It is true when they say that we miss out on visiting the places nearest to us. Having stayed for almost two years in Leh, visiting the Leh palace was an afterthought. A week before leaving the place we decided that as long as we are here why not finish off this too. The main reason behind this procrastination was the mixed feedback I had received. The place was in ruins, there were no artefacts, the royal family had ,moved out long ago, it was under renovation and it was just a pile of rubble. I almost missed out on visiting the palace and now I realise what a loss that would have been.
All the reasons given were true. It is almost in ruins and the ASI is doing massive renovations. In fact they have a picture gallery inside which bears testimony to the fact that it has been renovated to a great extent.
Now with the restoration work the palace structure is at least looking strong.
Such things aside what I felt when I was walking around the palace was the fact that here is a place, a structure so steeped in history. Sure it is not a glamorous, marble laid, beautiful architectural marvel. It is a mud and brick structure that bears testimony to the sheer will power and perseverance of the human mind and body. Now Leh is a sprawling town full of tourists, restaurants, hotels and an airport. But just imagine the people who built this place in the 17th century, in a land so harsh that merely breathing is an exercise. They built it amidst a wide wide expanse of nothingness on the only hospitable piece of land they could find amongst the ranges that sprawl for kilometres around. They built nine stories of this palace buttressed up against a steep cliff to protect themselves from marauding armies. And 300 years later it is still standing and not become a pile of stones.
Modelled on the Potala Palace in Lhasa, the palace was built in the 17th century. The nine stories high palace had the royal chambers in the upper stories and the lower stories housed the palace staff, stables and store rooms. When the Dogra forces overtook Ladakh the royal family was exiled in 1846. They moved to the Stok palace across the river Indus where they still reside.
As you enter the palace the first thing that strikes you is the bird’s eye view of the whole valley floor.
Flights of stairs lead up and down.
The roof is low and the corridors are narrow.
The main entry is at the fifth level.
The walls and floors are all mud and brick with thick wooden beams for the roof.
You can still see remnants of paintings on the walls.
The steps take up up the floors till you reach the royal chambers. The royal chambers are on the top floor with a beautiful view around.
The royal apartment is small and consists of few rooms and some nooks and crannies.
The wooden balconies overlook the town.
The royal shrine is still maintained.
There is not much else to see. I wandered around imagining the place 300 years ago. What a sight it must have been.