Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Himalayan paradise






SYEDA FARIDA
Leh is a beautiful place for a quiet holiday. From the people to the scenery everything is awesome. Leh was recently in the news when disaster struck. Read on to find out more about the place…

For centuries, Leh has been an important stopover on the trade route along the Indus Valley. The old town of Leh has been added to the World Monuments Fund's list of 100 most endangered sites because of the increased rainfall and the other effects of climate change. Within the old town there is also neglect and a change in settlement patterns which are a threat to long-term preservation of the site. Leh has a cold desert climate with long, harsh winters with temperatures well below the freezing point. The weather during the remaining months is usually fine. The flash floods of August 8 resulted in great loss of life and devastation.
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It's a high altitude desert, so it hardly ever rains. It receives less than five inches of precipitation a year and that is in snow. So when there was heavy downpour in the first week of August it was a surprise to everyone. A cloudburst over Leh that lasted about two hours caused extensive damage to this beautiful town. The rain, triggered by a cloudburst happened around midnight destroying hospitals, bus terminals, radio station transmitter, telephone exchange and mobile phone towers and the airport. But apparently it was a disaster waiting to happen. Even last year, visitors say that it rained more than it snowed. It was a problem, because the region is dependent on meltwater for irrigation.






Pangong Leh :Moody, yet serene.
Is it all a part of the global warming phenomenon? Or as Thomas Friedman, New York Times columnist and Pulitzer Prize winning author, says it is all “global weirding” where the weather gets strange and unpredictable. Cities and countries are forced to deal with natural disasters and no one can be sure of what the future will be like. Moscow, Canada, Australia, Pakistan are some of the places where they have experienced weird weather with a heatwave, heavy rains, drought and floods.


Morning :Off to school.

As it hardly ever rains in Leh, most houses have been built with mud. So the damage is great and it is going to take a long time for the city to be rebuilt.
A draft of cold wind gently nudges you as you approach this high altitude cold desert destination nestled in the Great Himalayan Range. Open for a few months to tourists, Ladakh can be reached via high altitude passes — Zoji La from the Kashmir side and Rohtang and Tanglang La on the Manali side. The name Ladakh is thus derived from these passes ( La meaning pass and dakh meaning related to). These mountain passes were crucial for the trade routes and were used by caravans in the olden days. For the rest of the year, apart from early June to late August, this place is land-locked with the rivers and lakes frozen. Winter temperature can go down to -20° C.
Leh is the capital of Ladakh. Packed with tourists mostly international, this city offers a panoramic view of the Himalayas. Shopping centres such as the Old Fort Road are a hub of activity with vendors selling semi-precious stones and woollens. Restaurants offer yummy thupkas, momos and ‘gur gur' chai.
Leh is bound by Tibet on its northern side and the influence of Tibetan culture is obvious. A typical Ladakhi homestay or guest house allows you a glimpse of their culture as you mingle with the family and learn a few more words than the popular greeting ‘ Juley'. The guest houses are also available in remote places such as Deskit — the part of the ancient silk route. The double humped Bactrian camels in the rolling sand dunes nearby at Hundar is a testimony to the fact.
Hot springs and palaces
White sand greets you in Hundar that is reached after crossing the famous Khardung-La pass. At 18,300 feet this pass boasts of the highest motorable road in the world. Here Army officers greet you with herbal tea to reduce altitude sickness. At Panamik there are hot springs and incidentally this is the last village on the silk route. Two of the spectacular rivers —Indus and Zanskar — merge a little above the entrance to Leh before they flow into Pakistan as the Sindhu.






Different facets : Art and leisure.
Apart from the adventure activities such as treks and rafting and the walk on frozen rivers in winter, Ladakh offers an insight into the Vajrayana form of Buddhism with spectacular statues of the Buddha. Impressive monasteries such as the Hemis, Spituk and Matho stand out for their murals, thangka paintings as well as the monastic festivals that fall during various parts of the regional calendar. Palaces such as Shey built by the early rulers of the region have stood the test of time and offer an insight into the traditional architecture of the region. During the summer months there is archery and polo, again a legacy from the 17th Century Namgyal rulers.
And for the nature lovers, nothing can come as close as to Pangong Tso lake. A drop of blue in the moon-like topography, this lake on the Indo-Chinese border is situated at an altitude of 14,000 feet. The colour of the water seems to change from a grey to blue to a purple across the day reflecting the Changchenmo and Pangong range around.




Tso-moriri, off the Manali-Leh road is a popular breeding ground for bare-headed goose, Brahmini duck and the brown-tailed gull. Other wildlife native to this region is the yak as also the sheep known for their pashmina wool.


Celebrations at the Hemis monastery : Buddhist monks dance at the Hemis festival.

One cannot have enough of this picture perfect region but will carry back warm memories of the hospitality of these people.
* * *
Cloudburst over Leh

It's a high altitude desert, so it hardly ever rains. It receives less than five inches of precipitation a year and that is in snow. So when there was heavy downpour in the first week of August it was a surprise to everyone. A cloudburst over Leh that lasted about two hours caused extensive damage to this beautiful town. The rain, triggered by a cloudburst happened around midnight destroying hospitals, bus terminals, radio station transmitter, telephone exchange and mobile phone towers and the airport. But apparently it was a disaster waiting to happen. Even last year, visitors say that it rained more than it snowed. It was a problem, because the region is dependent on meltwater for irrigation.

Flash floods : A village destroyed.
Is it all a part of the global warming phenomenon? Or as Thomas Friedman, New York Times columnist and Pulitzer Prize winning author, says it is all "global weirding" where the weather gets strange and unpredictable. Cities and countries are forced to deal with natural disasters and no one can be sure of what the future will be like. Moscow, Canada, Australia, Pakistan are some of the places where they have experienced weird weather with a heatwave, heavy rains, drought and floods.
As it hardly ever rains in Leh, most houses have been built with mud. So the damage is great and it is going to take a long time for the city to be rebuilt.


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