Donkey Crossing

Welcome to Donkey Crossing! Donkey Crossing is an on-line account of one Limey and one Yank living one Dream. From September 2006 until the end of 2007, we plan to visit friends and family on five continents and immerse ourselves into various cultures, natural phenomena and ways of life. We hope you enjoy our tales and visit often! Cheers, Jason and Rachel Napoli

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Passage to India

Although our time in Thailand was full of sensational experiences, we grew more and more excited for our imminent journey to India. Visiting the high Himalaya of India had always been one of the most anticipated parts of our travels and our arrival was thankfully straightforward and efficient. We arrived to New Delhi airport in the late evening, but had to wait in the airport through the night for our flight to Ladakh, an isolated and barren mountain range in the state of Jammu & Kashmir.

After spending the night in New Delhi airport, and boarding our connecting flight to Ladakh at 5:30AM, our first sight of the Himalaya from the sky was fantastic.

A shot of the Indus River valley from high above the Himalaya.

The sight of snow capped peaks began to get more and more normal as we spent time in the Himalaya; however, soaring eye to eye with the towering beasts was something to remember.

The approach to Ladakh airport (situated in the town of Leh at 11,500ft ) was one of the most technical and nail biting flight experiences we've ever experienced. With the runway surrounded by 13,000-18,000ft peaks, the pilot circled round and round, slicing between mountains until we made the final approach. You can see how close the mountains are to the runway in this photo.

After a long day of travel from Bangkok, and spending a night in New Delhi airport, our arrival to Leh was complete with a comfortable room at the Sia La Guest House. Our hosts, the Sia La family, served us plenty of delicious milk tea and fresh Ladakhi bread during our visit.

Our beautiful "glass" room at Sia La Guest House. The mountain and garden views from our room made for a very peaceful place to relax.

With the drastic increase of elevation to Ladakh from the sea-level environs of Hong Kong, Macau and Bangkok, we knew we would have to acclimatize for a few days before starting our trek through the Himalaya. Leh, specifically the Sia La Guest House, was an excellent place to do just that and explore a few of the sights in the area.

Filled with local and foreign tourists, this young, local family takes in a view of Leh from one of the many Buddhist monuments surrounding the town.

A view of Leh from the top of a nearby stupa.

We'll never forget the gorgeous gardens that beautify the many guest houses in the area.

A shot of the former palace of the Ladakhi royal family (left) and an ancient Buddhist gompa (above right).

We unintentionally timed our arrival to Leh to coincide with the Ladakh Festival. A two week cultural event created for the sole purpose of extending the tourist season until the middle of September, we took the opportunity to check out an event we had never imagined to witness in India...polo! Evidently the sport originated in Kashmir.

As we made our way through a throng of locals at the entrance, we took one look at the crowded VIP stands and decided to settle ourselves directly in front, with our feet on the pitch. A couple close calls with a hard ball, horse and mallet made us realize all our attention needed to be focused on the pitch.

We never figured out which team was the home team, as the crowd went wild when either side, red or blue, scored.

A strong impression that was made on us during our time in Leh was the diversity of its inhabitants. With the state of Jammu & Kashmir situated next to Muslim Pakistan, located in a country with a majority Hindu population and an area with a large Tibetan Buddhist refugee population, the influences of all three faiths were omnipresent. We stayed in a guest house run by a Muslim family, hired a Tibetan Buddhist refugee as guide for our trek and saw many Sikhs and Hindus running various shops and cafes all around town. In a region of India known for conflict and an on-going war, we found a sense of peace and understanding in the village of Leh.

As for tourist sights, the Buddhist influence is the strongest. One of the most visited monasteries in the area is the Thiksey Monastery, known as "Little Potala" since it closely resembles Potala Palace in Lhasa, Tibet.

Simple accommodation for the monks at Thiksey Monastery sits on the side of a mountain overlooking the valley.

Our arrival to Ladakh was exciting in itself, however the primary reason for traveling so far north was to trek through the barren and space-like surroundings of Ladakh's Markha Valley. Come back to Donkey Crossing soon to experience our unforgettable eight day trek through this magical region of the Indian Himalaya.


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