Ladakh, a Mysterious Land

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Ladakh, the very word creates an image in our minds of a mysterious land and people who have been there would agree that it certainly lives up to the expectations.
Out of the several enchanting places in Ladakh, there is one that has mystified people for long and still continues to do so. It is a small stretch of road located about 30 kms from Leh towards Kargil and known as Magnetic Hill of Ladakh. On this particular part of the Srinagar-Leh highway, you would clearly see the road ahead going uphill. Yet if you turned off the engine and let your vehicle stand in neutral, it will slowly start moving and can go up to a speed of 20 kms per hour on its own.

There is a concept of optical illusion in neurosciences which in layman’s language means that you either see something that is not there at all or you see things different than how they physically are. Out of the numerous optical illusions recorded, there is one of Gravity Hill which means that a very slight downhill slope appears to be an uphill slope. Why it appears that way can actually be attributed to obstructed horizon, either completely or mostly. Our eyes and minds are used to using the horizon as a reliable reference to be able to tell if a particular slope is straight or if there is a slant. Without the horizon, we will not be able to tell for sure. The same concept works in aviation as well. Pilots up in the sky cannot see the horizon and if it weren’t for the electronic equipment and gadgets, they would never be able to tell if the plane is flying straight, upwards or downwards. If the horizon is obstructed, our minds get confused and can often perceive things to be horizontal or vertical when they are actually not. This illusion is much similar to that of Moon Illusion where the moon appears to be much large to the horizon or Ames room Illusion where balls can appear to roll against gravity.

There are several such mistakenly characterized Gravity Hills all over the world. Several roads that appear to be going uphill while the slant is actually downhill. There are rivers that appear to be defying gravity and flowing uphill which is again an optical illusion because the water is in fact flowing downhill. Tulsishyam in Gujarat, Electric Brae in Scotland and Gansu in China are just a few examples of such places.

This same concept applies to our Magnetic Hill in Ladakh. This is purely a natural optical effect caused by the specific layout of hills that obstruct the horizon. That short stretch of the road that appears to be uphill as a matter of fact is downhill and this is the reason why cars slowly gain momentum. The hills in front of your eyes at this stretch are naturally laid out in such a manner that they will deceive your mind and lead it to believe that you are going up. Since your eyes cannot clearly see the horizon, there is no way for your mind to contradict.

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