Ladakh a different world in itself – a painting on canvas by God
“Traveling – it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller.” – Ibn Battuta
Probably all adventure travellers are like Abu Abdullah Muhammad Ibn Battuta (1304 – 1369), who was a Moroccan Muslim scholar and traveller. He is known for his traveling and going on excursions called the Rihla. His journeys lasted for a period of almost thirty years.
Travelling now (in present context) is much easier, accessible, affordable because of better roads infrastructure, sturdy automobiles, reachable staying accommodations, rising economic power of middle class, etc in India.
Visiting any range of Himalayas is always safe to be in the month of June as it is Pre monsoon period, some how in our case we got delayed, towards the end of June, 2017.Pre extensive research of an area you are visiting, I think, is the most mandatory itinerary to carry out before embarking on to your actual journey other than booking your Hotels, Travel requirements etc.
We commenced our travel to Ladakh region, a place hitherto not ventured by mea & kids, fortunately wife had been there but long back when condition of roads leading to Leh were in deplorable condition.However, it is must for all JKites (if not all) to cover it once in a life time. Probably the new coined saying could be – “JineyLadakh nee vekhyaunney J&K nee Dekhya”
For an adventurer, travelling to Leh Ladakh is not complete unless you cross Zojila Pass, means path of blizzards, at an altitude of 13500 feets, its craggy Terrain, oozing out at several places with either slushy mud or pebbles with waterflowing through, with almost single road, pumps up your adrenalin to enjoy the thrill while on the wheels. However, avoid looking below the mountain especially if you are suffering with vertigo syndrome.But once you cross over, you pat on threethings, putting it in ascending order – One your driving abilities, 2ndly your car and 3rdly, of course Almighty !! A sigh of relief at Gumri where for Kids ATVs (all terrain vehicles) are available for driving fun on glacier and for elders, good cup of hot Tea with some snacks.As you travel further, slowly and steadily you start losing Greenery to Semi naked to multi-coloured naked mountains, and then comes a place, the 2nd most habitant coldest place in the world – Drass, Popularly known as ‘The Gateway to Ladakh’. The small town is situated at a height of 3230 meters ie 10,990 feet above sea level. During winters, mercury level in the Dras region can plummet to as low as -45 degree Celsius. However, despite biting cold temperatures, Dras is known to host riveting contests of Horse Polo.Ahead of Drass city, a huge War Memorial dedicated to our bravest of bravesoldiers of Indian Army and Airforce, who fought valiantly the Kargil war 1999. This place is also known as the Vijaypath,in the foothills of the Tololing Hill, Drass. The place is so rightly selected as by being surrounded by all majority of hillswhere heroic war action has happened. It is located on the Srinagar-Leh National Highway 1D. Visitors to the memorial can also see from there, some of the peaks that the Indian army captured back from Pakistan. A giant national flag, weighing15 kg was hoisted at the Kargil war memorial to commemorate India’s victory in the war which was fought at a length of 150 Kms at an altitude of 16000 to 21000feets. Any Indian I am sure will not come out of this memorial with out shedding a tear from the core of his / her heart. In the air, you could feel the fragrance ofselfless Nationalism in real spirits.
Next halt is Kargil, which once was a big lake which went uptill Lama yuru and khaltse. The proof of this theory is receipt of fossils of lobsters, horse shoe crabs, fishes and crabs. Same theory applies to Kashmir as well as Kishtwar. Initial settlers were Dards, an Indo Aryan people from central Asia, who came through Gilgit and Astor. Tibetans may have come earlier but since they were nomads, so settled late and Mons were the third group of settlers. Much of the Kargil today was earlier known as Purig (major theory around is the Tibetan phrase pod-rigs ie of Tibetan like) which includes Kargil town, the Suru valley, Shanhar Chiktan, Pashkum, Bodh Kharbu and Mulbek.If you have two days more in hand, can visit to Suru valley and Zanskar etc.
There are two routes from Kargil to reach Leh – 1) Normal perfectly metalled road route (almost 99% people use it) is via Lamayuru, Nimika la, Fotu La 2) An arduous, deserted, lengthy but exploratory route (Indo Aryans reside here alongside Sindh river) via Batalik, since it is a high security zone by being on LOC, inner line permit required and you may have to go through several security checks as well. It was Pre – decided to explore both routes to Leh from Kargil itself. Highest point while reaching Batalik is 4100 Meters @ Hamboting La and then Batalik small town(very restricted) route provided us with a bird’s eye view of LOC (you are actually in the line of sight of Enemy), thrilled to see all those mountains which were captured by Pakistanis and we finally threw them back and in one among those mountains Pakistan General Pervez Musharraf held up a meeting before war broke out, 2ndly meeting Indo Aryans in one of the villages starting with Darchick next to Batalik, followed by Dha, Garkoon,Takmachick, Domkhar, Achinathang, Hanu and Skurbuchan and then on to Khalste (khalsi).Maximum number of petroglyphs (sculpted pictures on rocks) are found and these are running parallel to Indus river.Please donot forget to carry plently of water bottles, eatables as reaching upto this point from Kargil will take you atleast five hours (as it’s a single treacherous road) especially when travelling with Kids as you have only one good hygiene Eating point (run by defence) at Saint Hanu, serves you fresh bread Pakodas, hot cup of Tea or Coffee, branded packaged water, courtesy Indian Army.
Khalste to Leh is 100 Kms and you have a beautiful track to roll on. In between you find Magnetic Hill which is supposed to defy gravity rules, unfortunately we could not experience it, may be, we thought too scientifically for a while, then you see a place with confluence of river Zanskar & Indus at Nimmo and then immediately before Leh Gurudwara Shri Phattar Sahib, a place must visit and if you happen to have Guru Ka Langar, it’s a bliss and blessing too. This Gurudwara is maintained and run by Defence forces.
Reaching Leh by road is always better because you are by default “acclimatised” to the weather especially High Altitude with low pressure so you can start next day afternoon for sightseeing but never forget to make you check list which all places to visit and when because there is so much to see and study around, your time will run short to catch up with. Some lazy people likewise my family would like to be in one of the lovely busy coffee shop and shops around in Leh city itself. You need to be very pushy to take them around or explore places solo, as I did in couple of places.
Leh city will offer you beautiful places which are more of a treat – Leh Palace, throws up a panoramic view of the city, Shanti Stupa, Central Asian Museum to see the original silk route, unique artefacts and watching Stok, Zanskar, Karkoram rangefrom the top floor of this gallery which finally opens up to a beautiful set up Ladakhi Kitchen etc. It also has in the same vicinity the oldest mosque of Leh, beautiful memorial near Airport (a must for all), with repository of all information on wars fought in Leh, proud award winners, very proud to see our Jammu’s pride Hony. Captain Bana Singh ji’s photo under PVC winners,live Models of equipment,weaponary,rugsacks used, dresses worn at unbearable altitiudes of Siachen, Maps, photos, history, War Trenches etccaptured under one roof. Major monasteries one shall not miss out – Hemis, Shey, Thiksay, Stakna, Likeer, Lamayuru, Spituk, Disket, Chemre as many of them you would find it on main highway so easily accessible on your routine itinerary.
Leh also provides you with very decent eating places, I was actually enthralled to see that too sumptuous with reasonable rates and variety, decent ambience, few to name – The Tibetan Kitchen, Summer Harvest, La pizzata, Gizmo etc.
Apart from this, Leh provides places with background culture of reading, which I am personally fond of, many decent localcoffee houses serving you with plethora of books (huge collection I can certainly vouch for) where I could see people (foreigners are good in number) throng for a cup of cappicino with cookies and of course books. They offer you BSNL WiFi facility which works as good as your wife listens to you. One Biannual journal “Heritage Himalayas” locally designed, written but printed from outside, appealed me a lot which covers & talks about all original silk route areas in depth covering latest happenings around, One published in first half of the 2017 covers Baltistan / Hunza valley. This area is really devoid of Voice and data Mobile and even Land Line connectivity. I was lucky to use a good connection inside a Defence cantonment (where we stayed through out, ahead of Leh). We must do something to enhance our Data connectivity as there is humongous scope in these areas, however,P and L viability would remain an issue because areas opens only for five months.
Local market is quite an attraction for the tourists who could have hands on to local made Pasmina shawls etcmade of finest fibre a goat (Capra Hircus) from nomadic land,Changthang of Ladakh region at an altitude of 14000 – 18000 feets, Yak wool jackets, different sculptors, Musical instruments, meditation bowls, wheel, trumpets made up of alloys, Brass, Bronze, stones, local embroidered T shirts, Apricots, Black berries, apricot oil, medicinal herbs etc and what not, are in thing at Leh, so shop till you drop !!
A must visit to atleast two places upcountry – Nubra Valley (with 2ndhighest motorableKhardungla pass) and PangongTso (with third highest motorableChangla Pass) and if you have couple of more days with you, Tsomoriri, Zanskar and exit Leh through Manali road, shall be your next pick but be ready for a thorough adventure as these are very rough terrain areas with little comfort of stay over night but you have to, because it’s a not a day’s journey.
In all, you require minimum 15 + days to cover an extensive tour of Ladakh and kargil and since most of us donot have that much of Luxury so try making it up in two consecutive years and go hogging places left out this season, as I intend to do, God willingly in 2018!!.