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Old 25th August 2011, 13:11   #61
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Default Re: Ladakh & Zanskar: The road(s) less travelled

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Originally Posted by vardhan.harsh View Post
Thanks adc for your lovely words. Coming from a wanderer like you, it's means a lot! You do love to go in the off peaks seasons, dont you! Do make it in early October though, Pensi La is quite notorious and sometimes gets closed a little too early. Unlike Leh, there's one egress route, out of Zanskar! Carry snow chains, if you dont have them, take it from me enroute! Trust you have not messed with your stock tyre sizes. I'm still trying to catch up on your much awaited log of last year visit in October. I've reached Dha till now (on your log), and I must say sir, What an adventure. I mean i knew it would be something out of this world and was waiting for the log for 6 months now!

Thanks to you too - for all of us any travel is good travel!

Yeah love off season, crowds are less, people are relaxed - the Leh permit people were filling up my forms with all the unusual names - that does not happen in peak times. But the reality too is thats the month wife and son get the Durga Puja holidays.

Stock tyres it is, in fact the Safari LX is as stock as it can be in this almost 4 years. Thanks much for the offer - if Zanskar happens will let you know. Thanks again!

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Old 25th August 2011, 14:02   #62
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Smile Re: Day 4: Panginagu - Tso Kar Basin - Debring - Leh - Part 2 of 2

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Attachment 598052
We meet flat roads again towards the end of Moreh Plains


Brilliant travelogue! I have had ladakh plans for quite some time but always get stuck at leaves from office! Guess I ll just leave my job before the next ladakh season!
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Old 25th August 2011, 18:53   #63
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Default Re: Ladakh & Zanskar: The road(s) less travelled

Fantastic travelogue once again. Kudos to both of you. This travelogue will probably surpass your previous Ladakh trip, that's what I feel

Nice, crisp pics and compositions, as usual. Rated 5 stars.
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Old 28th August 2011, 23:42   #64
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Default Re: Ladakh & Zanskar: The road(s) less travelled

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Stock tyres it is, in fact the Safari LX is as stock as it can be in this almost 4 years. Thanks much for the offer - if Zanskar happens will let you know. Thanks again!
You are most welcome, let me know if Zanskar happens for you this Oct!


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Brilliant travelogue! I have had ladakh plans for quite some time but always get stuck at leaves from office! Guess I ll just leave my job before the next ladakh season!
Thanks vivek. I too had to wait for 4 years, before realizing my Ladakh trip. It was the worth the wait.

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Originally Posted by Saurabh M View Post
Fantastic travelogue once again. Kudos to both of you. This travelogue will probably surpass your previous Ladakh trip, that's what I feel

Nice, crisp pics and compositions, as usual. Rated 5 stars.
Thanks for appreciating the log Saurabh. Will try to be more frequent with updates now on. Had a hectic week and essentially got lazy.
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Old 29th August 2011, 08:56   #65
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Default Day 7 (15th July): Leh - Nimmu - Chilling - Nimmu - Sham Valley - Part 1 of 2

Day 7 was our day of ‘detours’, the day when we planned to explore all kinds of ‘motorable treks’, if that makes any sense. By detours we mean mostly exploring and going to ‘ends-of-roads’. All the detours were planned off the Leh - Srinagar highway. It was going to be a long day, but after two days of complete rest, we were upbeat and looking forward to some off-roading.

We left our hotel at 6:15 am the next morning. In half an hour, after a quick stop at the gas station, we had reached the straight road after the Leh airport . The morning light made the landscape look heavenly, and hence our progress was slow. All flights landing in and flying out of Leh are scheduled for early in the morning because that is when the weather is most stable. We saw several flights landing, and enjoyed the sight of a lonely plane flying against the barren and majestic mountains.

We did not stop at the Magnetic Hill to experiment this time, having already decided last year that it was an optical illusion. Soon, we reached Nimmu, and after photographing the confluence of the Zanskar and Indus rivers, we continued towards our first planned detour of the day - to Chilling and the end of road beyond it.


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A wonderfully tarred road before Magnetic hill

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An early morning flight about to land at Leh

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The famous Magentic hill provides the perfect setting for a lot of ads.

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The confluence of Indus & Zanskar at Nimmu

The road to Chilling runs along the Zanskar river, in a very narrow and dark valley. It is actually more like a gorge than a valley, with cliffs jutting into the river. The mountains seem to be made of hard rock and give a very rugged appearance. The rock, they say, is also quite difficult to cut through, and no wonder a land-trek route does not exist on this stretch, and people have to walk on the frozen Zanskar river (the famous Chadar trek) in the winters to reach Leh from Padum. The mountains also get a purplish tinge here, and remind somewhat of the valley after Tanglang La. The ferocious Zanskar rives enthralls throughout, and one can just stare at the river for hours admiring its beauty. That is one river with a personality of its own!

Chilling is 28 kms from the cut from the highway, the village not really on the road but a bit higher. There are some home-stays available at the village and some dhabas as well. However, when we reached Chilling, it was still too early for the dhabas to have opened. Beyond Chilling, we crossed a few groups of foreign trekkers on the way, probably doing the Markha Valley trek. The poor souls were trekking on what is now a motor-able road, it must sure not be fun anymore!


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The rugged terrain on the Nimmu - Chilling road

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Chilling village, a splash of green in an otherwise brown surrounding

We continued on the now not-so-good road, crossed a BRO camp, and finally after 10 kms or so reached a point where the road was blocked due to construction work. We could not go further, and on talking to the BRO officer overseeing the work, we got to know that the road had only been blasted another 2 kms from that point.

On the way back, we saw the trail marking the beginning of the well known Markha valley trek on the other side of the river. The most surprising part was that the track seemed to be used by four wheelers, although there was no bridge over the Zanskar for four wheelers to cross! If someone could solve this mystery for me, I would be highly obliged, Avinash Sidhu probably? The trekkers, whom we had crossed earlier, were using a traditional pulley arrangement to cross the river one at a time. It looked pretty scary!


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Working hard, or hardly working, eh?

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We were not able to go beyond this point

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The trek route towards Markha valley begins here.

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Men, machine and luggage cross the Zanskar over that rickety pulley bridge!

Then we got down to some calculations - the distance from Nimmu to Padum is 150 kms, out of which approximately 45 kms of road was ready from Nimmu. 45 kms in 7 years, that’s about 7 kms a year! It really must be a hard task for the BRO guys. We did not know what was the status of the road from the Padum side, and had to wait for the Zanskar leg of our trip to find out. For the time being, it was 105 kms to go.

We then drove back all the way to Chilling, the weather being very cloudy and adding to the darkness of the already dark Zanskar valley. After a tasty breakfast of pancakes at some dhabas on the main highway at Nimmu, we moved on, our next detour being the Sham valley.


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Heading back towards the highway

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They say that the work on the Nimmu - Darcha road actually began in 2004.

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The distance to Manali would be reduced drastically after this becomes a reality.

We drove by the famous Basgo Palace/ Monastery, and contemplated visiting it. But we were a bit short on time, and decided to give it a miss. Immediately after the Palace, the road starts ascending, and some good shots of the Palace can be taken from the switchbacks. At the end of ascent, the lovely Basgo plains welcomed us, and we reveled for a bit at the sight of the long, straight road in front of us.


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The ruins of the Basgo Palace

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The flat, huge, Basgo plains! Not as huge as Moreh of course.

We had to look up the Leomann map to figure out the cut for the Sham valley. The road was tarred but narrow. Three chortens, blue, white and yellow, welcomed us to the valley. We came to a point on the road from where one track went into Sham valley, and the other towards Likir. We took the latter first since we wanted to see the Likir Monastery and the giant Buddha, albeit only from a distance. The road climbs considerably as one goes towards Likir, and soon the Monastery, with the huge golden Buddha next to it, comes into view. A few locals were taking a lift in our car, so we went all the way up till the parking of the Monastery and then came back.


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Three chortens welcome us to Likir!

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Likir Monastery and the huge Buddha idol on the right of it.

Subsequently, we took the cut into Sham valley where the road winds in a broad, very barren and totally brown landscape. Green patches can be seen every 7 or 8 kms, which are usually small villages or hamlets of a couple of households. The mountains have a slight pinkish-purplish tinge, which gives the whole place a surreal effect, and it sometimes feels like you’re driving through a painting.

We also spotted trekkers every few kilometers, and were not surprised as we knew that the Sham valley trek is very popular, specially because it is relatively easy, is close to Leh, and does not require permits of any kind. Every village we crossed had umpteen camping spots to cater to the abundant trekkers in the valley.

The first pass we crossed in the Sham valley was Pobe La, which, at 3600 m, was a gentle climb. The track was pretty much tarred all the way to the top. The descent to the village of Sumdo begins immediately after the pass. I wonder why so many villages in Ladakh are called Sumdo. They do have creativity issues on that front for sure!


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An absolute barren climb towards Pobe La.

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The unceremonious Pobe La top

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The view back towards Pobe La, from Sumdo village

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Sham Valley is quite famous for its (simple) treks.

After Sumdo, we begin climbing the next pass on the route, Charatse La at 4000 m. The ascent is pretty steep with a few difficult switchbacks, but thankfully the track is tarred all the way. Charatse La was completely barren! No green could be seen anywhere, except in the valley below, where we could spot a lush green village, Yangthang, nicely located in the middle of a bowl-type valley. As a friend says, it would make the perfect setting for the world’s most picturesque golf course. Sadly, the people of Yangthang somehow prioritize farming over golfing, don’t know why?! .


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A flag at Charatse La.

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The beautifully tarred road till Charatse

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Yangthang

Our progress was slow after Charatse La, as the track lost it's tar and was replaced with a sandy descending jeepable track. Immediately after descending to Yangthang, the climb to the next pass began. The climb to Settmanchan La at 3850 m was even more difficult than the last one, with the track getting very sandy at places. Still, we did not feel the need to engage 4WD yet.

As I was taking one turn, the unthinkable happened. Kiyang lost power and stalled! It sputtered wildly, with thick black smoke billowing out of the exhaust. It shivered as one shivers upon taking a plunge in a swimming pool on a cold October evening, and stopped dead in its tracks! My heart sank. I had been extra careful with the maintenance schedule of the vehicle, and it was equipped with a recent oil change, clean filters, and even a chemical cleaning of the catalytic converter had been done before the trip. This sputtering was something new to me, it had never happened before. Kiyang had easily crossed difficult passes such as Charchagan La and Marsimik La last year, and had never experienced any issues. So there had to be something very wrong with it to have bowed to Settmanchan La which is only at 3850 m!

However, before I could fret further, Kiyang immediately regained its composure and everything went back to normal as if nothing had ever happened. The remaining climb to Settmanchan La was uneventful, but that feeling of unease that something was wrong with the car stayed with us.

The view of the next village, Hemis Shukpachan, from the pass was absolutely amazing. In contrast to the light sandy brown of the mountains, the huge, lush green patch in the middle of the valley below seemed as if a a drop of green paint had accidentally dropped from God’s brush in his otherwise brown painting.

As we approached the village, it became apparent that Hemis Shukpachan was definitely the biggest of all villages we’d seen in the Sham valley yet. Chancing upon a villager, we asked if there was a road linking the village directly to the highway. We were jubilant when he said yes, because we were in no mood to go all the way back to almost Nimmu to join the highway.


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A view of Hemis Shukpachan village from Settmanchan La

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Approaching Hemis Shukpachan

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Pretty houses dot this village.

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The road going back to the highway is beautiful too.

A few words about Hemis Shukpachan. There was something about this quaint village that was really attractive which I’m unable to express. For those looking for a good homestay near Leh, it provides an ideal setting. Traditional Ladakhi houses, small nallahs everywhere, pretty flowers, and cute kids can be found in all villages in this region, and Hemis Shukpachan was no different. However, it had that extra something that I’m unable to put my finger on. The road that leads to the highway goes through the village, and is an absolute treat to drive on, lined with trees on both sides, and running along a river. We did not have time to explore the village that day, but decided that someday we would like to spend a day here. For now, we had one more ‘detour’ planned for the day - a drive to the lost village of Hinjoo, on the Lamayuru - Padum trek...
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Old 29th August 2011, 12:37   #66
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Default Re: Ladakh & Zanskar: The road(s) less travelled

beautiful pictures !! having just been through most of the route you cover here I can really appreciate how well you have photographed the many amazing sights
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Old 30th August 2011, 11:44   #67
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Default Day 7 (15th July): Leh - Khaltse - Hinjoo - Lamayuru - Part 2 of 2

By about 2 pm. we rejoined the highway some 20 kms before Khaltse, and drove on towards Lamayuru, happy at being re-united with the Indus. It had not even been 20 minutes since our return to the highway that we got stuck in a hold-up. Road blasting was going on as a part of four-laning the highway, and we had to wait. As I napped, Aarti clicked. Lunch was taken care of by some fruits, juices and sandwiches bought earlier in the day.


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Rejoining the Indus river

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The little one was copying everything that his elder brother did

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Blast away!

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More blasting happening

After waiting for about an hour, we finally got permission to move on. Soon we had to start our search for the cut to the village of Wanla, our third and final detour for the day. Different maps mark this detour at different locations, making things more difficult. It is actually located on the new road which goes towards Fotu La crossing through Lamayuru.

We bid adieu to the tarred road as we took the cut towards Wanla. The road initially runs almost level with the river, and after a picturesque 13 kms, one reached the quaint village of Wanla. As one enters the village, a cut to the right leads over a bridge and to some hot springs. On this corner, there is also a huge camping ground for trekkers, as this again is a famous trek route. The village of Wanla is famous for wood carvings, and we went to check out one of the workshops there. Unfortunately, nothing was ready and we couldn't buy anything. The Wanla Gompa was high above the village, and we could see the road going up towards it. We then continued on towards Phanijla.


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Level with a stream on the way to Wanla

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The stream is actually more of a river

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Somewhere between Wanla and Phanijla

The road worsens after Wanla, and is quite dusty. The 7 kms from Wanla to Phanijla took about 20 minutes. Phanijla looked much like Wanla, except that it had a STD booth. From Phanijla, one road goes towards Hinjoo, where we were headed, and the other towards Hanupatta and Sisir La (4800 m), which is about 30 km from Phanijla. After Sirsir La, one climbs down about 10 kms and comes to Photoksar. We were very surprised when locals at Phanijla told us that the road actually goes all the way up till Photoksar! This is part of the fantastic Lamayuru - Padum trek, and with the road made all the way uptill Photoksar, a good 3 days can be shaved off this trek. However, we did not take the risk of doing it, as we were running short on time, and also because Kiyang was not at its fittest.

We drove on, eastwards towards Hinjoo, the road now very bumpy and dusty. 4x4 had, of course, been engaged a while back, but Kiyang’s sputtering problem had returned with a vengeance, and it was now stalling much more than the previous day. The 10 kms from Phanijla to Hinjoo took about 40 minutes, and was pretty tiring, given that we already had had a long day. We’d planned to camp at Hinjoo, but upon reaching there realized that the valley was a bit narrow and not that deserted to camp in. Also, most of the camping grounds were marked by locals and were let out on rent. The Chilling - Hinjoo trek is apparentely quite popular as well. Hinjoo was the end of road, and seeing that always makes us happy (total weirdos we are!), but apart from that the place did not impress us much, so we decided to not stay there. It was 5:30 pm then, and we decided to stretch a bit and get to Lamayuru for the night.


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The end of the road at Hinjoo

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On the way back from Hinjoo to Phanijla

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The road is quite dusty and the landscape quite dramatic

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Phanijla

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A 'paid' campsite between Phanijla and Wanla

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Jalebi bends, while climbing Lamayuru

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Sunset about to happen

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The moonscape at Lamayuru

In an hour we had reached the main road, and thought of giving the new road till Lamayuru a try. However, two workers stopped us, saying that some blasting work was going on and the road was closed for the day. We then went back to take the jalebi road, which indeed is horrible. Some 30 switchbacks and much frustration later, we reached Lamayuru around 7:45 pm, and went straight to Hotel Moonland, which had been recommended by our hotel guy in Leh. We got a nice, clean room at a reasonable rate.
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Old 30th August 2011, 14:04   #68
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Default Re: Ladakh & Zanskar: The road(s) less travelled

I am so much longing on seeing the vast, nature power reflecting terrains that you both often travel.

What am I doing in Kuwait Desert? I pray to my Karma to free myself to be in these meditative terrains. Like ADC's Your travelogue adds fuel to my thoughts to Repatriate to India immediately.

Tata give me a Automatic 4x4 version of Safari for me soon.

Superb travelogue. Great pictures. Thanks for sharing. You can share travel planning/ hotel detatils.

Is it difficult to manage being 100% vegetarian food eater in these places?
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Old 31st August 2011, 09:42   #69
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I am so much longing on seeing the vast, nature power reflecting terrains that you both often travel.

What am I doing in Kuwait Desert? I pray to my Karma to free myself to be in these meditative terrains. Like ADC's Your travelogue adds fuel to my thoughts to Repatriate to India immediately.

Tata give me a Automatic 4x4 version of Safari for me soon.

Superb travelogue. Great pictures. Thanks for sharing. You can share travel planning/ hotel detatils.

Is it difficult to manage being 100% vegetarian food eater in these places?
Kuwait desert you say. That to me sounds like a wonderful opportunity for dune bashing!

Thanks for your kind words. And regarding your question, being a 100% vegetarian is not a problem at these places. In fact i would go on to say the it's difficult at times to get non-vegetarian food.
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Old 2nd September 2011, 15:02   #70
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Default Day 8 (16th July): Lamayuru - Fotu La - Chitkan - Dha - Batalik - Kargil (6 hrs)

Our initial plan for the day included a night stay at Dha to experience the Aryan culture. However, as the trip progressed and with a day lost at Rohtang, we decided against spending the night there. Given its proximity to Leh, Dha could be done on a later trip when we could actually spend a day or two there getting to know the people.

We now had two options, either to go back towards Khaltse and then take the well known road along the Indus towards the Aryan village, or to cross over Fotu La and then take a cut to the north through a village called Chiktan. So far, we’d only seen the Chiktan road on Google Earth. We asked a couple of guys at the hotel we were staying at in Lamayuru, and they confirmed the existence of the road. So we obviously decided to take it, since that is what we usually do - explore the unknown.


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The view towards Lamayuru Monastery from our hotel

We started the day on a leisurely note, and it was only by 8:30 am that we managed to get back on the road again. The climb to Fotu La was nice and easy, with excellent roads and lovely weather due to the cloud cover. The road is a pretty sight as it snakes through the stark, brown landscape. The road on the other side of Fotu La is being widened, thus the progress after the pass was a bit slow. About 30 odd kms after Fotu La, we reached the village of Khangral, from where the cut to Chiktan village is marked on the highway. One can also ask for Sanjak to identify this cut going towards Dha.


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The road snaking up towards Fotu La

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A view point on our ascent to Fotu La

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The view from the view point towards Lamayuru

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Prayer flags mark the pass, Fotu La

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The view as one descends from Fotu La towards Kargil

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The cut for Chitkan is well marked on the highway

The next 35 kms, till the road re-joins the Indus river, is on a flat river bed. The river flows next to the road in a lush green, densely populated valley. The population in the valley seemed to be more Muslim with plenty of Mosques enroute. Chiktan is about 12 kms away from the highway. Here the route bifurcates, with the straighter one sticking to the river bed, while the other climbs over a pass, and eventually descends to join the Indus. We preferred to stick on the level path, as it would be shorter and also prettier. Of course, keeping in mind Kiyang’s ill health, we were now also refraining from all avoidable climbs. Along the way, we saw several loaded apricot trees on the other side of the river, but sadly could not get a good shot of them. We’d reached the Sanjak bridge where one crosses over the Indus to join the road coming from Khaltse by 12:00 pm. We showed our permit here and rejoined the highway on the right bank of the Indus.


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A green valley begins

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Colors of nature - a green valley surrounded by purple and brown mountains

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Some ruins, which were apparently a tourist attraction. We skipped it.

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The road bifurcates again, we took the shorter one towards Dha

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The drive by the river is splendid

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The road was washed away last year by flash-floods. Embankment being made.

The road to Dha runs along the Indus, and the apricot trees now shifted to our side of the river. We plucked a few from a tree when no one was looking, and thoroughly enjoyed eating them! The Indus at this point is very wide and looks quite ferocious. It is indeed sad that such a mighty river only stays in our country for a short while. The village of Dha is off the road, and as decided we did not go to explore it. We did, however, see an Aryan lady on the road, and instantly recognized her features!


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The region is aptly called the apricot country. The trees are loaded with the fruit, and are found in large numbers in this valley.

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They taste delicious especially when plucked fresh (read stolen!)

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The last stretch of Indus in India

4 kms before Batalik, the road crosses the Indus, the one going straight is prohibited since it leads to the border. We said our goodbyes to the lovely Indus, and began climbing. Photography is not permitted here, and even though we’d planned to take a few non-sensitive landscape shots on the sly, we couldn’t because an army official took a lift in our car soon after the bridge. The road now climbs continuously, which Kiyang did not like too much, and kept stalling every now and then. Anyway, we climbed an entire mountain before coming to its other side where we were greeted by a lovely village and its lush green fields. Up ahead we could see Hamboting La, which Aarti loves for its unusual name. It must snow here quite a lot, since this was the only pass where a BRO signboard read: “Engage 4WD mode now”, followed by one which said “Put on snow chains”. The pass itself is nothing spectacular, except that one can see Kargil in the distance on the other side from it.


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A lovely village just before Hamboting La

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Hamboting La!

By the time we crossed the pass, it was 2:15 pm, and we were desperately hungry. We were planning to take out our stove and cook some Maggi when we spotted a dhaba. The dhaba guy had only eggs, so we gave him two packets of the Maggi we were carrying which he made with tomato puree and it tasted awesome. We also had some ready-to-eat food which he heated for us.

After lunch, we continued our descent to Kargil, taking shortcuts wherever we could. The high point of the descent was the sighting of the Nun Kun peaks. We reached Kargil by 4:15 or so, and checked into the D’Zozila hotel. The next task now was to get Kiyang checked. We could not find a workshop or a mechanic who knew how to repair a Dicor, so I simply took Kiyang to the workshop opposite our hotel which could service diesel vehicles.


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The green patch in the distance is Kargil, taken from Hamboting La

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The first view of Nun and Kun

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A zoomed out view of the peaks

The only possible solution that the mechanics there could jointly offer was to clean the filters again. Since the oil filter could not be cleaned, the only other option was to replace it. Thankfully, I was carrying a spare filter with me, and the deed was done quickly. I took Kiyang for a spin towards the only fuel station at Kargil and the cleaning of filters seemed to have worked like a charm. The engine seemed to be responding much better, and I was satisfied. Little did I know then that the problem was soon going to resurface and the solution provided was at best temporary...

My next stop was the gas station. With a long haul ahead of us (Kargil - Zanskar and around - Umba La - Srinagar), and the next scheduled refuelling point set at Kangan (near Sonamarg), it was time to tank up to the maximum. Kiyang’s fuel tank and the two 40L jerrycans were filled up to the brim.


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A local fair at Kargil.

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The giant wheel ride at the fair

We went for a stroll later that evening, and found the same kababchi in the main market of whom we had taken a photo during our last visit to Kargil. We gave him the prints we had, and the guy was overjoyed. He could not stop telling people around him how rare it was for people to come back one year later and still remember him. We felt elated! He offered us some kababs which we gladly accepted, all of it being on the house.

We’d planned to have dinner in our hotel, but given the exorbitant buffet rates, we decided to visit the market again for supper. Dinner happened at the same Tibetan place we’d eaten at last year. Then it was time to call it a day, and we went to sleep with eagerness to finally begin our journey to Zanskar the next day.
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Old 2nd September 2011, 15:46   #71
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Default Re: Day 8 (16th July): Lamayuru - Fotu La - Chitkan - Dha - Batalik - Kargil (6 hrs)

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Originally Posted by vardhan.harsh View Post
We’d planned to have dinner in our hotel, but given the exorbitant buffet rates, we decided to visit the market again for supper.
Indeed, D'Zojila Hotel has quite astronomical rates for their dinner buffet (Rs.400 per head for veg, Rs.500 for non-veg IIRC), but what they try to hide is the availability of a la carte dishes, unless one insists about it. With an order of roti, daal, subzi and a chicken dish, we managed dinner for 6 persons for under Rs.900.
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Old 2nd September 2011, 16:16   #72
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Default Re: Day 8 (16th July): Lamayuru - Fotu La - Chitkan - Dha - Batalik - Kargil (6 hrs)

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Originally Posted by SS-Traveller View Post
Indeed, D'Zojila Hotel has quite astronomical rates for their dinner buffet (Rs.400 per head for veg, Rs.500 for non-veg IIRC), but what they try to hide is the availability of a la carte dishes, unless one insists about it. With an order of roti, daal, subzi and a chicken dish, we managed dinner for 6 persons for under Rs.900.
We did ask for the a la carte menu, which they promptly denied. It was already 8 pm and they assumed that after denying us the a la carte menu, we would go for the buffet. Little did they know, how cheap we really were.
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Old 2nd September 2011, 16:21   #73
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Default Re: Day 8 (16th July): Lamayuru - Fotu La - Chitkan - Dha - Batalik - Kargil (6 hrs)

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We did ask for the a la carte menu...
One maybe-hungry gentleman asking doesn't help! Rideon asked, and was denied like you were. When the ladies decided to step in with that ready-to-eat-your-brains kind of hungry look (oh, also the I'm-ready-to-pull-your-teeth-out look!), they quickly stepped back! Aarti needs some training in that department, I suppose, so drop in anytime!
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Old 7th September 2011, 00:05   #74
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Default Day 9 (17th July): Kargil - Rangdum Gompa - Juldo (150 kms, 10 hrs) - Part 1

Finally day 9 dawned on us, the day we’d been waiting for since the beginning of the trip. Our plan for the day was to reach Rangdum and stay the night there. Rangdum to Kargil being only about 130 kms, we knew that there was no need to hurry. So we got up late and only left the hotel by 8:45 am or so. It was now time for Zannn-s-kaaaarrrrrr!!!!

We left the town of Kargil, Suru flowing beautifully on our left, the valley becoming greener. The road was superb here, and we were gliding. We knew that the road was tarred only till Sankoo, some 40 kms away from Kargil, and so were enjoying the pleasure of driving on tar while it lasts.


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Suru river flowing next to a fantastic tarred road

Our guidebook - Ladakh, Kashmir, Manali by Partha S. Banerjee (which by the way is an excellent guide with intricate details of all places), mentioned of a rock carved statue of Buddha at Kartse Khar, a village near Sankoo. The detour for this village is bang in the middle of Sankoo - one crosses over the Suru river and proceeds east for about 7 odd kms, before coming to a well-marked cut for the statue. The 7m tall rock carved statue of Maitriya Buddha is pretty amazing. What is more amazing though is that it is situated in a primarily Muslim populated area. Even more surprising is the the fact that the statue is worshipped by visiting Buddhists almost on a daily basis. A little research told us that Buddhism came to Ladakh not from Tibet, but from Kashmir, in an era before Muslim prophets turned the local populace into Islam. This probably also explains the location of the statue.


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Crossing the bridge over Suru at Sankoo

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The rock carving at Kartse Khar

We were back on the highway by 11:30 am, the entire detour taking about an hour at the most. We then resumed our journey toward Rangdum, the Suru river faithfully accompanying us. In about an hour, we reached Purtikchey. Here the river expands to fill a relatively wider valley with an oustanding view of the Nun and Kun massiffs. We were able to see one of those peaks, the other sadly was shrouded in clouds. The meadows in Purtikchey would have made for an ideal lunch spot, but for us it was too early for a lunch break. Several locals, including some school children, had come all the way from Kargil for a picnic on the river banks. I would highly recommend people moving towards Zanskar to break a night here instead of doing it at Kargil.

Just before Panikhar, we were told by the policeman deployed at the checkpost to cross over to the right bank of Suru. The road is a little better as compared to the one on the left bank. Since our breakfast had been very light, we ventured into the village to search for a dhaba but were unable to find one. We thought it might be better to break for lunch now at Parkachik.


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It does turn barren between two villages even in the Suru valley.

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But greenery returns, the river basin at Purtikchey

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Lush green near Panikhar

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Balti-stan

The road now starts to climb a bit, taking us quite high, leaving the Suru river below. The initial 10 odd kms of the climb is on an okay road, after which the tyre-ripping road to Padum begins. Jagged stones are strewn all over the road, and if one is not careful enough or unlucky, these stones have the potential to severely damage tyres. The greenery also reduces from here onwards, the landscape turning more barren. The road is devoid of any population after Panikhar, and one only finds a few small settlements scattered here and there till Padum.


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Beyond Panikhar

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A cute calf

We reached Parkachik village around 2 pm, and by that time we were hungry enough to eat a horse, figuratively speaking. We had not anticipated the utter lack of dhabas on the route and were not able to find anything at Parkachik as well. The excitement to see the Gumri glacier just after Parkachik was building. And suddenly, after we turned on one of the many bends on the road, we saw it! The Gumri glacier in all its glory. What a sight! Our jaws were hanging open! This was the first time either of us was looking at a glacier so close to the road, and it was an overwhelming feeling! It was a sight to behold and a sight also difficult to describe in words.

It was now getting difficult to ignore our growling stomachs, and so we decided to make our own lunch there, while soaking in the vistas around us. Out came our camping equipment - our little stove and cylinder - and Maggi packets with tomato puree which we’d bought from Sankoo, inspired by the tomato Maggi we’d eaten near Hamboting La. Cooking and eating next to the glacier was an awesome experience, and we thoroughly enjoyed those 45 minutes! Then, around 3 pm, we started again towards our destination for the day, Rangdum.


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The majestic Kangriz glacier

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Kangriz glacier at Parkachik

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A perfect setting for lunch (minus the dusty road)

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Little master in action

Thereafter, one drives in the shadow of two of the highest peaks between Parkachik and Shafat. In fact, the Gumri glacier comes straight down from the ridge between the Nun and Kun peaks. However, the peak themselves are not visible from the road. Another lesser known peak, Pinnacle (6900 m), is clearly visible from the road, and just popped into our line of sight upon turning a bend. Standing at 3900 m and looking at a 6900 m peak right in front of us reminded me of the view of Shivling from Tapovan. While such views are common on treks, what made this memorable was that we were experiencing them from a MOTORABLE ROAD! After spending sometime beneath the peak, we moved ahead towards Shafat.


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Pinnacle peak (6930m)

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Pinnacle peak and the glacier beneath

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A chorten just below the peak

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A view of the road and the peak.

Last edited by vardhan.harsh : 7th September 2011 at 00:16. Reason: The glacier at Parkachik's name corrected
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Old 7th September 2011, 00:22   #75
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Default Day 9 (17th July): Kargil - Rangdum Gompa - Juldo (150 kms, 10 hrs) - Part 2

As one sees Shafat in the distance, the valley broadens, and a green carpet welcomes the tired traveller. This is also the place from where the marmot infestation begins! The valley between Shafat and Pensi La can actually be named ‘Marmot Country’! It would take a really unlucky person to not sight a marmot while on the way to Padum. The first few marmots we saw excited us, then they started appearing every two minutes, which was great to see as well. But when all we could see were marmots popping up here, there and everywhere, we simply decided not to stop anymore! We’d never thought that a day would come when we wouldn’t stop our car when a marmot was sighted! So much was the infestation that at times we had to brake really hard to stop from hitting one as it ran across the road.


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A marmot in marmot country!

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A view of Shafat

The wetland before Rangdum is probably the reason for this abundance of marmots. And it was not only marmots, but several birds, horses, and lots of other mammals. Our progress was slow because of this sudden bombardment of fauna, and we took about an hour and a half to reach Juldo village, a part of the Rangdum area, about 22 kms away. Rangdum is not really a village, but rather an area of about 7 odd kms, which includes the villages of Juldo and Tashi Tongse with the Randum Monastery lying in between the two villages.


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A pregnant mare shows aggression as I try to come close to the herd.

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A white yak calf found in between a herd of sheep.

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A kid with its mother

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Of course it's a sheep

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The perfect sheep shot, I would say. That's how a sheep caricature is made.

On reaching Juldo, our immediate course of action was to find a place to stay for the night. The obvious options were a) to find out the caretaker for the JKTDC rest houseand get a room there, b) to talk to a ‘deluxe’ camp put up there or c) to find a place to pitch our own tent, in that order. We found the caretaker who informed us that the only room in the rest house was taken. However, he did have a VIP room but the catch was that should any VIP arrive in the night, we would have to vacate the room. On that precondition we took it, and thankfully were not troubled by any visiting dignitaries in the evening. There was a dhaba opposite the rest house, and we decided to have dinner there. However, we forgot to actually tell the dhaba guy that we would like to have dinner at his shop.


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Juldo

With the boarding and lodging all set, we decided to may hay while the sun was still shining. We moved on towards the Randgum Gompa situated atop a hill, about 7 odd kms from Juldo. The river basin is huge at Rangdum and the road obviously sticks to the ends of the basin. But it was mostly dry, and almost all vehicles were taking short-cuts through the basin towards the Gompa. It had a few water crossings, the best ones we’d come across since our journey began, and so we decided to play around a little. I splashed Kiyang through two such water crossings while Aarti clicked. The photo-shoot turned out quite nicely and was good fun as well.


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Preparing for the splash, testing the depth.

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And splash!

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Rangdum Monastery

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In the wide river basin near Rangdum Monastery

Not being the religious kind, we are usually clueless when it comes to things one can do at a monastery. The interiors of the Rangdum Monastery were pretty much the same as those in most of the other monasteries in the region. The USP of the monastery lies in its location and the commanding views that it has to offer. I would recommend it just for its views. The view of the Nun and Kun peaks from the monastery on a clear day would be spectacular, especially in the morning.


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The view towards Tashi Tongtse village from the Monastery

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The entrance of the gompa

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A chorten inside the gompa

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The dukhang building of the gompa

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Another shot inside the gompa

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A colorful window inside the gompa

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From darkness to light

After spending about half an hour at the monastery, we headed back to Juldo for the night. We went straight to the dhaba opposite our guest house, only to find it shut. We then enquired about other dhabas around, and were directed to Tashi’s dhaba, where we spent the most treasured evening of our trip.


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Back at Juldo dhabas

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Panzi La dhaba

Tashi’s Panzi La dhaba is one of the few dhabas located next to the police station in Juldo, and was the only one that was open that evening. As we ordered food and got comfortable, we chit chatted about nothing in particular with a bunch of locals in the cosy little dhaba with the warmth of the kitchen stove shielding us from the cold outside. As we talked, we heard their take on the harsh winters in this cold region and their tactics to wade through it. We got to know that tourists actually ski all the way to Padum in February and March, and as one would guess, these are mostly foreigners. They told us how the Chadar road is their lifeline in the winters, how children of rich people go to Jammu to study and those of the not-so-rich end up in Leh, how they spend 5 months in a year holed up in their houses, with nothing to eat apart from rice and soup, and nothing to do but chant prayers. It was humbling to get to know their lives, and we did not want the evening to end.

We finally called it a night at about 10 pm, looking forward to witnessing the majestic Drang Drung glacier the next day...
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