It seemed at times as though Leh had taken a year off from its tourist trade. All of the temples around Leh Palace were ‘closed for maintenance’ and when we enquired at tourist agencies about where to find information on the culture and history of Leh, we were met with confused looks and a reply of “there’s nothing like that.”
Tourist agencies only offered trekking, rafting, and shared jeep trips to see the landscape of Ladakh. We didn’t come on this trip to trek, and our budget limited us in terms of day trips to visit the lakes and valleys (and we’d experienced some of the landscape on our journey up to Leh, which you’d miss if you flew in).
We wanted to see the traditional dance and music performances that were held every night in summer outside the palace, but we were to learn that these were stopped two years ago after audience numbers dropped and someone in the group passed away. We wanted to see the Women’s Alliance Ladakh festival, but only saw one small flier after it had finished. And when we went to their building the following day, we were largely ignored and found the shop all but empty of stock. There were certainly no signs of a bustling festival the day before.
The lack of internet in Leh didn’t help our situation (as sad as this sounds), as it was only after we left the city that we found where the Central Asian Museum was. We didn’t know it existed, let alone where it was when we were there. No signage, and no promotion, even the extremely helpful guy who worked at our guesthouse never mentioned it. And, it was our last day in Leh that we found the LAMO centre, where there was a brilliant exhibition on Old Town.
In several ways, I think we didn’t help ourselves in finding what we wanted. There is real irony that the online information about the LAMO centre, the THF (Tibetan Heritage Fund) and even the Women’s Alliance of Ladakh is so rich and accessible, when the internet in Leh itself is so poor. We were lucky to get a dial up speed connection each day, and it cost too much and was such a nuisance that it made it difficult to browse the web to find these resources whilst we were there. There was little on the ground information, and I think that in hindsight (and what we have learnt from our time there) is to be more proactive about finding out what is there, and what is going on.
Of course, it didn’t help matters that a large proportion of our time in Leh was spent in reasonable discomfort, being unwell on and off the entire time, which was certainly enough to hold us back. We didn’t know the internet was going to be so poor, and therefore we didn’t pre-plan. We didn’t make a list of things to do/things we wanted to do while we were there, and more preplanning (and pre-internet browsing) would have been better.
However, all this been said, it was not as though our time in Leh was completely wasted with nothing positive to share! Unlike McLeod Ganj, we don’t have a special Altaf, or Meena experience. But we did, for example, get offered a lift by monks back to Leh after our visit to the stunning Thikse monastery. And we do, of course, have our experience at Diskit gompa. We enjoyed our time at Nubra valley, even though most of it was driving. We loved visiting Stok Palace (where the Ladakhi royal family resettled after being dethroned and exiled in 1834) and exploring the museum there. And I so enjoyed buying and eating the sweet, soft apricots off the Ladakhi women who would sit on Main Bazaar and sell their vegetables and fruit. We later saw photos (in the LAMO centre) of Ladakhi women doing the exact same thing in the 70s, as if nothing had changed over the course of that time. We found solace in Lala’s Cafe and, on our final day in Leh, found a freshness and positivity for Leh in the exhibition about Old Town at the LAMO centre.