It was a very hectic Monday at work and I was exhausted by the mid-day. While sipping tea, I checked my Whatsapp. My college senior- Antarik Anwesan had put up a status that he’s leading a road trip to Leh, Ladakh from August 12, 2017 to August 21, 2017. Those who were interested were supposed to reply so that he could plan accordingly. Without (over) thinking, I expressed my interest. I planned my work calendar as per the proposed dates, got my leaves approved and started daydreaming about the mesmerizing beauty of Leh.
On June 2017, I got a confirmation mail from Antarik stating that the road trip was on. It was supposed to be a group trip and this was the first of many firsts for me. After checking the itinerary, my excitement knew no bounds. In the exclusion section, he specifically stated that he won’t provide travel insurance. If we want to opt for travel insurance coverage, we can go for it individually.
With no second thoughts, I booked the trip, booked my flight tickets and started shopping for the trip and upping my fitness game to survive the high altitude. I checked travel insurance online and came across so many travel insurance plans that charged a nominal insurance premium. Buying travel insurance online is the easiest and hassle-free way of buying travel insurance in India or any part of the world.
Twist and Turn of Events
Since it was supposed to be a group trip, there were three girls, four guys excluding the trip leader- Antarik. Four days before we had to start the trip, I got a call from Antarik and he dropped a bomb on me. He said that the two girls can’t join us. One girl had some emergency at home and the other one won’t go on the trip without her. I remember the smile curve on my face setting upside down. He said now it is just going to be me and him and 4 guys. He asked if I wanted to continue the plan followed by I understand if you don’t want to continue. I went blank for like ten seconds. I heard the voice of my Leh dream shattering.
And I said YES
I had already prepared for the trip, I had shopped so much. I thought what if the guys turned out to be really nice. Even if they turn out to be douchebags, I can always rely on Antarik. I hoped for the best and prepared myself for the worst. I called Antarik and told him that I’m in kyuki Karli hai ab itni shopping.
One day before I was all set to start the trip Antarik created a Whatsapp group and I got introduced to my trip mates. I got a feeling that this trip is going to be epic.
The Lehendary Trip Began
Day 1- Delhi to Srinagar
On the morning of August 12, I flew to Srinagar- the starting point of the trip. After landing, I met Antarik, and Rakesh Duan- the fellow tripper. He looked uber cool in a floral shirt and solid shorts. We guys exchanged hellos and started walking towards a café which was the meetup point. Soon, another tripper- Avinash Renuke joined us. (Rakesh and Avinash were classmates in IIT) We three instantly got connected. From my looks, they assumed that I’m a typical Delhi girl and they started addressing me as 'madam'. A few minutes later, when they realized that I’m so down to earth, they were like aray tu toh apney hi jaisi hai. Though we were waiting for fellow trippers- Swaagatt Das and Akash Mehr, (their flight got delayed) the waiting didn’t feel like waiting. It was more like getting to know each other session. When and Swaagatt and Akash landed, we began our lehendary road trip.
Houseboat Dream Fulfilled
As per the plan, we were supposed to check-in a hotel. To my surprise, Antarik had booked a houseboat. We had a houseboat (in the middle of Dal Lake) for a night, it was insane!
After dropping our bags and being amazed by the beauty of houseboat, we went for a shikara ride.
After that, we had lunch, (I was starving) and went to visit Shankaracharya temple. Being naïve (read stupid), Swaagatt and I raced till the staircase of the temple (the staircase to the temple had 243 steps). I don’t remember who won but we both were panting as we read the staircase. My lungs desperately wanted oxygen and I realized racing on stairs was a bad idea. In the temple, Swaagatt and I got to know each other. (I noticed Akash is more of a keeping to himself kind of a guy.)
On our way back to houseboat, I shopped jewelry from the floating market. We sipped kahwa and enjoyed the pleasant weather. We had dinner and discussed our backgrounds. It was Rakesh's birthday eve, when the clock struc,m 12, we sang Happy Birthday and offered him a Good day cake to cut. After that, we went to sleep.
Being the only girl in the group, I didn’t have to share accommodation with anyone. I totally loved the exclusiveness.
Day 2- Srinagar to Sonmarg, Drass, Kargil, and Leh
Out of my sheer excitement, I woke up earlier than I planned and woke everyone up. We all freshened up, packed our bags and got in the car. Since we had the same taste in music, the ride felt as breezy as the wind that was playing with my hair.
We stopped in Sonmarg to have breakfast and play with dogs.
And click some photos.
And click some group photos.
We went to dip our feet in the Sind river to feel the freshness (coldness was complimentary :P). We discovered that Swaagatt is a water baby and named him Jalpari.
The Unsung Heroes of Kargil War
We made the second stop at Drass and visited Kargil War Memorial. As I got to know about Captain Vikram Batra and other heroes of war who lost their lives serving the nation, a chill ran down my spine. It made me think about the hardships in the lives of army men and their families. I didn’t know much about Kargil war, thanks to this visit, I got to know about it. After reading the handwritten letters of army men to their families, I couldn’t help crying.
As we continued our journey to Leh and to lighten up the mood, Antarik introduced so many games. 2 Truths 1 Lie became my favourite.
At night, we reached Leh. But the day was incomplete without actual cake cutting ceremony. Since Rakesh is pure vegetarian somehow our trip lead got an eggless cake and we kept it a surprise for Rakesh. He kept on saying- I so want to cut my birthday cake and we were like how can you find cake in Leh. We tried, we couldn't get a cake. He didn't say anything but his disappointed face said it all.
We set up his cake in my room. When it was 11:50 PM, we called him to my room to discuss travel plans. When he saw the cake, the look on his face was priceless.
Day 3- Hall of Fame, Zanskar Confluence, and Gurudwara Pathar Sahib
Breathtaking beautiful morning of Leh woke me up. I went out for a walk and spotted Swaagatt – The Jalpari in the garden. We chatted over a cup of coffee and went in our respective rooms to get ready.
This day, we had to get acclimated to the extremely high altitude of Leh so that we wouldn’t fall prey to Acute Mountain Sickness.
Hall of Fame and Funny Assumption
We went to Hall of Fame, and a funny incident happened. There was a group of National Cadet Corps on a field trip. Since I’m 6 feet 1 inch tall girl, a cadet assumed I’m a famous personality and requested to click a selfie with me. I happily agreed and my groupmates were amused to see that. For fun, they started treating me as if I'm a somebody (tbh, I kinda enjoyed it). After that, we went to the local market to pamper our taste buds.
Surbhi at Sangam
We witnessed the majestic confluence of Zanskar and Indus. The two rivers had different colors when they became one and got a color of their own color. It was so peaceful to be there, to exist there and be mindfully there. We soaked our feet in chilly cold water and talked our heart out about random topics.
After that, we went to Gurudwara Shri Pathar Sahib. Having Kadha prashad at such higher altitude was such a delight. Not willing to miss out on the adventure quotient, we hiked till the Chardi Kala spot opposite the Gurudwara.
PS- Our driver bhaiya had an excellent taste in Music. His playlist sent me to the land of euphoria.
Day 4- Khardung La, and Hunder
The thought of crossing the highest motor-able road in India Khardung La on the independence day of India, i.e. 15 August gave me a high. We left early since we didn’t want to get stuck in the traffic. Guess what? As we were all set to cross the last barricade for Khardung La, they closed the barricade on us. They said that a politician is headed to Khardung La for hoisting the national flag. Once he will be back, only then they will allow the public to pass. I was shivering when my enthusiastic groupies suggested let’s go out of that damn car. We danced like no one is watching and had lots of fun. These are the moments which play the soundtrack Manzil se behtar lagne lage hain yeh raaste in my head.
Lack of Network Connection = More of Interpersonal Connection
Thanks to the calories we had burnt, we were famished. We headed back to our home-stay to have rest and eat something. We made judicious use of the time we had and Raks started telling us about his life story and his relationships. He is one classy man I must say.
The lack of network connection made us connect to each other very well.
We got a call from our driver bhaiya and we were back on the road.
Survival of the Fittest
We reached Hunder and enjoyed a ride on double-humped camel.
We channelized our inner kids and slid through the sand.
We went into Shyok river and competed against each other in the made-up the competition- who can stand in the freakishly cold water for the longest period of time. Though Swaagatt was a tough contender to beat, yours truly won the competition.
Bonfire? Yes Please
There was a power cut in Hunder. It was the perfect opportunity to enjoy a bonfire. As we soaked up the heat, we got to know each other’s story. I started to feel the sense of familiarity. :')
Me and my Nephophilia
As we took the party to rooftop, the magic began unfolding itself. Being a nephophile I couldn’t take my eyes off the sky. The sky was so clear that I could actually see the twinkling stars. The stars appeared to be too close that I wanted to grab a handful of stars for me. The kid in me refused to calm down as I gazed the sky. I heard my groupies were spotting shooting stars, (back to back) and I WASN’T. I really tried so hard, didn’t get so far. I was losing my focus due to twinkling stars. I calmed down, regained my focus and boom I spotted a shooting star. Now we all were spotting shooting stars. I wanted to get lost in the milky way galaxy that I was able to see with my naked eyes. Imagine, if I had a decent telescope, who knows what wonders of the sky I could have discovered.
Power Bank- My Knight in Shining Armor
We got to know that the power supply will be disrupted for the night. Till that time, I used to be hella scared of darkness. This update kinda freaked me out. The trip lead- Antarik offered me to use the torch of his power bank and use it as a lamp. He had an iPhone 5S and he was facing severe battery issues. Regardless of his battery problem, he offered me his power bank. How amazingly selfless is that? To me, this was a true hallmark of a fab trip lead.
Day 5- Diskit Monastery and Khardung La
We got some sleep and woke up a little late. Today all we had to head back to Leh. The highlight of the day was the visit to Diskit Monastery where we meditated and enjoyed the beauty around us.
Sharing is Caring
On the way to Khardung La we spotted snow. In no time, we all were out admiring the view straight out of wallpaper. I wanted to throw snow balls on my groupies by I didn't have water proof gloves. Awesome Antarik had offered me a glove from his pair and we went in the snow. Thanks to the numbness (due to throwing snow balls), Antarik and I were constantly switching the glove from left hand to the right hand.
I was in snow and I had to make a slow-mo (should I say snow-mo lol) of me sliding down the snow. We decided to get a group slow-mo. We were all set to slide I and my clumsiness took a toll on me. I slipped (thinking about it, I'm still laughing) :p. I was too tired (and embarrassed) to climb up and slide (or fall) again. My group mates, on the other hand, recorded an amazing slow-mo.
After playing (and slipping) in snow, it was time to indulge in something nice and warm.
Pahado ki Maggi
To be honest, I'm not a Maggi person but I can't resist pahado ki Maggi. At Khardung La, we relished soupy Maggi and hot Ginger Lemon Honey water. By this time, I knew that hot Ginger Lemon Honey water would be my constant companion on mountains for the rest of my life.
The warmth of food felt so nice, inside out.
Day 6- Shey (3 Idiots School) Pangong Tso, Shyok Camping
We made a move and went to the next destination to Shey to see the famous 3 Idiots School. I was amazed to see the best use of solar energy and how the school management ensured that the tourists don’t disturb the students.
We saw the famous wall where Chatur got electrocuted, it has become a photo spot now.
Let's go to Pangong Lake
I was very excited to go to Pangong lake. I had read and heard a lot about the beauty of this place. When we reached, I couldn’t believe my eyes. Pangong lake was nothing short of visual delight. The first sight at Pangong lake had me spell-bound. As I walked in the lake, I could feel the coldness tightening its grip on me. It didn’t deter my spirit and we splashed water on each other.
I got a call from my colleague informing that I was selected as for Star of the Quarter.
With this thought in mind, I began walking to my tent. Since I kept smiling like an idiot, my groupies thought that someone has proposed me lol.
Knock Knock? Who? The Monthly Visitor? What???
My monthly visitor had paid me an early visit. It was a perfect day to get my period when I reached the best place of my trip with a group of guys. I went to Antarik to let him know about my situation. I told him that I have to tell him something that might make him uncomfortable but that needed to be said. I told him that I’ve got my periods and if I’ll not be my energetic and hyper-enthusiastic self, he would know why.
To my surprise, he was so understanding and sweet. He said that there is nothing uncomfortable about it. Let me know if you need anything, he added. I was like wow! We need more men like you.
Co-existence of Mahishmati kingdom and Hogwarts
At night, we were high on music and we danced like crazy. Initially, it felt too cold but as we danced the night away, the coldness didn’t bother us much. We took the party to my tent and played games where Mahishmati kingdom and Hogwarts existed in the same universe. We omitted dare and played the game of truth. Dare was omitted because we were curled up and no one was interested in stepping out of the tent. We were up till the wee hours of the morning exchanging well-kept secrets and we had officially become friends.
Day 7- Pangong Tso and Hemis Monastery
We went to Pangong lake to enjoy its beauty in the morning. The boys had planned to take a dip so they were on their own.
And I was on my own.
We started a Swacchh India drive and collected garbage from Pangong Lake. That was our bit to make the Pangong lake cleaner and better.
Drive to Hemis Monastery was filled with fun and laughter. At Hemis Monastery, I felt peace and tranquility. I could feel happiness flowing in my body.
Later, we clicked some classic Rock on style shots.
Day 8- Shanti Stupa
Today the vibe of Leh was lazy and I loved that. We all got ready, had our breakfast and spent some time in the garden of our home-stay. It felt so cozy and nice.
Change of Plans
We were supposed to visit Leh palace and Shanti Stupa today. We decided to laze around and give Leh palace a miss to soak the sunlight and chill in the garden.
The Confident Flaunts Red
We came back to my room and Swaagatt took a power nap. The mischievous girl in me applied blood red color nail enamel on Swaagatt’s finger (I don't know what came to my mind). When I was about to apply it on his other finger, he woke up. It scared the hell outta me. Instantly, I regretted it and I realized I crossed my limit. He, on the other hand, took it sportingly. It was such a relief and I decided to play along. So I told him, I’m not giving you any nail paint remover. To my surprise, he was cool with it. The guy roamed around the Shanti Stupa with confidence. It was so nice to see a guy not getting bothered with a single coat of red nail paint on his finger.
What's your Mantra?
We went to Mantra Travel Lounge to chill and have really nice infused tea.
In the evening we enjoyed the beautiful sunset at Shanti Stupa. While I was walking around the Shanti Stupa, I realized this trip was about to end. My escape from reality is about to get over. :(
PS- The Shanti Stupa dog threw some major attitude and we couldn't get good picture with the fluffy fellow.
Day 9- Leh to Srinagar Road Trip
Since we had to leave early, we woke up pretty early. We waited for the driver to come, he was running super late. To make the matter worse, he wasn’t even picking up the calls. After much ado, when he came he freaked out after seeing our luggage. He refused to put the luggage on the carrier as his car was his baby and he couldn’t put the luggage on her. I get his love for his machine. Having said that, if 5 people are travelling in a hilly area for ten days, how can they not have luggage?
After much negotiation, he agreed to get the luggage on his the carrier. Throughout the entire trip, I sat on the front seat, but I so didn’t want to sit in the front today. The car had eerie silence where driver bhaiya’s aggressive energy was dominating. Guys in the back were murmuring and I was hoping that someone would swap their seat with me.
Eerie Silence and Catching up on Sleep
I decided to make the best use of silence and catch up on my beauty sleep. I slept like a baby and woke up fresh. At around 9ish, we were in heaven on earth.
We went to enjoy street food and came back to our guest house.
Day 10- Srinagar to Delhi
Everyone’s flight got delayed but mine was right on time. The guys went to drop me off till the pickup point of my cab. The guys didn’t let me carry my luggage and insisted that they carry it. After all, I was their 'madam ji'. It was time to say goodbye but I know that wasn’t goodbye. That was more of till the next time. I got in the cab with a big smile on my face reminiscing the good time spent. The much-anticipated hell of the trip almost came to the end; I was not ready to let the feeling sink in.
My Takeaway from Lehendary Road Trip
1. Thanks to this trip, Antarik who was my college senior before the start of the trip. After the trip, he became a good friend.
2. I got along with all of my groupies and became good friends with 3 of them. The 4th one kept to himself and that’s perfectly fine.
3. Working a lot on my health paid me off. I carried a first aid box I didn’t use even a single medicine for myself. I was happy to help when my other group mates needed medicine.
4. Some men are really nice. You can’t find them and if you’re lucky, you’ll stumble upon them.
5. All IITians aren’t stereotypically rude. Out of four groupies, three were IITians and they were the sweetest, humble and down to earth guys.
6. I got super pampered and I loved every second of it.
7. Leh added meaning to the word- Jullay.
8. If I were a drink, I'd be hot ginger lemon water.
9. Holiday hangover can last as long as 45 days.
10. It’s important to have travel insurance coverage for such trips. You never know when you might need travel insurance coverage.