Table of contents for Car Trip-Delhi-Leh-Srinagar
A good traveler has no fixed plans, and is not intent on arriving- Lao Tzu
Jhakri Jeori Sarahan ( 38 km )
Instead of waiting at Jhakri for weather to clear, decided to get off the head of Manoj-Anamika and stay at Sarahan for as many days as required. Visited missed out locations in Sarahan during last trip such as Pakshi Vihar ( Bird sanctuary ). Roamed around aimlessly, changed from private hotel to Bheemkali temple GH.
Halt at Sarahan
Kept on collecting information from hotel managers who track road condition. Learnt that the Sangla road had a major land slide and was likely to open for light vehicle on 25-09-2010.
Sarahan Powari Rekong Peo ( 92 km )
Started for Sangla. Had petrol availability problem as well. While coming from Jhakri to Sarhan, found that no petrol was available at Jeori. They said that petrol is on way from Shimla and will be available with in a day or so. When we reached Jeori, petrol had not come. They said that we will get at Tapori. When we reached Tapori, no luck. I guessed, enough petrol was there to see me through to Recong Peo. So we moved on. At Karcham, found that the Sangla-Chitkul road was still not open. Decided to move on to Recong Peo and come back later for Sangla. It would be 20 plus 20 KM additional journey. Moved on to Recong Peo. Reached Powari and filled up petrol and jerkins (purchased at Jeuri). Recong Peo is 5km away on a branch road. Reached by evening and settled in a hotel.
Rekong Peo Kalpa Rekong Peo ( 46 km )
Visited Kalpa and a village Roghi and came back to Recong peo. Main attraction of Kalpa is view of Kinner Kailash peak, People say it is so close that you can touch it. Although it is clearly visible from Recong Peo as well. Also, you see lots of apple gardens. Kalpa to Roghi village road was worse than 4 chakka road of Tattapani. Had to drive at 5 KMPH but distance was only 2 KM. Had lunch in only hotel in the village. There was accommodation available for halt but not tempting enough although scenic beauty was inviting. One stream crosses the road. Did car washing. Water too damn cold. Hands froze.
Road to Roghi – Testing driver’s nerve
Rekong Peo Karcham Sangla Chitkul ( 74 km )
Started reverse direction journey to Sangla Valley. Although, opened for only light vehicles, work was still in progress. Passed through Sangla for later, reached Chitkul by lunch time. Car got locked with key inside and no cell phone signal for getting advice from any one. That ordeal which cost me dearly is another story for some other time. Learnt a lesson and now a days I always keep duplicate key. Chitkul is the last village towards China in this direction. Beyond Chitkul, Nagasthi to Ranikanda Trail is tracking route, perhaps with permission from Army. The village is at an altitude of about 3500 metres havng a population of about is very close to nature and being the very last human habitation on the Indian front makes it even more special in a way. There are about 500l, mostly Tibetan. The Valley, also known as the Baspa Valley is most beautiful valley in the Himalaya.
On way to Citkul
Chitkul Sangla ( 35 km )
Started towards Sangla after breakfast, visited beautiful and picturesque village Batseri and old temple in the village. Also, Banjara camp can be seen which is high end resort on the river bank. Crossed small Raksham village. At Sangla, Visited Kamrum Fort, Kamakhya Temple, Durga and Nag Mandir
Stayed at Himachal Pradesh Electricity Board Guest House, booked by Manoj. Very good GH. We were accommodated in VIP room. However, the caretaker was unwilling to provide food and advised us to have dinner at hotel in the market, although there was well furnished kitchen. I found him cooking and enjoying with his friends later.
It seemed that Himachalies, are rich affluent people and do not like earning small. I found many apple gardens packing crates after crates of apple for sending outside, but no apple was being sold in the markets. Only one shop I found selling apple but at Rs 30 a kg. Some tourist were arguing that it is available at Delhi at that price. Manoj gets it through some staff at ten a kg. from village. Except the above mentioned shop at Sangla, I didn’t see apple being sold in market any where on our route. We tried apple orchards where packing in crate was going on and they refused to sell 10-20 kg. Ultimately, we could buy apple on Jammu Srinagar highway at 18-00 a kg. Car’s boot became full of gunny bags and crates of apples and our baggage could be accommodated only on rear passenger seat, right up to Delhi.
Anyway, there were large number of apple trees all along the fencing of the GH and at least 100 kg apple must be lying on the ground under the trees. No one bothered. Mem saheb was crazy collecting these fallen apples when no one was around. But these dropped apples generally don’t last. However, we requested caretaker to give us some apples in the morning from tree, for the long journey and he obliged.
Sangla Karcham Recong Peo Spello Khab Nako ( 137 km )
Started from Sangla with no fixed destination and halting plan. Again, there was no petrol at the Powari petrol pump on the highway, from where I filled up last time. Had to enter Recong Peo town 5 plus 5 KM extra, just for petrol. Reached Spello by lunch time had lunch. Considered halt here but the scenery was not appealing in spite of the river flowing along side the place. Decided to move on. The hotel where we had lunch, was run by 3 sisters. On enquiring regarding distance and road condition to Nako, one of the sisters at the counter, smiled and suggested that we take her elder sister up to Nako and she will be our guide. Glad to do that. Our guide gave us a lot of info not only regarding Nako, but everything about all places enroute.
Khab : Confluence of Satluj and Spiti – Photo session with voluntary Guide
We reached Khab where SJVNL has set up Advance Warning Station for silt content in the river water. A few days back we had explored possibility of halt at their one room GH. It was confirmed later that the GH has been converted to staff quarter. About 10 kms. ahead of Pooh, Satluj enters India near Shipki La and Spiti river joins it at Khab. We stopped at the confluence for photo shoot. The road then goes to Sumdo via Hangrang valley. From Sumdo Spiti valley starts. The Spiti river flows fast through deep gorges at some places. The valley is not wide but there are villages and some fields where people grow barley, buck- wheat, peas and vegetables.
Reached Nako by evening. Settled for hotel on the Lake side on first floor with clear view of lake from verandah. In fact half floor was open to sky, serving as verandah. Started feeling effect of Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) symptom being headache, nausea, appetite loss, and tiredness, low oxygen level aggravating the situation. Had early dinner and early bed. Technically, my earlier programme of halt at Spello was correct for the purpose of acclimatisation. If we had halted there, perhaps, the AMS would not have effected me.
HALT AT NAKO
Nako Surrouning View
By morning AMS condition improved but not completely. Decided to stay one more day. Bargained with hotel care taker if he reduces the rate, I would stay one more day. He did. And I did halt, had to anyway. Nako is small place that is why it is called Nako Village, with small population. Land line is there but no cellular service. Not much to see, except beautiful lake and number of Monasteries. Had a walk around village. There is a Monastry on hill some distance away. It was pulling me. Visited one tent resort and had tea in their restaurant. Started for that hill Monastry. There was no road but only hilly footpath. Lost our way a number of times, was tired, mem-saheb raised hands, one hour had passed and we were no where near monastery, hence the program was aborted. Just enjoyed the lake view, from hotel roof.
Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS)
There are some small and apparently insignificant incidents that leave a permanent mark on the heart and mind. Both of us had badly dry skin on both legs, particularly, calf and foot. So bad that it started bleeding from the lacerations. I do not use body lotion or mustard oil, generally. However, there was no choice here. We went to a shop and asked for small bottle of mustard oil, 100-200 ml bottle. The shopkeeper had only 500ml bottle. We did not buy it for fear of leakage during journey. We went away and tried that aborted attempt at hill monastery. We again came back to the same shop and asked for the 500 ml bottle. The shopkeeper suggested to try other shop across the road, since we needed smaller bottle. We got the required size in that shop. Out of gratitude, we went back to the first shop and bought some items we always need like chocolate, bread, biscuits etc. I wondered, where else it could happen, Uttarakhand, Himachal and Kashmiris claim there as well, which I never got chance to test. However, last year trip to Kedarnath, I left one year old Hundai i10 on the main road with suitcase, bags etc (as only 5 kg was allowed in helicopter) and went to Kedar visit. When we returned next day, every thing was intact.
Nako Chango Sumdo Gui Tabo ( 71 km )
Scenery has changed to barren look devoid of greenery, but it has its own beauty. Amazing to know that in this scene, there are a few wild life sanctuary. Just wonder, what kind of wild life is there. Near about Sumdo, mobile signal was found and we made calls. From here, the Tibet Road goes towards Tibet to Kaurik. There is police check post and vehicles need to make entry in the register. On enquiry, police officer told that we may go some distance on Kauric road but there is nothing to see except army border post, we would be stopped at some point any way.
On way to Giu to see Mummy of Lama
So we bade good bye to Tibet road and took to state highway. After about 1-2 KM from Sumdo, a road branches off towards right side to village Gui, 8 KM. Located near the Indo-Tibet border, the village has a naturally preserved unique Mummy, which is more than 500 years old and is an attraction for the visitors. The village Giu is situated at a height of approx 10,000 feet The mummy in the village is placed in a room constructed on a hilltop, kept in an open glass box. It is believed that this mummy is of a Lama, who died at the age of around 45 years and was found in a sitting posture.
This 8 KM drive had been very pleasant experience for more than one reason. A small hill river accompanied us by the side of the road, almost at the same ground level. Any place on this stretch could serve as picnic spot. Only problem was that the sun was scorching and there was no tree or shelter. During entire to and fro journey of 16 KM, we did not meet any vehicle in either direction.
Met a group of three Tibetan laborers working on the road. We stopped the car to interact with locals, they also wanted to stop us as they needed match box for cooking. They had forgotten to pack match while coming from home and the village was some distance away. Since I had two, I gave them one away. I enquired whether there is any hotel for night halt or any hotel for tea snacks. They said no. I teased them that they can’t even offer tea when some one visits their village. They said sure, they will do. And also said that some villagers do keep paying guests. After visiting the village and mummy, while returning, these laborers waived frantically to stop us and invited us for tea and snacks. We joined them for 10 min. They offered us excellent tea and a sort of chapati which looked and tasted like bread. I liked it but declined to take more than a piece lest they run short of the same. Words fail to describe the happiness that we shared sitting on the road side with them. We had nothing to offer, as money would look cheap and perhaps they would refuse. Gave them a few apples that we had and took leave.
Interaction with local Tibetans – Join them for a cup of tea and lots of love
Reached Tabo by afternoon and settled in the Millennium monastery GH. Wrong choice. poor service but difficult to complain to GH in-charge, who was so polite. More over smoking was not allowed. Visited the market, strolled around, visited main tourist attraction of Tabo i.e. 1000 years old monastery. To mark occasion of 1000 years, Dalai Lama visited and inaugurated a chorten here.
On way to Tabo – companion river
Tabo Dhankar Kaza ( 68 km )
Checked out of GH, had good and tasty breakfast in nearby dhaba, packed hot water in thermos as usual for preparing tea on the way and moved on. 2 km later, visited number of caves on the hill slopes where monks used to meditate during ancient times. These are getting damaged by ageing ( although there is very little rain fall ). Govt has declared these as heritage and preservation works are in progress. These caves and also millennium Monastry, all appear to be made of earth. Amazing, how they survived 1000 years. Reached Kaza by evening and checked in hotel.
Tabo Millenium Monastery – 1000 years old – how does it survive?
HALT AT KAZA ( 104 km )
Visited Dhankar fort and monastery by taking 6-7 KM detour off the main rood. These are on a hill top and look like match box shaped building pasted on the hill sides. But the view of the valley below is beautiful with river flowing in plains.
Visited Lanza ( Large size Budha statue ) , Komic( Monastry – which had snow fall the night before and ice was still lying around – this indicates ambient temp of zero or sub zero since the snow has not melted ) , Kibber – Monastry. We also went to Gette village ( highest village in the world ), met two foreigner girls who were treking, offered them lift which they declined. I was wondering, where hey will spend the night, perhaps under the sky in sleeping bags, since they were 15km away from nearest place in the direction they were going and not single house in between, and day light fading. Visited Ki-Monastry. Reached Kaza by evening and visited long line of stupas (chorten), which is landmark of Kaza. There is a temple on a small hillock. Being tired, did not dare climb stairs of temple. Filled up fuel tank and jerkins at the petrol pump( one of the very few Government Petrol Pumps in the country, beware, they take weekly off too ) and retired to hotel. Walked around small market in the late evening.
Kaza Losar Chandratal Batal Chhota Dara ( 130 km )
The road is good although single lane. One village after another kept on passing bye. After some distance, a river accompanied us by the sides of villages. Reached Losar by 11:30 and took tea. Saw one PWD rest house, inviting. Thought of halting but decided otherwise, ( a decision, I regretted later ) as it was too early for halt. Had tea with chit-chat with local people who were sitting in the tea shop. Then we moved on. The road started worsening and never improved for long distance to come. It appeared that the terrain is difficult, roads do not last in spite of efforts by Govt. We reached Kunjum La ( 4551 Met ) . There is a temple, sign board requests all vehicles to pray and then move on. Pujari of the temple was there, incidentally, waiting for lift to his village, Losar. We shared our tea, bread, banana with him. Hot tea was more of a relief than the other items as chilly wind was blowing and we were shivering. After we were finished and prepared to move on, a mini bus came and that solved the lift problem of punditji. It appeared to be routine for him.
After some time, we came across a branch road going right, a sign board indicating Batal-Chandratal Road, 13/500 KM, Jeepable 12/500 KM. In fact, earlier, I came to know from internet that one has to track 8 KM to reach Chandra Tal. In view of this long tracking, I had written off this beautiful site from my luck, like many others sites. In such cases I do a lot of research on the net and download a lot of photos of these beautiful places. Later, I watch these snaps and enjoy. Chandratal was also one such place This sign board rekindled a hope however slim it may be, and I decided to take this jeepable risk. As the luck would have it, it turned out to be risk of unanticipated degree. Jeepable only, meaning of this became clear after traveling for some distance. It was the worst road I ever drove on. This is quite significant considering quarter century of my driving experience, some of this on extremely bad project roads. Several unpleasant and undesirable things happened one after another during next 3 hours.
The road was 4-chakka road in the true sense of the word. This comment of mine regarding earlier 2-3 roads may be disregarded. I was just wondering what would happen if any vehicle comes from opposite direction. Fortunately, none came during entire to and fro journey to Chandratal. The road was only gravel and under construction. The going was painfully slow. Under carriage of the car bumped number of times on large boulders in crossing streams due to low ground clearance of i10 car. 13 KM journey took 90 min. When we reached 3 Km to Chandratal, saw two more vehicles, one Bolero, one Maruti 800, and a bike. The young men, expressed their surprise with ‘Maan gaye uncle ji’. Appreciation did not amuse me as I was worried for return journey. Everyone was hurrying as the weather was deteriorating with every passing moment. There was no road for last half KM and every one had to walk. We were about two hundred metres to Chandratal when others hurried back for return journey due to whether and advised us to hurry too. Chilly wind, more like gales, was blowing with snow flecks. Last 200 metres proved very difficult due to climb up and the weather, add to it the loneliness as everyone else had left. There was no way we could hurry due to uphill slope nor was it possible to return from this point without seeing Chandratal, after reaching so close to destination. Somehow we reached the top from where we had a glimpse of the lake, snapped one or two photo and hurried back. After we came down a bit, Memsaheb showed me her hands which had gone completely blue. I got worried, she could loose her fingers and she was not aware of it. Some how, her hands was little bit warmed by blowing on it, and then putting it inside her sweater. Why she didn’t do it earlier, evades me. When we got inside the car, we felt better as it was relatively warm inside.
She woukd have lost a few fingers. She does not know what frostbite is.
And then started return journey ordeal. We hurried back as we were only two people on the planet, ( it appeared to me) and long way to go on that horrible jeepable road. Bumped under carriage more number of times, scrapped the left side of the car on entire length at footboard level against a boulder as there was hardly any space on the road towards right. ( off course one inch space is always there when you are not in a hurry. )
Reached Batal by 3:30 PM and had tea then enquired about accommodation for night halt. It is a small place but I was taken to a igloo shaped tin shed, number of mattresses lying on the floor. The owner said he would not allot any other traveler in the room but I had my doubts. On enquiring about toilet, was told, it is open air, muktangan, th type, India has been struggling to get rid of. Decision made, we proceeded ahead. The road condition turned worst, going became slower. The road ( if you can call it that ) was running along river, on the gravels and going speed was 10 Kmph. We reached Chhota Dara in the fading light of the evening. There was nothing except 2-3 houses. How any one can call it a place with a name, is difficult to comprehend. One of the building was PWD Circuit house. Please do not imagine CH that you have seen or heard. It was like Bengali book, ‘Vraman Sangi Travel Guide’ described as ‘some of the PWD CH are in Jeern deern condition.’ No electricity, no water, no food. I saw that the view around was beautiful due to Chandra river flowing by the side ( this river originates from Chandra Tal and follows along the road right from Batal ) but we were in no position to appreciate the beauty after the ordeal of the day. We were accommodated, served some food, supplied with candle, some stream water and quilts to keep us warm for the night. We thanked God for all these mercies and spent the night with somewhat relative comfort.
Chhota Dara Chhatru Gramphoo Khoksar Sissu Tandi Keylong ( 105 km )
We set off early morning, no bath, no breakfast but only two rounds of tea. Reached Chattru, had good break fast in Bihari dhaba at Chhatru. Hot aloo paratha with tasteful vegetable curry, ordered double. The place was sparsely populated and a lot of tents on the bank of the river Chandra, with various tour agencies sign boards. Spent some time there, and then moved on. Reached Gramphu, the tri-junction on Manali Leh road, left going to Kullu Manali via Rohtang Pass and right, our way, to Leh. Had a feeling as if we have come back to our world. Had tea, made phone calls, as mobile signal appeared first time after yesterday morning. From here, the road was very good, being Leh Manali highway of strategic importance.
Nearby Tandi – Last petrol station before Leh is at Tandi
We moved on enjoying scenery stopping here and there. Reached Sissu, visited monastery at hill top, enjoyed view from that high point, came down and took a round of small artificial lake and tourist village still being developed by Himachal Tourism. Reached Tandi which has a petrol pump, topped up the tank and filled up jerkins. This is last petrol pump on Manali-Leh highway until Leh.
After few minutes drive, reached a bridge and had lunch in one of the dhabas. From Tandi, a road leads to Udaypur, an important tourist destination in Himachal, some 55 KM away. Reached Keylong by 3PM and checked in a hotel. After tea, visited all that was to be seen in Keylong like Shashir Monastry, 6-7 km away on hill top. This road too, tests the driving skill by sharp hairpin bend on extreme slope and narrow road width. Roamed around market, located ATM, withdrew cash, had tea and hot snacks in a hotel, collected information from multiple sources like hotel owner, taxi-bus drivers regarding only one thing that was nagging my mind for last few days. The distance between Keylong-Leh is 360 KM. Usually, there are number of night halt camps with tents on entire route. Practically there is nothing on this route except snow during winter, even BRTF closes the camps. The information that I got from sources was that most of the camps have closed down due low tourist turn out. Cloud burst at Leh, has deterred most of the tourists although it occurred about a month back. Info gathered at Keylong confirmed that all camps have wound up but the one at midpoint ( Pang ) is still there and will wind up with in a few days. It came as good news otherwise it is extremely difficult to drive in a day ( 360 KM ) up to Leh on hilly road, although some Tata Sumo/Bolero taxi drivers do.
Keylong-Pang-Upasi-Leh-Khardung La-Nubra Vlley-Leh-Saspol-Nurla