A Trip to Ladakh village

Monday, December 28, 2009

When we were planning our trip to Ladakh, what drew us to the idea of doing a homestay was the simple yet powerful concept behind it. The Snow Leopard Conservancy encourages and trains local families to welcome tourists into their houses for a very nominal fee. The money thus collected serves as an additional income for the local people. This additional income not only increases the communities’ stake in protecting wildlife, but also offsets the losses that these villagers incur due to livestock depredation by snow leopards.

Completely sold on a homestay, we managed to combine it with our two-day trek in the Rumbak Valley. Although a relatively easy trek, the altitude and the intense heat made it an arduous task. One normally does not associate heat with the mountains, but Ladakh being a cold desert, experiences extreme weather conditions.

The trek itself was a gradual climb and our path was along a river, which apart from providing a picturesque backdrop was a welcome relief from the heat. The first signs of the village were fields that gradually grew in size as we climbed further up. Our first and much needed pit stop was at this little shop that had a white canvas stretched across a pole to cover a small wall that was the enclosure. It was a struggle to get ourselves up as we did have to walk a little more to reach the village we were staying in.

The village was nothing but a collection of a few brick houses, spread out, overlooking the fields. It had a deserted look, as most people were out in the fields. Once inside a narrow corridor opens into a big room that housed the kitchen and the common area where the family have their meals and watch TV. Ladakhi kitchens are very interesting and maybe the one distinct characteristic that distinguishes their homes from any other. They have a variety of brass and steel vessels that are all displayed. The prosperity of the family is judged by their kitchen and the number of vessels on display. The lady of the house made us some gur chai or the traditional Ladakhi butter tea. It’s made of butter and is salty, almost like a soup, but it keeps the body warm and is a great source of energy.

Stating that every mountain in Ladakh is beautiful and different from the other is stating the obvious, but one cannot imagine that masses of rock and soil can look so spectacular. Add to it the clear deep blue skies and a touch of green and nothing can make it look any better.

Dinner was a simple affair, comprising rice, dal and potato subzi. We were also offered some Chang or the local alcohol that has a distinct fermented taste.

To experience what a simple life it is, one has to go and live in a village. But simple does not mean easy. Village life is very tough and villagers work extremely hard to earn a living. But yes, it’s uncomplicated as compared to our hectic, on-the-move city life, where unknowingly we miss out on the finer things in life.


Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Jammu & Kashmir, the state endowed with stunning natural beauty is regarded as the ‘Crown’ of India as well as the ‘Heart of Asia’. Geographically and culturally, this northern most state of the country can be divided into three distinct regions. The hilly plains of Jammu lie in the south, the high altitude desert region of Ladakh is in the north, And in the middle like a dazzling jewel in the crown, is the mountainous valley of Kashmir. The mountainous state is traversed by six mountain ranges – the Shivlik, the Pir Pinjal, the Great Himalayan, the Zanskar, the Ladakh and Karakoram. Three great rivers – Indus, Jhelum, Chenab and Ravi along with a number of tributaries flow through the state. the lofty snow-clad mountains, verdant valleys, rampaging rivers, wonderful waterfalls, lovely lakes, lush green meadows, spectacular scenic beauty, ancient shrines, magnificent forts and palaces and above all the beautiful people have made Jammu & Kashmir a paradise on earth and one of the most popular tourist destination since time immemorial.


The area known as Jammu and Kashmir came into existence when the Mughal Emperor Akbar invaded Kashmir in 1586, led by his general Bhagwant Das and his aide Ramchandra. The Mughal army defeated the Turk ruler Yusuf Khan of Kashmir. After the battle, Akbar appointed Ramchandra as the governor of the Himalayan kingdom. Ramchandra founded the city of Jammu, named after the Hindu goddess Jamwa Mata, south of the Pir Panjal range.

In 1780, after the death of Ranjit Deo, a descendant of Ramchandra, Jammu and Kashmir was captured by the Sikhs under Ranjit Singh of Lahore and afterwards, until 1846, became a tributary to the Sikh power. Ranjit Deo’s grandnephew, Gulab Singh, subsequently sought service at the court of Ranjit Singh, distinguished himself in later wars, and was appointed as the Governor or Raja of Jammu in 1820. With the help of his able officer, Zorawar Singh, Gulab Singh soon captured Ladakh and Baltistan, regions to the east and north-east of Kashmir.

In 1845, the First Anglo-Sikh War broke out, and Gulab Singh contrived to hold himself aloof till the battle of Sobraon (1846), when he appeared as a useful mediator and the trusted advisor of Sir Henry Lawrence. Two treaties were concluded. In the first, the State of Lahore (i.e. West Punjab) was handed over to the British, for an equivalent amount to one crore rupees of indemnity, the hill countries between the Beas River and the Indus River; by the second the British made over to Gulab Singh for 75 lakhs rupees all the hilly or mountainous country situated to the east of the Indus River and west of the Ravi River” (i.e., the Vale of Kashmir).Soon after Gulab Singh’s death in 1857, his son, Ranbir Singh, added the emirates of Hunza, Gilgit and Nagar to the kingdom.

Ranbir Singh’s grandson Hari Singh had ascended the throne of Kashmir in 1925 and was the reigning monarch at the conclusion of British rule in the subcontinent in 1947. As a part of the partition process, both countries had agreed that the rulers of princely states would be given the right to opt for either Pakistan or India or — in special cases — to remain independent. In 1947, Kashmir’s population was 77% Muslim and it shared a boundary with Pakistan. On October 20, 1947, tribesmen backed by Pakistan invaded Kashmir. The Maharaja initially fought back but on 27 October appealed for assistance to the Governor-General Louis Mountbatten, who agreed on the condition that the ruler accede to India. Once the papers of accession to India were signed, Indian soldiers entered Kashmir with orders to stop any further occupation, but they were not allowed to expel anyone from the state. India took the matter to the United Nations. The UN resolution asked Pakistan to vacate the areas it has occupied and asked India to assist the U.N. Plebiscite Commission to organize a plebiscite to determine the will of the people. Pakistan refused to vacate the occupied areas.

The eastern region of the erstwhile princely state of Kashmir has also been beset with a boundary dispute. In the late 19th- and early 20th centuries, although some boundary agreements were signed between Great Britain, Tibet, Afghanistan and Russia over the northern borders of Kashmir, China never accepted these agreements, and the official Chinese position did not change with the communist takeover in 1949. By the mid-1950s the Chinese army had entered the north-east portion of Ladakh: By 1956–57 they had completed a military road through the Aksai Chin area to provide better communication between Xinjiang and western Tibet. India’s belated discovery of this road led to border clashes between the two countries that culminated in the Sino-Indian war of October 1962. China has occupied Aksai Chin since 1962 and, in addition, an adjoining region, the Trans-Karakoram Tract was ceded by Pakistan to China in 1963.


The climate of Jammu and Kashmir varies greatly owing to its rugged topography. In the south around Jammu, the climate is typically monsoonal, though the region is sufficiently far west to average 40 to 50 mm (1.6 to 2 inches) of rain per months between January and March. In the hot season, Jammu city is very hot and can reach up to 40 °C (104 °F) whilst in July and August, very heavy though erratic rainfall occurs with monthly extremes of up to 650 millimetres (25.5 inches). In September, rainfall declines, and by October conditions are hot but extremely dry, with minimal rainfall and temperatures of around 29 °C (84 °F).

Religious places

Vaishno Devi:  The sacred abode of Goddess Vaishodevi is perched at a height of 5200 ft. on the holy Trikuta Hills. The cave shrine of Mata Vaisno devi is regarded as one of the holiest Hindu temples of the country. Katra, 48 kms from Jammu is the base camp for visiting the holy cave and is well connected by buses. From here one has to trek a distance of 13 kms, to reach the shrine. Obtain a yatra slip from the yatra registration counter at the Tourist Reception Center at the Katra bus stand, before starting the journey. The holy pilgrimage formally commences from Darshani Deori, at the northern end of the old Katra bazaar. The journey has to be undertaken by foot. ponies or on palkhis or doli(palanquins). Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine board manages the shrine and yatra with great efficiency, making the pilgrimage an unforgettable experience. The entire route is paved, well lit and kept clean. Public utilities, bathrooms, shelters, medical units and shops are located at regular intervals. The holy cave enshrines three natural rock images (pindian) of the Goddess (Mata) in her three forms – Maha Saraswati, Maha Lakshmi and Mha Kali, which represents creative, preservative and destructive aspects of the divine energy. According to legends, the darshan of Mata is rendered incomplete without visiting the Bhairon Temple, located 2.6 kms from the main sanctum.
Amarnath Yatra: Amarnath cave, the sacred abode of Lord Shiva is one of the most important Hindu pilgrim centers in the country. The Holy cave perched at an altitude of 3962 meters is 2 feet long, 55 feet broad and 50 feet deep. It enshrines a unique Shivalayam, which is created naturally by water dripping through  the limestone roof of the cave. The cave shrine can be visited from the first week of july to mid Sept. The State Government makes elaborate arrangements for the pilgrims and are well supported by volunteers. ‘Chhari Mubarak’, the symbolic emblem of Lord Shiva, is – carried on foot by devotees from Srinagar to the Amarnath cave in various stages. The traditional route from Pahalgam to Amarnath via Chandanwari, Sheshnag, Panchtarni is endowed with breathtaking vistas. One can also visit Amarnath from Sonamarg side. The trek to the sacred site is just 16 kmsstarting from Baltal.