Dear readers I continue with my exciting journey of Ladakh from where I left in the first part of Ladakh Diaries.
“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page”
From North Pullu into the Nubra Valley, the road is very well maintained (except a few places where washouts or falling rocks occur). Nubra Valley is a high altitude cold desert, situated in north-western part of Ladakh.There are many villages in the valley Khardong,Khalsar,Sumoor,Diksit, Tiger and Hunder are some of them.We stopped at Khardung for lunch.Two of us opted for Maggie as we wanted to eat something light while the other two opted for Dal rice and mushroom sabzi.
After lunch we proceeded to Diskit which is the capital of Nubra. We visited the Diskit Gompa.Diskit Monastery is the largest and the oldest surviving monastery in Nubra Valley.The Gompa stands atop a hill right above the flood plains of the Shayok River.You can also see the 100 foot high MaitreyaBuddha.
All along the way we could see Yaks grazing on the valley on both sides of the road.We then crossed Sumur village where we spend some time in the market. It was already 5 pm and we had still to see Hunder. So we hurried and on the way we saw some army camps.Army’s presence can be felt here and without the support of the Brave Army, survival for the locals will be very difficult.
“ Find a beautiful place and get lost”
Hunder is also referred to as ‘the desert in the Sky’.The mesmerizing village of Hunder is perched as an oasis surrounded by cold desert and stark Himalayas in NubraValley. Located 150 kilometers North of Leh, Hunder, sitting at an average altitude of 10,000 feet, is a small village where the Shyok River meets Nubra River. Hunder lies on the ancient silk route which was once an important international trade route. Today it is one of the most strategic points as it is located close the Siachen Glacier, the world’s highest battle ground between India and Pakistan.Hunder is most popular for the camel rides in the high altitude cold desert. The camel safaris are done on Bactrian Double-humped Camels which are a reminder of the bygone era of Silk Route trade.
The camels survive in the cold desert temperatures of about -35C. This rare camel is not found anywhere else in the World. The vast stretch of sand dunes between Hunder Village and Diskit is where you can see the Bactrian Camels grazing in the sea-buckthorn forests. It is also where most of the camel rides are offered. The shimmering sand dunes in the twilight was a sight to behold, pause and enjoy !!!.Sunsets are the best time to go on the safari, for the dunes turn golden under the setting Sun.The cost for half an hour ride is Rs 500 and one hour is Rs 900.We were however very tired after a bumpy ride of almost 9 hours and did not have the energy for a camel ride, a decision that I regret today. However we clicked a lot of pictures of this unique animal the baby camels were particularly very cute !!!
We then set out for the last leg of our day’s journey to the Mystique Meadows Camp.On reaching the camp we got a warm welcome with a hot cup of tea and pakoras.
Our tents were luxury tents with attached toilets and hot water.After freshening up, we proceeded for dinner in the dining area of the camp.The menu was good and the food was delicious.To our delight, we spotted the beautiful Magpie which we had been chasing for a photograph but till now were not successful.Here there was no phone connectivity and people back home were worried as they could not contact us.BSNL and other local networks work in Diskit, Hunder,Sumur and other villages but not in the camp site.
We started early on our way back to Leh, with a brief stopover at Khardungla where we climbed up and took some photographs next to the board describing Khardungla.We were more comfortable this time due to having got acclimatized.We reached the hotel around 6 pm and after a cup of tea retired to our rooms to rest We were delighted to spot the Magpie outside our Hotel window but once again were unsuccessful in capturing the bird in our cameras. We came down for an early dinner and didn’t forget to pop our diamox since we had to cross the Chang la the next morning which has an elevation of 17,590ft.
Day 5 :
“The world is yours for the taking“
We started early at 8 am for Pangong after having a hearty breakfast.On the way
We visited the Thiksey monastery.Located around 17 km south of Leh, this beautiful Buddhist monastery is the largest monastery in central Ladakh. This Tibetan Buddhist monastery was set up by the Gelukpa monks. This wonderful Gompa is positioned on rocky hills what gives the monastery an amazing look. The view of the Indus Valley is very beautiful from the top of this gompa. The architectural beauty and location of this monastery is superb. This 12 storied monastery comprises of 10 temples and an assembly hall.
You have to pass the ChanglaPass to go to Pangong.The Chang La is a high mountain pass at an elevation of 5,360 m (17,590ft) above the sea level, located in Ladakh. It is one of the highest mountain roads of the country. The pass, guarded and maintained by the Indian Army (due its proximity to Chinese border), it’s covered with snow throughout the year.
This road is usually open all year round, but it may be closed anytime when the access is not cleared of the fallen snow. The Changla Pass is the main gateway for the Changthang Plateau situated in the Himalayas. The pass is located on the 134 km-long road between the Pangong Lake and Leh. Road closures can be frequent and it is advisable to check before starting for Pangong.The distance of Changla from Leh is about 75 kms and takes about 1 and half hours but we took around 2 hours due to traffic jams on the way and also because of the movement of army convoys.
There are certain precautions necessary while visiting this place due the cold and chill climate and less of oxygen in the air due to the altitude. 15 -20 minutes would be the ideal time one can spend on the Changla pass to enjoy the snow along with the views of the snowcapped mountains as many visitors experience breathlessness. Warm clothing with ears covered and appropriate footwear is a must and it is best to have warm water frequently to bear the extreme cold climate. It is advisable to carry a medical kit containing medicines for high altitude sickness, headaches, nausea etc. as a precautionary measure.This route takes the visitor past the picturesque villages of Shey and Thikse and turns off the Indus valley by the side valley of Chemrey and Sakti..Some of the places to see around Chang La pass are the Pangong lake, Nubra valley, Tso Moriri lake and Hermis Gompa. Though the Changla Pass has extreme cold and chilly winds that can blow you away, the breathtaking views from this region leave any visitor speechless and is a memorable adventure trip.
On the way we spotted Mermuths which mostly follow the cattle and yaks grazing.Mermuths are found in Kargil and Leh.They are mammals cuddly and extremely cute.We were delighted to spot them again and this time we took some photographs.
We also spotted two Magpies and were able to click pictures of the birds.Magpies are birds belonging to the crow family,considered as one of the most intelligent birds in the world, the only non-mammal species able to recognize itself in a mirror test.They are only found in the Leh-Ladakh region of India.
The distance from Changla to Pangong is about 150 kms and about 3 hours drive.The most interesting part of this journey is the route that leads to the lake.We reached the scenic and famed lake Pangong Tso and as we got down from our vehicle,we experienced bone chillingly cold winds.I had disembarked without my cap and had to immediately run back to the vehicle to put on my cap.
The lake is indeed mesmerising,surrounded by snow capped mountains and is also known as Pangong Tso.It is a beautiful endorhetic lake situated in the Himalayas and is 134 km long, extending from India to China. It is situated at a height of 4350 m and is one of the biggest tourist attractions of the area.The beauty and allure of this lake has attracted people from all over the country and beyond. The lake is said to be in the process of being identified as a wetland with international significance under the Ramsar Convention and if everything goes as expected then the Pangong Lake will be the first in South Asia to be a trans-boundary wetland under this convention.
The one factor that makes this Lake so popular is the fact that it keeps changing colours. Situated in the Himalayan range it is approximately 140 km from Leh. The name of the lake Pangong is derived from a Tibetan word Banggong Co that means a narrow and enchanted lake. One third area of the lake presently lies within India and the other two third lies in Tibet controlled by China. The first glance of this alluring lake and its blue waters is enough to leave a lasting impression on your mind. What tourists and explorers love the most here is the narrow stretch of land that goes straight into the lake. This spot has also been a favourite among many photographers. If you are planning to visit Pangong Lake, make sure you do not visit during winters because the whole lake freezes during this season of the year. Also the region has really harsh winters, so it is best avoided during the winter season. The fascinating fact about Pangong Lake is that it has saline water and even then the water freezes and because of this, the lake does not have any kind of vegetation or aquatic life. But again, you do not have to be disappointed, you will be treated to the views of many migratory birds like black necked cranes and seagulls.The Pangong Lake falls on the Sino-Indian Line of Actual Control and to visit this beautiful lake you are required to get Inner Line permission. Also because the Pangong Lake is situated very close to the border, you are allowed to visit only up to a certain area. You can explore the lake till the Spangmik village. Whenever you plan to visit this magical place, make sure you do carry a lot of winter clothes. The climate is cold and after dawn it gets harsher. Do not expect any kind of boating activities here.Visit this place only for its beauty and magnificence. For any kind of adventure, the only option that you get is to camp on the shores of the lake. If you love photography, this place is going to be an absolute delight.
For a gentle reminder, the Pangong Lake has also featured in a Bollywood movie- 3 Idiots. Remember the scene where Kareena Kapoor goes to meet Aamir Khan riding a scooter? That is Pangong Lake and those of you who have watched the movie know that the picturesque beauty of PangongTso or the Pangong Lake is unmatched.
We spent about half an hour and decided to spend some more time in the morning on our return journey.We saw the famed scooter used by kareena kapoor in the movie 3 idiots.you have to shell out 50 bucks to take a picture on the scooter.we also found yaks adorned with bright seats – again you need to shell out 50 bucks for a photograph. We soon reached our camp “Mystiquepangong” which was on the shores of the lake.It was freezing cold !!!After a quick check in, we proceeded to the dining room for a cup of tea.Here the logistics are extremely difficult owing to the nature of the terrain and also the extreme cold weather.Dinner at the camp was good.We had to put on some more layers of warm clothing, woollen socks and gloves. After dinner we cuddled into our blankets and quilts and soon fell asleep.
Morning was a big surprise as it snowed throughout the night and our tents and the surrounding areas were covered with thick snow.Unaware of the hazards that lie ahead we enjoyed the snowfall and took some photographs. It was my long standing wish to see snowfall and this wish was now fulfilled !!!We were thankful that a hot bucket of water was provided to us.Unlike in Nubra valley, hot water plumbing was not possible here.After a quick wash we proceeded to have breakfast and the roads being still open, we decided to move in a group of 3-4 vehicles. The roads were clear but we could not visit the lake as we wanted to reach Leh as soon as possible. At Changla, we had a comfort stop but no washrooms were to be seen and the one we spotted was closed.!!!It Outside the vehicle, it was freezing cold and the snow fall had dipped the temperature further.At about 3 pm we had lunch at Karu Village.We ordered Chinese food and the restaurant being full of tourists, it took quite some time for our order to be served. The food however turned out to be good but the prices were slightly on the higher side.After lunch we resumed our journey back to Leh.
Here we stopped to visit the Shey Palace which is 15 km southeast of Leh and was once the capital of Ladakh but is now all but deserted, the royal family having been forced to abandon it by the Dogras midway through the last century.Only a semi derelict palace, a small Gompa and a profusion of Chortens remain, clustered around a bleached spur of rock that juts into the fertile floor of the Indus valley. The ruins overlook the main highway and can be reached on the frequent minibuses between Leh bus stand and Tikse. Alternatively, one can walk to Shey from Tikse monastery along a windy path that passes through one of Ladakh’s biggest Chorten fields with hundreds of white washed shrines of varying sizes scattered across the surreal desert landscape.One can get extremely dehydrated along the 4-km trek so carry plenty of water and wear a hat.
The palace,a smaller and more dilapidated version of the one in Leh sits astride the ridge below an ancient fort. Crowned by a golden Chorten spire, its pride and joy is the colossal metal Shakyamuni Buddha housed in its ruined split-level temple. Installed in 1633 at the behest of SenggeNamgyal’s son Deldan, the twelve m icon allegedly contains a hoard of precious stone
Entering from a painted ante chamber lined with shelves of ancient manuscripts, and exquisite murals, which have been undergoing extensive restoration.One passes through heavy wooden doors to come face to face with the Buddha’s huge feet, soles pointing upwards. The customary circumambulation leads around the base of the statue through a haze of incense smoke to total darkness.Upstairs, from a balcony surrounding the statue’s torso, one can see the massive Buddha, painted gold with tightly curled blue hair, in better light, and inspect the magnificent paintings of Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, Mahasiddhas and fierce protector deities coating the temple walls. Preserved for centuries by thick soot from butter lamps, these are among the finest in the valley, painted in stunning detail and tinted with gold applied with smooth hair fine brushstrokes.
In July the Metukba festival takes place in the SheyGompa with one day of prayers for the well being of all life in the entire world. Entry ticket is Rs 20 per person.
In all the Gompas we were permitted to take photographs without the flash as the flash fades the colours of the paintings and statues.
Any trip is incomplete without shopping so on our return we headed o the market in Leh where we bought dryfruits and kawa mix.We did not have extra space to carry more as we had to carry a lot of warm clothing.
After an exciting and enriching experience, we headed to our hotel. On reaching the hotel we came to know that many tourists could not visit either Nubra Valley or Pangong as both the passes were closed after heavy snow fall and the hotel staff were in a tizzy to accommodate extra guests.We thanked the almighty and felt blessed as we could complete our trip safely and without any disappointment.We had an early dinner and retired to our rooms as we had an early morning flight to catch.In the hotels and the camps we stayed we had a very comfortable stay with very polite staff ever ready to help .We also observed a new way of tipping where you have to leave the tip in the tip box which is divided amongst all the staff. The next morning, the hotel packed some sandwiches for us.
Rinzim as always was there on time and dropped us to the airport. I observed that there were only two Airlines operating in Leh – Jet airways and GoAir.There are only two counters and the security drill is a bit elaborate.your baggage is checked thrice and you have to collect it and later on identify same,otherwise your checked in baggage will not be loaded into the air craft.Also carry a tab or laptop in your hand baggage otherwise it will have to go in checked in baggage. I experienced it and so sharing it with you.All the Leh flights are in the morning as after 11 am, the Airforce takes over the Airport.Our Flight was in time and we landed in Mumbai at about 12 pm with lots of happy memories and a wonderful experience.I would like to thank the almighty for a safe and uneventful Trip (we were all in the age group of 55-70)
“One day you will wake up and there won’t be any more time
To do things you always wanted to do,
Do it now !”
Here is the recap of the tips which I have already mentioned in my story.
- Carry enough warm clothes – Jackets ,inners ,gloves,woollen socks
- During the stay keep yourself well hydrated.
- First day just rest and take it easy to get acclimatized
- Second day do local sightseeing of Leh so that you would get acclimatized
before you plan to go to Khardungla
- Take precaution take some medicine after consultation with the Doctor for High Altitude Sickness.
- Hire a oxygen cylinder as an precautionary measure.
- Eat light food and don’t consume alcohol during the trip.
- Take enough rest but don’t sleep through out the day.