Colours of the Kimberley Coast

Sparkling sapphire sea, cloudless bright blue sky, deep brick red pindan cliffs, cream and orange sands, purple mulla mulla flowers and spectacular multi-coloured sunsets, this is the Kimberley coast in “winter”.

Our time on the Kimberley coast was spent hopping from one beautiful spot to another. First was Eighty Mile Beach. The Wallal Downs Station has established a very pleasant caravan park on part of their ocean frontage property and located behind a small dune to provide wind protection. Well-watered green lawns, plentiful trees for those who want shade or open areas for those that need solar power and viewing platforms to sit and enjoy the evening sunset spectacle. The beach is wide and the sand firm, great for long walks, and there are apparently plentiful fish to be caught from the shore or boats.

After the dust of the Pilbara the showers were also a treat and the washing machines very welcome. We planned to stay two nights but stayed three and could easily have extended further except some of our supplies were getting low and couldn’t be replenished before we reached Broome.

Next stop was Barn Hill, another station run caravan park. This park lacks the green grass so it is dustier and the sand on the beach is not as firm for walking but there are spectacular rock formations at the back of the beach not far from camp and also red pindan cliffs, multi-coloured rocks and fascinating rock pools along the shore.

This time we managed to leave after just two nights and then drove straight into Broome to replenish our supplies before back tracking to spend a couple of nights at the Broome Bird Observatory. 

The Bird Observatory is one of our favourite places to stay in this area. It is located at the top of Roebuck Bay about 30 minutes drive from Broome. They do a lot of work in monitoring migratory birds, run tours and provide accommodation or camping. The camping area is small and always very quiet, only about ten sites and no power or generators. A Shade House serves as a camp kitchen, viewing point for watching birds and wallabies at a water point and as a general meeting place. Every evening a bird roll call is held when they record all birds seen or heard within 70 kilometres during the past 24 hours. It is always peaceful and friendly and just across the sandy road are the marvellous colours of Roebuck Bay. Aerial shots in the area are especially rewarding.

The Dampier Peninsula lies north of Broome and this was our next destination. There is free camping at a few places along the southern stretch of the peninsula and James Price Point is the most spectacular of these. Its also a favourite with Broome locals but as we arrive there mid week there are few others around and we find a great spot tucked back into the red pindan cliffs. There we escaped the strongest of the winds but could still gaze out over the amazing ocean in front of us. We could wander up the beach at low tide or take a dip in front of the camp at high tide but most of our time was happily spent enjoying the beauty and reading and relaxing.

We had four peaceful days before the weekend arrived and the area filled with locals out for the day or to camp for two or three nights. We spent most of a day trying to find another spot to camp further up the peninsula but most camp sites were closed due to covid and entry to all of the aboriginal communities is restricted to local residents or essential workers. The places which were open either didn’t appeal to us and were likely to be even busier than James Price Point so we back-tracked all the way and spent one night near Willie Creek and two nights at Quandong Point before returning to James Price Point for another two nights.

Finally it was time to return to Broome but this time we were treating ourselves and had booked into a very nice Air BnB. Seems our stay in Geraldton has made us soft. We had eight days in Broome and managed to eat out at some very nice places, enjoy some drinks at Matsos Brewery (my personal favourite was the Angry Wranger, a mix of ginger beer and chilli beer), visit the markets a few times and enjoy the food from the stalls, watch the Staircase to the Moon from Town Beach, visit Gantheaume Point when the full moon was setting just before sunrise and drive up Cable Beach a couple of times to watch the sunset with a picnic meal.

Remote, Rugged and Captivating

Inland Pilbara is hot, dry and dusty and there are very few towns or people. Places to get supplies or support are few and far between. The ground is rich in natural resources and mining companies are busy digging them up, transporting them to the coast and shipping them overseas. Most of the rivers are dry beds but their width show that when it does rain it is likely to flood. The far east of the region consists of deserts including the Great Sandy Desert, the Little Sandy Desert and The Tanami Desert. We just love it!

This trip we did a short (for us) loop around the top of Karajini to Auski, across country to the Newman to Marble Bar road, up to Nullagine and then east to Skull Springs, Running Waters and Carrawine Gorge and then back to Marble Bar and finally out to the coast near Eighty Mile Beach. 

All the mining in the region makes travel both easier and more difficult. The easier part comes from the network of well maintained roads and the more difficult from the traffic along the roads. Wide loads are common as the mines shift their heavy equipment around. This load was so wide we had to pull well off the road to let it past.

On dirt roads huge semi trailers create clouds of dust which are dragged behind them. Visibility can be zero so it’s just a matter of pulling well off to the side of the road and waiting for the dust to settle minutes later. Once away from the mines the roads might be rougher but the scenery is always captivating.

We made an overnight stop on the road between Newman and Marble Bar on the banks of the Fortescue River. It was close to the road but the traffic was minimal after dark and it was a very pretty place for a stay.

Midway between Newman and Marble Bar is the tiny town of Nullagine where we stopped for a rest break before leaving the main road and heading east toward the deserts.

When we visited this area six years ago we briefly visited a place originally called Eel Springs but now known as Running Waters and had the place to ourselves. Ever since then Paul has wanted to return to take photos of the twisted paperbark trees surrounding this permanent spring. As a bonus the water is crystal clear and even slightly warm as one of the springs comes from the artesian basin.

Well word has certainly spread about this place, it was busy. We’d left the coast because school holidays had started but seems like lots of other West Aussies had the same idea. We managed to snare a nice spot right by the water, someone had just left, and hoped to stay for several days. We swam and relaxed and Paul was out at sunset and sunrise and was pretty happy with his shots.

Unfortunately on our second day we acquired close neighbours who had a taste for heavy metal music and we decided to move on the next morning. After backtracking a little we turned off the road toward a camping spot near the Davis River. The side track was easy to find, it was marked by some animal skulls on a post so naturally the alternate name for the camp is Skull Springs. It was much quieter here, just one camp set up by the water and we decided to leave them to their peace and and we set up camp above the river bed in an open spot with scattered white gums around.

Our final stop in this area was at Carrawine Gorge, another favourite from our visit six years ago. That time we stopped for nine nights but this time the increased numbers of campers, the new vegetation along the water which impeded the views and the copious amounts of dust which billowed through many of the prime sites anytime a car drove past combined to shorten or stay to just two nights. It was still pleasant and the bird life was lovely but it was time to head for the coast and to clean up some of the accumulated dust.

Pilbara Jewel

Handrail Pool, Weano Gorge, Karijini NP

We love all of the Pilbara region of Western Australia and different parts have different treasures but the jewel of the region has to to be Karajini National Park. We’ve visited the park several times before but it’s a place you can visit time and time again to enjoy the wonderful country, the colours, the mountains and the deep gorges.

This is an ancient land; mountain ranges have weathered down and while they are still called mountains, Mount Bruce, Mount Sheila, Mount Nameless and Mount Meharry, in other younger countries they would simply be called hills.

Precipitation doesn’t occur very often but when it rains it pours. It’s a dry country now but there are still permanent water sources and the flat red earth is cut by deep gorges. From the top you can peer down into deep canyons to see waterfalls and rock pools. Several walking trails take you down into subterranean gorges. Our last visit was nearly six years ago and while Paul still tackled some of the difficult trails on this trip I lowered the bar and settled for moderate walks (up to class 4).

The first gorge we visited this trip was Kalamina Gorge. It’s one of the most accessible gorges and while not as dramatic as some we think it is possibly the prettiest gorge with some lovely little falls and reflecting rock pools. It’s in the middle of the park and on previous visits it’s been very quiet but word of its charm seems to have got out as the car park was nearly full when we arrived. We still managed to have plenty of quiet times to enjoy the beauty as most other visitors walked the gorge, possibly had a dip, and then left.

From Kalamina Gorge we travelled to our first camp at the national park campground near Dales Gorge where we stayed for three nights. The easiest entry into Dales Gorge is via a steep staircase down to Fortescue Falls. There were quite a few swimmers in the pool below the falls.

 From Fortescue Falls it is a short further walk to the idyllic Fern Pool.

Fern Pool, Dales Gorge, Karajini National Park, WA

The other entry into the gorge is via a steep path including a short ladder near Circular Pool. On our first evening we took a very pleasant walk along the rim. The late afternoon light displayed the beauty of the country and the wildflowers were a delight.

Circular Pool was closed due to a recent rock slide but the path through the gorge was still open and was a great walk on the next day.

About 50 km west of Dales Gorge several gorges meet and provide some of the most spectacular scenery in the park. We moved camp to best appreciate these places and spent the next three nights at the Karijini Eco Retreat. We stopped to enjoy the view at the lookout over Joffre Gorge and Paul returned there for some pre sunrise photography the next morning,

Joffre Gorge, Karijini NP, WA

The landscape and vegetation in this region is amazing and we never tire of it, especially when the sun is just rising or getting low and providing extra drama.

Weano Gorge with Handrail Pool at the end of the accessible area provides amazing rich colours

Another amazing gorge to visit is Hancock Gorge and at the end of a very tricky walk you reach the magical Kermits Pool where light bounces off red and gold walls to create magical waterfalls.

Before leaving Karijini we had one more stop. Hammersley Gorge is on the western edge of the park and has some amazing rock formations we have photographed in the past, This time we hoped to see the Spa Pool, a spot we had missed on previous visits. We reached the bottom of the gorge not long past sunrise and Paul began the scramble up the gorge toward the spa. I decided it was too tricky for me and picked my way up the rocky sides to a spot above the spa. From there I could see we had picked the wrong time of the day to visit as it was half in deep shade and half in strong sun.

Paul had a far more difficult trek to reach a spot where he made the same conclusion. Guess you can’t win them all. Anyway Paul managed a lovely shot of one of the small water falls and I enjoyed the amazing curves in the rocks.

If you have never been to Karijini you should put it on your bucket list and if you’ve only been once or twice or for just a short time it is certainly worth a return visit.

Coastal paradise

Ningaloo Reef in Cape Range National Park, Western Australia

Ningaloo Reef should be on the must visit list for everybody travelling in Australia. It stretches for more than 200 kilometres down the west coast of the continent from the North West Cape above Exmouth to Red Bluff not far north of Carnarvon. Much of it is a marine park and there are plentiful and beautiful fish and corals which can be seen by snorkelling straight off the beach. 

We’ve visited the reef, staying in the Cape Range National Park, on every previous visit to the west and this year was no exception. Bookings in the park can be hard to get, especially in the prime season from mid May when the Whale Sharks arrive until late September when the temperatures and the winds are both rising. Apart from odd days here and there the campsites are usually filled as soon as bookings open 6 months in advance. This year all bookings were cancelled when national parks closed when the covid restrictions were enforced and then reopened when the restrictions were eased. We were lucky, and quick, enough to get a two week booking in a small camp ground near two of the prime snorkelling spots. 

On the afternoon before our booking commences we reach the eastern side of the national park and took the road up to the top of the range next to Charles Knife Canyon. There’s no camping allowed but we find a spot to stop where we can set up late and pack up early and Paul can take some sunset and sunrise photos. 

After the photos were taken we stopped in Exmouth to make sure we had enough supplies for two weeks and our gas and water were full then drove around to the coast on the western side of the range. We set up camp on our site in North Mandu Camp, taking the camper of the back of the Ute and putting out our big awning and all our mats and got ready to enjoy two weeks of paradise. The weather was warm to hot, winds variable but only ranging from calm to moderate, and only a couple of days with clouds.

Days were spent snorkelling, swimming, walking in Yardie Gorge and relaxing in camp. The Yardie Gorge walk is not terribly long or difficult with only a couple of slightly tricky descents into gullies and there are some lovely views along the way and at the end. Paul also visited Pilgramunna Gorge at sunset one evening.

The beach in front of our camp was rocky and there was a southerly drift so our favourite swimming spots were Sandy Bay about 10 km south or Turquoise Bay a few km north. Turquoise Bay is also one of the prime snorkelling spots with either a relaxing swim and snorkel in the quiet bay or a snorkel on the other side of the point where the current allows you to drift over wonderful corals and colourful fish.

The best snorkelling however was at Oyster Stacks. These are only about a kilometre north of our camp and there is a significant southerly drift so we could walk up the beach over the rocks and enter the water and just drift back to camp. We had some days of great visibility and the coral is truly remarkable. It’s a fish sanctuary zone and they are prolific with amazing colours and shapes. We also spotted several rays and a turtle.

After our wonderful days we would usually sit at the top of the beach to watch the sun set into the ocean and chat with the other campers. Truly paradise.

Sunset from the top of North Mandu Beach, Cape Range National Park

The Red, Red Dirt of Home

Kennedy Range NP

If you travel in outback Australia the red dirt, which blankets much of the interior of this country, invades your vehicle and, no matter how well you clean your car, you will still be finding pockets of red tucked into crevices and hinges for years to come. The red dirt settles into the blood and soul of some people and I’m happy to be one of them. 

For many years I relished city and urban life then grew to love living surrounded by bush or near the ocean. I still love the bush and the beach and the occasional visit to the big smoke but if I’m away from the red dirt for too long I get a yearning to return.

Winter is the easiest time to travel in the outback when temperatures are more comfortable. Our last few winters have been spent either overseas or on the east coast so as covid restrictions eased and we were allowed to travel within Western Australia my first request was to head inland, camp in the bush and enjoy a good campfire, and see some of that red, red dirt.

Kennedy Range National Park is a couple of hundred kilometres inland of Carnarvon on the west coast of Australia. Rather than follow the highway up from Geraldton where we had spent the covid lockdown period we drove inland and travelled for two days along mainly dirt roads through the tiny settlements of Murchison and Gascoyne Junction. Traffic was scarce and it was great to be out of town and away from civilisation.

We found a pleasant overnight spot to camp at Bilung Pool. It’s a permanent water hole which was used by the early settlers and before that by generations of Aboriginals. Paul enjoyed catching the late afternoon and early morning light on the magnificent white gums at the edge of the pool.

We reached Kennedy Range by the middle of the next day and found several other groups in the Temple Gorge camp ground. The range is an eroded plateau and the camp and most walks are at the base of spectacular cliffs that rise 100m above the plains. The best way to appreciate the range is from the air and Paul flew the drone early in the morning, well away from camp, and captured some of the beauty.

Some walks enter the gorges and you pick your way through the rocks and admire the formations and patterns in the gorge walls. Others take you along the face of the escarpment and past huge rocks which have fallen in years past. A Wedge Tail Eagle rode the thermal currents above us.

There are no individual fire pits at the campsites but a large communal fire was a great place to cook dinner and to sit and chat with other campers each evening. After months of travel restrictions everyone was happy to be back in the bush and the conversations, as always, turned to previous adventures and experiences and future plans. 

Time to Hit the Road

Hutt Lagoon

Travel restrictions are lifting and we’re ready to give up our life of luxury and get back on the road. In fact we probably need to as we’ve taken advantage of an excellent kitchen and good supermarkets to try out lots of recipes. Not that we rough it too much when we’re travelling anyway.

We have loved watching the ocean every day and sunsets have been different every evening. Paul made a short video of these for you to watch.

We have ventured out very little except for grocery shopping etc but we made it as far as Kalbarri when the travel restrictions eased in WA. Paul got some fantastic drone footage over Lake Hutt. From the ground the lake is pink but from above the light reflects differently and chemicals and algae in the water make stark contrasts in colour.

We then spent the night at Lucky Bay campground and continued toward Kalbarri the next morning stopping at some of the amazing viewpoints in the Kalbarri National Park.

A lot of our time has been spent on our computers. Paul has produced some amazing images, entered a couple of competitions and also spent a lot of time sorting through photos to update his photography web site. He has refined the content of his portfolio to contain the images he is most proud of. The ones on display will be rotated regularly so it will be worth revisiting it every month. As well there is a section of our travel photos. There are thousands and I have been busy sorting these and trying to get names and captions on them. Most are done, hopefully all will be soon. I really recommend you follow the link to and bookmark it so you can keep an eye on it. My favourite way of viewing the travel photos is to select the first image in a collection (country or state) then use the full screen slide show option.

I’ve also been looking back through the posts we have written about our travels and decided there had to be a better way to read about particular countries or times. So I’ve added a tab to this site “Where Have We Been?” That tab will take you to an index to our posts about our travels in Australia, Africa or Asia or to the travel photos for each continent on Whitefella Walkabout Photography. I’d love to hear if you use these links and if you find them useful or interesting.

Anyway, where to next? We’ll be leaving on Tuesday of next week (9th June) and from here our initial plan is to travel up to Exmouth via the inland road and Kennedy Range National Park. Staying right on the ocean has been terrific but it will be great to see some red dirt, camp in the bush and take some interesting walks in the national park. Then we’ll head back to the ocean to spend two weeks at Cape Range National Park and Ningaloo Reef for lots of snorkelling. Karajini and Carrawine Gorge in the Pilbara are next on our agenda and by then hopefully we’ll be allowed to enter the Kimberleys.

We won’t even try to guess what we’ll be doing after that. Of course it depends if borders keep gradually opening up and we have lots of options. So many places to go, people to meet, things to do and of course photos to take.

Bunkering Down

Celebrating our Luck

In these times we need to be adaptable and after changing our plans heaps of times, I think we are now up to Plan H, we are very lucky to have landed in a very congenial spot to sit this out.

I’m sitting in a very comfortable AirBnB in Geraldton, Western Australia, gazing out over the Indian Ocean with the waves breaking gently onto the shore. Sure not doing it tough. Travel restrictions mean that this place which is normally filled by overseas travellers should be available to us for as long as we need it. When I think how tough it is for loads of people the restriction of our normal travel is a very small price to pay.

We are on about the same latitude as the Gold Coast so the weather should be mild and with a very quiet beach in front of us we should be able to get regular exercise without getting anywhere near anyone else. A careful weekly shop should take care of everything else. Thank goodness for the internet so we can access loads of materials; books, films, on line courses, social media, music, etc. We each have our own workspace; Paul’s in a darkish room for his photography and mine is in a spot where I am surrounded by light, fresh breezes and views. A large kitchen will be a delight to work and cook in.

Anyway, one of the things I’m planning on doing is posting some of the travel photos we’ve accumulated in the time since we got back from India last June and which I haven’t got around to sharing. They won’t necessarily be in any order but hopefully you will enjoy seeing them. Meanwhile Paul has loads of time to work with his images from Australia and overseas and to dive into some more on line photographic courses. 

We hope all of you are safe and healthy and coping with the enforced isolation without going insane. 

Don’t want to make you jealous but check out our current residence.

India Memories, Part Nine.

15. Tso Moriri Loop

After another rest day in Leh we set out on our final road trip in Ladakh. There are two high altitude lakes within reach of Leh and we chose to visit Tso Moriri as it is less visited and reputedly more beautiful. Our visit to Tso Moriri Lake at 4,540 metres above sea level provided us with our best sunset, coldest night, and most remote experience of our trip along with heaps of  great scenery. 

We opted to travel in an anti-clockwise direction and started our journey travelling on the Manali Road which is the main road to the south and the rest of India. The road through to Manali was due to open soon but was still closed with snow covering some of the passes further south than we were travelling but the one we had to cross was cleared so we had the double advantage of virtually no traffic and clear roads. At times the snow banked up beside the road was more than two metres high. The top of the pass, Tanglangla Top, is not quite as high as the Khar-dung La Pass but still a very respectable 17,582 feet (5,359 metres). The guard hut, unattended at present, was festooned with prayer flags which are common on many peaks and rises.

Not long after the pass we ventured off the bitumen road on to a well formed gravel road. 

With the melting of the snow the nomadic shepherds are returning with their flocks of long haired sheep, yaks and mohair goats. We passed several small nomadic villages, some occupied by the returning families, others still empty.

We passed close to Tso Kar, a large briny lake whose main attraction is for birdwatchers spotting elusive black-necked cranes. We are in luck and spot several of the birds although none are very close to us. Later we also see a mountain sheep which looks more like a cross between a goat and a buck and a very cute marmot poked his head out of a hole to check us out while we were stopped for another view.

The road becomes rougher with lots of corrugations and our driver decides to follow wheel tracks off the road to make the ride smoother. Its not a 4WD vehicle and before long Paul and I feel the car sticking and having difficulties. If we were driving we would have pulled back on the track and slowed for the corrugations but our driver decides to continue off road and soon the car lurches to a stop and we are stuck. With too little experience in these conditions our driver can’t get out but luckily vehicles coming in the other direction stop and with a lot of pushing and some digging and almost an hour’s delay we finally make it back onto the firm track.

During the afternoon the clouds were building and by the time we begin skirting the lake the sky is fully overcast and rain is falling on the other side of the lake. We stop in the village of Korzok for the night and we find a place for the night in a home-stay which includes dinner and breakfast. By then the temperature had plummeted and light snow was falling and we hurried out of the freezing wind. Later we watched a stunning sunset, but it was way too cold to venture outside and we were too busy enjoying the view to go to our room to collect a camera.

In the morning the sky was blue and the lake was bluer and we ventured a little further past the village to enjoy the views from a rise. Stunning.

The return journey was pretty but not as dramatic and by mid afternoon we were back in Leh for our final night.

India Memories, Part Eight.

14. Epic Road Trip to the Nubra and Shayok Valleys

After a day of rest to recover from our Indus Valley sight-seeing we set out on a four day trip across the Khar-dung La Pass to the neighbouring valleys of the Nubra and Shayok rivers. At 5,602 metres this pass is claimed to be the world’s highest motorable pass. As a comparison, Australia’s highest mountain is a measly 2,228 metres high. We made an early start but before we reached the top we were stopped at a checkpoint and sat for more than an hour while numerous other vehicles also arrived and waited. Light snow was falling and gradually other vehicles were allowed to continue but we still waited. We never worked out quite why we were delayed, several reasons were advanced but as our driver had limited English we were just glad to finally get moving. By now our early start to avoid the worst of the traffic had back-fired and there were streams of vehicles in front of us.

The snow thickened and the road which started as a good bitumen road deteriorated to one muddy lane so soon we were stuck in a traffic jam as oncoming vehicles caused everybody to move to the edge until they had passed. It was cold and what should have been a one hour trip up and over the pass turned into four hours but the view was worth it. Simply stunning.

The road snaked back down below the snow line and then we were back on bitumen and driving into the Nubra Valley.

As we were late and we still had a lot of distance to cover we made only a very short stop for lunch and saved our sight seeing in this valley for the return journey. We left the Nubra Valley behind and headed further west into the Shayok Valley which leads toward the border with Pakistan. Apart from patches of green around tiny villages, the towering mountains are stark and awe inspiring. 

Just seven kilometres before the border we stopped at the village of Turtuk. By now we had passed the western limit of Ladakhi-Buddhist culture and were in an area which is culturally and linguistically Muslim Balti. In fact Turtuk used to part of Pakistan until the 1971 war and the towering mountains to the west are across the current border. The growing season here is short and we arrived when the new growth of the buckwheat grass was vibrant. The main part of the village is set on a plateau above the river and water from a permanent stream which tumbles down from the mountains is diverted through channels which flow alongside path ways and underneath cool rooms which are used as refrigerators. Everywhere you go in the village you hear the sound of running water and coming directly from the mountains it is safe and delicious to drink.

We found a guest house to stay for two nights, a lovely room but as with all the places here the bed was rock hard. Hot water was available for bucket washes and the lovely people who owned the house also had a small restaurant next door. The food is very different to the rest of India and even very different to the rest of Ladakh. The Buckwheat pancakes with walnut sauce were delicious and unlike anything we have tried before. After the long drive it was nice to spend the next day just wandering around the village and along the paths at the edge of the fields.

From the end of the plateau the view back over the village was vibrant green and in the other direction we saw stark arid mountains.

The next morning we only had a short drive so we made a late start (after early morning photos by Paul of course) and we retraced our road to Hunder. Hunder village is Nubra’s top attraction for Indian visitors, who settle into relatively comfy guesthouses and tent camps, and then spend the late afternoon riding Bactrian camels through a series of sand dunes. We found the sand dunes to be less than impressive but the setting with the soaring mountains made up for them. We had no desire to ride the camels and the tented camp we were tentatively booked into was in the centre of the old village with no views so we were very happy to find a slightly more luxurious camp with a fantastic outlook and the owner was happy to match the rate for the luxury tent and included a buffet dinner and breakfast. They even sent somebody into town to get us some cold beers to drink as we sat outside our tent and watched the sun set over the magnificent scene. Far more comfortable than sitting on the back of a camel!

After a great night’s rest in our tent, on the most comfortable bed we had in our entire trip, we began our return journey to Leh. Just above the next village of Diskit is the very impressive Diskit Gompa (buddhist place of learning) and a gigantic (32m) statue of Buddha. 

By late morning we were ready to make our return journey back through the Nubra Valley and over the pass to Leh. Once again we encountered stunning scenery but while the snow was still thick it wasn’t actually snowing as we travelled and we also managed to avoid the traffic jams we encountered on our previous journey. Before too long we were back at the top of the pass looking down to the green patch which is the city of Leh, 2,200 metres below and roughly 30km away by road.

India Memories, Part Seven.

Ladakh Road Trips

After the heat of Rajasthan we retreated to a much cooler climate in the state of Ladakh nestled in the Himalaya Range. Even in summer the snow tops the mountains and roads over the passes are only open for a few months of the year. In the two weeks we spent in Ladakh we based ourselves in the provincial capital Leh in the heart of the Indus Valley. We spent a couple of days in town when we first arrived to acclimatise to the altitude and the lower oxygen levels. We then took a series of road trips through some of the amazing country-side in Ladakh with another two single days in Leh between trips to rest and enjoy wandering around the picturesque town.

13. The Indus Valley, Wonderful Temples and Monasteries 

For our first road trips in Ladakh we stayed within the Indus Valley as we didn’t want to tackle the very high mountain passes to neighbouring valleys until we were confident we had fully adjusted to the altitude. There are temples all over India but there is a concentration of very scenic Buddhist temples and monasteries along the Indus Valley. 

On a one day trip to the south east we travelled along the river to the monasteries at Shey, Thiksey, Matho, Chemry and Hemis. The monasteries crown rocky outcrops and prayer flags flutter in the mountain breeze. Prayer wheels spun clockwise release merit making mantras. All were impressive and at Chemrey, being off the main road, we could enjoy it in peace as we were the only visitors, Hemis providing the best tourist experience and Matho the best picture postcard view across the river as we approached it. 

The next day we set off on a two day trip west from Leh with an overnight stop in Lamaruyu before we returned to Leh. For most of the trip we travelled right next to the Indus River. The landscape was stunning; pockets of green irrigated land with lush trees and fields around the occasional villages in an otherwise dry and barren landscape and all surrounded by snow capped mountains.

Along the way we passed abundant military bases. This area is close to disputed territory with Pakistan and also provides the opportunity to train troops at high altitude so they can operate anywhere. Apart from banning photography in their areas there was no impact on our travels but we could not escape their presence for more than a short while. Colourful trucks use the winding road as it the only road linking Ladakh to Jammu and Kashmir. We passed the confluence of the Indus and Zanskar Rivers, a good place for kayaking apparently. It was great to be able to ask the driver to stop whenever we wanted to enjoy the views or take photographs.

We took a side road to the Likir monastery where we admired the gleaming, gold-painted 20th century Maitreya statue, the ancient well-used prayer wheels and the extensive views over the valley below.

In Lamaruyu a picturesque monastery tops an eroded hill and the landscape is pitted and aptly named the ‘moonland’. We had magnificent views from our room in the nearby guesthouse.

On our return trip we called into a couple of monasteries including the 11th century Choskhor Temple Complex in Alchi. Each temple in the complex is small and unobtrusive from outside but their design and millennium-old murals are rare archetypes of Ladakh’s Indo-Tibetan Buddhist art. The interiors of the temples were darkened and quite small but the artwork was magnificent; but unfortunately we weren’t allowed to take photographs.