Slow Travel in Ladakh : Homestay in Thiksey

It is the last week of September and I am very excited about the Kullu Dussehra which is slated to be held with full fanfare from 5th to 11 October. Our Dehradun friends have planned a self-drive trip to Ladakh – they have a simple wish of staying at a homestay on the banks of Pangong Tso in Merak village. Even though I have no plans to go to Ladakh, having enjoyed autumn last year in Leh – a mixture of circumstances results in all four of us first heading to Lahaul to acclimatise to the cold and altitude before we head to Ladakh via the Manali-Leh highway. We are lucky to manage our stay at the prettily located PWD Rest House in Jispa. The unexpected delight of this trip turned out to be the charming homestay located in Thiksey village with a grand view of Thiksey monastery!

Zucchini breads baked to perfection by Sharon!

We left at 1130 am from Kullu, after a hearty meal of rajma chawal and made it to Jispa by about 3 pm after a stop for shipping orders of my book ‘The Goodness of Strangers’ from the Post Office in Manali. There was a slight chill in the air as it was the first week of October and we were well prepared with our winter jackets. The landscape was still green as we crossed Solang Valley and after we emerged past the Atal Tunnel it was a completely different ball game in Lahaul. A cold breeze welcomed us and it was clear that it was going to be super cold in Lahaul valley with the wind chill as it seemed to have already started snowing on the high mountains.

We paid the SADA development fee that is being levied on all non-local vehicles for entering Lahaul and moved towards Tandi and Keylong. The autumn colours of Sissu were not at their best this year; yet with the popularity with instagram tourists it was a crowded stretch. We were flexible with our place of stay in either Keylong or Jispa but were keen on finding something with ample open spaces for us to walk around. Since there was plenty of sunshine still left in the day, we made a consensus and decided to go till the PWD Rest House in Jispa and see if they had rooms. Anyway, we would cross the other prospective options in Keylong – Jispa on our way to the PWD Rest House as it was located at the fag end of Jispa town.

Majestic sight at the PWD Rest House in Jispa.

The caretaker was around and recognised me from a previous visit. He said that the PWD Rest House has only two rooms and that one room is already booked for a night but both the rooms are available for the next day. We quickly asked him to book both the rooms for the next day and to show us the room available. He recommended to us to book the room and that he would put extra mattresses and since it was a cozy carpeted room, we would be well served. We agreed and requested him to check if the booking for the previous room was cancelled so that we would get both the rooms. We were quite pleased as the rooms came with an attached washroom and had a working geyser.

A little bit of narcissism – if I may call it!

It felt a little funny to be spending two days in Lahaul acclimatising even though we lived in Kullu Valley. We figured that since the plan was to spend a few nights in Merak village at about 4400m, it was best to spend a few nights at 3000-3500m to minimize the chances of AMS. The wind chill in October in high-altitude areas is a killer and therefore we wanted to get used to the cold in Lahaul before the super cold of Merak. Jispa already had the feel of a deserted town where the homestays and restaurants were closing for the season and we were thankful that a lone eatery was open near the PWD Rest House. The said eatery was also going to close down in the next few days and we felt lucky!

The original plan was to head to Zanskar now that the road via Shinku La / Shingo La / Shinkun La was well and truly operational; stay a night in Padum and then move to Leh via the dirt trail route that passed through Zangla, Lingshed, Singge La and Sirsir La to end up near Photoksar and join the highway at Wanla. Since we did not have many days in hand, it was ultimately decided that the long route via Zanskar might turn out to be extremely tiring and that it was better to head to Ladakh via the Manali-Leh highway only. Local news in Lahaul also indicated that vehicles were only allowed to cross the Darcha check-post after 9 am because it had started freezing on some sections of the road to Zanskar as well as Leh.

Spotted the Jispa – Delhi HRTC Volvo near the PWD Rest House.

We spent a nice two days in Jispa soaking in the abundant sunshine and enjoying the autumn blaze of Lahaul Valley. It was a memorable meal at one ‘The Climber’s Café’ in Keylong Bazaar and the nearby dhaba also made fresh food so there were no complaints. Nights were freezing cold but it sort of prepared us for even colder temperatures in the next few days.

The little kid at the dhaba in Darcha.

We had a nice cup of chai and left for Darcha at about 8 am with a plan of having breakfast at one of the dhabas in Darcha while waiting for the check-post guys to wave us through after 9 am. When we reached Darcha, there was a newly constructed dhaba / restaurant just before the police check post and we decided to stop there. Funnily enough, there was no need to wait till 9 am and the road to both Zanskar and Ladakh was open for vehicular traffic. We were still in two minds with regards to taking the longer route via Padum and Singge La to reach Leh and even put Padum as our destination in the diary of the police check post officer.

Popular wine shop at Sarchu.

The dhaba owners were from Rarik village and told us that while the road to Padum was in excellent condition; the road via Lingshed-Singge La was in fact a dirt road with a few tricky and frozen sections that would take us over 10 hours to reach Leh from Padum. Before we finished our cups of black tea, the deal was sealed and as we walked back to the car – I remembered to ask the police officer to change our destination to Leh instead of Padum in the check post register. The road past Darcha felt like a breeze and we quickly started ascending to Zing Zing Bar and towards Baralacha La.

Always a good time to read your prayers…

It was a clear day and based on our previous autumn trip to Leh last October, we were keen on staying in the region of Hemis/Thiksey this time around. We made good time on the road and despite leaving quite late crossed Sarchu around noon. The weather was absolutely clear and there was nary a cloud in the deep blue sky. It was a fine day as we crossed the flat land past Sarchu and the aquamarine waters of the Tsarap Chu were flowing beneath us in the valley below. It felt like pin drop silence at over 4200m, and we stopped for a while to admire the views and the pristine colour of the water.

We opted to not stop for a snack/lunch/tea at Sarchu since we were not feeling hungry and continued towards Pang. The dustiest stretch of the entire Manali to Leh road was the road from Sarchu to Pang. There were a few sections with single lane traffic that caused mini traffic jams with a number of trucks lined up on both sides. It was sudden hunger that compelled us to stop at Pang – Pang looked like a fancy avatar of the grimy ramshackle dhabas from a decade ago! It was close to 2 pm and the eatery where we stopped was almost out of food – the lady was only able to serve one plate of semi-cooked dal and rice among the four of us.

There’s something about the Manali-Leh road.

Anyhow, I have never liked Pang and the feeling was reinforced when I tried to go to pee. There was a lake sort of water body visible behind the multiple dhabas and no prizes for guessing what the stench was like! Our friends went to another dhaba for some chowmein noodles and were quite surprised that most of the eateries in Pang also doubled up as accommodation options in the night. I was mildly shocked to know this since Pang is at an altitude of some 4600m, it is not pleasant at all to stay at this altitude without being properly acclimatised. Authorities should look into this in the light of the rules for tourists to acclimatise before heading to Pangong Tso/Changthang and other high-altitude areas of Ladakh.

We were happy to bid goodbye to Pang and start our ascent to the other passes viz. Lachung La and Taglang La. The road was in excellent condition and it was mildly surprising to see snow piled on both sides of the road at Taglang La. Of course the outside temperature was freezing and a deathly cold breeze blew. We tumbled down the pass and crossed the dhabas of Debring and I saw a faint road leading to the left side to a nomadic settlement – Kharnak. I was supremely interested in Kharnakpas and their weaves like challi, pherri, tsug-dul, tsug-den and more made from yak wool, sheep wool and the likes.

A wide angle photograph with Tsarap Chu river on the right.

In no time we were at Rumtse and ogled at the varied hues of the mountains that were enhanced with the evening light and the rich autumn colours. We crossed the pretty looking hamlets of Miru, Gya, Lato and made a mental note of staying at one of these three villages on our way back. A night stay here would considerably reduce our single day travel time on the return journey enabling us to leave early and still reach Kullu Valley before dark. It was close to 5 pm when we crossed Upshi; the Indus river was a pristine shade of blue while the autumn colours were a shining yellow.

We had started to keep an eye out for signboards of homestays since the idea was clear that none of us wanted to stay in Leh. Hemis quickly went out of the reckoning since we crossed the diversion after crossing Upshi. With no extra help from google maps, we decided to take the right turn to Thiksey monastery and were certain that there would be a number of homestays there for us to stay. The time was around 520 pm and the sun would soon go behind the mountains. We decided to ask a young kid on the road about a homestay and he indicated to us to take a right and we would find Goltuk homestay. He didn’t seem very confident about our choice though and suggested that there was a nice hotel nearby that would be better for us.

Nevertheless, we thought lets see this Goltuk homestay and then figure our options. We took a right and saw a signboard for a homestay and asked a lady who was walking on the street and it turned out to be her home! She showed us the rooms and while the price mentioned was also ok, the rooms did not come with an attached washroom and that prompted us to ask if there was another homestay nearby that might perhaps have rooms with an attached washroom? She suggested another homestay just around the corner and we sought about finding that. It was duly spotted after a short walk and while we liked the open spaces and the garden, the host was missing and there was no one who could show us the rooms!

Enviable sit-out at the homestay in Thiksey.

In the meanwhile, the light had started dwindling and it would soon be dark within a few more minutes. The cousin sister of the host came to our help and called the aunty to come with the keys of the rooms so that we could figure our possibility of a stay. At the outset, she said that we could only stay for 1 day because there was a festival planned for the next evening at a neighbour’s home. She also said that one of the washrooms had a water problem. We liked the rooms that both came with a clear and direct view of Thiksey monastery and agreed on a reasonable price for 2 days and promised her to cooperate with the meals if she could not find time for cooking! Simple breakfast and dinner was included in the offerings of the homestay.

Apples growing in the farm section of the homestay.

The homestay had only two rooms and one was on the first floor and the other one was on the ground floor. Aunty at the homestay seemed to have had troubles in the past with Indian guests who were happier with mainland food rather than trying local Ladakhi food and therefore she tried to make us stay for only 1 day. I don’t blame her for her thought process because I have observed lately that the boundaries between a homestay and a hotel are blurred and happy-to-please hosts simply don’t know how to turn down demands laid out by guests. It appears sometimes that some folks stay at a homestay primarily due to the comparatively cheaper price and then take undue advantage of the hosts’ kindness by laying down demands as per their whims and fancies.

At Matho Gompa.

I’d say the demands / whims and fancies might be justified at a hotel but not at a family run homestay. Hence, the lady was initially wary of us but was quite calmed with our mention of living in Kullu Valley. Little did she know that we were actually looking forward to freshly cooked Ladakhi dishes and since the homestay also had an adjoining kitchen garden in the farm, most of the produce would be fresh and homegrown! Aunty gave us a quick round of tea as a welcome drink as we put our bags in our respective rooms. We ogled at the beauty of the after-sunset colours with snowy peaks in the backdrop, even as stars began to shine in the brilliant high altitude Ladakhi sky and the yellow shaded poplars stood tall in the rapidly intensifying cold while the timeless Thiksey monastery watched the proceedings quietly on the other side.

We unpacked our bags and kept the home baked zucchini teacakes and the apple cakes out so that we didn’t forget to savour them. On a thoughtful whim, we cut a generous slice of both the cakes and presented them to aunty in the kitchen. Aunty and her cousin sister warmed up the cakes and took them for the entire family to taste! We were so glad they loved it and thanked us for getting them a taste of homemade bakes. As part of the homestay culture, it is a nice thing to do to break the ice.

Our joy was multiplied upon seeing that Thukpa was being made for dinner! We entered the kitchen and traditional dining area lined with Chogtse tables and thanked aunty for rustling up thukpa at such short notice. She replied that making thukpa was no trouble at all and all she had to do was pick fresh produce from the farm. The flat noodles used in the thukpa were locally produced in Leh. We sat and gazed at the traditional cookware and collection of utensils in the sitting area. Aunty served us thukpa in the traditional bowls and I liked it so much that I had three helpings! I think it was then that aunty must have realised that we were indeed going to turn out be amicable guests who knew how to stay at a homestay.

Autumn makes me go camera crazy! All these are phone photographs though.

Aunty told us that next day’s dinner would be a little difficult for her to make because of the evening function and suggested that we could dine at the nearby Chamba Hotel that always served excellent food in Thiksey. We told her not to worry and that we will manage. Our plan for next day was to head to Leh for lunch and get the car washed as well.

It became colder as the evening progressed and after the drive we chose to relax in our rooms. The sight of the dimly lit dwellings on the base of Thiksey monastery was calming. We called it a night and tried to sleep early so that we could wake up at 6-ish and perhaps walk to the monastery for the morning prayers.

It was a cold, cold night and the modern quilts and blankets were no match for the hitherto traditional warmth of the homestays. I had a mild headache and even though we had spent a good 2 nights in Lahaul acclimatising in the same altitude and temperatures – I was a bit surprised by the same. We had carried our tea masala and ginger and aunty was more than happy to let us make our milk tea. It felt nice as the sun was out and we went to the first floor balcony to enjoy our tea. We made an extra cup for aunty as well and she was so happy with the result that we let her know the secret of the magic masala as well!

A sea of yellow in Matho.

The fun of living amidst nature has no parallel and we laid out a carpet and sat in the garden. Aunty said there would be basic omelette and khambir (local Ladakhi bread) for breakfast and that it would be served at about 9 am in the open canopy in the garden. The canopy lent a very Italian vineyard feel to the setting as it was covered in green with black kidney beans vines and had a sturdy wooden table and chairs beneath it. Of course the icing on the cake was the sun shining brightly on Thiksey monastery, making it an impeccable setting. Aunty’s sons were up as well and we met them too. Breakfast was served at 9 and it was fun to dig into the tiny muskmelon grown on aunty’s farm. We thanked her for letting us try a homegrown muskmelon as we were totally unaware about them growing in Ladakh!

Next time perhaps to stay in Matho for the full splendour of autumn.

We sat and lounged in the sun for a while but quickly realised that the direct sunshine was too much to handle and funnily enough my mild headache persisted. It was time for a hot water bath after the rigours of the road journey on the previous day. The room felt quite cold and we quickly figured that the room on the ground floor would receive sunshine only in the latter part of the day. Anyhow, I sat outdoors after the bath and was reminded of the classic conundrum in Ladakh – it was hot in the sun and still felt very cold in the shade, especially with the breeze blowing. In a few more minutes, it was time for us to head to Leh.

When we mentioned autumn colours, the elder son suggested to us to go to Matho monastery if we wanted to enjoy the full splendour of the fall/autumn colours as it was located at a vantage point. He was also kind enough to share the route by road as the route suggested by google maps had a bridge repair issue and was closed for the time being. It was a longer drive but the stunning autumn colours in Matho village and then on the way to the monastery were surreal and we were delighted to have come that side. We chose to walk back to the village from the monastery and also tasted ripe but very sour seabuckthorn berries after some locals’ insistence!

After a good part of more than an hour spent in Matho village, we continued on our way to Leh. As we had expected, the autumn colours were not as pronounced as they were in Matho. On the way, we came across a small scale industry drying seabuckthorn to make it into a pulp. I was keen on buying the pulp and even got the contact of the lady in charge of the processing, but it turned out that seabuckthorn pulp uses a lot of preservatives otherwise it spoils pretty quickly. Even though the price offered for the seabuckthorn pulp was almost half of what we get in Lahaul valley, I ended up not buying a bottle since it involved a detour to Chuchot village and there was nobody to guide us.

We were keen on having a nice meal in Leh and tried to make a reservation at Alchi Kitchen but it turned out that the Leh branch of Alchi Kitchen was closed (like it was a year ago!) and they were taking reservations for a meal in Alchi! With the change in plan, we had to find parking space at Rabsal Parking near the main bazaar and then walked to Tibetan Kitchen. It was progressing to a funny scene as Tibetan Kitchen turned out to be closed for the day; Bon Appetit felt like a confusing walk as our friends were already super hungry. So we spotted the signboard for Summer Harvest – saw a few locals come out of the restaurant that validated the eatery and decided to have our lunch there!

Matho Monastery peeking in the frame!

I still had a niggling headache and while I kept trying to forget about it, there was no denying that I was not at my 100%. The food at Summer Harvest was satisfactory and some dishes turned out to be excellent. We paid the bill and now it was about 230 pm and all of us went our separate ways. I went sauntering in the market on my customary walk and meeting my old acquaintances if they were around. The car had to be taken for a wash before we head to Pangong Tso / Merak village the next day. So, everyone had roughly 1.5 hours before we decided to meet up on the main road near the circular bazaar in Leh. It was very hot during the day and quite dusty with all the endless construction everywhere near the main road.

It was a sort of aimless walk for me – I bought some Saspola apples, drank a glass of the sugarless apricot juice at Dzomsa, tried to (unsuccessfully) buy a chogtse table, met with a known shop owner to check if they had a surplus bundle of Zanskari spuruks, perused the circular market for the indigenous black peas (shrannma or nagshranma) and bought a kilo, tasted some chhurpe, wondered what was the black cake called skotse and largely marvelled how far Ladakh has come in terms of tourism. Tourists from the cities were buying an average variety of dried apricots for astronomical prices without bothering to check the quality and taste. I never heard the name Halman (fine variety from Turtuk and the villages around the Dah-Hanu area) when I was in the bazaar.

Perfect frame of the day!

I used the washroom at the fancy looking café opposite Dzomsa and figured that Leh had well and truly arrived on India’s tourist circuit with a bang and for raw experiences it was essential to travel to some remote locations still untouched by tourists. As soon as I got free, our friends arrived and we sat in the car. While waiting, I spotted the gentleman who was the orchestrator of the great hitchhiking escape from Diskit to Leh in a winter snowstorm. I quickly ran out of the car and after confirming he was indeed the same person – thanked him for the kindness and gifted him a copy of ‘The Goodness of Strangers’.

I was overjoyed at this unexpected meeting and wondered about possibly gifting copies of the book to some other kind folks in the Changthang region who were responsible for the experiences detailed in a few chapters of the book. We started on our return journey back to Thiksey since we were very keen on spending the evening in the farmstay-homestay. Our tummies were filled for the time being but the issue of eating dinner outside remained. We enjoyed a nice evening gazing at the colours in all the directions while my nagging headache continued prompting me to rethink if I was prepared to go to Merak inspite of this minor struggle.

Seabuckthorn berries growing on the side of the road.

In the evening, aunty was dressed up and ready to go for the evening ceremony of the nearby party. The sound of drums and revelry started coming from the direction. She asked us what were our plans for dinner and I told her that we had a heavy lunch outside and that we would be happy to eat a light meal. Aunty anyway had to cook food for the family so she asked us if we were happy with with simple pulao and we told her pulao was exactly what we needed! She quickly rustled up a cooker and all the farm grown vegetables went in it resulting in a delicious and light pulao / masala chawal. All four of us thanked her wholeheartedly for the extra effort because we were mentally prepared to go to Chamba Hotel for dinner!

A small establishment where seabuckthorn berries were being dried to be made into a pulp.

I think it was then that I made up my mind that in the two days spent here, we had not even gone to Thiksey monastery and just running off to the cold of Merak didn’t sound very appealing. The added charm of seeing the autumn colours along the road via Chang La to Changthang and on the return via Chumathang was not enough to wean me off the thought of staying longer in Thiksey. It would be no fun if I didn’t feel better after reaching Merak as well. I was certain that it was not AMS since I had no issues in breathing but it was a constant mild headache. After dinner, it was decided that our friends would leave for Merak after breakfast since it would take about 6 hours from Thiksey and we would stay put at the same homestay. We decided to meet near Upshi at 3 pm after 3 days even if our phones didn’t work and we were not able to communicate.

Cherry tomatoes at a steal.

We slept early and I made a mental note to myself to check the oxygen level if the headache persisted the next day as well. I was also keen on waking up early for the 6-30 am morning prayer at Thiksey Monastery but was also aware that we had two more mornings at the homestay. Aunty had already confirmed that we could move to the upstairs room and she would be happy to host us for 2 more days. It was a relaxed morning and I felt very nice to be able to soak in the sunshine with the perfect masala chai. Our friends left early after a quick breakfast of toasted bread and butter and when aunty asked us if we wanted traditional Ladakhi butter tea & khola or bread + butter for breakfast – we opted for the traditional option. She was pleased with our choice and laid out a carpet in the garden.

Out came two traditional goblets that were made from a specialised metal and two wooden baskets with barley flour and another with buckwheat / whole wheat flour. She mixed some homemade ghee and sugar and put the different flours in different goblets and then poured the salty butter tea on top. We mixed everything with our fingers and made the flour into small balls to eat. It tasted delicious and we told aunty that we had eaten this as khola earlier at Yuthok Homestay. We enjoyed cups of butter tea with the khola and finished off our breakfast in no time. Aunty also cut a tiny watermelon grown on the farm and we totally loved it!

Alfresco breakfast that felt like a picnic.

After a while, the direct sunshine became too much for me and I chose to sit on the chairs but the headache had already returned. We are keen on walking around Thiksey and enjoy the magic of the autumn yellow of the poplar trees. After partially enjoying a walk under the canopy of the yellow trees on the side of the road, we decide to turn back because there is no fun in inhaling the toxic fumes of the trucks that are in numbers on this road. While coming back, I get my oxygen level checked at Hotel Chamba and it came totally fine and we quickly deduced that my headache is due to the exposure to direct sunlight. I had forgotten to carry my sunglasses to Ladakh.

Can you spot the tiny watermelon?!

We got back to the homestay and enjoyed the warmth of the mansion-type room on the first floor. I lay down for a bit and slept and instantly started feeling better. Now that the reason for the headache was largely clear, it was decided that I borrow my partner’s sunglasses and try to never look directly into the sun. We head back to the restaurant at Chamba Hotel for lunch and the food turned out to be super delicious. It is a place run by the monks and the restaurant cook/staff was from Jharkhand and made excellent food. We sat in the shade and really enjoyed the time spent here. We set out for a short walk post lunch and explored the by-lanes of Thiksey.

Magical evening scene from Thiksey Monastery.

The library looked very appealing and was managed by the monks. We stepped inside and saw a few young students study in the warmth of the indoors. The book collection was massive and there was even a tea/coffee machine for visitors. There was pin drop silence and we quickly realised that the Thiksey library might just become our new favourite place while we stayed at the homestay. I was immersed in reading a historical book on undivided Ladakh when I received a phone call and had to go out. The outdoors had a sprinkling of blooming flowers and there was even a cute café in one of the corners. We wondered if the café would be a great hidden find when it was open during the summer.

When it was close to 5 pm and close to sundown, we decided to take the long walk via the road to Thiksey Monastery parking and while I gazed at the views on the other side – my partner climbed the stairs to the main monastery to find the exact timing of the morning prayers. The autumn colours in the direction of Leh city appeared to dazzling in the mellow evening light. I started feeling a bit cold with the evening breeze once the sun went down and opted to walk back via the road route. There were a few monks also going for their evening walk while chanting prayers and it felt nice to be in calm company.

My partner came back via the shortcut path through the stairs and we ended up meeting near our homestay and continued the walk. The sky was painted in orange and pink hues and with the moon peeking out from behind the barren mountains presented an unforgettable sight. We savoured the ethereal beauty of Ladakh for as long as the light lasted and then aunty presented us with another piece of information that made proceedings even better! She was cooking purple cabbage momos for dinner – the cabbage she had just picked up from the kitchen garden. Aunty and uncle were supposed to go to the party at the nearby family’s house and therefore aunty said dinner would be ready by 730 pm.

We were ecstatic to hear that as early dinners were a habit for us and also the fact that aunty said that she had got a bottle of local chaang for us to drink! The momos along with the fresh chutney turned out to be so delicious that we polished off the entire container of momos that aunty had made for us. We thanked her numerous times and told her that these were some of the best momos that we’ve ever had. We walked under the open skies for a bit and appreciated the moonlight. The room was cozy and much warmer than the downstairs room and that meant we slept peacefully.

Finding shaded canopies to stroll around.

The view of the sunlit Thiksey monastery first thing in the morning was the icing on the cake. We had the absolute pleasure of doing nothing but just went through the morning with basic stretching, yoga and meditation. After a relaxed hour or so, we went to make chai and also gave a bit of the chai masala powder to aunty. In return she gave us a packet of seabuckthorn tea and a sapling of the wild mint growing in their farm. We had a quick breakfast and then decided to go sauntering around to some places recommended by aunty’s younger son as he had by then realised that we were happy to go anywhere quiet where we had less chances of encountering other tourists!

Stakna Gompa.

We went to the road and found a ride after walking for a while. The army guy was from Bikaner and dropped us to the viewpoint past Stakna monastery. It was a memorable view of the aquamarine waters of the Indus River with the autumn yellow of the trees and Stakna Monastery with an array of snowy peaks in the background. The sun was shining with full force and after some time we had to find a shaded space to wait for the ride back. On some sections, we walked under a shaded canopy of trees and absolutely loved the raw feel of discovery. We were unable to find the park suggested and ultimately after we found a ride we were dropped at the Thiksey monastery diversion.

Bow shaped chutagi – local Ladakhi delicacy.

The restaurant at Chamba Hotel came to the rescue and we ate our lunch in the supremely relaxed setting and also made a mental note to eat there before we left for Upshi, the next day. We head straight to the library after lunch and spent a good 2-3 hours reading. I wondered in my mind how travelling is all about being flexible and the joy of these offbeat things can only be felt, and not spoken. Since tomorrow would be the last day for us in Thiksey, we walked back to our homestay and made sure of not wandering around here and there so that we could wake up early and go to attend the morning prayers at Thiksey monastery.

Lama Ji came at just the right time to complete the frame.

Aunty asked us whether we wanted rajma chawal or chutagi for dinner and we unanimously voted for chutagi! It was an early dinner as by now aunty had figured that we ate by 7 pm. The chutagi was super yummy and we thanked aunty for the incredibly delicious food. My headache had miraculously almost disappeared and we attributed it to the sunglasses and the strategic decision to not walk with the sun directly facing me. Next morning, we woke up very early and walked the stairs of Thiksey monastery in the chilling cold. The prayers started a bit late than what we were told but the feeling of calm was so beautiful, that we sat through the entire hour long ceremony. Thankful to the monks to have plied us with multiple helpings of butter tea.

At the homestay, while packing I found that the half kilo meetha karela vegetable from Kullu Valley had not been used and I asked aunty if I could make it for everyone. She was pleased at trying this exotic looking vegetable. We ate it with the local khambir bread in a magical setting under the green vine and a view of Thiksey monastery. It remains a classic memory from this particular trip to Ladakh where the objective became to relax at the homestay in Thiksey.

Later in the afternoon, we said our thanks and goodbyes to the family and started walking to Chamba Hotel for lunch. It turned out that they had just closed for the season and in the absence of any other options we decided it was better to get to Upshi and find a nice eatery there. It made sense to reach Upshi early so that our friends did not have to wait when they returned from Merak via the Chumathang route. We were lucky to find a ride within no time of standing on the road. It felt excruciatingly hot in the harsh Ladakhi sun and when we stepped inside the stunningly beautiful interiors of Rigo Restaurant in Upshi, the old memories of eating food at dusty dhabas in Upshi were washed away.

Ladakh has truly changed – for better or for worse, that only time will tell but it is still possible to have new experiences with homestays like the one in Thiksey leading the way in showcasing local farm life in Ladakh at a reasonable price. The onus remains on us visitors to embrace the life lived by the locals – after all thats why we travel ‘To become a local in every place we visit!’

So serene and peaceful.

We met with our friends at 330 pm in Upshi, and drove straight to picturesque Lato village on our way back. Next day, it felt like deja vu when it started snowing as we crossed Taglang La and once we crossed Baralacha La and reached our home in Kullu Valley – aunty from the Thiksey homestay called next day and told us that it had snowed and the Manali – Leh highway was closed for traffic.

Impeccable setting at the homestay made it a memorable trip.

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