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Old 10th August 2015, 00:10   #1
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Default 16 'Las' and some 'Tsos' - Two men and a Black Scorpio 4x4 on a Ladakh expedition

List of "La"s conquered in chronological order:

1. Rohtang La - Bit tricky downhill on way to Leh. Also this was my first "La" in the trip, so drove carefully.
2. Baralacha La
3. Nakee La
4. Lachung La
5. Tanglang La
6. Khardung La
7. Wari La - Strenuous.
8. Chang La - done at night. Easy with paved roads for the most part.
9. Marsimik La - Extremely difficult for the next 2-3 years, then should become easy as Army is building a metalled road. Don't know how far they will take it.
10. Satatho La
11. Kakasang La - Very Difficult
12. Hor La
13. Namshang La - Very easy
14. Polokong La
15. Fotu La
16. Namika La
17. Zoji La - Notorious. Got stuck in traffic and zero visibility fog.

"Tso"s:
1. Deepak Tal
2. Pangong Tso
3. Mirpal Tso
4. Yaye Tso
5. Kyu Tso
6. Tso Kiagar
7. Tso Moriri
8. Tso Kar

Hundreds of travelogues have already been written in TBHP on Ladakh expeditions, some in the greatest detail, others with fabulous photographs, some by newbies, others by stalwarts, first timers, repeat offenders, on bikes, bicycles, sedans, hatchbacks, vans, 4-by-4s, etc. which has resulted in a great treasure trove of information on what is probably the most remote place in India. Having partaken in one such 17-day expedition during last October, which was a culmination of about 4 years worth of reading on TBHP and dreaming about driving to Ladakh, and months of preparations, I cannot resist the urge to write yet another travelogue of the humble experience of my most adventurous road trip to date.

So here it begins with a couple of pics.

Although some would debate the word "motorable", the road (or the lack thereof) to this point IS the highest motorable road in the world. NOT Khardung La.
Tanveer (tsk1979) has written quite extensively about this, so I will not repeat, but yes, thats the "road" I am standing on here.

16 'Las' and some 'Tsos' - Two men and a Black Scorpio 4x4 on a Ladakh expedition-dsc04353.jpg

This is Mirpal Tso on the Sathato La-Kaksang-La-Hor La road on Day 9. One of the most beautiful lakes in Ladakh.

16 'Las' and some 'Tsos' - Two men and a Black Scorpio 4x4 on a Ladakh expedition-imgp0072.jpg

PLANNING:

Among the 108 odd items which I had prepared a list of, the first item on the list was a 4WD vehicle. Buying a 4WD instead of a regular SUV was important for me because I wanted to conquer Marsimik La, plain and simple. After reading about Marsimik La in Tanveer and Anirban (1100d)'s travelogues, I made that the focal point of my planning. That would be the pinnacle of my trip. I had to do it.

Around May 2014, I purchased a Scorpio LX 4WD (named: "Kalo Mosh" (in bengali) or "Black Buffalo", henceforth referred to as BB - ironically my 2nd biwi now) which was almost 2L cheaper than the VLX 4WD on-road, though it does not have the ABS and rear wipers, which I thought was important. Did a couple of mundane road trips and a challenging OTR (to get a feel of the 4WD and the vehicle's limits) before the Ladakh trip.

Initially the Ladakh trip was supposed to be a family trip (with my wife and two kids), but primarily due to the intense dust factor in Ladakh, my wife (very allergic to dust) decided that she and the kids won't be going. So I roped in a college friend of mine (the well-fed fellow you will see in some of the photos) living in Bombay. The plan was that he would fly down to Kolkata, then the two of us would start the drive from here together.

In a sense, going with a college friend whom I knew for the past 27 years, was "liberating", to say the least.

Since we were going in October which effectively was after the tourist season closes, we knew that it would be quite lonely in the interior parts of Ladakh. So I purchased a whole lot of stuff just to be on the safe side. We took along two spare tires, battery powered lamps and torches with enough batteries, tow rope and D-shackles, air compressor, tire repair kit, all kinds of engine, brake and coolant fluids, extra fuses, jumper cables, extra wipers, oxygen cylinder, gas cylinder, maggi, dry food, quilt, polythene sheets, tarpaulin, two 20L plastic jerricans for diesel, medicines, jackets and woollens and much more. Navigation was to be done on my iPhone 5s which had Sygic and Galileo loaded on it. Replaced the stock headlamps with Osram Night Breaker Plus ones. My friend procured a postpaid BSNL sim too, which turned out to be our only lifeline to the rest of the world on most days. One final check of my BB at the Mahindra service center done, and we were all set.

The following was our day to day travel done during the 17-day trip:

Day 1 (October 3, 2014): Kolkata - Allahabad
Day 2 (October 4, 2014): Allahabad - Karnal
Day 3 (October 5, 2014): Karnal - Manali
Day 4 (October 6, 2014): Manali - Leh.
Day 5 (October 7, 2014): Rest day, Leh and Magnetic Hill
Day 6 (October 8, 2014): Leh - Khardung La - Khalsar - Diskit.
Day 7 (October 9, 2014): Diskit - Hunder - Turtuk - Hunder - Diskit - Khalsar - Agham - Wari La - Shakti - Chang La - Tangste.
Day 8 (October 10, 2014): Marsimik La, and horsing around the shores of Pangong in my WB.
Day 9 (October 11, 2014): Pangong - Spangmik - Chushul - Kaksang La - Hanle. Saw a ghost on the road to Hanle.
Day 10 (October 12, 2014): Around Hanle. Kyu Tso.
Day 11 (October 13, 2014): Hanle - Tso Moriri.
Day 12 (October 14, 2014): Tso Moriri - Leh
Day 13 (October 15, 2014): Leh - Kargil - Zoji La - Sonamarg
Day 14-17 (October 16-19, 2014): Sonamarg to Kolkata. In reality, we were sitting in our vehicle for 4 days and 3 nights, which included a 36 hr trip (due to a massive traffic jam) to reach Udhampur from Srinagar, and the rest for a non-stop dash to Kolkata to reach by 5pm on Day 17.

But before I go on, I must acknowledge the help and assistance we got in order to make this trip so successful.
1. The 1-pager Ladakh interior road map with "Harsh and Aarti" watermark. We referred to this 90% of the time while navigating in Changthang and Nubra.
2. Tanveer's extremely detailed Ladakh travel guide on TBHP. Printed out in pdf format and took it along.
3. HVK's help with the trip planning and subsequent on-the-road assistance during the entire trip. Although all hotels were officially closed, HVK's phone calls opened up accommodation in Leh and Hanle along with the great hospitality that came along with it.

My friend and I decided to start the trip on October 3, 2014 (Navami Day of Durga Puja).

T MINUS 2 DAYS:

It was Saptami - the first day of Durga Puja celebrations. I was in the Puja committee in my apt complex and had quite a bit of work to do. However, took some time out to first fill up diesel, check the tire pressures and then finished loading up the BB. It took a bit of juggling to make space for all the items that we were carrying. The heavy quilt rolled up, and the 2nd spare tire took up most of the space.
At the end of the cultural program in the evening, there was a party among us friends, had one too many, and by the time we retired to bed, it was 4 AM in the morning.
My friend had flew in from Bombay that evening.

T MINUS 1 DAY:

It was Ashtami, and as part of my morning responsibilities for the Puja, I had to get up at 5:30 in the morning after hardly an hours' sleep. As the day rolled on, I was getting desperate to catch some shut-eye. I knew I had a long day ahead tomorrow as we had planned to start the trip at 5 AM. Didn't get any chance to sleep during the day, so finally as a desperate measure, with all the music and celebrations going on outside, I excused myself from puja duties, closed all the windows, put on some ear plugs and hauled myself to bed at 9pm with the alarm set for 4.

Day 01: Kolkata - Allahabad

After a refreshing 7 hr sleep, promptly woke up a 4, had a shower and with goodbyes to the wife, hit the road at 5 am. Reached Dum Dum Park (Kolkata) at 5:45 to pick up my friend. Had called ahead and he was waiting at the bus stop with his bags.
Kolkata was already bustling from the early risers on the third day of Durga Puja and the all-night revellers who were returning home.

A few customary photos and we were on our way.

16 'Las' and some 'Tsos' - Two men and a Black Scorpio 4x4 on a Ladakh expedition-dsc04163.jpg

16 'Las' and some 'Tsos' - Two men and a Black Scorpio 4x4 on a Ladakh expedition-dsc04164.jpg

Our aim was to reach Allahabad by evening and we were making good time. Driving was shared between us on the highways, with just 1 lunch break and a few pee/tea breaks. We entered Allahabad city, checked into Hotel Crown Palace, scoured for some chicken in a predominantly vegetarian part of town, found some, ate dinner, and hit the sack by 10pm. The plan was to start the next day's journey by 5:30am.

16 'Las' and some 'Tsos' - Two men and a Black Scorpio 4x4 on a Ladakh expedition-dsc04166.jpg

16 'Las' and some 'Tsos' - Two men and a Black Scorpio 4x4 on a Ladakh expedition-dsc04167.jpg

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16 'Las' and some 'Tsos' - Two men and a Black Scorpio 4x4 on a Ladakh expedition-imgp9587.jpg

Day 02: Allahabad - Karnal

The plan was to drive to Karnal in Haryana today, as advised by HVK. In the morning after a good breakfast of tea, kachori and jalebis, hit the road, but pretty soon ran into road blockages due to Ram Navami processions. It took us over 3 hours to navigate the narrow streets and side-streets and shortcuts to get out of Allahabad. Lost quite a bit of time there.

16 'Las' and some 'Tsos' - Two men and a Black Scorpio 4x4 on a Ladakh expedition-dsc04177.jpg

16 'Las' and some 'Tsos' - Two men and a Black Scorpio 4x4 on a Ladakh expedition-dsc04178.jpg

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Noticed this on the way. It was ironic - "na-maards" invited to go to "Sangam".

16 'Las' and some 'Tsos' - Two men and a Black Scorpio 4x4 on a Ladakh expedition-dsc04190.jpg

The roads were good.

16 'Las' and some 'Tsos' - Two men and a Black Scorpio 4x4 on a Ladakh expedition-imgp9603.jpg

And soon after, we ran into trouble.

Traffic was light, and as we were cruising along, we were flagged down by UP police for what was apparently a routine check. And thats when I discovered that of the 108 items in my list, I had packed in 107. The 108th one, a very important item, was still back at home, carefully kept in a bedside drawer from where I was supposed to take it in the morning, but completely forgot.

It was the Vehicle Registration Smart Card for my BB. After all the careful preparations undertaken for the trip, you can imagine how silly and frustrated I felt. I had a xerox in the glove box but that didn't help.

Finally after a long negotiation, I shelled out Rs.2500 as a spot fine to get out of the police mess temporarily.
We were only into the second day of our trip.

The UP police gave a piece of paper which said we won't be disturbed any more in UP for the rest of the day. But now I was very worried about the rest of the trip. Pulled up by the side of the road and called HVK. His practical suggestion was to get the smart card couriered by my wife in the fastest possible way to the hotel owner in Leh where we were supposed to arrive on Day 4.

It was Dashami (Saturday), and of course everything in Kolkata was closed. Still I called all the courier companies - Bluedart, DHL, DTDC. And that when I came to know that not a single courier company has service to Leh. The only option was Speed Post.

Next day was Sunday. Monday was Id, Tuesday Laxmi Puja (all post offices in Bengal closed). So the earliest my wife could courier was on Wednesday, when as per our plan, we would be on our way to Khardung La and Nubra valley.

Anyway there was nothing much we could do so we decided to proceed anyway and complete the Ladakh circuit, then return to Leh and collect the smart card for the return journey.

Driving on the Yamuna expressway was a real pleasure, though we saw a terrible accident on the way.

Here let me complain a bit about the Punjabis and Haryanvis. All day long we were driving without any food (other than tea/snacks) with the hope that we would have a hearty tandoori chicken dinner once we entered Haryana. We had heard somewhere that there was a whole highway full of dhabas between Delhi and Karnal. And there were dhabas all right. One after another in a continuous stream on the left side of the highway. But imagine our surprise and deep disappointment, when we saw that ALL, repeat ALL of these dhabas were "Vaishno" dhabas, meaning they only served pure vegetarian food. About mid-way, in frustration, we stopped at one of these dhabas and gingerly asked whether they by any chance served chicken. The manager looked at us in shock at the blasphemy committed out of uttering "chicken". Dejected, we continued our journey to Karnal in an empty stomach.

Reached Karnal around 9pm without further events and checked into hotel, and thankfully, the restaurant served non-veg.

But seriously, whats wrong with more people of that region turning to veg? I used to think that a chicken's ultimate aim in life to attain salvation was to be cooked in a Punjabi's tandoori oven. Sad state of affairs :-)

[NOTE: upto this part was written by November 2014 after the trip. But unfortunately, I didn't get the time to write another line until now - Aug 2015 - , even though I completed a Varanasi trip and a Sandakphu/N.Sikkim trip in the meantime. So, will try to cut down on the commentary and just post the photos of my Ladakh trip. Its already close to a year now, and besides, I seem to have forgotten the smaller details too.]

Day 03: Karnal - Manali

Rather uneventful drive. We reached Manali in the evening and stayed at one of the best small inns of the trip, again thanks to HVK. Its called the Ride Inn and is essentially meant for bikers. You cross the town and right before approaching the start of Rohtang climb, there is a narrow bridge on the left which takes you to the inn. The bridge is so narrow that I had about 2 inches gap on each side of my BB. But staying there was worth it. Its nested in the middle of some orchards and there is a upper deck offering 360-deg view of the mountains and Manali town. The food was excellent and our host, Godwin Dcruz was awesome.

16 'Las' and some 'Tsos' - Two men and a Black Scorpio 4x4 on a Ladakh expedition-dsc04197.jpg

16 'Las' and some 'Tsos' - Two men and a Black Scorpio 4x4 on a Ladakh expedition-dsc04226.jpg

Day 04: Manali - Leh

Our host told us the previous night that we really needed to start early to reach Leh by night, so as per his advice, we started out by 4:15 am, and started climbing our first pass of the day: Rohtang Pass.

The whole journey of 477 kms took us 20 hours. Essentially, since my friend was not used to driving in the mountains, I drove from 4:15 am to 9 pm continuously with 1 short breakfast break and a few nature and photography breaks, and only after crossing the last pass of the day (Tanglang La), I was so exhausted that I handed over the wheels to my friend, said a quiet prayer and promptly fell asleep. We safely reached Leh around midnight.

First La - Rohtang

16 'Las' and some 'Tsos' - Two men and a Black Scorpio 4x4 on a Ladakh expedition-imgp9607.jpg

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Nature break on Rohtang.

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Tea break on Rohtang.

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Journey continues down from the pass.

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On towards Jispa.

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Last edited by Aditya : 18th September 2015 at 07:26. Reason: Spacing
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Old 13th August 2015, 00:17   #2
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Default Re: 17 "La"s and some "Tso"s - two men and a "Black Buffalo (BB)" - Yet another Ladakh expedition

16 'Las' and some 'Tsos' - Two men and a Black Scorpio 4x4 on a Ladakh expedition-imgp9696.jpg

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First lake on the trip. Deepak Tal. Still in HP, hence "Tal".

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2nd La - Baralacha La.

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Reaching Sarchu and onwards.

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Traversing the Gata loops. Took some of the shortcuts in 4WD. It was great fun.

16 'Las' and some 'Tsos' - Two men and a Black Scorpio 4x4 on a Ladakh expedition-imgp9732.jpg

We were carrying two 20L plastic jerricans which we had filled with diesel the previous evening. Due to the harsh terrain and the rough ride, despite our best efforts, the diesel kept sipping out of the bottles. We couldn't keep the windows open too as the dust was terrible. But breathing diesel fumes is definitely not good, so after a while, we stopped, scratched our heads, and finally after a bit of effort, we were successful in using balloons to completely seal the mouths of the cans. The sharp edge of the openings were cutting up the stretched balloons easily, so after a bid of padding with plastic, the balloons were applied over the openings, which thankfully stayed in place.

3rd La: NakeeLa

16 'Las' and some 'Tsos' - Two men and a Black Scorpio 4x4 on a Ladakh expedition-imgp9733.jpg

4th La: Lachung La

16 'Las' and some 'Tsos' - Two men and a Black Scorpio 4x4 on a Ladakh expedition-imgp9737.jpg

By the time we reached Moreh Plains, it was very dark. The runway-like drive was fantastic, however missed out on the vista.

5th and last La of the day - Tanglang La.

It was around 9pm, so took the customary photo by the headlights.

16 'Las' and some 'Tsos' - Two men and a Black Scorpio 4x4 on a Ladakh expedition-imgp9743.jpg

Went off to sleep after handing over the controls to my friend after straight 17 hours of driving, and reached Leh (Hotel Jorchung) around midnight.

Our very helpful host, Sonam of Hotel Jorchung arranged 2 buckets of hot water after we arrived at midnight, so we could take a quick bath to wash off the sweat and dust of the day. The hotel was officially closed, and all water taps were turned off and pipes emptied in preparation for the winter. We were the only guests in the hotel.

Day 05: Leh

Plan for this day was to get the permits. However Sonam informed us that due to some festival in town, the permit office was closed, but he would arrange for the permits by 10am tomorrow morning. That was good enough, so we lazed around in Leh, had the BB washed thoroughly at Mentokling Motors (M&M dealer), and horsed around Magnetic Hill, trying to climb as far up as possible in 4WD and beat the previous tire-tracks mark (not sure if I beat it), followed by a sumptuous dinner of kebabs and tandoor.

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Last edited by Aditya : 18th September 2015 at 07:35. Reason: Spacing
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Old 13th August 2015, 00:39   #3
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Default Re: 17 "La"s and some "Tso"s - two men and a "Black Buffalo (BB)" - Yet another Ladakh expedition

16 'Las' and some 'Tsos' - Two men and a Black Scorpio 4x4 on a Ladakh expedition-imgp9767.jpg

16 'Las' and some 'Tsos' - Two men and a Black Scorpio 4x4 on a Ladakh expedition-imgp9768.jpg

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Day 06: Leh - Khardung La - Diskit

After a good breakfast provided by our host, we went along with him to the permit office, filled up some forms, and had the permits in hand by 11am, including for places like Turtuk, Marsimik La, Chushul, and Hanle. After making some 20 copies of the permits, we set out for Khardung La.

Road was temporarily closed due to a landslide on the way and a JCB was at work already. Waited there for about 40 minutes before we could pass.

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Finally reached Khardung La top. Only 2 or 3 vehicles including ours was there, and some army folks unloading supplies. The wind chill was terrible.

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Continued on downhill. Had a maggi lunch break and some photo shoot stops on the way till we reached Diskit in the evening.

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Importantly, this day also marked the beginning of our real trip into Ladakh's interiors, and being much after the regular tourist season, we would have the entire road to ourselves for the whole day, meeting some curious shepherds, and some BRO, Army and local vehicles on the way.

As a matter of fact, on our Day 4 of the Manali-Leh run, after crossing Rohtang, we didn't see a single tourist vehicle either. All we saw for the rest of the day were a few trucks hauling diesel & supplies to Leh.

As far as tourists were concerned, we met one Bengali family at dinner on Day 6 at the Diskit hotel, and the next tourist ( 2 Bengali families) we met was on Day 11 at Tso Moriri.

The hotel fellow at Tso Moriri remarked that at this time of the year, only foreigners and some crazy Bengalis came to Ladakh from outside.

I guess this time of the year was truly off-season, which had its advantages and disadvantages.

On reaching Diskit, checked into the hotel arranged by HVK (forgot the hotel name though), ate an excellent dinner (bengali cuisine of course :-) ) and retired for the night aiming for an early start tomorrow.

Last edited by Aditya : 18th September 2015 at 07:34. Reason: Spacing
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Old 17th September 2015, 20:05   #4
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Default Re: 17 "La"s and some "Tso"s - two men and a "Black Buffalo (BB)" - Yet another Ladakh expedition

Day 07: Diskit - Hunder - Turtuk - back to Khalsar - Agham - Wari La - Sakti - Karu - Durbuk - Tangste

Today was going to be another very long day like the Manali-Leh run. We started from the hotel by 5:30am and headed towards Turtuk.

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As the bright sun rose, we stopped at a roadside shop to have tea. The tea-shop owner informed us that the territory around here previously belonged to Pakistan, and during the 1971 war, Indian forces drove the Pakis out and took over this territory.

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The road to Turtuk was bad, narrow and tricky at some places, with one landslide zone where we had to briefly stop to assess a situation where small rocks had started tumbling down the mountain-side. We took a calculated risk and speeded through that place. Further on, the vista was so beautiful that the trip to Turtuk was really worth it. The village itself was beautiful. Army trucks were ferrying school children.

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After spending a couple of hours there, we started our return journey. We had a lot of ground to cover before we could reach Tangste for the night.

Stopped at Hunder to view the sand-dunes and do some dune driving.

The river near Hunder. Somehow sand accumulated here and created the dunes.

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Driving on the dunes in 4WD.

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The Chevy Enjoy tried to follow me and immediately got stuck in the sand. 6 of its occupants had to push and tug the car out.

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Continuing on to Khalsar.

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On the road to Agham.

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We decided to take the Wari La route rather than the Shyok route, even though the Shyok route was tempting. But we needed to refill at Shakti.

7th La of the trip: Wari La begins.

This La is not as treacherous as say Marsimik or Kaksang, but it is strenuous, as the climb uphill is constant. An excellent driver in a 2WD should make the climb with a bit of effort, though there are some real tricky portions and rocky hairpins.

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Camera is level. Road is not.

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Top of the La. Its not as ceremoniously marked as the other LAs, neither are there any prayer flags anywhere. The first, because BRO does not maintain this road, PWD does. The second, because extremely few people (including locals) use this road. We saw no cars on the entire climb up and down, just a few shepherds.

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By the time we reached Shakti, it was evening.

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Went to Karu and topped up BB's tank. From here onwards till we came back to Leh, we would have one tankful plus two 20L diesel cans. We were hoping that would be enough.

As it turned out later, it nearly wasn't.

Last edited by Aditya : 18th September 2015 at 07:33. Reason: Spacing
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Old 17th September 2015, 21:36   #5
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Default Re: 17 "La"s and some "Tso"s - two men and a "Black Buffalo (BB)" - Yet another Ladakh expedition

8th La of the trip: Chang La.

Took the customary photo in the headlights before we made our dash to Tangste. Reached Tangste around 10 pm, found a homestay still open, and checked in for the night.

It was quite cold, around negative 8 degrees C.

Tomorrow we planned to tackle the ultimate goal of our trip, Marsimik La.

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Day 08: Tangste - Marsimik La - Pangong - Tangste

We had a very tiring day yesterday, so we took it easy in the morning. The BB started after a few cranks, and I kept the engine running a bit and let it bask in the sun.

The Dothguling guest house where we stayed.

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After a leisurely breakfast, we started from Tangste and proceeded towards Lukung. The road to Pangong was very good.

Lukung is about 35 kms from Tangste.

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From Lukung, we proceeded towards Phobrang. Phobrang is a model village and home to a large army camp where papers are checked before they let you proceed to Marsimik La.

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We arrived at the army camp, and two guards stopped us and checked our permit. When they saw our WB registered vehicle, they remarked that we were the second WB registered Scorpio to go to Marsimik La this year. I asked him how many tourists came this way this year, and he said, max 3 or 4 vehicles in all. I guessed they were referring to 1100D's Scorpio (Marengo) when he made the trip in May/June 2014.

As we drove off, we saw that the first 3 kms was a newly constructed tarred road, and workers were working on building the road further up. Maybe a few years later, the entire stretch to M.La would be tarred and it would be no fun or challenge driving here again.

The fun began after 3 kms. You all must have read a very detailed account of this stretch from tsk1979's travelogues, so no need to repeat anything here.

We switched on 4WD L and tried following the Stallion tracks. It was a very difficult drive.

Pangong itself is at an elevation of 14300 ft. From there, we had climbed around 500 ft at Phobrang (14700 ft). Over the next 2-3 hrs, we were going to climb another 4500 ft to reach Marsimik La (18953 ft).

The difficult terrain and the low level of oxygen in the air stresses the engine a lot, especially when it is climbing continuously in 4Low. The Scorpio felt reassuringly sure-footed as it negotiated the tricky ruts created by the Stallions, and sometimes the deep sandy areas. The vista as the climb continued was awesome. The snow and ice had melted and it was all rocks, dirt and dust. In places, the dust was too deep.

We too a few breaks for photography, but mostly to figure out which track to take next. There wasn't a soul around. Even a make-shift army camp about half-way through the climb looked deserted. But as long as we could see the Stallion tracks, we kept on driving. My respect for the Scorpio went up quite a few notches. Of course the ultimate trip in my BB was to Sandakphu done later in May 2015, but thats for another travelogue.

Finally, after about 3 hours, we reached the top. 18953 ft. Thats some serious altitude. Even though the board says "highest motorable pass", the word motorable is highly debatable here.

After the initial euphoria had died down, came the inevitable question, What next? We couldn't go further on as this was highly restricted territory (the guards had warned us not to venture further past the green board). There was a tiny temple made with a few rocks devoted to Lord Shiva. It was biting cold - must have been negative 15 C or so with the wind chill.

We hung around a bit, sat down, took some photographs, smoked, peed, walked around and enjoyed the scenery. All around in the distance were snow-covered peaks. Absolute silence except for the wind whooshing around sometimes. We were not sure if the army was watching us, or maybe the Chinese. This marked the crowning glory of our trip and we were savoring the moment.

Luckily neither of had any breathing trouble or felt any exhaustion. Maybe the daily dose of Diamox that we were taking for the last 5 days along with ample amount of water helped here.

And then we committed a mistake. Among the numerous items that we were carrying was a brand new sealed bottle of oxygen. We figured that since we were not needing the oxygen now, we would not need it for the rest of our trip since everything else would be at a much lower elevation. So why waste the oxygen since it was there anyway? With that hare-brained idea, we broke open the seal of the bottle, connected the pipe and mask, and each of us breathed in about a minute of oxygen. Didn't feel any difference then.

But 5 minutes later, as we started our drive down, both of us started feeling very drowsy. We stopped the vehicle and wondered what was happening to us. It took about 10 minutes and some splashes of water for the drowsiness to pass before we resumed our drive again. Much later we figured out that by breathing in the fresh oxygen, we had temporarily screwed up our body's acclimatization.

Moral of the story: Don't take oxygen if you don't need it.

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By the time we climbed down to Phobrang and then to Lukung, it was almost evening. It was mid-October and days were shorter. The cold was setting in. We drove around Pangong a bit and had hot Maggi in one of the open chalets. Most of the chalets and tents were closed. There wasn't a tourist around, only some chaps from the army.

Drove down to the shores of Pangong, almost got stuck at a place which was marshy (4WD to the rescue), tasted the water (it was salty). It was getting colder by the minute. There was a cloud cover and the lake looked dull. We were wondering if it would be sunny tomorrow to be able to see the lake in her full glorious colors.

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After hanging around a bit, we drove back to Tangste to the same homestay, and retired for the night. The temperature was around negative 8 to 10 deg C. No question of even taking a shower - hot water was difficult to get, only enough for washing hands and face.. We had our last shower two days ago at the hotel in Diskit. Next one was hopefully going to be in Hanle.

Last edited by Aditya : 18th September 2015 at 07:31. Reason: Spacing
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Old 18th September 2015, 12:04   #6
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Default re: 16 'Las' and some 'Tsos' - Two men and a Black Scorpio 4x4 on a Ladakh expedition

Thread moved from the Assembly Line (The "Assembly Line" Forum section) to the Travelogues Section. Thanks for sharing!
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Old 18th September 2015, 18:19   #7
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Default Re: 16 'Las' and some 'Tsos' - Two men and a Black Scorpio 4x4 on a Ladakh expedition

Heartiest Congratulations on reaching the mighty la!!! Being October braving it must have been extremely cold. Good to know your BB performed well without any hic-ups.

Waiting for the next leg of your journey.
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Old 18th September 2015, 19:04   #8
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Default Re: 16 'Las' and some 'Tsos' - Two men and a Black Scorpio 4x4 on a Ladakh expedition

Congratulations on your trip and competing the travelogue in less than one year's time I had put up my Ladakh travelogue after 1 and half years..
Waiting for the rest of the log.

Quote:
Originally Posted by mr.sinha View Post
Day 9 (October 11, 2014): Pangong - Spangmik - Chushul - Kaksang La - Hanle. Saw a ghost on the road to Hanle.
Please give some more details about this.
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Old 18th September 2015, 20:56   #9
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Default Re: 16 'Las' and some 'Tsos' - Two men and a Black Scorpio 4x4 on a Ladakh expedition

Excellent.
You were chasing us, we completed Manali-Leh-Manali last year between 2-10 october.
More details about the ghost please, i am all ears
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Old 20th September 2015, 17:00   #10
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Default Re: 17 'Las' and some 'Tsos' - Two men and a Black Scorpio 4x4 on a Ladakh expedition

Day 09: Tangste - Spangmik - Chushul - Mahe - Loma - Hanle

We started around 8 am after a good breakfast. The BB started without much fuss. I was carrying 2 bottles of anti-freeze additive but was saving it for Hanle and Karzok where it would be even colder.

We drove down to Lukung and then took the road hugging the lake towards Spangmik. For the initial few kms, the road was paved, as it climbed a cliff high above the shore, but after it came down, the road turned into a dirt track, and sometimes no track at all.

The morning was beautiful and sunny and the Pangong showed her true colors. It was a sight to see and no amount of photography can do justice to what unrolled before our eyes.

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At Spangmik, a local policeman checked our permits and we continued. As had become the norm by then, we were the only people and vehicle around.

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We crossed Mann, Merak and Khaltse and entered Chushul village.

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Old 20th September 2015, 17:27   #11
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Our final destination for the day was Hanle. There are two routes from Chushul village. One, via Tsaga La to Loma. second, take Kaksang La and two other smaller passes to Mahe, then Nyoma, then Loma.

We decided to take the Kaksang La route, as it was the road less travelled. After asking directions at an army guard post, we started on our way. Again, we were the ONLY vehicle on that road, and didn't see another vehicle or person till we reached the Mahe-Nyoma road in the evening.

The first 30 minutes of the drive was quite scary as the road showed evidence of a fresh rockslide. There was loose rock and gravel on the left side of the mountain for quite some time. We proceeded with caution.

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Reached the first of the 3 LAs on this road and the 10th La of the trip: Sathato La.

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This was an unmarked La - no signboard, no prayer flags etc.

And then, came one of the MOST BEAUTIFUL lakes I have ever seen.

Behold the Mirpal Tso.

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We continued our climb skirting the lake. We saw lot of road-building stones laid, probably for some future construction of the road.

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Finally, the 11th La of our trip - Kaksang La.

This was the second most difficult pass to cross in this trip (after Marsimik La, of course). The hairpins had very steep gradient, extremely rocky, and were really tricky to negotiate. 4WD is a must here. Even with the Scorp, we got a few underbelly hits. In some sections, it seemed more difficult than Marsimik.

Mirpal Tso visible in the background.

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After crossing yet another (12th) La - Hor La, we came across the next lake on this route: Yaye Tso.

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It was evening and got dark when we reached Mahe. We started our drive towards Nyoma-Loma. The road was very good. It was pitch dark, the road illuminated only by BB's headlights.

In the middle of the road, we stopped, switched off the engine, doused all lights, and in the pitch black, we got out and looked up at the clear sky and spotted billions of stars, and probably a few galaxies. It was amazing to experience this. I didn't have a stand, so couldn't take any long-exposure photographs.

The clear night-sky in this part of the country is why ISRO installed the Chandra telescope in Hanle.

There were a couple of army camps on the way. We reached Loma, where our papers were checked at a checkpost. Then we continued towards Hanle.

It was another 50 kms to Hanle from Loma. Time was around 8 pm. Except for our headlights, the darkness was total. The road was good - we were doing 50+, but mindful of the dips at regular intervals which were made to allow water to flow through. There was no civilization or human habitation for miles around. By then we were already used to being the only vehicle on the road.

It was then that as we turned a curve, we saw a person in the distance standing by the side of the road with his hand raised asking for a ride. The person was dressed in coveralls and a hood on the head. Even though during our trip in the last few days, we had given an occasional ride to road workers wishing to reach the nearest village, going by the situation now, - we had left the Loma checkpost almost 20 kms back and there was nothing in between - naturally, it seemed quite odd as to where this person had emerged from. However, I did begin to slow down with the aim of stopping near him. About 20 ft away, the high beam illuminated the person's face for the first time. Almost instantly, my right foot released the brakes and floored the accelerator. As the figure passed by in a blur, both of us were looking ahead, daring not to look at the right side. After about 30 seconds of driving, my friend remarked "dekhli" (did you see) ?. I said "yeah". No other words were exchanged before we saw the lights of Hanle.

I now leave it to the imagination of the readers as to what BOTH of us saw on that face that didn't warrant stopping the vehicle and saying hello.

We finally reached our homestay (arranged by HVK), around 9pm. Sonam welcomed us, gave us some hot water for washing up, and had our dinner ready soon. The room was very comfortable and clean.

During dinner, we recounted to Sonam the incident with the person on the road. After listening, he smiled cryptically and said "Saab, idhar bahut kuch dikhta hai", and left it at that.

A year later, my friend and I still keep wondering 'what' we saw back there.

Anyway, before going to sleep, I prepped the vehicle to protect it from the biting cold. It was 12 below zero. I poured 1 bottle of anti-freeze in the tank, faced the engine towards the compound wall, and covered the hood with tarpaulin.
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Old 20th September 2015, 18:06   #12
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Default Re: 17 'Las' and some 'Tsos' - Two men and a Black Scorpio 4x4 on a Ladakh expedition

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It was then that as we turned a curve, we saw a person in the distance standing by the side of the road with his hand raised asking for a ride. The person was dressed in coveralls and a hood on the head. Even though during our trip in the last few days, we had given an occasional ride to road workers wishing to reach the nearest village, going by the situation now, - we had left the Loma checkpost almost 20 kms back and there was nothing in between - naturally, it seemed quite odd as to where this person had emerged from. However, I did begin to slow down with the aim of stopping near him. About 20 ft away, the high beam illuminated the person's face for the first time. Almost instantly, my right foot released the brakes and floored the accelerator. As the figure passed by in a blur, both of us were looking ahead, daring not to look at the right side. After about 30 seconds of driving, my friend remarked "dekhli" (did you see) ?. I said "yeah". No other words were exchanged before we saw the lights of Hanle.

I now leave it to the imagination of the readers as to what BOTH of us saw on that face that didn't warrant stopping the vehicle and saying hello.

We finally reached our homestay (arranged by HVK), around 9pm. Sonam welcomed us, gave us some hot water for washing up, and had our dinner ready soon. The room was very comfortable and clean.

During dinner, we recounted to Sonam the incident with the person on the road. After listening, he smiled cryptically and said "Saab, idhar bahut kuch dikhta hai", and left it at that.

A year later, my friend and I still keep wondering 'what' we saw back there.

Anyway, before going to sleep, I prepped the vehicle to protect it from the biting cold. It was 12 below zero. I poured 1 bottle of anti-freeze in the tank, faced the engine towards the compound wall, and covered the hood with tarpaulin.
This is exciting; don't leave it to us,
and share as to what exactly you saw when the lights fell on the person?
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Old 20th September 2015, 18:25   #13
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^^ Did you see a "scondhokata" - a person with no head/ face ? This is getting really spooky. Please shed some more light :-)
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Old 20th September 2015, 20:20   #14
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Default Re: 16 'Las' and some 'Tsos' - Two men and a Black Scorpio 4x4 on a Ladakh expedition

Awesome blog Mr. Sinha. BTW the "Well Fed" person is a friend for life! was never more envious that he could manage this expedition while we were in our corner office day dreaming about such drives. The "tale of hitch hiking" turned into an urban legend at our office - though still waiting for complete details from the man himself.

BTW - Super excellent photos.
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Old 21st September 2015, 00:36   #15
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Default Re: 17 'Las' and some 'Tsos' - Two men and a Black Scorpio 4x4 on a Ladakh expedition

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This was the second most difficult pass to cross in this trip (after Marsimik La, of course). The hairpins had very steep gradient, extremely rocky, and were really tricky to negotiate. 4WD is a must here. Even with the Scorp, we got a few underbelly hits. In some sections, it seemed more difficult than Marsimik.
A proper adventure trip, in the truest sense - Mr Sinha, your travelogue is an great inspiration! I dream to do a similar trip with my Duster AWD someday.

How you would you rate the Sandakphu climb compared to Marsimik La or Kakasang La?

As for "what you say on that night", I believe some things are best left unsaid!
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