Finally that day comes which I am waiting for so long. I pack my bag pack grab my flight tickets for Mumbai-Delhi- Srinagar. We almost reach to our destination, I left all my worries behind and get excited for my trip to Ladakh. I planned my trip for 10 days
How to reach Ladakh;
By air: You can directly to Leh from Mumbai/Delhi
By road: You can reach by two ways;
- Srinagar – Leh; 450Km approx, On the way to Leh from Srinagar you will pass through Sonmarga- Zoji la- Drass- Kargil and Lamayuru
- Manali – Leh; 480Km approx, people says Manali- Leh highway is more Prettier then Srinagar- Leh highway
But we opted Srinagar- Leh highway. Day one I spend in Srinagar, the day i arrived in Srinagar there was strike and all the shops are closed. We take private cab and reach to Dal lake gate 9, from gate 9 we take shikara to Young Bombay house boat.
House boat attendant give us warm welcome to us and serve Kahwa ( local tea). There are lots of affordable house boats at very low price. In evening we went to Nehru garden and floating market in Shikara. In floating market you can get Shilajit and Kahwa but don't forget to bargain with them because their initial price is very high and after negotiation they will come to half of initial cost. We saw sunset at Dal lake in shikara and next day morning at 6:00am we take local cab from TRC circle for Leh. From 6:00 Am you can get cab for leh or Kargil after every 30 min. Most of cab takes over night halt at Kargil but some cabs of Leh starting from JK10 take you directly to Leh, which usually take 10-12 hrs depending upon traffic and landslide.
The route is far more convenient as far as availability of food and petrol is a concern to you. On the way to Leh from Srinagar we pass through Sonmarg-Zoji la-Drass- Kargil and Lamayuru and reach Leh late night, landscape in the route is awesome. Next day early morning we rent 500cc Bullet bikes which are far more convenient to carry fuel in High Mountain. Don't book bikes online, before taking bikes take test ride and check for brakes, tyres and engine oil.
Pangong Lake; after taking the bikes we went for Pangong lake, we try to make early start for Pangong lake but not able to make it so we reach Lake at late night. Distance of Pangong Lake from Leh is 150 KM but it will take 6-7 hrs to cover this much distance. Terrain to the Pangong lake is so picture perfect that it looks like someone made strokes in the canvas. We do star gazing in the Pangong lake, and take lot of pictures.
You can get homestay and tent near the Pangong lake, but it’s recommended to take tent facing to Pangong lake. We take one such tent from Grand Pangong Lake which cost me around 1000INR. Early morning I wake up at 5:30 AM to see sunrise at Pangong lake, and take lot of picture at different angles J.
Then we went back to Leh, for next two days we visit the nearby area of Leh and monasteries (Lamayaru, Limir, Alchi , Santi stupa and Hemis).. Each monasteries is different form one another with beautiful painting and carving on it. We saw sunset at conjunction of Indus and Zanskar river. If you are interested in Kayaking or river rafting this is ideal place for you, some private owned company conduct rafting and kayaking in the conjunction of two river.
After spending two days in Leh, we went for Nubra valley we halt at Khardungla pass which is highest motorable road in Ladakh region at an height of 5395 Mtr. It is recommended not to stay more than 30 min because air is very thin over there and our is not acclimatize for such height in such a short span. We are lucky enough to see snowfall at that point. After drive for 6-7 hrs we reach Hunder also called as white desert. Where we can find camels with two humps. We stay at home stay and enjoy local food and next day early morning we left for Leh and visit Diskit monastery in the way. It’s an open monastery with huge Buddha Statue which I never seen in my whole life J.
Last days of my trip we spend in Leh to understand the local culture. We visit the local market and do some window shopping. In this way my visits to Leh finish, with a promise that I will come back again.
Roads between Srinagar and Sonmarg are very scenic, gurgling streams, lawned up green grass on either sides of the road, huge intimidating mountains, awesome roads and to top it all a slight drizzle. Sonmarg truly matches its namesake which means "meadow of gold". Also we started to witness snow glaciers high up in the mountains the first sighting for the trip. Just then Zojila pass appeared, our first serious hurdle for the trip. Standing tall at 11,575 ft this was our first high altitude pass to be crossed on bikes. And as expected the road high up to the pass was real bad, having narrow pathway and was downright scary , with bottomless drops. Eventhough this is not as high in altitude as the passes which we had planned to cross such as Khardungla and so on, this really tested our nerves. But slowly and steadily we climbed and crossed it. By now the traffic which was pretty decent had totally thinned out, and we knew that we have entered the gateway to Ladakh, and the landscape around us gave an affirmative nod with greenery gradually thinning out and brown , bald mountains making an appearance. (Reason being Ladakh is in the rain shadow region enclosed between Himalayan Ranges in the south and Karakoram ranges in the North ). We were now in the largest and most sparsely populated district in India.
The shadow of the clouds give an awesome appearance on these brown mountains, an effect amplified when compared to other mountains. After crossing Zojila the roads again became decent and we started to enjoy the unique scenery never having witnessed them earlier in our life times. At one point Prasanna clicked a picture of an army camp and the army guards came running towards us. I sensed trouble, but after checking that we were really tourists we had a nice conversation with them, and one statement by the soldier which I remember is "यह जगह देकने के लिए अच्छा है, लेकिन रहने के लिए बेकार है", signifying the hardship the soldiers have to endure in these remote places. They wished us luck and we moved towards our destination.
|Mighty Zojila Pass|
|First View Of Ladakhi Landscape|
Food at this place was bad , but you cant really expect more, in such remote places. We had planned to visit the Drass war memorial some 7 kms from the town , but after reaching there got to know that it was closed since some Brigadier was paying visit , else the memorial is open till 8pm.
|Drass War Memorial, Bimbit|
|Tiger Hill, Focal Point of 1999 Kargil War|
|Town Of Kargil|
Finally after the tube was replaced we started moving forward. Leh still seemed possible even though it was midday and roads were bad.But as it goes without a mention, the view were simply awesome. The river Indus was accompanying us on the major part of the journey and the view of the valley on either side of the river were breathtaking. But as things started to settle down after the initial hiccup, again we got a puncture in Senthil's bike after crossing Hansikot. We had ensured that the puncture guy had checked the tyre for any sharp materials , but after getting a puncture so soon we were wondering what could be problem. Having no patience of again removing the wheel and checking for puncture we decided to go till Lamayuru and look for puncture shops. But we had one small bump enroute, "Fotula", the highest point on the Srinagar-Leh highway at 13479 ft. But the roads till the top were awesome and it somewhat made matter easier for a bike now running on its rims :P. From Fotula it was all the way downhill till Lamayuru , and by the time we reached the town it was pitch dark.
Went directly to the best hotel in the town which was Hotel Moonland and booked 2 rooms for 800 each. Had a pretty decent traditional Ladakhi/Tibetian buffet filled with Momos, tupka, chowmein etc. But sadly there were no proper mechanics/puncture shop in Lamayuru to check the wheel rim which we were suspecting in the first place. So it was decided that we ship Senthils bike in a pickup truck with all the luggage and other's follow it on bikes.
Day 5: 01 Sept 2011, Lamayuru- Magnetic Hills- Leh (139km)
Just after Lamayuru is a site called moonscape where the surface resembles the surface of the moon. Frankly speaking I saw the entire Ladakh region to resemble moon's surface and not just this one site in particular. There were lot of road blocks on this route thanks to some maintenance work carried out by the BRO (Border roads organization), but the road condition between Lamayuru and Leh are real awesome. You could cruise non-stop. And the beauty of this land is that the views you get in one place is totally different from views you get at a different section of the highway, so the chances of getting "brown mountain fatigue" is less. In short the views offered in Srinagar-Leh highway are completely different from Leh-Manali highway, so it is always preferable to enter via one highway and exit via another, so as to enjoy both routes.
|No:1 in terms of scenic beauty|
Enroute we came across magnetic hills. According to the internet this gives an optical illusion thanks to a horizon lined up differently. But we were not seeing any illusion, after spending a lot of time doing circus on bikes we finally gave up. As we neared to Leh, there were a lot of snow capped peaks in the surroundings, a awesome contrast to the brown colored mountains, surrounding it. Also caught sight of Stok Kangri peak. Soon we were entering the town of Leh and as our pickup truck went to a mechanic others went in search of a hotel. Found a decent budget place, Hotel Shanti Deluxe charging 1.6k for 5 of us in 2 rooms. By this the time was 3 pm and we asked the hotel manager whether we can get Inner line permit (required for places near the Chinese border) today itself and he replied in negative and told he can get the permits the next day if we paid some 1800 for 5 people for 6 days permission, which seemed too much since I read somewhere that it cost 20 bucks /person/day coming to a total of 720 for all the 5 people. So decided to give DC office a visit and to our surprise the DC office was still issuing permits and to our great luck we were issued the last permit for the day at 4 pm. and costing exactly 720 bucks :P. (For details regarding ILP go to bottom of this blog) Those who came after us had to return disappointed.
|A snow capped peak, probably Stok Kangri|
|Shanti Stupa, Leh|
Day 6: 02 Sept 2011, Leh - Khardungla Pass- Diskit - Hundar (131km)
Today was an important day. We were to attempt climbing the mighty Khardungla Pass, the highest motorable road in the world at 18380 ft. Kinda like Mt.Everest for bikes, even though there is Marsimik La at a much higher height, but it is not termed motorable and more of a dirt track. Day started with us leaving Leh town to climb Khardungla and plan was to cross the pass and go and stay in Nubra Valley. But soon enough all our bikes started to struggle to climb this high altitude pass.
And as the altitude increases your mind starts playing moody and in very unexpected ways. You feel a tinge of depression, headache etc, all this because of lack of oxygen (actually its oxygen pressure and not %) at this high altitude , there is less than 50% of oxygen content at Khardungla (at 5602m) when compared to sea level, so you know what we were facing. Soon reached South Pullu till which the roads were good, after this roads become bad till the top and this part of the road we didnt actually enjoy riding both mentally and physically. There were a lot of girls on a cycling expedition from Youth hostel (YHAI), but as expected majority of them were walking and covering the climb than cycling all the way, but still this requires a standing ovation to even think of attempting such a feat.
|Khardungla , Worlds Highest Motorable road, kinda like Mt.Everest for bikes :)|
|Khardung Village at a distance|
While descending the roads were bad till North Pullu, and after that it becomes good. We stopped and had maggi's (a dish most commonly found in these regions) here. After North Pullu you have officially entered Nubra Valley and man there were some breathtaking views along the way. Deep valleys by the river Shyok, and some towns totally covered in greenery against the brown background giving great contrast views. Every 5-10 mins I would stop and take a snap. This is the prime reason why I decided to ride solo else all this routine would make my pillion rider pull out his hair in frustration :D. After Khalsar village there is a 'Y" fork, one going to Diskit and Hunder and another going to Sumur, Panamik and Siachin Base Camp. We took the former and we had plans to stop at Diskit to visit the gompa/monastery , but somehow we missed the entrance and decided to visit the next day on the way back, since all of us were in irritated state thanks to AMS.
|Sand Dunes of Hundar|
After Diskit within a few kms start the famed sand-dunes of Hunder. But this high altitude sand-dunes were totally pale and white in color against the much livelier , red/brown sand of Rajasthan. Went in search for a homestay and found Olgok Home Stay. The owner was a good fella charging 800 bucks for 5 of us. Food was lipsmacking :). After dumping all our luggage we went towards the camel safari, with Bactrian camel found in these parts of the region, a reminder of the Silk route legacy of the yesteryear's which passed right through this region. The double humped camels looked strong and healthy hence I too decided to go for a ride, which I usually avoid in other circumstances. The ride was pretty amusing, but the most painful part was when the camel gets up and sits down. Having a tender part pressed against a hump in an incline is pretty painful :P. After the safari spent some time sitting in the sand dunes and by night fall returned back to our homestay, had dinner and slept like logs.
|Double Humped Bactrian Camels|
Day 7: 03 Sept 2011, Hundar - Diskit - Sumur - Khardungla Pass- Leh (172km)
|Monks In Diskit Gompa|
Finally reached the entrance of this ancient Gompa. There were a lot monks going through their daily morning prayers, chanting them in a very hypnotic fashion I must say. Also surprisingly there was a temple for Goddess Kali, I dint know abt Buddhists worshiping Hindu gods even though there is a lot of similarities between the 2 religions. Spent nearly 2 hrs exploring the gompa , its surroundings and the huge Maitreyi statue. We retraced our steps back to Khalsar and took a deviation towards Sumur. This road goes all the way to Siachin Base Camp, which supports the forward posts on the Siachin Glacier facing both Pakistan and China on 2 sides , but of course they are restricted areas and for civilians like us getting permission is close to impossible.
Entered the village of Sumur and this was cozy little place, surrounded by fields, mountains, trees, rivulets and houses. Decided to visit the Sumur Gompa, which seemed to be much younger than the one at Diskit. There a monk came to talk to us and we came to know that this guy had stayed in Mysore for nearly 4-5 years. We actually found quite a few locals who had been to Mysore for education and probably bcoz of its proximity to Bylakuppe. He chatted with us for quite some time and then it was time to leave.
|Slush Near Kharungla, Was an effort to cross this|
After this incident we were shaken up a bit, but we continued on , but nature had put up one more obstacle in front of us. A roadblock in form of a landslide, thanks to the incessent rains the past 24 hrs. It was actually snowing when we were waiting for the landslide to be cleared, with near freezing temp the limbs were going numb with cold. It was our first high altitude slush-fest, both man and machine getting stuck in nearly 1/2 feet of slush, and finally pushing it to safety which overall took nearly 1 hr of our time. Eventually we reached the Khardungla Pass and I didnt even stop there since Prasanna was already down with AMS. The downhill ride to Leh was quick and eventless and by evening we reached Leh.
|Entrance Gate of Leh|
Day 8: 04 Sept 2011, Leh - Karu -Sakti- Zingrail - Karu - Leh (190km)
Left quite early in the morning in order to reach Pangong Tso lake by late afternoon and we never expected to come back to Leh. The weather didnt seem that favourable with constant drizzling in Leh. We expected a repeat of KhardungLa episode and were quite wary abt it. Around 11 km on the Leh-Manali highway we came across Shey Palace, which looked impressive. Eventhough it was not part of our itinerary we decided to have a look. But sadly on the inside it is quite the opposite of the word 'impressive'. Hence after spending some 20 mins here we moved on. Stopped at Karu for breakfast, a staple diet of aloo parathas and the hotel owner gave us info that it was snowing at ChangLa and a Qualis returned back bcoz of that. Eventhough this made us even more jittery we decided to move on. From Karu we had to leave the Manali road and the beginning itself there is a check post were we have to submit our permits.
|A Beautiful Monastary Enroute|
Day 9: 05 Sept 2011, Leh - Karu - Sakti- Zingril - Changla Pass - Tangste - Pangong Tso Lake(Lukung) (155km)
|Changla Pass, Third Highest in the world|
Left Leh at around 10.30 and since the views were a repetition of the previous day the ride till Zingrail was done in least possible time with minimum possible photo breaks. From Zingrail the roads turn a bit bumpy , but when compared to the roads of Khardungla , these roads are much-much better. Finally reached the top and surprisingly there were no crowd/tourists at the top, unlike the K-top even though this is considered the third highest motorable pass in the world (5360m). Lot of army guys speaking Kannada/Telugu/Tamil were present at the top and they were giving us a lot of "gyaan" on how to cope with high altitudes. Spent close to 15 mins at the top visiting the ChangLa Devi temple in process.
After ChangLa start one of the most scenic roads of Ladakh (which is super awesome considering Ladakh in general is simply mindblowing ), mountain valleys, innumerable rivulets, a thick carpet of soft grass flanking the rivers. And as expected on this route we took a lot of breaks, to enjoy the scenic beauty. We stopped at the town of Tangste for lunch which was pretty decent and moved towards our most revered destination for the entire trip.
|Finally Pongong Tso Lake, My Dream Atlast Came True|
After dumping all our luggage we decided to take a walk on the banks of the lake and it was an awesome experience. A serene one to be precise. After nightfall we returned back to the tents and spent time playing cards and so on. Went very happy to bed considering my dream of 4 years was finally completed :).
Day 10: 06 Sept 2011, Pangong Tso Lake(Lukung) - Tangste- Changla Pass - Karu - Upshi - Rumste (165km)
Just before noon when we had packed all the stuff on the bikes, we decided to ride some distance along the lake towards the village of Spangmik. By now the lake had changed its mood to Aqua Green and a couple of km ride turned to nearly 10 km ride totally. By afternoon we left Lukung after shopping for some souvenirs at Army shop and maggi at Army Canteen. It was time to start the return journey towards home via Manali.
As we started to climb ChangLa, it was Prasanna's bike's turn to give problem . It was now having a tough time climbing up and to make matters worse it had to carry Vineeth on its back :P. So it was decided that Vineeth take lift till the top and we got this within a matter of minutes :). So riding solo Prasanna somehow climbed the pass, and this time we went for free tea offered by the Army for all the tourists who visit this place. Came back to the same mechanic at Karu who had messed up our bike the previous time around (Since we had no other option and bike's condition was not that bad , to ride all the way to Leh). This time around too he cleaned the carburetor (his standard operating procedure :P ) and this somehow made matter a bit better.
From Karu we took the road towards Manali and it was good till Upshi. After that it turns really bad. With a lot of landslides and road cave-in into the river, running alongside the roads. Probably this is the remains of the disaster, Ladakh witnessed the previous year. Reached Rumste and within no time got beds in a home stay for 100 bucks per person. Here 5 of us were to share a room with a Canadian female cyclist , pretty much on a world tour, with an awesome determination. But apart from that what stuck me was her fearless attitude in sharing a room with 5 men who were complete strangers. Slept like a kid after having a very tasty dinner prepared by the home stay lady.
Day 11: 07 Sept 2011,Rumste - TangangLa Pass - Morey Plains - Pang - LachulungLa Pass - Nakeela Pass - Sarchu - Baralachla Pass - Jispa (255km)
|Climbing the Taglangla pass|
|Morey Plains: An Offroading Heaven|
Morey plains is pretty much the highlight of the Leh-Manali route. The other highlights for this day were 4 high altitude passes (TaglangLa, LachulungLa, NakeeLa, BaralachLa) and innumerable water crossings. Just after Morey plains is the Campsite of Pang. We had our brunch in here and soon enough start the climb to LachulungLa pass. The roads were bad again and not as fun to ride as Morey plains. The climb to this pass was eventless and as we started the descend I saw an empty truck taking a sharp right turn and going downhill head-on instead of taking the ghat roads. Observed the truck for some time, and still having an itch for offroading decided to ride this downhill dirt-path after getting an affirmative nod from Senthil who was following me. Yet again this part of downhill riding was equally thrilling with the downhill gradient of almost 45 degrees more than what we had expected :). Somehow everyone reached the bottom of mountain safe and sound and in process saving nearly 5 kms of riding in the not-so-thrilling ghat roads.
But surprisingly the roads at the bottom were bad and awesome at the top which goes against the norm we witnessed at the other passes. But before we could ride all the way towards the top Prasanna caught sight of a single rain cloud and started to convince others to return back to Sarchu to be better safe than sorry. But nevertheless we moved on and later on this became a point to tease him with the title "Prasanna and the Single Rain Cloud" :P. At BaralachLa top was a gorgeous emerald colored lake called Surajtal. By this time Prasanna was literally speeding for the obvious reason stated above and I was the only one to stop at this pass to enjoy the view.
|Downhill ride : we took the path which starts perpendicularly|
After we crossed this pass we witnessed the obvious, we had left behind the Ladakhi landscape and there was greenery in all the direction. A pretty sight after 10 days of witnessing just brown everywhere :). Just before the town of Darcha was a water crossing. Eventhough we had crossed nearly 5 water crossings on this day with good success , at this crossing Prasanna's bike hit a stone and got stuck in middle of water. So we had to literally get into ice cold water and push the bike, totally drenching the shoes in process. From Darcha we moved towards Jispa , our destination for the night. Searched for some accommodation got in form of a homestay. Forgot the name, but the food and stay was good.
|View From Jispa|
Eventhough we had heard horror stories of Rohtang pass, the climb upto the pass was nothing out of place when compared to the other passes we had climbed. But the real picture emerges when we start the descend. Since this side of the pass is on the Rain exposed side it was thickly engulfed in mist and in the beginning the entire picture didnt emerge with us encountering few sections of bad slushy roads, bad but manageable. But soon the slushiness of the road started to increase. What began as a couple of inches of slush had turned to nearly 1 ft at many places. The bike was literally struggling to move forward eventhough we were coming downhill. Surprisingly this was very tiring since pushing the bikes took a toll on us , eventhough this altitude is nothing compared to what we had encountered.
|A Gorgeous falls near Sissu|
|Slush and Mud: A Nightmare for Bikers|
|Me Stuck Up and Helped By the Foreigner- Rohtang Pass-----(Image Courtesy--Karthik MB)|
Day 13: 09 Sept 2011, Manali - Mandi (109km), Mandi-Chandigarh (Taxi)
|Mall Road, Manali|
The high point on this road is the 2.8km long tunnel near Aut which again was an awesome experience, reminding greatly of the 2.5 km Jawahar tunnel we encountered during the start of the trip eventhough the latter one has a single carriage way. We spotted the Gati office just a couple of kms before Mandi and our Biking trip came to a screeching halt. Registered the bikes for courier after providing the necessary documents and decided to hire a taxi till Chandigarh instead of slugging out in public transport. Couple of guys went and booked a taxi in Mandi town and after some time the taxi , a Bolero arrived. But we had a surprise in store for us.
The driver of the cab was the most foul-mouthed and rashest driver I had ever come across. Every other minute our heart would pound with fear seeing the reckless state of driving. By this time I was thinking that I was better off riding 1000 more kms on my bike than ride in this shortcut to hell. Somehow we reached Chandigarh safe and sound , although we had countless no of close calls. The driver took us to a hotel called Rajhans in front of the new ISBT bus stand. The area we were in ie sector 52 sucked big time and so did the hotel. Very bad first experience of Chandigarh in short :(.