Ladakh Diary



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It’s undoubtedly an open secret that Leh-Ladkh is on everyone’s bucket list of “to visit places” in India. And why not, the place emanates a welcome attraction with open arms for everyone, owing to its beautiful landscape with warm and hospitable population. Presumably anyone who visits the place is sure to fall in love with both the landscape and the people. The place is well suited for both solo and group outing.  Especially it is a biker’s dream to ride in these high mountain passes. 
This is my story of Ladakh, an incredible excursion in life with the most treasured people along.

A brief insight about the place, Ladakh is largest Union territory sharing international border with one of neighbouring nations. Leh is largest town in Ladakh. It is situated at an altitude above 3000 Meters.  Since the place shares international boundary, hence defence establishments here is quite evident. Being located at higher altitude, Ladakh is cold most of the year.  While summers are relatively warm, the winters are absolutely freezing. Night temperatures fall below Zero, hence plan your visiting time accordingly. Since Ladakh is at higher elevation, so altitude sickness related phenomenon like nausea, vomiting, breathlessness is a common occurrence. A day of acclimatisation is suggested for people going for first time so that body get used to local conditions.  We had acclimatisation period of half day, and fortunately none of us had any altitude related issues throughout the tour.

5 of us, college pals, from different parts of country got together at New – Delhi airport in mid of October. It was a 6 day trip to Ladakh. We boarded our flight from Delhi to Leh at 6.15am. It is 1.30 hours flight. The plane flies a top snow covered Himalayas. For all of us, who were seeing snow clad mountains for 1st time in life, it was an out of world experience. We were mesmerized at this sight, it was chain of never ending mountains spread over earth till the horizon, very beautiful and blissful sight. The snow covered mountains, though seem barren and lifeless, hold plenty of wildlife among them who have adapted to harsh climatic conditions.
Since, we visited in month of October, the winters already had begun and it was lean season for tourists. In the off season, you get vehicle and stay at comparatively lower price. Since, flight charges had already dented our pockets, the news of lean season was music to ears and it indeed turned out to be budget friendly tour as well.


Day 1: There is no railway station at Leh, however Leh is well connected via road. Since we had paucity of time, we took option of flight. The airport is located almost in the city.  The plane landed at Leh 
Grand View of Snow Clad Himalayas from above.
Airport at 8am. The cold wave stormed our face once we were out of plane. We ran inside the airport immediately so as to take out warm clothing from luggage and drape them around us!! It was very cold…  You start appreciating beauty of place from the moment you put foot down in the city. Cold climate, barren mountains and of course snow covered peaks at a distance, it’s an amazing sight. We hired a taxi, who would remain with us for the next 5 days. We inquired about 2-3 hotels for stay, and settled in one. There are plenty of them, no need to book prior.  Since it was off season, so the scope for bargain was more and indeed we did bargain efficiently. Thus, we settled in our rooms and as I told earlier about acclimatisation, owing to high altitude and low temperature, we did not step out of the room for half of the day. While some people suggest for full day, but half day of acclimatisation was sufficient for us, as we got used to temperature and oxygen levels. 
Thus, we stepped out at 2pm in the noon. The first place of visit was Sindhu Ghat, located only 10kms from Leh. From here we could see the famous snow covered Stok Kangri peak at a distance, which is renowned for trekking. Sindhu Ghat is a very serene place located 
on banks of river Indus. Indus is another name for Sindhu River.  Without much of crowd, one can enjoy peaceful time at this place. You can take an evening stroll along the banks of the river for as long distance 
Expensive Moments at Sindhu Ghat
and enjoy the peaceful silence. 
                    After spending some 2 hours we moved to our next destination, the “Hall of Fame”. It is essentially a defence museum, located within city.  The museum is dedicated to our brave soldiers who’ve laid down their lives in line of duty. Also some of weaponries used and captured during war times are on display here. There is a memorial dedicated to slain soldiers. The place is worth a visit, it gives us a small insight into difficult working conditions of our defence people, and you start respecting them even more.!!
                       The next and last stop of the day was a monastery called “Shanti Stupa” which is at a very short distance from Leh. The Stupa is very beautiful monastery with white coloured dome and it offers a majestic panoramic view of surrounding mountains. One can overview of entire Leh city standing in this place. Very calm and peaceful place. Sunrise and sunsets can be observed from this place. We were lucky to get glimpse of rays going down in the evening.  One of my favourites. Though vehicles go till gate, but also there are oddly some 300 steps to reach the stupa, if you wish to climb stairs! We all went by vehicle, none was ready to risk the fatigue on very first day. 
Thus day one ended and we retired for the day.  All these places are located very near to Leh within distance of 10-15 kms not far, hence we planned them on day 1.  


Hall of Fame

Shanti Stupa
Leh as viewed from Shanti Stupa

Main Market

The next 2 days were going to be exciting as they were far off places. The first was Nubra Valley, also called as Cold desert and day 3 was for famous Pangong Lake. You need inner line permit to visit both these places, which can be obtained at nominal rates in Leh itself. Don’t proceed without permit.  We got permits issued with half an hour, carry an ID along, there are no complicated procedures.

Day 2: Today’s destination was Nubra Valley Via Khardungla Pass and halt in Nubra Valley.  The Shyok and Nubra rivers meet in this place, hence place is called Nubra Valley. Vegetation here is very sparse, hence Nubra valley is also called as Cold desert. Interestingly, the valley is filled with sand dunes across length and width but also we can find snow-capped mountains and flowing river, all in the same landscape. It is at an altitude of 3050mts which is lesser elevation in comparison to Leh. However, the temperature is still very hostile. Distane from Leh to Nubra valley is around 160kms. And again, the roads being mountainous and narrow will take you lot of time to cover this distance. We started at 8am and reached there at 2pm.  You admire the amazing beauty of place in spite of roads being treacherous. One can keep gazing at landscape and keep showering praises at the beauty of creation. Route from Leh to Nubra Valley is Via Khardungla Pass.    
The "Khardungla Pass"
Khardungla pass is highest motorable road in world at an altitude of about 5600mts!! That requires serious engineering to create infrastructure at that height. Hats off to Border Road Organisation who maintain this road.  There are chances of Khardungla pass closing during peak winters as snow covers the road and it becomes risky. However, it is also opened at the earliest. We were advised against spending much time here, as oxygen levels are different and one may feel nausea.  We halted our vehicle briefly (10-15mins). Getting out of vehicle felt like going into an open freezer! It was damn cold. We took photographs quickly and ran inside our vehicle. Since, altitude related sickness is common in the entire place, so there are many places enroute where first aid is available,  you can get treatment in case you are to face one. But make sure you get help immediately, else it could be dangerous. Army camps are also equipped to provide treatment. Crossing mighty Khardungla road, we passed many tiny villages and settlements, army camps along the route and entered Nubra valley.  The road traverses in between sand covered plains, typically like a desert road. It’s a marvelous site, you can have as many photo shoots anywhere. We did small dirt bike riding at one of adventure camps along the roads.
Maitreya Buddha Statue @ Diskit Gompa
Riding bike in sand dunes accelerated our adrenaline.  
Our first stop in Nubra valley was famous Diskit Monastery. It is oldest monastery in Ladakh region.  Monasteries are always peaceful places and you feel like visiting them again and again to enjoy the silence. Diskit monastery has huge statue of Maitreya Buddha (32mts!). The carvings are worth appreciation. We spent around 2 hours in the monastery and proceeded forward towards the famous two Humped, “Bactrian Camel” ride. It is a famous, less costly, activity which may people do here. Bactrian camel are found only in Ladakh region in India. They are sturdy animals, which have adopted themselves for the landscape. Rough body hair, big eyelashes, large hooves to walk in sand and of course humps to store fat during lean times- perfect desert camel. We did a short camel ride. The camels gave us some jittery moments when 2 of them started competing with each other, however they were calmly brought under control by their handlers. With sun setting fast, we started running up and down the dunes, it was fun moment bringing back childhood memory of playing with sand. We spent a lot of time there, and set off to find a place to spend chilly night. Nubra valley is comparatively expensive, and places to stay here are limited . But again off season came to our rescue! and we found economical stay. Thus ended day 2.

@ Nubra Valley, The cold Desert

 Cherishable Moment


Day 3: Today was for the famous Pangong Lake. This lake shot up to the fame after being featured in the last scene of 3 Idiots movie. Pangong Lake is at an altitude of 4300mts, the lake extends into China, nearly 60%.  It is a very broad water body, more than 4 kms in width. Interesting thing about lake is, western part of lake is saline water and eastern part is of fresh water. Since we had been in early winters, we could already see parts of water body freezing to ice. We were told that most part of lake freezes during peak winters. That would be such an awesome sight!. We could see some gulls hovering above the water body. It’s just amazing how life manages to 
@ Pangong Tso
adopt and thrive  in such extreme temperatures.
Distance from Nubra valley to Pangong is roughly 200kms, we took the route via Shyok valley. This route closes during summers as waters gush from mountains and flow over road. Please check with localities about condition of this route before embarking on this route. Another route is via Leh, return to Leh and proceed in opposite direction. Since winters were about to begin now, the shyok route was open as water freezes in the above mountains. It saved lot of our time. We started early morning from Nubra Valley at 7 am.  We traversed many rivulets, tiny ice frozen puddles along the road. Again, needless to say about the landscape and the view. It should be taken for granted that we were travelling in one of the beautiful and blissful places on earth. The snow covered roads slowed down our pace, we had to stop and proceed very slowly at certain points. Our driver was best at his skills. 3rd day of tour was a blessing for us in regards with sighting of wild animals of the area. At one of the roads, our vehicle manoeuvred a sharp turn and to everyone’s surprise we saw a group of Blue sheep,(Bharals) consisting nearly 8-10 individuals. We were astonished to see them right in middle of road. It was a chance encounter and they ran off into rocky cliffs on seeing us. It was a rare sighting. As we neared Pangong lake, we also sighted pair of wild Donkeys, also known as “Kiang”. They are free ranging tough animals which are known for their strong surviving skills.  Next on list was burrowing rodent, the “Marmot”, they are quiet frequent sighting here. Also we saw Yaks (not wild), which aren’t wild but they are also worth a sight. Tea made from Yak’s milk is common here. Fat content in yak’s milk is twice as compared to other domestic bovines. After having sightings of so many animals, we had first glance of Pangong lake from a distance. All of us started jumping on our seats at the initial sight. We reached the lake, it is a very calm and appealing place. The place was little crowded, owing to it's reputation. You admire beauty of creation at this place. Take a stroll along the lake, away from crowds and you will be dazzled as to how amazing is the lake. There are bare hillocks on the other side make of Pangong. It's a wonderful place, no doubt why it is so famous. As I told earlier it is divided between India and China.  Staying options here are less, so we started back to Leh after spending more than 2 hours at Pangong Lake. Pangong to Leh is 150Kms. We reached back our hotel in Leh 8 pm. Today was full of journey, but was totally worth.  Pangong Lake is truly mesmerizing.

Strolling along the Tso

Bharal ( Blue Sheep)

Day 4: This was our penultimate day. Since we were tired of journey in the previous day, so today we had kept half day to explore nearby places and remaining half day to explore local markets. We started at 8am today. First place was “Spituak Gompa”, it is located next to Leh airport. It’s a small monastery. You can view airport here from top of monastery, and spend some time enjoying the amazing mountains.  Next was a place called “Sangam”.  Rivers Indus and Zanskar meet at this place, and the confluence continues as Indus river towards Pakistan. 
"Sangam" Point,  shades of rivers can be distinguished
Climbing small hillock

The place is very picturesque as you can see two rivers in distinguishable shades of colours.  The place apart from being famous for confluence is also famous for rafting as “India’s Highest Rafting spot”. After spending sometime here and we moved to Magnetic hill. Magnetic hill is just a  rectangle marking in middle of road. It is said that vehicles at this spot will move backwards themselves despite engines being turned off. We did not feel this effect working on our vehicle!!... Anyways, to our surprise, our enthusiastic driver encouraged us to climb a small hillock behind this point. Though unwilling in the beginning, we started climbing this small hillock. While some went ahead, some stopped and returned in the middle. It was worth climbing the place, we were able to generate some heat in the body for first time in 3 days!. It was sort of fun event. We thanked driver for making us do this. Next we went to “Pathar Saheb” Gurudwara nearby. It is maintained by army personnel. Amazing place and langar!! We had our afternoon lunch in langar.  It is 3rd highest Gurudwara in the World. I was amazed to know that. We climbed 250 steps to a small worship place opposite of Gurudwara. Thus, we returned to our rooms at 3pm, freshened up and set out to explore local market for rest of the day.  All places we visited today were near to Leh.  Thus ended day 4.

Day 5: Today being last day of our tour, we had kept it for small trekking. It was to a nearby village called “Rumbak”.  More than trek it was a regular hike to a settlement. Our guide picked us at 9am. We went half way till drop point in vehicle, and then started walking.  It was some 4-5 kms trek path along a river. Climbing in higher altitude is a challenge, it becomes difficult for some after walking certain
Trek to village 
distance. Same thing happened with one of our mates who felt short of oxygen and breathlessness along the route. However, we calmed her down and pacified her saying everything is fine. Giving 
mental/ psychological strength when someone is giving up helps them a lot and it is very important in such places. We quickly figured out it was it more of fear of lack of oxygen than the actual shortage of it. Thankfully things settled quickly and we moved ahead, else we were planning of abandoning the trek. We reached the village in the noon time. To our surprise, there was a marriage going on in the village. We were given a very warm welcome in the village and all of us were made party to the marriage. We all were elated to be part of it, had our afternoon lunch there itself. We were lucky enough to witness the local tradition and customs in this part of country. Indeed India is land of diverse culture and traditions.   It was a sheer chance that we happened to become part of a marriage ceremony, and that was so wonderful.We walked little ahead of the village till our legs were tired. It was again view of snow-capped mountains at the distance and barren rocky hillocks that beholds your attention throughout the tour. The silence you hear is worth spending so much energy.Because mind becomes calm in such serene silence and you start thinking meaningful philosophy in such places.
 Diversity at it's best
Such emotions and feelings must be experienced to understand them better. As silence is a rare thing, given our lifestyle, we tried grabbing it as much as we could. Our guide signaled and it was time for us to leave. We thanked marriage party for invitation and started climbing down. The trek wasn’t a tiring one. We reached down to the place where our vehicle was parked in one hour and enroute to Leh we visited the famous “Thiksey” monastery. As I told earlier, monastery are always places of silence, peace and calm. We spent a lot of time in the monastery understanding their culture and traditions, and of course lot of interactions.  While we are so busy fighting for our daily survival in our day today lives, it is impressive that people in monasteries lead their life, so peacefully and calmly. Next was visited “Shey Palace” which is very near to Leh. Shey Palace was literally in ruins without any maintenance. Thus, we moved back to Leh at 5.30Pm. We still had some local shopping to be done. Thus the day finished and along with it, an amazing tour to one among beautiful places of earth came to an end.



Day 6 : Morning we bid adieu to our wonderful driver, Chetan Bhayya, a localite who was with us from day 1, and boarded flight back to Delhi at 8.15am to return to our day today lives.




Going to Leh in off season made our entire tour very economical. We got vehicle, accommodation at a fair price as compared to peak tourist seasons. A bike ride would have been more good, however we had gone in winters so bike ride was out of option in that part of year for us. 
Ladakh has many wonderful, less explored places whose list is never ending. One can travel as many times and see new places every time. It is totally worth spending money in this place on earth.  Please visit the place atleast once in your life time. Respect the place, respect the people and you will surely be rewarded with memories which will last with you forever. The feeling of being so close to Himalayas, travelling with company of dearest people along, makes some parts of life worth. Along with many souvenirs, we carried lots of memories back with us, which sure still are very fresh even after such long time span.  Ladakh is definitely worth taking some time off our busy schedules to get lost in the nature and its enchanting beauty. 
As I always say - travel a lot in your life - you will understand and appreciated yourself more.
    




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