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Himalaya

Day 42: Ladakh

Michael Palin - HimalayaThe looming presence of the mountains around two sides of Dal Lake reminded me that, after almost two weeks, we were once again getting close to the high Himalaya. This morning, as we land at Leh after a complicated flight from Srinagar via Delhi, the change from foothills to mountains is complete. Nature is not generous up here. The air is powder dry and the rocky slopes all round us are bare and deeply gullied. For the first time in a long while I feel my lungs working, pumping a little harder to pull in the oxygen, for we are at 11,650 feet (3550 m), nearly two and a quarter miles above sea level.

Sonia Ghandi, daughter-in-law of one premier and wife of another, is visiting this remote province and her convoy of chunky white Ambassador cars, honest but unglamorous, winds its way through the security chicane and out of the airport, while we are still waiting for our bags.

Nothing is quite as I expected. The porters and baggage handlers are stocky thick-set women wrapped in red cardigans, headscarves and baggy blue pantaloons and they jostle with each other for the heaviest bags. Their features are more Mongolian than Indo-Aryan, with darker, berry-brown complexions and broad cheeks.

The only similarity with where we've come from is the heavy military presence: jet fighters in revetments at the airport, a sprawling barracks on the way into Leh. Once again there is a sensitive border nearby, only this time it's not Pakistan they're worried about, but China.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Himalaya
  • Chapter: Day 42: Ladakh
  • Country/sea: India
  • Place: Leh
  • Book page no: 94

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