Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Kashmir... Landing in Leh

Jammu and Kashmir is the north-western-most Indian state, known both for its immense beauty and its troubled past. J&K, as it's called, consists of diverse ethnic and religious regions. While Jammu, near the Pakistani border, is predominately Hindu, the Indus Valley and capital, Srinagar, is mostly Muslim. To the Northeast of Kashmir is a region known as "Little Tibet," and Ladakh (map). Ladakh is home to a buddhist community not so different from that in the nearby regions of Baltistan in Azad (free) Kashmir, neighboring Tibet, Nepal, and Bhutan. Ladakhis have the features and stature of their Himalayan brethren, and visibly differ from their Hindu and Muslim Kashmiri counterparts.

After reading Three Cups of Tea, a book about a K2 climber-turned-activist who builds schools through out Pakistan's Baltistan region in the extremely rugged Northeast, I was keen on understanding Ladakh. Split by the Indian-Pakistani "Line of Control," running north of Kargil, Baltistan and Ladakh are ethnically, historically, and linguistically similar despite their split national status. The Silk Road once linked the region to Central Asia and the Sub-Continent. Today, political divides leave those in Pakistan isolated amidst spectacular but spartan Karakoram peaks. Leh is linked only by bouldered roads to Kargil and Srinigar, and Manali.

Landing in the Ladakhi capitol, Leh, on a Deccan Air flight out of Delhi, I was reminded of the antics of Maverick dropping below the hard-deck in Top Gun. Narrowly avoiding the arid ridges surrounding Leh, we made our descent, wings paralleling the razors of rock, only hundred of feet of sky between. Deftly sinking into the valley, we touched down in Leh at an altitude of 11,500 feet. My head spun for the first day, but during the course of acclimatizing I managed to finish a book on Ladakhi culture called Ancient Futures. As the sun dipped lower on the horizon, we advanced up the final steps of the towering Leh Palace. Modeled after the Potala Palace in Tibet's capitol of Lhasa, it offered a perfect sunset view over the valley below.

1 comment:

Nags said...

the first pic in this post is mindblowing! how are you scott? :)

- nagalakshmi