Sunday, September 11, 2011


We reached Leh, late at night on 15th Aug. After the adventurous and strenuous journey of two days, we were really very tired.  So we decided that we will not start early in the morning the next day, 16th Aug. 

View from our room at the Nature Residency
On waking up on the 16th, we found that our hotel, (The Nature Residency Hotel) was by a small river.  It was a beautiful and peaceful location. We stayed at this hotel in all for 4 days and enjoyed the stay very much.  But at such a good hotel too, we found that the things we take for granted in cities like Pune don’t come by easily. There are regular power cuts in Leh – for good 8+ hours daily. The hotel used to run an inverter/generator for some time, but a few hours in the afternoon and in the night there was no electricity – and at night it got pitch-dark. Hot water was another luxury which we had to do without for most days.

As we discovered going around the place, Leh is a very nice and friendly town. When we went sightseeing or went to the market to shop for gifts and souvenirs, we came across simple and cheerful people who were happy to talk to us, provide information or generally have a conversation about life…

Shanti Stupa
  On 16th August, we started with Shanti Stupa and went to different monasteries and palaces. This is such a hilly region that each place you visit, there is a climb to reach the place. Most places, you go to the entrance gate of the place in a vehicle but beyond that point, you need to climb to reach the actual palace or the monastery. Even within the complex, you need to climb to go from one building to another or one temple to another. These climbs are about 50+ to about 150+ feet at a stretch but since Leh is at an altitude of 11000+ ft, each one of these seems quite difficult.

We started our sightseeing at the Shanti Stupa and ended at Sindhu ghat where we watched the sunset.  And during the day, we visited the Stok Palace & Museum, Thiksey monastery and Shey palace.
Shanti stupa itself and the view of Leh from the top of the hill is magnifiscant! We spent close to an hour here and took a lot of photographs. Devendra and Mayuresh got people to wear big sunglasses so that they could take photograph of the stupa reflected in the glasses. It was a lot of fun!

Stok Palace & Museum
 At the Stok Palace and the museum, we took a lot of picture outside, near the entrance of the museum since photography is not allowed within. The most impressive item on display in the museum was a sword that has been made into a “knot” by king’s oracle to demonstrate his muscle power. How does anyone do that?? Make a knot in a sword, as if it’s a cable??!!

Lama Monlam Gyatso
 As we were coming out of Stock, we met Monlam Gyatso, a lama and had a wonderful conversation with him. He talked about his path as a lama, his views on various things from army (its necessity) to various places to visit and of course about life. Sitting there in the Stok portico, feeling very relaxed and happy, looking around at the beautiful place and listening to a lama talk about various things – that will remain with me for a long time…

Before climbing to Thiksey, we had lunch at this quaint restaurant called “Chamba” near Thiksey. We sat outside in the courtyard, under a shade and spent time looking at the birds and butterflies and bantering with each other, waiting for our food. The place runs at a laid back, relaxed pace (which means the service is slow ), but it’s a place to enjoy just sitting around, taking in the atmosphere – especially if you have a good group.
Thiksey was quite impressive – the Maitreya Budhha is 2 stories tall.  There are old frescos of Jatak kathas (These are tales depicting the Buddha in several of his births in the form of animals) in the courtyard and there is a temple for Tara. I found this place really beautiful – the combination of the architecture and the colors and the views of the surrounding mountains, they make many beautiful frames…

Jatak Katha frescos


Shey Marshes
   Climb to Shey seemed the hardest and you also can’t enter the palace; but the view of the Shey marshes from the top makes the climb worthwhile.

Sindhu Ghaat
  Sindhu ghat was the last thing on our itinerary for 16th – the river is very small in Leh, but the ghat was picturesque, with the small chhatris there. It was made more attractive by lack of tourists..

   Then on 20th, we went to see the confluence of Sindu (Indus) and Zanskar. On our way there, we saw the Himalayan Urial (Shapo) high on the mountains. It would have been impossible to spot these for me. And the only reason I got to see them was that Devendra and Mayuresh, with the trained eyes could spot these!!

Movie shooting...
  Driving ahead, we also saw a movie being shot – a song, for sure. Watching the girl do the same steps again and again, the camera, the people around – it looked pretty ridiculous and we had a good laugh! Of course, it also looked like a LOT of work  - standing in the bright & hot sun, in a fancy dress and doing the same dance steps again and again definitely can’t be easy or fun!

On the way we also passed the memagnetic (??) hill. At the magnetic hill, they ask you to park your vehicle in neutral and watch it slide up the slope; which is supposed to be due to the magnetic force. However, this is not so – its only an optical illusion caused by the layout of the landscape. Also, it looks like the vehicle is moving up the slope, only from s specific spot.

At the confluence of the two rivers, one can see each of the rivers distinctly different from the other – Sindu looks muddy and Zanskar looks “white”.

Hall of Fame museum, Leh –
On 19th August, after returning from the Nubra valley, we went to the Hall of fame museum in the late afternoon. It is a glorious museum built/setup by the Indian Army.  The museum has two separate sections one of which covers various facets of Ladakh region – like the geography, history, culture as well as flora and fauna. The other section covers a lot of information about various wars and operations carried out by the Army. It makes one realize about the difficulties faced by the army – especially when you read about the highest war zone of the world – the Siachin glacier; it makes you proud of your army and it also makes you feel very emotional.

Shopping in Leh – We went to the market street 2-3 times in all – looking for some things specific – like the T-shirts with embroidery, so instead of a T-shirt, with “Ladakh – at the top of the wolrd” printed on it, you buy a T-shirt with the same embroidered on it!! And it makes a big difference to the overall look of the T-shirt. There were a lot of cool T-shirts too – about Leh, about Khardung La. Some of the ones I really liked were “My sister went to Ladakh and all she got me was this silly t-shirt!” – having this embroidered on the t-shirt in beautiful silk colors, makes it look anything but silly!  The best one had 5 yaks standing in a line with this line at the bottom – “Yak Yak Yak Yak Yak” – just loved it!! Needless to say I got t-shirts as gifts…
Apart from these, we were told that one gets good turquoise (which is found in Ladakh) and other semi-precious stones here. We mostly only window shopped for these…

Apart from the T-shirts, things we ended up buying were apricots, apricot jam, prayer flags, prayer wheels and some small souvenirs like key chains.

By the time it was time to leave Leh and return home, we had gotten very comfrotable in Leh - with its simple people and simple life as well as the beauty of the surrounding, start mountains and the background of blue, blue sky! It was really difficult to say goodby to the place on 21st morning and board our flight to Delhi...


Thursday, September 1, 2011

Manali to Leh – the Trans Himalayan Safari

Hadimba Temple, Manali

Our journey was a little complicated. We flew from Pune to Delhi, and then got on a bus to Manali around 6:00 PM. It took us 16 hours to reach Manali. It was sunny and actually quite hot, when we reached Manali at about 10:00 AM the next day. We were doing the Trans Himalayan road Safari from Manali to Leh.  We were to start for Leh early morning on 14th August, but it was raining incessantly from 12th evening. The Rohtang pass closed down on 13th due to snowfall and landslides. Due to the heavy rains, the Delhi-Manali road also was closed.  We were stuck in Manali! However, if we had started for Leh from Manali on 13th, we would be stuck at Rohtang; if we had tried to reach Manali a day later than when we did, we would have been stuck on the road from Delhi and not reached Manali. So if we looked at it from the right perspective, our timing was perfect!

So, whether we would start on 14th morning for Manali was something we were going to be able to decide only on 14th morning. On 14th morning we were all packed but as it turned out, on 14th morning, the pass had not yet opened so we definitely were not starting on that morning. Around noon we decided to start from Manali at about 3:00 PM and drive to Rohtang. If the pass had opened we would go across, if not we would come back to Manali. 

As we made our way to Rohtang, we were going close to the snow clad mountains, the sky started opening up and with all the tall trees and the clouds that we were driving through was creating just the perfect atmosphere. I couldn’t help thinking about Shammi Kapoor, my favorite actor who had passed away just that morning. I couldn’t help but imagine him going “Yahoo” in that place – the setting seemed like out of one of his movies from 60s.

We made a stop at Marhi, the last place before Rohtang, where one can get good, water etc. After our drivers discussed the situation with many other drivers, it was decided to drive to Rohtang. It meant that if the pass didn’t open up, we will have to stay put in our vehicles close to the pass for the night. As we got closer and closer to the pass, the road became gradually worse. There were large patches where we were driving in feet deep mud. The fear of having a vehicle stuck in that slush or slipping on it and going over the edge was on everyone’s mind.

As it turned out, the wonderful people of BRO had managed to work on the patch where the landslides had taken place, and though the road could not be cleared, they had managed to make an alternate road and light vehicles were able to drive over it to make way to Rohtang after about 6:00 PM. So we were able to cross that patch around 6:30 PM and make our way towards Rohtang pass.  But it was now getting dark and the road was pretty bad – and very narrow. Finally we crossed the Rohtang pass at about 8:15 PM that night. Watching all the snow in the dark of the night was a different kind of magic!

We kept driving through the night and reached a town called Keylong, around 11:00 PM. But we could not find any accommodation and so we decided to drive over to Jispa; as per our original plan we were supposed to drive to Jispa that day and had a booking in a good place there.  Driving another hour through the night on another patch of bad road, we reached Jispa around midnight and went over to the hotel where we thought we had confirmed accommodation for the night. Since Rohtang was closed and so was Barlacha, the pass on the other side, the people who were to have moved ahead, had been stuck in Jispa and so there was no rooms available for us. So it was past midnight, extremely cold and we didn’t have any place to stay… So we drove on… went to a place called Darcha – about a few kilometers from Jispa. Here, we found place to sleep on cot basis in two Dhabas. We, four women took four available beds in one dhaba. The three men in our group and our two drivers took 5 available beds in another Dhaba. 

The dhaba we stayed at in Darcha

The accommodation was really very basic – there were about 10 people sleeping in one room in the Dhaba where we slept. The toilet was outside and basically was just a small enclosure with 3 walls and one curtain. But we all were very tired and it felt awesome to lie down and relax for a while. By this time it was past 1 AM. The next morning we woke up around 6:30 AM and after having some tea at these Dhabas went back to the hotel where we were supposed to have stayed the night. We thought we could freshen up there and have a good breakfast.
When we went over the hotel they gave us a good breakfast and couple of rooms to freshen up. While freshening up we realized that the place where we were supposed to stay was really good. Where we ended up staying was the most basic of accommodations, even in these remote areas. Two things struck me – one, that people stay is such basic conditions and seem quite happy. And two, even our basic needs are very simple. We complicate our lives and think that all these things we have - our houses, cars, computers, TVs, Fridges, phones and so many other things are “essential” – but they are definitely not! While I have trekked many times and staying in tents on the trek seemed right. But to live in a dhaba, with the family who runs the dhaba, to see how they lived is something that I learnt a lot from.

After having a good breakfast, we started ahead.  It was a wondrous journey from that point onwards – the vast open spaces, snowed in valleys in places, the painted mountains in others and no trees as this complete journey is above the tree line. 

We kept passing through changing landscape – and kept looking at the mountains, the valleys, the moor planes and various birds and animals that we came across, quite mesmerized. It was long drive, but it seemed to get over too soon – we wanted to spend more time going through that terrain – looking at the valleys and mountains.
We definitely wanted to spend more time looking for the animals we were hoping to see – Bharal (mountain goat) and Tibetan wild ass.  But we didn’t see them. The weather that had changed unexpectedly – the untimely rains and snow must have been the culprits.

This was quite an adventurous journey – it turned out to be a lot more adventurous than what was planned, thanks to the weather - but it was an amazing journey. It turned out to be the most memorable journey of my life so far!!

Ooh Ladakh!!

I had heard about Ladakh – how it is a very different place and how it is beautiful; I had seen some beautiful photographs of this region first when my uncle made a trip there. Later on, I saw pictures takes by some friends – some amazing almost professional pictures. So I thought I knew what to expect when I went there – Blue sky, Buddhist architecture & culture and stark mountains. I recently went to Ladakh with Foliage Outdoors and though I found all these that I had expected, I realized that really didn’t know what to expect!!

I am planning to write about the place and the journey here in 2-3 parts.