Khardungla & Hunder - Kashmir Diary Day 2 - Sept 2016

Tripoto
26th Sep 2016
Photo of Khardung La Road, Leh by Just too Umezing

0000hrs The headache showed no signs of ebbing. In fact, it had gotten worse, to the point where the head was throbbing. Had I succumbed to acute altitude sickness? Hospital? There was a point where I felt that I should take the "Diamox" tablet recommended by my doctor, but that would be a cause of concern if not panic for my partner. With no heating in the room, and the outside temperature hovering around zero Celsius, we were already buried under two layers of blanket, getting out of bed was an avoidable thought. I sat up in bed, and tried meditating, hoping that the pain would calm itself too. It did not despite me contemplating on it and repeating the 'it is temporary' mantra. Braving the cold floor and the still chill of the room, I made it my first aid bag and got a hold of the medicines. A "Snicker" chocolate bar, and bottle of water. I realized that my headache and lack of sleep was hunger and thirst driven, and not what I had earlier imagined.

Photo of Khardungla & Hunder - Kashmir Diary Day 2 - Sept 2016 by Just too Umezing

0700hrs Well rested, I was up with no sign of any headache, and ready to take on the next challenge of ascending to some 5,600 m (18,379 ft) at Khardung-la, the highest motorable road in the world. Well almost, GPS puts it at 5,359 m (17,582 ft) and there are several challengers to this claim in China (Tibet), Bolivia Chile and even within India. Since this road sees maximum traffic consisting of various forms of vehicles (including the Nano) as compared to the others (that need off roaders or tougher vehicles to negotiate), for all practical purposes that is what will define a motor-able road for now.

Photo of Khardungla & Hunder - Kashmir Diary Day 2 - Sept 2016 by Just too Umezing

0830hrs Morning duties completed, both wife and I were packed to get the hell out of this hotel. As we waited for our vehicle to arrive, we decided to have some breakfast. Egg Paratha rolls, coffee, toast butter, jam. The rest looked inedible. At 9 am sharp, Mr Haq showed up along with Arjun, our driver for the next 3 days. Bill paid, travel permit forms filled, statutory safety briefing by Haq heard, we were on our way, to cover some 125 km of adventurous terrain from Leh to Hunder in the Nubra valley. At Rs 6,000 per night Half board, I could not really complain, as hotels function for only 180 days.

Photo of Khardung La by Just too Umezing

0930hrs Khardung-la is 40 kms or about an hour and a half away from Leh. The road was in good condition, though narrow. At an average of the 50 km/hour we were doing, It would take us an hour to get there, or even less. The scenery climbing up was spectacular, and both, the camera and phone-cam were being given equal opportunity to capture some brilliant landscape shots of the hills and serpentine road. At 1000 hrs, we were at the first check-point - South Pullu . Five minutes later we were on our way again. With less than 15 km to go, we would be at the talking point much before schedule. 3 km later, that bubble burst. The road changed from a well tarred road to an absolute dirt track. I thought I could run faster than the speed at which my vehicle was moving.

Photo of Khardungla & Hunder - Kashmir Diary Day 2 - Sept 2016 by Just too Umezing

1100hrs Finally, we were there. On the way, Arjun had confirmed what I had read, that it had snowed at this altitude just a week before. While most of it had melted, there was enough snow at Khardung-la for pretty pictures. The last one hour of bad road was forgotten for some ten minutes of enjoying the weather and views. It then dawned on us that the road condition ahead looked pretty much the same. Arjun said the bad road would run up to North Pullu 15 kms away. The bad road became worse and despite moving down hill now, it took us an hour to traverse it. North Pullu is the second check point and pit stop. The Loos at both North and South Pullus are not something to write home about, and one is better off adding water to the rivulet that runs at North Camp.

Photo of Leh by Just too Umezing

1230hrs Nearly 75kms away from Leh, sits the village of Khardung. It is quite scenic, and a place where most tourists headed to the Nubra valley halt for refreshments. Arjun suggested we eat further up at Khalsar an hour away as the food would be freshly prepared since the establishments there serve the locals. We were not hungry anyway and the suggestion was welcome. The decent from 5,000+m to some 3,000 m had made breathing a lot easier, but the heat quite unbearable. The sun's rays were like laser beams stinging the skin, and moving seemed to be the best bet. With the road much better now, my wife fell asleep while I stuck on enthusiastically to shooting pictures. The landscape had changed dramatically. The mountains, chiseled by the Shoyok and Nubra rivers reminded me of Cappadocia in Turkey. Each mountain looked like it was made up of different material as one looked brown the other black and even blue. Half an hour into the journey, and yet again a change in landscape. the views of the river in its many shades of blue and green flowing below is just too spectacular.

Photo of Khardungla & Hunder - Kashmir Diary Day 2 - Sept 2016 by Just too Umezing

1345 hrs Khalsar, some 95kms away from Leh sits at a fork, one leading to Hunder - THOISE and the second to Panamik. Right at the fork sits a non descript little shack. It is where Arjun thought we should; at least he should, eat. My wife looked at it and said 'No'. I out of trust and politeness asked what was available. Parathas (Indian hot bread), eggs and "Maggi" noodles. I ordered all three. Some spicy red chilly chutney was liberally applied to the parathas, and the insipid looking omelette became the filling of my egg roll. I put the noodles in front of my wife. It took all of ten seconds for her resistance to collapse. She finished the noodles in like 2 minutes and began eyeing my roll just like the many mountain dogs that had now appeared from no where. My suggestion to all animal lovers, be careful in feeding them as they can get quite aggressive in snatching food from your hands as I learned the hard way. The thought of eating more food here vanished. 30 minutes later, we were on our way to cover the last 30 km of our journey.

Photo of Khardungla & Hunder - Kashmir Diary Day 2 - Sept 2016 by Just too Umezing
Photo of Diskit by Just too Umezing

1500 hrs Reached Habib Guest House at Hunder via Diskit. It was a scary narrow road in places with the landscape morphing into a white sand dune desert. Instead of cactus one could spot the Sea-Buckthorn shrub that produces the "Leh Berry". If one hasn't tried it, the juice of this berry is heaven in addition to it being a super food. If hotel Himalaya had given us a shock, my wife was ready to cry at this guest house. I told her that this was the best accommodation to be found in the area. She was half convinced, but given a choice and not tired, we would have been on the road back to Leh. The guest house is run by the Habib family, and a young lady asked us if we would like some lunch and butter tea. The tea was understandable, but lunch at this time? We were hungry and said 'yes thank you' with a request for Kashmiri Kahwa.

Photo of Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, India by Just too Umezing
Photo of Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, India by Just too Umezing

Lunch was simple and nice, a vegetable, daal and rice. Post lunch, a short nap was in order. The room did not look so bad now. It was spartan but clean. The furnishings gaudy but functional. There was even a small TV with a satellite set top box. The bathroom was as big as the room and clean too. Yes, we could survive the night here, even with the transparent curtains that allowed everyone a view of what was going on in our room. Well we had no exciting entertainment planned for voyeurs anyway. There was no heating, but we did not think we would need it, though, a look at the blankets told us that we may need to put a clean white sheet below it - just as a precaution.

Photo of Khardungla & Hunder - Kashmir Diary Day 2 - Sept 2016 by Just too Umezing

At 1700 hrs we decided to visit the famed sand dunes and possibly ride the non native two humped Central Asian Bactrian camels. An hotrur later, having enjoyed our walk, coffee and chow-mein, we asked Arjun what else could we do? A trip on the road to THOISE or enjoy a cultural show. Former sounded better, and something to do was better than going back to the room we thought. We did not drive up to THOISE, but turned back at sunset. Had we continued on that road for some 90 kms, we would have ended at Turtuk the village on the India-Pakistan border.

At 1900 hrs, we were back at the guest house. I asked Arjun if we could start for Leh the next morning at 6.30 am? He said sure and went off to stay the night with his brother in the village. I bumped into Mr. Habib and informed him of my intent to leave early; so, would he want me to settle the bill right away? He told me not to worry, and he would only check us out after we have had tea and breakfast at whatever time we wanted; even 5 am. What could I say back but smile at our host.

Photo of Khardungla & Hunder - Kashmir Diary Day 2 - Sept 2016 by Just too Umezing

Back in the room, fortunately, the TV channel selection was much better than our previous hotel. We were tired but relieved too, to be resting it out here for the night.

Photo of Khardungla & Hunder - Kashmir Diary Day 2 - Sept 2016 by Just too Umezing
Photo of Khardungla & Hunder - Kashmir Diary Day 2 - Sept 2016 by Just too Umezing

2000 hrs Dinner was served in the dining hall. It was a sit down meal. By that I mean, we had to sit down on the carpet Kashmiri style. The Habib family went out of their way to feed the guests like we were part of their extended family. Despite there being a large Muslim community in Nubra, the diet is largely vegetarian. Animals are respected more for their produce and as aides in work rather than food. The harshness of the land has forged a bond between the species here. The home food was nice. Not oily, not over spiced. Egg curry was the special treat. Post dinner, we walked around a bit, then back to shower, and hit the bed. Don't even know when I passed out. If this was a tough day, the next was going to be even tougher I suppose. What were my last thoughts before sleep? Was the journey worth it? I don't remember the answer I gave myself.

This blog was originally published on 'Trip It'

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