We were all set for today. Waking up early has it great benefits & I again learned that today. After having a quick, very light breakfast at 6:15 am, we left our hotel at 6:40 am. As obvious based on past 2 days, I was scared for my breathlessness issue at that height so as a precaution, I took medication (Diamox)Ride was smooth + bumpy. We reached peak in around 1 hour 50 mins. We stopped there for approx. 30 mins.Weather:Sunny with shades of clouds. Temperature around 18°C when we started from Leh. At Khardongla, around 2-3°C.Road condition:Total distance covered – 38 kmsLeh city to border of Leh – Bad patch of around 2 kms just before we hit the ascent.Start of ascent to upto approx. 16 kms till South pullu, patches of narrow but fair condition road. Also this is where one’s permit for entry for Nubra valley/Khardungla is checked.Last 16 kms – Bad Road with patches of narrow spacesReactions:Panic Attacks/Shouting on Shamik for slowing down the car – 2 ????Scenery– breathtaking scenes of partially snow-covered mountains.Breathlessness – Few moments especially when I got out for loo twice & had to walk. Shamik could feel the impact of height too, but he as usual didn’t react much.Being finally at Khardoungla – Awesome!!
Today you leave from Nubra and travel back to Leh. But first you can visit the Diskit monastery on your way which is the oldest and the largest monastery in Nubra valley. This is another famous tourist spot you can find. The unique attraction of this monastery is the gigantic statue of Lord Buddha overlooking the entire valley.
This pass on the Ladakh Range is in the north of Leh and is the gateway to the Shyok and Nubra valleys. The Siachen Glacier lies part way up the latter valley. Built in 1976, it was opened to public motor vehicles in 1988. Maintained by the Border Roads Organisation, the pass is strategically important to India as it is used to carry supplies to the Siachen Glacier.
On our fourth day we were to visit the highest point of elevation of our trip. It is almost 39 Km from Leh. Depending upon the road condition, weather and traffic takes around 2 to 3 hours. It is better to start early during the tourist seasons as lot of tourist vehicles create huge traffic jams. However in March the traffic is mostly locals and army convoys and a handful of tourists.As we left the hotel the cab took a route through the main market and other commercial areas of Leh. We got the first glimpse of the “non-tourist” areas of the Leh town. Soon we started climbing higher tracing the serpentine roads. The view was again breathtaking.The pass is on the Ladakh range and is considered as the gateway to the Shyok and Nubra valley. The road is a part of project Himank by BRO. It is a major transportation route as Khardung La is strategically important to India and falls on the supply route to the Siachen Glacier.Our cab was often making its way through long convoys of military trucks. These slow moving convoys also add to the congestion during peak tourist seasons. At some turns we could see the aerial view of the Leh town far below. The gradient of the road was surprisingly not that steep in spite of the ascent being of 6102 ft. from Leh town which itself is 11,480 ft. and Khardungla being 17582 ft. The climb of 6102 ft. in only 2&1/2 hrs. causes nausea, breathlessness and other symptoms of AMS. It is advisable to take a tablet of Diamox at least 2 hrs prior to the journey to avoid AMS. This of course should be discussed with a doctor first. The slow moving traffic unintendedly helps in keeping the sickness away. The condition of road is very bad at certain points in spite of the earnest efforts of the BRO. It is quite unavoidable at such a terrain and such harsh climatic conditions. The 28km. road from Leh to south Pulu is asphalted but beyond that it is mostly gravel and dirt. The vehicle moves very slowly in the later part. The road is very slippery with mud and ice most of the time.Before and after the pass there are two check posts where tourists have to register and show the inner line permit. We reached the south Pulu check post at around 10:30 am. The pass was still 11 km. away. It took almost another hour as the road was worst at the last part. The word Pulu came from a local word meaning stones used by shepherd boys who used to come here during the summer months. The pole on the Leh side is called south and that on the Shyok side is called North by the Indian army when they built the check posts.Khardung La is also historically important as it lies in the major caravan route from Leh to Kashgar in central Asia. The small population of Bactrian camels in Hundar is part of that legacy.We reached the top at around 11:30 am. Few tourist vehicles and some military trucks were also present. A group of tourists was enthusiastically posing before the pillar(falsely?) claiming the elevation of the “Mighty Khardung La” to be 18380 ft. It’s mandatory to have a click there. So we stood in the queue for our turn. After the photo session it was time to explore the place. The road slopes down towards the other side leading towards the Nubra valley. The surrounding hills were all covered with snow. There is a military camp. In emergency they provide medical assistance to the tourist. You can check the oxygen saturation level in blood here and if it is low you may get oxygen also. The army also runs a café at the top-the famous Khardung La café. But it was closed then as the tourist season has not yet started. We also visited a temple run by the army and a memorial.By the time two other groups of tourists had already left the place. Some of the army personal were only present, busy doing their routine work. It was extremely cold. Even at midday the temperature was minus 10 degrees. We were wondering how these brave soldiers spend days and nights here guarding the country, ensuring the safety and security of their fellow countrymen. Standing there we felt a deep regard for these real life heroes of our nation.It was passed 12:30 and we had spent more than an hour at the top without any breathing trouble or nausea. May be adequate acclimatization and proper precautions are the best antidotes.It was time to return back to Leh leaving the road going down towards Hundar, Diskit monastery, Shyok valley and Turtuk village. As we finished two of our previously incomplete trips in the last two vacations, another unfinished one we left behind. We promised to come back to Khardung La once again and to travel to the untrodden path. A new wish list was added.
Khardung-La is the highest motorable pass in the world. While the army roads are mostly fantastic in fact better than Mumbai roads, the elements cause damage to the road on a regular basis. The road to Nubra valley has some of the most beautiful scenery one can see. The geological conditions are something we have not seen anywhere else. Rocks of all colours, copper, green, purple, grey and a combination of beautiful streams and greenery, rock faces, snow clad mountains and the dessert at Hunder which is where we were headed. Sonam from Mentokling guesthouse was most helpful. Not only did he arrange for the cab but also provided us an emergency oxygen cylinder and his own bsnl card. The cylinder was provided just in case we planned to stay overnight at Pangong as per our original itinerary. Pangongs temperature had dropped down to 2 deg C courtesy some snowfall which means staying there could be a little dicey.