Leh day 1
We wake up early …very early, but that is no sweat for a couple of in-their-fifties-we-shall-refrain-from-mentioning-exactly- where-in-the-fifties…purely out of security concerns…what if someone figures out our passwords kind of concern, you see….now this sentence has gotten a little lost, rather like the roads in Leh..so let’s try and get back to where we were…in our fifties..WHO (the caps are in case I get lost again and have to find my way back!), are used to rising at unearthly hours like 3 and 4 in the morning, you see…
Very excited, because we’ve been dreaming about this trip for so long, planning and planning away…particularly the older part of the couple, who’s force fed information on Leh and army operations to the younger one till she feels like the goose that is being fattened for the foie gras!
We’re ready quickly and breeze through Delhi airport regulations…it’s amazingly efficient…the flight, where I have to catch a little nap, ( we are really sounding older and older, but I have loved little naps all my life!) but wake up well in time to catch the first glimpse of the Himalayan ranges in the distance, closer and closer, dissolving into white and black peaks …then we are flying over them…the tightness of excitement turns to awe and wonder as I click away trying to capture some of their majesty…impossible!
We land on a tiny airstrip and enter a toy airport! A couple with a little baby, the lady is already feeling altitude sickness, or maybe it was Delhi belly, are struggling with baggage and baby and stroller…and our great Indian masses do not bother to offer help but just try to get into the earliest buses off the tarmac….not nice, India! I would have loved to have given the whole bunch detention!
The couple is absurdly grateful for what little we offer…carry their bags.
The weather is bracing, to say the least, after sweltering Madras and blistering Delhi…on goes my Laplandish jacket ( courtesy a kind friend who’s just been to those parts of the world that I cannot think of as anything except Lapland after Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen…..yep, is it likely I’ll have one in Chennai?
We get to the hotel, barely 5 minutes from the airport…many friendly faces greet us. Something about these hills – apples, apricots, human beings…all are rosy cheeked! Our room, is cozy and rather small…guessing it’s easier to heat up small spaces. The bathroom, on the contrary, is rather large…hmm…more about this later!
We have been warned, by everybody from the disembodied airline announcer to the guide who greets us to the receptionist at the hotel to random passing strangers to please, please do nothing but rest in our rooms on the first day and maybe more. That the altitude takes some time to acclimatise to and altitude sickness is a real thing! Now since I have every kind of travel sickness known to man, and maybe a few not yet known to man, ranging from car, sea, bus, flight, climbing down steep stairs, enclosed spaces ( I thought I’d died, would maybe rather have died, climbing down to King Tut’s tomb a few years ago!), combined with a deep desire to travel, we have lived through some interesting situations! I therefore, retire to my bed, pull many covers over myself (the heater is centrally controlled and not switched on till 6 pm!) and proceed to sleep through the day, waking up for lunch, gobbling down the usual hills fare – phulkas, aloo mutter, dal, rice and thankfully, curd before going back to bed. Feel great by evening, wake up and decide to go for a short stroll. Shoot some lovely local pics, am quite amazed at the wattle and daub houses which must have stayed the same for centuries. The very plain houses are decorated with the most amazing carved woodwork! Also see many yaks and am a bit wary, keeping a good distance away in case they decide my pink shirt is close enough to red to not make a difference!
We also realise that we haven’t packed bathroom slippers – it’s far too cold to imagine going without and the driver says the market is barely a 5 minute drive away and we can pick them up there. We go. The marketplace is pretty, and closed to vehicles, which pleases me rather! We walk about 5 minutes, at a slow pace, before I realise I’m feeling a bit out of breath. Try pulling in more air and figure I am getting a little oxygen deprived. We pick up the first slippers which fit our feet and get back to the hotel. The next couple of hours are spent huddled over in abject misery, splitting head and pukiness from the lack of air, combined with the need to go the loo! If any of you has ever sat in a large bathroom at freezing temperatures, clad as far as possible in the warmest of clothes, but… you will know know what it means to freeze your b… off! The water is freezing too! The paper is moist from the air, for some reason! Life is not looking particularly good! There is a power cut so the heater doesn’t come on till half past seven by which time, I have given up caring!
Take some pills, skip dinner and sleep through the night…wake up with josh enough to demolish poori chana, toast and apricot jam, the last locally made and simply delicious! Off today to do some local sightseeing…
And sample one of my favourite dishes from this region…
Mustard oil – 1/2 tsp
Spring onions – chopped – 2 tbsp
Garlic flakes – chopped – 2
Ginger – 1 cm – julienned
Chives – if available – a couple of sprigs – to garnish
Tomato puree 1 tbsp or chopped tomato – 2
Mixed shredded vegetables – cabbage, carrots, capsicum – 1 cup
Spinach – shredded – 1/2 cup
Cumin powder – 1 tsp
Garam masala powder – 1/4 tsp
Pepper – 1/2 tsp
Soya sauce – 1 tsp
Lemon juice – 1 tsp or more – to taste
Salt to taste
Cooked noodles – 1/4 cup – I used Top Ramen instant
Heat the oil. Flash fry the sprig onions, garlic and ginger for a minute. Add all the other vegetables and fry, stirring continuously, on high heat.
Add the cumin, pepper, salt, garam masala, soya sauce and two cups hot water. Bring to boil. Add the noodles and bring back to boil. Switch off, add lemon juice and snip chives over or garnish with chopped coriander. The vegetables should still stay a little crunchy, the noodles al dente and and the whole aromatic and just what the doctor ordered – in Leh!