No wonder it was gross. We laughed and headed for the jeep to settle in for the ride back to Leh.


Still in Leh


164_6445-4.JPGThis morning we woke up at 6:30 to get ready for our two-day trip to Pangong Tso, with our new friends Anderson, Liz, and Reannon. But when we got to our meeting point, we found out that they could not go because Reannon was beginning to experience some of the more severe symptoms of AMS. After chatting for a few minutes, Joylani and I went from tour-operator to tour-operator trying to see if anyone had any open seats going to Pangong Tso or the Nubra Valley. With all the jeeps having already left for the day, and a jeep to ourselves out of our budget, we were left with yet another day in Leh. But Leh isn’t so bad and we’re feeling more and more comfortable here. We have a handful of good restaurants and bakeries that we rotate for our meals and snacks. Joylani knows where to find her muesli with curd, while I know where to find day-old newspapers (two days old on weekends or if flights are disrupted). And while we send most of clothes out to be washed, Joylani went down to the stream to wash our socks where some other dhobis (who continually stared in amusement at us the whole time we were down there) wash clothes. And having been here for a week now, we know some people too. Its kind of cool running into other travelers we’ve met or Leh residents we’ve met walking around town. Even though we’re eager to get out and see some stuff, Leh is feeling more and more like home.

Ahhh…Hot Water at Last!


joylani-thumbnail.JPGMatt found us a “home base” for while we’re in Leh. It’s a little hotel a pleasant ten-minute walk from the main part of town where the restaurants and shops are. I like it here because it is quiet, there is a nice view of the neighbor’s garden and surrounding mountains, and the water is SO HOT in the mornings. (Most hotels here have a water heater in the bathroom that you have to turn on 5-20 minutes before you bathe, and often the water, if it even gets hot, runs out before you’re done. Our hotel has one heater for all the rooms that gets turned on in the mornings and doesn’t run out until the afternoon, by which time we don’t need hot water anymore. (If we did, the hotel would bring us a bucket of hot water.) To make things even better, the hotel owner is very friendly and at night time guests gather in the restaurant lobby to talk and the owner sits with them and seems to be having a great time. To appreciate this, you have to realize that the type of hotels we have been staying at are small, about 8-15 rooms, and the price is always negotiable. The owner is often the guy you see sitting outside the lobby all day, and there is often at least one or two hotel staff (or servants) who take care of maintenance, etc. Sometimes the owner is very gruff and business-like, sometimes they are pushy, sometimes they are friendly, but rarely have I met one who truly seems to enjoy his job, such as this owner. It makes our little hotel such a happy place to stay. Being at one place over the course of our time in Leh is definitely a breath of fresh air after moving hotels every night or two. And the hot water isn’t bad either.



164_6445-4.JPGI’m discovering that one of my favorite aspects of long-term third-world travel is spontaneity. Traveling long-term frees us from any time constraints, while being in the third-world removes most budget constraints. Today is a perfect example. We met up with our friends Anderson, Liz, and Reannon (from the Manali-Leh jeep ride) for breakfast to discuss doing a jeep safari together later in the week. After a long breakfast full of conversation, we headed to a tour operator to book a jeep for two days later. After working out the details, the man asked us, “What are you doing today?”
“Uh, nothing really.” “We don’t have any plans.”
“Have you heard of Lamayuru?” he asked. He continued to tell us about the ancient monastery, along with the nearby ones at Alchi and Likir. “You can see all these today.”
I looked around at everyone in the group, “I’m down if you guys are down.”
Everyone echoed that sentiment to each other, “If you’re up to it, I am.”
“Dude, lets do it then.” Thirty minutes later, we were on our way to Lamayuru. Like the ride from Manali to Leh (and all of Ladakh for that matter), the scenery was amazing. We stopped briefly on the way to see where the Indus and Zanskar rivers merge, which was interesting and I only mention because the two rivers are different colors. Besides those things, we saw lots of military camps and a couple road-building camps. Although relatively far, the drive only took three hours, due to most of the road being paved. This is a result of the road passing through Kargil farther west, a town that sometimes receives a random shelling from Pakistan.


After driving through a region known as “moonland,” we arrived at Lamayuru. The valley was an oasis of green within the Martian landscape, with the gompa (monastery) perched atop a hill, only to be dwarfed by the surrounding ranges. In addition to being quite scenic, the monastery’s significance lies in that it’s the oldest in Ladakh, dating back to the 10th century. Stones with Tibetan or Ladakhi inscriptions were piled everywhere and the dozens of wooden prayer wheels still spun gracefully. I’m not a huge gompa enthusiast, so I’ll skip a lot of description. On the way back, we stopped at Alchi, renowned for some of the best Tibetan artwork in the world, which consisted of the entire interior being covered in paintings of Buddha. I was happy to just see one of those Tibetan sand “paintings.” I’m not sure what the real name for it was, but it was a circle of different colored sand organized into intricate patterns, designs, and pictures- amazing. The last gompa we visited, at Likir, was closed, but was incredible to look at nonetheless.
Although I skipped a lot, today was awesome. The best part of it all is that we weren’t going to do anything today. We were just gonna eat breakfast, book a jeep, and then try to kill two days. Instead of spending a non-eventful day in Leh, we saw new and amazing landscapes and thousand-year-old monasteries. I love spontaneity.