Friday, April 1, 2005
Land Of Passes
The Tibetan-like land of Ladakh makes a last stand against the rush of globalization, leaving it as the do-or-die destination for photographers seeking an unblemished Buddhist culture in a Himalayan-scale landscape.
When To Go.
The secret to timing it right is to get it a bit wrong. That's meant to say that the bulk of summer tourists coming from Europe, Australia and Japan target a very specific period between mid-June and mid-August when they can be assured the best weather. Missing that peak time by a week or even a few days can mean the difference between a highly personal or a highly shared experience at hotels, remote camps and monasteries.
The predictability of travel to and from and within Ladakh is fragile. Roads climbing over 18,000-foot passes can get snow in June that delays passage for a few days until it's cleared or melts. Although Airbus 300-series aircraft make several flights a day from Delhi into the Leh Airport, operations are still limited to VFR (visual flight rules) at the Leh end, so cloud cover even in the summer can delay flights or cause them to be canceled altogether. On your departure, that means that if the plane doesn't get in, you don't get out, and if yesterday's passengers were stranded by weather, they have priority the next day. All this is further complicated by the airport's 11,000-foot altitude, which limits flights to cool morning hours and limits the airplanes' useful load.
Airport carry-on checks are largely performed by hand and the criteria can seem inconsistent. For our arrival flight, travelers were asked only to remove all batteries from their cameras and camcorders—ostensibly so that one couldn't take photos of politically/militarily sensitive areas. On our departure flight, the recommendation was changed to "transfer all loose batteries from your hand luggage to your checked luggage, but batteries left in electronic gear are okay." Imagine our panic when security began to confiscate all batteries from all of our cameras, flash units, flashlights and CD players, as well as all wires related to headphones, battery chargers and the like. All were placed in a plastic bag, recorded with our name, hopefully to be retrieved at the end of the flight—a flight that we nearly missed because of this delay. Long story short, there was a happy ending, but not without some additional gray hairs.
It's probably better to pack questionable electronics in your checked luggage rather than risk confiscation and, if traveling with others, pack essential items in more than one piece of luggage to dilute the risk.
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