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Old 15th October 2012, 11:30   #1
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Cool 7 Days in Heaven : The Ladakh Escapade!!

7 Days in Heaven : The Ladakh Escapade!!


Ladakh, The mystical highlands of Himalayas has always remained a dream destination for many. I had my share of "riding" to Ladakh couple of years back. Thanks to Tata Motor's Ultimate CrossOver Challenge where I was Sponsored to be accompanied on a Tata Aria to Ladakh and back. 29-September-2012 to 06-October-2012 were the chosen dates of travel. Like a kid, I was all eager to be part of the road-trip.

Day 1: 29-September-2012: The Awakening..

4:00 AM, I wake up to a humid Chennai morning. My flight to Srinagar takes off in a couple of hours. I had already over packed my bags to brim, with anything that seemed necessary for the adventure to be experienced for the next one week. Few hours passed, I exited the Srinagar Airport to be greeted by two young gentlemen with whom I shall travel, to the remote parts of Ladakh. We were all in symphony right from the moment we shook hands. It was like striking the right chords at the right time, Strangers few minutes before and now good friends traveling together with the same ideology to explore the world and enjoy life to the fullest.

We got ourselves settled up and headed towards Kargil, where we intended to stay for the night. Traversing through the gorgeous Dal Lake in Srinagar, we could hardly set our eyes out of it, for it turns out to be a visual treat to anyone and everyone. Due to lack of time, we had to proceed ahead. Nevertheless, the route in itself was scenic and engaging all the time. After couple of hours of dodging traffic and photo-stops, we reached another jewel in Kashmir valley - Sonamarg. It was lush green & in full glory. Thankfully, there weren't any tourists to spoil the scene. We spent some time relaxing in & around the valley and stopped for some late Kashmiri lunch.

3:30 PM, We had finished our lunch and set ourselves towards the mighty Zozilla pass (Zoji La). At 11,500+ feet it may not seem the highest, but the roads or lack of it makes it a lot more challenging. Upon reaching the base of the pass, we were told that there are landslides in the middle of the pass and the Army is blasting the rocks to pave way for the vehicles. All we could afford to do, was to wait till the roads are opened by the Army. The Border Roads Organization (B R O) maintain the roads, and it was never a easy task to repair landslides at such steep terrain. It took a good four hours for the roads to be cleared for vehicular movement. It was dark, cold and the roads are nothing but mud / slush fest. Yusuf, Our driver did well to tackle the roads and yet manage to maintain better speeds. We stopped in Drass the only bigger village en-route after Zoji La around 10 30 PM. Kargil was still another 60 odd kilometers away. We decided to stay in Drass, The Second Coldest inhabited place in the world. The Government guesthouse in Drass was comfortable enough for us to stay over for the night and head-over to Leh the next day.


Day 2: 30-September-2012: Getting Leh'ied..

We woke up just after the Sunrise, for the presence of Sun hardly mattered. It was cold, and cold all the time. We were out towards Kargil, as early as 8 AM. The car was more comfortable than the room all of a sudden. We crossed by the Drass and Kargil War Memorials. A spare of thought for the soldiers who fought for us in such remote places. We stopped by Tamil Colony, Kargil for breakfast. I was feeling uncomfortable ever since I landed in Srinagar. May be something to do with the irritant flight or could be i fell sick in flight itself. It was a bit tough to manage adventure travel when you are not in the best of health. Thanks to the new friends i have made, I was feeling at home. They helped up for a relaxed drive for the first few days.

We drove through steep roads of Namik La and Fotu La, two high altitude passes of Srinagar - Leh road. At ~ 13500+ feet Fotu La is the highest point in the Srinagar - Leh
highway. Descending down from the Fotu La pass, we crossed through Lamayuru, Nimmu, Magnetic Hill and the Pathar Sahib Gurudhwara. Thanks to better roads and better clearance of Aria, We reached Leh pretty early. We checked into a Guest House and set out to check for out Inner Line Permits (ILP) for the places to be seen around Leh Town.

The D C Office in Leh, used to issue permits on Sundays earlier. But now, they have decided against it. So, we have to come back after 10 AM, on Monday morning to apply and get permits for places to be visited. We went back to the hotel and rested up for a brief while. We set out for shopping and some early dinner in the local market of Leh town. After a good couple of hours of roaming around Leh town, we retired back to the room. Resting back in the room for a longer time ensured I was able to acclimatize to the higher altitude properly. We chatted around for a while and eventually crashed out around 10 PM.


Day 3: 01-October-2012: To the Top Of the World..

The day started with a nice & hot cup of tea & some home made biscuits from the caretaker. We refreshed & went out to get our Inner Line Permits made. by 11 AM, we have got permits to visit Khardung La, Nubra Valley, Chang La, Pangong Tso, Man & Merak, and Tso Moriri. We were denied permits for Wari La sighting the reason that Army has closed the road. We proceeded to Himalayan Cafe, Leh town for breakfast. We discussed places to visit, and in which order. Since all three of us (Ryan, Jay & myself) had already been to Ladakh on motorcycles before - It was easier to discuss and finalize the best of places to be seen in the limited time which we had at our disposal.

By about 12:00 PM, We were well on our way to Khardung La - The Highest motorable road in the world. At 18300+ feet above seal level, it is acclaimed to be the highest in the world, but there are a lot of views against them too. We stopped at lots of places for pictures, videos and of course chit chatting & pulling each others legs.

After couple of hours of driving, photo-stops and video-stops - We made it to the top. We stopped by the Army Cafeteria for Masala tea and Maggi . It was cold and breeze was gushing through us, making it tough for us to go out and take pictures. We then descended down into the Nubra Valley, which is quite a distinctive sight compared to the other valleys around. From Snow peaked Khardung La to brown valleys of Diskit to the sand dunes of Hunder to the hot springs of Panamik - Nubra Valley holds a special place for many.

We visited the Buddhist monastery in Diskit village, Sand Dunes at Hunder, Double Humped Camels in the dunes, and spent some time photographing the valley. We retired for the night in a warm and comfortable hotel on the Diskit village, over looking the monastery.


Day 4: 02-October-2012: The Ever Elusive Wari La..

Not everyday do we wake up with the thought and smell of an adventure, but today was different. We were all set to drive to Wari La, considered to be one of the toughest high altitude passes of Ladakh. The road was officially closed, But the contacts in D C Office, Leh said we can drive through if we wanted, at our own risk. We were waiting for such an opportunity for quite a while now.

After a quick breakfast, we hurriedly packed up to leave towards Pangong Tso. The route to drive today was : Diskit - Agham - Wari La - Sakthi - Karu (Fuel up) - Sakthi - Chang La - TangTse - Pangong Tso. Two challenging High altitude passes in the day's drive got us hooked. It was not easy, but that's where the fun lies.

We were hoping that we aren't stopped or asked to go back since it would mean wasting a whole day and stay up in Leh and not the planned destination. We took the deviation towards Agham, and the terrain changed considerably. No tourists, Empty potholed roads with just some smaller landslides for company.

Every now and then we would meet a few locals, who surprisingly live in such remote places and yet survive the challenges they face day to day. The sheep & goat herds, little kids playing across the streams, locals working out in the fields, was a sight to behold. The nature did throw a few obstacles in way of water crossings and difficult (steep) roads to make the drive engaging.

We drove on & on for a couple of hours and eventually reached the top of Wari La, above 17,000 feet. Thankfully No one stopped us, and thankfully the car made it through without a fuss. The descent down from Wari La seemed more tough, steep at times and bad roads everywhere. We did encounter small amounts of snow here and there - only thing that's been missing in the trip till now. We drove on without stopping for the next couple of hours to reach Karu. We tanked up the car and then filled up our stomachs with parantha's & Punjabi Thali.

One part of the challenge is complete and the next up ahead is Chang La. We hardly encountered any traffic till now, except for the occasional Army convoys and local pick up trucks. The climb up was smooth, running through the dusty roads of Chang La. The sun was blazing hot, hardly any shade to rest - We kept driving on, the landscapes changed - vibrant mountains to dry waterbeds to green valleys of Changthang.

We crossed over Chang La, descended towards TangTse and proceeded towards Lukung, The village on the banks of Pangong Tso. Stopping by the View Point of Pangong Tso, some four kilometers before Lukung - all we could do was to admire the beauty the Lake was all made of. Within few minutes of driving, we reached the Pangong Tso Lake. It was in full glory, sporting its traditional Bluish waters and flaunting its huge landscape.

It looked like paradise. The place makes everyone happy & boom with energy. Seagulls flying around, the cold wind breezing across and good friends for company, We were all content. It was 5:30 PM, still with lots of sunlight left to visually enjoy the Lake. We decided to drive down towards Man / Merak - The last couple of villages on the banks of Pangong Tso. The roads have been newly laid, and we reached Spangmik the second village on Pangong Tso in no time.

Man village is accessed by the off road trail after Spangmik. It took us close to 30 minutes to cover the first 4-5 kilometers. The trail was challenging and was all covered with boulders and steep inclines. The light soon faded away, and we did not want to drive around with a not so familiar terrain. The car took the terrain easily, but we were not sure of driving on roads leading nowhere, and with no help close to come by.

The night was cold, temperatures going as low as -10 degree Celsius, yes Minus ten degrees!! The moonlit Pangong was beautiful, sad that it was too cold to go out and photograph the beauty. We turned back towards Spangmik, took a nice guest house near the Lake and settled for the night.


Day 5: 03-October-2012: The Magical Pangong Tso..

I woke up and ran out to see the magical Lake outside. It was charming, and teasing us to come out and be a part of it. The weather was still cold outside, We finished our usual breakfast and in no time did we start driving on the lake bed. There was a Ladakhi film being shot on the Lake, and so were many have been shot on the lake before.

No amount of words could it take enough to describe how Magical the Pangong Tso looked. The banks, The Water flowing through, The birds flying around, etc etc make it more enchanting to experience! We parked the car right on the Lake shore, took lots of photographs, and some videos too. We drove along Pangong for a while, towards Lukung admiring the landscapes all around. From here on it was the same road which we had to redo, TangTse then Chang La, Karu and finally to Leh. We were leisurely driving back this time, spotting Wild Deers, Horses and Himalayan Mammoths.

Reaching back Karu around 1 PM, we decided to visit the Monastery's around instead of going back to Leh town. Hemis Monastery & Thiksey Monastery are the couple of places we visited. The Gompa's are Huge, with a large population of monk's offering prayers actively inside the temple.

We left for Leh town around 5 PM, and found ourselves a hotel right in the middle of Leh market. After unpacking the baggage's, we straight away went out for shopping. Tibetian market and the Fort Road market made sure we were well occupied till about 8 PM. We purchased a lot of stuffs from sweaters to trousers to gloves to handmade tea cups for our families back home. We came back to the hotel, chit chatted for a long time, ate dinner together and went for sleep as late as 11 30 PM!


Day 6: 04-October-2012: Time to head back..

All good things have to come to an end, and so was the trip. It was time to start back home. But not all is lost, we did have couple of more days to explore, wander and quench the travel thirst. The plan for the day was to drive from Leh to Kargil, reach by evening and relax the entire journey.

NH-1D has become our favourite now. In lots of places the roads are newly laid making it very easy to drive across - maintain better speeds and give us more time for photo opportunities. Leisurely driving on the highway, we passed through the Leh Airport, Pathar Sahib Gurudhwara, Indus River view point and a few other places.

We stopped by The Magnetic Hill, the place which people claim that the road defies gravity. There were a lot of cars stopping by, taking pictures of signboards and surroundings. Nothing really happened to defy gravity and we knew it. Our next stop was just after Nimmu. The roads are flat and open - like an expressway to Ladakh. Our usual stop for pictures have increased, without now thousands of pictures of varied terrain in the arsenal. But still, every landscape is different and every moment is different - for we capture to stay alive in the moment for years to come.

We drove on, the expressway gave way for the loops of Lamayuru. Stopping by the Lamayuru Monastery, we saw a huge Army convoy was driving across. There must have been atleast 50 Army trucks in the convoy - so huge and noisy - adding charm to its own. Lunch was at the hotel in the monastery premises, a little late for lunch but we were served well. I met my old friend Sudeep, who had come to Lamayuru / Ladakh with his parents. A little surprise that life throws in, at unwarranted places.

We took a tour of the monastery for a while - clicked lots of photographs and some interesting videos. We were also interviewed by Ryan for Tata Motors about the trip. We proceeded on towards Kargil. Roads were good for the most duration, which helped us cover larger distances at a faster pace. Namik La, Fotu La crossed by and so did a lot of smaller towns. By around 5 PM, we reached Kargil and checked into a hotel. We roamed around on the streets of Kargil, played game of cards with Ryan & Jay and retired for a very early night.


Day 7: 05-October-2012: The Beautiful Dal Lake

The temperature in Kargil was accommodating. Not too cold, and not hot either - remaining pleasant most of the time. The food at the hotel was tasty too. We had a lot of time at our disposal, so we were on the road at a leisurely pace. Zozilla Pass is the only struggle for the day, and the weather being sunny did not really pose a threat.

Crossing by Drass, the terrain changed a lot. There were hints of snow here and there. Once we reached the foot hills of Zozilla, there were loads of them. In the middle of nowhere, I happened to meet another friend of mine, who was riding back from Ladakh towards Bangalore - all alone on a motorcycle. We chatted around for awhile about the trip, riding, etc etc - and after a few minutes he was off.

The varied terrain was interesting, since it kept on changing ever since we started from Kargil. By time we reached the top of Zozilla (Zoji La) - The peak was all snowed out. There were hints of green, orange fields - brown and black mountains and now with snowed out peaks gave way for contrast picturesque landscapes.

We descended down from Zozilla, onto the valley of Sonamarg. This valley too was in contrast to Zozilla, offering splendid views of green valleys of Kashmir. The weekend rush was evident, with loads of tourists flocking into the valley. All hotels were brimming with tourists and the sonamarg road hardy had place to park up. Stopped by our usual hotel for lunch, ordering Kashmiri Roti’s and currys. We seemed to have picked a liking for the food from this particular hotel.

After a heavy meal, we were driving along the sonamarg valley. Crossing through lush wheat fields - The orange vistas were a bliss after the snow streak in Zozilla. Within a couple of hours we reached back in Srinagar. Checked into a hotel, facing Dal Lake, rested up for a while and we were back on the road - roaming around on the streets along Dal Lake.

Later, We took on a shikara ride on the Dal Lake. It lasted for a enjoyable 90 minutes. The lake was buzzing in activity with loads of tourists flocking in for a ride on the shikara, small time sellers on the boats trying to sell their stuff, the floating market offering various goodies, a mini hotel on a boat, etc - you name it - it was present on the lake. It was a market in itself floating on the lake, with people willing to sell you anything!

By time we reached back the shore, it was dark and the needle just crossed 7 PM. We continued on roaming the streets, shopping stuff for people and also searching around for a good joint to have some snacks. It was getting late, so we decided to pack some stuff and go back to the room itself for dinner. We stayed back late in the room, chatting around for a long time, for tomorrow may not be the same. It was time to head back. The trip which seemed like an adventure was already over before we could realise.

With a thousand thoughts running across my mind, i went into sleep. Tomorrow - We take a flight back home. I hope similar trips do happen frequently and I get to meet & make new friends. Special thanks to Tata, for organizing and sponsoring the drive and giving away a enjoyable vehicle to drive around with.

Thanks for reading.

Regards,
Ananth T E
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Old 15th October 2012, 11:45   #2
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Default Re: 7 Days in Heaven : The Ladakh Escapade!!

And for some pictures from the road-trip..



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Old 15th October 2012, 11:54   #3
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Old 15th October 2012, 12:07   #4
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Old 15th October 2012, 12:15   #5
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Old 15th October 2012, 12:19   #6
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Old 15th October 2012, 12:25   #7
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The thread has been moved from Assembly Line.
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Old 15th October 2012, 16:25   #8
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Superb pics Ananth! One of the best photologues on the forum in recent times. Rated 5 stars. Thanks for sharing.
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Old 15th October 2012, 17:14   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by C300 View Post
Superb pics Ananth! One of the best photologues on the forum in recent times. Rated 5 stars. Thanks for sharing.
Thanks for the compliments C300.
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Old 15th October 2012, 17:20   #10
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Default Re: 7 Days in Heaven : The Ladakh Escapade!!

Nice pics there. I can see you used couple of bodies at one go. Which one is the white lens? 70-200 F 2.8/4?
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Old 15th October 2012, 17:22   #11
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Default Re: 7 Days in Heaven : The Ladakh Escapade!!

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Nice pics there. I can see you used couple of bodies at one go. Which one is the white lens? 70-200 F 2.8/4?
Thanks Neoonwheels.

I used a Canon 40D + Tokina 12-24 and a Canon 500D + Canon 70-200 F2.8 L
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Old 15th October 2012, 18:38   #12
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Default Re: 7 Days in Heaven : The Ladakh Escapade!!

Amazing pictures!!! Some of the best I have seen in recent times.
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Old 15th October 2012, 18:40   #13
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Amazing pictures!!! Some of the best I have seen in recent times.
Thanks for the kind words Harish!
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Old 17th October 2012, 23:27   #14
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Default Re: 7 Days in Heaven : The Ladakh Escapade!!

Adding some more pictures..


7 Days in Heaven : The Ladakh Escapade!!-img_0012.jpg

7 Days in Heaven : The Ladakh Escapade!!-img_0048.jpg

7 Days in Heaven : The Ladakh Escapade!!-img_0075.jpg

7 Days in Heaven : The Ladakh Escapade!!-img_0079.jpg

7 Days in Heaven : The Ladakh Escapade!!-img_0128.jpg

7 Days in Heaven : The Ladakh Escapade!!-img_0165.jpg

7 Days in Heaven : The Ladakh Escapade!!-img_1851.jpg

7 Days in Heaven : The Ladakh Escapade!!-img_1859.jpg

7 Days in Heaven : The Ladakh Escapade!!-img_1879.jpg

7 Days in Heaven : The Ladakh Escapade!!-img_1898.jpg
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Old 18th October 2012, 15:06   #15
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Default Re: 7 Days in Heaven : The Ladakh Escapade!!

Photographs full of soul. Best mood created. Thanks Madbiker
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