By far the best Odyssey….. Ladakh all the way
Ladakh……had always been on my mind ever since I had read about it on the internet, social media and heard from a few friends about the grandeur of the mountains out there. So, it was on my bucket list….
Catching up with my friend at my place and talking about life, life n life…….. paved way for the brilliant idea….”Let’s do something crazy. Let’s travel to Ladakh!Let’s do it!”
After researching over the weekend on the how to’s and when to’s…. we hit upon a travel agency and they said it’s possible in September and they could arrange with transportation and accommodation for the places that we wanted to visit.
Well, we were excited and finalized in on September….
Meanwhile, I did check with my traveller friend and he suggested that we do the trip ourselves and that he would help us with the plan…..
“Why not! That’s a first…. but we can do it!”- The one thought that stayed on before and throughout the trip…..
So with 3 months to go, we roped in friends who were interested, we started on an exercise routine,we went on with changes in plan and the rise n fall of the number of people continued. Along with feeling jittery about the weather in Ladakh, we were worried about the status of roads, passes and weather. Adding on to our doubts, were the issues of landslides, floods and strikes by the taxi mafia at Ladakh but we held to the plan with the hope that we would make it no matter what happens!
As the months passed and the D-day neared, we were a group of 6 girls all ready to set out for an adventure………
My friend, the master planner helped us with the routing and the various permutation and combination of plans and geared us up with all the do’s and don’ts!
As we were travelling on our own, we took the help of H V Kumar…. the HiVayKing for the route status and accommodation support on the way….
We were all anxious and excited about the journey…..
Day 1: A splendid start and the mad Rush!
Well, the D-day arrived and we had an early flight to Delhi. The airport was crowded at 6:00 AM on a Saturday morning and it took an hour easily to brush through all the checks and we made it just in time for the boarding. Later on landed at Delhi, only to find out that there was a bomb scare at the Bengaluru International Airport and there were other flights which were delayed. Fortunately, there were no untoward incidents as I presume.
Then we met a friend of ours at and started our Delhi metro marathon. On our drive to Janpath, we got a chance to see the Parliament house, the innumerable embassies of various countries and Rajpath- ‘the Republic Day parade road’. We shopped a bit at Janpath market and then caught the Metro to reach another station and went to Select City Mall. We roamed about and shopped again! (Girls and shopping….. never-ending saga!).
We had a bus to Manali to catch that evening and we were extremely late. So the mad rush started with us taking a rickshaw to the nearest metro station and then hopping on to the metro for the quick ride and later driving down to our friend’s place to get the luggage and then back on the road again, now rushing to Himachal Bhavan to catch our bus. Phew, it was hell of a ride but we thoroughly enjoyed every bit of it. Of course! we got on to the bus.
Day 2: Apples-Manali… Quaint Hadimba temple…. Refreshing Mint tea…… Tasty apple-paneer
After an overnight journey, we reached Manali at 9:00 AM and were welcomed by Karamchand ji who was going to help us with the journey to Leh.
Manali is a scenic hill-station in Himachal Pradesh at an altitude of 6700 ft. It is one of the top skiing destinations in India and also referred to as ‘The valley of the Gods’. We were dropped at a guest house surrounded with apple orchards and we were pretty excited. The view from our rooms was just mesmerizing Lush green mountains all around, Solang valley and the quaint town of Manali in the distance.
We freshened up and had a befitting brunch and then set out for a visit around Manali.
First, we went to the 4000 years old Vashisht temple which is named after Rishi Vashisht and the corner of the temple houses the hot springs which is believed to have medicinal value. There is a quaint Rama temple close by as well.
Then we went to the famous Hidimba temple which is around 500 years old and is surrounded by cedar forests. It is a beautiful temple which is built around a cave where Hidimba Devi used to meditate. It has a very picturesque view and is very serene. Later, we strolled in the town market and headed back to our guest house.
Late evening, we went to Karamchandji’s place and were welcomed with the refreshing mint tea and we listened to the Thakurs’ about their life in Manali.
Conversations with people from a different place, always makes me think about life in a new dimension and the warmth, love and their humble nature is something totally different and wonderful.
To quote Karamchand-“Always do what you love, never think about money but relationships that you make on the way; hold them dear and close.”
So after a mind-boggling struggle to get to our guest house 😉 , we had a sumptuous dinner, Rotis with apple paneer and apricot chutney and I must say we feasted on like poor hungry kids. We will never be able to forget Ramu kaka’s tasty food.
Day 3: The deadly pass – Rohtang and chilly Jispa enroute Leh
We said our good-byes to Manali and the wonderful people out there before setting out to Leh.
Our journey through the popular passes started and in no time we had crossed Rohtang( which means a pile of corpses)Pass- It is one of the high mountain passes at around 13000ft and is dangerous because of unpredictable snowstorms and blizzards. Fortunately, it was sunny and we could muster enough courage to get out and click a few pictures. Later, we stopped at Khoksar for a quick lunch of paranthas and rajma chawal.
On the way we came across a bridge with the Chandra river flowing beneath with full force. The view of the mountains on either side of the bridge was breathtaking.
We nestled in the beauty of the view around and hopped back to the car only to stop at Keylong for Chai.
It was getting dark and we decided to stay at Jispa for the night. Jispa is a very small village situated in a valley with Bhaga river running along side it. The weather was pretty cold. After dumping our bags in the home stay we strolled about the banks of the Bhaga river. It was a pleasant sight but we headed back because it was beginning to get very cold. After a quick dinner of dal chawal, we hit the sack.
Day 4: Meandering through breathless passes and the dizzying GATA Loops
We started on early as we had to drive down 350 odd kms. The weather was freezing and we somehow braved on and came across the Baralacha La pass. At a height of 16000 ft, the roads were deserted but the changing terrain from lush green mountains to brown mountains was beautiful. We did have a slight problem with breathlessness so we didn’t spend much time at the pass and hurried down to the valley. After breakfast at a roadside dhaba, we moved on. We came across Sarchu, a heavenly place-because the terrain was splendid and marvellous. The mountains looked like marble paintings and the view was simply amazing. Sarchu has camping tents for travellers and they are oh so beautiful to look at against the backdrop of beautiful mountains.
The next stop was the border point between Himachal Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir. It was a dream come true to get a picture clicked here, as it marked being in two states at the same time!
Well, we headed on and reached the dizzying GATA loops(a total of 21) which were scenic but did give a fitful headache. Once we crossed the loops, we came across 2 consecutive passes Naki La(15547ft) and Lachung La(16616ft), all I could remember was getting out of the car, walking slowly for a quick picture and getting back to the car without uttering a word as it was very windy and I was breathless!
Finally, we hit the plains of Pang, again beautiful and mesmerising. We had lunch in one of the dhaba tents. We were pleased to meet yet another humble person on our journey, Nimmo- the lady who refreshed our souls with awesome food.
We then drove up the mountain and reached the last and the highest pass for the day Tanglang La(17582ft).We were totally breathless but we did follow the same routine of getting the picture. We later hit the road and got to 3000ft-4000ft down. We were then almost nearing our destination, Leh. We caught a glimpse of the Indus river in the brief twilight and after about a couple of hours or so we reached Leh, a high desert city, the capital of Ladakh and our main pit-stop.
Day 5: Acclimatization day and relaxing at Shanti Stupa
We just took the day off resting and acclimatizing. We also prepared for our journey around Ladakh. Later in the evening, we visited the Shanti Stupa, a white domed stupa atop a hill which was constructed as part of a peace pagoda mission. The place gives way to panoramic views of the mountains including the Stok range, Karakoram ranges and the city of Leh. Just sitting in front of the Stupa and looking at the structure alone brings in a sense of calmness to your mind.
The Leh-city can be seen from Shanti Stupa and this is how it looks.
Day 6: Mysterious Magnetic Hill, Lovely Lamayuru and THE HALL of FAME
The next day was our short trip around Leh. Magnetic Hill at 14000ft, is a popular stop as it has a very interesting story behind-the vehicle seems to move ahead on an upward slope even with the ignition switched off! I am not going to explain the mystery behind it…. it is for you to go and check out for yourself! 😉
Our next stop was at Lamayuru claimed to be the Moonland because of the peculiar landscape. Below the rocky mountains, there are mounds or crater like sand structures which are different from the usual rocky mountains and add-on to the mountain scape around which is a beautiful sight.
People say that, it has to be visited on a full moon night as it looks spectacular.
Lamayuru monastery is one of the oldest monasteries and it is beautiful, quaint and there is a sense of calmness floating around the walls. I can still picture the gompa and the silence that I felt which connected me to everything around.
Our next stop was at the Gurudwara Pathar Sahib which is maintained by the Army and it is 25kms from Leh at 12000ft.
Later on in the evening we reached Hall of Fame, which is a war memorial and is a must-see place. It houses artefacts about the wars and stories of our valiant soldiers.
I cannot quite surmise the feeling because I am out of words. All I can say is, I am overwhelmed by the Indian Army and my respect for them has gone infinitely way up and a big thanks to them for the life that we are bestowed.
Day 7: Adventure around Ladakh, scenic and epic Khardung La, Nubra valley
Eventually we started off on our 5-day road trip around Ladakh. Our destination for the day was Turtuk, a small village just before Pakistan.
We were all excited that we were going to the second highest motorable road in the world and we were very impatient to get there. We finally reached the Khardung La point and the place was very scenic with snow-clad mountains around. The weather was cold but it was sunny and we spent around 15-20 mins soaking in the pleasure of being at this epic point and celebrated our achievement or should I say we were soaring high on one of the highest passes! On the way down we were excited to see snow on a few nearby mountains and called for the shutterbug!
Nubra valley is a beautiful high altitude cold desert and lies towards the north-east of Ladakh. Diskit town, which is 100km off Pakistan is the capital of Nubra valley and we stopped to have lunch. We then started off to Turtuk; the way forward is completely deserted yet very scenic and amazing. We finally reached Turtuk and stopped by a bridge across the Indus river. We decided to halt for the night at a home stay up a small hill. The home stay was right in the middle of buck wheat farm and very much in the village. We were welcomed with ‘Juley’ from the passers-by and the children put on a straight glare and smiled at us.
The evening was splendid, thanks to the quizzes on epics Ramayana and Mahabharatha, it turned out to be quite hilarious with all our answers, especially mine. 😉 The topic of discussion moved from fun to religion to philosophy and I must say we had a very great, deep discussion and it turned out to be magical and picture perfect.
We retired for the day after having Rotis and Dal-chawal only to wake up to a bright sunny day.
Day 8: Picturesque Turtuk, Scenic Diskit and dusty dunes of Hundar
We went for a walk in the village. It was surrounded with cottage-like houses, cemented paths, stream flowing by which was sparkling clean and lovely buckwheat farms. It just seemed to be the perfect place.
We returned to the guest house to be welcomed by buckwheat pan cakes and a tasty tangy chutney for breakfast, which was prepared from the plants growing in the garden.
We then got talking with Mr. Khan, the caretaker at the guest house and we spoke about wars, education, culture, winters and Mr Khan answered to all our questions, much to quench our curiosity of the place.
Later we left for Diskit, which is yet another mesmerizing place with beautiful mountains. Diskit monastery is on a hill and the view from there is pretty awesome. We learnt a bit of the idols placed inside and a little story behind that, told by one of the friendly monks. Right across the monastery, a little further down the road is the gigantic Maitreya Buddha which is the Buddha of the future and it is magnificent. As my friend described,’ You have the Buddha sitting and looking over the magnificent mountains and to get lost in that thought with the serenity of the place-it is purely magical.’
In the evening we went to the Hundar sand dunes and had an eventful camel ride on Bactrian camels and we spent our time in the desert as the sun went down.
Day 9: The Serene, Splendid, Spectacular Tso Pangong
The next day was our date with Pangong Lake which is a salt water endorheic lake at 14200ft. It is just mesmerising to see varying hues of the water-from blue to indigo to green to aquamarine to grey and with the backdrop of brown rocky mountains, the view is just simply amazing!
We left Hundar and headed towards Shyok to reach Pangong. After a drive of 4-5 hours we reached THE place.
The feeling was something out of the world adds on to one’s excitement and enthusiasm. After spending a worthwhile time, we headed to Merak for the stay. Travelling by the Pangong lake made the ride all the more EPIC! The weather was extremely cold and I guess way below 0 deg in the night. Zillions of stars gazing right down at you made the day all the more eventful and surreal.
Day 10: Hanle Observatory -Second highest in the world
After a quick breakfast, we headed to Hanle observatory, the second highest in the world. The roads were awesome and we came across plains, farms and flock of sheep everywhere on the way. We got a chance to see wild asses and horses. There were also beautiful grasslands that we came across and Marmots posed for the camera without shying away!
The observatory is on a hill at 14700 ft and we were given a tour by an engineer who explained to us about the functioning and the projects taken up at the observatory and the fact that it is remotely controlled from Bangalore.
The rest of the day we journeyed ahead and our destination was Chumathang, which houses hot springs. Our home stay was near to the hot springs and it was very cosy and comfortable. We were invited to our dear driver’s home for dinner.
We were very excited to meet his family. His parents were very happy to see us and welcomed us with open arms. We were in for a true Ladakhi course.
Butter tea was served at the start, which is made out of tea leaves, yak butter and salt and is a common drink amongst the ladakhis. It was tasty and different in its own way. And then we were offered Skyu which is a local dish of the Ladakhis which has potatoes and wheat flour kneaded dough put along with vegetables.
We had a great time talking about Ladakh, weather, culture of Leh and many other epic stories.
Day 11: Tso Moriri and back to Leh
Our final day around Ladakh was to visit Tso Moriri lake which is another salt water endorheic lake at 14900ft and it is the largest of high altitude lakes in India.
Before leaving Chumathang, we visited the hot springs and they were gushing above from beneath the rocks with full force.
On the way from Chumathang, the connecting bridge to Tsomoriri had a problem and we waited for the army men, our driver and few others to set it right and try to set up a makeshift one. After toiling for about thirty minutes, the makeshift bridge was ready. Hats off to our driver and to the Army men, we had a path laid out in front of us and we were off to our next stop.
We reached Tso Moriri and it was beautiful in every sense, while snow-clad mountains around made it all the more marvellous. It is a wetland reserve and after spending some time we started our journey back to Leh.
Day 12: Hemis, Thikshey, 3 idiots school
The next day we were on a monastery tour , the first one was Hemis. We spent most of the time in the museum and the souvenir shop.
Thikshey was another monastery that we visited and it is very beautiful to look at and the view from the top of the gompa is marvellous as on one side there are rocky mountains and on the other side lies the town in an idyllic setting.
After having a sumptuous lunch, we took a tour at ‘3 idiots’ school called so because of the movie ‘3 idiots’ which was shot at this place. The school is at Shey and locally called as ‘Druk Padmo Karpo School’ and offers education to the kids from remote villages in Ladakh. The school has won many international awards for the environmental design and runs on funds raised internationally.
Day 13: Shopping and Shopping
This was our last day in Leh before we started on our trek to Stok Kangri so we had a lot of shopping to do and one can find many interesting stuffs at the Leh market. We celebrated our last day with sumptuous lunch.
So with that our road trip around Ladakh ended. It was simply amazing a trip- a trip which surpassed our doubts & fear. It was very surreal an experience and fortunately we had a safe and a wonderful journey with no hassles. We made amazing memories on the way be it with the places, people, mountains and of course with us girls!
This trip is on the top of my adventures. Because we dared to do it against many odds!
Thanks to Suhas- the master planner and guide without whom we couldn’t have had the trip that we hoped for; Raja- for providing support and guidance; Col. Priya- For being the awesome host and of course an inspiration; The Gang of Girls-Kesu, Prats, Sonia, Sanu and PD- for being a part of it and making it memorable!
Restaurants: Lamayuru, Bon Appetit, Happy world, Leh Cafe, Mountain view restaurant, Tibetan Kitchen all which can be found in Leh Market road/ Fort Road.
Shopping can be done at Leh market. There are various Tibetan markets put up where one can find trinkets, shawls, buddha idols, diaries etc.
Contact details of our drivers. You can reach out to them if you are planning on a trip to Ladakh. They can be very well trusted and we had a great journey with them.
Karamchand, Manali- 09816611182
Nawang, Leh- 09469263155
The itinerary and other details can be found on my Tripoto page. Here goes the link: http://www.tripoto.com/trip/ladakh-all-the-way-954525