Ladakh – “land of high passes” – the name in itself is enough. Since the time, the travel bug bit me, Ladakh for me was the mystical land of high passes, virgin beauty of shimmering lakes, gurgling rivers and rivulets, the mighty and humbling Ladakhi Range, mystic Lamas and loving people. And then when saw Ladakh, it was exactly how I had dreamt it.
So, I started a 10-day long journey for Ladakh with 5 of my other crazy but incredibly fun peeps. The level of excitement among the six of us were brimming to the point of insanity. We had been waiting for this journey of our lifetime since forever. We were excited, yet equally nervous and apprehensive of how it’s going to be.
Please note, this is not a travel blog but just my experiences as a traveller in different locations. Hence, it would not contain several important and crucial information (health tips/route information etc.), otherwise available on the internet by avid travel bloggers and enthusiasts. However, if you seek any relevant details to plan a trip to Ladakh, don’t hesitate to get in touch at any time.
With 11 days in our hand this is how Our itinerary for Road trip to Leh looked like:
• Delhi to Manali
• Manali to Sarchu
• Sarchu to Leh
• Leh to Lamayuru
• Leh to Nubra Valley
• Leh to Pangong Tso
• Leh to Delhi
Manali to Leh
The journey to Leh will lead your senses into psychedelic pleasure. It’s incredible to see such an amalgamation of colours, which makes it a photographers’ delight. From traversing on three of the five highest motorable passes ( Khardung La; Tanglang La; Chang La & La Chung La) in the world to travelling through picture postcard panoramas everywhere, Ladakh gives it all to you. The barren landscape, with the Sun and clouds playing hide & seek over humbling mountains, the cobalt blue sky above you. Surrounded by such magnanimous visual delights, you realise that you’ve reached one of the remotest and most spectacular destinations of the world.
Ladakh has a mix of very good and very bad roads. Hence our journey from Manali to Leh was a mix of easy and extremely bumpy ride. Additionally, the higher we climbed, the temperature decreased and the air got thinner, it got difficult to breathe and majority of us did experience high altitude sickness in some degree. Nevertheless, proper medication and timely halts and rest made sure none of us fell ill. As said earlier, we crossed through some of the highest motorable roads and roughest terrains of the world, however, there are several minor halts en route where cheap and fresh dhaba food is available.
First Stop at Sarchu
We stopped at Sarchu, which is a major halt point with tented accommodation in the Himalayas on the Leh-Manali Highway, on the boundary between Himachal Pradesh and Ladakh. You’ll only come across very basic home stays and camps which will be sufficient for a night’s halt before continuing the journey to Leh. We got fresh vegetarian dhaba food and other wet food such as Maggi is easily available at cheap rates. The weather is extremely unpredictable and sudden thundershowers can exponentially bring down the temperature particularly at night. Very cold wind is a common phenomenon in such altitude and carrying heavy jackets is something that can save your life.
Leh is a confluence of different cultures. The city is crowded with thriving tourists from all across the globe. Surrounded by mighty mountains and vast lands in between. Leh was the nodal point of our stay and commuting for the rest of the trip. You’ll get a variety of options for accommodation. Like most places, buildings in Leh have their very own architectural style. From 5 star hotels to humble guest houses, none will disappoint. Almost all hotels provide majestic and panoramic view of the surroundings of the city. Ladakhis are great hosts. Unlike other commercialised destinations, people here are typically very warm and helping. Our first day in Leh was all about warming up and exploring the city including, the local market, Leh Palace, monasteries and getting some sleep!
Lamayuru is spectacularly located along the valley plain and surrounded by mountains. Mostly famous for the oldest and largest existing Lamayuru Gompa (Monastery) in Ladakh. It’s a small village and is roughly 100 kilometres from Leh. The journey to and back from Lamayuru can be easily completed in a day. Road conditions are excellent and it’s a pleasure to drive Fotu La pass. Major tourist attractions are mainly the Gompa, Shanti Stupas and ruins of the old town. Also you’ll find Monks everywhere. The best view is offered from the Monastery itself which is situated atop a hill. Apart from that, as all across Ladakh, the landscape is surreal. Do you know Lamayuru is also famously known as Moonland ~ because of its terrain and land formations like on the Moon? On our return drive to Leh we visited the Alchi Gompa. And we experienced delectable traditional Ladakhi cuisine at Alchi Kitchen perched right next to the Monastery. It’s an open kitchen run by few dynamic and young Ladakhi women with magic in their hands.
Exploring Nubra Valley, Diskit Monastery and Sand Dunes of Hunder
Our next stop after we were back to Leh from Lamayuru was Nubra Valley. We had planned to spend 2 days as we had a host of things to explore in Nubra. We reached Nubra via Khardung La (at an altitude of 5602M). The initial smooth going track became tougher as we ascended, full of boulders and stones – but it is certainly worth the ride. From the pass, we could see all the way south over the Indus valley to seemingly endless peaks and ridges of the Zanskar range, and north to the giants of the Saser massif. Nubra Valley is popularly known as Ldumra or the valley of flowers. It is situated in the north of Ladakh between the Karakoram and Ladakh ranges of the Himalayas. The average altitude of the valley is 10,000 Ft. above sea level. Upon arrival in Nubra we explored the gorgeous Diskit Monastery and marvelled at the sight of the gigantic Maitreya Buddha. The panoramas that Nubra provide are breathtaking with absolutely unexpected terrains ready to leave you spellbound and charmed. We called it a day by offroading to our camp in Hunder for Overnight stay.
The next day was all about visiting the sand-dunes at Hunder and go for a camel ride on Bactrian camels and head back to Leh. The panoramas are the highlight of a visit to the Nubra Valley. They are surreal to say the least – rainbows play hide and seek, sand-dunes appear out of nowhere, and barren valleys offer an obscurity that is truly liberating for the passionate traveller.
This was the last leg of our journey. For a change, we had additional two bikes along with a chauffeur driven vehicle. We started from Leh after breakfast, passed Shey and Thiksey Monasteries on the way, and were soon at Karu. We took a break there to stock food and water in the car. From Karu, one needs to take the ascent to Changa La, the third highest pass in the world. We rode through the mystical grasslands of the Changthang Wildlife Sanctuary with abated breath waiting for a glimpse of Pangong. The azure blue sky, the reddish-golden-brown soil and the mountains, patches of green meadows with wild and domestic horses grazing around, pristine blue-white flowing water, gushing and making its way past the stones and rocks was a sight to behold. The sun was shining bright yet there was a whiff of cold air that hit our face. We couldn’t just pass this location without clicking pictures.
Beautiful, panoramic and mystical, the reflections of the spectacular mountain range shimmering in the ever-changing blues of the lake’s water, the serenity and tranquility of which leaves you speechless, spellbound. Pangong Tso is one of those rare places that remains etched in the memory forever. The lake, is not just an epitome of beauty, but also has a geopolitical importance as stretched in between India and Tibet (administered by China). But such is the beauty of this lake that you forget the barriers and borders which have it divided.
From there we again drove on stones and boulders to reach Camp, where we were to spend the night. We fell in love with our camps as soon as we saw them. Nestled right on the shores of the lake, this would be ultimate for a night stay at Pangong Tso. You will have several options of similar camps in the vicinity. The camps are made of canvas and the floors are covered with jute carpet to provide warmth. Each camp has an attached bathroom with cold running water. The beds had layered thick blankets – just perfect!
It was hard for us to say good bye to Ladakh but after a week or so in this enchanted land, it was time to catch our flight from Leh City and head back home. Ladakh had left our senses brimming with excitement and awe! While flying thousands of feet above and looking down upon this magical land, each one of us secretly wished to be back only to be left amazed by its unique wilderness.
Pictures: Chinmaya Parija, Satyaprakash Mukherjee