Leh is geographically 300 km northeast of Srinagar, but it feels like much farther in terms of its environment. As I sit in this cafe typing, we are behind the mountains. Away from the monsoon, the air has the arid, light, unforgiving smell of the high desert.
Leh’s proximity to Tibet rather than Pakistan also means a change in diet from meat to veggies, peace rather than “political tension”, and greetings of “Jule-lay” rather than “Salaam”.
As the smallest and highest town of our travels, Leh is also the most eco-friendly. The farmers here have managed to grow crops in the nutrient deficient land. They use waste as fertilizer, build houses out of local clay and conserve water really well. It’s a little jarring to see all this green in the middle of a desert.
What was most striking during our drive though was how little the environment related to its nation. The barren landscape we passed didn’t have an ethnicity. Its nationality was a matter of imaginary lines. The only culture it had was imparted by the architecture and the people who lived in it. Geologically, these mountains and deserts had similarities to environments in California, Colorado, etc. Standing at the 13479ft and looking out at the sunset over the desert, I felt like I could have been anywhere.