Hanle, in Ladakh, is possibly one of the world’s most enchanting, serene and breath-taking places.
It is home to a lovely monastery, offering some great aerial views of the entire village, with a population of over 1,000. Hanle also houses the Indian Astronomical Observatory — the highest observatory in the world — at a staggering height of 4,500 metres. The Hanle observatory is operated by the Indian Institute of Astrophysics, Bengaluru, and is currently the second-highest optical observatory globally, with an installed telescope of about 2.01 metres (6.5 feet) diameter.
On the way to Hanle from Leh, it seems like you’re on a different planet altogether. Its horrifying beauty — so eerily calm — imparts the feeling of being lost in an alien land. There is some wildlife to spot along the way: mostly wild asses, golden ducks, rabbits, jackals. You can also see a few nomads along the roadside, in their makeshift tents and surrounded by their cattle and dogs.
Hanle village now has few guest houses, apart from the official guest house of the Indian Astronomical Observatory. The sky seems close, crystal blue, filled with stars in the evenings/nights. Although people generally expect to see a large telescope (to view the stars), the observatory is equipped with big camera system through which astronomical readings are taken and sent to the Bengaluru headquarters, an engineer at the facility told me. The computer-controlled opening of the observatory’s dome seems like something out of a Hollywood science fiction movie!
Hanle is among the highest altitude villages of Ladakh (at around 4,300 metres) and is situated about 275 km from the town of Leh. Just before you enter Hanle, there is a smaller village called Nyoma. Here too, the landscape is breathtakingly lovely, and the soil has a red hue.
On the road to Hanle, you’ll also pass military camps. These are well-maintained, well organised and quite lavishly decorated. And as you zoom by, you’ll find personnel from the Indo-Tibetan Border Police, jogging along.
It makes for a surreal, but oddly fitting sight, on the lonely road.
A photo-essay on the journey to (what seems like) the top of the world:
(All photos by Javeed Shah)
On a pleasant early morning, a shepherd family can be seen camped near Hanle village .