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Old 23rd September 2015, 16:26   #1
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Default The Kashmir & Ladakh Yatra

Note: Dear readers, I know that you are going to groan out, “No, not another travelogue on Kashmir and Ladakh”. I am sorry, I truly am but I feel compelled, from the bottom of my heart to add my 2 cents on this whole Kashmir/Ladakh yatra business. It really looks like every BHPian has travelled to the extreme north this year. Cheers to all of you who did the trip this year.

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It was a cold Friday evening in Chennai in 2014 and the usual suspects were sitting sedately in my house.

Ok, that statement is untrue. Firstly, it is never cold in Chennai and secondly, when my friend codenamed “patti” (Malayalam for Dog) is in the house, things are never “sedate”.

And so there we sat spellbound, listening to the tales of my vagabond friend who had spent 3 weeks, driving around Srinagar, Leh and Manali on a Royal Enfield. My dear friend, whom I’ve known for a long time now, always had the gift of the gab and he was in particularly good form that night much like Ganguly creaming the bowlers through the off side in his day.

During a small break in the lecture, my wife and I looked at one another. We nodded and smiled.

Instantly, I was filled with an inner glow. You see folks; that kind of understanding and mental telepathy is hard to achieve so soon in marriage. Our souls are merged in perfect union. I could have written paeans about that moment.

Err…Or so I thought. In reality, we were thinking about two very different things!

What she thought was along the lines of “We should also do the trip next year.” But unfortunately, my thoughts were along the lines of “Let us serve dinner so that this idiot stops bragging about his exploits.

But, the home minister had taken her decision and I am never one to challenge her when it comes to such things, not even when I’ve imbibed the stuff that gives people courage. You see folks; had Julius Caesar met my wife during the fateful crossing of the Rubicon River during his pursuit to capture the senate; instead of his immortal words, “Alea iacta est”, he probably would have said, “Now I am going to take VRS from the army and go farm in Gaul with Vercingetorix” (in Latin of course).

The Yin-Yang balance in my household had to be maintained at all costs even if it meant that the “Yin” had to steamroll the “Yang”! So the decision was taken to go up “north”, and all I had to do was decide on the “when” and the “how”.

To be frank people, I have also wanted to visit the Himalayas for a long, long time. I really don’t know why but I am also, inexplicably drawn to the mountains and I have the record to prove it. In the last quarter, I’ve visited both Yercaud and Yelagiri, two very humble hills in Tamil Nadu.

From a very young age, I’ve also wanted to visit the Khyber Pass and travel from Peshawar to Kabul. But I don’t think that is likely to happen anytime soon and so, the decision was taken to have a bit of fun and visit places which would not need a visa.

The first decision that we both very wisely took was to not ride a motorcycle. Frankly people, it looks good from the outside. It looks really cools too and gives one bragging rights. I spoke to a few friends who did the trip on the motorcycle in 2014 and the reactions were unanimous.

“Oh wow! The bike ride is the best.”
“If one has to see Ladakh, it has to be on a bike.”
“Agar duniya mein jannat hai, who ek bike ride mein hai.”
“Aliya, bike ride kidilam annu; once in a lifetime experience; just for horror.”


You see folks; comments like this make me nervous. When we Indians all agree upon a certain thing without showing dissent; it can only mean one of the two things:

1. They were all lying to their teeth. They must have hated the long arduous bike ride.
2. We have all, somehow been transported into a parallel universe.

And it definitely could not be point 2. Also once upon a time, before marriage, I was a hard core biker, but now I am reduced to being a hard core biker on a Honda Activa. So we very wisely let the bike be and decided to take the taxi.

The plan was very simple. We had only a week and we had to cover both Kashmir and Ladakh! The trip mattered more than the places for both of us.

The Master Plan
Sept 12th 2015: Fly from Chennai to Srinagar and do some local sightseeing
Sept 13th 2015: Do more local sightseeing in Kashmir
Sept 14th 2015: Travel from Srinagar to Kargil
Sept 15th 2015: Travel from Kargil to Leh
Sept 16th 2015: Visit Nubra Valley
Sept 17th 2015: Visit Pangong Lake
Sept 18th 2015: Fly from Leh to Chennai

Since we were going to do all the drives in the taxi, we really did not have to prepare much in terms of equipment. We just had two bags with us, mostly clothes. We had also booked the hotels in all the places we were going to stay, hoping that the weather/route Gods would not play havoc with our plans. Since it was also the third week in September with the end of the summer tourist season, we were really not expecting any delays in the route as well and our judgement proved to be correct.

The Hotels
The Brown Palace (Dal Lake, Srinagar, Rs 2800 /- with breakfast)
Zojila Residency (Kargil, Rs 4000 /- with breakfast)
The Ladakh Himalayan Retreat (Fort Road, Leh, Rs 2800 /- with breakfast)

Importantly, we also did a bit of research and packed in a lot of medicines as well. Thankfully we did not have to use any of the major ones on the trip. I took a single Crocin tablet in my first day in Leh as I was feeling slightly feverish and lethargic (probably due to the altitude).

Day 1:
So we reached Srinagar around 2 PM (Chennai to Delhi, Delhi to Srinagar) and the flight was uneventful. As if to welcome us, the city too was completely deserted as it was a bandh that day. We checked into our hotel and lazed about till evening when we eventually went and visited the various Mughal gardens around Dal Lake. We saw the Shalimar Bagh and the Nishat bagh. I had heard a lot about the legendary Shalimar but, I was slightly disappointed. The gardens could have been maintained a lot better. So we took out photographs, ambled about a bit around the lake and called it a day. The weather was perfect too, moderate in the afternoons and chill in the evening. The food in the hotel could have been better.

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Day 2:
We started around 8:30 AM in the morning and it was a drive of about an hour and a half to get to Gulmarg. We did the usual touristy things at Gulmarg which included taking a horse ride upto the cable car. I was half afraid for the poor horse but thankfully, without any incident we got there.
We took the cable car to the first level (600 Rs per person) and did the usual touristy things. We also had an awesome mixed pakoda and the Kashmiri Khawa at the top. Unlike the chili pakodas in the south, the Kashmiri one was really potent and my wife literally burst into tears on eating the little one. It was funny and the restaurant guy said that she’d remember their pakodas forever.

After noon, we got back from Gulmarg and we visited the famous shankaracharya temple atop the hill adjacent to the Dal Lake. The temple is important to us as we (my sect) are supposed to be followers of his advaitha vedantham/smarthism philosophy in the South. My only religion is blasphemy but that is a topic for another post. We were not allowed to take the camera up there but the view from atop the hill was simply brilliant. On one side, we could see the Dal Lake and on the other, the ubiquitous Jhelum dissected the city into two.
After that, we went for our Shikara ride around the lake and had more Kashmiri Khawa. To round it off, for dinner, we visited the Krishna Vaishnavo dhaba near Dal Gate and had a good meal. My wife is a vegetarian and that was the first meal that we both enjoyed on the trip. We were all excited about the next two days and our drive to Ladakh!
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Day 3:
After a good breakfast, we started by 8 AM on our trip to Kargil. The drive itself was brilliant. It really is not easy to describe it but the various landscapes that we encountered including the treacherous Zojila Pass was simply brilliant. The mountain pass demanded respect and thankfully, our driver was more than equal to the task. Also, a big hats off to the armed forces and the various people for keeping the road open. The highlight of the day for me personally had to be the Kargil War Memorial. It serves as a reminder to all of us that so few fought for so many of us and lost so much. I would also like to specially thank the awesome Captain Govind Prasad who gave us a speech and showed us around the Memorial. We spent a good hour in the Memorial.

Jai hind! I will let the photos show you the rest.

To a man from the south like me, almost every passing landscape was totally brilliant. This was what we had both come out to see and we got to see loads of it. When we passed through Kashmir, it seemed like heaven. At the end of the day, once we crossed over to Drass and Kargil, the landscape seemed even more surreal. Devastatingly desolate to the core, with myriad hues all around us, I was totally bowled over by the road and the landscape. The Zojila Pass and the route also reminded us of the fragility and power of life and nature.

As my wife commented, “Such an amazingly treacherous terrain, and we’ve still managed to build a highway on it. Anything can go wrong, any landslide can happen any minute. Are we the powerful ones or the mountains? Small plants manage to thrive on top of the mountains in extreme weather. Are the mountains powerful or the small plants?

Anyway, after an amazing day, we reached Kargil and the Zojila Residency at 5 PM. We were expecting a run-down hotel but to our delight, the hotel was really impressive. They even had a French style bidet (that is something we do not see often in India)! The buffet spread for dinner was also good and for the first time in the journey, I tucked into some really good kadai-chicken.
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Day 4:
The drive from Kargil to Leh was also brilliant. In terms of the landscape, we had definitely left Kashmir and entered beautiful Ladakh. So many quaint monasteries dotted the roads. For me personally, the highlight was the Lamayuru monastery; bang in the middle of nowhere. I really do have a new found appreciation for the tenacity of the human race to survive and subsist in some really challenging places.
No words, more photos:
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We reached our hotel in Leh at around 4 PM. It really was a wonderful little hotel and a special shout-out to Mr. Pal Singh who took care of us during our stay there. Day 4 was also when I had my attack of altitude sickness and I spend the rest of the day in bed (took a crocin as well).

Day 5:
We had booked a taxi to take up to Nubra Valley that day. If we thought the scenery in Day 3 and Day 4 was brilliant, the drive and the scenery in Day 5 managed to top that and win hands down. Nubra Valley was simply mind-blowing. We started late; at around 8:45 AM and spent about 5 hours driving to Hunder. We had a delicious meal at a small dhaba at Hunder (because about 20 army men were having lunch there, so it had to be good) and we drove all the way back.
It was simply brilliant; Tall towering mountains on either side with a desert with sand dunes in the centre. We even got to see the famous Bactrian camels. I don’t think I have seen anything like Nubra Valley in my life!
Again, I will let the photos do the talking.
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Day 6:
We cancelled our plan to go to Pangong Lake as we had spent the last 3 days driving through mountains and mountain passes and we wanted to do something more subtle. So we took a rental bike and drove aimlessly around town and on the road to Manali. We visited a few places (visited Shey, Theksey, Stakna, Karu, Upshi), took our photos and called it day.
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Day 7:
We returned back to Chennai. The only twist in the tale during our return flight from Leh was that Air India managed to lose one baggage. I am still awaiting news about it as I am writing this today.

In retrospection:
As I’ve been telling the entire world after I came back; we all have to visit this wonderful place. It truly is like heaven on earth. I would also like to thank the armed forces for protecting our motherland. We greeted and thanked many army men along the way. In our own insignificant way, that was the only way we could thank them for their service to the country.

Ladakh was truly amazing. The people are so friendly and we never felt unsafe.

Kashmir was brilliant but the only fly in the ointment was the morose and melancholic Kashmiri. Not once but many times we heard this in Kashmir, “Aap Hindustan se aaye ho?” (Are you from India?)

There is a collective sense of loss; loss of dignity and patience, loss of their youth etc. I am not a political pundit and I will refrain from making any statements except for a single one. I just hope everybody gets to lead a peaceful life in the future. Tourism is very important to Kashmir and I just hope it will lead to more interaction between people from Kashmir and the rest of the country. Also the average Kashmiri speaks such wonderful and chaste Urdu. It really sounds so beautiful as the words flow out in their accent. But they definitely need to work on their people skills and be more welcoming.

The trip truly was an eye opener. We learnt a lot. And I just hope more people make this trip in the future.

Thanks for reading,
Nivatakavacha

Last edited by GTO : 24th September 2015 at 14:53. Reason: Rule #11, thanks for sharing :)
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Old 24th September 2015, 12:32   #2
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Default re: The Kashmir & Ladakh Yatra

Thread moved from the Assembly Line. Thanks for sharing.
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Old 24th September 2015, 12:46   #3
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Default re: The Kashmir & Ladakh Yatra

Let me be the first to congratulate you on your Ladakh trip and thanks for sharing the travelogue. One cannot get bored with Ladakh travelogues, and you write really well
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Old 24th September 2015, 13:50   #4
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Originally Posted by BlackPearl View Post
Let me be the first to congratulate you on your Ladakh trip and thanks for sharing the travelogue. One cannot get bored with Ladakh travelogues, and you write really well
Thanks BlackPearl! It really was a wonderful trip and I actually want to do a bike ride now from Leh to manali next year
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Old 24th September 2015, 15:09   #5
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Default Re: The Kashmir & Ladakh Yatra

There are quite a few Ladakh threads running parallel (all of them brilliant), all of which I've parked aside to be read at leisure - but then I saw that this one had nivatakavacha as the author. Having read your intro and another entertaining post of yours (can't seem to remember right away what it was - care to remind?), I knew this will lighten up a dreary boring day in office. And it did.

And moreover it seems to be my kind of travelogue - I may never get myself to drive down to Leh, but a touristy trip is definitely on the cards.

And you have written the whole log well. Great!
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Old 24th September 2015, 17:19   #6
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Default Re: The Kashmir & Ladakh Yatra

Crisp, nicely written log. Thanks for sharing your Kashmir, Leh experience.

Reading many Leh-Ladakh travelogues here in Team-BHP and getting inspired, gaining confidence by those my dream of exploring Leh-Ladakh slowly materializing.

But for us from down south, taking our own ride to that region is the biggest challenge. Quick and relatively easy option is to follow the approach which you choose.
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Old 25th September 2015, 00:21   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Nempuguru View Post
But for us from down south, taking our own ride to that region is the biggest challenge..
It looks challenging but once you get started, you will never know when you covered all those miles. Beautiful roads and gradually changing landscape, various life styles etc., that India has to offer will mesmerize you. You will go thru Maharastra, Gujarath, Rajasthan, Panjab, Jammu and the real fun is in driving. If you are a foodie. That is added bonus.

The real challenge is getting 20+ days time and driving buddies
We did this last year and we can not stop talking about it.

And Nivatakavacha - You have some real good writing talent. Well told story it is.
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Old 25th September 2015, 09:55   #8
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Originally Posted by mallumowgli View Post
And moreover it seems to be my kind of travelogue - I may never get myself to drive down to Leh, but a touristy trip is definitely on the cards.

And you have written the whole log well. Great!
Thank you so much mallumowgli for your kind words. You really have made my day by remembering the posts I have written in the past. The other post would have been "The modern car and the technologically challeneged".

Please do visit Ladakh; it is amazing.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Nempuguru View Post

But for us from down south, taking our own ride to that region is the biggest challenge. Quick and relatively easy option is to follow the approach which you choose.
Thanks nempuguru! please do visit Ladakh, it is amazing. I think I have become some new brand ambassador for Ladakh now

Quote:
Originally Posted by FORTified View Post
And Nivatakavacha - You have some real good writing talent. Well told story it is.
Hey Fortified, it must have been great fun; your trip I mean. Do you have a travelogue for it? Would like to read it, if possible and thanks for your kind words
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Old 25th September 2015, 10:08   #9
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Quote:
It looks challenging but once you get started, you will never know when you covered all those miles. Beautiful roads and gradually changing landscape, various life styles etc., that India has to offer will mesmerize you. You will go thru Maharastra, Gujarath, Rajasthan, Panjab, Jammu and the real fun is in driving. If you are a foodie. That is added bonus.
Agree with you sir. Even read a FB post yesterday couple of cars from Bangalore (low GC Civic and City) conquering Leh Ladakh. Another person from Kolkata in his Wagon-R.

Reading these experiences and support, detailed info, safety tips from Team-BHP family definitely boosts confidence to achieve this challenging mega drive.

Quote:
Thanks nempuguru! please do visit Ladakh, it is amazing. I think I have become some new brand ambassador for Ladakh now
Thank you Nivatakavacha. You truly are!
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Old 26th September 2015, 01:50   #10
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Default Re: The Kashmir & Ladakh Yatra

Not once but many times we heard this in Kashmir, “Aap Hindustan se aaye ho?” (Are you from India?)
That hurt. Kashmiris feel so alienated, it's sad to know.
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Old 26th September 2015, 21:26   #11
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Hi Nivatakavacha,

Simply loveeeed your write-up and the pics....amazing. Seeing so many kol-ladakh travelogues now makes my blood tickle with varying intensities. I have been dreaming about such a trip for god knows how many years however never came to a point of ever planning one. Now even before i start planning what i want to assess is the costing bit.

Could you please shed some light into the cost factor that is involved in such a trip. Even if you cannot give me an exact breakup, at-least try and provide major category breakup like hotels, food (approx) and fuel.

Hoping you hear from you soon.
Cheers.
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Old 27th September 2015, 10:49   #12
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Default Re: The Kashmir & Ladakh Yatra

Ladakh travelogues are always interesting and I have read most of them and each one is unique. Nice and short travel log nivatakavacha. It was an interesting read.

Quote:
Originally Posted by nivatakavacha View Post
Note:
Kashmir was brilliant but the only fly in the ointment was the morose and melancholic Kashmiri. Not once but many times we heard this in Kashmir, “Aap Hindustan se aaye ho?” (Are you from India?)
It is heartening / surprising to know that Kashmiri's feel they do not belong to India and hence the question. Can only hope things get better for them soon and they feel they belong to India.
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Old 27th September 2015, 14:42   #13
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Sorry that was meant for a different thread...got mixed up with too many tabs open
I meant to post for another thread where a road trip was done. Anyways...loved ur trip details and the pics as well.
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Old 27th September 2015, 15:02   #14
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You have really given me a good idea, a recci trip on flight + taxi and then a bike trip. Well written. Congrats. I'm yet to book my bullet :P
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Old 30th September 2015, 11:48   #15
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Default Re: The Kashmir & Ladakh Yatra

Congrats on your trip and many thanks for sharing. I must say it was extremely engaging as a reader while going through the thread and also had positive impact when you mentioned few quotes in your own way "Small plants manage to thrive on top of the mountains in extreme weather. Are the mountains powerful or the small plants?” "New found appreciation for the tenacity of the human race to survive and subsist in some really challenging places."
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