18-21 July 2007. Flight to Leh, Leh valley, Sankar, Gomang Stupa, Shanti Stupa, Shey Palace.

Wangchuk, from Snowleopard Trails, greets us with the white Tibetan scarves called khatags and we drive to the Lachumir guest house in Upper Karzoo. A quiet, friendly family; four rooms with narrow balconies overlooking the vegetable garden. We go down into Leh for a wonderful salad at the relocated and enlarged Penguin Cafe - with new toilet block, an improvement of sorts. In the late afternoon we walk up the Leh valley to the Gelpga Sankar gompa. At 6pm there’s an evening puja with quiet chanting, occasional cymbals, a solitary drum beat, which, in my slightly jet lagged haziness, I associate with the stamping feet of a thousand Vajrapanis. Mixed food at the Mentokling.

Friday 20 July

Didn’t sleep too well, I suspect that yesterday we probably were incautious of the altitude and walked too far. After lunch we walk through to Changspa and check out a couple of disappointing guest houses. Cutting back to Karzoo we stumble across the wonderful 9th century Gomang (hundred windows) Stupa. A beautiful old, white, stepped stupa surrounded by trees and old houses, a relaxing place not far from the bustling Changspa and, puzzlingly, hardly mentioned as a Leh attraction. Some basic guest houses in this great location in the heart of old Changspa, overlooking the stupa, but all full.

Shared a beer with Indian veg food at the Mentokling.

Saturday 21 July

I make an early start for the photogenic Gomang Stupa with my camera, then return, after coffee and cake in Changspa, with Bev and G to the Gomang Stupa. We walk on to the modern (Japanese built) Shanti Stupa on a hilltop at the edge of Leh. Small children chase each other around the central stupa. G jokes with the monk and his lively Tibetan dog, which seems determined to keep jumping vertically as high as it can.

Walking back through Changspa we meet Michael, our Nepalese guide from 2004 when we trekked from Lamayuru to Chilling. He’s here for the summer, trying to make a go of the outdoor Planet Earth restaurant before heading to Goa for the winter. It looks rather sparse and I’m not sure if Planet Earth has anything special to offer in this tourist trap part of Leh but, for Michael’s sake, I hope it works. Behind Planet Earth and surrounding the Gomang Stupa are more old stupas and houses connected by low passages. This was the centre of old Changspa before the ribbon development of cafes, shops and guest houses connected it with the centre of Leh.

In the late afternoon, before the wind and rain that sometimes happens in the Leh valley in summer, we drive out to Shey palace, the old royal palace of the kings of Leh. As we get close to Shey, hundreds of people are leaving on foot and bus. We learn that there’s several days teaching and celebrations to commemorate 800 years since the construction of Shey palace. Nobody in town thought to mention it to us and we’ve arrived too late. We carry on to Shey and look around the palace and old monastery buildings and climb to the precarious top of the ruined fort that overlooks the palace. The sky darkens almost to black, the wind bends the poplar trees and blows up a storm around the dry riverside fields.

Back in Leh we have dinner of salad, curry and beer at the Tibet Kitchen. At the GH, the electricity is off for the night.

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