Leh: Known as the “land of high passes”, Ladakh is a kaleidoscope of nature’s extremes — snow-capped peaks to sand dunes, sub-zero temperatures to scorching sun — all sprinkled with barren mountains in myriad shades of brown.
It is difficult to breathe in the low-oxygen atmosphere of the high mountains, especially when the wind blows at 100 km per hour. It is a place where you can get sunburnt and frostbitten at the same time.
But the stark beauty of the region lures visitors again and again, even when snow hides every natural feature, cutting off roads and isolating Ladakh from the rest of the country for nearly six months every year.
“I have been coming here on bike for the last 12 years and still there is much more to be explored. It is an out-of-the-world experience. Standing beside these lofty mountains brings you close to nature,” said Alwyn from New Delhi.
One of the must-see places is Khardung La pass at 18,380 feet above sea level, the highest motorable road in the world.
“It is extremely chilly, especially the wind. But the snow-covered mountains are breathtakingly beautiful. It was worth it,” exclaimed Anjali on reaching K-top, as Khardung La is better known, and wrapping her hands around the piping hot cup of coffee with which every visitor to the army checkpost atop the pass is greeted.
The region is sparsely populated, but one may still come across small villages with terraced farms and grazing cattle as one drives down to the Nubra valley from Leh district.
With the crystal blue Nubra and Shyok rivers rushing through, green trees and sand dunes on their banks and snow-covered peaks above, the valley proves why Ladakh has often been called the land of the moon.
And you know you are in a cold desert when you are offered a ride on a double-humped camel, more famous in the Gobi desert.
To really appreciate how clear the blue sky above is, go to Pangong Tso lake. The shades change ever so subtly as the wind ripples the water of the 135-km-long lake, more than half of which lies in China.
If you ever get there in winter, you can see army trucks parked on the surface, so solidly does the lake freeze over.
Fancy some white water rafting? Try the confluence of the Indus and Zanskar rivers. But it’s not for the faint-hearted. Nor is anything else in this jewel called Little Tibet.