Ladakh as the name aptly suggests is the land of beautiful high mountain passes. It is one of the sparsely populated regions located in Jammu and Kashmir, India. It is emerging as a popular tourist destination in recent years.
In early August 2014, I finally got an opportunity to visit this lovely place. A group of twelve, we started our journey from Mumbai. We took a flight to Srinagar in Jammu and Kashmir, India. After spending an evening in Srinagar, we started our journey to Leh city in Ladakh by road, the next day.
After a quick breakfast, we got into our car. None of us had the slightest idea that this was going to be one of the best road trips ever. A thin morning mist spread over the tranquil city of Srinagar, punctured only by the rumble of the car’s engine. A wild river Jhelum winding her way through the tall pine trees and along the road to Leh looked nothing less than magnificent.
Srinagar to Leh
As we drove on, the lush green slopes of Srinagar gave way to huge, barren mountains with river Drass flowing along the side. After an hour and half from Drass, we reached Kargil (8780 feet). Kargil is famous for the war fought between India and Pakistan in the year 1999 after the latter infiltrated into the Indian territory. A memorial is built by the Indian Army in the memory of the great warriors who lost their lives saving their motherland. We were given a briefing on the war fought in such a treacherous terrain. One can also see some of the peaks captured by Indian Army during the war. This place increased our respect for Indian Army manifold. After about an hour, we reached Mulbekh. We had planned for an overnight stay at Mulbekh and start towards Leh the next day.
The road from Mulbekh to Leh is one of its kind. The winding mountain roads are accompanied by the meandering streams of Drass, Suru, Indus and Zanskar showing off their strengths individually and at times by merging into each other. After several halts for photos and lunch, we finally reached Leh, located at an altitude of 12,000 feet. We had planned for two days stay in Leh.
Leh is like an oasis surrounded on all sides by huge, barren and untamed mountains. One can never imagine an existence of a city in a place like this, with nature displaying her extreme moods within such a short span of time. There is something about this place that makes you instantly fall in love with it. The beautiful monasteries situated in the heart of the mountains decorated with vibrant colored flags bearing the Buddhist prayers fluttering in the wind fills you with immense peace. The beautiful idols depict the different forms of Buddha. The Buddhist chants and the tinkling of the bells outside the monasteries soothes the travel-worn mind and body. The silence and peace of the monasteries coupled with that of the mountains silences the heart, mind and soul. The breathtaking view of the oasis from the monasteries, Leh palace and Shanti Stupa leaves you speechless. It is the simplicity and the rawness of the place that is very appealing and adds to its beauty.
Leh city to Nubra Valley
Next day, we started our journey to Nubra valley (10,000 feet) located at about 175 kms from Leh. The road to Nubra valley passes through one of the highest motorable roads in the world – Khardungla pass. The Khardungla pass is situated at an altitude of 18,300 feet where literally every breath you take counts. The oxygen level in the air is very thin and it is recommended not to spend over 30 minutes here. After having a refreshing ginger black tea with lemon, we started our journey again. The road to Nubra showed us yet another facet of the ever- changing landscape of Ladakh. The barren Moonland occasionally shadowed by the clouds with river Indus flowing adjacent to the road looked astounding.
The valley of Nubra greeted us with beautiful sand dunes, the two humped camels and the Ladakhi kids dragging our feet to slide on a slope of sand. The desert looked pristine golden as the beautiful mountains reflected the colors of the receding sun. Our beautiful guesthouse rested at the feet of these mountains. The sound of the evening Azaan echoed through the valley. The mountains were drenched in the silver of the moonlight and the moon was accompanied by the stars of the constellation of Saggittarius. Never before had I felt so alive. The valley, truely, is one of the most mesmerizing places in Ladakh.
Leh city to Pangong Tso
Our next destination was Pangong Tso, an endorheic lake located at an altitude of 14,270 feet. Since, the direct road connecting Nubra valley to Pangong Tso was not in a good condition, we had to return to Leh and start for Pangong Tso the next day.
By the time, we were on our way to Pangong Tso, we were very well acclimatized with the changing weather, the winding roads, low oxygen content and our driver Nubu’s favourite song that we were humming it without even knowing the lyrics!! Even though we could not understand the lyrics, the music of the song will be forever etched in our memories. It complemented so well with the landscape of Ladakh. The road to Pangong Tso passes through another highest pass called Changla pass located at an altitude of 17,588 feet. It was in a better condition except for some patch close to the pass. There is nothing as welcoming at Changla pass as the ginger black tea with honey. It is like a magic potion which instantly revitalizes the body. After taking a halt of 15 min and multiple rounds of ginger black tea, we started towards Pangong Tso. As the road progresses, the river Shyok runs parallel to it. The Tsangse village lies on the way to the Pangong Tso. The water streams racing along the road with the beautiful wild horses grazing around in the lush green carpet of grass, looked like a perfect shot from a movie. As we proceeded further, the lush green again gave way to the never-ending barren mountains. And then all of a sudden, without any warning, appeared a brilliant speck of electric blue, hidden cleverly in the mountain ranges. All our eyes were eagerly waiting for the lake to materialize and after what seemed like an eternity, the majestic blue Pangong Tso revealed itself in its entirety. We were left awestruck and at loss for words. No amount of words or photos can do justice to the grandeur of Pangong Tso. One only needs to experience the divinity of the lake.
Most of our afternoon and early evening was spent along the lakeside. As always, I love being alone in such places. After spending a considerable amount of time with myself, I joined my friends in clicking photos. As the temperature began to drop, we decided to have an early dinner. After a simple, sumptuous dinner, we were all set for the bonfire. The dark tranquil silhouette of the mountains against the starless sky added to the mystery of the lake. And after several rounds of songs and dances, we decided to call it a night.
Back to Mumbai
Next day we left for Leh as we were to catch a flight to Mumbai the day after. After spending some time at Openhand Café in Leh and going around shopping in the Tibetan market, we returned back to our rooms for packing our stuff.
Finally, with heavy hearts and lot of beautiful memories, we made our way towards the Leh airport promising ourselves that someday we would come back again.
How to reach Leh:
- By air: We can directly fly to Leh from Delhi. The flights from Mumbai to Leh have a halt at Delhi.
- By road: (1) (from Srinagar, Jammu and Kashmir, India) After reaching Srinagar, we can drive along National Highway 1 to reach Leh which is about 435 Kms. Usually, this journey is done over two days. One can halt at Kargil or Mulbekh for a day. (2) (via Manali, Himachal Pradesh, India) After reaching Manali, we can drive via Rohtang pass to Leh which is around 500 Kms. This journey is also done over two days. One can camp at Sarchu which is about 230 Kms from Manali.
Time to visit:
Ladakh is best visited in the months from June to September. The roads are mostly closed in the winters (November to April).
- Srinagar: Hotel Butterfly: http://www.hotelbutterfly.net/
- Mulbekh homestay : Contact Details: :01985 270035
- Leh city: Sia-la Guesthouse: http://www.sialaguesthouse.com/
- Nubra Valley: http://www.hotelstendelnubra.com/
- Pangong Tso: http://www.himalayanwoodencottages.com/
Ladakh is famous for Momos, Thukpa, Kahwa and Butter Tea.