Whenever one of my travel mates mentioned about going to India, I will quickly displayed my reluctance. I was very influenced by the 'Slumdog Millionaire' movie. I don't think I can stand what filth shown in the movie; especially that earlier part where there was a guy wading inside a river full of garbage. And whenever we meet another traveler, they never come up with a convincing story that attract me to India. It was always about severe diarrhea (like they almost die there) or overcrowded attractions and scams. I'm the scam-magnet in our pact so it's logical for me to feel intimidated and scared.
I had a change of heart when a friend of mine who is also an outdoor enthusiast showed me a picture of Ladakh; a picture of a huge electric blue lake surrounded by brownish mountains and there were two horses grazing nearby. It was a rare sight to me; you don't always get to see dry barren mountains as beautiful as what I saw. And I told my friends; if we are going to India it's going to be Ladakh.
That was somewhere in 2013 or 2014. At that time I did some research of how to get there. I remember it was not yet readily accessible to tourists and I've put the idea off because of that. It was at the end of 2015 that the idea of going there popped out again. I was triggered by a documentary that I was watching during one of my insomniac night. It was about a lady journalist who spent weeks moving about the Changtang plateau with the nomads. I was mesmerized by the change of landscape as they shift from one grazing site to another. It was surreal and from experience I then knew, that it would be better be seen by the naked eyes rather than just on TV.
I'm the kind who needs this kind of trigger to have this unwavering determination to get the tickets. So, after that I start monitoring cheap tickets to India and I got RM 399 for KL-Delhi. From Delhi, you can actually choose to go by land or by air to Ladakh. There are two routes by land which will equally take at least 3 days and the cost are more or less the same. But your journey can be further delayed due to road condition such as land slide or due to safety because you will have to go through some parts of Kashmir that are occasionally in tension. We were lucky to have opted to by air because there was an insurgence in Kashmir at that time. We met another group of girls who were in Kashmir before they got to Ladakh and they have to sneak out of Kashmir in the middle of the night to avoid the clash.
The ticket is quite pricey for a domestic flight. And mind you, we picked the high season which is during summer because Ladakh's weather can be unpleasant during winter. From what I saw, it ranges from RM 900-RM 2000 for GoAir, Air India and Jet Airways. I didn't get the cheapest price because there were only two seats left in that flight whereas I needed four. I got RM 1300 return ticket and MR who bought the tickets two weeks before the trip got RM 2000 plus return ticket.
We spent a night in Delhi and took the first flight to Leh the next morning. To my surprise when I arrive in Delhi, the immigration officer insisted to speak Urdu to me. He only stopped after I told him "Sorry, I don't speak Urdu. I'm Malaysian." And then a few days later I learned that there are people in parts of India that has Sabahan features and one of them is Ladakh.
I studied a bit about the Indian side of Himalaya and was impressed with the different sight offered by it from air. The Nepali side of Himalaya is filled with lush greenery, but there from above, they look like sand dunes with patches of snow in some peaks. "Beautiful ey" said the man who sat by the window in our row. He was a Canadian who is going for a hike in another trail. The flight was smooth until we were about to land. As the aircraft descend, it started to vibrate due to the swift moving wind in between the mountains. The Canadian joked, "I hope there is somewhere flat for this thing to land". That something flat was nowhere to be seen. Then the aircraft made a left turn around a huge mountain, the nose continue tilting down and it was slightly shaking. Despite all that, the captain made a smooth landing on the runway. I turned to RA and said, "Patutlah ticket mahal.. Pilot terer ni!"
I was immediately spell bound by what surrounded me. We went to many mountain range in the world but what Ladakh has is of its own. We never seen anything like it! They were so close and colossal, covered with sand and rocks and has delicate ridges whose features change during different sun-phase throughout the day.
The airport was very basic yet efficient. Foreigners were given a special form to fill and to my surprise again it was not handed to me upon arrival. I had to go the immigration desk to ask for it. The lady there spoke something in Ladakhi to me and without understanding what she said I just responded, "I'm Malaysian". It was a relief to find a toilet spray in the toilet. On my way back from the toilet I saw the huge signboard about how to avoid acute mountain sickness (AMS) and only then I realized that the repeated announcement that I wasn't paying attention to was actually about AMS.
We went straight to our guesthouse. To my dismay, although they have wifi there, there was a power cut that afternoon. It was hard to stay awake when you are suppose to rest while you have nothing to distract you from falling asleep. Since I've felt AMS when we were in Nepal, I took some Dexamethasone as prophylaxis. I've expected it would be worst there in Leh, because we flew from sea level to about 3500m above sea level. I prepared my water and just lay down on the bed. RA was busy cleaning her bag because something spilled. Later that evening she had a very bad AMS and turned pale that we had to cancel our plan to go around Leh town. As we waited for dinner, MR actually fell asleep in her room and later had a severe headache during dinner. I've never seen her in so much pain. She was literally rolling on the sofa and keep saying she feels like knocking her head on the wall. Although I think she wasn't going to do it, I was scared anyway.