Archive for July, 2006

Amritsar India

Sunday, July 30th, 2006

Getting there from Delhi is easy with the overnight Golden Temple Express, advance reservation needed ($25 for 2nd class berth, clean sheets included, I slept like a baby). The main sights are the Golden Temple, Jallianwalla Bagh, Khalsa College and Wagah Border Post, and you can see them all in one day. Amritsar is hot and humid – mosquito repellent a must. I went straight from the train station to the Golden Temple, where for 3 hours I flowed in the circular pattern around and around the pool, watched men and women devotedly hand clean the marble floors, listened to the Sikh music and prayers, and entered the central shrine.  From there, it’s a 5 minute walk to Jallianwalla Bagh, a beautiful park which is the memorial site of the 1919 massacre. It’s a 10 minute taxi ride to Khalsa College, the most beautiful building in Amritsar, with spires, pillars, domes and gardens. A basic but clean restaurant, with typical vegetarian Punjabi food, is Bhrawan da Dhaba. The Wagah border post is 20 km further.

As I was continuing to Dharamsala, I had arranged in advance a private airconditioned car with driver, from pickup at the train station, all day sightseeing, and on to Dharamsala. ($100 prearranged with Summit Adventures, milap@summit-adventures.net , who also preordered my $25 Delhi-Amritsar train ticket). The other option would have been taking local taxis and then the public bus (8 hours) to Dharamsala. After an overnight train ride and a full day of sightseeing, it would have been hell. I chose heaven, and drove to Dharamsala in cool comfort, stopping occasionally at places my driver recommended for sweet hot chai and a clean bathroom. The final stretch uphill is gorgeous, around mountain peaks and through clouds, surrounded by green forests and overlooking rivers.

Treks and tours in Ladakh

Saturday, July 15th, 2006

Nubra Valley, north of Leh: up and over the 5602 meter Khardung La Pass and via the world’s highest motorable road, maintained courtesy of the Indian Army, whose trucks and bases are omnipresent. Take a four wheel drive car w/driver, and if you’re afraid of heights, do NOT look down – but then you miss out on amazing views. The 3 day tour is sufficient, and includes Sumur, Diskit, Panamik and Hundur. The Panamik very unexciting hot springs can be skipped, and Hundur’s only claim to fame are the sand dunes (ignore the tourist camel rides), but the gompa (monastery) in Diskit is worth getting up at 5 am for the morning puja, and in Sumur, there are beautiful hikes around the Samstem Ling gopa. Best place to stay is Sand Dune Guesthouse in Diskit, near the main bazar, tel 01980 220022 and ask for the new rooms. 

West of Leh: a 2 day monastery tour including Likkir, Alchi, Rhidzong and Lamayuru. Each gompa has its highlight – Likkir ancient thangkas, Alchi 11th century wall murals, Rhidzong wall paintings undergoing painstaking preservation, and Lemayuru perched atop a vertical cliff.

Day trip from Leh: Stok (the palace) and Tikse, a beautiful gompa from whose roof terrace the Ladakh countryside is one big panorama.

The day trip is easily done with local transportation – minibuses run from the bus station at the bottom of downtown Leh directly to Tikse. Between Tikse and Stok, try hitching to the nearest bus stop. My lifts included a pilot come to check out the airport, and a department of education official who’d been visiting the Tibetan refugee camp at Choglamsar (which is equipped with solar panels for electricity – as are, astonishingly, many of the gompas we saw). 

Longer trips require booking with driver and four wheel drive, but if you’re traveling solo, it’s easy to find a group to join and share costs with. As food on the road is sporadic, travel with muesli, dried fruit and bottled water (from Dzomsa  – see Leh recommendations)