La Dags: 'The Land of High Passes' is where the name Ladakh has been derived from. As you ride over the barren land towards the grand valleys of Kashmir, you will observe the change in terrain, in weather and also sense a change in customs and beliefs of the locals. Sheetal Bidaye guides us through this change, over a ride from central Ladakh towards the more hidden parts on its west.
Perfectly Paved Tar Stretches Out Till The Horizon
Leh to Alchi
Farms On The Way To Alchi
The well paved roads of Leh city lead you towards a smooth tarred highway. It is this highway that connects Leh to Srinagar. Vast open flat-lands, snow-capped mountains standing strong at a distance, blue sky and pleasant weather lift up your spirits as soon as you set off on your bike from Leh. Riding here might seem to be a fairy-tale compared to the bumpy rides on boulder strewn paths that had you experienced earlier.
About 68kms from Leh, across the road from a village named Saspol, on the southern banks of the river Indus, is an ancient centre of learning named Alchi Choskhor, meaning ‘Religious Enclave’. Situated on top of a hill, with the view of a valley dotted with tiny farms below, Alchi has quite a scenic location.
Alchi Choskhor Monastery
Riders Joy: On your way to Alchi, you come across some wonderful experiences. After riding for about 50kms from Leh, you will come across an astonishing sight. As you stop to introspect, you will find drivers trying to maneuver their vehicles around a demarcated spot in the middle of the road. As you may wonder, in irritation, what idiocies they would be up to, your eyes fall upon a bright yellow sign-board which reads ‘Magnetic-Hill’ in bold. As you read what it has to say further, you will know that the idiotic seeming drivers were only following instructions off the board!
Magnetic Hill Board
The powers of the Magnetic-Hill are debatable, as experts say it is only an optical illusion while others swear by its magnetic powers. Cars, if parked in the marked box, are said to be pulled up-hill and aircrafts are forced to fly higher while flying past to avoid the hill’s magnetic force. Trying to find out the secret behind this might be difficult on a two-wheeler, yet is worth a shot!
As you ride along the mountainous stretch, you come across a delightful sight which will force you to stop and take pictures. On your left, deep in the gorge below, you will marvel at the spectacular confluence of the sparkling, turquoise Indus and the great grey of the Zanskar. The view of ‘Sangam’, as the site is called, will remain etched in your mind forever.
Coloured Waters Of Indus And Zanskar Blending As One
What you can do there:
Staircase Carved Out On A Tree Trunk; Colourful Murals At Alchi
Alchi has a splendidly colourful monastery which houses two main temples, the Alchi Du-Khang and the Sum-Tsek apart from four others. The temples are decorated with clay statues, sculptures and paintings. Murals and images of tantric deities locked in sexual union, apart from chortens and stupas are found all around the complex. Of the many chortens you have seen, here you find an unusual one, the Ka-Ka-Ni as it is named, is a chorten which lets you walk right through it. Decorated with murals, it literally means ‘the hollow entrance’.
At Alchi, one can easily spend a day studying the frescos and murals which have been remarkably preserved. Inscriptions in the temples speak of two noblemen, Kaldan Sherab and Tsultrim Od, who got the place structured during the 11th century. Though Buddhist, the architecture is different from the Tibetian influence found in monasteries all over the Himalayan region.
Buddhist art has long been effaced from Kashmir by Brahmanism and Islamists, yet at Alchi, we find the perfect example of what must have once been the Kashmiri style of Buddhist iconography.
While visiting the monastery, do carry a flashlight along as the monastery is not lit with electricity to avoid damaging the paintings and for the same reason, cameras are not allowed inside.
For the traveller:
Tasty And Healthy Local Food - Thukpa
A small village surrounds the Alchi monastery where comfortable guest-houses are found. Local meals served are mostly the momo-thukpa combination unless a Continental fare is preferred. Due to Alchi being an attraction to many foreign tourists, the village has come up with many small cafes and don’t be surprised to find one with a billboard saying ‘Chilled Beer’ right across the monastery!
P.S. The sun shines rather brightly at Alchi, so don’t forget to pack in a sun-screen along with a sun-cap.