Stok Kangri Expedition – Day 3 – Leh

To climb a 6000m peak you need to acclimatise and to do this you need to spend a substantial amount of time at high altitude so another acclimatisation day was required to firstly get used to already being at 3,524m above sea-level and secondly to prepare us for the much harder task ahead. Today it had been scheduled that we were going to take a walking tour around the ancient city of Leh in which we were staying to help with this ongoing process.

Leh is the main town in the North West Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir and sits at a high altitude along the Indus Valley. In years gone by it had been the old capital of the Himalayan Kingdom of Ladakh and we were here for the next three days.

Today we would start our acclimation process by walking up to the famous Shanti Stupa which sits upon a prominent hilltop in Chanspa overlooking Leh. At first glance the structure appears to be ancient but upon further inspection in fact it was built quite recently in 1991 and by a Japanese Buddhist named BhikshuGyomyo Nakamura as part of a peace mission to the country.

Rumour has it that the stupa holds the relics of the Buddha at its base! An intriguing thought, but our primary reason for visiting was far less cultural. We wanted to climb the 500 steep steps ascending the Stupa and gain the altitude of 3,609m at the top. We all huffed and puffed our way up the broken and rocky steps which were definitely not your standard western riser and tread dimensions.

Having eventually laboured our way to the top we were finally greeted by the milk-white structure of the stupa. Buddhist stupas serve as a marker for a sacred space and represent the great Buddha’s burial mound. At this moment I felt like I could have been buried alongside the Buddha’s himself totally exhausted from my exertions to reach the plateaux.

Having gained some composure we wandered around the structure with our guide for the day a local known only as ‘LT’ and enjoyed the painted walls around the stupa with their colourful reliefs that depict the milestones in the life of the Buddha – his birth, his fight against various devils, his victories over injustice and his eventual death etc, etc.

Below us the whole of Ladakh appeared to be sprawled out as far as the eye could see and it would have been great to have lingered for longer, but there was no time to rest and relax because we were now deeply into our acclimatisation routine and we needed to trek over to our next destination, the Tisserru Stupa.

Tisserru Stupa - LehThe Tisserru Stupa is a strange structure to visit! Ladakh’s largest stupa is unique in the region – a giant, mud brick structure that looks like a half-built ziggurat. This 15th-century monument could be one of Leh’s largest attractions but for the fact that you can’t actually get into it, so other than walking around its perimeter and snapping of the obligatory photos there’s not a lot to do and see once you get there.

Disappointed with the underwhelming mud brick stupa we instead began to climb up to Tsemo Fort which sits in a commanding position above the town. The fort had once served as the royal residence of the Namgyal dynasty (Royal Family). There’s little to see inside apart from a tiny Buddhist shrine. Today it is basically a ruin but the views from the wooden machicolations were sublime.

After the fort I decided to go AWOL from the group as I wanted to investigate Leh Palace. The palace resembles the Potala Palace in Lhasa, Tibet. It is nine storeys high and I’m sure I climbed up every single step and then down again through every single floor to push my lungs in the thin air.

The roof of this 16th century structure provides panoramic views of Leh and the surrounding area, including  Stok Kangri itself, so I just had to get up as high as I could to glimpse the peak one last time before we would be leaving the city.

All in all a pretty tiring day by the end of it but this was all good preparation that we badly needed to prep us for our climb which was now edging nearer and nearer.

Follow along with the expedition updates being posted over the coming weeks.

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Stok Kangri Expedition 2018 – Day 2 – Alchi Monastery

We drove for hours across a dusty and barren landscape which makes up the Indus Valley. Our mini bus was headed for Alchi Monastery a few hours up river and deeper into the Ladakh countryside. The Monastery consists of a small collection of monastic temples dating from between A.D.958 and 1055.

According to local tradition the complex was founded by the revered guru Rinchen Zangpo famous for translating Sanskrit Buddhist texts into Tibetan. It is therefore both a very old and a very important monastery and we were headed there as part of our acclimatisation and cultural discovery programme in Ladakh.

Guru Rinchen Zangpo Pictorial StoryAccording to ancient texts the tree outside the monastery is of a species not native to the land thereabouts and folklore dictates that it grew as a result of Rinchen Zangpo having an epiphany that he’d found the right spot to build a monastery and so he proceeded to plant his walking stick firmly and permanently in the ground to mark the spot from which the tree we see today grew.

Great story, highly improbable but I’d buy into it in all probability had I been aroundO in the 11th century.

Rinchen Zangpo's Walking StickThe monastery today has three major shrines: the Dukhang (Assembly hall), the Sumtsek and the Temple of Manjushri, all dating from between the early 12th and early 13th centuries. Several small Chortens litter the complex but all appear to have seen much better days. 

For us the visit was an opportunity to get away from the confines of our hotel in Leh which was becoming way too claustrophobic and a chance to get out and see some of the surrounding countryside.

The monastery although interesting was unfortunately easily seen within an hour, so the subsequent thought of a two and a half hour return road trip along the potholed and dusty roads of Ladakh was not too appealing.

Alchi Monastery - LadakhLuckily though lunch had been arranged for us by the monastery and so we ate in the tranquil monastery gardens relaxing for a couple of hours before embarking on our weary journey back to Leh.

At the end of the day although tired from the long journey we were a day further into our acclimatisation process and a day nearer to the big climb itself so all was going to plan.

Follow along with the expedition updates being posted over the coming weeks.

Stok Kangri Expedition Day 1 – Leh

Prayer Flags - LehWe flew into Leh on the first day of our adventure aboard a very early morning flight out of Delhi. The approach to Leh airport is what could be termed interesting. 360 degrees of surrounding mountain ranges, a narrow valley and a dusty ex military airstrip to try to land on. It was a sick bags out and hold onto the seat of your pants kind of a landing! Continue reading “Stok Kangri Expedition Day 1 – Leh”