My Camp with BNHS to Ladakh: 10th - 18th.August 2008
Ladakh lies in a rain shadow region of the east Kashmir Himalayas with most of the region above 3000 metres. The low rainfall results in a barren "moonscape" and the river valleys are green belts surrounded by snow peaks. The snow peaks, towering 5000-7000 metres, change colour with the changes in the weather and the different hues of the sunrays highlight the peaks.
The people are friendly and mostly follow the Buddhist religion. Refugees from Tibet have swelled the local population, as they find the climate and culture similar to home.
The avifauna is more Palaearctic than Oriental. The diversity of birds is not much as in other parts of India, but some specific species are interesting and worth seeing.
Our first day was at Leh, the capital. It is important to acclimatise for the first 24hrs. as the pressure is low and oxygen in the air is 30% lower than at sea level.
For visitors to Leh, strolling in the local bazaar, observing the varied crowd and looking into the curio shops is an entrancing experience.
In the other direction from the bazaar, around the foot of the palace hill, are the stalls of the Tibetan traders, where you can bargain for pearls, turquoise, coral, and many other semi precious stones.
The palace is in the grand tradition of Tibetan architecture and a miniature version of the Potala in Lhasa. It had 9 storeys, but is now dilapidated and deserted.
Next day was the Hemis Gompa. This largest monastery in Ladakh was built in 1630. It is 45 kms from Leh. It is impressive and different from the other monasteries in Ladakh.
Thiksey monastery was next on the list. It is a fine example of Ladakhi architecture. The main prayer hall has a 15 mts. (50 feet) high-seated Buddha. This 12-storey monastery complex contains many stupas, statues, wall paintings and pillars engraved with Buddha's teachings.
The Indus ghat was another site we visited on the first day.
Day 2 was a trip to the highest motorable road/pass in the world. Khardung La, at 18380 feet, was cold and we experienced a mild snowfall on arrival. A beautiful site with snow all over and near freezing temperatures kept everyone huddled in the canteen, sipping hot Maggi soup.
Camp at the Hemis National Park was memorable. Named after the famous monastery, this park is spread out over 600 sq. kms. It has an altitudinal range of 3300-6000 metres. It is in the catchments of the lower Zanskar river, and part of it is the Sumdah Valley. An abundant treasure of natural beauty with mountains, flatlands, deserts and the fast flowing Indus.
The Park is famous for its rare Snow Leopard, though we were not lucky enough. Our sightings were the Bharal, Ladakh Urial, Tibetan Fox and commonly seen birds like Himalayan Magpie, Citrine Wagtails, Rose Finches, Shrikes, Sparrowhawk, Golden Eagle, Redstarts of 2 types, plenty of Warblers and Hill Pigeons. The Chukar Partridge was an added attraction.
The camp at Tso Moriri was a tough one. This lake, in the Rupshu Valley is at a height of 4500 mtrs. with the most inhospitable weather conditions. We had to brave a night of freezing temperatures along with gale force winds at almost 70 kmph. (Wind chill factor becomes almost -5c). This lake is the breeding ground of Bar Headed Geese. Also seen around the lake were Ruddy Shelduck, Brown Headed Gulls, Sand Plovers, Ibis Bill, Stilts, Terns,
Alpine Swifts, Oriental Dove, Red /Yellow Billed Choughs, Tickells Leaf Warbler and plenty of Hoopoes and Larks. On the way to and from the Tso Moriri we saw the Black Necked Crane. (There are strict directions not to disturb them) the Lammergeyer and the Common Merganser. In the nearby smaller lakes were the Pied Avocets and Northern Pintails.
On the way back to Leh, along the Manali-Leh Highway, we spotted herds of Yaks, Zhos, Tibetan Wild Ass, plenty of Marmots and Pashmina Sheep. We cross the second highest pass in the world, the Tanala La Pass at around 17000 feet and enter the homestretch to Leh.
The fascination of the place, the people, the wildlife and the landscape are reasons enough to venture there and the pictures speak for themselves at this link.
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