7th August 2016:
We reached Leh airport, which looked Lilliputian, at 8.15 am on the 7th August. It was quite bright outside. I took in a breath-taking panoramic view of the airport and its surroundings. A large valley plateau surrounded by dry, rocky hills on all the sides. Yasin, the driver representative of the local representative of Thomas Cook India was there to receive us at the airport. (I learnt subsequently that Thomas Cook, or for that matter no outsider company can run a business in Ladakh in their name; it has to be a local company.) I was pleasantly surprised to meet our other four young group members - in their twenties – A young couple from Mumbai and two yet-to-be-married bachelor boys from Delhi. We had our formal introductions. The moment we got into the waiting Toyota I knew that we had some enjoyable company during the tour.
We rode through some smooth, broad roads to Grand Willow Hotel, located on the Fort Road, Leh.
Fort Road was under rebuilding and was awfully bumpy, giving us a roller-coaster ride feeling. When we arrived at the hotel and stepped out of the Toyota we were taken aback by the very impressive, grand-looking hotel.
As our luggage was sent to our respective rooms, Nadim, another representative of Thomas Cook met us and advised us to rest for the whole day and not to strain or exercise unduly during the first day, so that we got acclimatized to the 11500 feet altitude and the lower oxygen level. The weather turned moody, indicating the possibility of a mild shower, threatening our tour.
We were bowled by the sumptuous morning breakfast – an assortment of delicious bread pakoras, aloo paranthas, pickles, curd, bread toast, cornflakes, coffee and tea. After the breakfast, we got into the bed, scrolled the remote control to the television set several times only to get bored, (there was a Dish TV connection) and finally slept away.
If the breakfast at the hotel bowled us we were completely floored by the buffet lunch. Quite a fabulous menu in a remote corner of the country. We ate stomach full, went back to the room, watched the Olympics Inaugural on the TV and once again, slept away. It rained mildly that day, and we were worried that our trip to Ladakh shouldn’t be spoiled by the rain.
Fortunately, Wi-Fi in the hotel room came to life sometime in the early evening, and I quickly checked the weather report. Thank God, after the second day, it was supposed to be bright sunshine all through our stay in Ladakh.
During our stay in the hotel, we could slightly feel the heaviness in breathing, and we took Diomax as a precautionary measure, though nothing happened subsequently. Lying down on the bed, I also had the strange feeling that the bed was sloping down towards my head.
Night dinner was another stumper for gourmets. Nadim of Thomas Cook met us during the dinner time and briefed us about the next day program.
The second day, we would be covering a few monasteries and palaces, he told us. I have seen the pictures of a few monasteries on the hill tops, and I was looking forward to the next day with great expectations.
…. To be continued