Day 4: Panginagu - Tso Kar Basin - Debring - Leh - Part 1 of 2A note before you proceed reading:Kiang = A wild ass, whose home is the cold desert of Changthang. Kiyang = A wild Tata Safari, whose home is New Delhi, at times found in the cold desert of Changthang. The night before had been terrible. I could not sleep at all, was feeling cold throughout, and to top it all I also had an upset stomach. We’d planned to leave at 5:30 in the morning to explore the Tso Kar basin and come back to the camp for breakfast. Then we had planned to go to Yar La and Datgo (the Rupshu region) before lunch, before finally heading off towards Leh. Although we did wake up at 5:00 am, I was in no position to go, having not slept a wink the previous night. We went back to sleep, and only woke up at 8:30. Sadly, it was now too late to do both the Tso Kar basin and Yar La, so we decided to explore the former. Both our heads were throbbing badly, and we wanted to take it a bit easy. After a lazy breakfast, we finally moved from the camp at 10 am.The people at the camp had told us that the dirt track that led us there would go till the lake, but beyond that they had little idea till where it went. So far our tryst with the lake was from a distance, and naturally we were eager to get a closer look. As we moved ahead on the track, the pretty lake slowly came into view. We realized how big Tso Kar really was, and what a small bit of it we’d seen last year. Thankfully, there was hardly any wind at the time, and the lake was perfectly reflecting the mountains behind it. The lovely blue sky dotted with fluffy white clouds completed the perfect picture. We spent some time soaking in the vistas, before moving on. The Tso Kar basin is beautiful, and a large part of it was covered with purple shrubs this time of the year. These shrubs also grow on mountains, giving the whole landscape a purplish tinge. The fact that the place is a wetland only adds to its beauty. Soon we came to the tiny village of Riyul, from where the track bifurcated, one leading towards the lake and to the village of Nuruchan, and the other towards the end of the basin and to the village of Chutak. We opted for the latter, since we also wanted to glimpse the Startspuk Tso, having missed it last year. My hidden agenda was to check if the dirt-track went all the way till Kiagar Tso, had a hunch that it just might. For a change, the hunch was wrong and we did manage to hit a dead-end at the village Chutak. The outline of a village, which we now know as Chutak, appeared in the distance, and that is where the track was going. We hesitated a bit, since we wanted to circle the lake, but then curiosity tempted us to check out the village. All this while, we were hoping to spot a Kiang, as we had seen them last year in this very wetland, on the opposite side of the lake. Just as we were losing hope, we spotted two of them, and one crossed the track right in front of us. We were elated, and spent some time trying to capture the Kiang on camera, but did not get good shots as it soon ran away.As we neared the village, we saw that its boundaries were fenced. Inside the village, however, all we could see were locked houses, and not a soul around. We went up till the end of the village, which was also the end of the basin. The end was uncharacteristic, the terrain ahead was simple enough to have dirt-tracks and the climb ahead to Startspuk La seemed easy for a 4WD! However, there were no dirt-tracks. Not even signs of tyre tracks which we could follow. My hunch was thus rendered false, and we realized that the route from there to Kiagar Tso was only a trekkable one for now. We could still not see any person or animal around. Some houses had what seemed like pashmina goat wool on top of their roofs, but ALL of them were locked. We could not figure out if the village was abandoned or if the villagers had simply gone out to earn a living, which of course would mean grazing their flock!We then retraced our steps and went all the back till Riyul where the track had bifurcated. We now took the other path which led towards the lake and to Nuruchan. This path was much less used, and we sometimes even lost the tyre tracks for a few meters. It was also much closer to the lake, and hence we had to be careful not to veer off into any marshy areas or worse onto any part of the wetland. In the distance, we saw a watch tower, and concluded that this must be used by bird watchers to monitor the movement of migratory birds. Along the way, we spotted two or three brown spots far away, and on looking through the zoom lens figured that they were actually Kiangs. I even got down from the car to capture two of them on camera. As I was walking back, they too seemed to follow me. Then, they stopped pretty close to us, and stared. And stared. And stared. Took a graceful turn, in perfect coordination, and then stared. And stared. And stared. Took a graceful turn, in perfect coordination, and then stared. And stared... and so on! All this while, Aarti had been shooting furiously with the zoom lens, and even managed to shoot a video of their antics. We were bewildered by these two brave and bold Kiangs, so curious about us humans that they did not let us out of their sight even for a second. It was us who had to finally give up and drive away when we got the feeling that this cycle might actually go on the whole day! But indeed, the grace with which the Kiangs carry themselves is marvelous. Everything about them - their slender, athletic body, their beige and brown colour which completely blends into the barren surroundings, their cute, alert ears, their majestic mane, the way they run with their heads up - is beautiful. What elegant creatures! Needless to mention, we were absolutely thrilled with the attention we got from them. We also spotted the tiny Startspuk Tso in the distance. Both of us somehow love the name of that lake, and were glad to have finally seen it. Realizing that this track too did not cut across the lake, as marked on the map we had, we went back the way we had come. Some Brahmini ducks were frolicking on the edge of Tso Kar, but we couldn’t get good shots of them as they were very shy and flew away at the slightest indication of movement. We had almost reached our camp at Panginagu when we noticed some marmots on either side of the track, and were delighted at having spotted the one animal that we were really missing.
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154 Kms from Debring
Best time to visit - February,March,April,October
The land from where once an ancient trade route to China would be embarked on, Manali is an abode for modern creativity now as much as it for withdrawal and adventure in the majestic mountains. From offering hostels, hotels, co-working spaces to the cave where once Arjun, the Pandava king had supposedly meditated (Arjun Gufa), Manali is no less than a global village. The mighty Himalayas have inspired many foreign settlements here, giving rise to popular European and Israeli cafes, restaurants and hostels, providing one a consortium of around the world cultures. This town is a true haven for adventure junkies who can indulge in river rafting, paragliding, camping, rock climbing, rappelling, zorbing at Solang Valley and Aleo. Manali has an array of breathtaking treks and sights for its nature lovers, for instance the Patalsu Peak, the Deo Tibba basecamp, Jogini Falls and the Rahala Falls. For all the solo riders out there, cruise your way through the snowy alley of Rohtang Pass while those who wish to travel back in time, can indulge in the exquisite display of culture and heritage at the Museum of Himachal Culture and Folk Art. Restaurants and cafes such as the Khyber Pass, Johnson's Cafe, La Plage, Drifters' Inn, The Hangout attract foodies for their culinary justice to everything from Thai to European cuisines and even some live music. If all this is too over the top for you, then reconnect with simplicity at Naggar Village, which is home to waterfalls, a beautiful castle, an art gallery and locals which have many stories to share and a cultural heritage to take pride in.
222 Kms from Debring
Best time to visit - March,April,May,June,July,August,September,October
A kingdom that has risen above disasters like the 2010 cloudburst and is still able to magnetise a plethora of tourists and travellers every month to it, even when the mercury dips below sub-zero levels. This former capital of the Himalayan Kingdom of Ladakh is chiefly dominated by the ruined Royal Palace of Leh and the eternally serene Pangong Tso, Tibetan for 'high grassland lake', which is spread for 134 km from India to China. If you're someone who loves travelling unconventionally and is interested in the lifestyle that thrives in this high altitude desert, you can stay with locals who have turned their homes into 'homestays' and are open to interacting with non-natives. For a more spiritual and mystical experience, one can also spend the night at monasteries such as Thiksey, Lamauru or the Hemis Monastery, where you will get a chance to interact with Lamas (Buddhist teachers) and learn all about their lives and what they preach. For more visual and audio insights and treats, one can attend the 6 day Ladakh festival, a multihued explosion of Ladakhi culture and tradition, celebrated annually in the month of September in Leh's villages. Leh can always keep you entertained, for instance, with trekking (frozen river trek to Chadar, Padam to Darcha trek), mountain biking, skiing, camel safari, paragliding and even having your car pulled uphill by the magnetic force at the Magnetic Hill. Foodies will get no better thrill than eating at the highest cafeteria in the world, Rinchen Cafeteria. Other popular cafes such as Gesmo, Nirvana Garden, Cafe Jeevan and Norlakh are a must to go to for their lip smacking Italian, Himalayan and local dishes.
344 Kms from Debring
Best time to visit - April,May,June,July,August,September,October
Gar firdaus ruhe zamin ast, Hamin asto, hamin asto, hamin ast. “If there is a heaven on earth, it’s here, it’s here, it’s here.” This is how the Sufi mystic Amir Khusrow has described the Kashmir Valley, and Srinagar is at the heart of the valley. Smack in the middle of the city is the mighty Dal Lake, its placid water reflecting the vivid kaleidoscope of innumerous houseboats, shikaras (taxi-boats), and the snow-capped Pir Panjal range: a sight that will make your heart skip a beat. The city is home to the state-of-the-art Mughal Gardens, Shalimar Bagh and Nishant Bagh being the most famous of them. The gardens exhibit the Mughal taste of nature and the philosophy of disciplining nature rather than imitating it: fountain pools and canals, meticulously manicured hedges, and motley flowerbeds. Also known as the Kashmiri Venice, Srinagar is a place not to be missed by those seeking a tranquil refuge in the lap of the Himalayas.
215 Kms from Debring
Best time to visit - April,May,June,July
Scenic and serene, Kinnaur in Himachal Pradesh is perhaps one of the most unexplored places in Himachal. Passing through serpentine roads, refreshing, lush greenery, the district is a delight to explore. Though travellers looking to enjoy a luxurious holiday may not have a great time here. Kalpa is the first village that greets you when you enter Kinnaur. Reckong Peo, Nako and Sangla Valley are some of the villages and valleys that make up Kinnaur district. A journey to Kinnaur is marked with adventure and also an unpredictability that comes from travelling so high up in the mountains. The people in all the villages are very warm and welcoming and are open to sharing their way of life with travellers. Do plan a long trip here, since Kinnaur district can easily take up to 2 weeks and it's best not to hurry your way through this spellbinding valley.
216 Kms from Debring
Best time to visit - February,March,April,May,June,October,November
Barely 4 km away from Dharamshala by foot, the hill station of McLeod Ganj is home to many majestic monasteries, delicious smelling kitchen cafes, video rental shops, western food cafes, trekking companies and wall to wall stores selling Tibetan souvenirs and many more goodies. Also known as Little Lhasa and the abode of the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan spiritual influence and its mystical green hills mark McLeod Ganj as a significant tourist destination and a major traveller hang-out in the Kangra Valley. A 5-minute walk south of this town will take one to the Tsuglagkhang Complex, which comprises the official residence of the 14th Dalai Lama, vibrant monasteries with beautiful murals and even a bookshop cafe that goes by the name of Namgyal Gompa. Tourist activity after monsoon picks up, after October, with February March being pleasant months to visit the hill station to witness the Losar Festival or the Tibetan New Year being celebrated. This compact sized town is best explored and enjoyed by walking or trekking. Intriguing short walks around Mcleod Ganj include one that goes 2km east to Bhagsu which leads one to a waterfall and a temple. The most well-known trek, 8 km starting from the town, is to Triund, a snow-flanked and serene camping spot from which one can also travel 5 km ahead to reach a charming little forest rest house. With many many hipster eateries, the food here is some of the best you'll find at any mountain destination.
273 Kms from Debring
Best time to visit - January,February,March,April,May,June,October,November,December
Once known as Shyamala, synonymous with Goddess Kali, Shimla has been a summer retreat long before India even gained independence. This famous hill station similarly has a lot of places and things to see untouched by time. For instance, take a vintage joy ride from Kalka station to Shimla in a charming toy train that will take you through towering Deodars, hills and villages. Shimla truly comes alive during winters when a blanket of snow covers it all over making every nook and corner gleam and glisten. One such place is the ice skating rink (natural ice) near Lakkar Bazaar that opens from November to December. More winter sports include skiing, which can be enjoyed 21 km from Shimla in Kufri. Adventure activities such as rafting at Tattapani or a trek to Shali Tibba and Pabbar Valley are also worthwhile experiences. If you are fond of haunted stories and interested in having your own spooky adventure, you'll love Shimla. A lot of people including the renowned Rudyard Kippling (in 'My Own True Ghost Story) have written various eerie stories set around Shimla. A place known most for giving many people the jeepers-creepers is the Charleville Mansion. Another time travelling portal is the antique bookstore, Marina Brothers, located on Mall Road, which is truly a reader and collector's paradise. There are many luxury and budget hotels here, meaning you'll never fall short of options. Popular places to eat include Wake & Bake, Ashiana, Cecil and Minchy's that serve commendable Indian and multi-cuisine dishes and delicious gourmet food.
209 Kms from Debring
Best time to visit - March,April,May,June,July,September,October,November
A picturesque and quiet little town, Palampur is a panorama of stunning tea gardens, brooks, creeks, rice paddies and colonial era buildings all set against the backdrop of the breathtaking snow-peaked Dhauladhar ranges. It is perfect for those who seek a getaway from noisy cities and most importantly crowds. A not so popular tourist destination, Palampur is a town early to rise and early to sleep, whilst being a haven for to those who seek solitude, especially in the lap of nature. Places such as the Neogal Park is highly recommended for refreshing and soothing walks amidst the forest overlooking a river, which even consists of a small man-made lake for boating activities. For all tea lovers out there, visit the tea gardens and the Palampur Cooperative Tea Factory to understand the entire process behind tea manufacturing, which will be happily explained to you through a free tour by the people working there, wherein you can also purchase fresh Kangra tea leaves and many different types of tea. For handcraft enthusiasts, especially pottery, Andretta Artist's Village is the perfect place for one to not only purchase those clay crafted beauties but also to learn how to make them from scratch. Palampur is open to both Indian and Western cuisines, with a number of commendable and affordable restaurants to eat at. To try something more authentic or 'Pahari' for that matter, Sai Gardens is highly recommended for its versatility and prowess especially in the Himachali cuisine. Adventure seekers can enjoy paragliding and other activities in Bir, a place about an hour away from Palampur, guaranteed to give you a memorable time.