Leh-Ladakh trip was a dream destination for me. I like to think myself as a little bit of photo enthusiast and bought myself a DSLR and Ladakh is the land where DSLRs and Royal Enfields attain "Nirvana". :)
Day 1, as advised by all the previous visitors to the place is for acclimatization. We followed the instructions and maybe it was the reason we did not fell any kind of AMS symptoms. But we did finalize the itinerary for next 8-days and booked a vehicle (Xylo- A decent choice for the distance and terrain we were to cover). The taxi guys came with a booklet which had the charges to all the places along with number of days to be spent there et al. We got a 15% discount on the booklet charges which was a good deal. For all the places we covered, the final taxi charges came to be Rs.30,700 all inclusive.
Leh to Kargil
We started from Leh at 6:30 AM as we had to cover a few places and Kargil is around 222 kms from Leh. When you vist Ladakh you will actually be able to relate to the saying where they say, " The path is more important than the destination", especially if you are into photography (even casually, like us). Point to be noted: Don't miss the sassy BRO signs. They warn you about just feeling the curves but not hugging them. ;)
Magnetic Hill is popular because the vehicles when put into a box here move up the slope without ignition. And it happens. The truth behind this gravity defying phenomenon is something else though. Read about it after your visit. I won't ruin it for you. Point to be noted: Put the vehicle in the box.
Gurudwara Pathar Sahib is a Gurudwara on the Leh-Kargil Highway maintained by the Indian Army. We reached there early morning and enjoyed Chai-Rusk ka Langar.
This was another small stop we took en route to Kargil. This is the meeting point of Rivers Indus and Zanskar. Google calls it "Confluence", locals call it "Sangam". The color difference between the waters of the 2 rivers is easily visible.
Likir Monastery belongs to the Gelugpa sect of Tibetan Buddhism and was established in 1065 by Lama Duwang Chosje, under the command of fifth king of Ladakh, Lhachen Gyalpo (Lha-Chen-rgyal-po). The monastery has a 75ft long Maitreya Buddha statue.
Alchi is one of many small villages we passed on our way to Kargil. This one is particularly famous for Alchi Monastery, which is one of the oldest monasteries (10th century) in the valley. The monastery is mainly known for its magnificent, and well-preserved 11th or 12th century wall paintings, all in an Indo-Himalayan style. There was a small dam and hydel power project closed to the monastery. We walked there as well.
Lamayuru & Moonland - The stopover at Moonland, which has the surface similar to moon. I haven't been to the moon to confirm that but yes the surface was very different from the ones we had seen till then and ones we saw later. There is a monastery in Lamayuru as well.
Fotu la is a beutiful viewpoint on NH-1. At an altitude of 13479 ft, it is also the highest point on the Srinagar-Leh Road. There is also a Prasar Bharti center here.
We reached Kargil in the evening. kargil is just another small town in the region. There isn't much to do in Kargil but there are some great war stories to be heard. One such was about Plateau Nath Baba, ingeniously named after the topographical feature said baba resided on. Story goes that enemy shells refused explode around him, but did so when immersed in the river; leading the troops to believe that the nameless mad man was indeed a divine being. Presently a Shiva temple, maintained by the Army, stands near his hut with an ante-room dedicated to him.
Kargil to Leh
We visited Kargil War Memorial the next morning. The memorial is around 50km ffrom Kargil, towards Drass. War memorial is aptly built at a place from where we can see all the major battle points. It was overwhelming for us to see, read and listen to stories from the war, looking at Tiger Hill, Batra Top et al which we have just heard in news. This is a must visit place for all the Indians as this gives you a glimpse into the hardship of our soldiers and a chance to learn about heroics of our defense forces. The exit of the memorial has the following written, "When you go home, tell them of us say that for your tomorrow, we gave out today". Point to be noted: Do read the letters of soldiers and stories of war.
We reached Leh feeling a tad tired but had no idea that the visit to kargil and return was the most back-friendly route that we were to take during the whole trip.
Leh to Hunder, Nubra Valley
We started a little late compared to last time as we only had a few places to cover before reaching Hunder, where we were to stay the night as well. The road was good in the initial part. We met a small accident which kind of ate up a lot of our time. I, personally was looking forward to reach Khardung La Top with minimal crowd at the place but the mishap and fight after that ensured that no such thing happens. The route was again a treat to the eyes though.
Khardung La Top - The highest motorable road in the world. The approach road to Khardung La from both side is somehow motorable. From North Pullu to South Pullu, a stretch of abut 29-30 km was in bad condition, the work was in progress though and the condition worsens every year due to snowfall and rains in winters. Khardung La was the highest point at 18380 ft that we were to be at during the whole trip. Point to be Noted : Get in the queue to get your pictue with the board that declared the altitude and info about the place being the highest motorable road. (You go there for that picture)
There is a check-point at North Pullu. We had a small stopover as some paperwork had to be done by our driver. A beautiful small stream from Shyok river passed near the place where we had the national breakfast/lunch/dinner of the region, Chai-Maggi. :)
Panamik has a natural hot water spring. There is a bath and kitchen which has the facilities so that you can take bath in the natural hot water spring water or eat food cooked with the water. There are medicinal benefits of both. Point to be noted: Skip this.
Situated in Sumur village of the picturesque Nubra Valley, the Samstanling Monastery is considered to be an important Buddhist shrine. The founder of this monastery was Lama Tsultim Nima, who establishes it is 1841 (probably the newest that we visited). Painted in bright and beautiful shades of re, golden and white, the gompa can be spotted from a distance. The flights of stairs that lead to the shrine is also colored in red and adorned with brightly colored traditional prayer flage. Point to be noted: Doors. Awesome bright red doors.
Diskit Monastery is the oldest and largest Buddhist monastery of Nubra Valley. It belongs to the Gelugpa (Yellow Hat) sect of TIbetan Buddhism. it was founded by Changzem Tserab Zangpo, a disciple of Tsong Khapa, founder of Gelugpa, in the 14th century. It is a sub-gompa of the Thikse gompa. There is a 106ft statue of Maitreya Buddha near the monastery.
We reached Hunder and headed straight to the sand dunes. The place was a little unbelievable to be true. A desert in the middle of mountains with splashes of greenery and small puddles of water. There were camels, the double humped ones, also known as Bactrian camel.Nubra is famous for these. There was an option of taking camel ride on one of them but we opted out of it. The sand dunes are a nice place to spend some time. You can click pictures, stare into the vastness of nothing, take camel rides, or just chill. Point to be noted: Have sufficient time on your hand while you are here.
Hunder to Leh
We headed back to Leh from Hunder. Had a stopover at Khardung La top and saw a bit of overnight snow nearby as well.
Leh to Pangong Tso Lake
One has to cross Chang La pass, second highest motorable road in the world at an altitude of 17,590 ft. It was very windy and chilly at the top but the Chai-Maggi came to our rescue yet again. :) The roads were under repair in this route as well.
Pangong Tso is the most beautiful place I have been to in my lifetime. We reached there at 11:30 AM. The water turned into turquoise after 1:00 PM. I think it has to do something with the position of the sun. It is so beautiful that you can never get enough of this lake. There are a lot of 3 idiot themed eateries. There is Piya's(Kareena's character in the movie) yellow scooter and Red helmet with which you can get your pictures clicked (INR 50 per person, eh). Point to me noted: Set your feet into the water (Remove shoes, of course). We came back to Leh the same day.
In and around Leh
The day was for covering all the places in and around Leh. The list included a lot of monasteries and a few palaces basically.
Hemis Monastery is a Tibetan Buddhist monastery of the Drukpa Lineage, located in Hemis, situated 45 km from Leh, originally established in 11th century, the monastery was re-established in 1672 by the Ladakh king Sengge Namgyal. The annual Hemis festival honoring Padmasambhava is held here in early June. It is one of the most beautiful monasteries that we visited. The wall paintings and architechture of the monastery stood out. There is a small museum in the monastery compound itself which sells souvenirs and is worth a visit.
Thiksey monastery affiliated with the Gelug sect of Tibetan Buddhism. It is located on top of a hill in Thiksey village, approximately 19 km east of Leh. It is noted for its resemblance to the Potala Palace in Lhasa, Tibet and is the largest gompa in central Ladakh, notably containing a separate set of buildings for female renunciates that has been the source of significant recent building and reorganization. The monastery is located at an altitude of 11,800 ft in the Indus valley. It is a 12-story complex and houses many items of Buddhist art such as stupas, statues, thangkas, wall paintings and swords. One of the main points of interest is the Maitreya, the largest such statue in Ladakh, covering two stories of the building.
The school got famous after the film 3 idiots was shot here. This was shown as "Rancho's School" in the movie and they still use that name for tourists. The visit to school was a good experience. The school uses some of the amazing technologies to preserve energy. The tour to the school was for free but the interaction with students was strictly prohibited. Would have been nice to interact with a few students.
The Shey monastery and the Shey palace complex are structures located on a hillock in Shey, 15 km to the south of Leh on the Leh-Manali road. Shey was the summer capital of Ladakh in the past. The palace, mostly in ruins now, was built first in 1655, near Shey village, by the king of ladakh, Deldan Namgyal, also known as Lhachen Palgyigon. It was used as a summer retreat by the kings of Ladakh.
Shanti stupa is a Buddhist white-domed stupa on a hilltop in Chanspa, Leh. It was built in 1991 by Japanese Buddhist Bhikshu, Gyomyo Nakamura and part of the peace pagoda mission. The Shanti stupa holds the relics of the Buddha at its base, enshrined by the 14th Dalai Lama. The stupa has become a tourist attraction not only due to its religious significance but also due to its location which provides panoramicic views of the surrounding landscape.
Hall of fame is a war memorial for all the wars fought in the region. There were war heroes and their stories since 1947-48 war with Pakistan. The feeling, as an Indian was of great pride visiting this place. There is a section dedicated to Siachen Glacier and the troops there. Just by reading and seeing the things one could understand the hardship that our soldiers go through just by being there.
When wife says we need 2 days for shopping, we probably do, and may still miss a few things despite multiple visits to the market :P. The main market of the city is a small one with high redundancy across shops but it was great to listen to a few stories from a few old timers who would tell about times when there were only 3 four-wheeler in the region and when people used to play Horse polo right where the market stands today. Few of the interesting things we bought apart from the usual prayer flags, shawls, dry fruits and fridge magnets, were some crockery with dragon print and all. Remember to bargain like crazy when you are here. The shopkeepers are used to foreigners and the prices are inflated upto 400-600%. Also, do try apricots. They are yumm. Point to be noted: Don't skip the market. Even if you have kept it for the last day and you are tired.
It was one of the best trips of my life. We probably had 1 extra day but it is wise to have that extra day, just in case.
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