For a bunch of four friends from the same company , a trip to the majestic “land of high passes”, popularly known as “Ladakh” had always been on their bucket list. The idea for the trip was impromptu, with 7 probable travelers but as mostly happens, the interested members dropped from 7 to 6 to final 4.
The trip was initially planned for the month of August, however, thanks to India’s Metrological Department and Google, the trip was settled for the first week of September. 6 enthusiasts were totally engrossed in online search for the cheapest airfares. After a full day search we settled for an airfare 30% higher than the one when we started our search ;-)
Preliminary itinerary for the trip was handy, thanks to Shri Shri Amit Arora ji, who went to Ladakh during July this year. Amit guided us throughout our trip planning with his self experiences. He arranged for our Leh guest house stay and most importantly the vehicle for the entire trip with a nice driver “Sonam” (and he was not “bewafa”).
Special special thanks to Mukesh and Devendra Pratap Singh alias DP for purchasing ample stock of toiletries, medicines & snacks for all of us.
Suggestions and advices started pouring in plenty as almost every team member in our team was aware that we are travelling to Ladakh.
The thrill for the trip started from the first moment of Day 1 itself. I & Mukesh reached airport at around 03:00 am (yes it’s a.m.) and got the confirmed seats, however, we were told that the flight is overbooked and all remaining passengers have to be accommodated in the next flight which was 5 hours later. The argument with the ground staff continued for over 2 hours and just before DP and Naughty (Sandeep Nautiyal) were planning to sit on dharna, Smt. Satinder Kaur ji handed over their boarding passes for the same flight…..sigh of relief.
Mesmerized to see the views of the mountains from the plane. Reached Leh Airport at around 07:15 am. It was pleasantly cold so we all put on our jackets and looked for “Sonam”. Our pre-booked guest house was around 3-4 kms from the airport, a convenient drive of 10 minutes. The guest house courtyard is beautifully maintained with seasonal flowers, fruits and home grown vegetables.
We spent the day at leisure to “acclimatize” ourselves to the sudden altitude change. By the evening, we all started feeling a bit dizzy and uncomfortable.
Health Tip: Have lot of fluids esp. water and avoid unnecessary exertion.
The “Sweep” (or is it “Seep”?)
Playing cards game “Sweep” was the savior for the day ;-). Card guru, “Sandeep Nautiyal” taught us the basics of the game. We played few rounds post lunch, had a small nap and we kept on playing till late in the night. Naughty kept on re-inventing new rules for the games as we progressed ;-).
At around 9 in the morning, we started our journey towards Nubra valley via Khardung La pass.
Just before we could reach our first stop “Khardung La pass”, there is a sudden and surprising shift in the weather. It started raining and eventually snowing. Within minutes, entire stretch was covered in white. We all were thrilled to experience snowfall, as it was unexpected (based on the numerous weather forecasts). There was a traffic jam of sought as most of the cars were skidding on the snow and had to tie the chains on their tyres.
As per the guidelines, one should not spent more than 30 minutes at such an high altitude but fortunately we spent more than 2 hours at that place enjoying the awesome change of weather.
Special mention: Satyen Das
On our way to Khardung La from Leh, we met an inspiring & special person “Mr. Satyen Das”. He was coming from Kolkata and going to Siachen.
So what’s so special about him: His mode of conveyance was a cycle rickshaw. Yes, you read it right, this guy was travelling on a cycle rickshaw from Kolkata to Siachen. Sheer strength and determination.
What’s inspiring in that: He is doing this to spread awareness about “Global Warming”. Hats-off to the guy.
Clicked lots of photographs and made awesome memories and we left Khardung la pass (arguably considered the world’s highest motorable pass) at around noon.
It was a smooth ride on the newly constructed roads (thanks to BRO).
At around 4 in the afternoon, we halted at a spot for trying our hands on “All Terrain Vehicles (ATV)”. Coincidentally it was the place where the training sequence in the movie “Bhaag Milkha Bhaag” was shot.
Driving the ATV on the sand humps was an awesome experience.
Post that, at around 5:15 we reached the famous Diskit Monastery. A 3 storey high statue of Lord Buddha welcomes the visitors to this serene and beautiful monastery. Spent few time there and headed to our night accommodation place “Hotel Siachen”. Oh, I forgot to mention that en route, we purchased our quota of “fluids”.
PS: There was no mobile or
telephone network in the area (thanks to JCB which accidentally cut the lone fibre optic cable for the area).
Khoob jama rang jab mil baithay 5 yaar (keep guessing)
After having the buffet breakfast (served nicely by “Ch-cha”) we headed for Pangong Lake. Sonam told us that only a week back this direct route has been opened for transport (it remains cut-off during monsoon season because of sub-merging and frequent landslides). Otherwise we have to travel back to Leh from Nubra and from Nubra we have to move onwards towards Pangong. This saved a precious day for us.
The route is very picturesque. For most part of the drive, the road is running along side the river “Shyok”.
En route, we stopped for some random clicks. That’s where our own Bahubali (DP) shows the strength of his arms and lifted Mukesh & Naughty on either sides, together.
Jiyo re Bahubali !!
A unique thing about this region is that after every few kilometers, you experience a variety of terrain, from sandy mountains to rocks to mica mountains to phosphorous. You name it and the region has it. Most of these mountains have none to almost none vegetation and hence a dwindling level of oxygen.
But for sure the routes give you more thrill and you eagerly awaits whats next in store for you.
We spent some time right on bank of river “Shyok”. It’s a tributary of the Indus River. The water was laced with sand and it was chilling. But was an awesome drive till Pangong.
Just before Pangong, some of us were caught by the chill in the air and took shots of “medicines” to survive (unfortunately, that worked the other way round)
Pangong Tso Lake
After a never boring, long, adventurous yet insanely beautiful journey, we reached the “3 Idiots” lake at around 5 pm. We saw variations of terrain from sandy mountains of Nubra, picturesque Diskit Monastery to pristine Shyok river, and now the famous Panong Tso lake.
We took a short halt just before reaching Pangong on a Bollywood movie like locale. A knee deep water stream flowing through lush green meadows, can’t define the beauty in words. As evening was approaching, clouds and sun were playing hide & seek to enhance our experience. We could feel the breeze on our face and it was soothing much needed relaxing power and that’s where an “old monk” came to our rescue ;-).
We decided to stay at “tent accommodation”, our maiden experience. But as usual there’s a story behind it and it’s an interesting one. Two distressed souls had suddenly got a new lease of life, energy and motivation. Thand bhi baut thi.
We booked 2 tents (on twin sharing basis). na na, don’t start predicting ;-). The stage was set for “socializing” and it was necessary, thand bahut thi yaar, as our tents were very very near to the lake. There is a common thing among most of the places in ladakh, may be except leh that in the night these places get electricity only for 4-5 hours. As our practice, we immediately connected our camera and mobile to charge. Though there wasn’t any mobile network and was not expected even for next 1.5 days, still we used to charge our mobiles, in hope. After brief introduction session, there was this “sanjha booze” and lengths of conversations with intermittent reminders for dinner before power cut. Now the baton of energy was taken over from Mukesh & Naughty by our own Bahubali, Shri Shri Shri Devendra Pratap Singh. He was all over, from engineering college to love marriages.
Finally at around 9 I left alone for the dinner and “to keep the kitchen engage” till rest of them join. The temperature has further dipped but the beauty of the place was that we hadn’t experienced such a clear night sky with stars twinkling and the brightest moon. I came back early, had my daily dosage of medicines and slept. In the morning, Mukesh, Naughty & DP told me that they had a pretty rough night, probably cause of three reasons. na na, don’t start predicting ;-). They may have missed their dosage of Daimox tablet, or cause of on overdose of “fluids” or may be in anticipation ;-).
“Pran gatakam”. Naughty confessed of thinking to catch the next flight back to Delhi, in morning.
A noteworthy feature of the lake is that as you travel along the lake, subtle changes in the color of the waters (based on changes in its depth) and/or the layout of mountains keeps the visual experience flowing.
Pangong to Tsomoriri, ok we are not going to Tsomoriri, u-turn, no no, we will go to Tsomoriri, u-turn….Ahhhhh
After the breakfast we were about to leave for Tsomoriri. We finally started our journey. But barely few kilometres ahead, haunted by their last night experience, Mukesh & Naughty were petrified to travel ahead as Sonam told us that the route is mostly off-road and rough. Naughty complained of heaviness in chest and Mukesh, “wo bhi lake hi to hai, kya karenge wahan jaakar”. After 10 miuntes of yes no yes no, sonam turned the car back towards Pangong. That’s where I & DP start pumping them up to be brave and courageous. What will we do for 3 days, once we will be back in Leh. After 2nd round of yes no yes no, we decided to make another u-turn to continue towards Tsomoriri, but this time its Sonam who was adamant not to go ahead. Pisseddddd……Finally we started. The road was awfully beautiful but weather was not. It was prickly heat.
For most part of the journey there was no road, actually it was a beautiful dried up river bed surrounded with Indian mountains on one side and Chinese mountains on the other. The condition of the road, or no road, to be precise, ignited the cursing of the government, as usual. We passed by some thrilling spots on the way like location of the pre-1962 war Ladakah airport, Indian defence forces’ bunkers and Rezang La memorial. At a point of time, as the journey started getting boring, “Dumb Charades” came as our savior and it was fun, the actions and hints we took to describe the movie was really out of the world. Eventually we reached the not so often visited lake Tsomoriri. It is smaller than Pangong but more beautiful. This lake is surrounded by good vegetation unlike Pangong, which makes the breathing not so difficult. A village “Korzok” has came up on the banks of the lake. We opted for the “hut” accommodation and they were way way better than regular tent accommodation. They were cosier and hygienic.
Our own Punjab da puttar, Mukesh, utilized his punjabi roots to set a very helping hotel guy. He took good care of us. The stay was good and we all had a good night.
After having chole bhature in the buffet breakfast, we started our journey back to Leh. This time we opted for a little longer route via Manali—Leh highway.
On the way around 40 kms from Tsomoriri, there were hot water springs. The peculiar thing about those springs was that the water coming out was colder at the origination point and hotter as it spreads. Phewww...its a lie !!.
Further, we spotted the famous salt water lake Tso Kar. As it was pretty hot outside, we decided to bypass the lake and moved ahead. Sonam told us a folklore how the name “Tsomoriri” came up. He told that earlier the location of lake was nearby. There was a magician who got angry with the villagers and to taught them a lesson he “engulfed” the entire lake water in his mouth and started walking. On the way he stopped to take a breath and some water spilled out of his nose (chhiiii :-() and a small lake was developed (nearby to existing Tsomoriri). He further moved ahead and there was a girl named “Tso” who was calling back her yaks (“mo” in Ladakhi) yelling “ri ri (Ladakhi for “come”). The magician spilled the entire water and the girl and her yaks were submereged. That’s how the name “Tso-mo-ri-ri” was coined.
Manali Leh highway
Eventually we reached the Manali Leh highway and the road was like fresh from the oven ;-). Its not so busy highway like most of other Indian National Highways.
We halted at Tang La pass, dubbed as the world’s second highest motorable pass. Clicked some photographs and moved ahead in hope of getting some decent food. On the way we stopped at few home extended eateries but not convinced, so we kept moving ahead. Finally we had lunch and tea at an ok ok restaurant.
Moving on we visited the Thikse Monastery, sorry, we half visited this monastery. Going barely 50 metres after purchasing the entry tickets, DP and Naughty shared their inhibition in walking up the monastery as it was at quite a good height. We moved ahead from there to visit the famous Rancho’s school (yes the same shown in the Bollywood flick “3 Idiots”). Was a different experience. Though there were not any scenes as depicted in the movie, however, it was a feel good sight.
Just before reaching Leh, the mobile network was available and everyone was busy calling their loved ones.
After relieving ourselves, our dear guest house Aunty gave us tea which refreshed us and we decided to explore the Leh Market, which was at walkable distance for the guest house.
Another development was that few of DP’s friends (Daddu & Gang) have also come to Leh and it was decided that we all will have dinner and drinks together. The Leh Central market is beautiful, very neat and organized. Cars have to be parked outside and you have to just walk in few steps. We started our purchasing from a local dry fruit shop where we purchased Walnut Oil for Hair, Khumanis and Lassan for joint pains.
Moving ahead I purchased a Shawl. We further looked for some jackets but couldn't find one as we like.
Roamed the market as such and met DP’s friends. It was mutually decided to visit a local restaurant named “Inferno”, famous for its wooden oven pizzas. Was nice meeting the new friends. ;-). Had dinner and at around 10:50 pm we left for the guest house.
Next pretty morning, it was pre decided that today we will explore the local places in Leh. After a subtle breakfast, we started the day excursion. Out first stop was the famous “Hall of Fame”. It is a well maintained museum constructed by the Indian Army. It commemorates the Indian Army's role in Ladakh, from helping with cloudburst relief in 2010 to the high-altitude battles fought with Pakistan during the 20th century. It was awe inspiring and we ended up spending more time there than we planned for. There is a nice souvenir shop within and we all purchased our like of items. If you fancy a coffee or lime soda, the surprisingly stylish Aroma Café is right next door.
Our next stop was the famous “Pathar Sahib Gurudwara”, managed by the Indian Army. It was a fairly different experience. Fortunately we had reached the gurudwara at lunch time and the famous “langar” food was being served. The Prasad was awesome we had it tummy full.
Next we visited the “Confluence” or the sangam, as it is popularly known., of the rivers Indus and Zanskar. It’s a breathtaking view up from the road and rather more beautiful when we reached there. Someone told us about the rafting in river Zanskar and 3 of us were really tempted to give it a try. Mukesh ji Verma had some inhibitions because of some not so good incidents he experienced while rafting at Rishikesh.
Again there were rounds of discussions to convince him and eventually they paid off, he agreed. There were 03 options to choose from depending on the length of the rafting: 06, 14 & 26 kms. We zeroed on 14 km rafting.
The funniest part was that we were to wore the surfer’s like wet suits and our Naughty bhai wore it the reverse side (eventually he changed) . We were suppose to wear “only” the wet suit ;-)
River rafting in Zanskar
Two more guys (from Telangana) joined us for the rafting. We went to the initiation point 14 kms away from the confluence (it is the destination). After brief pep talk by our Uttarakhand born instructor, we were ready to sail and we did it in style.
I and DP being the tallest were made to sit in the front. Within a minute of sailing we encountered the first rapid and believe me it was hell of an experience. Water was icy cold and it drenched all of us right below. This encounter gave us the much needed “courage” & thrill to move ahead. Ironic. We all were charged up now to take on the rapids and we didn’t had to wait long as another one was waiting for us, eagerly.
The wind was acting as a villain, it kept on pushing us back and we were struggling to muscle it up. At a point, our raft was pushed to a corner of a rock and because of the wind small stones rained on us. It was scary.
In between, when the water “appeared” to be calm, our instructor allowed us to “Stand” on the raft and click some photographs, We did that, shivering, and suddenly a jerk came and all were down, luckily within the boat.
After around 8-10 kms, we all were exhausted and except the Instructor, DP & I, no one was really paddling. Eventually, after toiling hard, we reached our destination. After reaching the destination, we changed and had hot black tea and maggi,
From there we head back to Leh market, on the way we had a brief stop at the famous “Magnetic Hill” and let me tell you, the car does move freely, on its own, at this point. Though it is not a speedy movement but is visible.
We reached the market but to our bad luck, the whole market was closed because of some local disturbance (generally, Leh is a very peaceful place). Moods were dipped as some of us had not purchased any souvenirs for family & friends. Not a single shop or restaurant was open.
We came back to guest house, dejected, and informed Aunty that we will have dinner with them.
Being the penultimate day of our trip and the pain of not able to purchase anything, again an old monk came to our rescue ;-) here were lengthy gossips. .
We took goodbye group photographs before good night.
And that is how this splendid trip came to end.