” I am afraid to look out the window, I am pretty sure we will crash into that mountain pretty soon!”
“Look or you will regret it!”
“Cut the regret babble with me, now is not the time!”
“If you want to see the Moon, take a look!”
… I managed to turn my head towards the window. He was pretty right; we had reached the Moon. A Moon called Ladakh.
I think we have all seen the images of the so-called Moon landing of Armstrong in 1969 – but few of us know that there is a Moon landing here on Earth: landing in Leh, Ladakh. By far the most fascinating flight I have ever had – Delhi to Leh, the capital of the Ladakh region. What was so special about this hour and a half flight? The view: mountains, mountains and again mountains.
How to get to Leh, Ladakh?
Basically, in order to reach Leh, you have two options. You can either leave from Manali with whatever land transport you prefer – car, motorcycle, bus – or you can take a flight straight to Leh. We would have loved to choose the first option because that route is very famous for its views, but we were pressed by time, so we had to choose the fastest one – flying.
We woke up in the middle of the night in order to reach the airport in Delhi; our enthusiasm was through the roof already. You should know, however, that you do not have that many options in terms of companies flying to Leh in Ladakh. Only a few of them fly there (GoAir, Air India and Jet Airways) and each one of them has flights early in the morning. The strong mountain winds that start blowing during the day are the reason for which flying to Leh actually involves waking up very early in the morning – so yes, this is not a good time to forget to set your alarm.
We entered Indira Ghandi Airport fully mountain equipped, wearing our hiking boots, even as the Delhi heat was creeping in. However, nothing could have bothered or annoyed us; we endured with stoicism any sort of smell, any stuffiness. Because we knew that in less than two hours a magical land would lay in front of us.
That moment when your eyes meet majestic mountains…
In the airplane my pulse was off the charts! The excitement and the eagerness of getting to Leh were fighting with the exhaustion felt after our too short night. However, when my eyes saw the mountains I totally forgot about any sort of lassitude! I instantly got mesmerized! I couldn’t keep my eyes off the view. It was actually the first flight when I didn’t sit next to Vlad because neither of us wanted to give up the “window seat”. And God, am I glad we did that!
The climax was when we started seeing peaks and cliffs. That was quite a view! Initially I was a bit disappointed because it was a tad cloudy. But soon I realized that the clouds actually offered a more playful scene. As soon as they would scatter we could see the wonders we were flying over. The light sneaking through the clouds created fairytale-like shades and nuances! We even managed to get a glimpse of the Nanda Devi mountain – 7,816m tall – the second highest mountain in India, a distinct member of the Himalaya Garhwal Range. This flight truly was a treat!
Besides the amazing views, it was a smooth flight… or at least it was until we started our descent. The captain announced that the runway was busy and thus we had to do a short detour. Given the tons of information I had mistakenly read about the flight to Ladakh and the landing on the airport in Leh at an elevation of 3,256 m – I instantly felt my stomach drop and in need for some ground under my feet.
My feelings were justified right in the following moments – it was by far the most abrupt (putting it mildly) landing of my life. I felt as if the plane would either hit a mountain with one of its wings or we would take a gracious nosedive and hit the ground. Basically, in order to land, the plane has to enter a narrow corridor between the mountains and there is not much space for any sort of maneuvers. Pretty fun, right?!
Is Leh Airport truly a dangerous one?
Leh Airport – pompously called Kushok Bakula Rimpoche after a famous lama – is the only airport in India which requires pilots wanting to land there a special and serious training. It is renowned not only for the altitude at which it resides but also for its flying corridor, having a well deserved place among world’s most dangerous airports (Sorry, mom, for not telling you this!).
In our case I truly believe that the GoAir pilot had graduated with excellence the certification course because we landed safely – and pumped with adrenaline. When we got off the airplane, I could literally feel my legs give out from under me of excitement, I had tears in my eyes – thus helping Vlad to make fun of me – and couldn’t say a word (which for me it’s a rare event!). The airport had an amazing view. We were surrounded by mountains. I didn’t know which way to look first… and I inhaled the freshest air I’ve ever felt. After months of drooling in front of pictures of Ladakh I was feeling it, breathing it, letting myself get captured by it.
There we were! We had landed on the Moon and from the first minutes in Leh we realized that calling Ladakh “The Land of the Moon” is by no means an exaggeration. Yep, Armstrong must have got the wrong coordinates!