The first glimpse of majestic Himalayas snow laden peaks was enough to make us jump out of plane with childish joy and happiness but since we were secured by belts we had to keep ourselves seated .Mountains were looking like vanilla ice cream with Chocó chips and we went on clicking pictures on our flight to Leh.
It was my longtime wish to visit Ladakh, the northernmost region of India, and at last it was fulfilled this year in May. I had read about its extreme climate so when kids decided they are not accompanying us I was bit relaxed. So we four friends i.e two blogger couples (me and my husband Shrikant, and Abhijeet sarmandal and his better half Kirty) planned a trip to Ladakh.
When we were about to land, we were told temp outside was -1 deg. compared to 40 deg at Delhi from where we boarded our flight just 1 hr before. It was chilly and windy when we came out of ‘Kushok Bakula Rimpoche airport’ in Leh. Surprisingly there were some people on our flight who were in just T-shirts and ladies in salwar suit. I think they were not properly informed about the weather. Straightaway we went to Hotel "The Ladakh" which was our base for next 6 days.
The first word uttered to us when we landed in Leh was “Juleh” ( pronounced “joo-lay“).You can say juleh when you want to say hello, goodbye, thank you, how are you, nice to meet you and you’re welcome. It really was the ONLY word we learnt while in Leh and the only word we needed! People in Ladakh are incredibly friendly. A smile, a head nod and an exchange of “juleh” are always offered as you walk past anyone in the town.
Having read the travel advisory about the dangers in Jammu and Kashmir, we couldn’t help but wonder if the people of Ladakh would be less friendly because of the hostile environment surrounding them. But we were pleasantly surprised at how sweet, friendly and welcoming the people were! We felt totally safe walking around town .We were always greeted with a “juleh” and a smile everywhere we went. We fell in love with the town because of the people!
Leh is at an altitude of 3524 meters (11,562 ft), and connects to Srinagar on one side and Manali on other via 1D highway. We were told to acclimatize and take rest before starting our tour in Leh due to high altitude. We took rest after reaching hotel, bath was out of question...first time in my life I had experienced minus temperature but luckily it was bright and sunny so we could sit out in sun and enjoy its warmth. By afternoon we all were feeling fresh so decided to take a round of Leh town. First destination was Shanti Stupa.
On reaching there I could feel the calmness and serenity of the place. With white mountains in background and white Stupa before me, I realised why Buddha is messenger of peace. Then next stop was Leh palace. The 17th century building is now in ruins as the royal family has shifted to Stok palace. Leh palace gives a panoramic view of Leh town. While walking after dinner we experienced snow fall. It was very light and soft, infact initially we could not even feel it. As it was our first day and we did not want to get sick, we retreated to our rooms.
Next day, we started for farthest monastery on our itinerary. The Lamayuru monastery built in 10 century , approximately 125 km west of Leh. It is very difficult to maintain buildings in extreme climate of Ladakh, that is why most of them are in ruins, still colors are fast and bright. The atmosphere there still gives a feeling that how these monasteries were buzzing centre of learning.
Then we visited Alchi, Likir, and other monasteries. Each one was different and beautiful. One can see ancient collection of Buddhist writings and variety of Buddha statues. I learned there that Lord Buddha has 1001 incarnations.
On our way back we visited Gurudwara Patthar sahib. The folklore has it that, here Guru Nanak visited Ladakh and one demon tried to kill him by a rock but instead it became soft and had imprint of back of Guru Nanak. We also paid homage to our national heroes, the martyrs of Kargil war. One can find weapons and other belongings collected from Pakistani intruders/soldiers and photos of our brave martyrs.
Third day we set out for most awaited destination. It was to Nubra valley Via Khardungla pass which is at 18300 ft, the highest motorable road in the world. As we were climbing we could feel rarity of oxygen and slight heaviness in chest. It is not allowed to stop for long time at Khardungla Top, as it leads to hypoxia and other altitude related problems. But still those 5-10 minutes are unforgettable in my life. I could imagine how one feels being at top of world. Then we started descending to other side of pass, i.e. towards Nubra valley and I could see myself surrounded by white of snow all around me.
Nubra valley is at the other side of Khardungla pass and is a very broad valley. Some monasteries in this area are almost 1000 years old. I couldn’t imagine how people lived in such difficult conditions. In Nubra valley is a place called Diskit. Close by lies Hunder which is a high altitude desert. Here Bactrian camel are found; it is double hump camel, and one can enjoy camel ride on sand dunes.
Many tour operators offer camp stay in Nubra valley. It was altogether a new experience. Place is extremely serene and quite. It was a one night nature camp. Adventure of staying in near zero temperature in tent was exciting. Night sky was so clear and fascinating and we could spot bright and shining Venus. It looked so close that at first we took it as light on a tower. Its charm filled us with love. We miss these small small happiness in hustle bustle and pollution of city life.
Next morning we again set course for journey to Leh and reached back by evening.
5th day was the day I was waiting throughout my trip. We had planned to visit Pangong Tso. The Pangong Tso lake is a saltwater lake at an altitude of about 4300 m above sea level. To reach there you have to cross 3rd highest motorable road in the world crossing Chang La pass. While crossing both passes i.e Khardungla and Chang la as our novice driver could not handle the skidding vehicle in the sleet on the road, our friend and Himalayan car rally winner Abhijeet Sarmandal could not resist himself and took the reins of car in his hands. The triumphant look on his face after driving on this hard and risky terrain was pleasure to look at. Here I experienced another new thing; the use of chain on the wheels to avoid skidding.
Pangong-Tso lake lies in Tibet and is about 5 Km at widest point. It is almost 5 hrs drive from Leh and takes you through most scenic landscapes of Ladakh. Beauty of this Turquoise blue lake cannot be described in words. One has to see it to believe it. After first glimpse I was speechless and taken aback by its heavenly beauty. Shades of blue keep on changing as you change your direction and sun light. The shades change from green to light blue to deep blue to purple. I felt oneness with nature and felt so humble being here.I felt myself at peace and in deep love with everything surrounding me. Last scene of ‘3 Idiots’ movie is shot here and now one can find a makeshift restaurant named ‘3 idiots’ there. But all good things come to an end and we too had to leave as weather is unpredictable after 3 pm and we wanted to cross Chang-la pass before evening.
Still while coming back we got struck in snow slide from mountains and had to halt for 2 hrs in extreme temp. One car coming from other direction got stuck between two such snow slides and thanks to our Army on top of the pass, they were rescued and the road was cleared with the help of a track dozer.
Last day In Leh was kept for local shopping and leisure. But our Good luck it was Buddha Poornima on that day and it is a state festival. So we got glimpses of traditional dances, traditional dresses and their culture in a function organized by state government at polo ground.
7th day we took flight back to Delhi with lots of unforgettable memories of Ladakh.
I cannot think of any place on earth that can be more breathtaking, challenging and fascinating than Ladakh. There is beauty in its barrenness. The colours are stark. The Indus River beckons you, curving along the path, taking you to the lands forgotten. Clothed in snow, the mountains encircle you as you climb the steps to monasteries perched precariously on cliffs. Watch the lakes change colour every minute as you drive through the land of high passes, and feel humbled in the barren landscape. My favourite is Pangong Tso. If you are up to it, cycle or hike up to Khardung La or lose yourself in the colours of the Nubra Valley.
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