JULLEY!!!! Oh my god! It is supposed to be so beautiful… I have heard so much about this place.. I’ve always wanted to go. My god I m so jelly right now of you!! That is where 3 idiots was shot right?! If you’ve ever uttered nonsense like this before when someone told you about Leh and Laddakh or have heard this before, well, you are in the right place then. JULLEY. All these excuses, and more excuses and not excusing you from your sorry excuse of an existence to what is definitely most certainly one of the best trips to undertake. So how did we do it? First, we decided to go to Leh, Laddakh. Then we went to Leh, Laddakh. We booked tickets and we flew. (Disclaimer, this is probably not the best way to do this trip. Instructions follow latter ) Now we planned it and we had a group of 30 members going. Pretty sweet right. After a lot of hemming and hawing and ”its too expensive” to “ I cant get days off from my job”. We were whittled down to 3 members. Pretty sweet right. If your daily life prevents you from travelling, then you should change your daily life. So we booked our flight tix and flew into Delhi. We stayed for a few hours in the overnight lounge, which btw is definitely recommended here, if you are flying to Leh. We woke up a few hours later, refreshed and ready to go. We arrived in Leh on 15th August. Now this was pretty cool as its India’s independence day, and we got to see a pretty nice parade and a neatly decked out marketplace. If you fly into Leh, make sure you give yourself at least 2 days of acclimatization. This is a must or it will knock you on your ass and you are going to pretty much screw your trip over. We arrived early morning at our airport with just 2 terminals and a vast grey landscape. We checked in and took a light nap. When we awoke it was like waking up after a fully night bender. Massive headaches accompanied by dizziness. Now I know how this sounds, but up there, like in Leh, this is pretty normal stuff if you fly in. One whole day we relaxed in the room looking out and raring to go. But we heeded advice of the great traveler god and took it easy and explored Leh market a little bit .The next day, we grabbed a nice breakfast at a decent place and had ourselves some sandwiches. We hired a car and went to Sangam Lake. This is where people do some river-rafting which is pretty tame, and in my opinion kind of lame. If my heart is not pounding out of my chest while rafting, well then I’ve just wasted time. This sangam lake is where 2 rivers meet or 2 rivers have sangam (which is meet in Hindi). For all you DSLR wannabe types, this is a great photo op place. It has gray water, with gray to grayish black mountains overlooking it and then a bright blue sky to contrast it all up. Its like nature’s own Instagram in this place.
Next we roll on into Magnetic hill. Apparently, the story goes, that the mountains contain magnetite, which allows the vehicle to be pulled uphill from a certain spot in neutral. Also, jet fighters vibrate something fierce when they fly over this place. Why to visit?!! Well, its got this long road less travelled where its just sepia toned all over and the road you can just walk on for miles on end. Pretty great photo-op again. We get rolling again and go to a temple. Gurudwara pathhar sahib, which is pretty old and quite serene. Its inner sanctum is carved through a stone (a pathhar = stone, hence the name). We had a quick chai and nibble. Then we moved to hall of fame. This is a military museum showcasing wildlife, terrain, borders and battles with a small movie at the end. For you history buffs, this is a nice place to stop. For others, get to know Leh better by stopping here, checking out the detailed maps and giving thanks to troops if that’s your thing. By this time, its evening and we are at Leh palace. Not a traditional palace like you sees in them Disney movies, but still quite grand. It overlooks the market place and has a small temple that you can hike too. Now, this being our second day and still acclimatizing, we skipped the trek altogether to the temple. Walking a few steps makes us breathless and there was heaviness throughout. This too is seemingly normal in Leh if you fly in. we climbed all the way up to Leh palace and took some pics.
Our last stop was shanti stupa. This is once the best places to visit. They have a meditation room with slow Buddhist chants and a repetitive drum beat. Also, there are mattresses on the floor in which you can either lay down, or sit, or nap or whatever suits your fancy. Close your eyes, listen to the drums and that shit will totally completely relax you. Take a breather here. Some people sit for hours on end and there is no time limit. Take a 200-yard hike up to see a Buddha statue (one of many that you will see). Come down and before you leave, visit the chai shop here. Trust me you, they have great chai’s. Some with yak milk, green teas and every other kind. Take it outside on the verandah. Sit by the ledge, have your hot chai and see a breathtaking sun set. By evening time, one can walk around Leh market. It’s got only certain kinds of shops. Either you are buying clothes such as pashmina shawls or cotton shawls. Here you can also get custom made shirts of varying style. Next shops offer orienting/ buying hiking gear. Next, you are renting bikes and getting permissions (this is very important. As permissions need to be taken on all the places you wish to visit and permissions are given only in Leh town. ) Third, are you eating places, which are very nice and give a nice eclectic mix of European and Indian cuisine. Fourth, are your meditations places where yoga is offered alongside treks that are offered. Some have very nice offers and you can ride-share here and even camp-share. We have responsible people in our group (not I, but others) who arranged and bookedeverything prior. If that is not your style like mine, just wing it then.
At nighttime, the nightlife is pretty tame, unless you get invited to a party. Then you’re in for a one sweet ride. Waterfalls and quiet spots with tents all splayed out. They offer you a ride to the venue and back. You can BYOB or purchase there. Its all quite far out dude, or so I’ve heard. We basically just chilled out in a restaurant with different fireplaces around. All of sudden, singing erupts and we are in for a random ass, totally cool jam session, belting out songs and joined by fellow travelers from all over the globe. I dare to try a beer and settle in quite nicely by the fire. It’s a bit nippy out and one should be layered properly because it gets COLD. After an early breakfast, we pack our shit and head on to Panamik hot springs. It is a natural hot springs that come out of the mountains. It costs 30 INR to soak in the hot tubs, boys and girls separate and another 30 INR to eat Maggi noodles made from that water.
Now if you’re going to Leh. Get ready to eat Maggi or some version of it. They are basically hydrated noodles that are boiled, with some spices added or egg or cheese and you eat them. Sort of like ramen but not really. This will be your staple food on your travels through Leh. Wherever, you go, Maggi is king. Know it, love it; it’ll make life simpler and easier. So then we keep on Rollin Rollin Rollin. On to Sumur Monastery. It has a massively tall, golden Buddha. Again great photo-ops of the surrounding valley plus framing the Buddha every which way is lots of fun. Quick lil insight about Buddhism in Leh. It’s very different, whereas, in Thailand and Nepal, its more focused on Zen philosophy, Leh is geared towards the macabre. There are lots of pictures of demons and exorcisms within the inner sanctum of monasteries. Some of them are pretty graphic and a version of the Buddha who helps is exorcism is exalted. Now, this may seem different to many, but its cool in its own way and pretty interesting if you want to get into it. The monastery is beautifully located and has very nice apple trees.The size of these apples are very small than usual. Make sure you ask for permission before you pick em, but they are juicy.
After this, we went on to Hunder sand dunes. For all you Indian movie cinephiles, this is a pretty popular spot where a bunch of Indian movies are shot. Now this place has got it all. Tall grey mountains, with sand dunes to one side, with a small glacier stream running through it and patches of greenery opposite. It’s a nice place to sit, wander, ride on some camels (they are two-humped camels which are different than the single humped camels found in Rajasthan, that’s my lil fact for the day and your welcome. See you learn something new every day). You can also don ethnic Laddakh clothes and click pictures (very touristy). Staying wise, tents are best, though it can get pretty cold at night. Again not much in terms of nightlife, so its always best to go in big groups if you want to be entertained at night. Though with all the traveling, one is pretty tired by the time you end up here.
We got up refreshed and with wide-eyes wonder (just kidding, we were like lets do this). We travelled back to Leh, via diksit monastery (a very beautiful monastery, definitely a stopover required). We passed over Khardung-La top, which is the highest motor able roadway in the world. (Don’t believe me, they got signs proving it, at 18,000 and some hundred feet). Don’t stay here for more than 20 min or so, difficulty in breathing results. Again, if you want, grab some tea and/or some Maggi. And by evening time, we were back in Leh town. From here on out, you are free to some your time as you see fit.
Next is one of our busiest days. We get up and go to Stok palace (nothing too great, but its not like you visit Leh every day right). Onwards and forwards to Thiksey (now they have this big golden Buddha face inside the monastery, which is pretty serene to look at). Passing over chang-la top (the 3nd highest motorable road on the world) towards Tso Pan gong.
This was my favorite part of the trip. I was looking forward to this right from the start. Pan gong lake is 146 km, in which 46 km are in India, while the rest 100 km are in china. Some people prefer to drive early in the morning, visit here and then drive back to Leh on motorbikes. If that’s your deal, jus make sure you start real early as they close the roads by nighttime (and seriously, you don’t want to drive at night on these roads, unless you got a death-wish something fierce). Most of the accommodations are in tents, but we chose to stay in the only hotel that there is (hey, I saved up money to enjoy this trip alright). They have like maybe 5 shacks here all named after the Indian movie 3 idiots (which made this spot popular). The water is just breath taking. It starts off with this clean look and turns shades of blue and green and turquoise (which is like a fancy word for blue-green). It’s clean, cold and crisp (kind of like the best beers out there). Pan gong lake at first glance is merely a lake, albeit a very beautiful one. But if you take the time to sit on it banks and stare into it, it transforms colors. I sat on the banks of the lake, with the cold mountain air sweeping through my ears and nipping on my nose, the glacier water lapping on its shores, lost and not wanting to be found. We sat on one of the shacks, busted out our portable speakers, had tea and Maggi and just watched the sun completely instagram the hell out of the lake.
Hats off to our Soldiers
DISCLAIMER: We travelled ass backwards. We went from Pangong Lake towards Tso Moririri Lake. This in hindsight was a very bad idea due to horrible roads. Better is to go Leh – Tso moriri-pangong lake.
We arrived at Tso-morriri lake (highest altitude lake) at around evening time. This is mainly due to just shit roads that are a pain in the ass to travel. For you bikers, these roads a no go. The lake is massive and super cold. But the stars over here are just amazing. We laid back and just got lost in the stars. There were so many many of them. If you come from a city like we do, the night sky is pretty bland. Here, it’s a smorgasbord of stars and heavenly bodies. If you have an astronomy app, you’re going to have lots of fun. On my way back, we encountered wild asses (they run super fast) and marmosets. Plus ducks and geese of varying types.
On the way back, you will pass quite a few small towns where we saw dozens of Magpies just chilling. Well if you have the time, should definitely stop and check out.
We passed over Tanglang La pass (the 2rd highest motor able road, yup we hit the trifecta on this beach) all the way to Leh. We printed up shirts of our routes, wore em and say bye bye Leh .
Spent one last night, and then flew back the next day.
Quick Tip : – The very ideal way to make this trip is to bike it up. Get a group or two, rent or buy bikes and start from Delhi to Manali and then to Leh. This takes time, like minimum of 10-14 days. But, there will be not acclimatization problems and once you reach Leh, go nuts. One can also take a bus tour from delhi-manali-leh. There are also many other routes that are open depending upon weather conditions. July-September is probably the best times to visit here. Weather is not too cold, or dry and everything is pretty much open. Make sure you keep yourself hydrated and all.