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Old 20th September 2015, 03:29   #1
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Default Jullay! Our unplanned trip to Ladakh in a Duster AWD

Introduction
To introduce myself: I am a technology consultant based out of Kolkata and working in one of the leading consulting companies. My wife is also an IT engineer working in an Indian IT major. We had purchased a Duster AWD in November last year which made TeamBHP headlines for a brief period! - Thanks to BlackPearl's post:
http://www.team-bhp.com/forum/4x4-ve...st-bengal.html (Can the Duster AWD scale Sandakphu, the highest peak in West Bengal?)
followed by my ownership report:
http://www.team-bhp.com/forum/test-d...uster-awd.html (Introducing Chameleon - My Renault Duster AWD)

A drive to the high Himalayas, especially Ladakh, had been on my wishlist for a long, long time. It had grown into a desperate urge ever since I bought Girgiti aka Chameleon (my Duster AWD in November 2014). The fact that we had not done a road trip in almost a year had fuelled the spark! So much so, that I had bought a BSNL post paid SIM card in December 2014 and started paying rentals, even though I knew the trip would not happen before Jun-July of 2015!

(This is my first travelogue, the result of an night's incessant writing after several pokes from friends and fellow BHPians, and only my second thread in TeamBHP; so I would humbly request all to forgive my amateur style of writing and mistakes, for there would be many! It was my first solo trip to the mountains it is probably more of a personal memoire than a TL!)

Jullay! Our unplanned trip to Ladakh in a Duster AWD-11825015_10155938502940074_2750764100420557779_n.jpg

Background
Both my wife and I had been out of the country due to business related travels during the first half of the the year. Mine were more erratic (and short trips) while my wife was supposed to return to India by 3rd July. Hence, we had initially planned a possible Ladakh trip somewhere in mid August. I got my Duster serviced in June and bought basic items like torch, coolant, brake oil etc.

All went haywire when it transpired, by the end of June, that she will have to go back to the UK again, by mid August. Undaunted, we decided to plan a trip in mid July.
But, things went out of hand, when she had to apply for a new passport (for some reason, I do not remember), additional delays crept in due to arcane office rules & processes, and we realised that we will have to cancel the trip (and there was no way it could be possible this year )

Business went about as usual, VISA formalities were being done, and on the evening of 22nd July (Tuesday), during the daily arduous drive back home from Salt Lake to Behala we were lamenting about our misfortune, cursing our jobs and generally complaining about everything! A sudden phone call from office suddenly brightened our evening! We were sure we could here voices from the sky chanting Om Shanti Om dialogue.. "Kehte hain agar kisi cheez ko dil se chaho..." etc.. and well, long story short - we realised that it will take 2 weeks until some process could complete which gave us, maybe, just about enough time to do the trip!

As if the challenges were not enough..
It was onset of monsoon and roads in Ladakh were unpredictable. Latest reports from the ground by known sources were all full of reports about devastated roads. To top it all, an unfortunate accident in Ladakh claimed the lives of a family from Bengal, in the midst of all this. All our friends discouraged us from doing the Ladakh trip. All the advices were from well wishers, and we did have our pangs of doubt about doing the circuit. Also rumours were doing rounds that private cars were not being allowed in Ladakh. online forums were abuzz with pictures of vandalised cars in Leh and horror stories. But we had made up our minds to do a road trip, and planned to divert to other places if Ladakh was out of bounds. Also the fact that this was to be my first self drive to the hills (and solo) was playing in the back of my mind. Not to mention the opposition we faced on the home front from our parents. They were all for getting us tested by a psychologist! Indeed, despite having done several road trips before, this would be my first solo run where I had to cover more than 1000 Kms in a day, drive on tough Himalayan terrain with a car that is yet to see the highway. To be brutally honest, I was a bit nervous too.

Hurricane Planning
On morning of 23rd July, we did a layed out the deadlines! - 12th of August was the VISa interview slot, which meant that we had to back in Kolkate by 9th August. The earliest we could leave was by 25th July. We decided to go for it! The entire day of 25th rushed past as we finalised vacation plans in office, pleaded, coaxed and blackmailed office colleagues to manage our absence and finally on the evening of 25th, we started the mad rush for planning. From all travelogues I had read in TeamBHP I chalked out a day to day plan.
Day1: Kolkata - Agra
Day2: Agra - Jammu
Day3: Jammu - Srinagar (via Mughal Road)
Day4: Srinagar - Kargil
Day5: Kargil - Leh
Day6: Leh
Day7: Leh - Turtuk
Day8: Turtuk - Nubra - Pangong (via Wari La/Shayok Agham route)
Day9: Pangong - Tsomoriri
Day10: Tsomoriri - Keylong
Day11: Keylong - Manali
Day12: Manali
Day13: Manali - Delhi
Day14: Delhi - Kanpur
Day15: Kanpur - Kolkata
Day16: Backup

- Called up Senior BHPian BlackPearl to check if we could do the trip in the middle of the monsoon: Green Signal
- Called up HV Kumar for route plan directions and hotels. Found out that he was super busy for the HVK Monsoon meet. But he was kind enough to acknowledge our request and sent us all route plans and checklists.
- Got invaluable advices from SSTravller, PredatorWheelz and other senior bhpians without whom this trip would not have been possible.
23rd evening - wife bought all food supplies. I borrowed a tool kit and jump start cables from Debdeep27
24th (bunked office)
- Finished all office work from home
- did packing (I had a power nap!)
- purchased extra tyre for car and a puncture repair kit (I somehow got the idea that the size of Duster sized tyres may not be available readily in Leh should I need one. I am using Continental Cross Contact ATs). I already had a tyre inflator.
- Purchased a portable stove, swiss knife, medicines (mainly Diamox, medicine for stomach upsets, paracetamols and some antibiotics, painkillers, pain reliving sprays etc), water crates
- borrowed tow ropes from Cloudmobile_deb (6 PM!)
and finally went to bed at 10 PM, setting an alarm for 2 AM.(wife was still packing, she planned to get some rest in the car)

Finally.. Day 1.. 25th July (Saturday)
I woke up with the sound of rain and chirping of birds. The sky was a dull red. I looked at the mobile - 5 AM it showed. We were supposed to have crossed Asasnsol by then. I thought I was dreaming! Why did the alarm not ring? By then the panic had cleared my head. My mobile had alarm for Monday - Friday and in the hurry I had just edited the existing weekday alarm!
I need not describe what happened in the next 30-40 mins, by 5:45 AM we were racing past Vidyasagar Setu - out of Kolkata. To top it all, a torrential downpour started just after we left.
We were sure we could not make it to Agra, but we decided to push on as much as we could. The rain slowed us down, along with the numerous diversions and pathetic road conditions near Asansol to WB Border. Rains magically stopped as entered Jharkhand. We skipped the customary breakfast stop at Topchanchi and had breakfast on the go.
We were approaching Allahabad by around 6 PM. We decided to push for Kanpur. We reached Kanpur at around 9:30 PM. (All throughout the day we heard second hand reports of J&K government issuing directives against out of state taxis and private cars in Ladakh and Zoji La being closed due to rain).

Day 2.. 26th July (Sunday)
The next morning we discovered that the hotel was a old colonial house with vintage cars and overgrown ivy. Unfortunately I forgot taking a picture, as we were not sure about our destination! We decided to reach Delhi as soon as possible and then decide thereafter. On the way, we discussed with HV Kumar and came to know that Zoji La was closed and we decided to reach at least till Ambala. (We were still considering an alternative trip to Rajasthan!)
I was thrilled to have my first drive on the Yamuna Expressway (I however found that cruise control on my Duster does not work! - I never tested it before). We crossed Delhi via the ring road and reached the boundaries of Ambala before it was dark. By end of the day, Zoji La was still closed.
Our original itinerary looked absured now. We had 4 options -
- Drive to Tirthan Valley (suggested by PredatorWheelz) and Manali
- Drive to Leh via Manali
- Divert to Rajasthan (suggested by worried friends)
- My mad idea of doing Manali - Rohtang - Chandratal - Kaza - Shimla (my second dream trip!) if Ladakh was out of bounds
With sound advice and information by SSTraveler about private car safety in Leh (and HV Kumar's information) - we finally decided that we will go to Leh (I was still considering Chandratal!)
We decided to push till Rupnagar to stay for the night.

Day 3.. 27th July (Monday)
Enroute to Manali
We started early from Rupnagar and started the climb towards Manali. Road conditions deteriorated quickly and our pace slowed down. The Duster initially behaved a bit oddly requiring frequent downshifts afterr he highway sprint. But soon it adapted, and the short gearing with oodles of low end grunt makes it a fun car to drive in the hills. We crossed the Govind Sagar Lake enroute. After a leisurely drive and a river side lunch of fresh troute, we reached Manali by late afternoon. We were thrilled to find our hotel at the very top of Manali right in the middle of an apple orchard!

Govind Sagar Lake (with the submerged temple)
Jullay! Our unplanned trip to Ladakh in a Duster AWD-1487741_10155908913605074_587761729762707797_o.jpg

Our hotel at Manali
Jullay! Our unplanned trip to Ladakh in a Duster AWD-img_20150728_123525_1.jpg

Day 4.. 28th July (Tuesday)
A beautiful morning greeted us - nothing can go wrong today!
Jullay! Our unplanned trip to Ladakh in a Duster AWD-11781723_10155908632475074_8449149661053583364_n.jpg

I went to the local office for permit to Leh. It was supposed to open at 9 AM. It takes only an hour to get Leh permits - I was told. After a long wait, I submitted forms only to know that on Tuesdays, Rohtang is closed for maintenance! A lot of requests and pleading allowed me to get a permit to cross Rohtang after maintenance window (after 4 PM). We received permit at 1:30 PM. Meanwhile we visited the Hadimba temple (and I was still thinking of doing Chandratal instead of Leh!). We had a quick lunch and reached the Rohtang checkpoint at 3:00 PM. The sky was overcast and we had planned to reach Keylong. (I was a bit nervous as this was my first drive in the hills and I was sure that we will have to drive in the dark to reach Keylong).

A few earnest requests to the friendly checkpoint guard allowed us to leave early for Rohtang.. by 3:30 PM. I had already taken 10+10 litres of extra diesel from Manali the local drivers reported that the pump at Tandi was broken and the manual hand pump was creating long queues.
We experienced mild snow, rain and fog on the way up. Once we crossed Rohtang, the sky cleared, the scenery unfolded with of nature's magnificence, but the roads ceased to exist! Rohtang to Kokhsar was a really bad stretch. The Duster's excellent ride quality kept us in one piece!
Some pictures:

Rohtang tunnel: boring was almost done, it seemed.
Jullay! Our unplanned trip to Ladakh in a Duster AWD-dsc_7411.jpg

After crossing Rohtang Top
Jullay! Our unplanned trip to Ladakh in a Duster AWD-dsc_7324.jpg

After crossing Khoksar
Jullay! Our unplanned trip to Ladakh in a Duster AWD-dsc_7391_small.jpg

We crossed the board indicating a right for Chandratal, actually stopped and pondered for a minute, decided that roads around Kaza might be too unpredictable in the rains for an amateur driver like me going so and finally
made up our minds that we were going to Leh!
Jullay! Our unplanned trip to Ladakh in a Duster AWD-dsc_7370.jpg

Roads improved after Kokhsar and the drive until Tandi was uneventful. At Tandi, the IOCL pump was now working, I happily tanked up only to find that the fuel meter to show 3/4th full even after I had put in 2-3 litres after the auto-cut. I had faced a similar issue before in Kolkata and it usually resets itself after a few hundred kilometers. It was already dark and I hurriedly left assuring myself that I had 20 litres of extra fuel. The hotel at Keylong gave the first surprise - so steep was the ramp with a 90 degree turn in between that the manager advised me to climb up in 4 wheel mode! (And indeed the car went out of breadth in 2wd mode in my first try. Strangely I did not feel concered! Preparation for Leh - Manali highway, I thought.)

That night, to ease by nagging worry about fuel, I tried filling up using the spare fuel to see if the meter went up. Unbelievably it gobbled up close to 12 litres of diesel before I could see the level faintly. But the meter still showed as 3/4th full! However, this being a second time I was facing the issue, I reassured myself that I had more than 40L in the tank).

Day 5.. 29th July (Wednesday)
We had decided that we have to drop Tso Moriri since we had lost a day en route. The itinerary now looked as below:
Leh - Turtuk (Nubra) - Pangong (via Wari La) - Leh

We still didn't know if Zoji La had opened.

We left Keylong at the crack of dawn planning to reach Leh and were greeted by a beautiful sunrise at Jispa valley. However, I was now feeling a significant drop in the car's pulling power. So much so, that I decided to stop by a roadside repair shop (who had luckily opened up his shop up at dawn). We pulled out the air filter and emptied a ton (sic!) of dust! He cleaned up as much as he could and Girgiti now had the old spring back in her step! BSNL signal ended at the subsequent checkpost and we started the climb along the legendary Manali Leh highway. I will not try to write about the beauty of the surrounding mountains. Almost everyone has seen the pictures and read numerous travelogues. A view of the majestic Suraj Tal gave us a trailer of what we could expect enroute!
Jullay! Our unplanned trip to Ladakh in a Duster AWD-11047913_10155926527150074_3364800714679613493_n.jpg

Somewhere near Killing Sarai
Jullay! Our unplanned trip to Ladakh in a Duster AWD-11921810_10156002742175074_4643109280388563463_o.jpg

Near ZingZingBar
Jullay! Our unplanned trip to Ladakh in a Duster AWD-11813470_10155938538390074_6337111972314311475_n.jpg
Jullay! Our unplanned trip to Ladakh in a Duster AWD-11800378_10155926564575074_4154049685250770344_n.jpg

Girgiti met its twin at a cyclist's camp in Sarchu!
Jullay! Our unplanned trip to Ladakh in a Duster AWD-11866305_10155888533580223_8155828675716057170_n.jpg

Baralach La
Jullay! Our unplanned trip to Ladakh in a Duster AWD-11856549_10156002739445074_5788119750573233388_o.jpg

Lunch Break after crossing into J&K
Jullay! Our unplanned trip to Ladakh in a Duster AWD-11870701_10155888533530223_3827888874476902082_n.jpg

We forced ourselves to limit photo breaks only for a minute and chug along. We could see the landscape changing from green to barren grey and brown. We were held up in two places due to land slides. A very deep water crossing had me panicking and engaging 4WD Lock for no reason! There were some tough slush crossings just after Sarchu, but the Duster seemed unperturbed! The high GC gives a real peace of mind in these scenarios.

On the way we had given company to an Innova which had broken a wheel stud but pushed ahead nevertheless. I had also tried (and failed) to revive a stuck Force Traveller carrying half a dozen foreign nationals most of whom could not speak English! I had been able to flag down a few trucks to help them get a lift to the nearest camp. We also faced unusual very heavy snowfall for 10 minutes at Naki La!

My inexperience made us go slower than usual. I wasted quite a bit of time pondering whether to try the Gata loops shortcut (and had a go at a few of them!) and after crossing Pang valley, we realised that we had crossed only. 100 odd kms in 9 hours!
Stuck after Gata Loops due to landslide.
Jullay! Our unplanned trip to Ladakh in a Duster AWD-11896151_10156003028385074_8990316515730951581_o.jpg

Wind erosion
Jullay! Our unplanned trip to Ladakh in a Duster AWD-dsc_7523_small.jpg

We reached Debring after 4 PM where the Innova (with the broken studs) travellers decided to spend the night. We were tired but a promise of good roads ahead from a biker got us back on our feet! The road smoothened out into a super highway!
Jullay! Our unplanned trip to Ladakh in a Duster AWD-dsc_7555_1.jpg

We were soon flying on the Mori Plains highway. I had decided to reach Leh by any means necessary! The Duster's excellent ride quality again saved the day as it flew on gravel roads towards Tanglang La. (I had taken a shortcut via the Mori plains only to find me and my inexperience in knee deep slush when trying to climb back on to the road. The AWD's 4WD lock mode, a few reverse and forwards with traction control turned off brought us back on the the beaten track!)
We had to pop in a Diamox each on the Mori plains. Soon it was sunset time, and we were on top of Tanglang La.

Moon rises over Tang Lang La
Jullay! Our unplanned trip to Ladakh in a Duster AWD-dsc_7576.jpg

Roads were mostly good and after a few hours of non stop driving we were in Upshi by 9 PM. We happily tried to contact family members but, apparently, a BSNL cable link had been washed away at Zoji La and connection quality was no different from the prehistoric ages with cross connections! We could, however, finally reach out to the hotel and reached by 10:30 PM.

Day 6.. 30th July (Thursday), Leh!
We decided to take the day off and roamed around Leh, hopping from monastery to monastery and spending the evening in the local market. I also got the car air filter cleaned (again) at the local Mahindra workshop. The next day we were supposed to go to Turtuk. However, HV Kumar called and suggested that it was full moon and we can try our luck at Pangong. A tent was arranged and we were all set to climb Chang La the following day. I had meanwhile tried to be friendly towards local cab drivers and realised that private cars were not a problem at all. The issue was with self driven taxis. I found the locals to be very friendly. However, sadly I came to know that Wari La and Shayok Aghom route were both closed. Since mobile signal works at Tangste (enroute Pangong) we decided that we will fix our next destination from Pangong on the go. We had come this far and were ready to take on anything. Continuous support and advice from SSTraveler were really helpful.
Jullay! Our unplanned trip to Ladakh in a Duster AWD-11884675_10155976411090074_2149702597242312715_o.jpg

Day 7.. 31st July (Friday)
Enroute Pangong
The day did not start well. Although it was bright and sunny, I had bumped the skid plate on my way up to Chang La trying to negotiate a very deep nullah. I had taken a route taken by a Thar and local pickups, but the Duster's approach angle was not enough and I ended up with a little dent and scratch on the skid plate. I could eventually cross by taking the path followed by Innovas but it left a bad taste. Baptism by fire, I consoled myself, as I examined the damage. Luckily it seemed cosmetic.
Rest of the drive was uneventful until late afternoon when it started raining cats aWe abandoned nd dogs. A local Xylo was stuck at the Pagal Nullah (it went really Pagal!) scaring me to my limits. It was a false scare though - even the 4wd lock was probably not necessary - as the car crosed the nullah without any fuss. In an few minutes we got our first view of the Pangong lake! It seemed unreal!
Jullay! Our unplanned trip to Ladakh in a Duster AWD-12029605_10156044358425223_4731892960299551741_o.jpg
However, in the next few minutes another incident seemed more unreal than the lake's beauty - when I stopped to help another
Duster which had apparently had a flat tyre. There were 4 guys who were abusing Renault saying the nuts had jammed and spanner thread had smoothened out! In a few moments I realised that they were turning all nuts clockwise to loosen and had destroyed the thread of the spanner!!!
I tried a few times without success, the nut was too tight. I was finally able to flag down a local Innova, who had a long rod for leverage and finally we could loosen the nuts. (I was more worried on the threads of my spanner now!)

The swiss tents turned out to be awesome with attached bathroom! (we had expected very basic facilities from a makeshift camp). However, the full moon eluded us and it was overcast with a heady gale chilling us to the bones. We were amazed by the elaborate dinner we had! (Late in the night, it started raining!)
Jullay! Our unplanned trip to Ladakh in a Duster AWD-12032726_10156043087765223_367261921624656212_o.jpg

Day 8.. 1st August (Saturday)
The next morning we started quite early, lost our way out of Spangmik(!), and finally reached Tangste to find that Shayok Aghom route was not advisable for a solo car due to dangerous water crossings. Disappointment, again - We had to go back to Leh and loose a day.

We were flagged down by an army personnel at Durbuk camp only to find that he was from Bengal and was happy to see a car from his home state. He requested to ship a few personal belongings back to Bardhhaman and we were happy to oblidge, having got the chance to serve an army man back!

The rain (and snow) had damaged already broken roads and the journey back to Leh was quite exhausting. There were some steep rocky inclines when crossing nullahs which had suddenly come up. An fully loaded XUV was almost stranded with a broken skid plate and emitting out telltale smell of a thoroughly burnt clutch. The fully loaded car was spinning the front wheels whenever the driver starting up a steep incline. With my limited knowledge I suggested to reduce the front tyre pressure a few stops. No idea if it helped, but we kept a close distance when climbing down in case they needed help. Eventually we reached Sekti and verified that Wari La was indeed closed and there was no way to reach Nubra without spending a night in Leh. We visited a few more monasteries on our way back (and also encountered a sand storm!).
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Stakna Gompa
Jullay! Our unplanned trip to Ladakh in a Duster AWD-11893765_10155911613090223_2896639369017169589_o.jpg

Day 9.. 2nd August (Sunday)
Next morning, during my customary check of the car, I found that the coolant was quite low, bordering the minimum level. This was odd as I had checked it last before climbing up Manali. I was more or less sure there was no leak. I got out my bottle of extra coolant and topped it up a bit. (I found that the distilled water bottle had cracked and leaked!! But thankfully the coolant came as a premixed solution).

It was time for Khardung La climb which was uneventful until we reach North Pullu when we realised that one of the spare diesel had overturned andleaked filling the car with fumes which made my wife nauseated and sick. I cleaned up as much as possible, but the the loss in time stopped us from reaching Turtuk. We had a ride on the famous Bactrian camels and retired for the day.
Jullay! Our unplanned trip to Ladakh in a Duster AWD-dsc_7859.jpg

The plan was to leave very early for Turtuk the next morning, spend a couple of hours and drive back to Leh. We, however, found the Hunder dunes a bit overrated (maybe because we had been to Jailsalmer in 2013). The Diskit monastery was beautiful.
Jullay! Our unplanned trip to Ladakh in a Duster AWD-11999730_10156043757015223_3538520120069058552_o.jpg

Day 10.. 3rd August (Monday)
We left Diskit by 5 PM and raced towards Turtuk. After around 10 kms we found signs of land slides. A bulldozer was already clearing it, but failed to update us on the road condition ahead. Undaunted, we marched ahead! After a few kilometers the car was now crossing broken rocks and signs of very recent landslides was evident, until we reached a point where we had to climb up a slide zone to cross! It was cloudy and we could hear thunder rumbling nearby. We decided that we have had enough adventure when we noticed small to medium sized rocks falling from above. That was our cue, to run away! However, the road had narrowed due to slides and it was impossible to make a U turn. In the heat of the moment, I backed up too far, and got a dent on the rear hatch from a rock protruding from above which the parking sensor had failed to detect. I finally managed to reverse and raced back and found that the road was blocked by a slide! Apparently, the rumble we heared was due to this slide and not a thunder clap! Fortunately, the rocky incline was not too bad for the Dusters 4WD mode. Continental ATs came out unscathed and we retured to the safe refuge of the guest house at Diskit, and breathed a sigh of relief. But we had again missed a place in our itinerary. Soon we started our drive back and were welcomed with torrential rain!
The checkpoint at North Pullu closed the road due to local landslides and avalanches. We were stuck for an undefinite time. It was 9:30 AM.

It was pouring incessantly, visibility was almost zero. We spent the first 4 hours in the car replenishing the sleep deficit we had! At around 1 PM the rain stopped. We could see that the erstwhile barren mountain tops had turned white. News was going around that mini avanlanches had taken parts of the road away with them and it would take a while to fix it. The nearby army canteen had exhausted its supply of momos and thukpas. But a local stall from a Bengal boy had piping hot noodles waiting for us. Pity it was not Maggi!

Around 2 PM the checkpost opened with warnings that road was very bad. Cars raced up, for no apparent reason, until I found out why. There were now deep nullahs on the track which required careful driving and it created traffic jams. Indeed a couple of them were so bad, all the Innovas had to be pushed out. I misjudged one of them and stalled in between, (even in AUTO mode of the Duster) on a steep rocky incline. The 4WD lock mode got me out without burning the clutch, but I was learning my offroading lessons the hard way!
A day earlier we had confirmation that Zoji La was repaired (and probably realigned). We decided to climb down via Srinagar.

Day 11.. 4th August (Tuesday)
It was time to bid adeiu to Leh, and we visited the Army museum just outside Leh. (We had infact left the armyman's bag behind and had to run back 20 kms to get it!)
Soon we were enroute to Kargil. I had to plan to visit the fabled Aryan village of Dah only to realise that I had forgotten about permits! Cursing myself I still requested the checkpoint guard if we could be allowed. However, as a consolation, the Batalik - Dah road had been washed away in the rains and was closed! Rest of the road to Kargil was uneventful but very scenic. (Unknowingly we skipped the Lamayuru monastery).
Upon reaching Kargil quite early, we did quick afternoon trip to Shankoo on the Zanskar road, had a glimpse of the beautiful Suru river (and were already planning the next trip to Zanskar)
(Btw the coolant level was again marginally down when I checked in the morning and I topped up once more just to keep it near the mid point.)

Day 12.. 5th August (Wednesday)
Kargil to Srinagar - The only highpoint was the emotionally upheaval we had at the Drass War Memorial. We came to know of little yet timeless stories of gallantry we had never read about on the internet.
Jullay! Our unplanned trip to Ladakh in a Duster AWD-11872263_10156034623060074_4564195182512960028_o.jpg
Zoji La, came and went past without fuss. But the stretch near Baltal is indeed dangerous, and I would rate Zoji La as one of the most unpredicatable passes. It was raining hard and the single lane carriage way had slush and water crossings. There were several points where I had to reverse to let army trucks throught and it was a nerve wracking few moments. Amarnath Yatra was in full swing, with little helicopters ferrying pilgrims.
Soon we climbed down to Sonmarg and was surprised with the concentration of army men. By then, we had heard news of a terrorist activity at Udhampur which had led to the road being closed. But we had now started to expect the unexpected and, surprisingly, were not bothered! A stop by the Jhelum for a taste of Kashmiri Qahwa was one of the most peaceful experiences I had in the trip. Srinagar greeted us with clear skies and we checked into a hotel just beside the Dal Lake. We planned a quick trip to the Mughal Gardens. I also went to the local tourist office to confirm whether Mughal road is open. It was indeed open! The evening was spent well at Ahdoos! We will never forget the Kashmiri Wazwan experience - Tabak Maas, Gushtaba, Rogan Josh and what not!.
Mughal Gardens at Srinagar
Jullay! Our unplanned trip to Ladakh in a Duster AWD-dsc_8000_1.jpg

Day 13.. 6th August (Thursday)
Srinagar to Jammu
The first news we got next morning was of a landslide near Patnitop. Who cares! We were taking the Mughal route! We left early next morning and reached the apple town of Shopian. One could certainly feel polarising forces in these sensitive areas. I however struck up a cordial frienship with a shop owner and made sure that I had packed lunch of piping hot rice, mutton gushtaba and rogan josh for the road. A Bengali indeed lives for food! (Not to mention a jar of his home made Qahwa masala which remains my most treasured souvenier from the trip).
The Mughal route lived up to its expectations - it had almost no cars and was ethereal in its beauty. We crossed the Aliabad and Sukh Sarais of the Mughal era, and passed Pir Ki Gali thereafter. We had a small picnic by a stream with our packed Rogan Josh and Gushtaba!
After Bafliaz (oh! I love the names of the places here), we took the longer route via Surankot (touching Poonch) for better roads. We reached Jammu by 7 PM (listening to radio Sialkot for the last 30 mins - yes it was that close to the border).
Sukh Sarai visible on the slope (Mughal road from Srinagar to Jammu)
Jullay! Our unplanned trip to Ladakh in a Duster AWD-11811311_10155944634205074_3152278946708641107_n.jpg
I never knew a city other than Varanasi which had so many temples. But the Gods may not have been pleased with me as I woke up in the middle of the night to find a stream of water from the AC drenching my bag of camera and lenses. The Lowepro bag had saved the day (err night!) for me.

Day 14.. 7th August (Friday)
Jammu to Delhi
It was time bid a good bye to J&K. However, the glutton inside us kept our spirits up as we were planning to visit Puran Singh da Dhaba. The Keema Kaleji was out of the world (Thanks to XetaGLGRocks who pointed us to the original one). It did not end here, as BHPians SSTraveller and PredatorWheelz treated us with an unforgettable dinner of rann and bada kebabs at Kareem's in old Delhi (We are forever indebted to SSTraveler and PredatorWheelz!)
Jullay! Our unplanned trip to Ladakh in a Duster AWD-11800002_10155947347815074_1895742344876400616_n.jpg

Day 15.. 8th August (Saturday)
Homebound
We started very late the next morning, and hit the Jamuna Expressway at around midday. Thanks to SSTraveler again for showing us the less congested way out of Delhi. We targetted Allahabad at least. Some spirited driving got us to the Allahabad hotel by 8 PM. We decided not to push ahead for Varanasi.


Day 16.. 9th August - Back to Kolkata(Sunday)
I always find the last leg back to Kolkata extremely difficult to drive. What added to our plight was that the NH2 had one of its flanks closed for the annual Kawadi Yatris for almost the entire stretch from Allahabad to Varanasi. It was painstaking 3-4 hour drive to Varanasi. With the adrenalin reserve exhausted, the journey and

its tensions had started to take its toll on me. A careful drive back to Kolkata had the customary stop at Topchachi Dhaba, getting stuck for an hour at Panagarh and finally we were at our doorstep at around 10 PM - all in once piece! (and we did hand over the army officer's bag to his family in Bardhhaman)

To sum it up, this trip was a revelation for us. We never knew we had so much stamina to do such a trip. We know that we will go back to Ladakh again, and again - such is the beauty of the place and its people. Locals were really friendly and warm. All news about vandalising private cars seemed exaggerated. One needs to respect the law of the land, respect the people, and last but not the least respect the abilities & limitations of oneself and his car.

I would also suggest that one should know basics of his/her car before embarking on a Ladakh trip. In the mandatory service after my return I checked suspension joints, changed diesel filter and AC filter. (apart from the regular chance of engine oil, air and oil fillters).
The car performed excellently during the whole trip. The Duster is an excellent highway vehicle. The ride quality is probably the best in segment. After such a gruelling trip there were on rattles from dahboards or door panels. The Continental AT tyres did not have the best grip on turmac but were the king of rock, gravel and slush in the Ladakh terrain. The driving position and view from the drivers seat is not the best for the Duster, particularly for off road conditions. But the steering feedback is excellent and the inputs are so precise that one knows exactly where the tyre is landing.
(PS: My technical knowhow of cars is very limited and I had no idea why the coolant level went down slightly after a day's steep climb. I had it serviced after my return and there were no leaks whatsoever)

It had been a whirlwind trip for me and my wife, an adventure we only dreamt of, but never thought we could be a part of. I did not record point to point distances, neither did I check the average FE of the car! (it was probably around 15-16). It was in no way perfect; we ended up doing the circuit in reverse compared to what we planned, we had to drop Turtuk, Tsomoriri. But it was an epic trip for us, to be cherished for a long time! In the end, as we go back to the daily grind, the pictures and this memoir will keep the spirit burning, until the next time!

(This trip would not have been possible without the advice help and support of the BHPians - HVKumar, SSTraveller, PredatorWheelz, BlackPearl, XetaGLGRocks, Debdeep27, CloudMobile_deb and others)

Finally thanks to the trip, we had seen for us what the Indian Army does for us every day & night, to keep us safe, to keep roads open in unforgiving and inhospitable conditions. With a final salute to the Indian Army, I put my pen down (or stop typing, whatever!).
Jai Hind!
Jullay! Our unplanned trip to Ladakh in a Duster AWD-11870735_10155960166380074_7168864111305122375_n.jpg

Last edited by GhostRider28 : 20th September 2015 at 21:44. Reason: Final draft
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Old 21st September 2015, 12:59   #2
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Default re: Jullay! Our unplanned trip to Ladakh in a Duster AWD

Thread moved from the Assembly Line (The "Assembly Line" Forum section) to Travelogues. Thanks for sharing!
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Old 21st September 2015, 14:16   #3
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Default Re: Jullay! Our unplanned trip to Ladakh in a Duster AWD

Words that have come from the heart. Amazing write up brother, you should upload more pics as you've got some beautiful panorama shots here. I stay in Mumbai and i have been thinking of a drive to Leh since many years now and such travelogues makes me think what on earth am i waiting for.

Thank you for sharing these moments with us.
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Old 21st September 2015, 14:55   #4
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Default Re: Jullay! Our unplanned trip to Ladakh in a Duster AWD

Congratulations on completing such a magnificent trip. Awesome write-up coupled with good pictures.
Including me I am sure this travelogue will be a kind of inspiration to many enthusiasts who are willing to go on a similar kind of trip.


Quote:
Originally Posted by GhostRider28 View Post
Introduction
Also the fact that this was to be my first self drive to the hills (and solo) was playing in the back of my mind. Not to mention the opposition we faced on the home front from our parents. They were all for getting us tested by a psychologist! Indeed, despite having done several road trips before, this would be my first solo run where I had to cover more than 1000 Kms in a day, drive on tough Himalayan terrain with a car that is yet to see the highway. To be brutally honest, I was a bit nervous too.
This was a real courageous act. Mann you must have nerves of steel to begin this journey as a solo drive without a backup. I will never think of it even in my wildest dreams.

Pictures which made me thrilled: Rohtang tunnel, Wind erosion, The swiss tents and the mirror image of your AWD [for a moment I really thought that was reflection of your car]
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Old 21st September 2015, 15:18   #5
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Default Re: Jullay! Our unplanned trip to Ladakh in a Duster AWD

A very nice travelogue indeed!

Out station vehicles or self rentals have not been treated very nicely in this area in the recent past. From what I have known, it has become a big deterrent for a lot of people to plan a road trip to Ladakh. Wondering if you faced any issues in your holiday? Would be good to know.

Cheers!
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Old 21st September 2015, 16:04   #6
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Default Re: Jullay! Our unplanned trip to Ladakh in a Duster AWD

Awesome Sayantan, hats off to you. One car, one family trip to Ladakh with very little or no planning. Wow. Fantastic photographs, loved the natural colours in the frames. But the number of photographs are far less for my expectation, I wish to see more. You have visited Leh during a time when there was so much confusion about the entry of outside vehicles. A peaceful trip, smiling hospitality and smooth travel is a silent answer to all the commotion created on the electronic media and by some people.

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Originally Posted by raveesh_k View Post
A very nice travelogue indeed!
Out station vehicles or self rentals have not been treated very nicely in this area in the recent past. From what I have known, it has become a big deterrent for a lot of people to plan a road trip to Ladakh. Wondering if you faced any issues in your holiday? Would be good to know.
Cheers!
I wish that superficial, "big deterrent" continues, there will be lesser people on the rampage, lesser commotion and lesser pollution of the mind. After all even if its free India, its someone else's home.

Last edited by himadrimondal : 21st September 2015 at 16:08.
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Old 21st September 2015, 17:28   #7
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Default Re: Jullay! Our unplanned trip to Ladakh in a Duster AWD

Great courage you have shown GhostRider and put the Duster AWD to good use
Very nice travelogue and pictures, but as Himadri has mentioned, we expect more pictures
Rated 5 *
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Old 21st September 2015, 19:16   #8
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Default Re: Jullay! Our unplanned trip to Ladakh in a Duster AWD

Great write up for a first travelogue. Indeed all the capabilities of duster in AWD avtaaar being put to test and actually it passed with flying colors.
Kudos to you for all solo driving.
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Old 21st September 2015, 19:30   #9
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Default Re: Jullay! Our unplanned trip to Ladakh in a Duster AWD

Excellent travelogue with great narration and some lovely pictures. Rated a well deserved 5*. As others demand i have the same demand over here! Share more pictures!

Quote:
Originally Posted by raveesh_k View Post
Out station vehicles or self rentals have not been treated very nicely in this area in the recent past. From what I have known, it has become a big deterrent for a lot of people to plan a road trip to Ladakh. Wondering if you faced any issues in your holiday? Would be good to know.
Cheers!
Hi, we visited Leh in our cars last month. Am happy to say now they do not have any issues with any private cars. There only concerns are out side yellow board taxi's. If you are interested to go for a drive to Leh you can very well go ahead with your plans.

For reference, am quoting an incident from my Ladakh travelogue.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Samba View Post
Today again to beat the local traffic we started early by 7-30am. Reached karu by 8-30am. We were a bit skeptical about the local taxi union guys whether they will allow our cars or not. We stopped at Karu and talked with few taxi guys and one person who seemed to be there leader. They were nice to us and confirmed us that they only have issues with out side yellow board cars, any car with private number is free to go any where plus they assured us in case we need any help they will be at our service. We felt good and left Karu with a good note.

Last edited by Samba : 21st September 2015 at 19:31.
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Old 21st September 2015, 19:37   #10
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Default Re: Jullay! Our unplanned trip to Ladakh in a Duster AWD

GhostRider28, there is nothing to say about the courage and resilience you have shown in this trip.
After long time it seems that I have gone through a good Travelogue. But we are such habituated with Photologues, I will say more Pictures please.

While seeing the pictures at last I realized that views of Manali Leh Highway is also great. It seems that we were such saturated with the Hanle Tso Moriri beauty and road condition was such awful we missed much of the beauty of this road.

Hence, lets plan another one..

Let me add a picture for you.

Jullay! Our unplanned trip to Ladakh in a Duster AWD-hanle-view1.jpg
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Old 21st September 2015, 20:41   #11
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Default Re: Jullay! Our unplanned trip to Ladakh in a Duster AWD

Welldone GhostRider28 , happy to have chipped in with those tow hooks. Amazing TL and brilliant images.
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Old 21st September 2015, 22:48   #12
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Default Re: Jullay! Our unplanned trip to Ladakh in a Duster AWD

That's one neatly done travelogue!
Crisp narration with pics (I will join the band wagon though - aur dikhao! ) - its almost reliving the journey with both of you.
We missed this journey of a lifetime and I am sure you missed the Monkey gang as well
Truly deserving 5 star!
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Old 22nd September 2015, 00:06   #13
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Default Re: Jullay! Our unplanned trip to Ladakh in a Duster AWD

Beautiful pictures and an un-putdownable narration! 5*

You just renewed my desire to upgrade from the Swift to the Duster AWD whenever I get around to it :-)
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Old 22nd September 2015, 02:31   #14
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Default Re: Jullay! Our unplanned trip to Ladakh in a Duster AWD

Quote:
Originally Posted by himadrimondal View Post
Awesome Sayantan, hats off to you. One car, one family trip to Ladakh with very little or no planning. Wow. Fantastic photographs, loved the natural colours in the frames.
Thank you Himadri da!

Quote:
Originally Posted by himadrimondal View Post
I wish that superficial, "big deterrent" continues, there will be lesser people on the rampage, lesser commotion and lesser pollution of the mind. After all even if its free India, its someone else's home.
, wholeheartedly; I would have liked to see tourists who respect the people and the place rather than ones who carry the air of doing a favour to the locals. (We spotted quite a few of them!)

Quote:
Originally Posted by BlackPearl View Post
Great courage you have shown GhostRider and put the Duster AWD to good use
Very nice travelogue and pictures, but as Himadri has mentioned, we expect more pictures
Rated 5 *
Thank you BlackPearl. Most of my pictures are quite ordinary and do not deserve to be here!

Quote:
Originally Posted by Samba View Post
Excellent travelogue with great narration and some lovely pictures.
Thanks Samba.. my pictures are nowhere as good as the ones in your TL!

Quote:
Originally Posted by SouraC View Post
GhostRider28, there is nothing to say about the courage and resilience you have shown in this trip.
After long time it seems that I have gone through a good Travelogue. But we are such habituated with Photologues, I will say more Pictures please.
Thanks SouraC. I would like to go back to the era of beautifully written travelogues, but more pictures seem to be the trend nowadays!

Quote:
Originally Posted by SouraC View Post
While seeing the pictures at last I realized that views of Manali Leh Highway is also great. It seems that we were such saturated with the Hanle Tso Moriri beauty and road condition was such awful we missed much of the beauty of this road.
I am still mad about missing the Tsomoriri side, but the Manali Leh Highway was, what we felt, the best part of the trip! I have added one more snap of the Pang Valley - unbelievable!

Quote:
Originally Posted by redeye10 View Post
That's one neatly done travelogue!
Crisp narration with pics (I will join the band wagon though - aur dikhao! ) - its almost reliving the journey with both of you.
We missed this journey of a lifetime and I am sure you missed the Monkey gang as well
Thanks! Honuman Shongothon was sorely missed! Surely, someday..!

Here are some more snaps, on popular demand! Hope they are up to the mark!

Thrilled at Suraj Tal
Jullay! Our unplanned trip to Ladakh in a Duster AWD-11838651_10155886104905223_6076270104433594865_o.jpg

Formations near the Pang Valley
Jullay! Our unplanned trip to Ladakh in a Duster AWD-dsc_7538_1.jpg

Enroute Chang La
Jullay! Our unplanned trip to Ladakh in a Duster AWD-11828540_10155951713030074_6773825726250746420_n.jpg

3 Idiot's point at Pangong - the wind almost knocked us off!
Jullay! Our unplanned trip to Ladakh in a Duster AWD-dsc_7656_2.jpg

Girgiti overshadowing the Big Boss!
I was actually a bit nervous when driving to this point. I was relieved to see the Thar standing guard there. I requested them to tow me out in case I get stuck. They were happy to help! However, we took so long to take pictures, they left!! And as luck would have it, I had misjudged a marshy part and got stuck. 4WD to the rescue, again! phew!
Jullay! Our unplanned trip to Ladakh in a Duster AWD-dsc_7633_1.jpg

At Lamayuru.
Jullay! Our unplanned trip to Ladakh in a Duster AWD-dsc_7923_1.jpg

Mountain Art, by the BRO. Salute.
Jullay! Our unplanned trip to Ladakh in a Duster AWD-dsc_7907_1.jpg

At one of the many monasteries
Jullay! Our unplanned trip to Ladakh in a Duster AWD-11878996_10155931310565223_4863159577577558342_o.jpg

Future Buddha @Diskit Monastery
Jullay! Our unplanned trip to Ladakh in a Duster AWD-dsc_7851_1.jpg

Miles to go before I sleep
Jullay! Our unplanned trip to Ladakh in a Duster AWD-dsc_7747_1.jpg
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Old 22nd September 2015, 02:50   #15
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Default Re: Jullay! Our unplanned trip to Ladakh in a Duster AWD

Quote:
Originally Posted by Cloudmobile_deb View Post
Welldone GhostRider28 , happy to have chipped in with those tow hooks. Amazing TL and brilliant images.
Thank you Cloudmobile_deb! The tow ropes were a real peace of mind!

Quote:
Originally Posted by phamilyman View Post
Beautiful pictures and an un-putdownable narration! 5*
You just renewed my desire to upgrade from the Swift to the Duster AWD whenever I get around to it :-)
Thank you for your kind words phamilyman! The Duster performed like a champion on and off the road!

Quote:
Originally Posted by behaln View Post
Great write up for a first travelogue. Indeed all the capabilities of duster in AWD avtaaar being put to test and actually it passed with flying colors.
Kudos to you for all solo driving.
Thank you behaln. I did miss the tougher passes like Marsimik La due and Kakasang La which would have tested the true mettle of the AWD. Waiting for the next trip!

Quote:
Originally Posted by raveesh_k View Post
A very nice travelogue indeed!
Out station vehicles or self rentals have not been treated very nicely in this area in the recent past. From what I have known, it has become a big deterrent for a lot of people to plan a road trip to Ladakh. Wondering if you faced any issues in your holiday? Would be good to know.
Cheers!
As many others have pointed out, locals here are really friendly and polite. There are no hard feelings towards self owned cars. Rentals and out station taxis need to respect the rules - they are not allowed at certain places like Nubra, Pangong etc.

Quote:
Originally Posted by FULL_MINCHINGU View Post
Congratulations on completing such a magnificent trip. Awesome write-up coupled with good pictures.
Including me I am sure this travelogue will be a kind of inspiration to many enthusiasts who are willing to go on a similar kind of trip.
Thanks FULL_MINCHINGU.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Dieselritzer View Post
Words that have come from the heart. Amazing write up brother, you should upload more pics as you've got some beautiful panorama shots here.
Thank you Dieselritzer. A lof of members requested for more photos. I have uploaded some more snaps

===================

Btw, to all who haven't been to Ladakh before - "Jullay" is Hello in Ladakhi!
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