The mudbrick palace at Leh was the highest building in the world when it was built in the 15th century. To my legs, it still is, but the view is as expected – spectacular. We climb higher still, to the monastery above. They are like something from Timbuktu, these buildings, straight-sided towering walls and a warren of tiny rooms, up and down stairs and corridors smuggled within.
We take a bus, following the Indus river for a few kilometres to the gompa at Thiksey. Up hundreds more steps we come across monks performing a ‘je sharak’ riual, offering grains, woods and incense to a burning dung fire, while chants, drums and horns sound in rhythm. I find it strange that with all the months of long dark winter the ladakhi people endure, they have failed to come up with any more melodious instruments or music, or, come to think of it, any dancing style other than the slow alternating-step ‘dance’. But I guess, where the Ladakhis fall down in creative music and dance, they excel in sheer loveliness. Nowhere else have I been greeted with such consistent friendliness as here – every passerby has a warm, friendly “Julay!”, a smile and a wave. Our stay in this Himalayan township has been so pleasurable that we almost can’t bear to leave.
Tomorrow we take a 10-hour jeep-ride to Kargil, hoping to pass the army checkpoint with no dramas, and then a further 10 hours to Srinagar. Not so fun.