Saturday, August 19, 2006
Even when you are out of the aircraft, the temperature and air pressure do not change in Leh. At an average altitude of 16000 ft, you don't expect anything less. It was twenty degrees when I landed at the small airport surrounded from all sides by barren rocky giant of hills. And they say that's the hottest you can get there. Cool!
A twenty four hours time is recommended to tourists to adjust to the thin air that prevails at this exotic place. But only after an hour sleep i decided to explore the city. So when everyone else was busy crashing in the hotel room (mind you, we had an early morning flight for which we had left for the Delhi airport at three in the morning), I, took bath and came out in the streets to witness the beauty around.
Though the temperature is so low, you won't feel too cold here because of the bright sun shining all through the day. Only when you find some shade, you realize the real temperature. It's quite an experience.
Nothing much happened that first day. Later in the evening, when everyone else got up, energized, we roamed in the nearby Leh Bazaar. We went to some tour and travel outlets to enquire about sigh-seeing and stuffs like that. And then we realized that most of the places worth visiting were far off and the taxi fares were exorbitant. It was kind of discouraging because we were running on low budget.
There are good hotels in Leh which are cheap and it's not too difficult to find a budget-restaurant either. In fact we found a dhaba which served us for most of the time we were in the town of Leh. By the way Leh is the biggest district in the Ladakh region, the second biggest being Kargil.
Unable to decide, how to spend the remaining four days, we planned for the next day.
Ladakh: Day 2 Dad had caught fever and mom had not yet recovered from altitude sickness. And this was our second day in Ladakh. My bro and myself had found out the other day that Jammu and Kashmir State transportatin run buses on alternte days to different small villages and towns in Ladakh. We decided to go to Diskit in Nubra Valley, about hundred twenty kilometers from Leh. A hot spring and a Camel Safari were the main attractions of Nubra valley, besides the natural beauty of the valley itself.
So on day two we planned to book bus tickets for the next day, and then tour more of Leh. There's an old strucutre called Leh Palace, situated on top of a small hill in the main bazaar itself. And furthur uphill, is a temple. Both these structures are made up of stones placed one over other without any binding material. At some spots, binding is done, but then that by mud paste. These old buildings are supported by wooded columns and beams wherever required.
The 'look' of these structures reminds you of the Indus Valley Civilization. When you walk your way to reach the doors of these buildings, you get this feeling that a big downpour of thick water from the clouds and the complete palace will get washed away. Luckily, it doesn't rain there too often. Snow fall is all that happens here besides light drizzles at times.
The Himalayas to the south of this region, never let monsoon make any impact at this place.We peacefully got bus tickets for all five of us. It was a little more than a hundred ruppees per person. Then we also asked a travel agency guy to get the permit needed to go to Nubra Valley from the DC office. The students I card of my bro and myself saved couple of bucks since the government there charges less for students.
We had reached the bus-stand, from our hotel near main bazaar, following a short-cut. In hilly areas, short-cuts are generally, stepped routes which bring you downhill faster than the regular motorable roads, circumferencing hills. We had to return to the main bazaar from the bus stand because the Leh Palace was there itself. But for the return jouney, Amrit suggested that we take the longer motorable road so that we get to see more of Leh. After initial resisitance, we bought this logic and consequently we did find a new place to greet us.
It was kind of a view point which went furthur up to lead to a small temple. After spending some time here and getting pics clicked, we proceeded to the Leh Palace finally. It was fun climbing the hills, and passing through made-of-clay-andstone-lanes as we made our way to the Palace. The temple was furthur up the hill, and sis gave up on climbing that much. But my enthusiasm kept her on her toes, and after more than an hour we finally did reach the top.
The view from there was awesome.Coming down was peaceful, but by the time we had reached back hotel, we were really tired. We had shot so many pics and taked so many videos that dad got bored seeing all of them. But he did see finally! :)All of them!
The bus to Nubra Valley would leave early morning the next day. For that we had to be at the bus stop at half past five in the morning. So we crashed early that day.
Ladakh: Day 3 and 4 We got up early in the morning to catch the early morning bus for Nubra Valley. The bus left Leh at 6:00 AM. The ride was mind blowing. It was the best bus ride that I had ever experienced. It was long, and I enjoyed each and every minute of it. As the bus kept on climbing the brown hills, the temperature kept sliding down. The highest point was when we crossed 18000 feet and it was fun. I was in 'high' spirits.
The bus had to wait for nearly half an hour during the onward journey as the millitary guys were repairing a stretch of the road.We left the bus in Diskit after a little more than six hours of ride. Diskit is the biggest town in Nubra Valley. And it was one of the smallest towns I had seen.
We hired a taxi there, and found a hotel. Mom hates travelling. She had been sleeping all the way during this bus ride, and she wanted to take some more rest. So she crashed in the hotel room, while the rest of us went to see the famous hot spring and some monasteries in the Nubra Valley.The hot spring sucked. It was not worth travelling another one and half hour in a taxi, immediately after an amazing-yet-tiring bus ride just to see a sucking hot spring.
But once again, the view outside the window of the car was just too awesome. Ladakh is about enjoying your rides more than anything else. It's like a dreamworld. You have to love the beauty of the natural landscape that surround you as you keep travelling on roads
The next site on list was the camel safari. The taxi had to come back all the way to Diskit, to go there. We went back to hotel to ask mom to join us. Bad news. She had fallen really sick by this time. We bid adieu to the cab guys, paid them 1.5K and called it a day.
The hotel had its own restaurant. And it was a stupid one. Food was costly and they didn't have any variety at all. And believe me when I say that after taking the order for mixed vegetable from us, they actually went ahead and plucked some vegetables from their own garden-cum-farm and cooked it and served! You can't get things fresher! But the food still sucked.
We had to return Leh the next day. We decided to hire a taxi early in the morning, go and see the camel safari and catch the bus. Things didn't go as planned. We did hire a taxi. But as we were on our way to the site, we crossed the bus for Leh. So we cancelled the idea of missing this bus for the sake of seeing some camels! Money was the reason behind this. Buses here run on alternate days. So missing this one meant we HAD to book a taxi for Leh. And it would have cost us around 3k! Forget it!This was all about the Nubra Valley.
Though the bus follwed the exact same route in the return trip, I still enjoyed as much. Once again, brilliant ride. In fact we faced hail storm this time while crossing the high altitude passes.
Once back in Leh, it was extremly important to rent two bikes. We had realized that the best way to tour the region of Ladakh was to travel on motor-bike. With the heaven like scenes doing the show on all the four sides, no other cost-effective strategy to enjoy the area could be worked out.Finding bikes was not easy. This was a peak season, and many more had already realized what took us four days to figure out; bikes rock. The rental shops were running short of bikes. We wanted to avoid a Bullet because of it poor mileage. But we also did not want anything less than a 150cc Pulsar because we had to climb hills.
After lot of effort, we managed to get one Pulsar and one CBZ. The CBZ didn't have lights! But that could not stop us from cancelling our scheduled bike trip for the last day in Ladakh. We brought the bikes to our hotel in Leh and parked it outside the gate. We slept early that night so as to leave Leh as early as possible. The plan was to travel 185 kilometers upto Pengong Lake and then return back before sunset. Afterall, a bike didn't have headlight! And morever, the flight back to Delhi was the next day. So there was no option of extending the bike trip.
the map we followed the last day
Ladakh: the last day We got up early and some of us did take bath. At about six in the morning, we said good bye to mom, and then vrooomed away. Pangong lake was about hundred sixty kilometers from Leh and we intended to be back before sunset.
It was a supernatural ride, one of its kind. We kept driving in valleys for the first thirty kilometers or so; myself & bro on the Pulsar and Dad & Sis on the CBZ. The road was smooth, and the landscape simply mind blowing. We crossed the famous Indus Valley, at an average speed of more than fifty kilometers per hour.
The visually delightful route from Leh to Pangong lake, offered a couple of tourist attractions as well, including the biggest monastery of Ladakh in Hemis along with several other monasteries like those in Shey, Thiksey etc. Our initial plan was to cover all of them en-route.Thiksey monastery was the first attraction that came our way. We spent some time there, but didn't go inside.
We admired the strucure from close quarters, took some pics and then moved on. After crossing the town of Karu, the valley ended and the hills started. The average speed slowed down to about twenty kilometers per hour and soon it became clear that there was no way we could return to Leh before sunset, if we kept on visiting the many 'side-attractions'. So it was decided that we would no more stop except for small tea breaks.
The hills never ended till about the last thirty kilometers. While climbing the hills, we crossed the 18000 ft altitude, and then things got a way too cool for us to handle. We had forgotten to put on gloves, or even carry a pair. So once the temperature fell down, and by that I mean close to may be two or three degrees (though I kept claiming it was minus), the hands started freezing and went deep red. Driving became hell and all of us started shivering and shaking. But we kept driving; driving through the clouds literally! We kept on praying that the downhill begin soon, but that was not to happen for quite some time.
Finally, the altitude began to fall, it became sunny, and in fact the air got pretty warm by the time we reached Tangste. At a lovely spot with white hills around us everywhere, we had our breakfast. By the way, I forgot to tell you that since the never-ending hilly roads started, Dad and sis kept insisting that we scrap the idea of travelling all the way upto Pangong. Dad would spot a huge snow burried rock facing us and immediately suggest that we go there, have some fun, and then start the return journey.
But Amrit had kept on dragging on and on, reasoning that we had enough time. Dad had then set a target of 12'o clock: wherever we reached by that time, we would stop and return. I knew his fear. With a bike with no lights, we HAD to get back before the sun could say us good bye.It was twelve o clock finally, and no, we had not yet reached the lake! But then, it was pointless to return back after joureying more than hundred kilometers and crossing the
Lukung was the last town encountered, from where the lake was about ten kilometers awayAfter a seven hour interesting, stimulating, mind capturing, dilemma ridden, and above all exotic mobike ride, we reached the lake finally. And what a lake. Oh my God! This lake which holds the record for the highest altitude brackish lake at 14,256 ft above see level was the most beautiful water body I had ever seen with my eyes. It simply rocked! The more than hundred fifty kilometers ride, was worth it. The deep blue water of the lake reminded me of granita!
The Pangong LakeAfter chilling there and some more photosession, we hurried our way back to Leh. Somehow we knew it would take not more than five hours for the return trip. Afterall we had got an idea about the terrain now, so we would be driving faster.Initially our assumption appeared true. We were driving faster, though carefully of course. And then those hills came again. And then, nature decided to join us in the fun ride.
It started raining. And it started getting cold. We didn't have raincoats. And we also didn't have time to stop! Within fifteen minutes things got severe, way too difficult than it had been in the morning. Driving through the icy downpour in an uphill ride, was like tearing your way through an iceberg! And we had no other option but to do that. Well, this was the real Ladakh! But it really went too out of control, when ice repaced the water. I could see small pellets of ice pieces depositing on my already-dead-by-then hands melting slowly, killing a million cells of the epidermis. I feared frost-bite, but that never happened to my relief.
Sis spotted some local campers, and we asked them to give some plastic sheets which they luckily had. But by that time, the rain and hail storm had almost subsided. After a while, it became normal, and we picked up speed. Riding and riding, and enhaling the pure air that weaved magic all around, we finally reached Leh by seven. The sun said us good bye only when we were settling bills in the rent shop.The last day was over, and it had already etched a never to be forgotten story in our hearts. Mom was so happy to see us back! Well it was time to do the packing for the morning flight the next day.I will never ever forget my Ladakh trip. Hope you had fun too!
Thursday, August 03, 2006
I got almost two and a half months to spend the way I wished (my semester break). And I did nothing special. Read few fiction/non fiction works – Blind date, At the end of the road and Coma. I gave up on ‘God of Small Things’ after reading just ten pages or so.
But the last two weeks of the holiday were too exciting, fast, adventurous and thrilling which made the entire holiday worth a ‘Great Holiday’.
I visited different places – Delhi (of course not for sightseeing), Haridwar, Rishikesh, Dheradun, Mussorie and in the mountains and valleys of Ladhak.
The town of Haridwar was full of devotees; we (read family) had never expected such a huge crowd, yet we found a good place to have a holy bath in the chilling cold water of Ganges. Current there was very strong and if you don't hold the chains running along the bank, there's no way you can stop yourself from flowing away with the current. And the water was deadly cool. But once you are in, you are in, and then the fun begins.
Lakshman Jhoola in Rishikesh was a normal suspension bridge, but with Ganges flowing below it, the whole scene was a delight to watch. Water here was way cooler (close to five degrees) than that in Haridwar but we did take bath. It started raining at the same time, and for the first time, rain water appeared warm. Talk about relativity!
There was an eight storyed ordinary temple close to the Lakshman jhoola, and we did climb all the stairs to reach the topmost floor and had a view of the scenic beauty around.
Dad found a taxi and all of us went for sightseeing to Dehradun and Mussorie. The place that we enjoyed most was the Shahastra Dhara in Dehradoon. It was great to swim in the stepped waterfall.
Kempty fall at Musoorie was a li'l dirty and so we abstained ourselves from getting into the water the second time.
More than the particular spots where we stopped, the journey itself was marvellous and heaven like. The weather was perfect throughout with small showers doing regular rounds. We saw hills, and big ones which were green and yellow and blue and shining. And we saw clouds kissing those lovely hills. The view of the valleys as we started climbing up from Dehradoon to Musoorie was awesome. And we did take a lot of pictures and shoot a lot of video.
(will upload pictures later)