Leh – Ladakh – The Himalayan Fantasy

This happened in May 2014 for which I had planned around 3 months back with respect to booking and all those stuffs. I always wanted to visit Ladakh for its plain, dry and terrain beauty and added to it was the Himalayan fantasy. You get to glance the Himalayan miracle all around. And never thought I would take along mom with me, just because you know Ladakh tour itself gets you with lot of questions in your mind like lack of oxygen, weather, what if a senior citizen is travelling, what all problems he/she can face and so on… But then had heard this group called WOW (Women on Wanderlust) club…pioneers in traveling which organizes trips only for women travelers with whatever age group and they almost do trips to 75 countries every year. Thought of checking with them and yeah got some great inputs on the tour which definitely helped me in materializing my dream of visiting Ladakh along with mom. We both were just overexcited and couldn’t wait for it.
Finally the day came when we had to board our flight to Delhi as the tour had to start from Delhi and end in Delhi. We had a flight from Delhi early morning at 5 to Ladakh. Delhi airport was the place where we met our fellow travelers. The total number comprised of 20 ladies with one WOW buddy. The trip was for 10 days and since it was in the middle of May, it was still considered as the season of winter in Ladakh. Summer months in Ladakh is from Jun-Sept when the roads become really dusty, the snow starts melting from the mountains and helps rising water levels in the rivers around. Since we visited in May, we just had the added advantage to see snow, experience snowfall at Khardungla/Changla Passes and still see the water flowing in the rivers as it was the last month of winter season.

From the flight I still remember when I first saw the Himalayas. Was just speechless and damn I didn’t take a pic from the flight thinking yeah this is just the start. And I was absolutely right about this as I had plenty of future moments in my whole journey to capture the beauty of the place. We landed at Kushok Bakula Rimpochee Airport at around 5.45am and felt the actual chillness in the climate when compared to Delhi 😀 . We were escorted in Innova’s to our Hotel location which gave us an absolute feeling of home away from home.

We got in our rooms, hogged something and relaxed till afternoon. They say that at high altitude places, the most important thing is to get acclimatized with the climate. We were given lot of instructions like, don’t try to run around as you tend to feel tired fast, try gobbling a Diamox for the first few days to avoid altitude sickness and so on. But we were just so excited to be in the raw part of the nature where you have the world’s highest battle field and along with it is the mesmerizing beauty surrounding it, dare any kind of sickness near us 😉

The first day we just visited the Shanti Stupa, Leh Palace and the market around. We basically were gearing ourselves for the places to be visited from the next day onwards. Leh is at an altitude of 11,500ft above sea level and hence it takes a little getting used to it.

The second day was to visit the Alchi/Likir Monastery (en route Alchi Likir circuit). This was my first visit to a Monastery and I was just experiencing the actual silence inside. The robes of the monks were placed neatly in a row just like a scoop of ice cream on the cone.

1.1421681963.prayer-robes
Prayer Robes

It seems the monks come every day to the monastery and chant prayers wearing their prayer robes. People there offer even chocolates to their lord. It’s a practice to serve people with tea decoction along with butter in Monasteries. On the way we did stop over at the Magnetic Hill. On this road there is a yellow mark which said that “Park your vehicle in the box marked on the road and experience the phenomenon that defies gravity”. At least to test this we all jumped at that point to see that how far we jump which is very evident in the pic. Then we did pass along the Sangam – confluence of Indus and Zanskar rivers.

1.1421681963.at-sangam

The third day was the most awaited one as we were going to witness the Pangong Tso Lake. As a lame person I remember hearing about this lake for the first time thru a Bollywood movie called “3 Idiots” and the scene is in the climax with blue water in the background and Kareena comes running towards AK. I had thought at that point – how could a lake be so blue? Could be for sure from the Cinematographer’s view, can change anyway. But then here’s was the chance to actually see it and so was very excited. To reach Pangong Tso, which is located at an altitude of 14,500 we had to drive along the Chang-la Pass (at 17,370ft).

Now this is the third highest motor able pass in the world. The road is very narrow and all over the place there is snow and the chances of vehicles getting skid over are more. So what the drivers do is tie the rear wheels of their vehicles with chains so that they get a grip on the snowy road. It’s a bit scary to see HTV’s to travel in such roads as heavy ones tend to slip more and we actually saw one such incident happening but luckily the people there had roped the truck and they pulled it off very well. We should actually appreciate the super skilled drivers of this area. They are so good at what they do to earn their livelihood. Then around 1.30pm in the afternoon we get a glimpse of the lake. The first thing which came into my mind seeing the lake is “HUGE”. This lake is so damn huge. And moreover what we see is only 1/3 of the lake it seems. The rest 2/3 of the lake extends in Tibet, now that’s wow!

By 2pm we were so hungry, went to the dining area where hot and delicious lunch was just waiting for us. Had lunch and saw a few pics hanging over there which had SRK, Anushka Sharma along with the chefs there. It seems they had halted in one of the tents over there during the shoot of “Jab Tak Hain Jaan”. It is quite an easy job to find an SRK fan anywhere 🙂 . Once we were done with our lunch, we decided to have a walk beside the lake. It was an absolute beauty to see a Lake change its color based on the light. We could see the green and blue shades of water when the sun was shining bright and absolute white color after the sunset…simply Majestic. The water was just freezing cold. After the sunset we headed back to our tents. The tent stay was all in all an awesome experience. It had all the basic amenities inside it. In the evening we were served with some hot French fries with tea and coffee. Imagine yourself having such snacks in front of a beautiful lake with temperatures at 2 degree…thrilling is the right word. We had dinner at around 8pm and then did a camp fire in front of the tents till 10pm.

1.1421681963.bournefire

We sang, danced and pulled each other’s legs…absolute fun. Before we could sleep we were given a hot water bag with some extra blankets also. So all in all we had 3 blankets and a hot water bag each and that was because it was snowing at the mountains behind us. At first we tried to get sleep, but the harrowing sound that the wind was making while gushing towards the tent was not allowing us to, but then we were so tired, that we slept off. Got up early morning at 4am to see the sunrise right in front of us. At that time we got to know that we actually slept in a tent with the temperature outside with -10 degree plus the wind chill…..ooohh, I had an unbelievable look on my face 🙂 . We had numerous clicks of the beautiful sunrise and then headed for breakfast. We heard many stories from the locals there about the lake becoming frozen during peak winters (Dec-Feb). During that time locals play Ice hockey and do figure skating and I was quite amused and happy to hear that. We did some photo shoots around the lake and headed back to Leh on the 4th day. That day we visited few more Monasteries, Hemis being top in the list.

The 5th day was to travel to the Nubra Valley. To reach there we had to transit the Khardung-la Pass (alt: 18380ft) and then get down in our Camps. Khardung-la Pass is world’s highest motor able pass. I had seen many of my biker friends visiting this pass earlier. 1.1421681963.on-the-way-at-khardung-laWe left Leh at 9am, 1hr delayed due to unfavorable climatic conditions as it was snowing all night. At one point we thought that they would close the pass that day, but fortunate WE, they didn’t. It takes around 4-5hrs to reach Nubra Valley from Leh. But to our luck we were struck there after reaching somewhere in the middle. Khardung-la summit was still 14km away and we could see an array of traffic in the snow Cladded Mountains (as shown in the below pic, looks like a camouflage to me). During heavy traffic, only one way traffics are allowed at a time it seems, but that day something seriously went wrong and we all were struck. Well, it snowed, the wind was blowing the way it wanted, drivers helped each other to move further, everyone was offering snacks to each other and finally the ordeal ended after a 11hour journey till we reached down to the Deskit village.

The first thing everyone did was to use the rest room in the local hotel. And the next best thing was to having the experience of eating Maggi over there. Have to tell you guys, you wouldn’t have got that taste anywhere else and still the thought itself for me is mouthwatering.

We headed towards our tents in the Nubra valley. When compared to the tents in Pangong Tso, these were a bit more posh with hot water running 24hrs, awesome right. We were damn tired after the long journey and just had dinner and slept off.

The 7th day we travelled to the Sand dunes where we could actually see desert, camels and what not. I guess, this is the only place in the world where you experience a snowfall in Khardung-la pass and you get down to see the dessert safari and sand everywhere and to top it you have streams flowing alongside the roads.

What a beauty man, beyond imagination and photographs are the only rescuers for you to proof it down 😛 . We did camel rides over here and special mention about the camels found here is that, they are called the Bacterian Camels or simply a double humped one.DSC_1689 You don’t find these anywhere else in India and outside India guess in Gulf. On the way back, we visited another Monastery and visualized a huge Maitreya statue which is the famous landmark of Nubra valley. Siachen (world’s highest battle field with temperatures soaring -60 deg C at peak winters) Base is just 164km from Nubra Valley.

cam3

The next day was to do some adventure sport and no prizes in guessing guys – it was River Rafting. Had heard a lot about this from my friends but of course the icing on the cake was the river rafting experience in the midst of nature at its best. Though we didn’t encounter many rapids but overall it was an awesome experience. We finished our lunch after a two and a half hours of rafting path. We were all tanned by the end of the day.

I did forgot to mention our visit to a village called Stok in Leh to try some local cuisine in one of the houses over there. They served us with a yummy local beer made of rice and some momo’s to start with. There were both fried and steamed momo’s. 1.1421681963.at-a-ladhaki-houseI had my first experience in having a spinach steamed momo. It was so yummy. Then there was some Ladakhi Roti’s with palak stew for the main course. And to end with a sweet dish it was some local apricots soaked in sugar syrup.

We also visited the Gurudwara Pathar Sahib here which is being maintained by the Army officials. The best thing about this place is you get the most simplest and delicious food anytime you go there. And during the times of Langar it is like this royal feast waiting for all those who visit this beautiful place called Ladahk. Been there and done it all….WOW…it was a wonderful and a memorable trip of Leh…meeting such lovely people from all walks of life!!!

My special mention goes to Konchok Stobgais, our tour guide, who is loved by almost all the travellers for the way he is and does his job so well. Thanks so much Stoby for everything and we all love you. Thanks to all our super skilled drivers for driving us safe.

Ladakh also reminds me of my cousin brother Ganesh Ramesh who otherwise looks like a very simple, silent, shy college going guy but to his credits he is already a professional level Travel Photographer who loves venturing out to every possible place he gets to know, works for his own brand GR Photoworks, been one of the teams in MTV Chase the Monsoon season 3 (seriously didn’t know that you are such a biking enthusiast) and also heads ADD Ventures Unlimited to unleash his adventure side. Guys if anyone interested in Biking expeditions, you can always contact my bro.

Ganesha

So proud of you bro to break all the stereotypes and stick to what you really love to do….Love you !!! And thanks so much for the wonderful high resolution picture for my featured image here as I somehow missed it out on my cam.

 

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