Norvo, our driver for the next ten days, arrived punctually.
The first stop was a massive Buddhist stupa, perched high on the hills overlooking Leh.
I consider myself reasonably well-travelled in India.
I have certainly experienced the extremely chilly nights of hill-stations in Munnar and Ooty and Sikkim.
But I was not prepared for this.
On the flight from Delhi to Leh, a Ladakhi passenger had asked me: “Why are you coming now? It is far too cold for you!”
I had shrugged off the question, thinking not only that decades of British winters must have had toughened me up, but that I was well prepared, and had packed sufficient warm shirts, sweaters and fleeces to keep both Robin and I comfortably warm.
I was mistaken.
This was a degree of coldness with which I could not possibly cope.
I was wearing a sleeved vest, long kurta shirt, warm jacket, woollen scarf and heavy shawl.
I had decent trousers, thick socks and sturdy shoes on.
But I felt that my body and mind were slipping into shut-down: I was hardly able to operate my camera.
The climate was perishingly frozen; the landscape utterly bleak.
The only warm colours were man-made:
Norvo, a native Ladakhi, was born, and totally accustomed, to the climate.
When we left the car he would squat beside it, quietly singing to himself.
I was now reluctant to leave the car at all.
If our expedition was not to be a disastrous mistake, this was a situation which demanded urgent remedies:
Leaving the stupa, I asked Norvo to take us to the clothes market,
Within the hour I was kitted-up in very thick gloves, fur hat, and a goncha: the heavy woollen coat worn by Ladakhi men and women.
Despite feeling like a bit-actor from a dubious ethnic block-buster, I also felt wonderfully warm.
Pictures taken from beside the massive Shanti Stupa, overlooking Leh.
The last time I landed in the Himalayas was a trifle disconcerting.
Instead of snow-capped mountains, we were greeted by vast acres of flat green tea estates.
Arriving in Ladakh was very different.
As the captain’s voice issued reassuringly formal instructions to his crew, I glanced at the windows to see gigantic mountains peaks pass unnervingly close-by. It was like a scene from “Lost Horizon“.
The pilot managed these daunting challenges with great skill and made a smooth landing.
We emerged from the plane into a frozen landscape of browns, greys, and whites; totally unlike tropical Kerala.
We had reached an environment apparently devoid of greenery and warmth.
This was Leh airport, at over 10,500 ft above sea-level, the world’s highest, “open-all-year” commercial airport.
Having collected our luggage from the smallest baggage carousel I have ever seen, we were met and taken to our hotel.
Check-in, passport formalities, hot Tibetan tea and a chance to rest followed:
Our definitive driver was booked to arrive at three in the afternoon.
He would introduce us to Leh, and some of its intriguing photo-opportunities.
Pictures taken in Leh, Ladakh.