A backpacking trip across India had been ill-timed, and we explored Goa during the monsoon season with its raging seas and empty beaches, trudged our feet through Rajasthan in the sweltering summer heat with temperatures hitting 50 degrees Celsius, visited Delhi briefly before the rains broke and humidity was at its peak.
It was the month of June, and the weather was evidently against us. We had a few weeks left, and desperation saw us turning to the internet: Ladakh was the only destination that turned up as a must-visit during that season.
Our bags packed for the beach and desert rather than the mountains, our first stop en route to the Himalayas was Manali, a popular alpine stop in Himachal Pradesh and home to a main strip of shops that, thankfully, sold sweaters amongst the usual tourist fare.
Appropriate rags in tow, we embarked upon a twenty-two hour shared jeep journey into the Greater Himalayan Range, crossing several high mountain passes above 5,000 metres in elevation. The road traversed hauntingly beautiful landscapes, and I awoke sporadically to scenery that alternated between sweeping barren flat lands flanked by snow-covered peaks, and painfully steep pathways cut into thick slabs of ice and snow as we approached the high passes.
Grappling with mild altitude sickness and a whole lot of queasiness, we arrived in Leh, Ladakh’s principal centre of activity, in the early hours of the morning. Our drive past the villages had been shrouded in complete darkness, and my immediate impression of Ladakh was not one of awe, but rather one that saw me desiring nothing more than to crawl into a bed following a punishing road trip.
The morning after, however, we awoke to a scene that was beyond our imagination. A panoramic dreamscape laid before us, composed of snow-capped peaks surrounding us from all sides. We were nestled in a guesthouse at 3,500 metres in elevation, and the mountains looming over us reached heights of 6,000 metres and above.
The two weeks that followed were a euphoric haze of natural beauty, otherworldly landscapes, serene Tibetan Buddhist chants and the overwhelming kindness of people. These are still the things that bring me back to the region every year, and I continue to be amazed by and grateful for the experiences Ladakh provides me each time.
This is an ode to the Himalayas, a land where earth and sky meet, where the ebbs of life take place in tranquil and stunning valleys, where the rest of the world stops to stare in reverence.