This morning, my guide (Ishey) and porter (Deachen) picked me up from my guesthouse around 7:30 am. I left a load of belongings with the guesthouse owners for safekeeping during the trek, resorting only to the absolute essentials. We set out by taxi to drive towards the mountains, on the mostly rocky (and very bumpy) road to Chilling (3210 m), which took several hours.
This morning, I decided to hike up to Leh Palace. Although it’s maybe only a half-hour-long walk, there is a steep hill/stair climb to the palace. It quickly became hot in the blazing sun, and I could feel the effects of the altitude more than I have yet, having to pause for a few seconds several times.
Along the hillside route were stray dogs lazily lounging around. One of them approached me and licked my hand, then realized I had no food and went on his way. Once I reached the top, I paid my admission and made my way through the corridors and small rooms with low ceilings. A number of rooms were locked, but I passed through one with a shrine and a few with art hanging from the wall. It was very simple inside, nothing elaborate or ornate.
After another great sleep and leisurely 7 am wake-up, I ate a satisfying breakfast of omelette and freshly baked khambir (Ladakhi bread) with butter and apricot jam (apricots grow well in this region) and milky coffee, followed by a sample of salt-butter tea (namkin chai). It tastes exactly what it sounds like and is traditionally made with yak butter (this one wasn’t). I think it’s an acquired taste, but if you imagine it as more of a soup than tea, it might hit the spot with a stretch of the imagination.
I experienced an entirely new set of impressions today. I flew out of Delhi on an early morning flight (which I, along with about 15 other passengers, almost missed due to Air Vistara failing to announce the gate change). Descending out of the clouds is an epic moment, when you suddenly notice you’re in an entirely different world. The Himalayas are breathtaking to behold from any angle, but the first impression of their magnitude is from the sky.
I had a much-needed wonderful night’s sleep, which always renews my optimism and confidence. I mainly market-hopped around the city via metro and auto rickshaw (tuk-tuk). Before the market mayhem, I caught a tuk-tuk to India Gate to quickly catch a glimpse and be on my way. Instead, I was immediately called out by a tout offering to photograph me in front of it and print the photos I liked for 100 rupees per photo. In the name of good fun, I played the stereotypical tourist and got on board for the photoshoot. He had a nice camera and took a number of shots from different angles in different poses.
I arrived in Delhi in an excited state of exhaustion from almost two nights of little to no sleep (the night before the trip due to packing and anticipation, and the overnight flight itself). The flight to Delhi was just under eight hours, and my seat-mate was a girl named Manasi, a Bangalore native just returning home from a six-month work period in Gottingen. She recommended a list of foods to eat while in Delhi, as well as markets (my hands-down favourite thing to do in any new city is to browse the local markets), and we each recommended a few books. After the flight, I hired a cab from the airport to my guesthouse (via AirBnB) in Defence Colony in New Delhi. First impression: driving is an absolute clusterfuck (not that this was unexpected).
… and Mae Hong Son is for trekkies. I did not eat pie in Pai, but there were plenty of coffee shops that probably offered a decent pie selection. My impression was that westerners congregated in this small town to drink coffee, have their hair dreadlocked, and go tubing down the river; I did none of these things. The hipster-hippie hub of the north was chill, sure, but mostly devoid of Thai culture, so I only stayed one night. I did achieve my goal, however: a good sleep, at least compared to how I had been sleeping in Chiang Mai.