One upon a time in Ladakh

It’s been 4 years since my lovely trip to Ladakh.

I still remember the day when one of my close friends called me and asked me to join the trip with some of her office friends and colleagues as one of their friends had backed off. Initially, I was in a dilemma; but; ultimately, it was a big ‘YES’. Anxiety and nervousness hit me as the trip date was fast approaching.

Day 1-Mumbai to Jammu

25th June 2015, I still recall this day as it just happened yesterday. The journey commenced from Pune. I was off to Mumbai. All my trip members were waiting for me at CST railway station. We got introduced and my travel began with a group of known unknowns.

We booked our tickets in ‘GaribRath train’ which departured at around 04:40 pm. Since our seats were situated in different coaches, there definitely was some disturbance irrespective of our tickets being booked well in advance. We reached our first destination ‘Delhi’ at around 09:50 am. We walked around, found a cloakroom and dumped our luggage there to explore the locality. We kick-started our trip from Chandni Chowk followed by the magnanimous Red Fort and an appetizing brunch at Haldirams and later visited ‘Sheesh Ganj Gurudwara’. Such a peaceful beauty with was hands-down delicious halwa Prasad (Kada).

Our next train was to Jammu I.e. “Jammu Tawai”. So we all reached the station, collected our luggage and reached the specified platform number.The train departured on time.

The dinner was ordered in the train itself plus we carried a bag full of snacks, biscuits, dry fruits, etc to eat. While having the dinner and talking to each other I noticed something great about these guys, i.e they were carrying an extra big polybag (that too from Mumbai CST) wherein all the garbage/used water bottles/wrappers which needs to be discarded was disposed of here. The cleanliness obsessed youth(happy to be a part of them).While having dinner, we had long discussion on random trivial topics for hours and we went to sleep after that. Thus on the way to Jammu, all the strangers were slowly becoming friends.

Day2-Jammu to Sonmarg

We reached Jammu at 6.00 in the morning.

The whole trip was coordinated by a travel agency so all the expenses apart from lunch/dinner and shopping were already taken care of. The agency provided us a coordinator whose name was Rakesh who hailed from Mumbai.

Rakesh was waiting for us with 13 seater traveller and a driver. Yes, we travelled through traveller till Leh. We set up all the luggage, took our places in the vehicle and started the trip with high bass Punjabi music on NH-1(do carry downloaded music else you will end up listening drivers choice)

As soon as we crossed Jammu, we faced heavy traffic on the highway, making our vehicle completely stuck. Such a start of the trip was a little turnoff. As there was no change in traffic conditions for waiting for almost an hour, we all decided to have our breakfast in the very first eating place we encounter.

The place we stop by was a small tapri/stall that was constructed just above the precipice(Khai). It was scary and adventurous at the same time. We got a glimpse of the climax scene of Welcome movie, wherein Akshay Kumar and others were struggling to come out from the house tipped on the cliff.

The place was below average in terms of ambience and surroundings but was still OK with the food quality and taste. So after breakfast, we saw moving traffic and started our journey towards Sonmarg. The way was sloppy with mountains at one side and precipice on the other. We can see lush green trees passing by making the view beautiful.

Since the road was narrow, there were times we really felt like falling off especially when a vehicle tries to overtake us. There were parts where the road is very nice but then there were parts where the road was completely bad in shape. The trill of the journey had started. So careful driving and the skill full driver is a must.

Sonmarg

Sonmarg

We had a plan for an overnight stay in a resort at Sonmarg. It was almost dark by the time we reached the resort which was located little before the Sonmarg town. It was a newly constructed resort made up of woods. There was no network in the mobile phones(the best part) and the temperature was around 5-6 degrees.

As soon as we reached the resort the management gave us the keys of our rooms and was ready with a hot delicious dinner which actually needed the hour. After dinner and discussion about the next days’ plan, we moved to our respective rooms to catch up on sleep.

Day 3-Sonmarg to Leh via Kargil

We had to start a little early so we all woke up around 5 in the morning. It was cold but we could easily see the snow-covered mountains just through the windows and balcony of the Hotel. The view was completely similar to the wallpapers/ wall posters which were found at home in the early 90s.

So to enjoy the view, we sat in one of the balcony for sometime sipping a hot cup of coffee. The peaceful feeling just sitting and staring at the nature,Mountains,Horses grazing the grass,warm rays of sun falling on the cliffs and the tingling sound of river flowing near-by were so soothing  to ears. This view was giving everything I needed. It felt as if everything halted there for sometime. The view was so mesmerising and astonishing that it instilled me with calmness and adrenaline at the same time.

Early morning view from balcony

We stayed there for sometime and left for our next destination “Leh” soon once everybody was ready.
Sonmarg was really beautiful but the road ahead had loads more to offer.

Landscapes

The scenic trail had started. We could easily see high altitude ranges and rugged terrain. The landscape kept on changing after every few kilometres. On the way, we stopped for breakfast which included options like Maggie, Omlete or Chai biscuits almost everywhere and that too at small tapris constructed at the roadside.  

Having hot Maggie bowl in one hand and hot coffee on the other, soothing beautiful view to eyes and blank mind- What more a person needs??

After breakfast, we shuffled our seats and started the journey. A signboard welcomed us to Drass. A small town, known as second coldest inhabited place on earth. It is said that the temperature can dip to -45 degrees Celsius in winter(our own personal Antartica ). There was no network coverage from Sonmarg hence we found a local STD and called our family to inform our whereabouts and soon after lunch ,we headed towards Kargil.

Drass

The road towards Kargil was full of flowers and plants. In Kargil, we visited the war memorial (the war of 1999) having lots of memories of martyred soldiers. There was an Indian flag flying high with Amar Jawan Jyoti- eternal flame and a museum as well- “Hut of remembrance”.

Kargil memorial

This place automatically gave us a great Patriotic feeling.

Moving ahead, the road begins to follow the Indus river and we all lost on the amidst nature serene roads.The landscapes were changing frequently. Being highly influenced by Buddhism, many monasteries were found here along with so many Gompas, small monasteries and prayer wheels through out the way. The peace and serenity offered by the tranquil mountains were incomparable. No doubt, a perfect place for photographers for capturing these postcard picturesque views.

Somewhere on the way to Leh

After covering the good,bad and rugged roads along with little rain, scenic views and stucking in the traffic, we reached Leh in the evening. Our stay was in “Hotel Khangri”. The hotel was big enough having all required amenities. We were already tired because of excess travelling ,so instead of exploring the town for dinner we opted for the hotel’s restaurant as a host. It was little costly in comparison of food quality and quantity but was still manageable. After dinner, we went for a walk around to find a local STD to call and inform about our whereabouts to the parents. After that we sat around a campfire with music on ,trying to beat the extreme cold by covering with woollen clothes from head to toe, but failed. Hence wrapped up to sleep.

Day 4-Leh Ladakh local sightseeing

It was a little relaxing day so we woke up a little late and got ready for local sightseeing. We had stomach full breakfast and headed for sightseeing using Bullet bikes. We hired Bikes from local shops for a day.

We had planned to visit only few tourist attractions and were more interested in knowing local culture/tradition and riding the bikes for experiencing the thrill and feel the feeling of riding the bikes on the famous rugged terrain of Ladakh.

A random bullet at the road side

We started with visiting “Shanti Stupa”.On reaching on the top through stairs, the panorama view was just breath taking awesome. The place was very calm and peaceful.

View from top of Shanti stupa

There were many monasteries and we could not visit all so we chose some of them and started with “Hemis monastery” – a Himalayan Buddhist monastery (Gompa) of the Drukpa Lineage, in Hemis, Ladakh. We took a walk around clicking pictures and found a little different culture of offering items (like juice box, fruity, chocolates, biscuits, butter, etc). The visiting hours of Hemis were from 8:00 am to 01:00 pm and 02:00 pm to 06:00 pm. After that we started exploring Leh and its barren panorama views.

Hemis monastery
Offerings inside the monastery

After Hemis, we took a halt for lunch on the way towards Thikse monastery, followed by Diskit monastery and Bollywood famous movie 3 idiots’ – Rancho’s school.The original name of this school is “Druk Padma Karpo School”. Once we entered the school, it kept reminding us of all the scenes from the movie.

It seems easy while watching video of bikers riding on the rugged roads of Ladakh but when we actuallhy became a part of such rides we face many challenges.

Enroute Leh, we realized that one the bikes was taking unusually long to come so we decided to wait for it as we didn’t have mobile network in the area.

After waiting for sometime,we decided to backtrack the missing riders. While turning our bikes, we saw a four-wheeler coming towards us. It came near by and stopped. Both of our missing riders came out of it bleeding. On the way back,they had a mishap wherein their bike got skid damaging the fuel tank and other parts. It became very difficult for them to contact us but fortunately,the people driving the car came forward to help them.

Rakesh quickly arranged first aid for them and consulted a local doctor who cleaned their wounds and advised nothing to be worry about. We had dinner in the Hotel itself followed by walk around the vicinity. It was so cold, close to 4-5 degrees and I sat at one of wooden bench thinking ‘how far I came unplanned. I was thinking about the places, the incidents,the memories I was creating. I was happy and thankful to God. I was slowly falling in love with this place. I’ve read somewhere “Ladakh is not a place, is a feeling” – I completely agree to this now.

Giving this some more thought in the mind I wrapped up and went to sleep.

Day 5- Khardung La Pass| Nubra valley

We got up early and checked that both of the injured people were better now. There injuries were close to healing. Hence we got ready to leave for Nubra today.It isn’t possible to drive rental cars  of other places within Ladakh, so we had to take the local cab on rent. Hence two Innova were booked for journey ahead.

We started the journey towards Nubra and was almost 160 km from Leh which took around 6 hours to reach. The route had beautiful landscapes. On the way we found so many bikers riding bullet. The number plate of bikes were clearly evidence that they belonged from different states of India. It feels great to see such enthusiastic people riding bikes coming straight from all corners of India to see and explore the beauty of this place.

The way towards Nubra is full of snow. We faced rain as well as little snow on the way. Our vehicle had to wait due to traffic and rain at many places. There is only one road access to Nubra valley i.e. through Khardung la, which is the highest motorable road in the world.

Snow covered mountains on the way to Khardungla

According to reports of Border Roads Organisation(BRO), this is the world’s topmost motorable road. Connecting Leh with Nubra valley, this pass serves as a gateway to the famous Siachen Glacier. The roads were narrow, steep and bad in shape in between along with traffic but mind it, the drive is one of the most scenic ones so far.

Khardungla Pass

After reaching Khardungla,we stopped there for around half an hour. We can see only snow covered mountains, roads etc. There was snow fall ,very light but we could feel it. We played with snow, tried making snow balls etc etc. but because of the high altitude, the oxygen was depleting and we were not even able to talk for some time. Some of us started puking badly and others used oxygen to get back to normal. We took some rest in our vehicle and started the remaining journey once everybody was back to normal.

We reached Nubra. This valley is known for its spectacular natural beauty with striking Apricot, Apple, Orange berry, Orchids and Barley fields on one hand, rolling sand dunes and snow-capped peaks nearby on the other hand.

Nubra Valley

The valley is formed at the confluence of Nubra and Shyok rivers.

Confluence

Nubra is well-known desert for Camel Safari. The Camel found here had two humps and were known as Bactarian Camel and the desert is known as “Cold desert”.

Camel safari

Some of us took a ride with these double hump camels while others were busy taking pictures with such beautiful barren landscapes and participating in local activites which included archery and other games. We left for Leh before it became dark. On the way back, we covered “Diskit monastery” which is also known as Deskit Gompa or Diskit Gompa. It is the oldest and largest Buddhist monastery (Gompa) in the Nubra Valley of Ladakh.It has 32-metre statue of Maitreya Buddha facing down the Shyok River towards Pakistan.

32-metre statue of Maitreya Buddha

We were tired so spent very little time here and headed back towards Leh.

View from the monastery

It was dark by the time we reached the Hotel and freshened up, came down for dinner at the hotel campus followed by chit chats in the lobby area. The next day was going to be the best day of the trip. We had planned to visit the famous “Pangong lake” (yes! The one shown in 3 idiots). Hence quickly wrapped up for sleep.

Day 6- Changla Pass | Pangong Tso

We all met at the breakfast table at sharp 8.30 am and left for Pangong at 9.00 am.

It was around 220 Kilometres via Chang La pass and took around 6 to 8 hours to reach there with breaking the journey into small refreshment stops. The route is very steep and requires a careful driver. We took a halt at Chang la pass which is high mountain pass at an elevation of 17,590 ft above sea level and is claimed to be the second-highest motor-able road in the world.

Changla Pass

Due to feeling of discomfort while breathing we could not stay more than 20-25 minutes there and even it is advisable to not stay at the top for more than that. It could be detrimental to health because of its high altitude.

Changla

After spending sometime there ,our journey towards Pangong started. The road initially is bad, closer to the top of the pass, after which it remains super smooth for the rest of the journey. I took the shotgun’s seat and put the music system to good unplugged mixtape. Slowly we started seeing interesting signboards and the landscapes. The song ‘Khwabon ke parindey’ from ZNMD was in trend and was perfectly suiting the journey that day.

I was trying to capture each and everything in my camera as well as in my eyes. No matter where I was looking, the beautiful view was making me spellbound. After a while we took a small tea break at the roadside and while sipping the hot tea we found some Bikers struggling for fuel as one of their bikes ran out of fuel. Since there was no petrol pump either at Pangong Lake or on the way it became very difficult for them.

Signboards

However, the tea vendor was having fuel but was offering at just double the actual price. As there were no other option, they took and left. We also started with the rest of our journey again.

NOTE: Usually, a round trip from Leh to Pangong Tso can easily be done in a tank full but can be problematic if your bike is consuming excess fuel.

It was almost 4 in the evening by the time we reached the lake. All over the place, there were multiple cafes available for lunch and snacks. There was no cell phone network or data connectivity at Pangong Tso, no matter which network you are on. Frankly we didn’t care enough about the network. We were already feeling hypnotized seeing the beauty in front of our eyes. The shades of blue, the calmness, and the serenity around.

First look of Pangong Lake
The near by area at Pangong Lake

As we reached, we got our luggage shifted to the wooden cottages allotted to us and rushed towards the lake.

Pangong Lake(also known as Pangong Tso) is an endorheic Lake situated at a height of about 14,270 ft. It is 134 km long and extends from India to the Tibetan Autonomous Region, China. Approximately 60% of the length of the lake lies within the Tibetan Autonomous Region. The lake is 5 km wide at its broadest point. During winter the lake freezes completely, despite being saline water.

The inexplicable shades of blue!

Pangong lake

Cold and windy is how the weather here always is and need to wear at-least 2 jackets always. The temperature was nearly 0 degrees Celsius. Hence didn’t gathered enough courage to even touch the water. We simply clicked few pictures and peacefully sat on the rocks present near the lake. The water was crystal clear. The sound of water and wind were the only thing our ears could hear.

While sitting and relaxing, we saw many rocks arranged in a similar pattern. We even saw the same pattern in other parts of Ladakh earlier so out of curiosity, we asked one of the locals and came to know that it is a wish-fulfillment tradition wherein we have to arrange stones one over other and let it not fall(at least by the time we are present) for wishing something precious. It is considered that wish will really come true if we can arrange that kind of pattern and ask for some wish.

The wish fulfillment rock arrangement

All of us did this. I tried recollecting the wish now but failed, as its been long along with my weak memory. ;P

As it became dark, we went to our cottages. After quick freshen up we all met at the dinner table where we were served with pure and simple homemade food which included Roti, 2- sabzi, dal- rice sweet bhakri etc .

Dinner was followed by lakeside camping. It was so cold that even after wearing double woollen jackets, shawls , muffler,socks and lit fire, we were shivering. We partied, we sang,we danced, and simply gazed towards sky lying down on the ground till midnight. There were stars and a lots of them were easily visible with the naked eyes. The view along with tinkling sound of lake was something everyone should go and feel.

Spending such alone time in the amidst awe-inspiring place will make you fall in love with and yourself and the place for sure. 

Exactly at 12:00 am we all got up and celebrated the birthday of one of our friends in the group.

Our tour guide ‘Rakesh’ was really sweet and kind enough to get us a simple homemade cake(really difficult to find even a cake there). We celebrated her birthday inside the cottage in a very simple manner by singing the birthday song and having a piece of cake. Due to the extreme cold, the cake became hard enough to cut.

After cake cutting, we wrapped up for sleeping. We were given 3 quilts which we found less. The cold was becoming unbearable. The temperature was in minus but somehow we managed to sleep. I was living the best time of the trip.

Day 7: Pangong Lake to Leh 

The only motivation for coming out of our quilts was to watch the sunrise in a cold breezy morning it was really difficult otherwise.

This is sun

We came out of our cottages and sat on the chairs present just outside the cottage with sipping hot coffee from our cups and looking towards the lake. The beauty of lake was mesmerising. I wanted to stay more. All of us were discussing about the trip and the time which was passing so quickly. As said,’a lot can happen over coffee‘ , and it was happening. Now I can say the people around were no more strangers to me,we are friends.

The cottages we stayed in pangong
Early morning infront of Cottage stay at Pangong

Our caretaker was a sweet old lady in her fifties. She was a good cook who served the morning breakfast. She even taught us the magical word ‘Julay'(joolay) which meant – “Hello/ Thank you/ Nice to meet you”.

Julley-Pangong

After having tea biscuit and eggs in breakfast and early morning walk near the lake, we started our journey back to Leh. We were exhausted enough, therefore we travelled silently sleeping and listening to unplugged slow melodies. We got stuck in a traffic jam again as the roads were narrow. We stuck at a place wherein the road was super narrow. Imagine! There were sheep all over the road and the driver had to reverse the vehicle to let a truck go. It was hell scary. We were the ones sitting at the back seats. We really closed our eyes and no doubt all the stupid thoughts crossed our minds in those few minutes. But must say, the driver was very well trained. He managed to take us back to the hotel safely. It is very important that the driver should be properly skilled as roads were really bad in shape. We could not sleep rest of the way after that.

We had spare time for local shopping in the evening. So after taking a small break, we headed towards the local market to buy something that would remind us of the trip later followed by dinner at some roadside restaurant and came back to our hotel to sleep.

Day 8: Return Journey towards Sonmarg

We all got up, packed all our luggage and were ready for the return journey. After breakfast we checked out from the Hotel and visited magnetic hill . It was not that great great apart from the optical illusion i.e. we could see the running of vehicles up to a steep hill even after turning the ignition off.

Magnetic hill

We clicked pictures of the wonderful view and landscapes and hence our journey back to Jammu started. We took multiple stops for tea/ coffee and pictures and saw many small and big prayer wheels(tradition of rotating them while asking for a wish) on our way.

Prayer wheels

We faced blocked roads many times. While travelling, we were just watching the landscapes, the way they were changing, the Zanskar river flowing with us and whatnot !

Zanskar river

I was sitting on the last seat and looking out of the window. So many thoughts were running in the mind about the place, the local culture they are following, the beauty , the peace fullness we felt in these days. The landscapes, the route, etc I saw all these in wallpapers/Google before. I have witnessed these actually.

How fortunate I was! I was falling in love with this place, every bit of it.

It was evening by the time we reached Sonmarg. We had stay in the same hotel for the night. We all checked-in, freshen up and met at the dinner table and while discussing the tiredness, someone from the group suggested to take the flight to Mumbai instead of the Train. The train was taking close to 20 hours to reach Mumbai. We tried to get some internet connection (thankfull to the Airtel postpaid network) and checked the flight prices which we found feasible. After lots and lots of discussions, we decided to book the flight from Jammu to Mumbai. We packed all the baggage as we need to leave early for reaching Jammu on time and went for sleep.

Day 9 Reaching Jammu:

The day started around 5:00 in the morning, everybody was ready, the hotel staff packed our breakfast which included juices and sandwiches so that we can have it on the way back to Jammu.

We saw all the early morning beautiful scenery on the way, we saw the Amarnath Yatri camp, different types of landscapes, beautiful greenery, a river flowing with us and what not while enjoying the beautiful melodies of Lucky Ali. For buying famous dried Apricots, Apples and Walnuts we took a halt at a government shop at Srinagar. We came to know about the famous traditional drink-Kashmiri-Kahwa. Out of curiosity, I wanted to taste it and frankly speaking It tasted like mud!

Captured while leaving Sonmarg in the morning

After quick purchasing we left for the remaining journey. Its been long with these guys and now I can say, none of the members was a stranger to me anymore. I started liking each one of them. We had Doctors, Engineers, Testers, Managers and fresher’s in the gang. Everybody was mingled and I felt fortunate enough to get a chance to meet these guys but at the same time, I was little unhappy about the trip getting over now. 🙁

As we need to reach the airport on time, we took only a few small tea/sightseeing breaks on the way. The road trip was about to end. We travelled back through the same route we came from. We reached Jammu around 1:00 pm and had a quick lunch, we had to reach the airport anyhow by 02:00 pm catch the flight of 03:20 pm. As we were running little late, Rakesh was making sure that we all reach the airport on time.

This was going to be my first flight ever. Multiple positive and negative viewpoints were hitting me. I was super excited and a little afraid at the same time. I was into my own worlds of thoughts when the driver pressed the brake of traveller speedily and me sitting at the first seat got hit by a handle hardly. Instantly, I came woke up into reality and saw an accident in-front creating traffic all around. This made us wait for long. The driver still tried his best by taking all possible shortcuts so that we can reach the airport on time.

After lot of struggle we reached airport and while reaching at check-in counter we came to know that we are late. Flight took a take off few minutes ago !

Wow, imagine the feeling I was having.First flight of life and how beautiful experience I just had!

After spending some time on regretting ,we all got up and checked the next flight for Mumbai,booked it for double price and await just infront of boarding counter to do the check-in on time.

We stand by the queue for the scanning and then reached the specified gate where our flight was waiting. We took the assigned seats and after the sometimes flight took a take-off from Jammu. And this is how I boarded my first flight.

Everything was looking tiny from the window and after some time the only things I could see were clouds. It was dark by the time we reached Mumbai.After a quick chit chat with all ,I left the airport and started my journey for Pune.

Through out the way, I was thinking about the trip. A vacation can alone has a power to make you feel delighted. The feeling is different. Pictures might not be able to describe the experience a person feels there. The picturesque view is still ruling my mind and was treat to my eyes. The journey was difficult but reaching to places like Pangong and Khardungla gave me a feeling that words can never describe. As said, Ladakh is not a place it’s a feeling which one can feel only by visiting, no matter how many pictures or videos you see on Google or You-tube. It is like “if you never go, you will never know“. It’s a beautiful journey you will cherish forever,one of the raw beauty of India. I feel grateful to have visited places like Ladakh which is still a dream for many and really feel fortunate enough to be a part of such a beautiful trip and the group.

Of all the places I visited, Ladakh still holds the first position in my heart.


Important points while travelling:

  1. Do carry medicines and first aid kit along with oxygen cyclinders to use if running out of oxygen.
  2. Stay hydrated, drink lots of water throughout the trip.
  3. Your body needs time to adapt to high altitude so be prepared for acclimatization.
  4. Do carry camphor for inhaling, really helpful when running short of breath.
  5. Do carry enough heavy woolens , keep you body warm to avoid sickness.
  6. Do make sure that the driver is comfortable for hill driving as the roads in and around needs full attention.
  7. Be very careful if planning bike ride ,as the roads are very adventurous and have sudden bumps in them which can be very dangerous. Therefore need very careful driving.
  8. Keep national ID proof and driving license along with all vehicle documents(must) with you if you are planning to drive, else just national I’d will do.
  9. Keep track of fuel while on the trip else it would be difficult to arrange if your vehicle ran out of it.
  10. Online transaction and number of ATMs are not that high; better carry cash.
  11. Post paid Sim of BSNL and Airtel would work in J&K but once you reach Sonmarg, no reception.
  12. Download offline maps to avoid deviation in routes while travelling.
  13. Keep downloaded music/pen drive with your favourite music else you will end up listening the driver’s choice.
  14. If you want vibrant pictures, carry colorful clothes. Also, do not forget to carry sunglasses/reflectors and shoes with good grip (must).
  15. There are chances of rain, carry Rain jackets/Umbrella.
  16. Please don’t litter,Lets keep the place clean 🙂

JULLEY LADAKH!

Julley Ladakh

Happy Tripping !

#Lehd

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