“Madam, we can take you to a lesser-known gem of Ladakh. It resembles the surface of the moon!’, says our travel organizer Dorjey. The moment he says moon we get excited. Our itinerary is tweaked to visit Lamayuru or the ‘Moon Land’ of Ladakh, which is 125 km from Leh. The Nubra Valley experience has been so exhilarating that we are now hungry for more.
After rising early, we have a heavy breakfast as we know it’s a long journey we are setting off on. We pass the Spituk Monastery, which is known for its image of Mahakaal (Lord of Death) hidden behind a veil only to be revealed during the annual festival. We decide to just see the monastery from the outside as we have a lot to see ahead.
After driving further, our driver stops on the Leh- Shrinagar Highway at the Magnetic Hill, famously known as anti-gravity hill. The driver switches off the engine, and the car magically moves uphill on its own. Numerous folklore and theories have been postulated to explain this phenomenon from optical illusion to ’a strong magnetic force emanating from the surrounding hills’. The locals believe that it was once a road that led people to heaven. The worthy souls were pulled to heaven while the undeserving were left behind. We get off, click pictures with the signage, and head back to the car and drive further.
Zanskar Indus Confluence
Approximately 35 km from Leh is the confluence of Indus and Zanskar River. We see the Indus river, of the famed Indus Valley Civilization, meander between bare hills. As we drive ahead, we see the confluence where it meets the Zanskar river. The two rivers have distinctly different colours and it is a not to be missed marvel of nature. We soak in the beauty of these rivers and head back to the car.
The driver tells us that adventure seekers and adrenaline junkies undertake a trek called a Chadar Trek on the frozen Zanskar Lake which is a test of human strength and endurance. In winters, a thick sheet or ‘chadar’ is formed on the Zanskar river. It is on this that trekkers walk an average of 15-16 km a day, at freezing temperatures ranging from -30-35 degrees Celsius! The entire trek of 105 kilometres takes 8-10 days! Our jaws drop in awe and although my husband aspires to do it someday the kids and I chicken out.
We are now in Basgo and see a monastery nestled on a hill. A little further away we see a fleet of military trucks on a snaky road. We continue driving and find the Indus river flowing parallel to the road. We see a fleet of Indian army trucks on a snaky road over the hills. Suddenly, the landscape changes from dry and arid, and we find ourselves in a patch with yellow mustard flowers. This surprise perks us up as the dash of yellow brightens the arid landscape. We rush and click pictures amid the mustard field just like in the Bollywood movies.
Lamayuru- The Moon Land
We head back to the car and are now closer to Lamayuru. In the distance, are unusual rock formations and jagged hills. Soon, we see the moonscape of coffee coloured, strange rocks in the foreground and the dark brown hills in the background. We haven’t been to the moon so can’t vouch for if its resemblance but whatever we see in front of us is incredible!
The monastery is perched on a hill, and we see more and more of its structure as we get closer. We get off the car and walk towards the monastery. Young monks in maroon robes and orange sweaters curiously look at us. An elderly local with sunglasses is sitting on the doorstep, spinning a prayer wheel. A board with the legend of Lamayuru printed on it hangs in the monastery. According to the legend, a scholar Mahasiddacharya Naropa laid the foundation of this monastery in the 11th century. His prayers caused the drying up of the lake and the place started to resemble the moon surface. The walls of the monastery are covered in brightly coloured paintings of Buddha, demons, stories…
Bajra Battu Beach
After this surreal experience of moon land, we prepare for our return journey. We stop at a spot which looks like a beach! A beach in Ladakh sounds unbelievable. We head to the beach which has a river flowing but looks like the sea and has black sands on the shore. This is the ‘Bajra Battu Beach’ screams the writing on the rocks. The kids make sandcastles and enjoy the feeling of sand slipping through their fists. Our trip to Lamayuru is full of surprises and we are amazed by the diversity that we see. First a field of yellow mustard flowers in the middle of rocky terrain and now a beach. It can’t get better.
After our rendezvous with the beach, we head to Alchi which has a 1000-year-old monastery! The Manjushri temple with a wooden framework has brightly coloured paintings and idols. There is something about this temple that is alluring, and I wish I can spend more time unravelling the meanings of the paintings. But the clock is ticking, and we must leave.
We next visit the Likir Monastery with distinct white walls and red roofs. Nearby we can see a tall, golden statue of Buddha on a raised platform. The monastery and statue are surrounded by snowcapped mountains.
Gurudwara Pather Saheb
We are back near the road of Magnetic Hill and pay our respects at the Gurudwara Pathar Saheb which is revered by the Sikhs. We cover our heads in a yellow ochre scarf as a mark of respect and enter the Gurudwara. Legend has it that Guru Nanak Ji was meditating here when a demon threw a stone at him. The stone turned into molten wax and bares Guru Nanak’s body’s imprint and the demon’s footprint. The stone or pathar can be seen in the Gurudwara.
The Zorawar Fort belonged to General Zorawar Singh who fought against the Chinese. We are tired, and although our hearts want to explore the fort our aching bodies beg us to make a skip. We head back to the car and head to Leh.
A one-way trip to the moon from the earth is 384,400 km for which you need to be an astronaut. For the lesser mortals that we are a 125 km trip to Lamayuru or ‘Moon Land of Ladakh’ from Leh will suffice. Do plan a trip. You won’t be disappointed.
Read our travelogue Camping at Pangong Lake next.