If you have ever been to Leh, there is no chance of missing this one. An ancient structure, perched atop Tsemo Hill in the Himalayas, Leh Palace stands as a mute testimony to the changing times.
If palaces could have a soul, this place would have seen an evident change in Leh’s metamorphosis from the days of it being a cut-off region near Tibet to a bustling town, eventually catching fancy of travellers from around the world, and then ending up with a reputation that is now linked to the 3 Idiots’ fame.
While written records date its existence back to the 16th century, with Lhasa’s Potala Palace for its model, there are things and facts left unwritten. If you take counsel of historians, it is Leh Palace that stood as a model to the more famous Potala! A nine-storey structure, built mostly out of soil, rocks and wood, standing tall in a region of intense seismic activity, is no ordinary feat. Not to mention that back in the 16th century, all the construction material had to be carried on horses or by hand till the top of this rather steep and craggy hill. It, of course, was the royal quarter for King Sengge Namgyal, and still has an almost alive prayer room. Look closely and you will spot the ritual book right by the altar.
One look of the exteriors of this majestic structure and you would be in for some shock when inside. Most of the floors lie dilapidated, a number of unhinged doors, wooden beams coming off its roof – all this when the structure is protected by theArchaeological Survey of India (ASI). Once a royal quarter, this palace is now loved for nothing more than the panoramic views off its terrace.
In case you are wondering about its current fate, worth knowing would be the attraction it held for armies back then. While the Namgyal dynasty was busy preserving the region’s culture, headquartered in Leh Palace, General Zorawar Singh of Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s army, had his eyes set on the palace. It was another stepping step in his subsequent invasion of Tibet. A vantage point, Leh Palace fell to his army, like a gentle giant that could not defend itself. No wonder that General Zorawar Singh infiltrated almost 500 miles of western Tibet as well. Headquartered in Leh Palace, he successfully invaded Baltistan as well.
In the middle of all these wars, Leh Palace found itself deserted of its permanent inhabitants. General Zorawar Singh’s forces were on a winning spree, so high that gaining access to them, with all our modern technology is still a feat. His forces kept winning, while Leh Palace started crumbling with no owner to call its own.
The next time you are in Ladakh and visit this palace, soak in the wonder that it is. Soak in the splendour that it once was, up against all odds, against all raging armies. Climb up its terrace, and perhaps, for a second, you might find its soul.
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