I got Leh’d – A journey that is so close to my heart that I would never be able to take it out of my thoughts. A gift that outruns all the gifts I have ever got from my brother. The minute I started driving on the mountains the word that came in my mind was this is “Majestic” and by the end of the trip that thought of being in “Majestical Lands” didn’t go.
Traveling to Ladakh is no more roads less travelled as the number of activities around that region has increased substantially over the last few years be it self-driven road trips, motor-bike trips, trekking and now the most popular adventure going for a peddling ride. It is commendable to see travellers exploring such heights on bicycles.
My brother and I decided to take this trip as a complete adventure roll with no bookings in any hotel/tent and are sleeping bags in the car, taking each day as it comes be it sleeping in a hotel/lodge/tent/car. Planning where we want to travel next what all places to cover was our dinner discussions wherever we were staying with the help of “Driving Holidays in Ladakh – Koko Singh”.
At 3:00 am in the morning my brother and I leave from Noida in our 4X4 beast – Scorpio, our target destination being Solang Valley by mid-afternoon. After crossing the highway we started climbing via mandi – bilaspur – kullu. Due to heavy traffic of trucks on this road and the just passed monsoon season the road conditions were really bad. Only after we crossed bilaspur that we got a breather as all the trucks of ACC cement terminate here.
There are two routes to reach manali one is via Naggar and the other via Kullu. Both routes are very beautiful and via Naggar you can see beautiful apple orchards, homestays and café’s and via kullu you see the Beas river flowing next to you and the tunnel (also seen in 3 idiots movie). As we reached manali we inquired about “do we need a permit to travel to Ladakh?” even though I read on the internet that there is no permit required for Indian nationals, we had to take a permit and it is checked at various checkpoints when you ascend ahead.
Once we reached at Solang Valley around 4, we straightened our back for a while and then went for a small hike and found that the Govt. has stopped all the commercial activities like paragliding, zorbing, cable car etc. to protect the mountains from carbon emissions (“Sigh”). Also, after a certain point you are not allowed to go ahead as the region is restricted (Reason they didn’t tell).
The reason we decided to stay in Solang Valley and not in Manali was only because it is at an altitude of 8400ft which is higher than Manali and helps you acclimatize.
After a long drive yesterday we decided not to do too much driving and our next target destination was Jispa, whereas most of the tourists decide to camp at Sarchu. Jispa was just 110 km away for us in terms of distance and not in terms terrain. Jispa is the best destination to acclimatize yourself as it is at an altitude of 10,900ft and offers camping as well as lodging facilities as compared to Sarchu which only offers camping and is too windy which can expose you to AMS due to body fatigue and high altitudes.
En-route Jispa the first place you arrive at is Marhi where your permit is checked from there you ascend to Rohtang which is known for its traffic jams during peak season. Again a good thing is that the Govt. has stopped all the commercial activities in Rohtang due to carbon emissions. After crossing the Rohtang Pass we start our descent to Jispa with the beautiful Chandra River. At Khoksar there is a big checkpoint along with small stalls to eat and get refreshed, moving ahead you will spot a huge tunnel opening which is said to connect Manali and Keylong shortening the distance to travel to either Leh/Spiti. This will increase the tourist flow and make sissu, keylong and jispa hot destinations to halt when travelling to either Leh/Spiti but doing this makes the mountains very brittle and chances of landslides and avalanches increase.
Just 8 kms before Keylong there is a place named Tandi which has the famous and iconic Indian Oil Tandi filling station from where we filled our beast as well as the 30 litre Jerkin as the next filling station is at Karu which is 375 Kms from here.
After a short and exciting drive we reached Jispa, after looking around we decided to stay at Padma Lodge and indeed it was the best property we had chosen to stay during our entire trip because of its amazing services and staff. Lobzang Tandup – the manager of the place became our friend as we chatted about how he lives his life and how he loves to manage the place owned by his father Bir Singh. The best part about the place was the staff in terms offering to clean the car on their own, serving tea/coffee at 4 am in the morning and cooking delicious food which we didn’t experience at any other place that we stayed.
This day was a big day for us as we planned to go to Tso Morori which was about 285 km from Jispa. Generally, what we saw people travel to Leh first and then move around to other places and while returning they visit Tso Morori and post that head back to Manali.
We started our journey early morning at 5 am, early morning view of these mountains in so spectacular its beyond words to describe. This journey was quite interesting from seeing the Deepak Tal, Zing Zing Bar, Whiskey Bridge, Brandy Bridge and Gata Loops. We also covered the maximum number of passes today starting from the very famous Baralachla Pass to Nakeela Pass and Lachungla Pass.
After you cross the Zing Zing Bar the roads starts ascending and you start climbing to higher altitudes as baralachla is at 16000ft. This is the first time I started experiencing headache and difficulty to breathe – signs of AMS. Since the view was so beautiful I ignored it by having a disprin. After crossing the pass we reached Sarchu, the camping site for people coming from manali/sissu/keylong/jispa. It is so windy and cold during the night that it becomes very difficult to spend your night in the camp what my brother told when he stayed here the last time he went to Leh. Immediately after Sarchu, there is a checkpoint which marks as the Himachal State Border and from there on you have entered the state of J&K.
We saw a huge difference in road conditions as these roads were maintained by the army – they proudly addressed themselves as “The Mountain Tamers- Himank”. Salute to them as they have a done a commendable job beautiful roads at such high altitudes.
For Tso Morori you have to go up till Debring which comes while you are driving on the More Plains and from there you will find a very miniscule board saying way to Tso Morori and from here don’t be scared if you are the only car on the road. It was one hell of a scary drive although very very beautiful because you will see nomadic yaks, mountain deers, Tso Kar lake, and that smooth black road(if you have travelled/or whenever you go, you will understand what I’m talking about).
While driving we came across a Lake which didn’t have a name written over there and I searched over the internet also about it some say it’s called the White Lake and if that is its actual name – then it’s the most apt name. The lake was pure white and sparkling so beautiful that we couldn’t put our eyes off it.
Tso Morori Lake lies in the Korzok village at an altitude of 15,500ft and is 28 km long. You can trek for an hour to see its widest point which is 8 km long. The village also has a small monastery and few camping sites and homestays. We decided to stay in one such homestay called nomadic stay. At this time I was having AMS and to take even three steps I had to really put some major efforts. There is no electricity around and the only time you get light is between 9 pm – 11 pm at night so we quickly had our dinner put the cameras and our phones on charging got into our sleeping bags as it was really cold and slept. Little did we know that it would be the most difficult night for us as we just couldn’t breathe. As soon as we saw some light in the sky I think around 5 both my brother and I said “Thank God its morning” and within two hours we packed, got ready, fixed our car and came out for breakfast.
The Tso Morori Lake is an exquisite one which changes colours like moods and it’s so still that you can see the reflection of the peaks. It is protected by some species of insects which we thought is a hoax story until I saw it. As soon as my brother touched the water of the lake it started bubbling and very small insects come over his hands. The nature so beautiful you really need to get out and experience it.
After our breakfast at the homestay we decided to go to monastery spend some time there before we head to Leh. From Tso Morori to Leh we had to cover about 240 km and since we started early we knew we would make it by around lunch time.
On our way we came across a number of army camps and how beautifully they have maintained even though the life is so hard staying at such altitudes. Like I said the road was so good thanks to the mountain tamers that we were covering long distances in very less time. After we crossed Chumathang, the road conditions were not good due to the cloud burst that happened few months back in Ladakh. Indus River had changed its path and the new roads which were built by the army all got washed away.
By around 4 we reached Leh and decided to stay in one of the good properties of Leh and checked in to the Grand Dragon. We wanted to get rid of all the body fatigue and pains by sleeping on a comfortable bed. After relaxing for a while we got ready and decided to walk around Leh explore the markets and eat at a nice café. We enquired at the reception about good places to eat and we were lucky as the owner’s son was there and he suggested some of the best cafes of Leh.
The hotel car dropped us to the main market and from there we started walking around and after looking around for a while we finally settled at “La Piazzetta” and it’s my sincere request if you there you gotta eat at this café, the food is amazing with a beautiful ambience and light music. The café offered beer and both my brother and had a great time having two beers each with grilled chicken and pizza it was a delight.
Again an early morning for us as we decided to head back to Jispa and we knew it would be a long driving day. On our way I saw the Thikse monastery and the Shey Palace and from there we started to reach Upshi. After Upshi we started climbing up to Tanglang La and it started snowing. I haven’t seen a view which is as spectacular as that and the roads were very smooth with no hurdles at all. Finally we reached Tanglang La – the 2nd highest pass in the world. A crazy feeling got goose-bumps as soon as I stepped out of the car.
After reaching Upshi we stopped for our lunch and decided not to take a break till the time we don’t cross Baralachla pass as the target was to reach Zing Zing Bar in daylight. By 8 pm we reached Jispa and finally after 2 days our phones started working. We got to know our father was unwell so canned our plans to stay in Manali for 2 nights and decided to reach Delhi in the next two days.
Day 6 & 7
These two days were spent on the road so from Jispa we drove down to Nahargarh Fort. A small fort in the village of Nahargarh just about 30-40 km from Chandigarh. We reached there after driving for almost 16 hours by 12 in the night. This is not something anybody should do, we had a medical emergency so we had to otherwise from Jispa go to Keylong it is the administrative hub of Lahaul Valley has beautiful monasteries and vegetation lands. After spending sometime there you can go to Manali chill in Old Manali – relax, shop in the local markets, eat in the cool cafes and you would find some gig happening in one the cafes in the evening and then when you have fully relaxed- head back.
From this trip I realised that for me happiness is a state which I can only arrive at when I’m travelling.