Posts Tagged ‘ ladakh ’

solo trip to Ladakh – random thoughts

1. the funniest signs in Ladakh are the road signs dissuading speeding. i didn’t take pictures because i would have been stopping the driver every few hundred metres! but they were hilarious. i can only imagine what a job it must be for the copywriter. anyone want to apply? i did note them down though:

  • “love thy neighbour, but not while driving” in the middle of nowhere, on a kuccha road, leading towards the nubra valley sand dunes, yes i can see that the urge would strike!
  • “be Mr Late than late Mr” clever punning designed to cause accidents as the driver tries to figure out what it says
  • “if married, divorce speed” creative
  • “don’t drive and drunk” a test! if you are sober, you will spot the grammatical error
  • “धीरे चलाओ, प्राकृतिक सौंदर्य का आनंद उठाओ”
    & “lower your gear, curve is near” yes, rhyming works
  • “be gentle on my curves” ok now the writer is fantasising!
  • “if you overtake, you will undertake” really scared now!
  • “darling, i love you, but not so fast” really getting into the groove
  • “traffic jam, yellow tape, parent crying” painted on a rock, an inexplicable haiku
  • “don’t be a gama in the land of the lama” vasco de gama?

2. the people are amazingly friendly and warm, not cynical or judgemental, and hat was refreshing. i was a little apprehensive about going alone as a woman, but i had no problems whatsoever. the people were nice and the family in the Leh guesthouse especially, took really good care of me. their friendly greeting of julley! covers everything from hello to goodbye, good morning to good night. the black tea with herbs was the best thing for winter.

3. the altitude creates a record out of everything : world’s highest tennis court (in Leh), world’s highest airfield (Leh), of course, top 3 highest motorable roads in the world, unfortunately also the world’s highest battlefield. having been to Ladakh during the slowing down of winter, i can’t imagine what the army goes through at Siachen and all over Ladakh. i don’t think anyone can gauge the extremely tough physical conditions & even a small experience made me realise that patrolling everyday in the peak of winters when temperatures drop to as low as -30 is a challenge beyond most of us. am not getting into the political angle of whether the army presence is justified or not, just the fact that they are there, 365 days of the year.

4. some of the things i missed out and will do on the next trip:

  • a trip to Dah-Hanu – towards the Kargil border, this is a tribe of Aryans, different in look from the rest of the Ladakhis
  • any of the treks off Lamayuru & the Luang La further down from Lamayuru- there are several that one can do in summer and definitely would be worth it & the Luang La even beyond lamayuru is supposed to be a beautiful drive
  • if i was into mountain climbing, then climbing Stok Kangri – its 20,000 feet but i think the max altitude for trekking is around 17, 000 feet
  • spending more time even in Leh, just walking around and doing nothing in particular… it’s a lovely environment
  • go back in summer so i can even stay out at night and watch the stars, this time it got a little too cold to manage

5. i am so glad i got to do this trip, after planning it for 4 years and i do intend to go back again in a few years. so… why exactly do people go to Switzerland?! see Ladakh to believe its beauty.

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solo trip to Ladakh – Pangong Lake

after the hectic trip to Nubra Valley and back to Leh, we left the next morning for Pangong Tso – a lake that’s 130 kms long, 75% of which is in Tibet, just 25% within the Indian border. we were excited about this too as we had heard the entire lake was frozen. its supposed to have seven beautiful colours in summer and all the photos i have seen show the amazing blue. so seeing it frozen would be some experience!
Pangong is in a completely different direction from Nubra & can be done as a day trip from Leh – though that’s quite hectic. its a 6 hour trip one way and we had to leave really early. we would have stayed at Pangong overnight if there were places open. but most of them are camping grounds and the other places are not open yet. the trip to Pangong took us through Chang La, the 3rd highest pass at 17,800 ft. descending from Chang La, the road runs next to a river that was completely frozen but still looked like it was in motion. in fact it had spilled over onto the road and frozen right there. eventually we saw in the distance, a whitish patch surrounded by mountains. it was the frozen lake! we were at one end, and as far as the eye could see, it was frozen. in the distance, lay the Tibetan mountains. we walked on the lake for a while, with no fear of it the ice cracking, it was that solid. for me, this is the one of the most memorable parts of the trip. (of course, its intrinsically linked with the memory of how badly i wanted to pee since we had driven out from Leh early morning, reached here past noon, with no loo in sight! even the loos are shut in off season).

we headed toward Spangmik village, the last village tourists can visit before the China border, which is another 60 kkms away, locals can go all the way. the village looked quite charming, situated as it is on the edge of the lake.

we headed back from here to Tangtse Valley and Tangtse village. as we headed away from Pangong, there were some funny signs, a good insight into consumer behaviour tho “you have left the famous Pangong souvenir shop “x” kms behind” right from 1 to around 10 kms away. Tangtse houses the Tangtse Metro, and of course, given all the newspaper reports in Bombay and Delhi, for a minute i thought of trains! but it turned out to be a cinema theatre for the army. it could be the world’s highest movie hall. they run movies here when they have 30 people. it also houses a bakery that’s guarded more than the theatre!

i also had the best soup ever in Tangtse Village at a local joint – a spicy concoction with pasta pieces. it was just the right thing to combat the cold, and i wish i had taken down the recipe because it was mouth watering. i still remember the soup.
back through Chang La to Leh, we were tired but loving every minute of the journey. Ladakh has a hypnotic effect, and i could have looked at the mountains for hours, at their fascinating colours and almost pristine beauty.

solo trip to ladakh – Nubra Valley

Erik, Shozeb and I set off on our 2 day trip to the Nubra Valley early the next morning – around 7 am. Nubra means green and its a very fertile valley. it was to be a 4-5 hour drive going all the way up to Khardung La- the highest motorable road in the world – then down to the Valley. we were all excited about it. you need a permit to go to most places from Leh, there are a couple of checkpoints along the way. Erik’s permit showed him traveling with 1 swedish person and 2 canadians! i guess they don’t read these things too closely. the permits are organised by the taxi guys.
i had heard so much about Khardung La that i couldn’t wait to get there. we set off driving up a mountain, quite slowly as the narrow road encircling the mountain began to get lined with snow. what makes this journey treacherous in winter is that the snow makes the tires slip. most of traffic at this time consisted of trucks, regular and plenty of army ones. it was good we left early or we would have been stuck behind lots of traffic as most of the trucks begin to slip and cannot cover the incline easily. despite that, we had our fair share of stopping as vehicles kept stalling along the way. our own vehicle swung 40 degrees to the left i.e. the edge of the road at one point due to the slush and since i was sitting in front, it was scary! chains on tires are a must. throughout the climb, we could feel the air getting thinner and the temperature dropping. the bends are all hairpin but thankfully traffic flows one way on one day and the opposite way on the next.

ultimately we reached the top! from 11,000 feet (Leh) to 18,380 feet, Khardung La (La means pass) is snow covered and the temperature that morning must have been zero or just below zero! even i couldn’t resist having a glass of hot chai – that’s all one get there in an army run canteen. the souvenir shop + museum (yes, there was a shed with a sign) was closed since it was off season. i did envy the army guys their snow boots, cos i slipped and fell flat on my butt at one point. after spending 10 odd minutes there (since its basically a pass, there isn’t anything to do there), we began the descent to head to the valley.

the landscape changed, and soon we were out of the snow, heading towards the valley just below, passing along the shyok river. we stopped at khalsar village for lunch – a small village surrounded by mountains. driving down into the valley, we were now on a huge river bed that had dried up many many years ago.

the river does flow, but not as wide as the bed is. there are actually 2 rivers, Nubra and Shyok. and soon enough, there we were, at the sand dunes! yes, Nubra Valley has sand dunes, and double humped camels – though we didn’t see any at the time. the mini desert has camel safaris in summer. it was quite a view, snow capped mountains around and the wide expanse of the valley with the sand dunes & seabuck thorn bushes. if it wasn’t for the snowy mountains, you could believe you were in Rajasthan.
from here we headed to our stay for the night, Hotel Yarob Tso in Tiggur village in Nubra Valley. highly recommended, its a lovely place, the family lives in an extension of the guest house and we had dinner and breakfast the next morning in their beautiful living room.

before heading Yarob Tso though, we stopped off at the Deskit monastery – the oldest & largest in this area – built in 1420 AD. we also headed to Panamik, near Tiggur, for the hot water springs. they have 2 bathing rooms into which the hot water has been channeled. the 2 ‘boys’ headed off for their natural water shower. i didn’t do this, i know the water is hot, but its still very cold outside! we even walked over the hill to see the other side of the hot water spring, where its much hotter and according to Rigzin, one can boil eggs in that water.

after heading back to the hotel, Shozeb and I went for a walk, Erik was in his room meditating (yes, he has learnt it). we tried unsuccessfully to find a) a bottle of mineral water b) a packet of Lays. most of the smaller towns and villages don’t stock mineral water in winter as the water freezes and the bottle bursts.

we all stayed up late, chatting about everything from Dalrymple to Tibet to scientific research (Shozeb is a doctor involved in cancer research in England, Erik is a) a tree planter b) he works in parks c) he also works in a cemetery – all in Canada, his home). it was quite refreshing, especially since both of them had very different points of view.
the next morning, we set off at 6 am to see a monastery that Shozeb had spotted – Shozeb is also writing a book on monasteries so he is really interested in seeing them all and taking tons of photos. this particular monastery in Charasa village has almost been abandoned. its situated on a rock across the river bed, and in several places the river is frozen but in the places where its flowing, the locals have constructed make shift bridges made of twigs. and they begin to shake as soon as you step on them, its quite a balancing act! i needed
help from the locals both to and fro as the swaying got to me. while the water isn’t that deep, its extremely cold and i didn’t fancy death by hypothermia.
the monastery itself had an old world charm, and like the older monasteries, it blended with its surroundings as it was predominantly beige and white. the newer ones shout out yellow and red and don’t quite have the same charm. driving back through charasa village, i also took what i thought was the best photo of the entire trip, a villager out with his herd in the morning, the animals kicking up dust and catching the sun rays.

from there it was back to Leh, via Khardungla. more trucks stalling and slipping, some needing to be pushed, and eventually we arrived back safely. the driver was extremely calm through all the winding roads and the slipping tyres, must say we were lucky to have him.

solo trip to Ladakh – Lamayuru and Alchi

the next day, i went on a trip out – to see 2 old monasteries, lamayuru and alchi. it took around 3-4 hours to reach lamayuru, and along the way the views were spectacular. the indus river, the zanskar river, the meeting point of both, numerous mountains along the way in different hues on their rock composition… from purple to green to brown, it was amazing how the colours changed. passed numerous villages along the way, nimmo, khaltsi…

the lamayuru monastery is from the 11th century and is located on the steep & rocky side of a mountain. it has beautiful wall paintings and the view from the roof is also lovely.

went to lunch to a local place at khaltsi… you basically get tons of rice with basic veggies and dal. the only problem i encountered was that there was no loo for miles! finally had no choice but to go to a local one by the side of the road, its just a shed with hole on the floor, rocks below! i think everyone from people to animals had been there! if you have any illusions about finding comfy toilets, lose the thought. it’ll be great to just find a loo in the first place!


the one with the open door – that’s for the ladies.

after lamayuru, it was time for alchi and this remained my favourite monastery overall. built in 1000 ad, its a protected heritage site. its a beautiful monastery, predominantly white, with low doorways, takes you back to another era. i saw some of the most beautiful wall paintings here, but no photography allowed inside the prayer rooms here, because of how old and precious the paintings are.

solo trip to Ladakh – Leh and beyond

the flight to Leh is spectacular as the plane flies through the mountains and onto the runway. the announcement “बाहर का तापमान २ डिग्री सल्सिउस है” (it was around 930am) was enough to bring out the cap, scarf and sweatshirt. was received at the airport by Rigzin, the driver + guide for the rest of the trip. my main contact here was a person called Dawa Jora. he organised everything. i was to stay at Mahey Guesthouse, which turned out to be run by his in-laws. its a basic guesthouse and the family lives right next to it. my room had a lovely view of snow covered mountains, one of which i know was Stok kangri.

i discovered then that there was no running water! there was a bucket of water in the bathroom, ice cold. since it was winter, most places didn’t have that since the water would freeze in the pipes. but the family was really nice and they gave me a bucket of hot water whenever needed.

didn’t do anything on the first day, had been advised by lots of people to give myself 1-2 days to acclimatise to the high altitude. in fact i caught up on the much needed sleep that day given my air travel annoyance. but i didn’t have any effects due to the altitude, no headaches, no nausea, no neck pain, nothing at all. i didn’t feel any different. that was great because i had heard numerous horror stories of people not being able to adjust to the altitude.

the first day evening, someone knocked on my door. it was my neighbour at the guest house – Erik, we were the only 2 people there! Erik is Canadian and he had with him Shozeb, an Indian from England, whom he had met on the flight in. both of them had come in a day before me. they asked if we could do some of the trips together – to Nubra Valley and Pangong Lake. it would definitely save us a lot of money as taxis are the main mode of transport and both the areas were far away. they both seemed like nice guys, and i didn’t mind meeting new people! so i said yes. they asked me if i wanted to go with them to one of the monasteries in Leh the next day at 6 am. but i was still adjusting to the cold so i decided against it. went back into the room, got some lovely home cooked food, sat next to the gas heater and enjoyed the whole experience.

the next day i went to some monasteries around Leh. they are all so quiet, peaceful and largely simple, nothing ostentatious about them… and the soothing colours, maroon, beige, made me want to spend more time in each one. i especially liked Thikse and Hemis. Hemis is located away from Leh and nestled in the mountains. its a very beautiful place and the drive is lovely.

i followed this up in the eve with a visit to the Leh palace and the Shanti Stupa. i bought myself a winter jacket before that! because despite the layers, i didn’t have anything really warm. its a good thing that i did because Shanti Stupa is at a height and its extremely windy and cold there. the stupa itself is primarily white in colour and has some beautiful wall paintings. it overlooks most of Leh.

so quite an eventful day for me, headed home in the evening looking forward to another home cooked meal. Erik asked me if i wanted to accompany him to the market to meet Shozeb for dinner, but i didn’t feel like walking in the cold.

solo trip to Ladakh – the beginning

been almost 2 months since i posted anything… was drowning in work, as always, until i took a week off and went to Ladakh on a solo trip. was the best decision i ever made! have been thinking about going there for about 4 years, and every year as i missed the ‘season’ of jul/ aug, i thought to myself, oh well, next year. somehow it never seemed to happen. almost didn’t, even for this trip. i wanted to go to Bhutan, but all tickets were booked when i wanted to go.

tried Lakshadweep, again, ticket issues plus the fares were really expensive. thought of Cambodia, but by that time, the date i was to go on leave was approaching so it seemed doubtful i would manage all the paperwork. then someone suggested i should go to ladakh. since its still winter there, arranging the trip wasn’t a problem. so 5 days before i was to go on leave, i booked myself on the flights – first to Delhi and from there to Leh. (what has surprised me since i came back is the number of people asking – oh, Leh has an airport?!!)

i knew it was still winter and i should carry enough warm clothing. living in mumbai, its obvious i would be under equipped! so i stopped off in Delhi at my friend anku’s – she lent me her sweatshirt to add as an extra layer, thank god for that! it therefore played a starring role in several photos! of course the trip to Delhi itself was not uneventful. after boarding the flight on time, listening to yana and all yada, we sat on the runway for almost an hour until they announced that the AC wasn’t working (no kidding, we could figure that out ourselves) and we had to deplane and get on a new one.

needless to say, by my usual luck, i had a snoring man and a wailing baby very close to me to ensure i don’t get too comfortable. by the time i got to anku’s it was 8 hours since i had left home and i was exhausted. the Leh flight was early morning so i didn’t get much sleep at all. not exactly the way to head to a holiday! but nothing could take away from my excitement at finally going to a place i have only thought about for so long.

for all you ignorant ones, let me tell you that Ladakh is part of Jammu & Kashmir and shares its border with China or should i say Tibet. the Vodafone call centre chap, when asked if Vodafone network was available there, asked, ” is Ladakh in Nepal?”

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