This should be a must-visit trip for all youngsters (and I say this as it is not an easy route so definitely to be avoided by people who are not physically fit). For the weak-hearted, it may put you through some stress due to the high altitudes, but that can be managed by a prescribed dose of Diamox. (I recommend taking it only & only if needed.)
Attracting millions of tourists, not only from India but from the across the world, Leh Ladakh is the place to disconnect from the world. Steep mountains, pristine lakes, colorful Tibetan monasteries, a vibrant culture, numerous trekking trails, rugged terrain – Leh Ladakh attracts nature lovers and adventure seekers in equal numbers.
Our 10 day journey started the minute we landed at Delhi airport & it was a trip filled with adventure, not knowing what we would see next or whether we’d make it through or would have to take a U-turn as the roads at some stretches were quite treacherous. Finally taking my dream trip, the experience was just as I had expected it to be, in fact even more.
On my first halt at Manali, I took an early morning walk by the garrulous Beas River flowing beside the road. Walking at the foothills of the Himalayas so far-away from the noisy city-life & having no phone in hand – best moment ever. Sometimes these moments of quiet give you time to ponder on life and just be one with nature, the way it is meant to be. Manali was the beginning of our acclimatization and getting used to the mountain air. Panting our way through the gorges and little paths on the mountain, the Indian Oil Holiday Home where we stayed treated us like royals. What lip smacking meals and pakoras were served on demand. Staying in a little cottage located on a hill with a fabulous view and tall windows made me go into the Heidi world. The fairy tale lush green forests of deodar and the gushing Beas flowing through the city makes want to settle down here, since commercial centers in this part of the Himachal are pretty thriving as well. Wine and a delicious mountain meal for dinner made my date a special one.
From Manali, we headed to Rohtang pass.
Anticipation abound for what I’d witness on my journey ahead, we started our official Leh road-trip from Manali & took the first night halt at Sarchu. The next morning, we started for Leh and knowing that the roads are going to be arduous, we had to leave early. On our way we saw some really beautiful streams and at one point the flow of water was so harsh that for a minute we thought our vehicle wouldn’t make it past that. But this is the entire beauty of the place, so many mysteries, so many twists on the way that it makes the journey all the more incredible. The night we took a night halt at Sarchu (16,000 ft) which is a barren land surrounded by mountains everywhere that you set your eyes and really cold at night. Sarchu was the place that almost all of us in the tents experienced head-aches & nausea but fret not as this is normal at such high altitudes. The best way to keep headaches at bay is to be well hydrated at all times & to eat light. Star gazing at Sarchu was a nocturnal delight. We breathe hard but the Milky Way galaxy showed us uncountable stars that lit up the sky in the most romantic way.
Once we crossed Sarchu, the terrain gets a little monotonous as you will only see stretches & stretches of dry brown mountains. Sarchu to Pang has to be the deadliest road I’ve travelled on – steep valleys below, blind turns & extremely narrow roads, everyone in the car has to be alert at all times. Once you near Leh you will again witness some green patches of land which is a relief as this means you’re coming close to some life around. Roads are built like slices of meat or bread cut from the mountains in crooked shapes and sizes. The color of the mud too changes with every passing region. You wonder as to if you will ever see these gigantic mountains again because you know you are on the top of the world.
Our driver told us it was the Magnetic hill before we entered a wide open Leh. Just a black road cutting across the mountains.Beyond were more vistas of the Indus – tiny still, but the melting snow would make it roar within the month.
Further ahead we saw the aqua green Zanskar river merge into the muddy brown Indus – the play of color here was just….. WOW!
Once you are in Leh, relax and let your body acclimatize to this sudden change of altitude.
Life at Ladakh is characterized by intense spiritualties. When you are here, visit the monasteries of Alchi, Diskit & Hunder, Hemis, Lamayuru, Shanti Stupa, Spituk, Thiksey etc. Another thing to look here is the priceless antiques and art. You might even bump into students from different parts of the world, studying Buddhism here.
This city situated at approximately 10,000 ft above sea level is surrounded by vast expanses of snow clad Himalayan Mountains. It is pure bliss to wake up every morning and see such beautiful sights around. Our first day we headed to Nubra Valley where our first halt was Khardungla pass. I had the best chai ever at the cafe here. Awesome weather, snow laden roads & steaming hot cup of tea & Maggi noodles – life can’t get better than this. I wasn’t too impressed with Nubra valley as there isn’t much green here. It is barren & we couldn’t even do the Camel Safari in Hunder.You can probably just go until Khardungla-La and return from there or if you like visiting monasteries, you can head to Diskit which has the biggest statue of Buddha in the valley.
Be to the Khardungla pass, and feel proud to be at the highest motorable road of the world. Speak to the military men on the route, they have some inspiring stories to share and then head to the Nubra valley. The major attractions here are White sand dunes and double humped camels for ride.
Another well-known place to be is the color changing Pangong Tso Lake located next to China border through Changla pass. You would be awfully smitten by the beauty of this “3 idiot’s” lake.
Coming to the famed Pangong-Tso, the beauty of this place is surreal and unlike anything I have seen in my life. Where mountains meet water and reflections of the deep blue sky make this truly a heaven on earth. We did an overnight camp in Pangong and were lucky enough to witness the fun and frolic of the local Ladakhi folk. Right next to our tents there was song & dance and lot of cheer which totally lifted up our spirits. Photographing the Pangong Lake is a photographer’s delight. Nonetheless, being there and touching the ice-cold water is pure bliss. Ask me what shades of blue I did not see, from indigo to aqua marine, from turquoise to sky blue, from peacock blue to Azul, it had all the shades of blue on earth.
All of us spend so much time glued to technology that we forget to really connect with people, or even ourselves. Leh Ladakh’s natural beauty – its lakes, national parks, monasteries, and valleys have a surreal quality about them. They make you want to just sit back, and tune into nature. So, discover yourself while you take long walks or sip some hot yak-butter tea.
You will also see some beautiful stretches of landscapes with grazing horses, Yak & sheep which is a delight to the eye. Everywhere you go in Leh –Ladakh will carve a spot in your mind & heart. But if you are in India, Leh should be a must-visit on your list of travel destinations. I experienced a lot of emotions in this valley, that of awe for our Militia who work day-in day-out just to keep us safe, overwhelming emotion for the beauty that is so pure, respect for the kind-hearted local folk and above all I came back with a sense of patriotism and love for my beautiful country.
I took about a zillion photos (or at least as many as the memory card would allow) and really none of them come close to showing reality. These are bare colorful mountains. Everywhere you look. At times it looked like one large construction site. At others it looked ready for an afforestation programme.
Suddenly we saw a flock of sheep on the steep slopes. What were they eating? Stones? No, there is some plant life on these slopes, but so little that we couldn’t see it. We were also entering the land of monasteries. Perched on the highest point of each range would be a stunning structure. And the driver would mumble that it is … gompa. I didn’t catch any of the names that first day. Time enough for that.
At some points the wind and the snow had done weird things to the rocks. Looking at them, you could believe in extra-terrestrial life. Surely this was neither human made nor natural.
So, if it has to be a vacation in India that’s to be lived in memories for a lifetime, it has to be LADAKH! The colorful monasteries, steep curves, snow-topped peaks, double humped camels, burning sun, freezing winds and a destination that comes straight out of the world of fantasies.
Bordered on the northwest with Pakistan, north with the Chinese province of Sinkiang and east with Tibet, stands this GIANT kingdom. The photographers around the world await for the Rohtang pass to open up its jaws for the road trip, that takes you through the steep curves of Keylong, followed by riverside camps amidst mountains at Jispa, and the beautiful roads of Baralancha La that leaves you spell bound by its beauty. If you have time in hand, you definitely must hit the road trip, for this is the place where the journey would mean more than reaching the destination.
This destination might be the most badass thing and will leave you breathless once you’re on it. The enchanting land of Ladakh doesn’t really need an introduction. The images have itched us till the moment we actually explore the valleys through our eyes that will set free the weird poet we all know we have in ourselves. Rent a bike and ride your way to endless life lessons and first-Evers, which will change you forever.
Even if you are an Indian traveler, this world would not be same like the people you have left behind. Take this road for this is less travelled. This leads to a whole new unseen world.
Now it’s time to let yourself loose in the barren yet beautiful panorama. Explore the untraceable landscape of Leh and Ladakh.
Recommended Places to Stay:
Leh – Mahay Palace, Dorje Guest House
Nubra Valley – Hotel Snow Leopard
Sarchu – Gold Drop Camp
Jispa – Ibex Hotel
Manali – Anywhere Nice and Cosy with a Cottage :)
Pangong – Pangong Delight Camp
For planning your iterinaries contact Ravine Trek, Mumbai or Overland Escape, Leh.
My trip started on 14th August when I landed in Delhi by an early morning Flight from Bangalore and ended on 23rd August in the evening at 5pm when I landed back in Bangalore from Delhi.
14th August – Bangalore- Delhi by flight. Immediately head to Manali by road. ( 13hrs)
15th August – One Day at Manali and acclimatize.
16th August – Head to Jispa/ Sarchu, whole day journey, halt at Jispa or Sarchu. Sarchu is about 70 – 80 km ahead of Jispa and on a higher altitude than Leh, meant only for fit people to stay. People with respiratory problems should avoid Sarchu.
17th August – Sarchu to Leh
18th August – Explore Leh, go to Hall of Fame and Gompa , Indus and Zanskar Sangam – do river rafting if interested and acclimatize.
19th August –Head to Nubra, explore and stay.
20th August – Head back to Leh and cover Diskit.
21st August – Head to Pangong, explore and stay.
22nd August – Head back to Leh, cover Shey Palace and Thiksey on the way back.
23rd August – Leh to Delhi/ Mumbai by flight, and Delhi/Mumbai to your destination.
Always eat at the local stalls and carry some packed food with you such as cup noodles and soup powders for emergencies. Hot water is easily available at most places. Rent a bike only if you are an expert. The roads are bumpy and oxygen levels may drop anytime since the altitude keeps on changing suddenly as the roads are built on both low and high levels. One oxygen cylinder per person is a must for an 8 day trip. It costs about Rs.450. Preferably buy it from Manali or Srinagar( from wherever you start your road trip since the cost is double in Leh.) And be ready for multiple checks at the Leh airport and do not panic! :)
Thank you KrisEngel Navneet for being my travel companion. :)
Signing off for next time soon!
Rucha S Khot