If you have a motorbike trip in the Himalayas on your mind—one that does not leave you with a complaining back—the road to Alchi from Leh is just the thing that you need. At around 65 km from Leh, Alchi is a place that will take you back in time, by hand and by soul. Think of offbeat Ladakh and Alchi is one place that you should not miss.
A village lost in time, it will leave you breathless, both with its mysticism as well as its altitude (10200 ft)! While a lot of tourists to Ladakh skip it, believing it to be a place meant only for those into Buddhism or some spiritual practice, Alchi might just put your soul axis in the right place.
It comes as a breather if you have landed in Leh from one of the metro cities, for Alchi is a village in every sense. Half-baked roads, sided by poplar trees, sleepy folks selling relics, apple orchards full of darting sparrows, apricot-laden trees (one might just land on your head with a definite plop), a restaurant or two serving real (actually real) Ladakhi food, the Indus river roaring by its side, friendly dogs that turn scary at night, and clean blue sky—that is what Alchi is, and I still do not think I’ve found the aptest words to describe this quaint hamlet.
A short ride from Leh if you do not take a lot of stops for photography (which is not possible for the road is scenic), Alchi will woo you one step at a time.
The REALLY ancient Alchi Monastery that looks so fragile that you might not want to touch it should be your first stop in Alchi; built between 958-1055 CE, it has certainly stood time’s travails from centuries. It is a group of four different complexes, Sumtseg, Dukhang, Lotsawa and Manjushree, each devoted to one or the other Buddhist deity. Surprisingly tiny wooden doors will take you to each of these complexes; I had to double down to get inside while a strongly pungent yet alluring incense scent assailed my senses.
Alchi Monastery deserves a good mention and more than just a visit, as there seem to be so many mysteries around it. A giant dhoti-clad statue (sources say 17 ft) of Avlokiteshwara is stunning, and also sets you thinking about its very different design and patterns. Some say these statues were built by artists from Kashmir, back when Buddhism was the dominant religion in the state. Would have shared more photos but it is prohibited, and I complied for it is a treasure trove and much revered by the locals.
Diving deep into history books and online sources, I found that the Alchi Monastery eluded much of plundering and destruction from invaders because it has been seen as a rural, backwaters-like village, off from the highway as well. The longer you stay in the temple complex, the more you would be intrigued with its high beams, several-tiered construction and the fact that blasting from a nearby dam site has started showing its effects on the ancient complex.
In fact, even the rather wild Indus river looks pretty much tamed here, more like a streak of green ribbon going its way, sad and silent. It is a pretty picture nonetheless.
The mysteries and ancient nature of this temple complex will make you enter a time warp, and you might not feel like getting out of it.
While there, I sat and chatted with the local women, who were busy in breaking drupe shells, ready to get almonds and then oil for the prayer lamps. They would not be very chatty, but might just make you feel welcome with shy smiles and, if lucky, an offer of almonds!
Outside the Alchi Monastery, narrow streets are lined with shops selling curios, from tiny bronze idols and fancy dream-catchers to Buddhist figurines and studded rings.
If you are not into shopping, restaurants in Alchi will keep you quite happy. Most have apple and apricot trees around the seating area, and that is one good reason why having apricot juice here is a must; fresh you see. One of the restaurants here (that does not like to be named) will make you super happy with a menu that has apple walnut salad, baril (a dip made of walnut, apricot kernel and coriander), a range of mok-moks (momos as known in the region), Kashmiri pulao, paba (mixed grain and legume pudding), tangtur (green vegetables in butter milk and mountain chives) and so much more.
If you are somebody who is experimental with food, like me, you will love this place. My recommendation apart from a lot of Kashmiri pulao and those walnut dips is their dessert special—chocolate apricot walnut dumplings (mok mok again) with chocolate and apricot sauce.
I cannot tell what you will bring back from Alchi; there are no keepsakes here. Unless you count happy memories as one.
Liked this? If yes, you might also love my post on why just one trip to Ladakh will never be enough.