Monday, 29 September 2014

Ladakh, India (4-9 June 2014) p.s. many pictures

This was the 2nd part of my maiden trip to India, the first part being in Mumbai where I met up with my friend, Elizabeth, prior to heading to Ladakh. This is one of the countries where the Himalayan Range passes and the flight in did not disappoint with snow capped peaks as far as the eye could see. For this journey, we would not actually be doing any trekking. Instead, together with a local tour company, we had arranged for a car with driver who would bring us to the various sights over the course of 6 days.
View from the plane as we approached Leh.
Group photo!
Alighting the plane was an experience in itself. Located at 3,300 m above sea level, Leh Airport is one of the highest in the world. The cold dry air hit once we exited the plane and it was only summer. I'd really hate to be there in the middle of winter! According to our driver, the entire Ladakh might have only 3-4 tourist during winter. The roads into Ladakh are also closed off. Being a bit worried about altitude sickness, we got the driver to stop by a pharmacy on the way to the hotel to drop off our luggage so we could buy some preventive medication. To give our bodies time to adapt to the higher altitude, we also didn't have anything planned on our first day. Just a stop in the town for a light meal and walking about some of the shops. Walking in Town reminded me of the time I was in Nepal. Buddhist prayer flag, strung up between buildings, formed a tapestry of colors along the streets.After buying snacks for the long car rides ahead, we headed back to the hotel to meet the man, from the local tour company, who would also be taking our passports to apply for an inner line permit as we planned to visit Pangong Lake, located near the Sino-Indian border, where incursions by the Chinese is common. This would prove to be an issue later due to two of our party holding diplomatic passports ( they worked in government ministries).

Royal Enfield

The next 2 days were filled with monasteries. All of them were perched high and what felt like an endless flight of steps had to be scaled to reach the monastery itself. At the high altitude, even the shortest flight of steps felt likeI was scaling a mountain. Each completed climb was rewarding though. Being perched on high, the views were just magnificent. I could imagine spending an entire day sitting at the top of the monastery overlooking the courtyard with the Nubra Valley below and the Himalayas all around the horizon.
Massive prayer flag at Hemis Monastery

Hemis Monastery

All of us trying to get a picture of the epic view

Shanti Stupa
Thikse Monastery
As earlier mentioned 2 of my other friends were not able to get the permit in time and we were scheduled to visit Lake Pangong which was a 6 hour drive each way. Not wanting to waste the permits which the other 2 of us had, we carried on leaving Elizabeth and Ken Mun in Leh town while the travel agent carried on trying to get permits for the both of them. Being close to the sensitive border with China and with reports of a recent incursion by China across the demarcated border, security was tight and everyone had to stop and verify passports at an additional security checkpoint. The journey would also take us through Chang La Pass, an altitude of 5350m above sea level, the worlds highest motor-able road. Despite the low temperatures, the sheer strength of the sun meant I only needed a very light jacket as long as the windows of the car weren't fully open. The snow capped peaks we'd been seeing also turned out to be ice not snow. Definitely don't want to be rolling around on it. Sadly due to the time it took to drive to the lake, we could only stay for a bit more than an hour before we had to turn around and head back to Leh. I did see some accomodation by the lake, so it looks like if one had the time, they could arrange to spend a night instead of putting in 12 hours of driving.

Why isn't it snow! :(

The sun is always strong up here

I wonder if it is tough being a dog up here

Beautiful valleys

One of many quotes seen along the mountain roads

Jump shot

See the yak?

Looks like it wants some food.

First glimpse of Pangong lake

Azure waters
Narrow roads

Local tribal herders

Chang La Pass

After getting back from Pangong Lake, we did have some good news from the travel agent. They'd managed to convince the military to issue all four of us permits. We would all thus be heading through Khardung La Pass to Nubra Valley, where we would stay overnight, before heading back to Leh.It was also here that we really had to rely on our drivers skill. Although the road is termed motor-able, it really is just a wide dirt track. with the strong sun, some of the ice also melts regarding in streams which have to be navigated. Our MPV really wasn't the most suitable vehicle for crossing streams when the water flow was high and some of the smaller cars did get stuck along the way. While on our journey to Nubra Valley, we also did come across a group of bikers who were riding from the Southern most part of India up to the Northernmost part. This was all to bring awareness to the frequent cases of violence against women that had been happening recently.

Looking down on Nubra Valley while perched up high.

Lots of army guys looking on

Bus decided to just drive off 

All of us waiting for the road to be cleared of debris

This altitude, 18380ft, is supposedly wrong!

Noodle soup and momos

A whole day of such views
After Crossing Khardung La Pass, we headed to our new accomodation in Nubra Valley. Not exactly a hotel, it was more like a tent hotel.No hot water piped in either. One had to fill a pail from the kitchen and lug it back to the tent.
Tent city 
As it had taken us almost the whole day (about 8 hours) to reach the new camp, and we were a bit out of the main tourist belt, we just lazed around a bit just outside the tents waiting for dinner to be ready. Unsurprisingly we were still the only non-Indian tourists. Perhaps at it was pretty early in the season, the main bulk of tourists still had yet to arrive. I did spend a while out in the open admiring the stars despite the temperature drop at night.. Sadly I had not thought to bring along a tripod. so no pictures of star speckled night skies to show. After a good nights sleep, It was time to embark on the journey back to Leh town. Along the way we would also be looking at some Bactrian camels (two humps)! It was almost a pity that the trip in Ladakh was not any longer. It's been over a year and i still think back wistfully about the amazing views then. Hopefully I will return, and on a motorbike the next time!

Baby ones too

Drying manure for fuel

Kids playing with the gates

Another car stuck on the return journey

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