15 June 2017

Being Leh'd

Leh, in summers, is a town seething with plane loads of package group tourists, bikers and trekkers. They are all planning to go somewhere else. Trekking to Stok Kangri, biking up the Khardungla, driving to Pangong Tso or perhaps even going back to Srinagar to catch a flight home. Few are here to see Leh itself. There's not much to see, a nine storey high Potala replica like Palace and a Shanti Stupa is all one can count on. Its more of a logistics base. Even if one is forced to stay on here, one goes to Hemis, Thiksey or Nimmu, all a short drive away. Or go shopping from the expensive Kashmiri or Tibetan shops.
But that doesnt mean it lacks character. The narrow streets of the main bazaar have seen much history here. The Leh Palace has had more than its fair share of intrigue and succession battles. The main iconic Leh Mosque stands tall like a gargantuan. Its atmospheric roads are filled with bikers of all sorts and bike shops display notices desperately seeking companions and co-riders to Zanskar or Tso Moriri.
Leh boasts of some the most authentic Tibetan cuisine outside of Lhasa.It also hosts a sporadic music fest, that may not be much, but is a beginning.The main street in market is cobbledstoned and is closed for traffic, making it one of the most pleasant strolls one can have with quaint antique stores, a massive bookshop and restaurants. Its roads are lined with neat freshly painted simple white houses (that are now incresingly doubling up as homestays). One can count more birds in its backyards and gardens than the Salim Ali lists.
Ofcourse, one cannot do a live post on Instagram, Periscope, Snapchat or Facebook here. That, it doesn't have a reliable internet connectivity is more of an advantage here, as it remains one of the few places which is beyond the ubiquitous dragnet of Whatsapp, Facebook and Instagram. And most of all, as one walks on the roads of Leh, one is invariably greeted with cheerful faces shouting Jullay! Certainly, Leh has more character that its weary tourists are ready to grant it!
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