Places We Visit | Snow Leopards of the Himalayas
NEW DELHI, INDIADelhi has been a political and cultural center in India since at least the 6th century. The section of the city known as Old Delhi still features the walled city known as Shahijahanabad which was established in 1639 by Shahi Jahan of the Mughal Empire when he moved his capital here from Agra. It remained the capital of the empire until the British defeated the Mughals in 1857. It remains a buzzing, exciting place to spend a day touring the Red Fort and the many shops and bazaars in the narrow streets.
Today, when people talk about New Delhi or simply “Delhi,” they are generally referring to the overall megacity which includes all of the contiguous urban areas in addition to the political capital of New Delhi and the cultural center of Old Delhi. This larger urban area now has an estimated population of 30 million, making it one of the largest, and most dense, cities in the world.
LEH, LADAKHLeh, the capital of the territory of Ladakh, sits at an elevation of 11,500 feet surrounded by rugged mountains. For centuries, the Kingdom of Leh played an important economic role as a stopover on the trade routes between Tibet and Kashmir.
While there might have already been settlements in the area servicing trading caravans, a Tibetan prince named Skyid Ide nyima gon established the Kingdom of Leh in the 10th century. The culture in Leh and the greater Ladakh region is still deeply rooted in Tibetan Buddhist traditions, and you will have the opportunity to visit monasteries and learn about Buddhist beliefs during your time on this adventure.
The city of Leh was built on the banks of the Indus River, which supports small-scale agriculture in this otherwise arid region. Barley is the main crop, which is used to produce the staple food, tsampa.
MANGYUThe Temple Complex of Mangyu is in the village of Mangyu approximately 30 miles from Leh. The first monasteries in the village are believed to have been bult around the 12th or 13th century. Additional temples and chapels have been built over time, richly adorned with striking paintings of buddhas and bodhisattvas. In addition to the artwork being rare and distinctive, the fact that these temples are integrated into the rest of the village rather than being set apart gives them a humble, intimate feel.
These temples are built in an early Tibetan style, probably commissioned by The Great Translator Rinchen Zangpo and King Yeshe O’d of Western Tibet. Zangpo was a great advocate for the spread of Buddhism across the Himalaya and is reputed to have built 108 temples in the trans-Himalaya region.
Our private lodge in Mangyu, which was established in a conservation partnership with the community, places us right in the best place to begin scouting for snow leopards in addition to their prey such as bharial, ibex and urial.
ALCHI GOMPAAlchi Gompa, a monastic complex built between 958 and 1055 A.D., lies on the south bank of the Indus River at 10,200 feet. Along with Mangyu and Sumda Chun, it is a member of the “Alchi Group of Monuments.”
One of northern India’s earliest Buddhist learning centers, it contains some of Ladakh’s oldest surviving paintings that reflect the reign of both Buddhist and Hindu kings from neighboring Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh. Visit the two main temples with huge Buddha statues and elaborate wood carvings, plus the dukhang where monks worship beyond a veranda lined with frescoes of a thousand Buddhas.
Although it is no longer an active religious center, it remains one of the most historically and culturally important sites in the area.