Both P and I were up with the sunrise this morning for a last look from our patio, as the sun picked out my little castle on the slope of the hill. They are a lovely bunch here, both in this hotel and Ladakh generally. So long Thinley and thanks for everything!
As the trek we wanted to do was cancelled due to it being under too much snow, and because Philippa’s back wasn’t up to the tougher replacement, we had some time on our hands. So next stop Leh for a few days to pick up the rest of our luggage, get our bearings and decide what to do.
We’d arranged a taxi to take us back to Leh via three monasteries, as that’s what you do. I think they are always at their most impressive when you first see them, high up on a rocky crag looking ancient and mysterious.
The first was Stakna Gompa dating from about 1580. The name means “Tiger’s nose” and supposedly relates to the shape of the hill on which it sits.
Inside, it was a riot of colour – all the more surprising after the austerity of its outer walls.
We were the only visitors and moved from shrine to shrine trying to get a grip on the various deities that Sonam had introduced us to, before heading back out into the searing sunshine and climbing back into the cab.
Thikse Gompa is altogether more of a show-off. It’s a big complex set on several levels of a steep hill. From the outside it looks more like a small town and judging from the signs it has an issue with tourists buzzing it with drones. There was one flying over us as we arrived, like a big angry mosquito. It was being flown by a woman lurking some way away by the side of the approach road, having clearly decided her Instagram account trumped whatever the locals wanted. Western tourists. Aren’t we great?
It would have made a great picture though, and the views from the top were gorgeous.
Among the temple murals were some seriously unnerving depictions of hell, where it seemed even elephants who’d failed to to live nobly in this life would apparently suffer the same torments as the rest of us in the underworld.
By this time we were beginning to feel a bit Gompa’d out but a few K down the road Shey was looming over us and demanding our attention. Built at a narrowing of the Indus river valley, Shey was the old capital of Ladakh.
The palace there now is a later construction (says my guidebook) and has been renovated to the point where it no longer exudes much history. But the old temple is still in place with its twelve meter tall gilded Buddha dating back to the seventeenth century.
Every shrine is always piled high with offerings. Money of course but also juice boxes, tins of food and jars of jam.
We were ready to get back to Leh now and as we got into the city the cab dropped Philippa and Tom near the Main Bazaar, while I went on up to Silver Cloud. I was supposed to check in, drop the bags and come back down to meet P and T for lunch. But the Silver Cloud Guesthouse was in its usual state of managerial confusion. Dad kept showing me the reservation list on his phone and asking me to indetify which name was mine (none of them were). His son, Stanzin, who actually runs the place kept vanishing off with other guests while I used their WiFi to search for somewhere else to stay, interrupted by a persistent lady next to me who wouldn’t stop asking me questions.
Eventually Stanzin confirmed that yes there had been a problem with their booking system and how his sister had given the room to someone else and etc etc etc, just like last time. But he showed me to their annexe building which could only have been finished in the past few weeks and there were a couple of really nice rooms which he gave us at a knock down rate, so all was well.
I picked my way back through the maze of alleyways back to find P and T for lunch looking out over the old Palace, while we mapped out what we were going to do with ourselves over the next few days.