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Old 21st March 2016, 15:00   #1
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Default Ladakh Diaries

7 Years.

Yes, sadly or for the better, this is my first post in 7 years of being a member of this fantastic community. Like many others out there, I too am a silent observer, reader, frantically devouring every bit of information I could find in this community on cars, travel and just about every other walks of life.

In my time of hiding, I saw this community grow from a few thousand members to a huge family of enthusiasts and crazy petrol heads alike from all parts of the country and beyond. That being said, the strength of friendship and respect for one another exuded from this community only highlights the importance of these two qualities that keeps people together and brings out the best in life.

Having so many of you opening up your personal space, letting a dreamer like me sitting in a cubicle from 9 – 9, to letting me have a peek into your lives and adventures inspired me to get up and set sailing myself. I am very grateful to such individuals and would like to share a few moments, memories of my recent trip with 4 of my friends, through the harsh & dry land of the place called Ladakh, in the hope that it may inspire others to experience nature while it lasts.

The Plan:

This being the first trip far away from home turf made us a bit nervous and hence, ended up with extensive planning. More than needed to be honest. We started planning in December 2014 and made several enquiries, called a lot of people and took their opinions and views into account. Scouted several resourceful communities for best routes, hotels and must visit places whilst trying to ensure that we get the most out of our buck. We even booked our flight tickets way in advance for a journey we were about to take in August. Yes, that’s how far off we were and how wrong we were.


Day 0: Adios Mumbai
Day 1: Hello Manali
Day 2: The Unexpected Sarchu
Day 3: The Mad Rush to Leh
Day 4: Acclimatization is a need
Day 5: Nubra Valley or Pangong?
Day 6: Back to Leh
Day 7: Leh
Day 8: Khardungla – My First Encounter with a RE Bullet
Day 9: Off to Kargil
Day 10: On route Srinagar
Day 11: Flying Home

We had pre-booked every stay and travel from Mumbai itself and had left little room for errors. We were pretty confident that all would sail through just as we planned. But mother nature had a different plan for us.

A few days before our departure to the north, the monsoon had somehow beaten us to it –

“Srinagar: The Jammu-Srinagar National Highway was blocked due to landslide propelled by a heavy downpour in the district in Jammu and Kashmir.” – Zee News

I called up my local contact in Leh to enquire if the monsoon could cause any problems, we were assured that all was good and that we had nothing to worry about. Heaving a sigh of relief, we prepared for D – Day.

Day 0: Adios Mumbai

We were all waiting for this day for months now. The day where we leave all our work, our responsibility (Whatever little we have) and embark on a journey to a place we all dreamed to visit one day. We were excited like little girls to be honest. That said, all packed and ready, all 5 of us decided to meet up at the airport and move forward together. Hoping that corporate exposure would have bolted a sense of punctuality in us all, we decided on a common time and place to meet. Now I am sure all of you have 1 or 2 friends who are always late to the party, right? Well, unfortunately, I'm blessed to have all my friends in that category. While I was informed that they would reach in 5 minutes, they were nowhere to be seen for an hour. They made sure that all of them reached at different times. After a bit of bickering and blaming one another as always, we ended it with a few laughs. All the waiting & fighting made us hungry, so we devoured some chicken at KFC and caught our flight from Mumbai to Chandigarh. It was an afternoon flight and we reached Chandigarh by around 5 pm.

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The gang, part of it. All fresh and in high spirits. I'm the one on the right.

The Waiting Period:

We had an overnight Volvo from Sector 43 bus stand starting 10 pm and knowing that the bus stand isn’t that far, we didn’t bother to rush to it considering we had ample time. So we decided to spend some time at CCD just outside the airport and discuss the plan ahead so that everyone is familiar with it.

Finally, by 6:30, we took the local auto to the bus stand. Unlike Mumbai, where we are used to the narrow potholed roads surrounded by concrete jungle ensuring you can’t see too far ahead, this place had wide open roads. We were dropped off at the bus stand by around 7. After wandering nearby for a while, we settled down in a restaurant right above the bus stand and had dinner. We were now ready for our bus at 10 pm or so we thought.

11pm and no sign of the bus. I called up at the office and was told that the bus has just left and should be there in 10 minutes. 12am and no sign of the bus. I made a few calls at the office and the person on the other line revealed that the bus is still outside their office and is leaving and should be there in 10 minutes.

12:45 am and still no sign of the bus. I called up again but no one answered this time. I called from my friend’s phone and someone immediately picked up but upon realizing it was me, immediately hung up again. Well, at this point, I don't think i have to tell you anything more about the kind of service one should expect from these folks. Annoyed and tired, I assumed that the driver must have forgotten and left ahead and is stalling and ignoring my calls. How can a bus take 2 – 3 hours to reach a pick up point just 10 minutes away, was beyond my understanding. Fearing the worst, I decided to enquire about other buses heading towards Manali. By now, after growing old waiting for the bus, the other four were lying flat on the road bored to death. I spoke to a few bus drivers and I realized that this tour operator (Northern Travels) is always late and the regulars are aware of it. So much for the good reviews on RedBus.

Eventually, the bus did arrive around 1:30am. We boarded the bus and got comfortable in our seats. The bus was in good shape. We were at peace. Or were we?

I believe we were being punished by the Gods for some sin we may have committed in our lives for there was a man who got on the bus later in the night at one of the stops and started snoring. I have never heard anyone or anything snore so loud in my entire 27 year life span. It was out of this world and unbearable. He snored in a pattern which started off slow and gradually kept on increasing to the loudest level till he choked only to start back again. On one occasion of the choking, it sounded as if he puked. It was so loud. I could see the lady sitting in front of him was simply terrified and lost all colour from her face. Anyways, my plan of travelling overnight in a bid to save time and catch a good sleep so that we are fresh for the next day didn’t work out. We never slept that night. We couldn’t. We were awake till 8 am till we reached Manali with my blood boiling.

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-Our smiling faces before lion king decided to come aboard and snore. On the top right, the terrified lady.

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Old 21st March 2016, 17:23   #2
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Day 1: Hello Manali

All the anger and sleep however vanished in an instant. I was no more cursing that person, instead, was admiring and looking out of my large window the beauty that Manali is. A spectacular valley separated by gushing white water, the sound of which echoed in the valley. Tall green trees piercing the cloud high up in the mountains. Everything was magical about this place.

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We finally arrived at our drop point. The snoring man looked energetic, refreshed as opposed to the rest of the travellers. Without doubt, he was the only one who had the best sleep. He seemed to be in a hurry and pushed everyone aside while he made his way out first. After I packed up, I got down from the bus and into muck. Yes, the driver decided to park very strategically. Before I could react, someone whispered to me from my left. His words were –

Creepy Man: “Shilajit….shilajit…shilajit”

I look at him. His beard is white and long. He’s wearing a bandana of sorts and has tons of beads around his neck, more rings than fingers and a heavy sling bag thrown around his shoulder. If you are trying to imagine, try Dumbledore from Harry Potter dressed as Jack Sparrow from Pirates of the Caribbean.

I was warned by a Manali local in Chandigarh to not interact with such individuals as they tend to sell you stuff other than shilajit and then inform the cops as well. In short, he gets paid and is given slack to conduct business elsewhere while you get stuck trying to explain your action and buy yourself out. It’s a win-win situation for everyone except you. I’m not sure how true this story is, I didn’t want to try my luck considering I’ve not had a good streak so far.

We met our driver who would accompany us from Manali to Srinagar. Our transport was the formidable and proven, Toyota Innova. Our driver was a resident of Leh who had journeyed from Leh just to pick us up. His name – Chinjore ji (Took us clumsy fools nearly a day to understand his accent and the pronunciation of his name. I don’t think this is how it’s spelled either). A very honest chap and really did take care of his vehicle. It was remarkably clean through and through.

After the meet and greet, we had a cup of tea and headed to our hotel – The Johnson’s Café. This is a great place to be. A wonderful hotel with excellent hospitality. The food here is pretty good and we were very much stuffed after every meal. Even so, we would always find some room for hot chocolate which seemed like the need of the day in the wonderful cool climate.

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-The hot chocolate.

After surviving the snoring lion king in the bus and a sleepless night, the minute we saw our rooms and the gigantic bed, we could not help but jump right on it.

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At one point, I swear I heard him whisper "My Precious"

We had the entire day to ourselves and had planned to go para gliding. However, it had rained the previous night and was still drizzling because of which, the paragliding plan had to be dropped. Even so, the beauty of this place had us mesmerized so much that we didn’t mind. We went to a nearby park adjacent to the Beas River. It was refreshing to walk along these huge trees flanked by the gushing noise of the river instead of the usual honking of vehicles.

A few clicks on the way –

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We decided to head to the local market to buy some jackets to brace ourselves for the cold weather that we may encounter on our journey far up the mountains.

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-Hotel ground on the way out. Clean and vibrant.

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Old 22nd March 2016, 12:25   #3
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Day 2: The Unexpected Sarchu

The next day we started early and drove up to Rohtang Pass. Every one of us may have heard about this pass or read about it somewhere or the other. I was very eager to see it myself having heard so much about it. It was surely high up, as I could see ourselves elevated by every turn. Like little kids, we were excited. Our dream road trip had just begun. Our excitement was interrupted -

Chinjore ji: “Sirje, yeeee Rohtang, Rohtang pass (pointing outside his window)”

We look out and see only clouds. Thick clouds. No valley, no sun, no trees but only clouds and few meters of road in front of us. These clouds were the reason it was drizzling and raining in Manali. And these clouds were the reason we missed out on whatever there was at Rohtang. We asked him if we could stop, he said it’s not a good idea because of the visibility being low, a car would not be able to spot a halted vehicle and could lead to unnecessary events. We agreed to his point and stopped a few kilometers ahead when visibility improved.

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- A lone truck creeping out of the clouds, struggling on the inclines.

Post this, it was hours and hours of driving through the mountains.

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The terrain changed dramatically over time.

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- My Canon

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- The pictures however do not do justice to the sheer magnitude of these stone formations to be honest. One has to be there to admire the scale of it. On more than one occasion, I was unable to capture certain photographs due to the size these mountains. They would simply not fit in the frame as desired on my standard lens kit.

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Finally we reached a place called Jispa. This was one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. A single dual carriage tarmac laid beautifully in the dead center of the valley with fields on either sides. Dry yellow grass would accompany the sides of this dark tarmac with occasional burst in colors thank to the growth of wild flowers. A couple of pictures would have done justice to what I saw. Unfortunately, it was my turn to sit in the middle seat and so I could not click any pictures. No matter how old or mature you are, if you are travelling with your childhood friends, this is something you will have to deal with. What’s more frustrating is, everyone else was sleeping. No one saw Jispa except for me and Chinjore ji.

Greetings from Mother Nature:

It’s a known fact that you only keep climbing from Manali to Leh in terms of altitude. Manali is around 6000 feet, while Leh is around 11400 feet. That’s nearly twice the altitude of Manali. So naturally, the air gets thinner and it becomes difficult to do most tasks without breaking a sweat, due to lack of oxygen. Lack of oxygen leads to AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness) which leads to nausea and other such stuff. Basically you go dull. A behavior I started noticing in two of my friends. They had been sleeping for a very long time and weren’t talking much. They had sort of gone numb. Dead silence was what we endured till we reached Sarchu.

Sarchu – Hell on Earth:

Things became really scary here. One of my friends started vomiting and the other was stoned and walked wherever we pointed him to walk. He wasn’t talking much nor thinking much. While I was enquiring with the tent manager about medication and possible actions that we can take in case things get worse in the night, my friend calls me to say he had vomited blood.
We rushed to the spot and after a careful inspection, we realized that it was not blood but ‘Rajma Curry’ that he had for lunch. It was red in color (face palm!)

Regardless, we weren’t prepared for this kind of severe conditions. Sarchu was incredibly cold and windy. To make matters worse, the monsoon followed us there as well and it was drizzling the whole time. The tents were wet and everything from bed sheets to towels were all damp. Things got worse after the sun went down, the temperature plummeted to unworldly levels.

Our so called jackets bought in Manali failed to provide any relief from the extreme cold. In desperation to keep myself warm, I was wearing nearly 3-4 layers of clothing and had pretty much every inch of the body covered. In spite of this, I could still feel the chills.

It was finally dinner time, we managed to cough up some courage to step out of our tent and walk to the mess hall just across. To my horror, I saw a couple of foreign tourist in shorts, plain t shirt and chappals while we entered like astronauts. After eating whatever we were able to, we headed back to our tents to call it a day. We were given water sacks with warm water in it to help us keep warm and survive the night. While some of us tried to sleep, some were up the entire night and were unable to even sleep for a few minutes. A common symptom of high altitude sickness

While this place had a charm of its own, a flat valley surrounded by the mountains, it left us shaken and we were unable to capture the beauty in our cameras.

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Old 22nd March 2016, 12:27   #4
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Day 3: The Mad Rush to Leh

We decided to leave early next morning with the hope that things would get better once we are on the road. I spoke to our driver and informed him about the condition of the guys. He explained that we were currently at an altitude of 14,070 feet and that they would feel better when we reach Leh which is at a lower altitude. All these unworldly temperatures and severe conditions then made sense. After a brief chat with the rest of the guys we were more than optimistic to run away from this hell and head to lower grounds. We scrambled our stuff together, gulped down a cup of tea, jumped in our car and rocketed away just to stop right outside the gate for another round of vomiting.

We had a big obstacle in our way. The mighty Taglang La Pass. This beast is at an incredible 17,480 ft. That said, it was still higher than Sarchu and we were not descending as originally thought. As we kept climbing up the steep curves, the air got thinner and things got worse. My Rajma puking friend blacked out and was dangling on the seat belt in the front unable to hold himself up while the other was pretty much lifeless and seem to have lost all ambitions in life. In the interest of safety, we skipped the mandatory stop at Taglang La and rushed straight to Leh hospital.


Once down from the mighty pass and on the outskirts of Leh city, things got better. Regardless, we decided to get a checkup done just to see if they were alright. They were administered 30 min of oxygen through breathers. I remember the doctor telling us -"You sea-people should always take the Srinagar Leh route"

'Sea-people', that's what they call us up there. I didn't know this. Here is a snapshot of the observation carried out by the doctor.

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Sp.O2(Oxygen in blood) level at 76% and 82%. Normal Sp.O2 level is over 95%. The numbers were surprising and dangerously low and explained all the crazy events that happened through the journey. The doctor also confirmed that the climb through Manali is steeper compared to Srinagar and that for all 'Sea-People', the Srinagar-Leh should be the preferred route. We couldn't agree more.

While they warmed the beds in the hospital, the rest of us decided to explore the market and get something to eat. We bought a couple of bananas and patiently waited for them to finish their course. However, we gave up and left with the car to explore the city promising them that we will be back in 20 minutes and pick them up. They agreed.

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- We may be low on oxygen, but our spirits were high.

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- Okay, so not all of us were in high spirits.

‘Time flies’ – It's true, it really does. An hour went by and we didn’t realize it. In the excitement of finally being here, we may have forgotten about our little promise to our dear friends and since our phones were not working, we couldn’t be reminded of it either. Eventually, monsoon followed us here as well and so we headed back to the hospital to pick our friends up.

It started drizzling by the time we reached the hospital. We found our friends trying to hide below a lone, almost naked tree. They didn’t look happy. What followed was a lot of bickering only reassuring us that our friends were back to normal. All was good now.

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Old 22nd March 2016, 12:29   #5
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Day 4: Acclimatization is a need

We did the usual touristy things here. Visited many of the Monasteries, Shanti Stupa, Palaces and the Indian Army Museum. However, owing to the downpour the previous night and the lack of any gutter system, many pockets of the city were flooded. Unlike urban areas where tarmac rules, many of the outskirts as well as in roads were basically gravel and mud which turned into muck after the downpour hampering vehicles from travelling to and from these places of interests. Moreover, the mudslides from nearby fields made matters worse and many of the cars were stuck. The JCB’s were hard at work the entire time. That said, we missed out on visiting the Shey Palace to which the access was cut off.

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- The boys trying their luck.

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-Me, overlooking Leh city.

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-Shanti Stupa. The view this place commands of the city below is spectacular.

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-I wonder what they are constructing this for. Looks quite european.

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- A Rajdoot GTS

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- The once polo ground now a parking lot.

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- The castle at tsemo. We were up for a challenge so we decided to trek to the top. Its not a difficult task to be honest. Its a small trek. But if you are someone who was diagnosed with AMS, its going to be challenging.

On my way up, I stopped to catch myself some air. While I was treading on the usual path, this one couple decided to go rock climbing.

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- Living it dangerously.

We finally made it to the top. We were late though, they had closed the place down and the light on the horizon was fading fast. We had to get down and quick. That said, we took one last shot before we made our descent.

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The same night we were getting unconfirmed reports that the roads from Manali to Leh had been washed off due to heavy downpour at one or two spots owing to which the Manali – Leh highway was closed for public. A group of 30 odd bikers who had started from Manali a day after us who were supposed to reach the hotel were now stuck in a remote village. While we had escaped this ordeal, our trouble were not over. We were also getting unconfirmed reports that a bridge on the route from Leh to Nubra Valley which was our next destination the following morning had given way along with tons of landslide on the way to Khardungla. Things were looking bad for everyone.

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Old 22nd March 2016, 12:32   #6
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Day 5: Nubra Valley or Pangong?

The next morning, we got confirmed reports that Nubra Valley would not open up anytime soon and the army had stopped all traffic to and from the valley till the roads are cleared. No one could get in or out of Nubra. Lots of tourists were stuck in the valley. And so, after a brief discussion with the guys, we headed to Pangong with the hope that the hotel in which we had booked our stay could hopefully accommodate us since we were arriving 2 days earlier than planned. The drive to Pangong was great and we finally reached by afternoon. A few pics below on the way -

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On the way, just a few kilometers before pangong, we spotted these. I'm not sure what these are, never got the time to look it up, but there were a whole bunch of them running around. Small ones in tow with the older ones. They look cute, but they were big, slightly bigger than a pug I would say. We watched them from a distance and didn't venture out to have a closer look

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The hotel managed to accommodate us and we settled in.

I have to say, Pangong Lake is truly beautiful with some jaw dropping landscape. It’s astonishing to see how something with just a few dash of colors, blue and brown mostly, can turn out to looks so vibrant. Here are a couple of pictures that speak of it.

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Further into the evening -

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The dreaded clouds followed us everywhere.

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There was a huge crowd at the tip of this landmass(above picture) when the sun was high up in the sky. Post sunset, everyone decided to head back to their respective dens. We too settled in one of the shacks and helped ourselves with some traditional Maggie. The wind started catching up as the sun went down. So much so that you had to put in some effort if you were walking against it. Yep, that’s how strong the winds were.

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Here is an interesting sign board -
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Post dinner, we were anxiously waiting for darkness to take over. We were here for a purpose and that is to experience the night sky full of stars. We knew we would get our chance here. But nature was playing jokes on us. The dreaded clouds were here that covered the entire sky with no glimpse of the stars. With the winds as strong as ever and the temperature dropping, we decided stay indoors catching up on old times. Around 11pm we decided to call it a night and sleep.

Retreating to our other room we opened the door and stepped out. I look up into the sky and I could not utter a word to the others for I was mesmerized by the gazillion bright stars that dawned the night sky. It was simply breathtaking. I could clearly see the concentration of stars in night sky which I knew was the Milky Way something I had only seen in photographs and on TV. What followed was a hurdle to capture this in our cameras. We spent 2.5 hours in pitch black & teeth shattering cold trying to capture it. But our inexperience and the lack of professional equipment failed us in our attempts. Regardless we did manage to capture a few photographs and had wonderful experience in doing so.

The milky way-

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Before retreating, we took the below picture in pitch darkness. The only point of reference was the small battery powered lantern kept in the room behind. Even so, it took us several tries to get this one. The strong cold wind and the howling dogs in pitch darkness made us very uncomfortable.

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Old 22nd March 2016, 12:45   #7
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Day 6: Back to Leh

After a quick dash to the '3 Idiots' spot, we returned to our hotel the next day. We were staying at the ‘Auspicious’ hotel. It was a pretty good hotel with most of the amenities that one could expect in a place like this. Wi-Fi is still a luxury here and so it’s only available in the reception in most cases. However, during our stay they did expand their coverage by installing additional routers. Even so, most of the times the internet would be down or switched off. The owner of the hotel Mr. Kungzang Namgyal was a cool chap and owned a Gypsy (Will come to the Gypsy later). Mr. Vishal who seemed to be in charge of most of the things was very approachable and courteous. Hospitality was their strength and they left no stone unturned. Among the guests was Bollywood hairstylist ‘Sapna Bhavnani’ who was staying adjacent to our room. I would have asked her for styling tips if I wasn’t balding. She kept to herself and didn’t appreciate the ruckus created by the 30 odd biker group around the bonfire in the courtyard which had arrived the previous night after being stuck somewhere on the Leh – Manali highway. Among the usual RE’s, there were two Triumph Tigers and one very beautiful Triumph Bonneville

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Day 7: Leh

The bridge connecting Nubra and Leh was still out of service and any remaining chances of us visiting Nubra was dismissed. We spent the day sightseeing in and around leh. Visited some of the monasteries and also visited the school(Rancho School) where a part of the 3 Idiot's movie was filmed. We also came across a small pond below Shey monastery. Holy fish pond they say. I didn't know fish were sacred in these parts.

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- The Holy Fish Pond

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-These little fellas were very aggressive. They were all over each other to get a hold on the biscuits. Every time we chucked a small piece, they would push and fight for it.

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-Hearing all the commotion caused by the neighbours, the little ducks came out of their hiding to investigate. Soon, it was a battle between the fish and the ducks. The prize, Biscuits!

By mid-afternoon we were getting news that Khardungla would be open by the next day thanks to the efforts of the BRO. This was good news for us. So what if we didn’t get Taglang la pass or Nubra valley, at least we were getting Khardungla. With that, the dawn set in, we retreated to our hotel and then tragedy struck.

I had lost my wallet. Whether it was stolen or dropped I would never know. I am very careful about my stuff but somehow, I had lost it along with all the cash, cards, documents and ID proof which i was carrying. I was broke in an instant. We set out a search party in the night in and around the hotel but we couldn’t find it. Did everything we could before giving up. Still trying to mentally retrace my steps in a bid to get some clues about my wallet, we sat under a small shack which housed a round table in the front of the hotel entrance. The owner of the hotel walked up to us and started a conversation. The topics ranged from business models for running hotels to ladakhi lifestyle and the influence of modern day highly competitive business sense prevailing in the rest of the country.

He said, "Ladakhis, at one point of time were an extremely simple community. Most of the hotels/guest houses here were run by local ladakhi families. There was no competition among them to lure customers, no strategies to push their services in front. Simply put, whatever came their way, they would make ends meet within the given opportunity. However, over time, a lot of money in the way of investments from other parts of the country have trickled down to ladakh. Several swanky hotels have already come up and more being constructed. With investments, came expectations, targets and ROI. Expectation that locals who were employed had to fulfill. This led to a change in the attitude of the ladakhi people. Everyone became competitive and would bend backwards to win customers. However, there are still a lot of ladakhi people who are still stuck to their routes and are humble in their approach"

While he was sharing these interesting insights, we were interrupted by another person who was a travel agent from a popular online travel agency. He too was a mumbaikar and we connected instantly. He had been travelling through the mountains for the past month. His knowledge on a certain type of grass deemed unworthy of mentioning here was phenomenal. It seems he was a well known personality among the fellas who deal in such plantations through the entire mountain range. After an hour of gossiping, we finally decided to call it a night.

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Old 22nd March 2016, 12:48   #9
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Day 8: Khardungla – My First Encounter with a RE Bullet

First thing first, the next morning, I called up the bank and cancelled the cards as per standard protocol. But the tension was not over. I had booked the tickets on my card & ID and we were to board our flights from Srinagar airport which is also a partly a military airport with high levels of security checks. I feared me having lost my ID and card could pose a problem for our journey back. After a couple of calls, we decided to go to the police station and register an FIR.

Mr. Kungzang Namgyal was very helpful and went out of his way to help us out. He accompanied us to the police station and helped us through every step till the end. I also got a ride in his Gypsy which was probably my first time ever in that car. While I very excited, I must say, I felt like I was in a rollercoaster. After being accustomed to the luxury and the comfort that my Honda provides, the rattling and the harsh ride over non existing roads turned my excitement into fear. The seats were as hard as the ones you get in the Mumbai local trains. Couple that with ageing tyres whose rubber has turned into wood, pogo sticks for suspension, crater ridden roads and you have a recipe for a ride that will rattle every bone in your body. I'm just glad I had a light lunch that day. If this wasn't challenging enough, there were no seat belts, this meant that I had to hold on to whatever I could and sported a poker face all through the short journey.

Back to hotel, with nothing much left to do, we decided to head to the summit of Khardungla. While I was comfortable in the captain seat of our Innova, a friend of mine being a die-hard bullet fan decided to make this final hurrah over a bullet. And so, he got himself a Bullet. I was interested as well however, owing to the fact that I had not ridden a bullet ever before, I was apprehensive on venturing on those crater ridden roads with a heavy motorcycle.

After an hour of picturesque drive through the mountains, we finally made it to the top. Our friend followed suit. Post the mandatory Khardungla shenanigans, it was time to go back. I decided to ride pillion on the way down. Somewhere on the way, I thought, there can never be a better excuse to ride a bullet than being in Ladakh. And so, after a few kilometers, I took over.

This was my first time ever riding a bullet or a RE for a matter of fact and I must say, I was in love. The bullet has character, it has charm and it is solid. There are no surprises in this machine. It has a very mature and rugged personality. With every upshifts, there was a raw mechanical clank, followed by the machine chugging forward in an unusual fashion that would be best described in my opinion as sitting on top of a diesel locomotive engine. The involuntary lunge forward after every upshift really brought a smile on my face.

After an amazing ride through the bends of the mountains with the thump of the bullet echoing in the valley below, we reached Leh and our hotel.

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- The Mighty 500

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Old 22nd March 2016, 12:53   #10
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Day 9: Off to Kargil

This marked the beginning of the end of our little vacation. We were heading for Kargil known as one of the battlegrounds of the Indo – Pak war. The reminiscence of which was evident by the multitude of tributes scattered across this place.

In our entire trip, each day presented us with some or the other challenge and we had to overcome it to see the bright side. Needless to say, this day was not any different. On the way towards Kargil, we got news that a fight had taken place between the Taxi unions of Leh and Kargil owing to which, Leh taxis were not allowed to ply through Kargil and vice versa. Some taxi drivers who did so knowingly or unknowingly were thrashed for it. But we had no choice, either head for Kargil or miss our flights. So we went ahead only to be stopped at a certain point in the highway where dozens of tourist vehicles were lined up and a mob had blocked the road.

After some intense discussions and some waiting on the side of the road under the burning sun, a new taxi belonging to Kargil was arranged. We had to unload all our stuff and change cars. We bid farewell to our driver Chinjore for his help, patience & services and got in the next taxi for the rest of our journey. We were off to Kargil again.

The mountains are valleys are magical, you tend to get lost in your thoughts and sometimes makes you think from a completely different perspective. Just like many other tax payers, I too wondered where all our tax money goes for not once have I seen a bridge in my city complete on time or the roads in good condition and so on. But this perception changed after I saw the might of the Indian Army courageously protecting our border here in Kargil. Their numbers are colossal. Camps after camps that never seem to end, the massive convoy of trucks dominating the entire road, to the unimaginable number of oil tankers all for the Indian Army. It was surreal. For me, their numbers, their strength and their purpose justifies for the tax demanded. Freedom comes at a cost.

While I kept wondering about these things, I was interrupted by our new driver Mr. Ahmed. He suggested we have lunch at the army canteen since there was not going to be any hotels or places to eat for a long time. So we obliged. This was a pretty small canteen. We looked at the menu, and ordered for a few vada pavs. Being a Mumbaikar, you couldn’t say no to that.

A jawan was standing taking orders for people through a rectangular opening in the wall that separated the kitchen and the seating area. We happen to see his name tag and it read ‘Savant’. We guessed he’s from Maharashtra and began conversing with him in our local language ‘Marathi’. The smile and amazement on his face was priceless. We asked him what should we have and he immediately requested us to take a seat and that he would make fresh vada’s for us. We did what the man asked and were served with some really hot and fresh vadas. After a long yet interesting chat with the jawan about how life is in the army and the dry desert, we bid him farewell and continued our journey towards Kargil.

Mid way, we were given a surprise by our new driver Mr. Ahmed.

“Sir, aage hume shayad jaane nahi denge” (Sir, they may not let us go ahead)

Me: “Mujhe samjha nahi” (I didn’t get you)

Ahmed: “Kargil ka taxi union hai aage. Aur hume aage jane nahi denge” (The kargil taxi union is ahead and they won’t let us pass)

Me: “But wahi Union ke member hai na aap” (But you are the member of kargil taxi union)

Ahmed: “Haan, but humne kargil ke border se customers ko pick up karna allowed nahi hai” (Yes, but we are not allowed to pick up customers from the kargil border)

At this point we started losing patience, we had struck a fair deal at our last stand off for a smooth passage and here again it was being threatened due to some internal strife among the union members. I wondered why they have the word ‘union’ in the first place. After some time, we were again stopped by a mob and discussions began between the driver and someone from the opposite party. After the discussions, we told that we would be dropped off at our hotel and that another taxi would follow us to the hotel. We would then need to use the taxi that is following us for our next leg of the journey from Kargil to Srinagar.

With really no say in this and options, we went ahead and reached our hotel. This is where things got a bit messy. In our first standoff on the outskirts of Leh, we had struck a deal of 12k for our journey from that point to Srinagar in the same taxi. At the hotel however, the guy demanded for 6k that is his share, and the rest to give it to the next driver whom we didn’t even know.

The problem was, we were supposed to leave the next day and we didn’t know if the new driver would show up or not. If he didn’t, we would be in a tricky spot and would probably have to shell out more for our passage because the deal was done between him and the other driver. Naturally, we didn’t agree and asked him to come the next day morning, when we have our cab in front of us. He refused. After tons of arguments things got heated and we saw ourselves surrounded by 5-6 odd drivers all claiming to be from the taxi union. One of them declared he’s the head of the union and that we should trust him and pay up.

It’s strange the head of the taxi union is loitering outside a 2 star hotel when half of his union members are exchanging blows on the Kargil border and half within Kargil. However, we decided not to pay attention.

After exhausting all options and in the interest of not creating more trouble, we paid half the money and hoped that the taxi would show up the next day. That night, after dinner, we sat in the hotel backyard which was facing the river. It was quite, dark and cold. We asked the kitchen if they could serve us tea. In spite of the kitchen being closed, they were kind enough to reopen it. We sat there talking of old times, laughing and ridiculing each other into the bitter cold night sipping hot tea and staring at the opposite mountain looking at the distant headlights of cars spiraling down the mountain. I have to say, this moment, right here, was worth all the trouble we faced.

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Old 22nd March 2016, 12:54   #11
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Day 10: On route Srinagar

That morning we got up early. The first thing we did was to go down and look for our taxi. We couldn’t find it. But then it was fairly early. So after breakfast and the normal morning routine, we came down to look for our cab and fortunately, it was there. The driver had arrived on time and his car was ready. I heaved a sigh of relief. All was going well.

After clearing the payments, we began our journey towards Srinagar. Most of the road from Leh to Srinagar were surprisingly very beautiful, scenic and well maintained. Of course there were pockets of gravel and a bit of off-roading here and there but still better than the Leh – Manali highway. The journey from here on up to Srinagar was smooth and delightful. We clicked a couple of pictures on the way –

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- Somewhere on the way to Sonmarg.

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-Heading towards Zojila Pass.

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- Beautiful roads leading to the valley.

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- Post Zojila.

Kashmir is astonishingly beautiful. I remember being in Kashmir with my parents back in 1999. Tensions were super high then and the military had dominated the entire valley. I recall my father telling me that we had to give an undertaking of sorts or provide some information about our origin/relatives in case things go bad. We had to cut short that trip mid-way when gun fire was heard in the local market and news came in that India was at war. That same day we booked our flights on spot and flew out of Kashmir. As per protocol, the air traffic was closed a day later.

Having said that, compared to what we witnessed back in 99, it was much different this time around. While the army made their presence felt, their numbers were significantly lower and less intimidating. While these aspects change with time & situations, one thing that continues to remain the same is the culture of the natives and the breathtaking landscape. This valley is truly blessed with a thriving flora.

On the way, we also stopped over at the Kargil war memorial. We spent a good amount of time there reading up and simply trying to come to terms of what these brave soldiers must have dealt with to achieve victory. I don't believe commoners like me can ever imagine what it takes to be in this situation and battle all odds. For me, they are the real heroes.

On our way out, this message caught our eyes -

Ladakh Diaries-img_3790.jpg

-"When you go home, tell them of us and say that for your tomorrow, we gave our today"....I will, I said to myself.

We then moved on and reached our destination by late afternoon. After dumping our bags and a cup of tea, we headed out to the local market to explore. After a bit of quizzing around, we found out about a few popular diners and decided to go for one of them. After a good Kashmiri cuisine, we walked back to our houseboat and called it a night.

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Old 22nd March 2016, 12:56   #12
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Day 11: Flying Home

Our adventure was over. We were going home. After making our way through countless jawans and policemen at the airport we successfully passed through all security checks and walked towards our aircraft on the field. It felt great. Here is a parting shot before we boarded –

Ladakh Diaries-img_20150811_133835.jpg

We were back home in time.

This has been a wonderful experience for us. Not only did we see a lot of beautiful things but learned a lot through the course of this journey. Lessons of life and friendship. Lessons you can’t read about or see on the TV. Step out and one can learn a lot too.

That being said, if you have reached this far, then thank you for your patience and I hope you undertake your own adventure and make us all a part of it.

Lastly, I had to hold back on many pictures owing to time and resource constraints, however, you can always follow me on instagram at 'instashariq' for more pictures.

That said, it's time I sign off and look for my next adventure.

I leave you all with a small time lapse video my brother Shadab captured on our trip -


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Old 3rd June 2016, 22:18   #13
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Note from Support: Thread moved to the Travelogues section. Thanks for sharing!
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Old 3rd June 2016, 22:33   #14
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Let me be the first one to congratulate you on this awesome adventure! The pictures are just fantastic and the time-lapse is on of its kind, generally not spotted in other travelogues. I am sure you all had a wonderful experience except the part when some of your team-mates fell ill. I must also mention that the travelogue is wonderfully narrated.
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Old 3rd June 2016, 23:58   #15
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Awesome travelogue. The pics are really nice. One of my friends is going on a similar trip next week.
Just wanted to know that how did you manage to go past the strict security at srinagar airport without any id proof?
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