Leh and Ladakh

Leh and Ladakh

Article dated - August 2005

Disclaimer

#The word "spectacular" and "stunning" will make appearances in my post with as much frequency as "amen" in the Bible. Please excuse.
#The distances are mostly accurate, plus or minus 1/2 km. here and there.
#The post reflects my personal preferences and perceptions. If they don't agree with you, please excuse.
#All money estimates are in Rupees. No apologies.
#All accounts are subject to - a. It applies for the months of Jun to August. b. I am Indian. If there are places which quote higher prices for foreigners, I wouldn't know.

My road map

Day One - 9 Aug - Chandigarh to Shimla - Total: 110km
Chandigarh to Panchkula - 12km, Panchkula to Kasauli - 36km,
Kasauli to Solan - 29km, Solan to Shimla - 33 km.

Shimla is charming. There is no other word for it. We arrived late,
fog shrouded mall was beautiful. There are hill stations and there are hill stations, and most of them are the same anyways, but Shimla has that something special and heartwarming with it's mall and christmas trees and colonial hangover.

Day Two - 10 Aug – Shimla to Manali - Total: 277km.
Shimla to Bilaspur - 81km, Bilaspur to Mandi - 86km, Mandi to Aut - 41km, Aut to Kullu - 29km, Kullu to Manali - 40km.

Give in to the temptation of stealing apples from the trees
and digging your teeth into them. Buying Kullu Shwals and Kullu caps are a must. More important - Apple wine, peach wine, Orange wine, and all other conceivable wines made by the local industry. (Unfortunately HMPC is not that hot. Try other brands) Try and find a spot where you can treck down to the Beas and dip your feet for a bit.

Day Three - 11 Aug – Manali to Sarchu - Total : 226km
Manali to Rohtang - 60km, Rohtang to Keylang - 52km,
Keylang to Baralacha La - 82km, Baralacha La to Sarchu - 32km.

If you are going in June / July / Aug - there is no need to hire overcoats and snow boots and all that jazz. (Thankfully I didn't, but a lot of murgas did) Please! End of Myth one: It is not cold there this time of the year. There is always some amount of snow, but trust me, it's not cold. The mountains are beautiful. "Simply" enjoy.

 

Day Four - 12 Aug – Sarchu to Leh - Total : 171 km.
Sarchu to Tanglang La - 62km, Tanglang la to Rumtse - 29km, Rumtse to Upshi - 31km, Upshi to Karu - 13 km, Karu to Thikse - 17 km, Thikse to Leh - 19 km.

Spectacular! There is no other word for it. The greens disappear totally and desert crawls in. The mountains are stoned, most of the drivers in that region are stoned, and in case you are not, just pray frantically that the driver doesn't fly off the cliff at the next bend. But more often than not you will be too distracted by the beauty around you to worry about your life.

Day Five – 13 Aug - Leh to Lamyuru & back – Total both ways: 200 km
Leh to Saspol - 55km, Saspol to Lamyuru - 45km & back to Leh.

Another spectacular drive. Zanskar meets Indus. At one point the mountain is split and the two cliff sides are so close together, light barely manages to reach the ground. Totally fascinating. I thought moonscape was a little hyped, but everyone in my car ooohed and aahed so I guess, it's good. But the landscape is stunning. It does feel like you could be on a different planet.
Lamyuru monastry is beautiful. You can fit in Alchi and Likir into a day trip along with Lamyuru. Do not forget to pluck peaches from the trees this time. Trees laden with peaches and the most beautiful apple cheeked kids looking up to you and smiling. Out of this world.

Day Six - 14 Aug – Leh to Nubra & back – Total both ways: 260 km (approx)
Leh to Khardung La - 50km (approx), Khardung La to Hunder - 80km (approx), & back to Leh.

Double humped camels in Diskit won over the hot spring of Panamik. Wrong choice. There are a total of four sad looking undernourished camels waiting to be pictured by all tourists making a 120 km trip just to see them. The landscape is just as spectacular as the rest of Ladakh, nothing out of the ordinary except... At one point you come across nature's freak. There is desert, not just barren rock face, but actual sand (stone chips mixed with river silt) just beside the stretch of sand runs the river Shyok?? On the other bank is green pasture ground, beyond which are rock faced mountains capped with snow. So in one frame, you have it all, sand dunes, river, grassland, and snow peaked mountains. Amazing. Don't forget to take pictures at Khardungla. And buy keychains and penstands with "highest motorable road in the world" written on them for all family and friends.

Day Seven - 15 Aug - Leh to Pangong & back- Total both ways:260km (approx)
Leh to Thikse - 19km, Thikse to Karu - 17km, Karu to Pangong - 100km (approx) & back to Leh.

Pangong has been much talked about and all of it is true. It is beautiful. Endless aquamarine in the middle of a golden mountain desert. Spectacular. Only the "endless" bit doesn't really hit you. You just know that it so bloody long and goes into China, you can even see Chinese peaks from there, but the enormity of it doesn't hit you. It could have been a reservoir and you wouldn't have known the difference. But all said, stunning.

Day Eight - 16 Aug - Leh to Sarchu – Total: 170 km
Leh to Upshi – 50 km, Upshi to Tanglang La - 60,
Tanglang La to Sarchu - 60.

Bidding goodbye to all. The highest motorable road in the world, some of the highest passes in the world, the most beautiful women in the world, the most adorable children in the world, the amazing dedication of Border Roads Organization, and the Indian Army, some of the most hilarious road signs, peach laden trees, stoned drivers and most of all the most spectacular mountains in the whole wide world.

Day Nine - 17 Aug – Sarchu to Manali - Total: 226km.
Sarchu to Keylang - 114km, Keylang to Manali - 112km.

No, More Plains has not shrunk in width from the time you saw it last. No, Himachal has not suddenly grown extra trees and grass and become greener in the time you were away.

Day Ten - 18 Aug – Manali to Chandigarh – Total 330 km.

It's a lost cause now. Anything below 10,000 feet cannot be considered a mountain anymore. They are hillocks for kids. Oh, look at that little waterfall falling into the Beas. Whatever! Did we reach Chandigarh yet?

Warnings

Steer clear of presumptuous advise givers.
"You will feel sick at such a high altitude" - Not true. Well, as true as "Don't cross the road, you will be run over by a car!"
"You cannot drive 300 kms of mountain roads in a day" - Not true
"Have garlic. It helps with altitude sickness" - Maybe true but you don't want to burp garlic all day. Trust me on this one.
"On your way from Chandigarh to Shimla - see Pinjore gardens and Timber Trails" - ?? If I am going to Leh, What makes you think I will be interested in Rope ways and Rose gardens? Give me a break!
"It is freezing. Prepare for sub Zero temperatures" - Anytime between May to August - Not true. I didn't even wear a woolen most of the time I was there.
I am not asking you not to carry woolens. Weather is unpredictable. But on an average, It's like winter in Calcutta.
"Local Leh tea (pink and buttered) is delicious." Yeah, sure, over my dead body.

 

Suggestions for High Altitude preparedness.

My father in law is 65 years old. My mother in law is 58 years old. My hubby is 34. I am 30, overweight, have a narrow wind pipe, I choke even if I laugh too hard, I pant like a dying dog after climbing a flight of stairs. I am, in short, extremely unfit. NOTHING HAPPENED TO ME EVEN AT 18380 FEET! What affected me during the trip much more than altitude was overpowering diesel fumes. That's something I have been averse to since childhood. You don't have a choice, though. Most vehicles there are diesel run.

Anyway, so moral of the story, don't worry. You are definitely not going to die of breathlessness up there. There are however a few simple things that you should take care of. 1. Don't go gallivanting around the place. Take it easy. Try and minimize your movements. 2. Don't eat too much. Don't eat at all, if you are not hungry. 3. Drink lots of water. 4. Keep sucking on candies to prevent your throat and lips from drying up. 5. Breath softly and easily with your mouth open.

IF you DO feel breathless at any time, wash your face, drink water, and sit still for a few minutes. You will be as good as new.

Must Carry on this road trip.
(the operative word in this region is "DRY")

1. Sunblock - heavy duty
2. Moisturiser - heavy duty
3. Shampoo & conditioner
4. Camera
5. half the clothes you planned
6. double the money you've budgeted
7. common medication
8. water and candies
9. shades and a hat
10. a positive attitude

 

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