Friday, September 25, 2015


                                   Photo and text 
                          Shreya Sikder 

     A final year English Hons Student, Shreya is an avid nature lover and enthusiastic photographer. Though she is still learning the technical aspects of photography , specially with high end equipments, but the inborn aesthetic sense helps her in producing some great frame.This is her second post in this blog as a guest blogger.  Here she shares her  experience of being amidst the mesmerising beauties of Ladakh .    

Handshaking with Ladakh for the first time
With the Ladakh Range sprawling towards the south and the Karakoram Range to the north, the car zoomed off along the Leh-Srinagar NH1 Highway. Gulping down regular sips of natural vistas and cool refreshing mountain wind caressing my face –the journey seemed to have just started from Leh. As the snow-clad pinnacles played hide ‘n seek amid and behind the contrasting limestone-based barren hills, the fluffy clouds sometimes embraced the peaks with feathery touch enjoying the camaraderie. Nature offers the starters with the smooth pitch-dark highway laden in middle of far-stretched arid valley enclosed with vibrant mountains. No patch of green will soothe your sight but the thorny bushes, where you may find the lucky sight of Yellow-billed Blue Magpie or Chukar Partridge. Small military barracks and the speedy adventurous bikers on Royal Enfield's are the only human activity you will find. 

The Amazing "Magnetic hill"  of Ladakh
 Lost in the heavenly canvas of Ladakh, I had covered around 50kms in euphoric delight. And suddenly my driver slowed down. Confused and perplexed when I asked if anything was wrong, he gave a confident nod and killed the ignition at once taking his hands off the steering. To my utmost amazement, I was seeing the car moving forward with a momentum of 20kms per hour as per shown on the speedometer. The BRO (Border Roads Organization) has put up a signboard indicating “Magnetic Hill –The phenomenon that defies gravity” on the left side of the road and also engraved ‘Magnetic Hill’ on the Mountain wall right behind it. Not only the vehicles traveling on the road are attracted by the magnetic (and magical too, for the layman) power of this small stretch of area, even the aircraft and helicopters feel the same magnetic impact i.e. jerking, as per claimed by the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) personnel, while passing through this area. So it is advised to fly at a specific speed and height above the Magnetic Hill to avoid inconvenience. The Indian Air Force pilots and the airline pilots, aware of this phenomenon, usually avoid and steer clear of the radius of the Magnetic Hill. As the lore goes among the locals, particularly villagers that the version behind such phenomena is that there once laid a pathway that led straight to heaven. Deserving people would be automatically get pulled up, however non-deserving ones could never make it up the path, no matter how earnestly they tried. Anyway the supernatural concept has nothing to do with the magnetism of the hills. Actually the Magnetic Hill is located at a stretch of road where the layout of the surroundings and the deceptive fields of reference effectuate the optical illusion that a very slight downhill slant appears to be an uphill one. Thus a vehicle left out of gear will appear to be emerging uphill. There is a concept of optical illusion in neuroscience which in layman’s language means that you either see something that is not there at all or you see things different than how they physically appear. The phenomenon can actually be attributed to an obstructed horizon, either completely or majorly. Our minds and eyes are used to using the horizon as a reliable reference to be able to tell if a particular gradient is straight or if there is a slant. The obscurity of the horizon makes it difficult to judge the slope of a surface. If the horizon is obstructed, our minds get confused and can often perceive things to be horizontal or vertical when they are actually not. The short stretch of the road that appears to be uphill as a matter of fact is downhill and this is the reason why cars slowly gain momentum. The same concept is applicable in aviation as well. Pilots up in the sky cannot see the horizon and if it were not for the electronic equipments and gadgets, they would never be able to tell if the plane is flying straight, upwards or downwards. Out of the several enchanting places of Ladakh, the Magnetic Hill at an altitude of 14000 feet has mystified people for long and still continues to do so.

Magnetic Hills along the road

The confluence of Indus and Zanskar: The main two rivers of Ladakh
Now proceeding further, the Indus river runs side by side through the gorge down the road. Originating from the cold desert namely Changthang in High Himalayas, it goes to Pakistan with ever-changing colours from emerald green to teal blue, from sea green to shining cyan, from Persian blue to moss green. The Indus river drains the arid and deserted terrains of Ladakh’s landlocked valley and serves as a lifeline to the desolate hamlets, since Ladakh experience rainfall only 2-3 inches per year. As we drove forward, the awe-inspiring confluence of Indus and Zanskar made me catch my breath. It is the valley of Nimu or Nimmu which treasures the blending of colours –over the sky and down the rivers. Zanskar, originated from the Zanskar Range, runs incessantly through the spectacular Zanskar Gorge which offers the fascinating “Frozen Zanskar Trek” in chilly winter months and merges into the shining blue Indus as a tributary from the north-eastern direction. The sky with the glossy blue hue, the mountains with their numerous shades of green, yellow, brown makes the confluence of crystal clear sea-green Indus and the turbid grayish green Zanskar an outstanding sight. During summer months (March-early September) the turgid turbulent Zanskar overflows the relatively tranquil Indus river. But in freezing winter (September-February), the tempestuous flow of the mountain river Zanskar slows down, starting to freeze while the Indus takes up rapid speed with the small ice floating on it. The bravehearts get the opportunity to trek through the frozen Zanskar, also named as “Chadar Trek” (‘Chadar’ means ice sheet i.e. the thick ice sheet on the Zanskar) during this time. 

Indus Zanskar confluence at Nimmu

Reflection of mountains on Indus

Multicoloured Prayer Flags in multicolored Landscape of Ladakh
The Prayer Flags add to the magic with the maroon dressed lamas fiddling with iphones! All around the way, the mesmerizing Prayer Flags were hanging and fluttering around containing prayers. As my Tibetan driver pointed out, the flags are hung in sequence –blue, white, red, green, yellow or in reverse. Each colour represents an element –Sky (blue), Wind (white), Fire (red), Water (green) and Earth (yellow). These symbolize prayers for safety i.e. for wind to blow prayers of peace and happiness out into the world. My driver would fold his hands off the steering and murmured some hymns whenever we crossed the prayer flags in our perpetual motion throughout the journey. The Tibetan Prayer Flags add numerous hues to the scenic beauty of the mountains with cocktail of hues like gray, deep blue, brown, violet, dark green, yellow, deep maroon and what not?

Prayer flags hung before the confluence

shaded moonland

Mesmerizing Moonlands of Ladakh
The road turned whirling and frequently uneven too with the bulldozers busy in breaking the mountain walls to widen a new way. Not so regular sights of schoolgirls with face and body fully covered to avoid tan and worn-out but hardy school-buses gave the evidence of human activity at such obscure region. Patchwork fields and small hamlets with around 20 families could be seen at great distance as that region of Ladakh longs for green and hence longs for water. The winding ways referred as ‘Silk Route’ bears an ancient trading history. Local communities once proposed on an extraordinary Trans-Himalayan trade which originated with the Silk Route. Comprising titanic mountains, yawning valleys and vast uninhibited hinterlands, most of Ladakh’s boundaries may look almost impenetrable on a map. Yet for centuries, great caravans of wool, cloth, opium, spices, skins, coral, turquoise, gold, indigo etc negotiated several winding routes and their hazardous passes mainly between Leh and Yarkand(China). The already withering trade finally died in the late 1950’s when China largely sealed its borders. The Silk Route of NH1-D, the Srinagar-Leh highway gives glimpses of moonlike landscapes carved into the Greater Himalayas –the mesmerizing Moonlands. As we entered the small village named Lamayuru, around 125kms from Leh, we were dumbstruck seeing the houses standing precariously on the carved Moonlands right after Fotu La (the highest pass on Srinagar-Leh highway). The pleated landscape is a result of soil erosion and deposits of glacial lake that used to exist here. People believe that during the Buddhist scholar Neropa’s time, the lake drained out through cracks in the hills. The landscape changes its colours with the rays of sun –rock green, reddish brown, yellow ochre, tawny, purple, navy blue, bottle green and so on. No wonder how ravishing it looks in full moon nights. Ladakh never ceases to surprise you with its thousand blends of colour around the rivers, landscapes and mountains under the sublime sky. A land of endless vistas in form of dry land with vibrant monasteries and shaded mountains dotting its landscape is so outlandish that you can only stand agape in awe. It is made more heavenly by Indus, on the banks of which one can spend endless days just looking at the refection of mountains on the calm water and the thousand stars at night accentuating the vastness of Ladakh, the curvaceous vibrant Moonland under the moonlit night and the blistering sun –reasonably concluding that it is this virgin nature of the land mostly untouched. 


Silk route along Moonland


  1. Replies
    1. Thanks a lot Yogi Saraswat, will convey tour msg to the author for sure