Age No Bar 16 or 60
Keylong Pang ( 184 km )
We started in the morning, little bit apprehensive as to the suspense what lay ahead. But all went well. We crossed Jispa ( 3200 Met , 10498 feet ) ( there is a resort here ), Darcha ( 3400 Met , 11154 feet), Zing Zing Bar ( 4050 Met , 13287 feet), Baralacha La ( 4894 Met -16056 feet), Sarchu( 4253 met , 13953 feet), Gata Loop, Naki La ( 4740 met , 15551 feet ) and Lachunglung La (5065 met , 16617 feet), most interesting being , Gata Loop.This series of twenty one loops covering a distance of 10 km takes the road up by about 1600 feet. Loop starts at ( 4201 Metres -13780 feet ) ends at ( 4667 met – 15302 feet ) Since the loops keep going back and forth, there are shortcuts that can take one up or down straight and in a short path provided the vehicle has a 4 wheel drive. At the top of the Gata loops is Nakee La ( 15,547 feet or 4740 meters), Lachulung la (altitude 16,616 feet or 5065 meters). Next is our camping site for the night, Pang ( 15200 feet ), scenery turned beautiful by flowing stream, Kangla Jal.
Number of tented hotels were set up in a row, side by side, owners mostly Tibetan women, inviting tourists. We selected one at random, perhaps due to lack of crowding there. Owners, mother and daughter, took care of us like guardians. Advising, repeatedly that we were plains people and should take extra care to avoid cold else we may fall sick as we are not accustomed to this altitude and cold. The tented hotel consisted of two large canvas enclosures, one front enclosure consisting of kitchen and number of wooden cots arranged in a semi-circle and inner enclosure having around 20 mattresses on the floor.
First of all, I had to take care of my worries regarding with whom we may have to share the room, the people who may come later. The lady understood our problem and assured us that no one is likely to come as the tourist season has gone bad. Tourists have been scared away due to cloud-burst at Leh. She assured me that even if some one comes, they will be accommodated in the front outer enclosure with the kitchen. The second worry regarding open sky toilet had no solution and we had to accept. The lady pointed out to some one meter by one meter portable enclosures provided by Govt but cautioned us that those are very dirty inside. It reminded me of a Bengali tourist we met last year near Chopta(Tungnath) on Badri-Kedar road, ‘Kichhu korar nei, maniye nite hobe’ ( nothing can be done, you have to adjust/accept), and we did. Charges for the accommodation was Rs. 100 per head. I heard, during tourist season, there are more number of camps at many locations along Manali-Leh route. Some of these provide tents with double bed and attached toilet or separate temporary barricaded toilets ( Loo tent ).
In the night again, our guardians repeatedly advised us to take four quilts under and four above otherwise we may catch cold. Since we were only occupants in 20 bed dormitory, beddings for 20 persons were lying around. It is difficult to imagine that in spite of this we suffered cold due to chilly wind entering the tent from all sides. After all, one can’t cover oneself fully. You need to breath too.
Our Guardians – Taking care with love
Pang Upasi Leh ( 180 km )
In the morning, we did not feel like using the toilet facilities available all around due to lack of privacy as the place appeared to be full of people and BRTF establishment near by. River( stream ) bank had become virtual toilet and reminded me of Bihar, although Bihar has improved a lot due to concerted efforts of the Govt.
When I went to load the luggage in the boot, found 2-3 mili-metres of ice on the wind screen. I tried to clear it by pouring some warm water but our guardian angel rushed and stopped me. She told me that the glass would crack if hot water is poured on it and advised me to leave it as it is. I valued her opinion as I thought she must have seen it happening. So, I turned the car to face the sun which was just peeping from behind the cloud cover and waited. Waiting time utilised in enjoying the fire set up by neighboring tent and having another round of tea ( we take a lo of black tea ) .
After short climb for about 10 km from Pang we reached a plateau known as Moray or More Planes spread over 40 km. Amazing that there is vast plane at this altitude of more than 15000 feet, and at times, car was running at 80-90 kmph. Than came the second highest ( highest being Khardung La – 18300 feet ) motorable pass, Tanglangla (17582 ft -5360 Met ). This is also the last pass on Manali-Leh highway. After the Tanglang-La descent, small villages and green fields start appearing. From here, the road is less windy and well carpeted all the way to Leh except some distance before Upasi where road repair/improvement works are going on and going gets slower. A stream flows by the side of the road, enhancing the pleasure of the journey. The drive from Upasi to Leh is cakewalk, like two lane highway anywhere else.
Moray Planes – Amazing – Car was running at 80-90 kph at altitude of more than 15000 feet
Had lunch at Upasi, walked around, snapped some photos and moved on with euphoria as if we have already reached Leh. Reached Leh by 3 pm without any sign of fatigue. It is obvious that the second half of Keylong-Leh journey is much easier and less strenuous, going by the hours it has taken.
HALT AT LEH ( 25 km )
Spent the day in local sight seeing. The taxis are unreasonably expensive. One fellow asked Rs. 2500 for half day local sight seeing. Ultimately, Tourist Office solved our problem with good advice and saved our Rs. 2500. Generally, I avoid using own car for local sight seeing due to ignorance regarding roads, one way streets, parking problems etc. I visited Tourism office to get a city map, and all problems got sorted out. Thanks to two ladies staff there. They suggested not to worry about roads and take our own car. They provided me with a good city map and gave directions as well. It was straight forward route on the periphery of the city, tourist spots located one after another. They solved another of our problem, getting permission from DC for visiting Nubra Valley next day. They took both our passports and fees, and advised us to collect the permit by evening. True to their word, the permit was ready when we went to collect the same by 3 pm.
View of Leh from Palace
Visited Shanti Stup, Shankar Monastry, Royal Palace, Masjid from outside, Tsemo Gompha etc. It took 3 hours and total 20 KM for which the taxis were asking Rs. 2500. Rest of the time was spent in walking around in the market and shopping.
Leh Khardung La Khalsar Desket Hundar Desket ( 143 km )
Every one said, we must visit Nubra Valley. It is valley of flowers and green valley. After we visited, we found it good and one must visit but not extra-ordinary. It seems, a lot of hype has been created and publicised by Tour Operators and Ladakh Tourism Dept. It is my personal opinion, although most people say otherwise. However, World’s highest motorable road at Khardung La is definitely worth a visit. We started early, armed with Permit issued by DC, Leh and 5 Xerox copies, as suggested by Tourism Dept. They keep one photocopy at every check gate.
Road is good, winding and ascending. We stopped where ever we liked, took tea/snacks ( we usually carry with us). Going was good until we came across Military convoy ( you are bound to come across one as army movements are regular feature on this road ) . Problem is that neither you can go along with them as they move too slow nor can you overtake them since it takes time crossing vehicles one after another on narrow hill road. Give one or two km for overtaking each vehicle and it would be 50 km for 25 vehicles. Well, it can’t be helped, think of the jawans sitting inside those vehicles, and most of those drivers are polite drivers and try to give pass as soon as possible. Problem is that once inside of the convoy, it is difficult to stop for break, for tea, photo, view or whatever. Sometimes the convoy stops for break and than you can cross the entire convoy in one go and also get some lead for next stops.
Reached Khardung La, and crossed it as it was raining and we were in the middle of a convoy. Decided to take a long stop at this pass on the return journey. Had lunch at Khalsar, a small village with a few shops and hotels. After lunch, further descent continued and suddenly, green valley and a stream is visible down below. It was obvious that we were approaching Nubra Valley. We reached a road tri-junction, left one leading to Desket and Hundar. Other one goes to Summur and Panamic. Both these roads are parallel to each other with Nubra river in between. Nubra river is only a stream at this time of the year but the river bed is 3km wide. This 3 km wide plain continues beyond Desket and Hundar and further beyond. At Hundar, desert and sand dunes have formed with in this river bed. We passed Desket and reached Hundar. Enjoyed the view and double hump camel ride. Ancestors of these bacterial camels are originally from Mongolia desert and were used for carrying goods from Tibet and Central Asia to India. The area falls on a route known as ancient trade route. Later on, when border was closed, these double humped camels stayed back.
Bacterian Camel – Mongolian ancestry
I was wondering where the road was going further. Came to know that the road goes towards Pak border, some 25-30 km ahead and there are two Pakistani villages captured by Indian Army along with its Pakistani population, which is still with India since then. Quite surprising and never heard such a thing. Usually in a war, civilian population is evacuated from border areas. I could not confirm this info about Pak village, it may not be correct, as I have not seen it mentioned anywhere on web or tourism literature.
We came back to Desket which is Sub-Div town, although small in size. Filled petrol just outside town in open air petrol pump where petrol was being sold in 5 Lts measuring can, as the power supply had failed )and at arbitrary rate of Rs 60 a lit. Since there was sunlight, visited the famous Desket Monastry on the hill. Specialty of this monastery is that it has idol of Maitreya ( future Budha, next Budha incarnation, yet to come ) and also white Mahakal and Mahakali idols, not present any where else. Visited big size Budha idol and stup. The view from here is enchanting, vast width of river bed and greenery all around.
Just near this Budha Idol, with similar view, found a hotel to my liking. This was closed and no one was around. We roamed around town twice but could not find another hotel located as per my choice. Returned back to same hotel, enquired about owner, came to know that he is in his second hotel. Searched the owner, who offered me accommodation in his second hotel but I insisted for that closed hotel. Ultimately, he agreed, came with us and opened one of the rooms on the first floor. He himself was staying in one of the adjacent rooms permanently as his wife was working in a near by town. 3-4 years old son was also staying with him. His name ( Mr. Norbu ) surprised me as I had come across this surname quite frequently in Arunachal Pradesh. There appeared to be ancestral family link from Tibet.
Desket Summur Panamic Summur ( 91 km )
We set off, after breakfast in the second hotel of Mr. Norbu. We had to just go across the river but the road distance was 14 km to Summur. Came to know that a bridge is proposed as people have to come frequently from all around, Desket being Sub-Div town. As mentioned earlier, we had to go back on the road on which we came, to the tri-junction. Then we crossed the confluence of the Shyok and Nubra. Had tea in a hotel at Sumur, and interacted with locals.( Interaction being Shyam Da’s idea as we learn a lot about local views, information, custom etc ).
Sumur has a Nubbra valley’s most important monastery, Samstem Ling Gompa. The road to monastery goes from behind the village and the same road meets the main Sumur-Panamic road ahead. Suited us as we had to go to Panamic after visiting the monastery. Samstanling Monastry built in 1841, is a beautiful monastery, and the view is also excellent as it is at a height, even Desket is visible across the river on the other side.
Like Hundar, road on the other bank, this side road was also going towards Pak border after Panamic but entry was restricted, unlike other side. Then we moved on to Panamic and a few km beyond. We missed the hot spring. So, while returning, we enquired and were given directions. They were three people on the road and started asking us details of our car journey. They were surprised that we have come all the way from Delhi, and repeatedly insisted to take us to their residence for a cup of tea. We politely declined as be had planned to return to Sumur for night halt. Visited Hot Spring. The water was too hot.
Reached Sumur by 4 pm and settled in a GH. Not exactly, but something like Home Stay. Owner had constructed two rooms and sparsely furnished it but food was prepared and served in his residence, sitting on the mattress and food on low table, Japanese/Tibetan style. Although, food was most basic, chapati, one vegetable and salad, experience was unique.
Summur Khardung La Leh Nimmu Saspol Nurla ( 200 km )
In the morning, cold water was available in the tap but owner was too slow to supply hot water, as assured the previous day. We skipped the bath ( water was too cold ), took breakfast of milk/chapati, my usual for 32 years, and pushed off for Leh. Same story, disturbance by army convoy. However, there was snow on the road and every vehicle started slipping while negotiating climb, more so, for trucks. Some how, slowly, we reached Khardung La. Halted at Khardung La, snapped a few photos, had tea at worlds highest cafeteria, visited small temple that has been built, perhaps by BRTF.
Khardung La to Leh
Reached, Leh by lunch time and debated between halt at Leh or proceed forward towards Srinagar. Couldn’t find any parking place around market. Tried a few of the parking places on roadside, but the police man objected in style that he had no objection but the car will be toed to police station. So, we proceeded towards Srinagar and had very late lunch some where at a small hotel. We kept on moving, found a hotel, with in an hour, thought it was too early and then we could not find hotel when we wanted to stop. Crossed a number of small places but no open hotel or resort. All were closed. When we asked about the owners, came to know that they come from outside and have gone as the tourist season had been extremely bad due to cloud burst. I was gradually feeling tired. Going was very slow due to bad road condition as major road construction was going on at most of the stretches. We reached a small place, Nurla. We crossed one or two resorts in the village, but found them locked. Enquiries regarding owner, yielded no result. Day light was fading and darkness was slowly descending, and no hotel in sight. We had no choice but to move on until a hotel falls in our lap. And it did, sooner than later. We crossed the Nurla village and while crossing a bridge at the end of village, suddenly I noticed a sign board announcing Faryork Nurla, “Rooms Available”. The hotel was behind village shop. And the shop was closed, that is why I missed it. I reversed the car on the bridge and enquired.
The best thing I liked about the place was its location on the bank of a big stream, no…, the stream was too close to the wall to be called bank. We settled into the place ( difficult to call it resort or hotel – why ?Look at the photo ) .The place had a peculiar relaxed feel. Owner with a few other friends was playing cards in the restaurant. The kitchen and counter was on one side. The only staff, a boy from UP, was doing everything. He told us that the half of the hotel was washed away by flash floods in the stream, caused by cloud burst at Leh on 5th-6th night of August 2010. He also warned us not to use the front toilet, right across our door, as there was nothing below it and the floor may collapse under our weight and we should use the other toilet. ( there was no attached toilet, but it didn’t matter as we were the only occupant. ) The place appeared to be isolated and the surprise was the mobile phone, it was working! We made calls but it was difficult to hear due to noise created by the thundering stream.