Ladakh in October( Off Season)...

Tripoto
6th Oct 2016
Photo of Ladakh in October( Off Season)... 1/1 by Shreyas Macwan
A teaser....

My obsession with mountains!

Well! let me be specific, my Obsession with the Himalayas is well known to my family and friends.

2003 Entire Sikkim by Hired Taxi,

2004 Dharmshala – Maclodganj by Santro,

2005 Pin Parvati Trek,

2006 Bhrigu Lake Trek,

2007 Dehradun, Mussoorie and Nainital by Santro,

2008 Kasol, Malana & Kheerganga Trek,

2009 Leh by Hired Sumo,

2011 Leh by Royal Enfield,

2013 Spiti by hired Sumo

... & many one or two-days trips to Manali and Shimla but nothing after 2013. This situation was making me restless. Moreover, all the blogs, Travelogues, The Himalayan club page at FB was making me jealous.

I got married in 2013. I wanted to plan a honeymoon trip to the Himalayas but someone gifted us a 3 night/4 days trips to Goa and all my plans for "honeymoon in the Himalayas" got ruined. Three years of my married life passed, we had many trips but nothing to the north.

And then, during July 2016 something happened.

I got a call from the Himalayas.

Well, not actually a call, it was a WhatsApp message.

I got a message on WhatsApp from one of my London-based friends. He wanted me, to help him, to plan a self-drive trip to Leh by a one-month-old Duster AWD. They were two guys, one based in London and another one based at Ahmedabad. As per my NRI friend, both of them were toying the idea to visit Leh from last almost 10 years. Ahmedabad based friend had purchased a Duster AWD and that was the perfect a reason to visit Leh.

It's always fun to plan a trip/travel. We started discussing where-how-when-why of "his" trip to Leh.

Out of the blue, my NRI friend asked me..." why don't you join us?” Oops, interesting question! All of my friends know that I am a hardcore travel buff. I have been to Leh thrice, roamed half of India by own bike or car, in love with the Himalayas and crazy for road travels. I was a perfect companion for them. I said... "chalo". I am coming.

Wait a Minute!

Well, it was not that smooth. My marriage was just three years old. We had our baby daughter back in Dec2014. No, I can't take decisions by saying " ha chalo". I had to inform (take permission) from wife and parents. I was confident about parent’s go ahead, they knew me and my travel pattern. I was worried about wife's reactions. I explained her the entire plan, to my astonishment, she said yes. I called up my NRI friends and confirmed that I am coming.

One guy was in London, another at Ahmedabad and me at Anand. All three of us knew that it wasn’t possible for us to meet face to face and discuss our plan. Hence, we created a WhatsApp group named "Chalo Ladakh". We started discussing our plan. We inquired around. Every expert said no for Ladakh in October, there are always chances of roadblocks due to early snowfall. I was so much irritated by everyone’s negative advice. I talked to the great HVkumar. I asked HVK that… “Is going to Ladakh during October is taboo? He answered calmly…“Yes indeed it’s a taboo, but not impossible”.

Why No to Ladakh in October:

• By end of September, winter starts in this area, in case of early snowfall all the high passes on Manali-Leh and Leh-Srinagar highways get blocked.

• Hotels, camps, dhabas start closing business from September end on Manali – Leh Highway.

• Every year during the first week of October, Raid De Himalaya gets organized on this route. Officials of this Rally blocks the road for free passage of participant vehicles. (Our date and time for starting from Manali was same as Raid’s plan).

• The temperature of this region drops to subzero after September, which makes it more difficult.

• No rescue operation after September by Indian Army.

Our Plan:

Dates : 06-10-2016 to 16-10-2016

Day 1 : Ahmedabad to Jaipur

Day 2 : Jaipur to Delhi.

Day 3 : Delhi to Mandi

Day 4 : Mandi to Manali-Palchan

Day 5 : Palchan to Jispa

Day 6 : Jispa to Leh

Day 7 : Local Sightseeing

Day 8 : Leh to Nubra

Day 9 : Nubra to Pangong to Leh

Day 10: Leh to Kargil or Drass

Day 11: Kargil to Banihal

Day 12 : Banihal to Ludhiana

Day 13 : Ludhiana to KishanGarh

Day 14 : KishanGarh to Ahmedabad

Day 1: Anand-Ahmedabad to Jaipur.

Our NRI friend was directly coming from London. Instead of landing at Ahmedabad, I asked him to land at Delhi, so he can save his two days of A’bad – Delhi journey. Another friend and owner of our ride had some personal commitment. He also chooses to travel Delhi by air.

My job was to drive A”bad – Delhi alone, pick them up from Delhi airport and start immediately towards Mandi. I started driving from A’bad at 1300 with all the luggage by brand new Duster AWD. Alone? Boring? Tiring? Never! It was raining cats and dogs. October rain was in full swing. It was fun driving on nicely maintained Ahmedabad-Palanpur-Sirohi highway.

My Plan was to have a night stay at the outskirt of Jaipur & start early morning to Delhi, to reach Delhi Airport at 1000. Ahmedabad – Jaipur road via Sirohi was in excellent condition with occasional cows and camels on road. With some very small stops for tea and smokes, I reached Hotel Hiwayking, Jaipur around 2130. Some of my Jaipur based friends were already waiting for me at the hotel.

PS : No Photographs during Ahmedabad - Jaipur.

It was dark. Army men were surprised to see a tourist vehicle this late and ready to approach Zoji La in dark. In charge of that CP denied allowing us to go ahead. We asked him to talk to COsir at Drass War memorial. He called up his CO, CO confirmed that he advised three guys with black Duster to go ahead.

CP in-charge wrote down our name and cell phone number. He gave us his personal number and asked to call him in case of any kind of issue. He told us to ask Army CP in-charge at Sonamarg to call him once we reach Sonamarg. He was genuinely worried about us.

We shared their tea and said goodbye to him. He wished us good luck.

We were approaching Zoji La.

We started from that check post.

We were very much scared and tensed. I normally love this kind of things, it was an adventure in it’s purest form. Crossing Zoji la in dark. We were confident about ourselves as far as driving was concerned but we were scared of stone pelting and all.

IOCL oil tankers were coming from Sonamarg side. Almost all of them with broken windshield We asked one or two of them about road conditions, they said till Zoji la road is good after that, it is in very bad condition. All tanker drivers advised us to take care & drive slowly after Zoji la.

We kept moving ahead. We met a group of motorcycles from KA before Zoji la. They wanted to stay at Drass but Army advised them to keep moving just like us. They were tired and they wanted to stay for a night at Sonamarg.

After an hour of driving, we reached Zoji La top. After all, a photograph with that yellow board is a must. I tried to find that yellow milestone with name and altitude of Zoji La. I couldn't find it. Those Bikers were there clicking around

We started from that check post. We were very much scared and tensed. I normally love this kind of situations, it was an adventure in the purest form. Crossing Zoji la in dark. We were confident about ourselves, as far as driving was concerned but we were scared of stone pelting and all.

We started descending from Zoji La.

We spent one hour at Military CP.

Day 8

We reached last Army Check Point before Gumri Zoji La.

Day 2: Jaipur-Delhi-Mandi.

Day 3: SunderNagar-Kullu-Manali-Palchan.

Our plan was to driver till Kullu and do water rafting, reach Manali, do some last time essential shopping for Manali Leh journey and check in at our hotel in Palachan. Mandi to Kullu is 65 km, Kullu to Manali is 40 km and Manali to Palachan our hotel is 12 km, so it was total 120 km. As far as driving was a concern, it was a very relaxing day for us.

I got my SLR and my friend started driving. We all were in good mood. Amazing climate, beautiful mountains and the playful Beas River was with us but it wasn't a pleasant drive. All the Delhi to Manali Volvos, Tempo travellers, taxis and private vehicle start at evening and they reach Mandi at the same time when we started for Kullu. Moreover, it was a weekend. So entire Punjab was running to spend the weekend in Manali.

So, after all, it was a nightmare to drive on that road. Senseless driving by bus drivers and frequent jams was usual. We kept moving, at every jam I used to get out of our vehicle, click some pics and help other guys to clear the traffic jam. It took us 2.30 hours to finish that 60 km to Kullu.

We did rafting in Beas river. The flow of water was not that thrilling, so overall rafting was dull. We finished it, had breakfast in Kullu and moved to Manali.

We stopped at one the shawl shop and bought woolens for our dear and near ones. Our NRI friend had to do a lot of shopping for all of his friends in London. No issue of space in the car, thanks to Duster’s 475 ltr boot space.

Day 1

Day 2: Jaipur-Delhi-Mandi.

After a good night's sleep, when I received a wake-up call from hotel reception at 4000, I was already awake, and ready to move.

A tea stall somewhere around Ajmer.

Photo of Ajmer, Rajasthan, India by Shreyas Macwan
Day 2

The plan was to start early from Jaipur and reach Delhi airport as soon as possible, to avoid heavy traffic in Gurgaon and Delhi. I started towards Delhi at 0500. Jaipur- Delhi was a nice road, without much traffic during early morning hours. It was a nice & event-less drive. I reached Delhi Airport at 0845, parked my vehicle at airport parking and had heavy breakfast at one of the cafés at arrival T1C waiting-lounge. Flights of my other travel mates were on time both of them landed at 1000, after a formal hi & hello and some tea, we immediately got in our vehicle and started our journey to HP at 1215. We wanted to get out of Delhi as soon as possible!

We wanted to reach Manali. Delhi to Manali is 550km. We started at 1215 from Delhi, so we were very well aware that we can’t make it. We kept our options open for a night stay, a maximum target was to reach Mandi, but no rush! We got out of Delhi. We had our lunch at one of the Haveli at Karnal and then I slept in the back seat.

I woke up somewhere around kiratpur Sahib and then I got a call.

"Hello"

"sir aap kal Jaipur Mai yaha hamari hotel pe ruke they"(Sir! you stayed at our hotel yesterday)

"Ji ha"(yes)

"Aap yaha PE aapna driving licence bhul Gaye ho"(You forgot your Driving Licence at our hotel)

"oh no, What..., please aap kuch help karo" (Please help me!)

Hotel guy was co-operative. I explained to him that, we are going to Leh - Kashmir and I need that original DL anyhow. I asked him to run to any courier guy, pay as much as he asks and send it. It must reach Manali next day. He tried his best and called me... “saab koi bhi courier mai do din toh lagenge hi”(Courier guys will take two days) Huh!! So now I had to do my entire trip without my original DL. I had 10 photocopies of my DL with me and a scanned soft copy on my phone!

Three states! One of them was an ongoing conflict zone (Srinagar-Kashmir) and I had to drive in these states without original DL. Practically, I was not only without a driving licence but also without a proper physical ID proof. All I had was photocopies and soft copies. My mood was ruined, I wanted to forget this. I asked my friend to let me drive, he understood my mood and gave me car keys!

I started driving. That was my 7th trip to Manali. We started climbing mountains. The road was nice with frequent road construction diversions. It is always fun to drive in mountains, only irritation was bus and Volvo drivers, they are crazy drivers without any traffic sense. I was enjoying the drive on mountain roads but other two guys were tired. Our NRI friend, who came all the way from London didn't get any kind of rest or sleep from last 36 hours. We discussed to stop at Bilaspur but decided to push some more. We finally stopped at Hotel Comfort in at Sundernagar. Which was just 10 km before Mandi, so practically we were at Mandi.

PS: So far My DSLR was in the bag. Moreover, news of lost DL was so irritating that I was in no mood to click pictures.

Day 3: SunderNagar-Kullu-Manali-Palchan.

We had a sound sleep at Hotel Comfort In's suite. At 0545, when the alarm buzzed it was the most irritating thing. I thought ..." Kullu tak hi toh Jana hai" and reset my alarm for one more hour and slept.

Finally, at 0645 I didn't have any excuse. I woke up, got out of the hotel to check our vehicle and came to know that, there was some lake just in front of our hotel. I had a small walk there and went back, until that time other two guys were also ready to move..

Hotel Comfort in at Sundernagar (Mandi)

Photo of Mandi, Himachal Pradesh, India by Shreyas Macwan
Day 3

Our plan was to driver till Kullu and do water rafting, reach Manali, do some last time essential shopping for Manali Leh journey and check in at our hotel in Palachan. Mandi to Kullu is 65 km, Kullu to Manali is 40 km and Manali to Palachan our hotel is 12 km, so it was total 120 km. As far as driving was a concern, it was a very relaxing day for us.

Photo of Sundernagar, Himachal Pradesh, India by Shreyas Macwan

I got my SLR and my friend started driving. We all were in good mood. Amazing climate, beautiful mountains and the playful Beas River was with us but it wasn't a pleasant drive. All the Delhi to Manali Volvos, Tempo travellers, taxis and private vehicle start at evening and they reach Mandi at the same time when we started for Kullu. Moreover, it was a weekend. So entire Punjab was running to spend the weekend in Manali.

A tes stop after SunderNagar

Photo of Mandi, Himachal Pradesh, India by Shreyas Macwan
Photo of Mandi, Himachal Pradesh, India by Shreyas Macwan
Photo of Mandi, Himachal Pradesh, India by Shreyas Macwan

Beas River.

Photo of Bhuntar, Himachal Pradesh, India by Shreyas Macwan

So, after all, it was a nightmare to drive on that road. Senseless driving by bus drivers and frequent jams was usual. We kept moving, at every jam I used to get out of our vehicle, click some pics and help other guys to clear the traffic jam. It took us 2.30 hours to finish that 60 km to Kullu.

Photo of Bhuntar, Himachal Pradesh, India by Shreyas Macwan

Kullu Town

Photo of Kullu, Himachal Pradesh, India by Shreyas Macwan

We did rafting in Beas river. The flow of water was not that thrilling, so overall rafting was dull. We finished it, had breakfast in Kullu and moved to Manali.

Photo of Kullu, Himachal Pradesh, India by Shreyas Macwan

River Rafting in Beas River.

Photo of Kullu, Himachal Pradesh, India by Shreyas Macwan

River Rafting in Beas River.

Photo of Kullu, Himachal Pradesh, India by Shreyas Macwan

River Rafting in Beas River.

Photo of Kullu, Himachal Pradesh, India by Shreyas Macwan

We stopped at one the shawl shop and bought woolens for our dear and near ones. Our NRI friend had to do a lot of shopping for all of his friends in London. No issue of space in the car, thanks to Duster’s 475 ltr boot space.

River Rafting in Beas River.

Photo of Kullu, Himachal Pradesh, India by Shreyas Macwan

Shawl Shop after Kullu.

Photo of Kullu, Himachal Pradesh, India by Shreyas Macwan

From Kullu, we started noticing posters of "Raid de Himalaya".

Raid de Himalaya is a high altitude extreme adventure race /rally on Manali-Leh or Manali-Spiti road. We knew that we were travelling on the same dates with them. The rally/race happens in collaboration with HPTDC, so during that rally road blockage to give free passage to competitors is highly possible, and it was one of our biggest worries. Some 20KM before Manali, at some hotel we saw all the Raid vehicles, that hotel was the starting line for Raid.

We stopped for a while to talk with some officials. Actually, We wanted to know their flag of time(it wasn't published on their website) on next day so we can plan our move accordingly. One of my old FB friends was a marshal at Raid, I met him took his number to check raid’s timing and status.

A local house.

Photo of Kullu, Himachal Pradesh, India by Shreyas Macwan

At 1230, we reached Manali.

Schedule of Raid The Himalayas 2016.

Photo of Citrus Manali Resorts, Manali, Himachal Pradesh, India by Shreyas Macwan

Parked our vehicle at Johnson Lodge & Bar and ordered our lunch. All the waiters and hotel staff were too much excited. Curiously, I asked one of the hotel staff.

… "Kya ho Raha hai kyu itni hadbhad machi hai' (What is happening, why all are excited?)

She replied… " lo aapko nahi pata, aaj Salman Khan, Akshya Kumar, Shatrughan Sinha, Huma Qureshi sab yaha paDon'ti"(Dont you know! top bolywood celebrtites are in Manali today.)

Due to Raid de Himalaya, the presence of top celebrities, and weekend rush, entire Manali was excited! We decided to finish our food as soon as possible and leave Manali. After some time, I realized that I know this girl seating just next to my table. Oops, that was Huma Qureshi (I’m a Fan of Gangs of Wasseypur movies). We talked a little about her movies.

We finished our lunch, bought water, dry fruits, chocolates, tissue papers etc. Withdrew enough cash for two days and started for Palachan. To Our beautiful small home-stay named The Clifftop Cottage!!

It was just 1315 and our hotel was just 11 km far from Manali. We were relaxed. We even planned to do paragliding and other adventure sports at Solang valley. We did some photography on the way.

To Palchan.

Photo of Nehru Kund, Bashisht, Himachal Pradesh, India by Shreyas Macwan

To Palchan.

Photo of Nehru Kund, Bashisht, Himachal Pradesh, India by Shreyas Macwan

All the tourist vehicles which went for site seeing to Rohtang Pass were coming back, more and more vehicles were going towards Rohtang and Solang valley! Too many raid official Vehicles were also going towards Rohtang. Roads were too narrow and usual traffic of buses, trucks and military Vehicles was also there. Overall it was Chaos. Manali was really excited that day. This was the result of Manali's excitement. It took us 5.15 hours to pass that 3 km of Solang to Palachan.

To Palchan.

Photo of Nehru Kund, Bashisht, Himachal Pradesh, India by Shreyas Macwan

Finally! at 1830, we reached Palachan. We parked our car just next to the road and walked towards our hotel which was on a small hill. A small beautiful hill with the amazing view! The Clifftop Cottage, Palchan.

Traffic jam Beetwin Solang to Palchan.

Photo of Solang, Himachal Pradesh, India by Shreyas Macwan

PS: We were not able to click pics of our home stay Clifftop Cottage. Sharing images of My family trip to Manali during April 2017 to get a glimpse of this amazing place.

A pic from Clifftop Cottage. Notice those vehicles jammed in b2b traffic.

Photo of Palchan, Himachal Pradesh, India by Shreyas Macwan
Photo of Clifftop Cottages, National Highway 21, Manali, Himachal Pradesh, India by Shreyas Macwan

I called up Kapil Thakur. Owner of Clifftop cottage. I was very well in touch with Kapil during the planning phase of our travel. Kapil was an amazing help to get us SDM permit to cross Rohtang pass. He said to make ourselves comfortable at the cottage. He" ll see us soon. Poor Kapil was also stuck in that jam many vehicles behind us!!!

Physical we were fit but mentally we were exhausted! I wanted some hard drink and food. Luckily we bought two bottles of Old Monk rum to keep it with us during Manali Leh journey in case of emergency! We had it, ordered food and enjoyed the view from Balcony.

It was almost 9.00 pm & that traffic jam was still there moving very slowly!! Kapil came, he joined us for dinner!! We talked a lot about many things (don’t remember what, as I was drunk). It was one of the longest days, and we had to wake up early in morning!

We called it a day and went to sleep in the cosy and comfortable attic room of Clifftop Cottage!!

Day 4: Palchan to Jispa.

The Clifftop Cottage. Palchan.

Photo of Clifftop Cottages, National Highway 21, Palchan, Himachal Pradesh, India by Shreyas Macwan

The Clifftop Cottage. Palchan.

Photo of Clifftop Cottages, National Highway 21, Palchan, Himachal Pradesh, India by Shreyas Macwan
Day 4

Before planning our trip, we did a hell of a research. Everyone was saying that Leh and October don't go together. "It will be cold”, ”snow hogi”(there will be snow), “road block honge”(Road block) some even said, “tyre fat jaynege”(tyres will tear off). Another worry was, we were sharing dates with Raid de Himalayas!

So! We were already at Palchan, staying at the cosy homestay. Our Biggest question was what should we do? Do we leave before "raid" or after "raid"?

Option 1: We leave before raid competitors and let them pass us, on Rohtang top.

Option 2: We leave after them but there were heavy chances that we get stuck in the heavy rush of Rohtang crazy tourists.

We decided to keep our self ahead of Raid De Himalaya guys. We left Palchan at 0445 and reached Gulaba Check Post. We presented our SDM permit. It was surprising to see that police guy at Gulaba CP was not sleepy and fully awake.

I tried to become friendly and asked... "kyu sahab hum ne aap ko jaga diya.nai?" ( We woke you up?)

He was in good mood replied ...

"nai nai saab, aap ne nahi Raid walo ne puri rat jaga ke rakkha hai". (No No, Raid people kept us awake entire night)

We moved ahead, we were waiting for first light to do some photography. We missed all those amazing views on the way to Rohtang Top.

We reached Marhi. We stopped at a dhaba which was fully functional at 0515. We heard some heavy noise coming from the distance, they were two KTMs and one RE Himalaya, and within 5 Minutes three Motorcycles participating under Extreme Category crossed us at Marhi Village at 0525.

Vehicles started coming from another side of Rohtang. Four Tempo travellers crossed us from opposite direction, those were the brave souls who do Leh to Manali in 12 hours that too during the night. We stopped our vehicle carefully in a corner to give passage to one of the Innova, and that fool scratched with our brand new vehicle at the right tail light.

Fully functional Dhaba at Marhi Village at 5.45AM.

Photo of Marhi, Himachal Pradesh, India by Shreyas Macwan

Notice that dent on brand new Car.

Photo of Marhi, Himachal Pradesh, India by Shreyas Macwan

Marhi Village.

Photo of Marhi, Himachal Pradesh, India by Shreyas Macwan

Milestone at Marhi

Photo of Marhi, Himachal Pradesh, India by Shreyas Macwan

We were like… "itni jaldi nikle fir bhi raid wale aa hi gaye" ( We left this early, still raid guys caught us)

We made our mind that… "chalo koi nai"(Nevermind) these are just Motorcycles.

View From slopes of Rohtang Pass.

Photo of Marhi, Himachal Pradesh, India by Shreyas Macwan

We started for Rohtang top, from distance, we could hear heavy brroooom vrroooom of other motorcycles. All the Raid competitor Motorcycles crossed us, we wished them all the best by giving thumbs up.

There was enough daylight and now we were not worried about Raid competitors. We parked our Duster near one of the yellow board of Rohtang Pass. One couple came by a white Delhi WagonR after us. We asked “ itni jaldi kaise?”(How come this early?), they said one of their friends is participating in Raid De Himalaya. We clicked some photographs for them. We passed more than half hour admiring amazing views at Rohtang top.

One of the Raid De Himalaya competitor.

Photo of Rohtang Pass, Himachal Pradesh by Shreyas Macwan

At Rohtang Pass.

Photo of Rohtang Pass Final View Point, Himachal Pradesh, India by Shreyas Macwan

At Rohtang Pass.

Photo of Rohtang Pass Final View Point, Himachal Pradesh, India by Shreyas Macwan

At Rohtang Pass.

Photo of Rohtang Pass Final View Point, Himachal Pradesh, India by Shreyas Macwan

View From Rohtang Top.

Photo of Rohtang Pass Final View Point, Himachal Pradesh, India by Shreyas Macwan

We started towards Jispa from Rohtang top.

The road was in bad shape but we were in good mood. We kept stopping for photographs. There was one Raid competitor standing at a turn, we stopped and asked... "all well?" He replied... "oh yes " with a big smile. We wished him all the best and moved ahead. Later, in Leh we came to know that he was Paul Shubhamoy who died during Raid 2016.

Notice that White Wagon R.

Photo of Rohtang Pass Final View Point, Himachal Pradesh, India by Shreyas Macwan

Other Side of Rohtang Top.

Photo of Rohtang Pass, Himachal Pradesh by Shreyas Macwan

We kept moving. We were not in any kind of hurry. We were enjoying mountains and doing lots of photography.

A TATA Sumo was overtaking us at a sharp turn we gave him enough space. There were heavy peeeep poooop peeeep from behind, someone was in a real hurry and really fast. Well, and there we witnessed the first Vehicle of Raid de Himalaya Extreme Category. It was a Suzuki Grand Vitara with Number 2 (later in Leh we came to know it was Suresh Rana a Ten-time Raid winner). We let him pass! Well, actually he made his way and rushed ahead.

Other Side of Rohtang Top.

Photo of Rohtang Pass, Himachal Pradesh by Shreyas Macwan

We kept moving and reached Gramphu turn. All the Motorcycles, officials and even Suresh Rana were stopped there and waiting for something. We wished them all the best, even they wished us all the best, after all, we were first "private" vehicle going towards Leh that day.

Finally, Raid guys were behind us!! It was something 0730. Our night stay was planned at Padma Lodge, Jispa.

We were early...very very early!

At this turn Suresh Rana overtook us.

Photo of Gramphu, Himachal Pradesh, India by Shreyas Macwan

Other Side of Rohtang Pass.

Photo of Gramphu, Himachal Pradesh, India by Shreyas Macwan
Photo of Gramphu, Himachal Pradesh, India by Shreyas Macwan

We started making more and long photography stops, parked our vehicle, played with the river, played with AWD, had a brief stop at Sissu, refilled at Tandi pump, clicked that famous 365 km signboard and visited Keylong.

Beautiful Mountains.

Photo of Gramphu, Himachal Pradesh, India by Shreyas Macwan

Time Pass.

Photo of Khoksar, Himachal Pradesh, India by Shreyas Macwan

Played with Bapsa river.

Photo of Sissu, Himachal Pradesh, India by Shreyas Macwan

Played with AWD.

Photo of Sissu, Himachal Pradesh, India by Shreyas Macwan

Keylong is a small town with very narrow roads. We thought to have some tea and momos at Keylong but at one of the sharp turn, we got stuck with two or three cars with some heavy duty dumpers. After hundreds of small and tiny forwards and reverse manoeuvres, we managed to get out of that mess.We dropped the idea of tea and momos, got out of Keylong and drove towards Jispa.

That Famous Fuel bunk.

Photo of Tandi, Himachal Pradesh, India by Shreyas Macwan

Narrow Streets of Keylong.

Photo of Keylong, Himachal Pradesh, India by Shreyas Macwan

At 1140, we were at Jispa, Padma Lodge gate. But didn't enter it.

We were discussing... "ab kya kare?" (Now what?)

"Check in kar le?(Shoud we check in?)... At 11:40???...nah(NO)!!!"

One of us said, let's move ahead...

Ahead means?

Darcha 6km.

Patsio 12Km.

Sarchu 98km.

Small and Beautiful Jispa Village.

Photo of Jispa, Himachal Pradesh, India by Shreyas Macwan

At the gate of Padma Lodge, discussing what to do.

Photo of Jispa, Himachal Pradesh, India by Shreyas Macwan

Our research said none of the above places has stay arrangement after 15 September. So, we checked in at Padma Lodge.

We had plenty of time. We played with the river just behind our lodge, talked with lodge’s Nepali caretaker, shared our booze with him, visited other hotels, talked with two riders, roamed around in Small Jispa Village and talked with locals. We told some of them our plan that, tomorrow we are going towards Leh crossing mighty Baralacha Pass. Those locals were staring each other in astonishment.

One of them said... “ upar ja rahe ho? Sambhal na, kabhi bhi barf gir Shakti hai”(Take care, Snowfall can happen anytime.)

Overall we had a very relaxing and lazy day, practically doing nothing! At night we asked Nepali caretaker for a campfire, had amazing food and Slept.

A long and tough day was waiting for us!!!

A relaxing Day.

Photo of Padma Lodge Jispa, Jispa, Himachal Pradesh, India by Shreyas Macwan

Baspa River

Photo of Padma Lodge Jispa, Jispa, Himachal Pradesh, India by Shreyas Macwan

View from Padma Lodge.

Photo of Padma Lodge Jispa, Jispa, Himachal Pradesh, India by Shreyas Macwan

Rooms at Padma Lodge were small and cold. I was trying to make myself warm with one thermal, two blankets and one woolen monkey cap, but it was no use. My other two friends, one based at London is used to this kind of cold and other one is a frequent visitor to Canada and UK, so both of them were sleeping peacefully.

I was not able to sleep, at 0230 a vehicle arrived at the hotel, I was able to hear the noise. Earlier that evening, Nepali caretaker told me that they are accepting some guest coming from Leh. I thought to meet them and ask about road condition of Jispa to Leh but then who like to get out of his blanket when the temperature is -1 or -2.

Manali-Leh highway is one of the top toughest roads in the world! It’s beautiful, it’s amazing but it is tough! There are five high altitude pass (mountain gateways) higher than 14000ft on this road. Moreover, many starches on this roads are higher than 14000 ft. Extreme cold, lack of oxygen and due to that AMS (acute mountain sickness) are some of the major threats! Apart from that, Jispa (our night stay) is the last proper town /village. After that, there are only some military post and small dhabas. These dhabas and tent close their business after 15-20 September and go home.

This is not all, October is practically start of winter and if early winter comes, snowfall can block high passes and travelers can get stuck for days or weeks. It doesn't mean that it’s Impossible. One needs to do proper research before taking this journey and if you are travelling during October, you need to be ready for any kind of emergency.

We understood that. We had enough food and water for three days, apart from the heavy woollen clothes, we had three warm blankets, 20 liters of extra fuel and some booze. In short, we were ready to take this challenge!

Day 5: Jispa - Leh.

At 0440, we were ready to move. I was a bit disappointed as for next almost two hours, we’ll have to drive without sunlight. Driving on this roads without sunlight and photography is useless. I told my disappointment to other guys. We decided to take our breakfast at Darcha, which is police check post and a very small village 6 km from Jispa.

Padma Lodge

Photo of Padma Lodge Jispa, Jispa, Himachal Pradesh, India by Shreyas Macwan

We left Padma Lodge at 0530.

Day 5

It was pitch-black, nothing was visible except a snow cladded mountain far ahead. It was Baralacha Pass which we were going to cross. The temperature in our Odometer was -1, the accurate temperature was -3. Jispa to Darcha is just 6 km, the road was nice, but we were not in hurry. Many supply trucks stayed at Jispa for the night also started, we let them go ahead. After half hour's slow and peaceful drive We Reached Darcha.

Darcha is a small village with a Police CP, some dhabas and dormitory stay options. Every Vehicle going towards Leh have to register themselves at Darcha check post. After Darcha there is no human habitation, once you cross Darcha you are into the wild in real meaning!

We registered ourselves, crossed the barrier and ordered some aloo paratha at one of the Dhabas. We roamed around and found three to four dormitory stay options functioning at that time of the month. We inquired around and came to know that all these Dhabas and Dormitory stays will keep functioning until 15th Oct or BRO’s official announcement of Road closure.

-1 Temperature at Jispa. My watch was showing -3.

Photo of Darcha, Himachal Pradesh, India by Shreyas Macwan
Photo of Darcha, Himachal Pradesh, India by Shreyas Macwan

After Darcha (3360M) real climbing started. It was still dark, but roads were good. I was waiting for a small man-made lake named Deepak Tal, at Patseio but we missed it. We stopped somewhere and waited for Sunlight. No! We didn't want to miss anything. We were approaching Zingzingbar, we read a lot about a famous water crossing at Zingzingbar. There wasn’t anything, not a single drop of water. Welcome to October. We were climbing towards Baralacha Pass (4890m). Roads were nice and Duster was amazingly responsive.

To Zing Zing Bar.

Photo of Hozer Adventure Camp Patsio, Leh Manali Highway, Himachal Pradesh, India by Shreyas Macwan
Photo of Zingzingbar, Himachal Pradesh, India by Shreyas Macwan

Some Rest for Duster.

Photo of Zingzingbar, Himachal Pradesh, India by Shreyas Macwan

Nice Tarred Road. Duster was amazingly responsive.

Photo of Zingzingbar, Himachal Pradesh, India by Shreyas Macwan

All was amazing, views, road, vehicle and our moods. But I was feeling dizzy. We were gaining height. We were already higher than Rohtang Pass (3980M). My other friends took Diamox early morning. I wanted to try some natural remedies to tackle AMS, like drink more and more water, eat dry fruit, eat high-calorie food etc. I was trying all of this from the morning. After some time, I realized that I was forgetting something very important “Garlic water”. I sipped it and “Eureka”. It was stinking, it was bitter but gave immediate effect on dizziness!

We were at Baralacha Pass in no time. A snow-less Baralacha Pass & water-less Suraj Tall. During all of my earlier trips to Ladakh, we always found amazing snow and lots of water at Suraj Tall. But then, it was October, be ready for surprises. We spend a half hour at Baralacha Top. The temperature was -7.

At Baralachla Top.

Photo of Baralacha La Pass, Himachal Pradesh by Shreyas Macwan

At Baralachla Top.

Photo of Baralacha La Pass, Himachal Pradesh by Shreyas Macwan

Waterless Suraj Tall.

Photo of Baralacha La Pass, Himachal Pradesh by Shreyas Macwan

At Baralachla Top.

Photo of Baralacha La Pass, Himachal Pradesh by Shreyas Macwan

View from B Top.

Photo of Baralacha La Pass, Himachal Pradesh by Shreyas Macwan

Temperature -7 at Baralcha Top.

Photo of Baralacha La Pass, Himachal Pradesh by Shreyas Macwan

Personally for me, Baralacha Top was disappointing, I accepted lots of snow, instead, we found empty Suraj Tal and snowless Baralacha with amazing Tarred Surface.

Why was I disappointed at Baralachla Pass?

This was my third trip to Leh. I always found amazing snow at Baralacha top and lots of water at Suraj Tal. Sharing some images of my travel to Leh during July 2009.

July 2009

Photo of Ladakh in October( Off Season)... by Shreyas Macwan

July 2009

Photo of Ladakh in October( Off Season)... by Shreyas Macwan

July 2009

Photo of Ladakh in October( Off Season)... by Shreyas Macwan

We started getting down from Baralacha Pass, practically it wasn’t “getting down”. We were going to drive on 4000+ Mt altitude till Upasi. After B top roads were in bad shape.

After some 20 minutes of the drive, our NRI friend started complaining about some smell. We ignored him and kept moving. But he was right, we had 20ltr of fuel can in our boot, due to bad roads it was leaking. The smell our NRI friend was talking about was due to leaked diesel. We stopped and checked it & decided to get rid of it. We were about to spill it out, but I suggested to sell it to some of the truck drivers at Sarchu. We spotted some wildlife during that stop.

We kept moving with long stops of photography. We were enjoying our drive. After killing Sarai roads were again in good condition. It was very much cold.

Getting Down From Baralacha Top.

Photo of Baralacha La Pass, Himachal Pradesh by Shreyas Macwan

Frozen Road. We kept a hammer with us to break this kind of surface, but we tried AWD and crossed it.

Photo of Baralacha La Pass, Himachal Pradesh by Shreyas Macwan
Photo of Keylong Sarai, Keylong-Leh Road, Killingsarai, Himachal Pradesh, India by Shreyas Macwan

Checking the leakage of fuel Can.

Photo of Keylong Sarai, Keylong-Leh Road, Killingsarai, Himachal Pradesh, India by Shreyas Macwan

Spotted Some wildlife...Ibex?

Photo of Keylong Sarai, Keylong-Leh Road, Killingsarai, Himachal Pradesh, India by Shreyas Macwan

Our next stop was Sarchu, a small village of tent accommodation and dhabas. We planned to have lunch at Sarchu, if we get something. Otherwise, we had some boiled eggs and sandwiches packed from Padma lodge. We were not that hungry as we kept eating chocolates & dry fruits all the time.

To Sarchu.

Photo of Sarchu, Himachal Pradesh by Shreyas Macwan

We were having fun.

Photo of Sarchu, Himachal Pradesh by Shreyas Macwan

The road to Sarchu.

Photo of Sarchu, Himachal Pradesh by Shreyas Macwan

We reached Sarchu at 1130.

Other two guys started emptying our boot, and I went ahead to search a potential buyer for our fuel (600/-). I finalized a deal with a local minibus driver at half price. He emptied it into his bus and paid 300/-.

We had a nice tea and some light snacks. It was surprising to see many dhabas were fully functional. Tent accommodation guys were wrapping up their setup.

We spent some nice time at Sarchu. We cleaned our boot, talked with Locals, talked with people came from Leh. One solo rider was stuck there with his Rented RE due to clutch wire issue. I replaced his clutch wire.

We were in good mood. We enjoyed our drive. We enjoyed amazing views and did Jispa to Sarchu without any major obstacle!

Good Bye HP, Welcome to J&K.

Photo of Sarchu, Himachal Pradesh by Shreyas Macwan

Sarchu Village.

Photo of Sarchu, Himachal Pradesh by Shreyas Macwan

Welcome to J&K. Half Journey finished on Manali- Leh HW.

Photo of Sarchu, Himachal Pradesh by Shreyas Macwan

Sarchu! We spotted a wine shop here, may be highest wine shop in the world.

Photo of Sarchu, Himachal Pradesh by Shreyas Macwan

I started searching a potential buyer for our fuel! We had more than enough in the tank to reach Leh! Closed a deal with this Red mini Bus driver.

Photo of Sarchu, Himachal Pradesh by Shreyas Macwan

We even gave him that yellow can, which we brought all the way from Gujarat! We cleaned our boot.

Photo of Sarchu, Himachal Pradesh by Shreyas Macwan

Dhabas at Sarchu. I replaced clutch wire of this RE.

Photo of Sarchu, Himachal Pradesh by Shreyas Macwan

We spent two hours at Sarchu. Our NRI friend had a problem with BRO’s tagline “The Mountain Tamers”. His argument was you can't tame Mountains, you can't tame the Himalayas at all. Building roads on the mountain can't be called as Taming of Mountains. We agreed with him. I assured him, once we are back to civilization, I would personally mail BRO to change their tagline.

While we were discussing this, mild rain started at Sarchu. Locals said that this rain can convert into snowfall anytime. Oops, we had to drive 251 Km more, crossing three more Passes & it was 1330. We immediately packed our luggage and started from Sarchu. Fortunately, the rain stopped.

Sarchu To Pang.

Road after Sarchu was in good condition. We were maintaining a nice speed of 50 to 60kmph. After half hour’s drive, we found some trucks standing in front of a bridge. Truck drivers were trying to do something under the bridge. We stopped behind that truck and went to check what’s happening. One of the iron plates from this bridge was bent. We helped those drivers. One of the truck took the initiative and crossed that dangerous bridge. We followed that truck and crossed that bridge.

We left Sarchu.

Photo of Leh Manali Hy, Leh Manali Highway, Burwa, Himachal Pradesh, India by Shreyas Macwan

We kept moving ahead. After some time, I suddenly realized that we were climbing up. We crossed three or four sharp bends & I stopped! I said oops,... "these are famous hairpin bends of Ghata loops, let’s get back and count them, it should be 21 hairpin bends"

My NRI friend killed my excitement saying...

“chupchap gadi chala. Hame leh bhi pahochna hai”(Keep Calm & keep Driving)

It was fun to tackle those sharp hairpin bends. There were some nice off-road shortcuts but sensing our NRI friend’s mood we didn't say anything.We negotiated those 21 hairpin bends easily. Duster was amazing, full marks to our ride. We stopped for some photography with “god’s eye”. Read this term “ god’s eye” in many Ladakh blogs!

Nice Tarred Road.

Photo of Leh Manali Hy, Leh Manali Highway, Burwa, Himachal Pradesh, India by Shreyas Macwan
Photo of Leh Manali Hy, Leh Manali Highway, Burwa, Himachal Pradesh, India by Shreyas Macwan

Damaged Bridge.

Photo of Leh Manali Hy, Leh Manali Highway, Burwa, Himachal Pradesh, India by Shreyas Macwan

Damaged Bridge.

Photo of Leh Manali Hy, Leh Manali Highway, Burwa, Himachal Pradesh, India by Shreyas Macwan

We crossed that Bridge.

Photo of Leh Manali Hy, Leh Manali Highway, Burwa, Himachal Pradesh, India by Shreyas Macwan

Ghata Loops

Photo of Gata Loops by Shreyas Macwan

Ghata Loops

Photo of Gata Loops by Shreyas Macwan
Photo of Gata Loops by Shreyas Macwan

Notice those off-roading tracks.

Photo of Gata Loops by Shreyas Macwan

God's Eye.

Photo of Gata Loops by Shreyas Macwan

Our Duster.

Photo of Gata Loops by Shreyas Macwan

Moving ahead, we were now approaching one more pass named “Nakee La (4740 Mt)". Stopping at these passes and clicking pics with this yellow boards was obvious.

At Nakeela.

Photo of Nakee La 4739 m by Shreyas Macwan

Stone towers.

Photo of Nakee La 4739 m by Shreyas Macwan
Photo of Nakee La 4739 m by Shreyas Macwan

one more pass named “Lachung La (5079 Mt.)" was waiting for us. We were climbing and gaining heights but it was fun. A quick photography session at both of this passes and we kept moving ahead.

Lachung La.

Photo of Lachulung La 5065 m by Shreyas Macwan

Lachung La.

Photo of Lachulung La 5065 m by Shreyas Macwan

After climbing these two passes (Nakee La & Lachung La) there wasn’t any getting down. We were constantly driving on more than 4500 Mt altitudes. There wasn't any vegetation, water streams were frozen even at 3 pm. The road was in bad shape.

All three of us were feeling dizzy. We wanted to have some tea. We wanted to have some rest. We were waiting for Pang. One more natural carving named “India gate” came. Earlier I decided to stop and walk all the way to this carving and get a photograph but when we stopped, I was in no mood to walk. We clicked some photographs and move ahead.

Pang …Pang…come soon Pang!

Bad road, extreme cold and high altitude were taking their toll. We were tired. We wanted to rest.

Frozen Water Stream

Photo of Lachulung La 5065 m by Shreyas Macwan

India Gate.

Photo of Lachulung La 5065 m by Shreyas Macwan

Frozen Water Falls.

Photo of Lachulung La 5065 m by Shreyas Macwan

Our ride.

Photo of Lachulung La 5065 m by Shreyas Macwan

Rough road

Photo of Lachulung La 5065 m by Shreyas Macwan

Natural Sand Carvings.

Photo of Lachulung La 5065 m by Shreyas Macwan

We reached Pang.

Pang

Photo of Ladakh in October( Off Season)... by Shreyas Macwan

Pang To Leh

Yes! We wanted to rest, but we could not afford a longer stay at Pang. We reached pang, had tea & within 20 minutes we were again on road. We were still 178 Km far from Leh and had to cross the highest point on Manali –Leh highway. Tanglang LA (5328 Mt.).

From Delhi our British Driving License holder NRI friend wanted to get on the wheel! We were politely denying it saying you have experience of better roads and Automatic cars in London. Driving on Indian road can be dangerous for all of us. He kept convincing us by saying that he is an Indian at heart and can easily drive on Indian roads. At Manali I personally promised him that after pang there is a flat terrain of some 40Km named “Moore Plains” and you can drive on Moore plains. I was thinking that he already forgot this promise.

After some 20 km driving from Pang, We were at Moore Plains. He reminded me my promise. We didn't have any excuse. We gave him the wheel. Moore Plains road is nice tarred surface but occasional rough patches to pass waters.

We started from Pang.

Photo of Pang, Leh Manali Highway, Pang by Shreyas Macwan

Gave wheel to Our NRI friend.

Photo of Meroo, Leh by Shreyas Macwan

Moore Plains.

Photo of Meroo, Leh by Shreyas Macwan

He drove till Debring.

Photo of Leh Manali Highway, Debring by Shreyas Macwan

I warned him not to go beyond 80kmph but he kept pushing it till 100kmph. However, he drove nicely. We allowed him to drive till Debring, after Debring climbing for Tanglalng La started.

Debring to Tanglang La was a stiff climb. There wasn’t much bends on roads, due to that drive was a bit tough. Duster was feeling a bit under powered. I kept driving in 2nd or 3rd gears. Moreover, my head was spinning & I was feeling dizzy. I sipped some more garlic water but finally gave up. I asked my other friend to drive. He was feeling the same but he took the responsibility.

After Debring, We started climbing T Top, notice the stiff climb!

Photo of Leh Manali Highway, Debring by Shreyas Macwan

Notice that road without bends, Our duster felt little underpowered.

Photo of Tanglang La by Shreyas Macwan

We Reached Tanglang La Top,

highest point of Manali – Leh highway at 5328Mt. None of us was feeling well. I was in worst condition. I wanted to go to that yellow board and get a photograph but it was like climbing Mt.Everest. It was not AMS, but at this height headache & dizziness is normal. We were not acclimatized properly. We decided to get down as soon as possible. Of course after some photographs.

Smile Missing. I was not feeling well.

Photo of Tanglang La by Shreyas Macwan
Photo of Tanglang La by Shreyas Macwan

View from Tanglang La Top.

Photo of Tanglang La by Shreyas Macwan

We wanted to get down, we wanted lots of oxygen to fill our lungs. Road after Tangalang La was nice. We were some 100 Km far from Leh, but our immediate target was to reach a small village name Rumtse which was at the altitude of 4260 Mt.

Getting down from Tanglang La top, notice that Road.

Photo of Tanglang La by Shreyas Macwan

Approaching Rumtse Village.

Photo of Tanglang La by Shreyas Macwan

We reached Rumtse at 1645.

Rumtse was 80 Km far from Leh. We dropped our plan to stop at Rumtse. We were feeling far better now. We were back to Civilization but we wanted to reach our Hotel before Dark. We kept pushing ahead. The road was amazing, I was able to maintain speed more than 70kmph.

Yaks At Rumtse Village.

Photo of Rumtse by Shreyas Macwan

We reached Upashi (3480 Mt). We spotted many yaks, vegetation & water. Vegetation means Oxygen, Water means Human habitation. We kept moving.

Upshi Village

Photo of Leh Manali Highway, Upshi by Shreyas Macwan

Finally, we Reached Leh at 1830. We booked a suite at Hotel Ladakh Himalayan Retreat. We were welcomed by nice lemon tea. We checked in! My other friends got in the bed for a nap!

& ME? I got in the car & headed to Leh market to buy some Single Malt for the night!

We checked in. At Hotel Ladakh Himalayan Retreat.

Photo of Ladakh Himalayan Retreat, Ulica Chmielna, Warsaw, Poland by Shreyas Macwan

Well deserved rest for our Duster at Hotel LHR.

Photo of Ladakh Himalayan Retreat, Ulica Chmielna, Warsaw, Poland by Shreyas Macwan

We had enough rest and a nice booze session at Hotel. It was time to plan for our next day. It is advisable to spend at least 24 hours in Leh for acclimatization. We were going to spend the entire night, so it was fine to start exploring Leh and surrounding area from next day. Our initial plan was to do local sightseeing on the first day, but it was already 11th October and high passes can block anytime due to snowfall. We deiced to cover Nubra valley and Pangong first and then do local sightseeing.

We inquired about Nubra to Pangong Route, which passes through Shoylk River. As per Hotel owner’s personal sources at Nubra, the road was blocked due to a landslide. Shoylk Agham route can save traveller’s one day. Travelers can go to Pangong directly from Nubra without coming back to Leh. But in our case, it was not possible. We decided to drop Nubra. We decided to visit Khardung LA next day and cover some local sights.

Day 6: Leh to Khardung la & Local Sightseeing.

At 0600 in morning, outside our hotel. We asked one of the cab drivers the way to Khardung La.

He was angry and said...

“ khud aye ho khud hi dhudh lo or khud chale jao”.

I understood his anger. Leh Taxi Unions don’t allow out of state rented Vehicle in Leh. That cabbie, whom we asked about Khardung La, thought that ours was a rented car.

I replied…

"chaccha, khud ki gadi hai, Gujarat se aye hai”(Uncle! This is our own car. We are from Gujarat)

He was happy to help after knowing that it was a private vehicle all the way from Gujarat.

He guided and warned us...

"Shhhabji( with two extra “H”), Rat ko snow giri thi, sabhal ke jana”(Yesterday there was snowfall, take care)

We thanked him and started for Khardung LA. We crossed Leh town and started climbing on Khardung La. Our Next stop was a small military village called South Pullu, where we had to register our vehicle. There wasn't any snow, but the temperature was -7, it was cold.

Day 6

View from Road to K top.

Photo of South Pullu, Leh by Shreyas Macwan

Amazing Views.

Photo of South Pullu, Leh by Shreyas Macwan

Road to South Pullu.

Photo of South Pullu, Leh by Shreyas Macwan

We Reached South Pullu.

Road was in good condition without any snow! Heavy snow and clouds were clearly visible on upper part of our road. All of us were excited finally we were going to drive in fresh snow. I wanted to play with Duster’s AWD.

I went to South Pulu CP. We need to submit a self-declaration form and register our vehicle at this Check Point. We did all the research, we were aware of that, but we forgot to bring that form with us!

What a blunder! Now what? Should we go back to the hotel and bring those forms. I decided to try my luck.

I went to Army Guy posted at CP, & explain our situation. It was -7 and I was literally shaking! As always Army guy was co-operative.

He gave me a blank page and said …

“is pe nam,address and gadi ka number likh ke de do”

But my hand was shaking. I showed it to that Army guy saying…

“hath kamp rahe kaisie likhu?”

He smiled took that paper and said…

"details bolo mai likhta hu".

This is how we got a go-ahead from South Pullu, once again we were the first private vehicle going towards Khardung La.

Day 5

Approaching South Pullu.

Photo of South Pullu, Leh by Shreyas Macwan
Day 6

South Pullu, A Small Military village with Army Check Post.

Photo of South Pullu, Leh by Shreyas Macwan

Army Check Post.

Photo of South Pullu by Shreyas Macwan

We were the first timer for driving in fresh snow. Our British NRI friend asked to drive saying he has vast experience in driving in all kind of snow.

We said,

"wow!! That’s amazing. But now it’s our turn to gain some experience!"

Duster was brand new so we didn't know its strengths and Limits. We were scared!! And that was the fun part of our drive! We loved driving on that fresh snow, it was not that hard. We were gaining height and same way quantity of snow on road was also increasing.

Road after South Pullu.

Photo of Ladakh in October( Off Season)... by Shreyas Macwan

Expert checking the quality of snow. Your's truly

Photo of Ladakh in October( Off Season)... by Shreyas Macwan

Our ride.

Photo of Ladakh in October( Off Season)... by Shreyas Macwan

White Khardungla.

Photo of Ladakh in October( Off Season)... by Shreyas Macwan

The road to Khardungla Top.

Photo of Ladakh in October( Off Season)... by Shreyas Macwan

We drove slowly & tires stuck in fresh snow, we tried to drive fast but when we braked at one of the sharp turns it skid. And then Eureka!! Our Vehicle was AWD.

We just put it in auto AWD and let the vehicle take care of road!

It was Fun!!! Duster did the amazing job!! We started taking long photography stops on slopes of Khardung la Road. Trucks and other vehicles started coming from Leh town, all the Vehicles had snow chain on their tires. All of them were shocked to see A Gujarat private Vehicle at Khardunga la Slopes this early morning!! We were enjoying that Drive.

This Place is called Nubra gate.

Photo of Khardung La Road, Khardung by Shreyas Macwan

Approaching Nubra Gate.

Photo of Khardung La Road, Khardung by Shreyas Macwan

Drive in fresh snow.

Photo of Khardung La Road, Khardung by Shreyas Macwan

Road to Khardungla Top

Photo of Khardung La Road, Khardung by Shreyas Macwan

To Khardungla Top.

Photo of Khardung La Road, Khardung by Shreyas Macwan

One last turn and you are at K top.

Photo of Khardung La Road, Khardung by Shreyas Macwan

Some videos of our Drive to Khardung La.

At Khardung La.(5359 Mt).

We Reached Khardung La (5359 Mt) top. Which is wrongly claimed as “Highest Motorable Road on world”. There are many higher than Khardung LA (5359 Mt) but this was the highest point in our Leh tour. We were excited.

The temperature was -14(as per my watch). We clicked lots of photograph with that yellow famous board. No one was there, entire K top belonged to us (after 10mins Army guys & some locals came).We talked with them, shared their smoke, they offered us tea and hot water to drink!!(K top cafe was not open). Another side of Khardung La was Nubra which we dropped from our plan.

One Army Jawan approached us and asked...

“Gujarat se ho?” He was from Rajasthan.

He asked for a ride to Leh. We said yes …Anything for Army.

He told us that he was posted at Khardung la Top from last 5 months and this is his first trip down to Leh. Tough life!!

& Why he was going down?

Some of their Colonel (Commanding Officer) were visiting them, & he was travelling 56 KM down to Leh town to bring some Pastry for him!!!

We clicked some photographs with him, he requested us not to post these pics on Social Media!

This was my Fourth Visit to K top & K top always welcomed me with Snow.

Thanks, Khardung La !!!

At that Famous Yellow Board. No!!! Khardung La is not the highest motorable road!

Photo of Khardungla Pass, Khardung La Road, Leh by Shreyas Macwan

So what ? it not Highest Road.But at 18380 ft it was the highest point for us during this trip!

Photo of Khardungla Pass, Khardung La Road, Leh by Shreyas Macwan

We played with Snow!

Photo of Khardungla Pass, Khardung La Road, Leh by Shreyas Macwan

We passed more than an hour at K top!

Photo of Khardungla Pass, Khardung La Road, Leh by Shreyas Macwan

K top Belonged to us!

Photo of Khardungla Pass, Khardung La Road, Leh by Shreyas Macwan

We were enjoying.

Photo of Khardungla Pass, Khardung La Road, Leh by Shreyas Macwan

Top of the world.

Photo of Khardungla Pass, Khardung La Road, Leh by Shreyas Macwan

We got down from Khardung La.

It was a sunny day. We decided to visit some local sights likes Shanti Stupa, Leh Palace, Leh market.

We parked our vehicle at one of the parking plots near Leh market, had breakfast and headed for Leh Palace. The palace was built in the 17th century by King Sengge Namgyal and was his former residence. Palace offers the marvellous view of the of the whole Leh town and as well the mighty Himalayan ranges of Stok Kangri and Zanskar mountain ranges giving this palace a strategic position.

We walked all the way to this place from Leh market. Tourists have ruined this historical place. Even after heavy snow earlier night at Khardungla top, it was hot. We had to remove two layers of cloths.

Just 4 hours back, we were at -14c and then it was 28c.

To Leh.

Photo of Leh by Shreyas Macwan

Tourist Less Leh market in offseason.

Photo of Leh Market, Main Bazaar Road, Leh by Shreyas Macwan

Walking to Leh Palace.

Photo of Leh Palace, Leh by Shreyas Macwan

Leh Palace front view.

Photo of Leh Palace, Leh by Shreyas Macwan

View From Leh Palace.

Photo of Leh Palace, Leh by Shreyas Macwan

After Leh place.

We moved to Shanti Stupa.

Shanti Stupa is a white-dome structure dedicated to Buddhism. It is one of the major tourist attractions of Ladakh not only for its religious significance but also for its splendid views of the surrounding mountain ranges that it has to offer. We spent one hour here, did a lot of photography. There wasn’t any tourist rush, perks of travelling during off-season.

Shanti Stupa.

Photo of Shanti Stupa, Shanti Stupa Road, Leh by Shreyas Macwan

View From Shanti Stupa.

Photo of Shanti Stupa, Shanti Stupa Road, Leh by Shreyas Macwan
Photo of Shanti Stupa, Shanti Stupa Road, Leh by Shreyas Macwan

View From Shanti Stupa.

Photo of Shanti Stupa, Shanti Stupa Road, Leh by Shreyas Macwan

We planned to cover some more sites on Leh-Srinagar road. We reached Magnetic Hill.

Day 9

I was excited to for this place because there are some amazing off-road tracks. Our NRI friend was against the idea of Off-roading, but we used our VETO and went for off-roading, and he took revenge by not taking any pics of our adventure.

The popular Magnetic Hill of Ladakh is said to be a gravity hill where vehicles defy the force of gravity and move upwards on the hill, when parked at the marked location. The hill lies at a distance of 30 km from the town of Leh, at an elevation of around 14,000 feet above sea level.

Day 6
Photo of Magnetic Hill, Srinagar - Ladakh Highway, Leh by Shreyas Macwan

Magnetic Hill

Photo of Magnetic Hill, Srinagar - Ladakh Highway, Leh by Shreyas Macwan

Some Small Temple.

Photo of Magnetic Hill, Srinagar - Ladakh Highway, Leh by Shreyas Macwan

Notice those tracks.

Photo of Magnetic Hill, Srinagar - Ladakh Highway, Leh by Shreyas Macwan

Road to Srinagar.

Photo of Magnetic Hill, Srinagar - Ladakh Highway, Leh by Shreyas Macwan

We moved ahead from the Magnetic Hill, out next stop was Confluence of Indus and Zanskar Rivers. One is a shining blue river. The other is dirty green. Both of them originate in the high Himalayas. Both these Himalayan Rivers join at a scenic setting near the town of Nimmu in Ladakh. This is one of the most beautiful places in Ladakh.

Some of the tourists were going for River Rafting, but in my opinion during October water flow is not that thrilling. We didn't go for water rafting. We had a flying visit to Nimmu village and started back towards Leh Town. It was 3.15pm and the temperature was 31c.

The confluence of Indus and Zanskar Rivers.

Photo of Srinagar - Leh Highway, Nimmoo by Shreyas Macwan

The confluence of Indus and Zanskar Rivers.

Photo of Srinagar - Leh Highway, Nimmoo by Shreyas Macwan

The confluence of Indus and Zanskar Rivers.

Photo of Srinagar - Leh Highway, Nimmoo by Shreyas Macwan

Nimmu Village.

Photo of Srinagar - Leh Highway, Nimmoo by Shreyas Macwan

Nimmu Village.

Photo of Srinagar - Leh Highway, Nimmoo by Shreyas Macwan

The road to Nimmu Village.

Photo of Srinagar - Leh Highway, Nimmoo by Shreyas Macwan

The road to Nimmu Village.

Photo of Srinagar - Leh Highway, Nimmoo by Shreyas Macwan

En route Leh, We visited The Hall of Fame Museum. The Hall of Fame, located near the Leh Airfield, is a museum constructed as well as maintained by the Indian Army in the memory of the soldiers who had lost their lives during the Indo-Pak wars. It is also termed as a memorial for the war heroes.

Hall of Fame

Photo of Hall of Fame, Leh by Shreyas Macwan

Hall of Fame

Photo of Hall of Fame, Leh by Shreyas Macwan
Photo of Hall of Fame, Leh by Shreyas Macwan

We spent good two hours at museum understanding everything about Kargil war, Siachin post, equipment used by our brave Army Men at Siachin post, etc.

Standing Ovation to Indian Army and ITBP.

After buying some essentials from Leh market, we got back to our Hotel. Problem with these hotels is they don’t have WIFI in rooms, but only at reception waiting area. We ordered some tea at reception and started communicated with our family (none of us had a BSNL sim, our Vodafone and Idea Postpaid didn't work in Leh).

There was a Message on GJ/RJ HiVayking (HVK) WhatsApp group saying, Raid De Himalaya is cancelled.

What?... Why?...

They (Raid) were about to reach Leh on 12th October, which was “today”. Why was it called off? Road blockage? Snowfall at the high passes? Some accident? We wanted to know! We wanted to know because we had to go back via Manali- Leh highway and if any of that pass is blocked, we had to go back Via Srinagar which was a conflict zone.

Luckily Hotel manager at Ladakh Himalayan Retreat was following raid from the beginning. Some of the press guys had booked rooms at LHR. He was not aware of that news. I called up HVKumar. He told me that some rider in Raid’s Extreme Category has died somewhere around Gramphu.

I asked Hotel Manager to inquire around. The news was true. An Extreme category motorcycle participant named Paul Subhamoy died and Raid De Himalaya was called off!

Photo of Ladakh Himalayan Retreat, Ulica Chmielna, Warsaw, Poland by Shreyas Macwan

We went back to our room, had some scotch, had food and called it a day.

I asked hotel manager to wake me up when those press guys, covering raid arrive at the hotel.

They dint came. Late night manager called me and informed that Rohtang Pass is blocked due to heavy snowfall.

No news of other Four passes of Manali – Leh Highway.

NO, We can’t go back Via Manali – Leh highway way.

We had to go Via Leh – Srinagar...

We had to cut our trip short...

I had two more pegs of scotch and slept.

“Kal ki kal dekh lenge” !!!

Day 7 : Leh To Pangong Lake & Back.

It was decided that we had to cut our trip short and head back via Leh- Srinagar highway.

Ok fine, But without visiting Pangong Lake?

Not At All.

As per our Initial plan we were going to stay for a night at Pangong Lake. Our booking was done at one of the wooden cottages at Spangmik village. We decided to visit this property, have lunch and come back to Leh.

As usual, we started for Pangong Lake at first light. Pangong Lake is some 150kms from Leh. Roads were good. We had a flying visit to Takthok Monastery at Shakti village.

Day 7

Takthok Monastery.

Photo of Taktok Gompa, Sakti by Shreyas Macwan

View from Shakti Village.

Photo of Sakti, Leh by Shreyas Macwan

View from Shakti Village.

Photo of Sakti, Leh by Shreyas Macwan
Photo of Sakti, Leh by Shreyas Macwan

Road to Sakti Village.

Photo of Sakti, Leh by Shreyas Macwan

After Sakti our next stop was Chang La.

The Chang La (5,360 Mt) is a high mountain pass in Ladakh. It is claimed to be the second highest motorable road in the world. Which is wrong.

The climb was very steep and requires a careful drive. The stretch of 10-15 km road on either side from Chang la was loose dirt and slush. For our AWD it was ok.

Roads were ok but we faced heavy traffic of military supply vehicles. We stopped at each and every turn to give space to these trucks. It was tiresome and irritating, our progress was very slow.We reached Chang la after 4 hours. The temperature at Chang La was -9 c. We had our breakfast, hot thupka and momos at one of the cafés.

Clicked many photographs and headed towards Pangong lake.

Photo of Zingral by Shreyas Macwan

Chang LA.

Photo of Chang La Pass by Shreyas Macwan

Chang LA.

Photo of Chang La Pass by Shreyas Macwan

Chang LA.

Photo of Chang La Pass by Shreyas Macwan

Chang LA.

Photo of Chang La Pass by Shreyas Macwan

Chang La to Pangong Tso road was in worst condition, thanks to October that there wasn’t any major water crossing!

Once again we were the first vehicle of that day going towards Pangong Tso. Entire road belonged to us. We stopped at Tangste, registration of Vehicle was required. Again the same mistake, we dint had self-declaration form & again Army guys were co-operative. They gave us blank form and we wrote down details.

(Advice: Keep at least 10 photocopies of Self-declaration form in your vehicle when you are in Ladakh region)

We spotted some wild yaks, some wild kyangs, but those Famous Himalayan Marmot crazy for crackerjack biscuits were missing. Views were breathtaking.

Avalanche zone En route Pangong Tso.

Photo of Chang La Pass by Shreyas Macwan

Tangste Village.

Photo of Tangtse by Shreyas Macwan

Wild (??) Yaks.

Photo of Tangtse by Shreyas Macwan

Kiangs

Photo of Tangtse by Shreyas Macwan

Views

Photo of Durbok by Shreyas Macwan

We stopped 4 km ahead of the lake, the famous viewpoint, the first view of Pangong lake. We took our time to make ourselves ready to see one of the most amazing and beautiful places on earth.

First View of Pangong Tso.

Photo of Pangong Lake Road, Karu by Shreyas Macwan
Day 8

Beautiful Pangong Lake welcomed us!

Day 7

Yes, it is one the most beautiful place on earth. The one well-known factor which makes this lake beautiful, that it keeps changing colors. We wanted to witness all the colors of this beautiful lake. It was very much cold out there, but we were excited.

Pangong Lake, also known as Pangong Tso is a beautiful lake situated in the Himalayas and is 134 km long, extending from India to China. This Lake is situated at a height of 4350 m. The lake is a long stretch, the one-third area of the lake lies within our country and the other two third portion lies with Tibet. It has saline water and even then the water freezes and also because of this the lake cannot have any kind of vegetation or even aquatic life.

Approaching one of the most beautiful places on Earth.

Photo of Pangong Lake by Shreyas Macwan

We stopped at Lukung, which was a starting point of the Lake. After 3 Idiots movie, Leh and Pangong Lake came into limelight. Earlier this region was considered as an adventure circuit, but now it’s a tourist place. Cafes and dhaba are highly influenced by 3 idiots movie. We spent some time there, had our breakfast at a dhaba named “Rancho’s café” and left for Spangmik.

Welcome to Pangong Lake.

Photo of Pangong Lake by Shreyas Macwan

3Idiots movie's influence.

Photo of Pangong Lake by Shreyas Macwan

Beautiful Lake.

Photo of Pangong Lake by Shreyas Macwan

Playing with Pangong.

Photo of Pangong Lake by Shreyas Macwan

We were driving parallel to Pangong Lake. It was an amazing experience. Some of the locals were practicing Archery. We stopped there and tried our hands on Archery. It was tough.

We talked with those locals. They were from a small village from Zanskar and operating a small dhaba at the bank of Pangong. As per them, it was already off season and they"ll go back to their village after 15th October.

I asked...

what after that?... What do you guys do during winter?

One of them said...

“tin month ke bad agali season suru hogi, uski wait karenge”.(Next Season will start after three months, we"ll wait for that)

Three more months? How...?

"Leh tourist Season is May to September which is after 7 months."

He said...

“ nai nai Saab, Mai Chadar ki bat kar raha hu, Chadar trek January se chalu hoga” (No, no Sir. I am talking about Chadar trek season, It"ll start from January.)

All of them were working as guides of Chadar Trek on frozen Zanskar River.

WOW!

Chadar trek is one of my dreams, but I don’t consider myself fit to do that. We spent one more hour talking about Chadar trek. I noted down their number and promised to call him when I plan for Chadar Trek.

Photo of Pangong Lake by Shreyas Macwan

Driving with Lake.

Photo of Pangong Lake by Shreyas Macwan

We tried our Hands on Archery!

Photo of Pangong Lake by Shreyas Macwan

We spent more than two hours with locals talking about Chader trek.

It was already 1400 and we were hungry. Spangmik was 8 Km from that spot. 8km means one hour of driving in that region. We decided to drop Spangmik, drive a bit more with Pangong and head back to Leh. We wanted to get back to Leh before dusk.

Pangong was changing its colors. We stopped at many viewpoints to witness that.

Our Ride!

Photo of Pangong Lake by Shreyas Macwan

Pangong Changing its Colours.

Photo of Pangong Lake by Shreyas Macwan

Beautiful Pangong!

Photo of Pangong Lake by Shreyas Macwan
Photo of Pangong Lake by Shreyas Macwan

Your's truly.

Photo of Pangong Lake by Shreyas Macwan

We took a U-turn, got out of the tarred road and played with AWD. We drove all the way to the lake, spotted some more wild kyangs. We drove some more and spotted a sigh board saying not to drive in this area. Oops Sorry! We got back to the road and headed back to starting point of Lake.

Even our Duster was in good mood!

Photo of Pangong Lake by Shreyas Macwan

Let's try AWD!

Photo of Pangong Lake by Shreyas Macwan

Some more kyangs.

Photo of Pangong Lake by Shreyas Macwan

Enjoying Pangong!

Photo of Pangong Lake by Shreyas Macwan

We had nice momos at one of the “3 idiots” themed Dhaba. There were many tourist Vehicles. It was 1600, time to head back to Leh

A local guy came to us and asked for lift till Leh.

Why not!

We started for Leh. We tried to talk to that guy about Life in Leh. As per him, taxi & hotel owners are at the top of Leh‘s socio-economical hierarchy. Car loans for commercial (tourism) purpose are very cheap and easy for locals (maybe perks of 370 Article in J& K).

He told us...

“shayad aap ke vaha youth ko doctor ya engineer banana hoga, yaha leh mai sab ko bhahot sari Innova leni hai and driver banna hai”(May be in your region young guys want to become doctors or engineers but in Leh, they want to buy a lot of Innovas.)

We all laughed at his statement. Maybe it's true. We all know that taxi rates are highest in this region.

Pangong with a new colour!

Photo of Pangong Lake by Shreyas Macwan

Back to Lakung.

Photo of Pangong Lake by Shreyas Macwan

Day 8: What now? (Leh to Banihal)

We got back to Leh from Pangong around 1900. We settled down at our hotel, discussing what to do next day.

All of the major sights were covered, we didn't have any plans to visit Turtuk or Zanskar or Paramik. Some of the passes on Manali- Leh was blocked. We received news of light snowfall at Zoji La. We had to go back by Leh - Srinagar HW, no other option! If we delay driving back, chances were high that we get stuck at Leh with all the roads getting out of Ladakh region blocked!

We called up some of our contacts in Srinagar, they said that stone pelting was in full swing. They advised us not to cross Srinagar during daylight and that too on Friday! Some military officers suggested crossing Srinagar after 2300 Point noted! We decided to cover some pending sights in Leh & start driving towards Kargil at 1100, spend the night at Kargil. Next day, cross Zoji La, dinner at Sonamarg and cross Srinagar after 2300!

We woke up 0800 and started one of the longest days of our lives!

Our NRI friend wanted to visit “3 idiot School”. We were early so school was closed. Name of this school is "Druk White Lotus School". The school was damaged in August 2010 when cloudbursts caused flash floods that washed mud and boulders into many school buildings. Aamir Khan made a special effort to lend a helping hand. I found Nothing special about this school accept amazing views.

Tourists even in October!

Photo of Pangong Lake by Shreyas Macwan
Day 8

View from Druk White Lotus School, known as "3 idiots School".

Photo of Leh by Shreyas Macwan

Thikse Monastery.

After “3 idiots” school we moved to Thikse Monastery.

It is one of my favourite place and the face of Ladakh. It is located on a small hill in Thikse village 19 Kms from Leh. It is noted for its resemblance to Potala Palace, Lhasa. Tibet. Once again we were first visitors.

It is a massive twelve-story monastery complex with a number of stupas, statues, thankas and wall paintings. There is also a large pillar engraved with the Buddha's teachings. In its museum, many sacred items besides a royal sword among other precious objects are on display. As per tradition of Buddhist monastic orders, the successive Lamas are believed to be reincarnations of the original Lama. The successive reincarnations of the Skyabje Khampo Ringpoche act as Head Lama of this monastery. The main prayer hall has a 15 mt high seated Buddha statue. The prayer held in the early morning.

View from Druk White Lotus School, known as "3 idiots School".

Photo of Leh by Shreyas Macwan

Thikse Monastery, The face of Ladakh.

Photo of Thiksey Monastery Leh Ladakh, Leh Manali Highway, Thiksey by Shreyas Macwan

We spent more than two hours at Thikse Monastery admiring and clicking amazing views.

Our NRI friend wanted to understand Buddhism. He had a long talk with one of the monk. I was just chasing around kid monks and clicking pictures with them. We played/prayed with big praying wheels, explored entire monastery, bought some sovereigns.

View from Thikse Car Parking.

Photo of Thiksey Monastery Leh Ladakh, Leh Manali Highway, Thiksey by Shreyas Macwan

Exploring Thikse Monastery.

Photo of Thiksey Monastery Leh Ladakh, Leh Manali Highway, Thiksey by Shreyas Macwan

Exploring Thikse Monastery.

Photo of Thiksey Monastery Leh Ladakh, Leh Manali Highway, Thiksey by Shreyas Macwan

Talking with Monks.

Photo of Thiksey Monastery Leh Ladakh, Leh Manali Highway, Thiksey by Shreyas Macwan

I wanted to click one particular kid monk but he was in a naughty mood. He was just running around and hiding in the monastery. I took permission of his caretaker and ran behind him, & finally clicked some pictures of that naughty kid.

Clicking with Monks.

Photo of Thiksey Monastery Leh Ladakh, Leh Manali Highway, Thiksey by Shreyas Macwan

That naughty kid monk who was not ready to face my Lens.

Photo of Thiksey Monastery Leh Ladakh, Leh Manali Highway, Thiksey by Shreyas Macwan

He kept running away from me.

Photo of Thiksey Monastery Leh Ladakh, Leh Manali Highway, Thiksey by Shreyas Macwan

& kept hiding in Monastery.

Photo of Thiksey Monastery Leh Ladakh, Leh Manali Highway, Thiksey by Shreyas Macwan

We had all the time to play with those kids.

After lots of photography, we started back for Leh city for some breakfast.This was my fourth trip to Ladakh & we decided to avoid Monasteries to save some time. But Thikse Monastery will always be an exception.

I "ll surely come again!!

finally, I caught him. That amazing expression of "oh mai pakada gaya"

Photo of Thiksey Monastery Leh Ladakh, Leh Manali Highway, Thiksey by Shreyas Macwan

View from Thikse Monastery!

Photo of Thiksey Monastery Leh Ladakh, Leh Manali Highway, Thiksey by Shreyas Macwan

View from Thikse Monastery!

Photo of Thiksey Monastery Leh Ladakh, Leh Manali Highway, Thiksey by Shreyas Macwan

Leh To Kargil (Leh- Srinagar Highway).

We reached Leh, had some tea and breakfast at outskirts of Leh. It was 10.45am.

Our plan was to drive till Kargil and stay for the night. Kargil is 216 km from Leh. As per locals, Srinagar to Kargil road was in excellent condition and we can cover that distance in less than 5 hours. We were not in hurry.

We started from Leh, roads were really in nice condition. It was amazing to drive on those roads. We kept driving enjoying nice tarred road and amazing views!

Goodbye Thikse!

Photo of Thiksey Monastery Leh Ladakh, Leh Manali Highway, Thiksey by Shreyas Macwan
Photo of Srinagar - Leh Highway, Basgo by Shreyas Macwan

Leh-Srinagar Highway.

Photo of Srinagar - Leh Highway, Basgo by Shreyas Macwan

After two to three hours drive, we witnessed some different kind of mountain formation.

I have noticed this kind of formation during my Spiti tour but it was new for me in Ladakh region. And why not? I was driving on Srinagar – Leh first time.

That formation is called Lamayuru Moonland. It is called moonland by the local due to its peculiar land surface which closely resembles the surface seen on the moon. Lamayuru is a small village and home to one of the oldest Monastery called Lamayuru Monastery.

Suru River.

Photo of Srinagar - Leh Highway, Saspul by Shreyas Macwan

Welcome to Moonland.

Photo of Lamayuru, Leh by Shreyas Macwan

Lamayuru Moonland!

Photo of Lamayuru, Leh by Shreyas Macwan

Lamayuru Moonland!

Photo of Lamayuru, Leh by Shreyas Macwan

We started our journey from Lamayuru after 20 minutes.

Once again we were on the road. We were enjoying the drive. The road was in the nice condition, where we could speed up. We stopped at many points for photographs. In my opinion views on Manali – Leh is “Brutally” Beautiful, but Leh –Kargil was “beautifully” Beautiful. I don't know how to explain this statement! But even after my four trips on Manali- Leh highway, I am always scared of that road at the back of my mind. It was not the case with Srinagar-Leh highway.

Photo of Lamayuru Gompa, Lamayuru by Shreyas Macwan

Beautiful views bundled with the nice tarred road.

Photo of Srinagar - Leh Highway, Karapura Pain, Kashmir Golf Course, Rainawari, Heniskot by Shreyas Macwan

We were now approaching Fotu LA (4108 Mt).

The highest point on Srinagar- Leh highway. There is a Prasar Bharati television relay station located on the pass. Once again those yellow boards and once again lots of photographs.

Fotu La pass on the Srinagar-Leh highway of the Himalayan Zanskar Range stands at a height of 13,478ft (4,108m) above the sea level. This mountain pass is referred to as the highest point on the highway, going beyond the well-known Zoji La. The drive through the pass was so beautiful, we stopped at many places to get an amazing view of the snow-clad mountain ranges.

Nice road.e

Photo of Srinagar - Leh Highway, Karapura Pain, Kashmir Golf Course, Rainawari, Wakha by Shreyas Macwan

Our Ride.

Photo of Srinagar - Leh Highway, Karapura Pain, Kashmir Golf Course, Rainawari, Wakha by Shreyas Macwan
Photo of Srinagar - Leh Highway, Karapura Pain, Kashmir Golf Course, Rainawari, Wakha by Shreyas Macwan

Approaching Fotu La.

Photo of Fotu La by Shreyas Macwan

Beautifully Beautiful!

Photo of Fotu La by Shreyas Macwan

After some 15 minutes of driving, we were welcomed by Tourism Development Authority, Kargil. We were officially entering into Kargil district. We were still 75 km away from Kargil.

Fotu LA

Photo of Fotu La by Shreyas Macwan

We were approaching one more pass named Namikala La (3700 Mt.).

Namikala Pass to name among other passes is located at the Zanskar range. A pass that stands at a height of 3,700 mt. It is situated on the way to Mulbekh valley. Namikala Pass is one of the most impressive and important passes and one of the highest passes between Leh and Kargil.

We spent more than 15 minutes here and started driving towards Kargil.

Photo of Mulbekh by Shreyas Macwan

At Namikala La.

Photo of Namikala Pass by Shreyas Macwan

The obsession of those yellow boards!

Photo of Namikala Pass by Shreyas Macwan

We moved ahead.

We were enjoying our drive.

I noticed one truck with the broken windshield but avoided to inform others as dint want to scare our NRI friend.

At Namikala La (3700 Mt.)

Photo of Namikala Pass by Shreyas Macwan

We reached Kargil at 3.15pm.

We covered Leh- Kargil 216 Km in 4 hours with two or three long stops, thanks to BRO for those amazing roads.

Getting down from Namikala La.

Photo of Kargil by Shreyas Macwan

The road to Kargil.

Photo of Kargil by Shreyas Macwan

Approaching Kargil.

Photo of Kargil by Shreyas Macwan

We reached Kargil at 3.15 pm.

Earlier we deiced to have a night stay at Kargil. We entered in town had some tea and discussed what to do? It was just 3.15pm there was plenty of daylight.

We decided to push some more and reach Drass. Kargil to Drass was just 65 Km. We decided to reach Drass and have a night stay.

We started for Drass.

Roads were nice.

We reached Drass in 3 hours.

Kargil Town

Photo of Kargil by Shreyas Macwan

We stopped at Drass War Memorial.

Army Men at the gate was surprised to see us. We stopped to chat with him. He told us stone pelting is in full swing at Srinagar. All the vehicles coming from Srinagar have broken windshield. This was a bad news. We were going to pass Srinagar next morning or afternoon. If this is the situation of Srinagar, we can’t cross it.

We asked that Army Man what to do. He advised us to meet their CO(Commanding Officer). We approached their CO. CO was a nice cooperative person.

He advised us to not to stay at Drass. He told us to keep driving, cross Zoji La and reach Sonmarg.

We told him...

“for that, we have to cross mighty Zoji La in pitch dark”.

He said...

“yes you’ll have to but that the only way out. You cannot cross Srinagar during the day. It is very risky”.

He insisted us to reach Sonamarg and wait for two or three hours, and cross Srinagar after 11.30pm. He also told us that things are not good even in Drass.

So this was it. We had to move on. It was scary.

When an Army commanding Officer tells you that “things are not good, keep moving” It is serious.

We shared tea with that CO, thanked him and started driving.

We even skipped Drass War Memorial.

We started our journey from Drass. Yes ! We were scared but equally excited.

Photo of Dras, Kargil by Shreyas Macwan

Drass War Memorial, which we had to skip.

Photo of Dras, Kargil by Shreyas Macwan

Yes! We were scared but equally excited.

We were approaching conflict zone and was going to cross one of the major Pass, Zoji La in dark.

After Drass it was getting dark. After some time we met three truck drivers who killed our excitement. All those truck’s windshield was broken, one of the truck drivers was bleeding. We stopped them offered our smoke and inquired how this happened.

They told us the same story. They faced a group of the youngsters at Ganderbal. They threw stones at them without any reason and they had to run. Army CP at Sonamarg Advised those truck drivers to keep driving and cross Zoji la. We wished them good luck and started driving.

After that meeting, we were just “scared” and not “excited”.

There were many trucks coming down from Zoji la, most of them were IOCL tankers and almost all of their windshields were broken.

After Drass. It was getting Dark.

Photo of Dras, Kargil by Shreyas Macwan

Notice those three trucks with broken windshields.

Photo of Dras, Kargil by Shreyas Macwan

It was almost dark.

Photo of Dras, Kargil by Shreyas Macwan

Approaching Zoji La.

Photo of Dras, Kargil by Shreyas Macwan

We reached the last Army Check Point before Zoji La, Gumri.

It was dark. Army guys were surprised to see a tourist vehicle that late and ready to approach Zoji La in the dark. In charge of that CP denied allowing us to go ahead. We asked him to talk to COsir at Drass War memorial. He called up his CO, COsir confirmed that he advised three guys with black Duster to go ahead and cross Zoji La.

CP in-charge wrote down our name and cell phone numbers. He gave us his personal number and asked to call him in case of any kind of emergency. He told us to ask Army CP in-charge at Sonamarg, to call him once we reach Sonamarg. He was genuinely worried about us.

We shared their tea and said goodbye to him. He wished us good luck.

We were approaching Zoji La.

Last Check Post before Zoji La. Notice that damaged the truck.

Photo of Gumri, Kargil by Shreyas Macwan

We started from that check post. We were very much scared and tensed. I normally love this kind of situations, it was an adventure in the purest form. Crossing Zoji la in dark. We were confident about ourselves, as far as driving was concerned but we were scared of stone pelting and all.

Many IOCL oil tankers were coming from Sonamarg side. Almost all of them were with the broken windshield. We asked one or two of them about road conditions, they said till Zoji la, the road is good after that, it is in very bad condition. All tanker drivers advised us to take care & drive slowly after Zoji la.

We kept moving ahead. We met a group of motorcycles from KA before Zoji la.

We were scared, couldn't smile for the camera.

Photo of Gumri, Kargil by Shreyas Macwan

After an hour of driving, we reached Zoji La top. After all, a photograph with that yellow board was a must. I tried to find that yellow milestone with name and altitude of Zoji La. I couldn't find it.

Zoji La.

Photo of Zojila Pass, Forest Block by Shreyas Macwan

Zoji La, notice those bikers.

Photo of Zojila Pass, Forest Block by Shreyas Macwan
Day 6

We started descending from Zoji La.

It was dark, pitch dark. It was scary.

Out Visibility was limited. Head light with high-beam was a little help. Road after Zoji la was in bad shape. There wasn't any vehicle on slopes of Zoji La. It was like, all three of us was driving the vehicle. My friend was driving, I was keeping a close eye on edge of the road and our NRI friend was looking for any upcoming vehicle or their lights. The road had lots of curves. When we turn, our headlight focus on the valley for few seconds. It was scary.

You know you are driving on one of the deadliest roads in the world.

You know that just 2 feet away there is a deep valley, but you are not able to see it.

You know that you are travelling very near to LOC between India & Pakistan.

You know that you are alone.

You read many things about this high pass, and you are on it in the night.

It was scary.

You are scared, but another part of your mind says you love adventure.

That was not a fight between your heart and mind.

The heart was busy pumping blood more than normal rate.

The heart was busy handling adrenaline rush.

You just think of the definition of adventure.

You love to call yourself a traveller.

Your mind asks the definition of traveller.

You think about life.

You think about your kid at home.

You think about your wife.

You think about your parents.

And some naughty over-enthusiastic part of your mind says...

"Come on! this is the life, you are a survivor"

But another part of your mind asks the definition of life.

What is life??

Now there is a fight between two part of your mind.

The Frist part, which is over-enthusiastic says...

"this is life, you are doing something, which is not normal, you are amazing."

The second part says...

" life is at home, with your family, don't come to the Himalayas again".

...& then there was a sharp break, Our car stopped at a corner. I checked the road (and your mind ask the definition of good roads)

With the hell with my mind.

There was an IOCL tanker with the broken windshield and only one headlight. It was my duty to keep an eye on edge of the road and upcoming vehicles & I was busy in definitions. We stopped for a while and asked that IOCL tanker that how far is Sonamarg. He said 10 km more.

I took the wheel. Asked my mind to shut up and started driving. I was talking to myself that this"ll be a hell of a story to tell that we crossed Zoji la at the night. This gave me some positive energy.

Goodbye Zoji La.

Photo of Zoji La, Forest Block by Shreyas Macwan
Day 8

Finally, at 2100 we were at a small Dhaba at Sonamarg.

Frist thing we did after reaching Sonamarg, was to report at the military check post. CP in- charge was already informed that a Gujarat black Duster with three guys was coming down from Zoji la. CP in-charge at Sonamarg informed CP in charge of Zoji la that we were at Sonamarg CP and all was well.

CP in charge at Sonamarg was a nice person, He offered us tea. We asked him what should we do? He advised us to stay there or at any dhaba for 3 hours, finish our dinner, relax a bit and then start for Banihal. He strictly instructed us not stop anywhere before Javahar tunnel.

We asked some tips on how to cross Srinagar. He called one of the local from their camp. That local draw a rough map on a blank paper with landmarks. It was nice, we got all the details. He clearly instructed us not turn towards "Lal Chowk" in any case. He explained to us that "Lal chowk " was the epicenter of all the protest activities and remain as far as possible from " Lal Chowk"

We spent one hour at Military CP.

CP in charge offered us to take dinner with them but we denied that offer. We were interested in some heavy nonveg (specially Mutton Rohan Gosh) at some place at Sonmarg. We thanked everyone at that CP and left in search of some hotel or dhaba.

Finally, we find a small dhaba with nonveg food option. We asked for Rohan gosh but it was not available. We ordered some chicken.

There was a small TV in this dhaba, some local young guys in their "pehran" (traditional outfit of kashmiri during winter) watching the news. India today TV channel is well known for their animated cartoon series on current affairs. We , 8 guys, were watching the TV. We three, 4 locals in their "Pehran" and that Dhaba owner.

& then came bellow cartoon on TV. The team of Modisir is attacking Kashmiris and killing terrorists wearing that "pehran" and what not. Oops that Cartoon was funny, but all those 4 locals were serious...

You are trapped in a bad situation here. You always thought that terrorism should be handled with strict policies, you are a patriotic and you supported Burhan Vani 's killing and condemned all the civil unrest after that.

But here you are at the outskirt of Sonamarg with some serious looking locals in their Pehran & our Modisir's cartoon is attacking and killing the terrorist(wearing pehran)....

with song lyrics "bar bar ha abki bar ha,ghus ke mara hai, Seema par ha"...

You are three guys from Gujarat with a Gujrat vehicle and PM's ( who is Gujarati) animated cartoon killing the terrorist. It was tensed moment, we were scared. I wanted to break the ice between us and them, but how?

And then, one of the locals turned to us and laughed loudly saying ...

" yeh news wale kuch bhi dikahte rehte hai, sabhi terrorist nahi hote".

He invited us to share their fire. We joined them. We shared their smoke. They gave us some tips on how to cross Srinagar.

We spent 3 hours at that Dhaba, talking with those locals, We wanted to avoid discussing terrorism and Burhan Vani & they understood it. We had our food, thanked those locals and started from Sonamarg at 10.30 Pm.

We started form Sonamarg at 10.30 pm.

Sonamarg is beautiful, Sonamarg is surrounded by many beautiful snow cladded peaks. We were at Sonamarg first time in our lives but it was dark. We promised to Sonamarg that we "ll come again.

We were all alone on the road. Truck drivers were also parked at the edge of the road and sleeping. We kept moving ahead. It was 11.00 pm in the night. There wasn't any upcoming traffic, roads were deserted. After some time we reached Ganderbal Village.

If you are following news of Kashmir, you must be aware of this name Gandeball. All the truck drivers told us that they faced stone pelting at Ganderbal. Our NRI friend spotted a milestone saying Welcome to Ganderbal.

So finally we were here, at Ganderbal. It was deserted. There was no one to throw stones at us. Roads were empty. It was relaxing, but deep inside my mind, I was also disappointed...

" no one will throw stones at us?, We won't get a chance to run for our life (car) ?, huh".

We stopped at a fuel bunk at Ganderbal. The owner was surprised to see us at 11.30pm.

We asked him in relaxed tone...

"trucks ne to hame dara diya tha, yaha toh kuch stone pleting nahi ho raha hai"

I felt that that fuel bunk guy didn't like that we were relaxed. He said...

"Ganderbal mai log jaldi so jate hai, Srinagar mai nahi sote,Srinagar me patthar pad shakte hai."

There was Toyota Qualis at that Fule bunk, with a sticker " Follow me to Paradise, J& K tourism". See the irony here, a local person was saying that "Srinagar mai patthar padenge & a tourism department vehicle was welcoming us to Paradise. We were approaching paradise...

At Sonmarg Military CP.

Photo of Sonamarg by Shreyas Macwan

"Follow me To Paradise"

Photo of Srinagar by Shreyas Macwan

We decided to follow that Qualis guy, but he told us he is from Ganderbal and going home. He said go ahead, there won't be any major issue if you avoid " Lal Chowk".

We started from Ganderpal and decided to cross Srinagar in one go.

After half hour, we entered Srinagar city.

It was 12.30pm and the entire city was calm and deserted. We didn't even spot any police or Military men. We kept moving. We were constantly in touch with a local rider friend, who was giving us instructions at every crossing. At every crossing one road was going to Lal Chowk.

Lal Chowk was just 1 km away from us.

Nothing happened, We crossed Srinagar like breeze. We were relaxed and stopped at Pampore. We thanked that local rider for help. He advised us not to stop anywhere. He said just keep driving and cross Zawahar Tunnel. Point taken...!!

This was my first time in Srinagar. Beautiful Dal lake & it's Shikara rides, houseboats, well known Mughal garden, Shalimar Garden, Char Chinar and Kashmiri Wazvan dishes( most important Mutton Rohang Gosh). We missed it all. We crossed Srinagar like maniacs.

"Gar firdaus bar-rue zamin ast, hami asto, hamin asto, hamin ast.” “If there is a heaven on earth, it’s here, it’s here,". Srinagar was beautiful, Yes I can say that, even after we crossed it in a hurry.

We wanted to reach Zavahar tunnel as soon as possible. We crossed Srinagar without any major issue, crossed Pampore, crossed Anantnag. These were the well-known names, beautiful places but affected by civil unrest.

Roads were nice, we zipped through this places and reached Qazigund Dry fruit market. surprisingly this market was open at 2.00am.

We stopped for tea. We were the only tourist vehicle at Qazigund. I noticed that when you are scared, locals love to play with your fear.

I went to one dry fruit shop to buy some dry fruit and asked the owner...

" ab to koi dar nahi hai na pattharbazi ka"

It felt like the owner was more interested in scaring me instead of selling his stuff.

He said..." saab ji, yeh Kashmir hai, pattar kabhi bhi pad shakte hai"

I said..." thik hai bhaisab, aap patthar maro hum to chale"

We started for Zavahar tunnel immediately. There was a long queue of trucks at the ticket counter of Tunnel. We joined this queue. One of the policemen came to us and told us to cut the line and go ahead. We thought he is one more local who wanted to have fun with us.

We dined to cut the line. He said very politely... "sir aap tourist ho, aap age jao, ticket leke tunnel cross kar lo" .

We were surprised, we thanked him and rushed ahead, bought the tickets and crossed the tunnel. Finally, we crossed Zavahar tunnel. It was 3.00am.

Javahar tunnel is an engineering marvel, its longest tunnel, it connects Kashmir and Jammu valleys....blah blah bla...we were not in the mood for these things. We were tired & we wanted to sleep.

I asked google baba for next city after Zavahar tunnel and possible stay options. The next city was Banihal. We selected a JKTDC property (hotel Maple) and called them. We said just keep a room ready with an extra bed.

At 4.00am we reached Hotel Maple, Banihal. It was poorly maintained, rooms were dirty. The only good thing about that property was it had good parking space. We just got in those dirty beds and slept.

After 17 hours of driving, we were in bed. It was one of the longest days of our lives. Leh To Banihal in 17 hours.....

Day 9: Banihal To Ludhiana.

We checked in at JnKTDC property, Hotel Maple at Banihal at 3.00am. Rooms were dirty with cigarette butts and liquor bottles. We didn't think much about it. We just got into our beds(mine was on the floor) and slept. We were awake for last 22 hours. We needed some rest, we needed some sleep.

At 7.00am, our NRI friend woke us up. It was irritating. We were not in the mood to get out of bed just after three hour's sleep.

I clearly said to Our NRI friend,

..."hotel mai aaag lagi hai?...agar nahi...toh hum nahi unthenge"

He said... "hotel mai to nahi, banihal mai aag lag shakti hai".

I just got out of my bed after listening to that sentence. I asked him what he was trying to say? He took me outside. Hotel's caretaker was standing outside. AS per him, local "Masjid" committee had called a "Bandh" for some local reason, after "Namaz", there was going to be a peaceful protest. He added that "peaceful " protest in this region never remains "peaceful". He advised us to move before this protest starts. I was under impression that, once we cross Zavhar Tunnel we were in the safe zone. But here one of the local persons was telling us to leave Banihal as soon as possible.

"thick hai"...

We paid over bills, gave some tips to caretakers and left Banihal. We left Banihal at 9 AM and got stuck in one more ugly traffic jam.

There were lots of military supply trucks, IOCL tankers and Tourist Vehicles. There were some road constructions were going on. It was total chaos and we were stuck in that.

Hotel Maple

Photo of Banihal by Shreyas Macwan
Day 9

After 5 hours, we reached Patanitop.

We had breakfast at Patanitop, topped up the fuel tank and kept moving. Patanitop was a beautiful place but we wanted to get out of J&K as soon as possible.

Traffic Jam after Banihal.

Photo of Ramban by Shreyas Macwan

Ramban

Photo of Ramban by Shreyas Macwan
Day 8

We kept driving like maniacs.

We reached Udhampur in no time.

Somehow, we got out of Udhampur city and stopped at a small tea stop at outskirts of Udhampur. We had a power nap in the car.

Fuel bunk At PataniTop

Photo of Patnitop by Shreyas Macwan

After Udhampur, the road was amazing. We wanted to cover maximum distance before dusk. I took the wheel and pushed the A pedal.

We reached Ludhiana in 5 hours.

Ludhiana is a well-known city and we were sure that we would get a decent room(with three proper beds) for night stay.

Yes! Ludhiana is a big city but October was marriage season in Punjab. We noticed all the hotels, resorts and party plots were full. We inquired at more than 7 hotels in Ludhiana, there wasn't a single room available for us.

Finally, at 2200, We found a hotel on the outskirts of the city on the highway. Rooms were small and dirty. Owner of the hotel said after 2300, he"ll lock the front gate and go home. We were tried, we checked in. We had food and slept. Late night, I realized someone was crying in the next room. I got out of our room and went to check the next room. There was one aged (more than 85) person sleeping on the bed. He wanted some water, I gave him some water and came back to our room. After that, I was not able to sleep. Early morning I called the owner to open the gate and left.

outskirts of Udhampur.

Photo of Udhampur by Shreyas Macwan
Day 9

Day 10: Ludhiana to Kishangarh.

We left early from Ludhiana.

Our hotel at Ludhiana had a crying aged mystery man. When I told about night's incident to my friends, both of them were shocked and thanked me for my decision to leave early.

A word of Advice: Never ever stay at this hotel in Ludhiana.

Photo of Ludhiana, Punjab, India by Shreyas Macwan
Day 10

We started from Ludhiana, We wanted to have breakfast. Our foodie NRI friend had already decided what to eat. We stopped at a Vaishno dhaba and ordered all kind of stuffed Parathas. We wanted to try all the variants of Parathas. Each of us had more than three Parathas.

Our next task was to search for a carwash facility. We found one at one of the big shopping complex/mall on the highway after Ludhiana.

The operator at car washing shop started cleaning our car, after a while, he came to me and asked...

" Leh-Ladakh ja ke aye?"( Are you guys coming from Leh?)

I was surprised, I asked...

"aap ko kaise pata chala" ( How do you know that?)

He replied...

"Leh se aake sabhi log yahi gadi wash karate hai, mai yeh mitti ko pahechan gaya hu" ( People coming back from Leh, always stop here for car washing.)

At a Vaishno Dhaba

Photo of Shergill Vaishno Dhaba, Srinagar - Kanyakumari Highway, Punjab, India by Shreyas Macwan

Ludhiana to Rohtak was a nice road.

It was an eventless drive. I even offered wheel to Our NRI friend and he gladly accepted that. He drove for more than 200kms.

We had a brief stop at Rohtak for some lassi.

Carwash

Photo of Ludhiana, Punjab, India by Shreyas Macwan

Ludhiana to Jaipur was an eventless and peaceful drive.

A stop for Lassi.

Photo of Rohtak, Haryana, India by Shreyas Macwan

I choose to sleep in the rear seat. We had to stop at Hotel Hiwayking to take back my Driving licence, which I forgot at the hotel on the first day of our trip. We stopped at that hotel collected my DL and kept moving ahead. We decided to have a night stay at Kishangarh. We booked a nice hotel in advance.

Day 11: Kishangarh to Home

Day 11

Before booking a room at KishanGarh, We clearly stated that we want a room with three beds and not a mattress on the floor. The receptionist at Hotel 1589 Royal Heritage confirmed that they have a room with three separate beds.

We reached Hotel 1589 Royal Heritage at 1930. We checked in, got refreshed and ordered our food. This time our NRI friend wanted to have Lal Mans and Dalbati. We had nice dinner and called it a day.

I personally liked Hotel 1589 Royal Heritage. Here are some of the photographs of that amazing property.

Hotel 1589 Royal Heritage.

Photo of 1589 Royal Heritage, Kishangarh Rd, Madanganj, Kishangarh, Rajasthan, India by Shreyas Macwan

Hotel 1589 Royal Heritage.

Photo of 1589 Royal Heritage, Kishangarh Rd, Madanganj, Kishangarh, Rajasthan, India by Shreyas Macwan

Hotel 1589 Royal Heritage.

Photo of 1589 Royal Heritage, Kishangarh Rd, Madanganj, Kishangarh, Rajasthan, India by Shreyas Macwan

Hotel 1589 Royal Heritage.

Photo of 1589 Royal Heritage, Kishangarh Rd, Madanganj, Kishangarh, Rajasthan, India by Shreyas Macwan

After a peaceful and comfortable night at Hotel 1589 Royal Heritage, Kishangarh, We started for Ahmedabad at 0900 in the morning. Kishangarh to Ahmedabad was 575 Km, which we covered in 6 hours with only one stop.

Hotel 1589 Royal Heritage.

Photo of 1589 Royal Heritage, Kishangarh Rd, Madanganj, Kishangarh, Rajasthan, India by Shreyas Macwan
Day 12

We reached home at 1500.

The End

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