We drove back through the well paved Manali route which had a different kind of beauty with colourful rocks. We passed through Taglang La, the second highest pass in the world. Having visited all the 3 highest passes of the world in a span of 10 days, couldn’t help but agree with the inscription on the board at Taglang La “unbelievable is not it?”
We made the most of our last evening at Leh, picked up last minute souvenirs, some apricots & yak cheese, had momos for dinner to our heart’s content, cleared payments at the hotel & packed up, all set to leave Ladakh with some memories that would remain forever. However, it seemed there was more adventure in store for us than what we thought.
The last haul!
Next day, we woke up to a foggy morning & a slight drizzle. We reached the airport to realize that our Go Air flight had been cancelled due to bad weather & poor visibility. Clearly it seemed the airport & the airline authorities were used to such cancellations regularly & couldn’t be bothered to help people with clear instructions on way forward.
Deciding to make the most of the additional day, we ventured out to our most expensive lunch of the trip at Grand Dragon, the best hotel of Leh. All the while, we kept trying two phone numbers that were given to us at the airport, to get an update on the status of our flight – however, as I had feared, both were switched off. Now beginning to panic, we frantically started calling the Go Air call centre & on our third attempt, got ourselves seats in the last flight out at 12noon the next day.
With fingers crossed, praying hard, we reached the airport to absolute mayhem. If last morning was crowded, today it looked like a fish market! With bated breaths, we waited for announcements to happen & all we heard were more flights being cancelled.
By this time, people had started losing patience. There was total chaos & drama around, with passengers starting to gherao the Go Air manager who was a complete nincompoop & absolutely hopeless at managing the crowd, questions & more so sentiments. After much deliberation, arguments, dharnas, media threats & fisticuffs, there was this announcement that only our flight was ready to fly & all other Go Air flights were cancelled for the day.
Suddenly this deluge of crowd descended at the entry gate, either trying to push their way through or stuff their luggage down the conveyer. At that point in time, security was at its lowest level possible with neither the airport authorities nor the very unimpressive army having any control whatsoever.
In the middle of all this, Jet Airways & Air India made the most of everybody’s helplessness – realizing the desperation levels of the passengers waiting for two days to fly out, started selling spot tickets at insane prices, almost 3 times the original cost (17-20K one way!!).
Totally exhausted, we somehow managed to board & the flight took off to this huge cheer & loud applause – probably a combination of passengers venting out pent up frustration & at the same time, heaving a sigh of relief.
As the cribbing & complaining continued, I looked outside the window to the most beautiful view that immediately blocked me from everything around. While I gazed dumbfounded at the exhilarating view of the Himalayan peaks, I realized, a set of absolute idiots & imbeciles were not worth enough to spoil a vacation that will not only be reminisced forever, but will be cherished as one of those experiences that you would want to narrate to your children & grandchildren! And so, with happy thoughts & extraordinary memories...this is how we got Leh’d!
The Ladakhi platter
With the high altitude, boiling vegetables is a tough ask & sometimes the food could be undercooked. Apart from the regular dal chawal & chicken curry, there are some things that you must savour while in Ladakh:
§ The ubiquitous momos – can’t get wrong with these. Available in chicken, mutton & vegetable forms, we were hoping to try some yak meat momos, but they weren’t as easily available as we thought they would be.
§ Thukpa – a thick broth with vegetables & meat that forms an entire meal in itself, a dish that is available easily both at the road side shacks & the restaurants across Ladakh.
§ Authentic Tibetan – Tingmo (a huge dollop of steamed bread) with chilly pork – a combination better than no other.
§ Apricot juice – totally fresh, a must try in the land of apricots. Gulbadan, the local juice brand of Ladakh is however more known for its apple flavour than the others.
§ Steaks & Sizzlers – thronged by foreigners, continental cuisine has formed an important part of the Ladakhi menu cards & a well-deserved place there. Succulent meat with some delicious jus, just works perfect after a tiring day of driving around.
§ Cakes & Pastries – there are a number of traditional bakeries all over the Leh market, churning out some delicious cakes & cookies – from apple crumble, almond cake, chocolate brownie to coffee cake, you name it and they have it all.
§ Maggi – In that cold, nothing works better than a hot plate of Maggi. So popular it is there, there is a sign board at Khardung La talking about its history & how it became popular.
Places to eat at Ladakh
§ Chopsticks – for momo & thukpa
§ Summer Harvest – for Tingmo & Chilly Pork & other Tibetan stuff
§ Lamayuru & Bon Apetite– for steaks & sizzlers
§ Gezmo – for sandwiches & burgers
§ Pumpernickel German Bakery – fresh pastries, cakes, tarts & yak cheese
§ Zangski & Ja Khang – for a lazy evening coffee
§ Road side shacks – Dal-chawal, Maggi & anda bhurji
10 travel tips for Ladakh
1. Ladakh ain’t for the faint hearted & this will not be one of those vacations where you can sack it out. So pick up your backpacks & be ready for some rough & tough adventure.
2. Don’t rush your Ladakh trip – break journey at Leh, you will do yourself good by spending a day to acclimatize. Remember to pick up a strip of Diamox & have it a day or two before you begin the ascent. Have it for 3 days to acclimatize & avoid any kind of Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS). And most importantly, drink lots of water & liquids to avoid any sort of dehydration.
3. Be mentally & physically prepared to stay in very average home stays, hotels & tents; for those with OCD, you better choose another destination for your vacation.
4. Make sure you have lots of nick nacks & a great playlist to survive the long drives – there is nothing better than good music to complement the beautiful views along.
5. Carry cards & some interesting games for the evenings at the camps.
6. Everything around is so breathtaking, make sure you have enough memory cards to capture every little memory to take back home.
7. Shop for prayer flags, prayer wheels, apricots & yak cheese - for everything else, there is Delhi Haat & Janpath.
8. Get ready to make Maggi your best friend for the next 10-12 days & you won’t regret it at all.
9. Similar to its undulating topography, Ladakh has very unpredictable & erratic weather. You will therefore need to be prepared with warm & light clothes. Best way is to make sure you wear layers (jackets, sweaters etc) so that you can keep taking them off when you are at the warm valleys & putting more on while driving through the freezing passes.
10. Trips like these can never be fun without great friends. So find the perfect set of friends & make this, one of the most memorable trips of your lifetime.