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Friday, 9 September 2011

Leh Laddakh: Heaven truly is a little high! Part 1

"People who fly to Laddakh are morons!!!"
        - a conversation on Manali Leh highway

Juley Laddakh!

Frankly, what do you want me to do - Inspire you to go to Laddakh! Oh, come-on - if you're such blinded morons to be in want for any proof about its beauty, need inspiration, cajoling, push, or things like motivation to go there - scram - you're beyond help and you have earned my ire :P

You're spared if you're not an Indian, have never visited India, have never read keenly about it and are not planning to visit it sometime in near future. In that case - let me first introduce Laddakh to you:

Laddakh is a far flung cold desert on the northern most territories of India and is a part of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), often referred to as 'paradise on earth' in befitting description to its breathtaking beauty. J&K's past, after the independence of India in 1947, marred with long history of terrorist activities by Pakistani insurgents has never effected Laddakh. However, there is a heavy presence of Indian Army in entire Laddakh region primarily because it shares its border with Tibet on the east and Pakistan on the west.
     In fact, it is the presence of Indian Army has led to creation and maintenance of strategically important and the only 2 roads leading to this region and metalling of several dizzily high passes to help us travel around. This has led to opening up of this enchanting part of the country for tourism. However, the altitude and terrain is so difficult, as you will see, that Laddakh continues to be entirely secluded except for the major touristy places. That too has below 20-30 people at any given time. Travel months are only from July to around October; and the entire region goes for hibernation during winter months with temperatures plummeting below -35 degrees C. My next aim, in fact, is to go there in winters and hopefully tread on the then frozen Zanskar river! But that's for later...

So now that you know of Laddakh, let me do my bit to encourage you:

"Go to Laddakh!"; or a tardy bit more pompous

"The lowest there (some 3500m) might be the highest you've ever been to"

That's the best I can say. Try asking me for any more reasons, and I'll answer with 19th century British air, "No, sir, no! Spare me the dishonor."

But let me tell you what I am going to do...I am going to show-off. Yes, as outraged as you might be right now, you've heard me right. And never mind your outrage on me, for soon you might be outraged on yourself for not having gone there thus far!

Here I begin:

Part 2 - here

Basic ingredient of having a great trip is a funky group. Ours was super funky. Sample this:

Cute person [very seriously]: "I once had a dream that I got a real polar bear for my girlfriend."
We: [laughing]: "Instead get a polar bear man, and impress girls with it"
Cute person: [blush lighting his face]: "No. I don't want to have a girl friend who would love me because of my polar bear"

Then we had this person who would get dozens of his 'solo' pictures, which kept our cameras busy with clicks and mouths busy with curses. There was this non-hand holding, non-mushy couple which is just great to have on trips. And then there was I, bothering to take a note of all this.

Now, say you've reached Leh, where do you want to head out to? Try Pangong Tso, for it is impossible to click a bad picture there. Pause a second and do reflect on the word impossible. And for god's sake spend a night there, in camps just besides the lake.

We drove 170km from Leh toward Tibet border to reach this lake. Cruising on barren high mountains we saw lush green valleys spreading out beneath us; and sometimes suddenly we ended up landing in one - filled in amazement we stared at the landscape: lush green grass, hordes of sheep, goats, horses, asses and yaks grazing on them, streams flowing by, guarded by snow top mountains! It was almost a 'pinch-me, pinch-me' moment! And then in another valley we had a tete-a-tete with Marmot. Cute creatures they are and their love for 'Pure Magic' biscuits might as well be documented and marketed!

Caro! Ain't he?

By and by we drove on wondering, why didn't we drive here on bikes. 

You get to see the pristine lake much before you actually reach there, after which it is hard to settle in your seats, trying to bite back your joy, preserving it till your actually reach there. But once there, you're sure to get scandalized by the sudden outburst of so many people at your dream '3 Idiots' spot. And moreover, for the first time you see scores of Indians...causing you to wonder if they'd 'apparated'!

However, we left that worry behind as we drove further along the lake to the end of civilization. And bless us, for bright blue waters and solitude greeted us. After running out of breath by repeating "awesome" and "dude" - the only words in our vocabulary to admire the lake, everyone laid out a mattress and slept off to a warm mellow afternoon under the blanket of comforting lake-side breeze, as I stared at them - aghast!

Soon sky turned crimson and air turned chilly. Everyone headed back to tent, while I decide to take a stroll. The lake was was hiccuping and I decided to take off all my warm clothing save a fluttering muffler to feel every bit of surroundings. I can say without a hitch - those 2 hours were amazing. My crazy mind suddenly settled into an amazing calm, and I thought of most brazen things simply. I felt as if I could have almost discovered an extension to relativity theory had I known the current one. Such was the inspiration floating around. That apart, can you spot some blues in this?

1..2..3..4..5..6.. Nine being the ideal count!

Next day, we got up bang at 5 AM, offended by the loud light pouring in our tent! "It is already morning, Jeez", we thought to ourselves, as we headed out. The lake was back in full view and our day had started at 5, yet again!

In fact, the only day when we did not start at 5 AM was our very first day in Leh, when after a back breaking road journey of 54 hours lasting for around three and a half days - we slept till wide daybreak. However, driving bikes on NH 1 later in the day made up for that! I know you all might have driven, most of you must have also driven bullet, but driving there, besides the Indus: oh, a rush of awesomeness just creeps up your nerves!

Chewing the Bullet - Legendary

Even with a 10 day trip, the time was running short on us. With everyone miraculously recovering in our group from the cold and ear infection they had brought from home, and nobody yet feeling the altitude - we pushed ourselves for a two day trek.

By the way, trekking is cool. The people you meet are all interesting, and for that matter - you don't meet or see much except nature. But this quote by Tom Wheeler, as I heard in his speech at IIT Delhi, rings loud in my head:

"When we walk, we see the world at a pace God intended us to see"

We started early morning from Zienchen, and after a crisscross riverside trek for a few hours we reached a village called Rumbak. What greeted us there were lusty green and yellow fields, a total of ten houses, great food, variety of teas and local brew served alongside extravagant delicacies like dried apples. Breathtaking - don't you think?

With practically the entire mountains and village left for us to play through the day - it was 'Legendary'. But as customary in free time, with post-lunch effects riding high, the gang succumbed to slumber. I was sitting out their room, listening to the conversation:

M: [chirpily] "Guys, if we continue to lie like this we're going to sleep"

Well, that was last that I heard.

After having gazed and touched to my satisfaction the sheep wool that was left to dry on roof top, I went poking my nose around the village, and ended up settling on a small mountain top which overlooked the valley.

As I sat there with nothing to do - sights I saw plenty but sounds I heard none. Except for the faint flow of the distant river, and feeble sound of spring water getting collected into an overflowing pot, there was an absolute stillness hanging around, so quiet, that I wondered if everything was quite alright? I ended up spending 1 hour, or maybe more, of hearing into absolutely nothing. Fabulous. And don't even get me started about the night sky, so astral, and shooting starts so plenty!

Enticing Rumbak

By and by the gang got to their senses. We soon were on our village tour: playing around , creating paper boats, floating them in small streams, and eventually drowning them in some tragic landslides, and generally hopping around - to eventually end up on the river bed - with stones in plenty. Some spark of great idea led us creating one of the finest castle of the erstwhile Pi civilization of the 3rd Century BC. In fact, we ended up creating the 'Great Bathrooms' of Pi civilization, with mighty watch towers, ditches, ravines, stone walls, paved pathways, and the overlooking tower of the King. I am tempted to describe more, but I reserve that for when you meet me, for its not modest enough to say here. But nonetheless, this civilization too was wiped out due to a meteor shower...

The Great Bathroom of 'Pi' Civilization (Approx 3rd Century B.C.)
Labor hired from Punjab, Maharashtra and Rajasthan. Queen from Singapore

Tired to the core we went to sleep, and J borrowed by phone for alarm as he was sleeping in a different house. As tempted as I was to be a prankster and put recurring alarms from 2:30 AM onwards till 5:30 AM in an interval of half an hour, I could not because the next day was going to be big.

Soon, it was morning again. Refreshed by thick chaptis laden with Apricot jam and Yak butter, drowned in our throats along with mint tea - we headed out; dawn on the verge of breaking. That day we shall reach a never reached before height: 4700m. A small feat for us.

Rumbak - Now 7 km behind (that faint green right at the end)

May we all continue to reach higher in our lives! Amen.



  1. amazingly written :)
    and btw thanx ;)

  2. OH. MY. GOD.

    Beautiful pictures Nishant! Especially love the last one, the cloud shadow is exquisite!!!

    I SO wish I do the Leh-Ladakh trip soon!!! Been planning for it since forever! :)

  3. Delhi to Leh ke liye I hope alag post aa rahi hai :)

  4. Wowww...revisited my gud old days!!

  5. Awesome... the place is truly beautiful and your travel log is commendable too... Waiting for Part-2

  6. nice!!
    Agar mai marriage tak ladakh nahi gaya to mera honeymoon ladhakh mei hi hoga for sure!! :P

  7. Thanks doston, part 2 almost done :)

  8. @Ice Maiden - Go there for honey-moon! :P

  9. Ok, but they could also be already back broken or slightly sloth-like to take the one instead of 54 hour route!!

  10. Yes Tikku, the plane journey is awesome 2. Here - the last picture says it all ;)

  11. Absolutely awesome stuff. When I went to Leh, I was blown away by the incredible plateaus, lakes and moonscape scenery.