EXPEDITION LADAKH When for the first time I saw snaps of Ladakh, I could not believe if this were a real place on earth. The photographs of heavenly huge mountains, high passes, and blue lakes were simply astonishing. As being a regular trekker and adventurelover, the high altitude dessert situated in the Himalayan ranges looked like a challenge to me. But what makes visittoLadakh even more appealing is the fact not every Tom, Dick and Harry can make it to this wonderful place. Making it to Ladakh not only requires time and money, it also requires a commitment and a resolve from the person to withstand the harsh realities of traversing through this unforgiving landscape. But these realities excited me to experience Ladakh by myself. My travelingforadventure background includes regular trekking around Western Ghat and frequent long trips on my bike. Continuous ridings on bike for say 23 days were normal to me, but riding bike for 3000 Km (from DelhiManaliLehKargil SrinagarJammu back to Delhi), that’s crazy. Just imagine of a barren land without a soul for hundreds of miles and the weather is most harsh you would have ever endured, riding a bike almost on your own for 3000km when one is not sure of roads, not a single bike mechanic shop on your way would you be willing to join a freak like me? This is a story about a biketrip for 13 days, for more than 3000 km, on one of the toughest terrains of the World. Each of us was residing and working in different cities, so we decided to meet at common point, Delhi. We started our bike ride from Delhi and in few hours reached Chandigad, our first halt. The next day we started our journey to Manali, before that not forgetting to enjoy Aloo parathas and huge glass of Lassi. As one travels from Chandigard to Manali one sees a gradual transformation of landscape from planes to hills. Riding carefully on every turn and negotiating blind curves we reached Manali. We had a stay for the night there and set our journey to Leh the next morning but not before having delicious DalMakhni and Garam garam Roti, which was indeed a pleasure on a cold rainy day. Now we had to cross the first high altitude Rohtang Pass (13,051 ft) ahead. There could be nothing more exciting than riding a bike on a chilly morning between breath taking scenic surrounding of huge pine trees. Initially the roads were good but as we started climbing steep towards the pass, road conditions deteriorated. As we were traveling in that region, we learnt that making roads in mountains is very tough and even tougher is its maintenance. We crossed the huge machines clearing the debris on the road resulted from mudslide that happened few hours before. We were stuck just before the top because the roads were blocked due to snowfall. We knew very well traffic is not going to clear soon. But we were relieved at least that it was bright sunny day but not for long. We enjoyed few hours playing in snow, capturing snaps, chatting with army men and looking at impressive views of snow covered mountains. Now even after few hours there was not even slightest movement of traffic. And to add to the trouble, clouds started gathering and in few minute snowfall started. We were determined not to turning back even though realizing how difficult it was to spend a night on the pass if road doesn’t get cleared till morning. We ate hot Maggie and sipped tea to keep us hot enough in snowfall.
We even thought of leaving bike there and descending to nearest town where we can spend a night and come back next day. We were in dilemma whether to go ahead or to return back without bikes. But having courage of “what it may come we shall not return back”, we stayed there till traffic got cleared, while freezing and shivering! Around 6 pm there was a little movement in traffic. Many thanks to armymen who work hard in extreme temperatures so that people like us can travel. Hats off to the Indian army. Having spent our very first day of journey in snowfall made us realize how tough is could get as we leap forward to cross higher and higher passes before reaching Leh. Now it was time for us to cross Rohtang Pass. There at that height we saw stunning view of clouds kissing snowcovered mountains. It was a sheer joy and calmness, which no other materialistic mean can present. After descending the Rohtang pass we stayed in town called Koksar. We were already wet and shivering. We found government guesthouse to stay and wrapped ourselves in sleeping bags. To reach Leh we were to cross 4 passes and this we had planned to cover in 3 days. We knew beforehand that on our way our route would be – KoksarTandiKeylongJispaDarchaSarchu and then to cross 3 passes to reach Pang and then to cross one pass to reach Leh. To our luck it was bright and sunny next morning and we could see the beautiful view around the Koksar, which we had missed previous day. As we started our travel towards Keylong,our next destination, we found ourselves between huge mountains and a river as our companion, flowing along with road. What a great joy riding on bike between huge mountains along with river as if river was also coming with us to Leh. We almost did a offroading as the road were not good and was almost in invisible mode. We stopped at Tandi, which is the only petrol pump on ManaliLeh route and Leh was still 350 odd km ahead. Before Sarchu, some bikers who were returning back told us that Baralacha La pass (altitude16500ft) was blocked for last two days due to heavy snowfall. There was no point in hurrying and so we decided to enjoy our route peacefully and we stayed in Jispa, 10 Km before Baralacha La Pass. We enjoyed our stay in Jispa in a cottage very near to the river. Next day after enquiring with few truck fellows about the roads, we started our most strenuous journey of crossing three passes in a day. We crossed Sarchu, which is a human settlement in the form of collection of tents and militarily base and is at an altitude of 14,000ft. From Sarchu to Pang you will find three huge passes Baralacha La (16,500ft), Nakee La (15,547ft) and Lachulung La (16,616 ft). Before Lachulung La, Gata Loops are a collection of 21 loops that take you to an altitude of 15,302 ft. The descent from Lachulung La will take you to Pang, which is a temporary tent settlement. We stayed here for the final push to Leh. Next day the road from Pang took us to the famous Moore Plains; situated in a plateau. This relatively flat piece of land is located at an altitude of 15,400ft. Road here are relatively straight and in very bad condition. Rather there are no roads, we rode bikes creating a clouds dust behind us. After the dusty journey on the Moore plains, we were on the ascent to the third highest pass in Ladakh, Tanglang La (17,582ft). Final few kms to the summit of the pass were in bad condition and the steepness coupled with lack of air, took a toll on bike’s
performance. But once we were on the top we were greeted with spectacular views, and could see the road to the pass for miles on both directions. As we descended from the pass, the road to Leh was very clear and in an hour or so we were in Leh. To visit places like Khardung La and Pangong Tso one needs to get the permission letter of District Collector of Leh, so we arranged that. There is couple of places to visit in Leh like Leh Palace, Shanti Stupa, polo ground. Shanti Stupa is white colored structure decorated with traditional Buddhist painting, is at higher altitude than the city of Leh and offers fantastic views of the city. Next day we decided to visit the Pangong Tso (Tso pronounced just “so”, means lake), at height of about 13,900 ft. It is 134 km wide and extends from India to China. Two thirds of the length of the lake lies in China. During winter, the lake freezes completely, despite being saline water. It is 170 kms from Leh. To reach the lake we need to cross the mightiest of Ladakh Pass Chang La (17,800 ft). Once we reached the summit, we were greeted by the Indian Army troops with hot tea. Army men are posted here to acclimatize to high altitude, before they are posted in world’s highest battlefield, Siachen. “The Land is so barren and the passes so high that only our fiercest enemies or our best friends would want to visit us” A Ladakhi Saying. Nonetheless true as we already had seen in past our neighbors trying to steal it from us. As we descend from Chang la, we observed fantastic mountains clad in different colors. As we come near the lake, the sheer size and blue water of it started becoming more evident. And once we reached there the beauty of lake stunned us. Nobody spoke a word; everybody kept on looking into vast blue glittering water as far as the eye could see. We in our life become happy or sad depending on how many efforts we put into something and what we get out of it, when there is balance between what we put and what we get we feel happy. At that moment it became very clear that whatever challenges of bad road, weather, low oxygen levels we had, it was all worth even for single glimpse of that view of blue lake calmly residing amidst mountains. This is indeed a heaven on earth. To be lucky enough to visit heaven while you are alive, visit Pangong Tso – It should be a new saying for Ladakh, I imagined. Next day we planned to visit Khardung La(18350 ft), which is highest motorable road in the World. It is situated 37 km by road from Leh. This pass is strategically important to India as it is used to carry essential supplies to the Siachen. Though being highest motorable pass, its journey was piece of cake as we already had been through the worst of the expedition. We descended back and spent rest of the day in Leh wandering in city. Now we were on the journey back to Delhi but we took the different route of KargilDelhi, which passes through Srinagar, Jammu and Chnadigad. On the way to Srinagar we visited “Kargil War memorial” built in Dras in the memory of soldiers who sacrificed their lives in 1999 Kargil War. We paid our homage to heroes of Kargil war. Back on the way till Jammu one can find an army men every corner of the road with AK47. Road from Jammu to Delhi was good and we reached Delhi without any problem.
As they say, travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living, we were back with transformation as never before. Happy to have seen the heaven before we die!!