Leaving human settlements behind, the loneliness engulfs you totally. Actually it overwhelms you. For as far as your eye can see, the grey snake of a road is laid out on extremely plain land. The sides however are a totally different story. For tens of kilometres its plain barren land and then… there lie the giants. They grab your attention quite forcefully. One of their own definitely caught our full attention when it tried to bend the movement of our over a ton vehicle with all of us sitting inside! Yes, the Magnetic Hill it was called and stayed true to its name. An absolutely still more than a few tons car with passengers inside (including yours truly) was slowly pulled when the car was left in gear with no accelerators or brakes!!! No other word for it but 'cooool!!' Moving on, we had some more breathtaking views of endless mountains and ranges.
Moving on, we were greeted graciously by capped mountains along the landscape peeking from behind their drier and shorter counterparts. This continued through the journey with the occasional (actually, only) river interrupting the landscape with a burst of green and a small town. After a stop of a few seconds at Uleytokpo for a recon of our campsite, we set off with a packed lunch to Alchi Monastery. That is a tradition it seems for the hotels and camps in Ladhakh - sending the tourists with packed lunches - a quaint one at that for taking care of guests. The location of the monastery was simply beautiful!
It was a small hill (compared to those around) and the valley below was filled with tiny farms and if I'm not wrong green meadows. As we were to learn, the monastery was splendidly colourful. The paintings on the walls were so bright and happy! We were greeted with a paintings was of the four heavenly kings (Lokapala in Sanskrit or guardians of the world), each of a different colour with different accompaniments ranging from a banjos and magic potions to swords! These heavenly kings are guardian gods. The Yellow hued one is Vaisravana (Kuber)meaning "He who hears everything" and protects the North holding an Umbrella. The Blue hued one is Virudhaka meaning "Patron of Growth" and protects the South holding a Sword. The White hued one is Dhrtarashtra meaning "Watcher of the Lands" and protects the East holding a Pipa (Sitar-esque instrument). The Red hued one is Virupaksa meaning "He who sees all" and protects the West holding a Serpent.
After visiting the shrine, we had lunch sitting on a roadside ledge with the whole hill and its vista stretched out below us. The major attraction near the monastery is this one hill which looks like the moon has been brought to ground. It is so unbelievable to observe a mountain whose colours and texture change from core Ladhakhi to the the core of the Moon! You have to see it to believe it! The rills on these 'moon-lands' - as they are referred to locally - are infinite and minute and the colour is that of cheese. This does lend to the theory that the moon is made of cheese (as per Jerry's fantasy!!). Our return route was a jolting shortcut that took us delightfully close to these moon-lands but rocked me (literally!!) to sleep. When I opened my eyes a good hour or so later we were back near Uleytokpo and it was time to settle into our tent.
Now, this tent was nothing short of 5 star in my opinion simply because to me tent has always been cramped space and sleepin bags with and the only attached toilet being the great outdoors. Here we had double sized bed with a space for a third and an attached bathroom complete with a prettily shaped wash basin and hand showers! The view, on walking a few steps out of the tent and peeking, entailed the flowing Indus as we were on her rather high banks. I instantly fell in love with the setting. The air about that place had something so lazy and relaxing about it and the mountains all around were like a protection from the everyday world. The few wisps of clouds in the sky threw a nice display of shadows on the ground with the mountains as a canvas as the river gushed down below. The caretaker was delightful Nepali whose energy at those altitudes was very amusing to watch. On talking to him later, we found that he was a sherpa who has climbed Mount Everest more number of times than I care to admit. He works as a guide in mountaineering expeditions in Nepal during winter. He half helped us plan a trip to Nepal too!
Warm food on a cold night was a welcoming sight not to mention a bonfire after that! The place had predominantly foreign families and a large group of youngsters who seemed to be from Australia and another group of three whom we were going to run into quite often. It was a night to relish. Cold and yet warm due to the bonfire and the sound of the river above it all. The cherry on the icing of this cake had to be the night sky! I never believed one could see the Milky Way in our sky when we were in it but its true! The faint and blink and you miss it band of white running across the sky made me happy enough to dance around in glee. Its impossible to ever imagine how infinite infinite really is until you look at the unhindered night sky. What more does one need for a peaceful night's rest...