Published: October 24th 2007October 3rd 2007
To start off with…
First of all, JULEY
Well, that’s ‘Welcome’ in Ladakhi. Actually it can be any greeting - hi , bye, good morning, evening, anything really ! BTW La-Dakh means ‘Land of Passes’. Ladakh is a desert mountain with arid terrain in summer and snow during rest of the year. You will find some green or yellow patches of shrubs only in the valleys probably along with some beautiful flowers.
The idea for the Ladakh trip was proposed by Nilesh in Dec’06 and I was game for the same, though I was much clueless as to what I was getting into. He was going to do it on his bike and I on a hired Qualis, along with a bunch of guys mostly from Delhi.
For much of the 9 months since the idea was conceived, it mostly remained a hazy dream. During this period, we browsed websites on Ladakh, were slowing taking in the beauty of the region and looking forward to the adventure. In parallel we were following up with Yogesh Sarkar from Delhi, who was the mastermind of this trip, planning the itinerary and other logistics.
We were not sure if
On the Manali Leh route, 21 loops !
during Sept’07 we would be free to do the trip or whether we would get leave from office. However in hindsight, seems like the universe “conspired with us” to make this trip happen since we both so badly wanted this trip. Things just started falling in place and serious planning for the trip was done in July & August. Sept 1st
was the D-day and the adventure lasted 3 weeks
I am not going to give a boring day-by-day account of the trip but rather share some fantastic memories of all the places I visited.
The onward route was Delhi-Manali-Leh and return one Leh-Kargil-Srinagar-Jammu-Amritsar-Delhi. Leh was our base for close to 2 weeks to visit all the places in Ladakh. Manali
Town itself is pretty commercialized due to the tourists. However local bazaars are reasonable. I bought gum boots for Rs 200, which took the brunt of snow, hot water springs, water and heat and are still surviving somewhere ! (since I had to leave them in Leh). I could have gifted it to Sparsh, who had used it for going to the bathroom !!
The ATVs (All Terrain Vehicle) that we tried
near Manali at Salona were awesome. They rode over rocks, slush and just about anything ! Manali - Leh Route
Definitely the tougher route compared to the Srinagar one and it takes 2-3 days to cover. The slushy stretch to Rohtang top sent shivers down my spine. So also then the water crossings near Tandi. It was like watching a stunt scene being enacted. Back breaking bad roads continued for a long stretch till Keylong and Jispa.
Living in the tent in Darcha was great experience. It was pretty warm with the thick quilts and the constant banter/gossip of the 2 female members of the family was fun to listen to.
Sarchu is where Himachal end and Ladakh starts. It was funny to see a poster for Desi daru and English beer at the police checkpost.
Then the first of the passes in Ladakh - Baralacha La. The Gata loops (21 in number) could give anyone motion sickness. Next the More plains too were treacherous since it was a very hot sunny afternoon. Tanglang La pass was the first snow covered peak that I saw in this trip.
It was heartening to see roads being
The last of the passes on the Manali Leh route.
repaired right in front of my own eyes. The road is open only for 3-4 months in a year and is the lifeline to the Indian army in the Ladakh border areas. Certainly something for most city municipal corporations to learn from.
Two days of seeing only arid terrain gets on to your nerves. I had hardly seen any houses and was dying to see some civilization. So when I saw a house with lights on in Rumtse (85 kms from Leh), it was relief.
Leh in the night was like a ghost town, with only dogs for company. Leh
I thought I will not see arid mountains in Leh but couldn’t escape it any whether in Leh or for that matter, whole of Ladakh. Days were sunny and nights cold. Though mountain sickness didn’t hit me, walking uphill for even 2-3 minutes was tiring.
I was surprised with the number of tourists (both Indian and foreign) in Leh. It is becoming more and more like Goa.
Though there are various options for eating out, only the Ladakhi cuisine and Pizzas seemed to be wise to try out.
Many Gompas (Buddhist monasteries) around Leh
like Thiksey, which looked magnificent perched on a hill. Visited Spituk gompa which was an old one and Shanti Stupa, which was a more recent.
Leh palace looked good in the night and a washout in the day time.
Shopping for goods from Nepal/China at reasonable price after bargaining hard. Bought trekking shoes, sleeping bag and rucksack.
How can I not mention the Polo Ground. Yet another “first’. It is the world’s highest polo ground ! I saw a polo match between 2 army contingents.
During our stay, Ladakh festival was going on and there were cultural events daily.
Also we met an Army Major, who was a marvelous host. During the nights, he regaled us with tons of true chilling army stories from Kashmir to Ladakh to Rajasthan.
The other good part of Leh is the fact that the Indus river valley is easily accessible and around it, one can tent out and camp. That’s what we did with Major Arun and it was great fun to have bon fire in the cold night next to the river.
An interesting visit was to a Mata Devi’s mandir which was also a gompa.
Had cracked it ! The K-top !!
Nilesh and I on top of the world ! Khardung La
Both Lord Buddha and the Goddess co-exist here with most rituals from Buddhism. Khardung La
It is the worlds highest motorable pass. I did this with Nilesh on his bike as a pillion. It had rained in Leh in the morning and was cloudy. It was snowing enroute to the top and the freshly snow covered peaks were visible half way up. Ride to the peak was difficult due to the bad road and the altitude.
Once on top, had a cup of hot tea before doing any photography. It was cold and windy but the fresh snow made it all worthwhile. YESS, we had cracked it ! Conquered the world’s highest motorable pass !! Unbelievable !!!
On the return trip, though it was sunny, it was cold. Nilesh almost was getting frostbite for which he warmed his hands using the diya in the temple on the top ! Nubra Valley
Going down Khardung La towards Nubra valley, was a very windy and cold experience. Having hot tea and biscuits at Khardung village was a blessing from heaven.
After this we started seeing the different coloured mountains - had to stop for many photo
Hunder in Nubra Valley
Sreams, mountains, snow, sand dunes, sky, clouds - you name it - Hunder had it all !
shoots. The road to Diskit was on a dried up riverbed. The gompa on the hill looked great from below but didn’t have time to go inside.
Did Hunder valley in the morning. It was amazing to see the sand dunes and then the valleys and the oasises. There were the “on display” double humped camels, one of which was in a foul mood (in stench as well !).
It was hard to believe that this was part of India but then saw a kid with Sania Mirza’s pix on his t-shirt. Sounds corny but truly there’s unity in our diversity and this part is not as cut off from the rest of India as I had imagined ! Tried going further towards where the Karakoram pass starts, but the road was blocked for civilians !
Sumur valley was more green and had the barley and mustard fields. Panamik has a hot spring, which was tough to figure out. We had the best momos in Panamik, though we were too damn hungry then.
We were lucky to see some wild double humped camels, all three lifted their heads at the same time to give us a
I am at Hunder with sand dunes below
What a terrain ! It had almost everything.
fantastic pix of them !
On return, spent a night in Khardung village. This was possibly the most difficult stay as it is at a very high altitude and it was cold. The village had just basic facilities. We were in a govt guest house with no lights ! Dinner was literally candle lit and the shopkeeper was really patient with our demands.
We made it up by Karthik trying out night photography on us with amazing results. He is a maverick along with his camera !
Morning I went to check the village and it good to see how people lived here. They had natural spring water, which seems very pure and they had mechanism to store it and use it for their fields.
BTW, the Ladakhi toilet can probably be only photographed and not really used. I didn’t have the guts to use it ! Pangong Tso
This was a day trip. 3 days earlier there was a landslide and hence we had postponed this trip. The day we visited it was a fabulous sunny day. For the whole length of the trip, a purple coloured mountain range was visible all through. God
Enroute Chang La to Tso Pangong
The purple coloured mountains were always visible on the entire route from Leh to Pangong lake. This pix is from Chang la, which is the 3rd highest motorable pass.
only knows, how many times I clicked that.
Chang La is the 3rd highest motorable pass. It was such a sunny day that for the first time I was able to be with only a t-shirt on top of a pass ! Only one side was snow clad and that looked great in the photos along with the purple coloured mountains.
Saw some deer on the route but they were camouflaged so well as they were same colour as the background arid mountain.
At Tangste, the road for straight for the first and only time in the Ladakh trip ! Tangste also has the world’s highest artillery unit in the world. Town was good with some good hotels. Where we had stopped, I saw natural blue coloured flowers !
Pangong Tso is the world’s salt water lake - one third in India and remaining in China. It is surrounded by mountains. You can see different shades of bule, green and purple on the surface of the lake. It guess this is due to the depth of the lake. The lake was glistening marvelously due to the sunlight that day.
Pangong was really the place to
Tso means lake in Ladakhi. This lake is one third in India and remaining in China. The colour of the lake varies into many shades of blue and green. Is a very serene place to relax or remininsce about life.
introspect or to just relax thinking nothing. For a long time I was just sitting there doing nothing just seeing the lake and listening to the mild waves, caused by a light wind. Photography and all happened only after I had taken in the calmness of the lake.
Unfortunately there was no reflection of the mountain in the lake because of the wind. Was told that during morning, one can see the same.
Local lore is that there are no fishes on the Indian side but there on the Chinese side. I am not surprised that China has a secret weapon for something like this !
Wished we had parked here for the night to see the lake in the evening and in the morning and also to go further to Spangamik. Tso Moriri
The Tso Moriri trip was done since there was a landslide enroute to Pangong and we thought the roads were blocked.
The route all the way till the lake were littered with mountains of various hues and colours. And the Indus river flowing by the road side. Naturally, there were a number of photo stops. The last 25 kms of the
Indus river on the Tso Moriri route
The river never left us till Mahe bridge on our way from Leh to Tso Moriri. The river criss crosses Pakistan, India and China. Amazing !
route to the lake was entirely offroading and since it was plains, we couldn’t make out the route too. However our driver was there to show the route.
The lake itself was disappointing to see in the morning as it was a cloudy day and when we went to the lake, it was cold, windy and started snowing too. Disappointed we started our trip back in the cold and snow. There was a smaller lake on the way and it looked good since now the since had come out. This kind of made up for the disappointment but this was nothing compared to the views of Pangong, which we did later.
Later enroute there was rain too for a while and then it was hot & sunny all the way till Leh. So we encountered all types of weather on a single day on the Tso Moriri trip.
Nilesh’s bike had fuses blowing left right and centre on this trip, eventually he got the electrical wiring disconnected and he was riding only with headlights. He didn’t have tail lights and horns ! Karthik was not at all well at the end of this trip and somehow made
Tso Kyagahr near Tso Moriri
Visit to Tso Moriri was a disappointment since it was a cloudy day. However this lake on our return made up. The glistening lake was a beautiful sight.
it to the hotel by nightfall. Kargil & Drass
Part of the route from Leh to Kargil is along the Indus river with mountains ranges for company. It ran in my background that along this route, one of the oldest civilizations of the world had flourished.
Didn’t get chance to visit the Alchi gompa, but I believe it’s very nice with even the paintings intact. The Lamayaru gompa is again on a hill and looks spectacular from the outside. The other passes that one encounters Namika La and Fotu La are not as much fancied as the ones in the Manali Leh route.
Mulbek has the big rock cut statue of the future Buddha. It was difficult to capture the whole statue in a single frame. Mulbek is also the place where you will start seeing the transformation from Buddhism to Islam. That transformation is complete in Kargil.
It was good to find so many people in Kargil town. After weeks of seeing any civilization in most of Ladakh (except Leh), it was good to see a town which had so many shops and people.
Kargil to Srinagar was an exciting but poignant trip. Exciting
Indus river on the Leh Kargil route
Again the Indus river, but now on the route towards Kashmir from Ladakh. Had to pinch myself to believe that one of the oldest civilizations flourished here !
since the LOC was so close by and the driver told stories of the Kargil war and the shelling that the villagers get to see many times. Saw also the river which comes into India from Pakistan. One of my fave meaningful songs came to my mind - ‘Panchi nadiya pawan ke jhoke, koi sarhad na inhe roke‘ from “Refugee” (Birds, rivers, wind - no border ever stops them !). Couldn’t help but note that war is a fallacy since all that money that is spent on defending the borders could be better utilized by both the countries. So also the loss of human life.
It was poignant when I visited the Drass war memorial as there are stories of our martyrs in the different wars. Felt terrible that I am not doing anything for the country and these jawans expose their lives to the threat of death every second. Saw Tigerhill too, made famous during the ’99 Kargil war.
On route, saw grass on mountains, which had turned orange and red due to autumn and the incoming winter. Had heard the whole of Zanskar valley would have been this colour during this season. Since I couldn’t visit
Lamaryu Gompa on the Leh Kargil road
Looks so elegant perched like that on a hill. Is one of the oldest monasteris in Ladakh.
Zanskar, seeing this here was great.
Saw an army unit in Gumri with walls that were from 1970. Also saw a glazier for the first time in my life and dirty water flowing out of it.
Then the famous Zojila pass - very strategic to India’s defense ! The whole pass doesn’t have any road at all and it’s a tough ride/drive. Moreover with controlled traffic could cause more delays. Saw tons of army vehicles using this route and hence we had to take the higher pass. The only good part of covering the Zojila pass is the fact that it’s pleasant to the eyes to see some green mountains at last for weeks of seeing only arid ones in whole of Ladakh ! Kashmir
The Kashmir valley looked spectacular from the top of the Zojila pass and the pine trees brought life to the mountains. Soon reached Sonamarg, which is supposed to be very beautiful but couldn’t appreciate it much as we had to reach Srinagar.
Heading towards Srinagar there were lots of colourful mustard fields on the way as also shepherds herding their flocks of sheep. More and more as I was reaching Srinagar
Glacier on way to Kashmir
My first glacier. Dirty water melting down. Close to Gumri enroute Kashmir from Kargil.
my anxiety was increasing. I was seeing armed army men every half a kilometer. Luckily IDEA’s roaming was working here (In the whole of Ladakh, it was not working) and that was a BIG relief.
Reached the Hasratbal Mosque as the evening Ramzan prayers were about to start. Clicked a few snaps and proceeded to the city. Then the first view of the Kashmir’s famous chinar trees !
The driver knew a factory store and I shopped there for 2-3 hours buying everything from carpets to shawls to handicrafts. The driver would have got a nice commission from the shop owner ! Later in the night, did more shopping with the house boat owner taking me to a govt owned shop.
The problem in shopping in both Ladakh and Kashmir is it is difficult to figure out what is genuine and what is not. It is worse in Kashmir since most of the shop keepers are so nice to you. They seemed to have a lot of respect for Bangalore, when I told them I was from there. I still haven’t figured out whether I was conned in my shopping sprees in Kashmir.
The house boat
I am on a house boat on Dal Lake in Srinagar
Doing the house-boat is a "must-do" but I am not sure about using the bathroom there. Apparently it is recycled water from the lake ! The Dal lake is beautiful with the houseboats and shikaras. This was the climax of a satisfying trip to Ladakh & Kashmir !
where I stayed for the night was probably an ‘A’ class one. It was facing the Shankaracharya hill and the reflection of the same in the Dal lake was a nice sight. The outside walls of the house boat were delicately designed. The living and dining rooms were very fabulously furnished. There were photo albums of the owner with tons of tourists from sixties and seventies. What glory Kashmir had during it’s heydays. It is still damn beautiful !
Had long conversation with the house boat owner and his son. Discussed on the current situation in Kashmir, its past glory and what is required for its future. The father also regaled us with story of Zanskar valley, where one Belgian guy in the seventies had got stuck for 6 months due to untimely snowfall. The guy had survived on yak meat, milk products and some type of grass with the help of locals. Later he became a travel agent to Ladakh. This story of untimely snow and getting stuck for months could happen even now in Zanskar valley !
Dal lake is beautiful in evenings and mornings too. The shikara rides are also nice. Shikaras are just a
House boat in Srinagar
Very royally furnished. It also had albums with pixs of tourists of 1960's and 70's.
casual part of their lives. It was good to see women row the shikaras to drop off their kids to school in the morning. The lake, shikaras and the house boat together make up a very romantic concoction ! The bad part of the house boat is the water for drinking or even taking bath. It was dirty like hell and probably recycled from the lake.
All in all, wish I had spent more time in Kashmir. Seen more of Srinagar and visited Gulmarg and Pehelgam. Also wanted to taste the famous Kashmiri cuisine specially mutton but since it was roza, didn’t get a chance. There will definitely be a next time to Kashmir to complete all the unfinished businesses ! Srinagar Amritsar route
Went to Amritsar through Jammu. The weather was pretty hot and humid. My hands almost got sun burnt. If this is how it is in September, can’t imagine the month of May in north India.
Only the first 70 kms of Srinagar to Jammu route are plains. After that for close to 200 kms it is on relentlessly winding high altitude route with heavy traffic and people driving crazily. The road is next
Deep gorge on the Srinagar Jammu route
With the Taavi river flowing. Pretty scary. Was made scarier due to the winding roads and reckless driving by lorries and vans.
to a deep deep gorge along the Tavi river. It gets more scary since the driver told stories of missing drivers on this route !
There were as traffic jams enroute but were immediately cleared. It was common to see amny convoys. Met a couple of jawans from the Maratha regiment and talked to them in Marathi.
Was tired like hell when I reached Jammu around dusk. It was hot and humid too. Had started getting phone calls from office (boss !) from the morning in Srinagar itself. So it was a relief to met Pravin again in Jammu. I had met him in Kargil and he was doing the whole of Ladakh circuit all alone on his bike. Had a drink and dinner with him.
On way to Amritsar, had stopped at a dhaba near Pathankot in Punjab at 1 am in the morning. The Twenty20 match with England was going on or rather had just come to an end, with India winning the same. Came to know the Yuvraj had scored 6 sixers! Amritsar
The first thing about Amritsar is that I had the most spooky dream of my life in the hotel room.
I was damn damn tired when I reached Amritsar. It was 3.30 am and after finding a hotel, just crashed to sleep. Immediately I dreamed that I was a soul (or ghost ?) out of my body and flying all over and playing pranks on people. I was over mountains, bridges and all. It was like a long winding roller coaster ride. After enjoying the ride for sometime, I wanted the ride to stop but it was no longer in my control. That’s when I went shrieking like mad and woke up with a sweat. For some time, I was wondering whether the room was haunted as I thought I heard footsteps too. Anyways went back to sleep to wake up lazily for the Golden temple visit.
The temple is vast and spectacular, providing many opportunities for photo shoots as there are magnificent views of the temple from so many different angles and corners. The food at the langar was very clean - though very simple and non-spicy, it tasted good and made my b’fast.
It was good to see so many tourists here (at Golden temple as well as all over Amritsar), people from Bihar, Tamilnadu and
Golden Temple - up close and really golden !
Awesome place for photography as it is a vast place and there are so many angles, corners and subjects to take pixs from.
Jallianawalabagh was a visit into the distant history. It was not easy to relate to this as compared to the Kargil war of 1999. The memorial is well done along with the vast garden. The highlights are the actual bullet marks on the walls and the well into which people jumped.
Tried the famous Amritsari kulchas and they were great with dallops of butter. So also chaats and later the butter chicken for dinner ! Wagah Border
Have both good and not-so-good things about the Wagah border visit. Just when you are hitting the border near Attari, the weather suddenly becomes windy and a lot of dust is thrown around, almost like a sand storm. I found that to be strange and was told it happens all the time. BTW Attari is an ‘International Railway Station’ !. That was funny to read.
The locals showed us Pakistani villages, just a few meters away, hardly looking any different from the Indian side. They also showed bunkers which the Army uses to fire at infiltrators.
The ceremony at the Wagah border happens everyday at 6 pm. It was fantastic to see so many Indians from
all parts of India there. The Indian side spectators easily outnumbered the Pakistanis in hundreds.
While the actual ceremony is a treat to watch, the rest of the spectacle is very much bollywoodised. Bollywood patriotic numbers play all the time while the compere takes the crowd to a jingoistic frenzy with all kinds of patriotic slogans. Obviously Indian side was louder than the Pakistani side. Lots of spectators came to the centre stage and danced away to glory.
Only women and senior citizens (& even foreigners !) get a good view while others (including me !) had to struggle to get a view of the proceedings and take photo shoots.
“Not so random” word associations
Here are some ‘not so random word’ associations that I have now after the trip to Ladakh & Kashmir. Roads
Anything from smooth tarmac to offroads to mud tracks to stones to dry riverbeds to slush to water crossings to ‘I still can’t believe this is a road?’. Mountains
Have you ever seen mountains in so many colours of - brown, yellow, red, purple, green, grey, black ? Mountain Tops
Will sound very clichéd, but felt on top of
Momos at a shack in Panamik in Nubra valley
They were the best ones we had eaten. Not sure if that was b'coz we were starving !
the world on the top of the mountain passes that we did. Weather
Had fun during all types of weather - sunny, humid, cold, rainy, snowy, sleety, windy. Sometimes experienced all within a single day as during the Tso Moriri trip. Food
In much of Ladakh, bread omelet was the staple diet, especially during travel. Eating Dal/rice and Roti/sabzi here is for the more adventurous Leh has almost all cuisines though it is wise to just stick to Ladakhi food or pizzas there. Momos, Thupkas and Thenthuks are acquired taste dishes. Raw Leh berries (tsetsalulu ) taste better than the juice !
The so called ‘hash browns’ served as part of any continental b’fast in both Manali and Leh were staid aloo bhaji. I loved an Isreli b’fast I had once with humus and fried brinjal. Animals
Wild yaks, double humped camels, marmots, goats and some deer. People
The people in Ladakh need to be admired for their resilience in surviving the 8-9 months of cold every year with a smile and such treacherous terrain. They were helpful even in the most remotest of places and always surprised us with their knowledge of Hindi
Kids in Leh
Having a gala time in the courtyard of a bazaar ! They were so cute, all over Ladakh. Anyways kids are great as long as they are somebody else's !
and bollywood. Himesh bhai rocks in Ladakh too !. The babies and kids in both Ladakh and Kashmir are sooooo cute and friendly ….. BRO
That’s not Brother, though it could be that as well. BRO is ‘Border Roads Organization’ and they are the ones doing the roads work on both the Manali and Srinagar routes. They have a thankless job. The roads can open only 3-4 months a year and are lifelines to the Indian Army in Ladakh and the people there. It is only in such a short period they can undertake road construction without disrupting the traffic much. Moreover every year the road condition deteriorates due to rain, snow, landslides.
On a lighter note, their notice boards on the roads can be funny. Not sure if they meant to be. A complete book could be devoted to those notice boards. Sample a few:
- With Safety on the Road, you will have safe team at home.
- Don’t be a Gama in the land of Lama (Gama apparently means proud in Ladakhi)
- If you are married, divorce speed
- Be gentle on my curves
Drass War Memorial - though I am not sure I agree to this.
Visiting Kargil and Drass was very poignant. To read the stories of our martyrs in many wars and to see our soldiers serving the country with a smile under such treacherous conditions.
them for their resilience and doing their service to the country with a smile. In Kargil and Drass, it gets -50 degrees in winter (2nd coldest after Siberia) and our jawans continue to do their service with a smile. In Kashmir, there are jawans every half kilometer, with the threat to their lives, so real.
Will do it again ? A resounding YES !
Overall at the end of this trip, I feel very satiated for having undertaken this trip. The entire trip was a mindblowing experience. Whatever little disappointment and set-backs we had during the trip, actually enriched the experience.
Doing Ladakh and Kashmir could be a once in life experience for many people. I would say these are nature at its crowning glory. I am very glad that Nilesh made me dream this dream. I am still on a high on having undertaken the trip though I am certain that it’s not the last time. Now that’s another dream to dream and make the universe conspire with me
There are more photos below