Leh – Pangong – Srinagar

They said leave early and try to cross Rohtang Pass before 8 to avoid the dreaded traffic jam. So we started by 5:30 am, and got to “Rohtang” at 7:50, except that we couldn’t guess where Rohtang pass was. A lone passing jeep driver said “yehi hai Rohtang” (this is it). I was expecting Rohtang would announce itself. Picture this – no trace of snow or ice, no signposts, no traffic jam. That jeep wasn’t enough to help us create a traffic jam.

Rohtang

Near Keylong

My guess is this year the season ended early, the snow has melted and the government had recently limited vehicles bound to Rohtang to just 1000. 31st August being a monday I suspect many Rohtang hopefuls would still be waiting for the 10 am open of DM’s office to obtain the permit required to visit Rohtang. We got our permit made on Sunday by jugad. But paid double the amount here and again later when the permit turned out to be only for Rohtang and not Leh.

After 10 years of planning (!!) I got a chance finally to execute a trip to Leh via Manali and back through Srinagar. A friend of mine agreed to take 10 days leave (my first requirement for a mention-worthy Leh road trip). He hadn’t heard of Leh before and knowing him his landlord did confirm twice with him that he had heard him right my friend was indeed going to Leh.  I didn’t warn him about the intensity of this undertaking, lest I lose my bakra. Just the two of us set off for what was my dream road trip.  Though he went back on his promise of 10 days and only brought 5 days with him. It was going to be a rush everywhere and no acclimatisation for the high altitudes of this route

Manali_Leh_Highway_Explained.png

Manali_Leh_Highway_Explained.png

Credit – http://devilonwheels.com/places-on-manali-leh-highway-a-detailed-description/

If I had planned going to Leh with just 5 days leave I could have pulled off this trip 10 times in 10 years with 10 friends. Anyway don’t look a gift horse in the mouth. I got to connect with a school friend after 20 years! The gap insured we had millions of stories to tell each other in this rather long journey.

Better Pics of Rohtang

Rohtang

Better Pics of Rohtang

Rohtang

For acclimatisation, stay a night each at Manali, Keylong, Sarchu or Pang, and then Leh. Also this should make it a comfortable journey as these places offer good staying facilities. But we couldn’t afford such luxuries being short on time, so instead, from Manali we went straight to Zingzingbar (14000 feet asl) which was freezing cold and windy to spend the night and ended up with a sleepless iss-raat-ki-subah-nahi night with headache, sickness, and feeling trapped in inners and jackets and immovable under 3 heavy dusty microfibres launching quilts on top of that. You would ask why oh why, but all I could think of in my AMS educated mind was I am going to die! My friend who earlier was totally unaware of a place called Leh was totally unaware of AMS and slept peacefully. The tent keeper gave us some garlic cloves to fend off AMS which works for about 3 minutes (or perhaps it doesn’t and is just a distraction) but you cannot overdo it as it burns your mouth eating raw garlic.

Utranchali and Himachali brothers - me and my friend Susheel, garlic in my hand.

Utranchali and Himachali brothers – me and my friend Susheel, garlic in my hand.

Sleeping here tonight

Sleeping here tonight

We started early from Zingzingbar too, one couldn’t be happier to see the first light of the day. The engine wouldn’t start, the windscreen had ice on it. The tent keeper helped us with hot water to thaw the engine.  We got some nice views before getting to Baralacha-La (16000 feet).

nice views

Baralacha-La ascent

The morning sun wanted to show off and created its own art.

morning sun wanted to show off

morning sun

morning sun wanted to show off

Then the wind wanted to show off its creations –

wind wanted to show off

wind wanted to show off

wind effect

Man’s turn now

Man's turn now

Mane (prayer wheel)

 

Man's turn now

Chortens

The unbelievable part of this road trip was to be driving at 120kmph at 16000 feet above sea level at More plains. You just could see the road laid in front till the eyes could see. After this there’s a steep climb to Tanglang-La at 17,500 feet where I started feeling dizzy again. Susheel says lets take 30 mins rest here at the Pass and I had to tell him like a crazy panicking person that we need to rush down to feel better. Also it’s here I discovered Susheel wasn’t driving in the wrong lane due to bad driving habit learnt in the cities but deliberately to avoid the (view of the) steep fall on the valleys side, I was splitting my sides laughing and offered to drive but he wouldn’t let me, saying I was a crazy driver to be driving on that side and he didn’t want to die. Hahaha, still makes me go when I remember how we met unsuspecting drivers from the other direction in their rightful lanes honking at us. But we did have a taxi following us in the wrong lane and driving equally slow refusing to overtake. If you saw the views from Tanglang-La  you could perhaps be forgiven to be driving like that. Unfortunately I couldn’t get any good pictures as he didn’t want to stop and catch an accidental glimpse of the abyss.

Leh in itself didn’t impress me. Felt like the most polluted city in the world, the vehicles emitted evil smelling smoke (like their diesel was adulterated) and there was a lot of fine dust in the air. Even Susheel exclaimed there was something about the pollution here which was different from other cities.

Next day we drove to Pangong Tso. Started at about 9:30 which was a mistake as we got stuck in a caravan of military trucks. Should have got a headstart at 6 and given them a miss. Initially it was exciting to overtake the trucks on thin dangerous roads but soon the magnitude of the problem made itself clear. Pangong Tso was about 150 kms from leh, the road very rough, stony with steep climbs, and the caravan had easily 200 trucks. We weren’t able to maintain enough momentum on steep climbs due to a heavily loaded truck dragging itself in front of us and another honking like a matter of life and death behind us as it didn’t want to stall. Our car did stall on a few steep stretches and we had a few heart in the mouth moments. Alternately we switched driving seats and got the other person out behind the car to hold the car from slipping back.  Suzuki Ritz which had performed superbly until now seemed to be failing to deliver at high altitudes.

High pass on the way.

Changla

Changla

We reached Pangong lake by 4 pm after an arduous day’s drive. The charm of this lake is that its waters change colour from some indescribable colour to deep blue. And you can drive miles along the coast and not be able to cover the entire length of the lake, not just because it’s really big but also because 2/3rds of this lake is in China.

We were quite excited about eating our lunch at a cafe called Rancho cafe, a name made famous by the movie 3 Idiots, but a after-lunch-walk revealed that there were about 5 dhabas called Rancho cafe and one called 3 idiots cafe and the one we had lunch in was the shoddiest.

Pangong lake

3-idiots end scene was shot here at Pangong

Pangong lake

Monks at Pangong lake

We had wanted to turn back after a quick lunch at Pangong with the lure of spending a comfortable night in a good hotel in Leh but just didn’t have the mental strength to drive the long route back. so we continued to drive to Spangmik which is some 7 kms along the coast of the lake.Halfway to Spangmik, I suddenly doubting that the road was going away from the lake took the car straight towards the lake and drove on a dirt road. My off-roading stunt didn’t go well with my mate after the Leh-pangong drive, especially when we got stuck in deep ditches trying to get back to the road further ahead.

At Spangmik we got to stay in tents by the lake which was the best part of the trip.

tents by the lake

tents by the lake

First look at the loo and I was confused as to why they were in the open. Later realised the tents had been removed as the season was closing down.

Jealous of the bikers who stayed in tents next to us.

IMG_9111

We had a choice of interiors, no points for guessing which we chose –

Tempting

9088

The non honeymoon one ofcourse.

Did some goofing around with a guitar borrowed from an Israeli couple from a neighbouring tent. The guitar wasn’t tuned at all ( yeah right!).

The night showed a beautiful moonrise over the lake. It was teasingly slow and kept me up for hours.

a beautiful moonrise

a beautiful moonrise

Return journey was uneventful. As in we got 3 punctures and a tyre rupture. Picked up a hitchhiker who promised he would help push the car if need arose. He did help in changing the tyres. After Leh, the road from Leh to Kargil was a pleasure to drive through as it’s well maintained.

Found huge presence of the Army in full preparation at many places, felt like driving through a state under seige. It was scary at times because the Army had guns pointed at us ready to attack, we read later that earlier that day they killed a couple of terrorists at Kupwara and one was still absconding.

Sindh river at Sonmarg.

IMG_9274

sindh

At Srinagar took a few customary pics of the Dal lake, which stretches for kms along the road with hundreds of boat houses. Wonder how much business they get.

Dal lake

Dal lake

From Delhi to Manali to Leh Kargil Srinagar Jammu Delhi , we clocked around 2900 kms in 7 days.

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