I’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.