Once the wedding date was finalized as 7th July 2006, the first thing that came to my mind was to choose a place for the trip to follow. Some of the clear pointers for us were that we wanted to visit a place in India ‘ONLY’ as both of us believe that our country has so much to offer and we haven’t explored even a bit of it. Also, I did not want to spend the special moments on a foreign land. We were also certain that we did not want to go to any of the ‘regular’ places in India either. Some of the options considered were Ladakh, Kerela, Pondicherry, Lakshwadeep, Middle East and Kashmir. It was easy to choose Ladakh as none of the other places was fit to visit in Summers/Monsoon. Kashmir was already ruled out as Adi didn’t want to take the risk on our ‘first’ trip together :) The first thing to do now was to book the flight tickets, as among so many players in the market, only Indian and Jet flew to Ladakh. Economy tickets were all sold out, but the good news was that Executive class was just about 1000 bucks more for each side. After a lot of net surfing, mailing and making umpteen calls to get the best package, Smita’s network worked! Made a deal with Dawa, a travel agent in Leh who helped us customize the trip and gave a price accordingly.The package came out to be 20k approximately, which included, stay in a 3 star Hotel (Hotel Mandala), day excursions, camp stay and breakfast. A pretty decent package at a reasonable price I’d say.
Day 1 (July 18):
Came 18th July and we boarded the much awaited flight to Ladakh. Before that, had a huge breakfast at the airport in executive lounge. Was a ‘good’ bargain for such a small price difference between economy and executive class. The flight stopped over at Srinagar on the way. Security was very tight everywhere and the aircraft was checked thoroughly at Srinagar. The flight to Leh is quite picturesque with a view of snow packed mountains spread………………..below.
Leh airport is really small and quite different from the one at Delhi or any other big city.
Before exit, all passengers had to fill in a form with the details of their stay including the duration, place of stay, reason to visit, passport number (for foreign tourists) etc. Once out, Dawa’s staff took us to the Hotel and asked us to take some rest. Since Leh is at a very high altitude (about 3500 meters above sea level), one needs to get acclimatized due to the lack of oxygen in the air. We slept like a log for more than 3 hours and met Dawa, who came over to the hotel, in the evening. The hotel authorities had organized some cultural items, like local dances and songs for a group of foreigners, and other guests were invited to join in. We had a taste of ‘Butter Tea’, a tea made of Yak’s milk. It is white in color and is a bit salty, am not even sure if it has any ‘tea’ in it. Dawa took us to the local market where we strolled for a couple of hours. Walked back to the hotel, had dinner and dozed off.
The weather in Leh is quite pleasant and sunny during the day but gets little cold in the night.
Day 2 (July 19):
Next morning, Dorje – our driver cum guide, took us to places in and around Leh. Most of Ladakh is all brown with giant hills of sand without any cultivation and very few people around. Some of the places we visited on our first outing:
Magnetic Hill The ‘Magnetic Hill’ is located on the Leh-Kargil-Batalik National Highway, about 30 Km from Leh town, at a height of 14,000 feet above sea level. The local administration has put up a bill-board near the Magnetic Hill for tourists stating that if a vehicle is placed on a particular spot on the road and the engine is switched off, it would not slide down but move uphill at a speed of about 20 Km per hour. Despite trying it a couple of times, our Qualis did not move a bit. Dorje later told us that he’s been in Ladakh since years, but hasn’t seen any vehicle move yet! Anyway, we moved further to our next destination.
Enroute, near Nimu village, came the confluence point of Indus and Zanskar rivers. There was a marked difference between the color of water. We stopped over to have a look and agreed that visiting Ladakh was a ‘good’ decision!
Alchi Monastery It is one of the oldest monasteries and dates back to the 11th Century and is about 70 kms from Leh. It contains 5 different temples. From Alchi, we started the journey back to Leh. Stopped on the way to click some pics.
|Likir Monastery – On the way back, we detoured a little to visit Likir
Monastery. It is about 62 kms from Leh and is also one of the oldest founded Monasteries in the area but has been rebuilt many times since then. It is located on a hill and holds a huge gold gilded Buddha Statue which is around three stories tall.In the evening we returned back and had dinner in a local restaurant called Little Italy. A decent, ‘no frills’ restaurant at roof top that serves some authentic Italian food.
Day 3 (July 20):Trip to Pangong Lake –
The plan for the next two days was to visit Pangong Lake. It is situated at a height of about 4250 m (13,900 ft) and is 134 km long. It extends from India to Tibet and two thirds of the length the lake falls in China. The distance from Leh to Pangong is nearly 160 kms, and it takes 6-7 hours to reach. The roads have been well kept, but do get messy in between due to mountain slides and constant water flowing from the hills.
The drive is quite scenic and during the entire trip, not more than 50-60 cars passed us from the other side. A permit is needed for the journey and the same is verified at 7 check posts at various passes. Dorje had it all arranged, all we needed to do was relax in the car and enjoy the journey!
We started at 9 am in the morning and crossed Shey,Thiksey village and left all signs of inhabitation behind us with the beautiful hills and the long road for a company. As we started climbing up the hill, the temperature began to fall. We did see few small villages en route. On getting out of the car at Changla Pass, the third highest pass in the world (5270 m./17,300 ft.), we could actually feel the chill in the air piercing through our skin and lack of oxygen made breathing feel like an exercise. This was the highest point of the trip to Pangong.
It was past noon and water had started flowing down from the mountains. Driving was getting difficult as roads got wet and slippery. Dorje suggested that instead of going to Pangong directly, we settle into the camp and visit the lake early next morning which was about 10 kms from there. The camp was located right next to the river and had grassy lands (a rare sight!) all around. We just chilled, chatted, played in the grass, had dinner in the camp with some Swiss people and slept.
Day 4 (July 21):
We were so mesmerized that we forgot everything and just stared at the lake. In all 28 years of my life, I had not seen anything more beautiful than this! No picture or words can explain what we saw, one really has to see it to believe it! We stayed at the lake for about 2 hours and although not wanting to move, we retreated back to the camp. Had breakfast, packed and headed back to Leh.
On way back to Hotel, we saw a Ladakhi kitchen in a house that was converted into a guest house. Went back to the hotel and rested for a couple of hours.
Shanti Stupa – In the evening, we went to see Shanti Stupa. It is situated above Changspa village, 3km west of the Leh bazaar and is connected by motorable road and a steep flight of stairs. Inaugurated in 1983 by the Dalai Lama, it is an all white circular stupa and is decorated with gilt panels depicting episodes from the life of the Buddha. Once on top, we relaxed and enjoyed the panoramic view of the chain of mountains and the city of Leh.
Came back to the market and had dinner at ‘Tibetan Kitchen’, a Chinese restaurant with a decent ambiance and good food.
Day 5 (July 22):
We planned to cover Khadungla Pass and couple of Monasteries in and around Leh. Khadungla Pass – The world`s Highest motorable road at an altitude of 5650 mts (18380 ft). It is located at a distance of 37 kms from Leh and one can get a nice view of Leh Valley on the journey. A poster near the highest point directed the visitors not to spend more than half an hour at the Pass as the height is quite high and the oxygen supply in air very low. Once we reached the Pass, we knew what the authorities meant! The oxygen was quite low and we had to stretch out to get enough air. All in all, there was nothing great about the place apart from the feeling that you are actually standing the hightest accessible point by car in the world. We had some tea along with snacks in the cafe and headed back with a heavy head (due to lack of oxygen).
Thiksey Monastery – Thiksey one of the largest Monasteries in Ladakh, was built some 600 years ago and is situated around 20 kms from Leh. It consists of 12 levels ascending a hillside and contains about 10 temples, schools etc.
We had planned to visit Shey Gompa as well, which is near Thiksey, but decided on coming back to Leh coz instead of running around, we wanted to spend a relaxing evening in and absorb all that we’d seen during the trip.
Came back to Leh and had dinner in Little Italy reminiscing the entire experience. We were a little sad to leave as well.
Day 6 (July 23):
Left the hotel early next day to fly back to Delhi. We had expected to have breakfast in the executive lounge like we did in Delhi, but there were no such privileges at the Leh airport. Skipped breakfast but we didn’t mind it after the great Ladakhi experience. The security at Leh airport is pretty tight. Before boarding the flight, all the passengers were asked to identify their check-in luggage. Flight back to Delhi was pretty comfortable and as picturesque.
On the way back, we decided to come back again by road.
Some Useful Links:
Pictures of our Ladakh Trip: http://picasaweb.google.com/adi02.c/LehJuly2006
Ladakh Map – http://www.jktourism.org/cities/ladakh/map.htm
Ladakh Monasteries – http://www.buddhist-temples.com/buddhist-monastery/ladakh/index.html