Our flight from Delhi took us over a dramatic landscape that seemed to have been carved from sandstone. Small pockets of vegetation and water appeared in the Valleys, leaving me to imagine that the denizens of the Shangri-La of legend were watching us pass overhead, leaving them in peace another day.
We were warned about the effect the altitude would have on us, but I didn’t really notice until I felt my breathing took extra effort, and my head began to ache. To combat it, we reminded each other to walk as if we were in slow motion, which only heightened the effect of being on another planet as we looked out over the alien landscape.
Leh is full of beautiful people with Asiatic features made brown seemingly by the sun and the wind. Approximately 80,000 Tibetans followed the Dalai Lama across the Himalayas into exile. His summer home in Leh, known as Photang Palace, includes grounds nearby for him to address his many followers in the region (his permanent home is in Dharamsala).
Visiting the ruins of the Leh Palace gave us a sense of history and the chance to look over the Valley’s architecture amidst the imposing mountains. We made sure to wake up early enough the next day to attend the morning prayers at the nearest of many monasteries, Thikse Monastery. The 12-story complex contains numerous stupas, statues, wall paintings, swords and a large pillar engraved with the Buddha’s teachings as well as sacred shrines. It was an oasis of warmth and color in a monochromatic landscape.
Then we all ventured up to the Khardungla Pass, considered the highest motorable pass in the world. At 18,380 feet, we stand surrounded by snow, looking down on a desert.
That trip to the Himalayas offered me a new perspective on the strength of the human spirit, and a new appreciation for the incredible variety of landscapes and ecosystems available on our incredible Planet Earth.