June 4, 2009:

Monasteries of Ladakh
Woke up and felt horrible. Nauseous, dizzy and I was cold. At breakfast, Kim thought I had a
mild case of AMS, but I thought I had caught a bug. Nevertheless, all my symptoms
explained AMS but I was skeptical as I never had any problems with altitude before (I know,
this doesn't mean anything really!!!). We had a car hired for today to visit three
monasteries: Basgo, Alchi and Likir. Our driver came at 8:30 am. We left Leh and turned
towards the northwest onto the main "highway". At first we went through miles and miles
of army housing. Because of the closeness to Pakistan, India has thousands of troops
stationed in and around Leh. We encountered several army truck caravans of at least 50
vehicles.
Our first stop was Basgo. I felt weak and could barely walk, but nevertheless I enjoyed
Basgo a lot. Basgo was a seat of power until the 16th century, even a capital city for some
time. In the 1680's an invading Tibetan army was held at bay here for three years by the
Lhadaki forces thanks to its strategic location. The royal palace and the fort are pretty much
in ruins and the three temples of the monastery are today's main attraction.
After leaving the car park, we first went to the Cham Chung
Temple which houses a huge Maitreya statue. It was funny
(well..kind of...), the entrance door to the temple was real low
and I told Graham to watch his head. I had barely spoken
these words as I hit my head pretty hard on the crossbar of
the door....wood on wood!
Then we went into the Serzang
Temple where there was another
big Maitreya Statue. The largest
temple of Basgo, the Chamba
Lhakhang, unfortunately was
locked as the keyman just had
left to Leh. Bummer.
We continued down the Indus Valley for a while until we hit the turnoff to Alchi, our next
stop. Alchi is a bit different as it does not sit perched on a mountain or other strategic
location but is on flat ground. This was good for me as I was so weak that I could barely
walk. Alchi has developed into a real touristy place and boasts the second highest number
of hotels and restaurants in Ladakh after Leh.
The main attraction of Alchi is inside several of the gompas. Outside, the temples and
chortens don't look like much, but inside are beautiful paintings, murals and statues. The
Sumtsek, a three tiered wooden temple, is the main attraction of Alchi. It contains beautiful
handcarved statues of different buddhas, including a huge Avalokiteswara made from clay.
I hate to say it, but I don't remember much from Alchi as I felt lousy, so definitely a reason
to go back some day!!!
After touring the temples of Alchi, we had lunch at
one of Alchi's restaurants and then drove back on
the main road towards Leh until we hit the turnoff
to Likir. Likir Gompa is a major Gelugpa Monastery.
It sits on top of a hill and is one of Ladakh's oldest
monasteries, dating back to the 11th century.
The main attraction of Likir is its giant open-air Maitreya statue. Unfortunately, I don't
remember much of the temples of Likir, only the outdoor statue. There were quite a few
children on the monastery grounds and Graham was entertaining them. Lucky for me,
there also were a couple of Tibetan style toilets (i.e. hole in the ground) on the monastery
grounds which I eagerly visited......
We then drove back to Leh. Did I mention that it was really
hot that day? We got back to Leh at around 4 pm and I send
Marc into town to get some cash and some more last
minute things I thought we needed for the trek. However,
after resting for about an hour, I felt a lot better and thought
the worst was over...
.
I went downstairs, listened against my better judgment to
Kim's advice and took a Diamox against AMS. Then I went
to an internet cafe and sent out a couple of e-mails, which
would be the last ones for a while. We had dinner again at
the Ibex restaurant. At night then, the true character of my
ill-being revealed itself and I spend the early morning
hours on the toilet. So much for AMS, Kim!!!