Exploring Ladakh beyond Leh – Part 1

Nature at it’s supreme !

Traveling – it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller – Ibn Battuta

What can I tell about Ladakh that has not been told already !! There are scores of blogs, travel stories which will tell you the do’s and don’s about traveling to Ladakh, all I can tell is MY story, as I indeed become more of a storyteller than a traveler with each journey I undertake.

The trip to Ladakh was on a total whim, not much of thought or planning went into it. Over the years I have traveled from Dhauladhars to Nilgiris to Sahyadris and Himalayas but somehow never went beyond Kashmir, probably I kept waiting to get posted to the Ladakh side. But a sudden opportunity to off road across Ladakh came up and I jumped. I wanted this to be a solo trip but domestic situation at home demanded I take my 8 year old daughter with me and she is not the one to shy away from an adventure, so without much ado, we took off on this journey of a lifetime.

Skies over Srinagar

We decided to fly into Srinagar as we have done the Delhi – Srinagar drive a gazillion times and I did not want to add fatigue of a 2 day drive to the ultimate adventure which would start from Srinagar.

DAY 1 – We landed in Srinagar in the morning and were instantly hit by the heat !! Landing into the ‘Heaven on Earth’ and being gobsmacked by the soaring temperature was anti-climactic to say the least. Stories of Srinagar are for another blog post, this story is about Ladakh, so let us continue 🙂 .

DAY 2 – This day was an unmitigated disaster since it dawned. We started kind of late at 8 am for the drive from Srinagar to Kargil, a 202 Km journey which I thought would not take more than 6-7 hours, I was proved WRONG !! 

As we drove out of Srinagar and headed towards Sonamarg, the scenery was picturesque beyond words, the conifers, the meadows, the river gurgling through the landscape,the grazing sheep reminded me of the breathtaking scenery of Scotland and the journey felt like the destination till we were hit by the traffic jam ! I was soon to realise this traffic jam was nothing compared to what we were to encounter later in the day. Since we were stuck anyways and it was still morning hours with plenty of time left to complete the drive to Kargil, we decided to get off near the Thajiwas glacier and ride up to the glacier through the mountains.

We decided to take horses till the glacier and believe me this is the last time I will put an animal through the agony of carrying me anywhere ! The landscape was enchanting and I half expected to see gnomes and goblins walking out from behind the trees 🙂 . My daughter was a pro with her horse and could ride him all on her own without the help of the horse owner.

My daughter crossing the river on horseback on her own 🙂
Ye hasin vadiyaan !!

As we neared the glacier, a storm was brewing and a few fat drops of water cascaded down my back giving me shivers, we were too far from the safety of the car and nothing in sight to protect us from the fury of nature. The rain suddenly started coming down in thick sheets and we took shelter under a plastic canopy which turned out be a Bakarwal shepherd’s abode ! There were these amazingly warm rugs covering the uneven ground, a few utensils and a mud chulha. It was an out of the world experience especially for my daughter who had never seen anything like this.

Soon other travelers caught in the downpour trickled in and a huge pot of tea was put on by the Bakarwal’s wife and we had our first ever cup of tea made of goat’s milk !! I could not take out my camera cause of my wet hands, but in retrospect I am glad I did not miss the experience whilst I was busy trying to capture it in a lens, I LIVED the moment and that probably is the best way to immortalise it  !

The rains vanished as suddenly as it had started and we decided to head back lest we were caught unawares again and I definitely did NOT want to continue the journey all wet. After a quick lunch of the staple meal of Maggi, we continued and the nightmare truly began in earnest !

The roads were jammed as far as the eye could see, with the trucks blocking the way and vision, my Indian brethren afflicted with the disease of honking when clearly there is no way to move ! The noise, the heat, the dust, no public restrooms made me think if this road trip was a good idea in the first place.

We were told by the house boat owner to carry scarves for the Zoji La crossing which we ignored considering we were in an Innova, why should we care about the dust right ? WRONG !! There was no way we could put the air conditioner on or the windows up and the drive through Zoji la was a nightmare I would never undertake again. It took hours and hours with no end in sight, the terrible state of the road was no help either. It was either an inch forward or straight down the valley, such were the frightening cliffs. The ice on the roads made the idea very real that the vehicle just may skid and go crashing down the cliffs. I have never prayed harder or cursed louder than on this stretch.

The glacier as soon as we crossed Zojila.

The traffic and the vehicular pollution has ensured the glacier is covered in muck and the pristine snow has turned all muddy and brown 🙁 . Unfortunately we humans have managed to dirty and defile all creations of the almighty.

Once we crossed the ZOJI LA at around 6 pm, the roads cleared up with still quite a few miles to clock to our destination to Kargil. The stunning Drass valley was a hazy shadow in the dark, the fatigue of the long journey took it’s toll and I did not go inside the Kargil War Memorial which I really regret. Considering I know people personally who have sacrificed their lives in the wretched war and not paying my respects to them is a regret I will always carry !

The day ended on a dour note with us checking in the hotel at 1 a.m tired and irritated !! But as they say once you have hit the lowest the only way to go is up and up, and that is what precisely happened next day on.

The journey just got more and more beautiful, the experiences more and more diverse, the vistas out of this world, each day unfolded sights which were impossible to get better from the previous and surprisingly they just did.

And I do hope you will join me on this dazzling journey in the next parts to come……. very soon 🙂

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