In 2011, we watched Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, a movie about three best friends who decide to go on a trip of a lifetime to Spain. The movie was a critical and commercial success and is a personal favourite because it fuelled our wanderlust. We made a pact to go on a trip albeit ZNMD post our graduation in 2013. Two years later, this little dream of ours came true. Four friends were off to a trip to Ladakh!
We travelled from Mumbai to Delhi in a Rajdhani with only three confirmed tickets which meant that two of us had to share a hopeless side lower berth in the 3rd AC compartment. We spent the day chilling in the touristy places of Delhi (read CP) and had a 5:30 am flight the next day to Leh, so we decided to spend the night at the airport.
We were so deliriously excited that we couldn’t sleep in spite of the exhaustion from the train journey. This almost seemed unreal partly because of the amount of convincing that had gone into making this happen.
We took the two hour long Jet Airways flight from Delhi to Leh. Enroute, the pilot asked us to look outside the window. There you could see the Karakoram range and the Himalayas in all their glory. We landed at Kushok Bakula Rinpoche Airport which is one of the highest airports in the world at more than 10,500 ft above mean sea level. The moment we stepped out, we could feel the chill in the air and felt the need to wear our jackets. The Ladakhis, however,seemed unfazed and quite comfortable in merely a t-shirt.
Juley! This is the universal Ladakhi greeting for Hello, goodbye, thank you and everyone seems to use it, be it the locals or the tourists. We made our way to the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) guest house in a pre booked vehicle and were in awe of the surroundings little realising these weren’t half as beautiful as what we were going to witness in the days to come.
Leh is at an altitude of 11,500 ft above MSL, hence it is advisable to take rest the first day to let your body acclimatize to the surroundings. We indulged in some local sightseeing at Leh market in the evening followed by a visit to the Shanti stupa, built with Indo-Japanese collaboration, which offers a stunning view of the city. The dinner at the guest house comprised of piping hot curry and delicious aloo parathas post which we stepped out and could see the night sky covered with a blanket of stars. It was just day one and I wished I could stay there forever!
The next morning we headed out for our river rafting adventure at Nimmu, the confluence of the Indus and Zanskar rivers. You can actually see the stark difference in the colour of the two rivers at this point.
Pumped up, we got into our wetsuits and got into the eight seater raft. Our guide, Raju, was an absolute sweetheart and constantly cheered us to give the much needed enthusiasm to row and so that the raft doesn’t drift into Pakistan or Chinese waters. One hour into the journey, the skies turned grey and it started raining. The deal is that when it rains in regions like these, it turns insanely cold. So, at this point Raju asked us if we want to jump into the river. I don’t know if he was serious about this or not but the next thing we knew, the four of us had actually jumped into the
cold frigid waters. Our fingers had frozen by the time we climbed back onto the raft and rowing became a bigger ordeal than it already was…
Ladakh has the bluest of the blue skies that you will ever see in your life. The drive to Pangong lake was beautiful with the sun kissed mountains and the trees gently swaying in the breeze as our car made way to the Chang-La pass, the gateway to the lake. The Indian army runs a tea point here where everyone who stops is given a hot cuppa herbal tea absolutely free of cost. Gestures like these sure brighten up your day especially when there’s snow all around you.
Pangong-Tso is stunning. The waters are brilliant blue replete with every shade of blue you could possibly imagine. If you visit a little early during the day, you can witness a ripple free lake which looks like a painting. I spent my day lazing next to the banks with Murakami watching the clouds and the mountains cast a perfect reflection on the waters. I think I achieved Zen.
We made our way to Khardung-La, the highest motorable road in the world painstakingly and meticulously constructed by the Border Roads Organisation. With snow on both sides and the road in front of us, it seemed like a passageway to a different world altogether. It is interesting to note the many signs put up by BRO along the roads to warn the drivers about the perils of over-speeding and not obeying traffic rules while driving.
We witnessed the changing topography as we made our way to the Nubra valley. We witnessed the endless expanse of boulders, a roadblock by a herd of sheep and then the sand dunes at Hunder. We stayed there overnight to witness the double humped Bactrian camels the next day. Left behind by the traders during the Silk Route, these camels can only be found in the Nubra valley in India.
There is also a huge statue of the Maitreya Buddha at the Thikse Monastery in Nubra which is a must visit and where you can find some really cool memorabilia as well.
While we’d covered all places that the travel books recommend, we still had a day in hand and decided to explore the city of Leh without consulting books and maps. We made our way to the Leh palace and found it shut, then we climbed down and found ourselves in an artisan gallery. From there, we could see a number of horses going in a particular direction and the next thing we new we were sitting in a stadium watching a polo match while a local explained to us what was going on. We then made our way to random cafes and hogged on Tibetan delicacies like a steaming hot bowl of Thukpa soup and Tingmo bread and momos. We rented bikes from the local shop and went around the city looking for souvenirs and postcards and then finally called it a day at a cafe that served us with the best wood fired pizza one could have possibly made.
The land of the Llamas had been extremely hospitable and brought me closer to nature and at peace with myself. Juley Ladakh, till we meet again. Om Mani Padme Hum.
- Prepaid connections don’t work in Ladakh because of security reasons. So if you would like to stay connected, it is best to take a postpaid number.
- Ladakh promotes eco-tourism and water is precious, thus most public toilets don’t have a flush
- Travel is expensive. It is best to have your own vehicle or book a vehicle in advance for a fixed rate.