Overland Traveller



Travelling the road from Leh to Srinagar, Kashmir: a photo diary

The journey from Leh to Srinagar takes you from desert to lush valleys, from a Buddhist region to an Islamic one. The road hugs deep gorges, traverses mountain passes, comes under enemy fire and winds through peaceful rural idylls. It is a visual lesson in religion and politics: a geographical narrative on Jammu & Kashmir’s turbulent past, from remote Ladakh’s relatively untouched history to the Kashmir Valley’s long and troubled story, meddled with by everyone from the Mughals to the British.

A traditional wood-fired Ladakhi bakery in old Leh © Craig FastA traditional wood-fired Ladakhi bakery in old Leh © Craig Fast

Leh’s old town is a labyrinthine warren of gompas, mud-brick and wood buildings with low passages to duck under and open sewers to dodge. Craig got up early one morning to take pictures and the smell of baking bread enticed him to this hole-in-the-wall bakery on the edge of the old town. The old town comes to life early in the morning with locals sweeping, tidying and fetching water.

We left Leh at 1 pm, aiming to arrive in Srinagar 30 hours later.

Prayer wheels at Alchi Gompa © Emma FieldPrayer wheels at Alchi Gompa © Emma Field

The first stop of our road trip was Alchi Gompa, about two hours from Leh and 4km from the Leh-Srinagar road. Alchi is home to some of early Medieval Indian Buddhism’s oldest wall paintings; this collection of temples dates from the 11th century. Once our eyes adjusted to the gloom inside, we saw thousands of four-inch tall painted Buddhas gazing back at us. The most celebrated temple is the Sumstek, which contains a massive statue of Maitreya, the Buddha-to-come, illuminated only by the flickering light of butter lamps. Photography isn’t allowed inside, so this photo shows the prayer wheels lining the path to the monastery.

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