Climbing upto Castle Tsemo - Anecdotes from Ladakh

Sunday, November 07, 2010

For two days from my hotel window I saw tiny specks move up and down on a brown mountain i.e. people climb up the zigzagging trail from Leh Palace up to Castle Tsemo on a hill top.  For two years, since my last visit, hiking upto Castle Tsemo was on the agenda but I never had the time.They were mostly monks or locals and few foreigners from what I could make out of it. On the third day, I felt the imperative need to climb to the castle and sit on top. For the two days I noticed that the sun rises very early, and sets in very late, so I started very late, at 5 or so. Our hotel manager said it is a stiff climb, that could easily leave me breathless and susceptible to AMS, that the locals are used to it but us city dwellers should go by car instead, I smiled, and I said I am a trekker and I would like to climb up on my own. 


As I walked through the main market, I asked for directions to go to Leh Palace. Someone directed me towards the alleys that appeared after the mosque and asked me to walk straight ahead. I did as he said and it was a good decision. I was now passing through the heart of the town I suppose; I saw the locals, the locals’ houses, the unbelievably small alleys, the parked vehicles in nooks and corners. This is where the tourist would find the real remnants of the town. The rest is anyway modified to suit the needs and please the revenue generating strata. 

It was an interesting walk as I could see the architecture of the houses built. They used wood and mud to build small, congested but storied houses. Just like Leh Palace, I found the rooms to be very small. I once heard from a monk or a friend I remember not, that the rooms are built small so that they could be heated up soon. Well I think it makes sense. There were few signboards put up here and there to guide the drifting tourist like me. I reached the stairs that would lead me to the palace directly and I started walking up when the worst of my fears was threatening to come true. I was above the town and it was lonely with just the ruins of palace for company, but that was not the only company. There were few stray dogs barking and playing maybe. But I have to tell you, I am awfully scared of dogs and even more so, of non-local dogs. I looked around trying to look for options. I even considered going all the way back down to hotel. But just then another person, let’s call him the guy in the purple pullover, was making his way up the stairs. I had some company and I walked ahead, up the ruins to reach the Palace, with him always in my sight though. 

Once here, I took right and started to climb towards Castle Tsemo. There were just few vehicles at the place and since it was already six, the hike up to Castle Tsemo looked even more desolate with absolutely no soul in sight. The climb actually looked steep and it was muddy dusty trail up. I walked up a little bit and I saw none around. I was still contemplating if I should walk up all by myself at this hour of the day when the light would fade soon. And just again when I had my doubts, the same guy in the purple pullover started hiking up towards the castle. Again with some company I walked up enjoying the evening. It took me 20 minutes to reach the top. I sat on the tip of a cliff viewing the 360 degree panorama around me. 

PhotobucketSunsets in Ladakh can be an enchanting affair. The high mountains cast brilliant shadows while the sunrays light up the mountain tips only. So as I sat there I could see only the castle glowing in a warm orange tone while the rest of the mountain was in a dark shade. I also saw Shanti Stupa being illuminated just like that. It was a pretty sunset.  

Well the castle itself is not much of an attraction in my opinion, but the climb and the views from the vantage point do it for me. All surrounded by brown mountains with Shanti Stupa in the distant view and the town of Leh being the immediate view, the white remnants are surely a pretty sight. There are a lot of prayer flags on the top fluttering in the wind and the sound of the flutter is an absolute delight. I personally loved being there alone after the visiting hours which meant no bumbling tourists who come by the road. I sat there for quite a while staring into oblivion thinking how much I enjoyed doing this on my own. Maybe it is time for me to start solo travel, but yea the question of stray dogs and nightmares in weird hotel rooms is yet be taken care of. 

I walked around the castle for some more time. It was not getting dark but it was close to 7 PM and it was time to head back. While the guy in the purple pullover took the long way along the road, I had no option of doing so, for it is a long walk away from the town and I didn’t want to go alone after dark on a lonely roadway. I had to take the shortcut through the alleys but I made it in time back to the town not without a worry about dogs though, but definitely with a smile of satisfaction and an invigorated mind. 

Yes, today, finally I climbed up to Castle Tsemo. Yay!
Someone from their room must’ve watched the tiny white speck (me in my white jacket) climb along the zigzagging trail and thought of hiking upto it someday, someday!

Few photos to support the story here - 




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  1. seriously, are you still in ladakh ??? or came back to (un)civilization ?

    i mean do you take notes during your trek and post them later with you beautiful pics...or you just see your beautiful pics and remember everything that happened during it ???

    how can you really summarize these things...

    either way it goes...its excellent...

  2. wonderful! must have been quite an experience.. there are so many places i have seen and think ' next time i shall go there, climb this..'but its only sometimes that i am able to do it!

  3. ## Joshi - :)

    ## Jag - ha ha.. I wish!!
    I do take notes Jag, yes. But some memories do not need notes.. i note down the timings if necessary or if I take Photos then EXIF will have that data too.. And then ofcourse photos are there to refresh my memories!
    Thanks man! :)

    ## Anu - I know! Same here, traveling as much as I do, at times I think to myself next time when I look at some interesting place. But it never really happens.. :)

  4. I had been to the castle and palace by same route. The climb was very difficult for me, took around 30 mins from palace to castle. My heart was beating like a drum by the time I reached top. The scenery from there paid for all those effort. view from that wooden corridor on top(the one seen on the photo above) was awesome .


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