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Old 25th August 2016, 12:23   #31
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Default re: Ladakh: Better Leh'd than never. EDIT: Part 2 on page 3

Originally Posted by vsathyap View Post
  1. You are sorely missing a wide angle lens in your kit - please beg/borrow/rent/buy one before you leave. It's probably the only lens that will be fixed on your camera 90% of the times
  2. Tele Zooms would not matter much - only if you want to take pics of wildlife like Birds / Kiangs / Marmots and the odd chance you run into a snow leopard!
  3. I used the action camera as an alternative time lapse camera - which took time lapses from a different angle/viewpoint/perspective. Since making timelapses is such a time consuming task, it was easier for me to generate 2 timelapses from 2 cameras.
  4. I also used the Action cam widely as a dashcam, recoring the wonderful vistas enroute
  5. The Action cam was also used under water - in gushing streams, in the waters at Pangong, etc. If you're carring one, ensure you have a good waterproof case.
  6. The action cam is a proper action camera. I just used it as a dashcam on many occasions and the Xiaomi Dashcam is another piece of tech entirely.
Waiting eagerly for your time-lapse videos. the chances of running into a snow leopard is as good as nil. though i had a brush with this magnificent creature in 2004 but neither did i have had camera for that moment and nor was i prepared for it. Enough of kiang, Marmots from earlier trips. will try to source wide angle as you suggested; probably 10-18 or 10-22. the issue is that in my friend circle nobody has canon and all of them are Nikon guys. otherwise there are many options for lens rental in delhi and i think i would be exploring them this saturday. read about Xiaomi YI action camera after i posted the query. since i have Yi dashcam, so got confused. will try timelapse photography with main camera only and will try the option of app based time lapse video with freelapse on iphone. thanks a lot for your reply
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Old 26th August 2016, 08:47   #32
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Day 9:

It was an early start to the day as most of the folks in the group were getting ready to leave to their destinations. Everyone was up by 7am and were saying their good-byes. All of us had an early breakfast and were supposed to check out by 9am. Fast forward to 9am and we were checking out of the picturesque guest house on the banks of the Indus.

My itinerary for the day was to go to the tourist office near Leh Market by 1030am and get hold of my taxi and its driver and head on towards my dream destination of Hanle. As per the plan, I would be travelling to Hanle on this day, spend the evening and night at Hanle, and after a leisurely morning of sight seeing (and photography sessions) around Hanle, I would be returning to Leh late next night. My flight to BLR was still a comfortable 3 days off, so I had all the time in the world to do my sightseeing.

Coming back to the discussion, some of the folks in the group had a day to spend in Leh due to unavailability (or exhorbitant pricing) of flights. Due to this, they were checking into another hotel near the Leh market - just for one day. As they were also headed to the Market area, I asked to join them and they obliged. All I needed was a lift till the Market area and then I would be on my own.

Soon, we were near the Leh market area and arrived at the hotel where the remainder of the group would be staying for the day. Once there, I contacted the tourist office and I was given the phone number of my driver. After calling him, I requested for him to pick me up at the hotel where the others were staying - mainly because I had a lot of luggage and camera equipment and I didn't want to be waiting on some street with so much stuff. After giving him the details of the place we were currently in, I rejoined the group and remained in their company for the next few minutes.

After some time, the driver of my taxi to Hanle arrived. First things first - he had brought a Scorpio and that immediately gave me a sense of joy! I was finally getting into a vehicle that was meant for the terrain. I did not know -that - very soon, I'd be cursing the Scorpio!

After exchanging good byes with the remainder of the group, and after double checking with everyone that they were not interested to join me (going alone was a slightly nerve racking situation at this point of time for me!), I quickly dumped my luggage into the massive belly of the Scorpio and hopped on-board. I then got to greet my driver - Mr. Anwar! My Driver for the next 48 hours - Mr. Anwar - boy oh boy - was I in for a ride or what!?!

After getting in, I was told that we need to to stop over at the tourist office to collect the permits that I had requested for last evening. After a brief stop at the Leh Market area to collect the permits, we were soon rumbling down the tarmac, towards the awesome Manali-Leh highway. Quickly, we passed Karu and Upshi and the usual stops for paper work were done quickly. I was going down on the same highway for the third time in 3 consecutive days and to be honest, the roads started to seem pretty boring. Now, coming up ahead was the stretch that I was dreading the most - the broken roads from Karu up until Kiari. Soon, we approached the dreaded stretch of dirt and rocks and I was waiting for the stretch to end.

Now, since there was nothing much to do, and nothing much to take pictures of in the horrible dust and blistering heat, Anwar and I got chatting. At first, it was the usual ice breaker discussions with large pauses in between conversations, but soon, as we munched the miles, we started talking a lot more.

Since we're on the topic, let me introduce Anwar to you! Anwar for you is this super duper chatty dude who can go on and on and on - talking away till the world ends! . I somehow enjoyed his company and we discussed everything under the sun. Now, although Anwar's company was enjoyable, the ride wasn't. The Scorpio that he was driving was not in the best of conditions. I think it had some issue with the suspension (or I'm not sure if all Scorpios behave the same) but I was being tossed around like a salad! The vehicle had some really bad body roll and the brakes weren't too good - so Anwar was simply "driving over" the bad stretches without slowing down. After what seemed like years, we finally approached the good roads and made good progress later on. Soon, we arrived at the Chumathang Hot springs and we decided to stop for lunch there. After a delicious dal-chawal-dahi lunch, we quickly continued on towards Hanle (you see I'm from Bangalore and I must have some curds to finish off anything that can be called as lunch! Hehe!)

Now, from all the reading that I had done, I knew that we had to take the road from Mahe Bridge that went straight ahead. Soon, after travelling on those breathtaking roads with the superb twists and curves again, we arrived at the Mahe Bridge. We were stopped for permits at the bridge and Anwar stepped out to do the paperwork, while I stepped out and started assembling my photography gear for the treat that was about to come up.

After a long time (I think 15 mins or more), Anwar comes back with a sheepish grin on his face - and one look at that grin and I knew something was not right. I asked him why he took so long and what was the reason behind that grin on his face and then he tells me the goof up that he's done. You see, any one who has traveled to Ladakh and to areas that require the ILP knows that they need to deposit a copy of the permit at the check posts. Mr Anwar here, the so called talkative smarty-pants has got only one copy along with the original permit. Obviously, this was something that I was totally not ready for and quickly, I started thinking that we may have to go back to civilization to get a photocopy of the permit.

Aha - not so fast - specially with Mr. Smarty Pants around! Anwar, being the talkative guy that he is, used his talent to the best of his abilities at the checkpost and somehow discovered that the officer there is a friend of his brothers, who also happens to be a person manning a checkpost at some other region of Ladakh. Due to his talkativeness, he comes to know about this "friendship" and use this to get himself a favor of allowing us through the check post without having to deposit the copy of the permit.

I did not know whether to be happy or to be upset about this entire incident as I did not know how many checkposts lay further up ahead where we would have to deposit copies of the permit. Now, Anwar drops another bomb, the biggest of all perhaps, and tells me that even he has no idea about the checkposts ahead as this was the first time he was driving to Hanle.

Now, with all the talking that he had done, and with all the tales of his "trips" that he had shared with me for so long, I had assumed that this guy has roamed about on the roads of Ladakh and knows them like the back of his hand. Yes, in fact he did - but only those roads that were near his hometown near Nubra, and he didn't know much about the roads down in the southern/ south-eastern parts of Ladakh.

He surely seemed confident about reaching Hanle and also, as a backup, I had all the info saved on my cell phone and I even had gone to the extent of having google maps offline - for this part of the country. Soon, after some more talk, we started moving ahead from the Mahe Bridge towards this place called Nyoma.

The scenes that I started witnessing from here onwards were nothing short of spectacular! Although I had read about the landscape from Tanveer's post, nothing prepared me for the massivity (or the scale) of the beauty of the landscapes...

Stunning Visuals greeted us as soon as we approached Nyoma
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Shades of rock!
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Green Pasture Lands along the Indus; Surreal scenery with mountains in sun and shade
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Alternate Colours: Looks like Zebra Crossings for the Gods!
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Quiet flows the Indus next to the Road
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Approaching Nyoma - can see buildings in the distance
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Now, soon after we passed Nyoma, the landscape changed from a barren brown shade to a very pleasing green. What we saw were miles and miles of grasslands - on the banks of the Indus River. It was a sight to see and whenever I got a chance, I was clicking pictures from the Scorpio. Thanks to the bouncy ride even on smooth roads, I couldn't get decent shots.

Green Pastures
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Grasslands unlimited
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Colours of the mountains revealed as the clouds move away
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I was awestruck at the different shades of the mountains - red - yellow - purple - even green! As far as I can remember from pictures of others, Ladakh was just a barren desert and most photos had "brown and blue" in them. However, this was something that I was finding hard to believe - even though Tanveer has put up some very nice pics in his Ultimate guide. As they say, one must "see it to believe it"!!!

Has anyone seen "green roads"?
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As we moved along, we finally saw boards that told us that we were on the right track. Until then, both Anwar and I had forgotten that we were here all alone and that too, coming here for the first time. Both of us were so involved in the beauty of the landscape that we had forgotten that we were driving towards Hanle. The entire atmosphere was so beautiful.

Approaching our next landmark: Loma Checkpost - notice the green roads
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Nothing escapes Nature's wrath!
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Final turn before Loma Check Post
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Soon, we realized that there would be a checkpost at Loma where we would need to have our permits displayed (or submitted, if Anwar's magic didn't work). After some more amazing scenery, we arrived at the Loma Checkpost. Arrival here was a mixed bag for me - On one had I was happy that we were on the right track and weren't lost. On the other hand, I was not sure about the permit's issue and whether it would pose a problem for us going towards Hanle.

Scenes around Loma
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Now, the next "adventure" of mine began at this checkpost. The time was approximately 4-5pm and Anwar got down for the usual paperwork. I too got down and stretched my legs and went for a short stroll with my camera around my neck. I was looking like a typical tourist (the way they portray Japanese / Chinese Tourists in American movies) with a Camera around my neck, a typical touristy cap, another point and shoot camera in my hand and a bottle of water in the other. Anwar was taking more than the usual time here also and I was now certain that the permits copy thing was creating a problem here. I approached the check post and asked the reason for the delay. The officer manning the post asked me whether I was with "him" and the officer was pointing to Anwar.

Now, all sort of thoughts started running through my mind. It was foolish of me to have simply accepted Anwar as my designated driver without having asked for any sort of ID proof or anything. In fact, back in Leh earlier in the day, I didn't even get on board the taxi at the tourist office as per the plan and instead, I asked him to come to the hotel. Now, all this was running through my head and the officer's query made me even more skeptical about everything that was going on and suddenly, I was very aware that I was in a remote place, far far away from any civilization and I was all alone.

"Haan ji - mein inke saath aaya hoon" I replied - not sure of the consequences of my answer. "Kyon, kya hua - koi problem hai? Permit mein koi problem?" The officer then told me that there was no problem with the permit, but there was an issue with Anwar - it was his drivers license - and he did not have one! Woaaaah!?!

Fast forward 10 minutes and I come to know that Mr. Anwar has applied for a renewal of his DL back in Leh and only has a hand written note that confirms the same - no duplicates or no copies of his DL! The officers did not have a problem if Anwar had carried a copy of his license - just the letter alone was something that they did not like and they were not sure what needed to be done, specially since we were headed to Hanle - a region that is not accessible by foreign tourists. Quickly, Anwar did his magic with his words again and somehow convinced the officers that we were going to Hanle just for the day and would be back tomorrow morning. Somehow, after a few more minutes of talking, the officers allowed us to pass - retaining the only copy of the permit that had of me and they also hand-wrote Anwar's name into the Permit, just to be sure he is counted when we would be exiting the check post next morning. Phew!

After our second adventure with the check posts of Ladakh, we were soon on the way towards Hanle - and Anwar told me that we would not be needing any more permit copies ahead since Hanle would be our next destination.

After crossing the checkpost, my attention was drawn back to the amazing landscapes and I noticed that the evening light was creating a stunning visual. Armed with my camera, I went in for a few more pics which I am sharing below:

Spectacular Scenes
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Reflections of Nature:
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Sands of Time over Sparkling Waters
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Soon, the entire landscape changed and we noticed that the hills gave way to nothingness - there was absolutely nothing around us except for an arrow straight road. This looked very very unreal and I was going bonkers with the shutter!

There is great beauty in Simplicity
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Another Runway!? Nope - just another Highway in Ladakh!
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Now, these arrow straight roads look very very tempting to floor the gas - but wait - have you read Tanveer's giude? I informed Anwar that he should not go very fast on the road as there are unmarked "dips" in the road which are pathways for water crossings. After almost breaking the front axle at one such "dip", Anwar slowed down and realized the trickery in the landscape. We then treaded freely, yet cautiously, enjoying the beauty of the land ...

Watch out for the Water Paths! Can you spot one!?
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Finally, after what seemed like an endless journey across some spectacular landscapes, we saw the first glimpses of Hanle - the Hanle Monastery...

We're finally there!
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Quickly, we come to a dead end where we are pointed to the "right" to reach Hanle (aka Khaldo Village). We take the right and continue on the road and soon, we're crossing one of the metal bridges again. Once we're on the other side of the bridge, we realize we've come the wrong way. But wait - what wrong way - I had come here for photography and from what I could see - we were on the right way! The entire place looked so "untouched" - simply speechless!

Cannot express the beauty in words! Khaldo Village in the distance!
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A Spa for the eyes! Notice the Space Observatory in the distance over the hill!
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More Fantastic scenery!
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A Kiang looks on with Curiosity
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After realizing that we were indeed going in the wrong direction, we retraced our paths and after enquiring with the locals, headed in the right direction towards the guest house. We would be staying the night at the Padma Homestay.

Arriving at the Homestay!
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Finally, after a journey with its ups and downs, I had made it to Hanle - and by the look of things, I was getting my "paisa vasool"'s worth of all the amazing things I had earlier read about the place! Yes - I had made it to Hanle!

Last edited by GTO : 26th August 2016 at 08:51.
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Old 26th August 2016, 08:47   #33
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Day 9: Continued: An evening with "miss"-fortune!

On our arrival at the home-stay (I'll be using the terms home-stay and guesthouse interchangeably), Anwar and I were not sure which way the entrance was as the main door was closed. After about 5 minutes, a lady (probably Mrs. Padma) opened the gate and welcomed us into the guesthouse.

After unloading my luggage from the Scorpio, we went in to relax and sit for some time - sipping hot chai. Some things in the world are just priceless - and for me, sipping that hot tea, sitting on the front porch of the guest house, looking at the amazing landscape in front of me - that was one of those moments. Once we had settled down and relaxed a bit, we were on to the next plan - my main intention of visiting Hanle apart from the photography angle was the chance to visit the Hanle Space Observatory (HSO). The second factor was that the entire setup was being remotely controlled from Bangalore. Now given this fact, the HSO got into my bucket list naturally.

After enquiring about the HSO, we were told that the place would be closed by now. The time was almost close to 630-7 pm and the light was fading - fast. We decided that we'd hurry up and see if we could get a chance to visit the HSO. Being first timers, neither of us had a clue whether the roads would be closed, or if there was some sort of a check post that barred entry after a certain time or if there was any other physical blockade that would prevent us from going to the HSO.

As we were getting ready to leave, we stopped in our tracks when we saw another person entering the guest house. It was a lady probably in her mid twenties, dressed well - like any other tourist - but she looked tired and was worn out. Her face looked somewhat familiar and I almost had that "maine aapko pehle kahi dekha hai" thought running through my head. She asked if this was a home-stay and Anwar and I looked at each other and said yes, while pointing her to the owner. Our curiosity led to the better of us and I asked the young lady as to what she was looking for and where she was from.

What she said surprised both Anwar and me! Apparently, this lady, lets call her "Ms. Goldie" had traveled to Hanle all the way from Leh on a local JKSRTC bus - and she had left from Leh at 6am! She had traveled over 12 hours on a rickety vehicle all by herself, just to reach Hanle! On asking her why she had come so far, her reply was "just like that - to see around"!

We realized that we were getting late to go to the HSO and informed her that we'll get in touch with her later, after we're back from the HSO and left. But, she came to us and requested if she could join us. Anwar just pointed at me and told her "inki gaadi hai madam - inhi se pooch lo". I was in 2 minds - I had no clue who this person was and why she was here and what she was up to, but I was also in a hurry to go to the HSO and I didn't want to miss the "golden hour" for photography. Fine - I decided that another person's company wouldn't be too bad - specially since Anwar and I had exhausted all topics that could be discussed. Moreover, she didn't look too harmful!

Quickly, the 3 of us got into the Scorpio and made our way to the HSO. After seeking directions from a local, and after some positive reinforcement from another local that the HSO would be open till 9pm, we made our way towards the hill that wore the HSO as it's crown. On the way, I was stunned by the beauty of Hanle and went shutter happy! We stopped at the base of the hill where there was a small marshy area which presented a picture perfect shot - and I took it graciously! Then, we started on our way up hill. We didn't stop for any more photo stops as I didn't want to lose the light when we got to the top.

What a sight!
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I'd be happy to submit this to a Wallpaper collection somewhere!
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It's not me; It's not the camera - It's Hanle!
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Setting sun - golden hour - limited time!
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Meanwhile, we took the opportunity to know Ms. Goldie during the short trip up hill. I was shocked beyond awe when I heard her story. Without delving into too much detail, I can say that Ms. Goldie had come to Ladakh - all alone - and she was here to just soak in what the place had to offer. She was a model/actress and wanted to see Ladkah from her perspective. She had already been to Tso Moriri and she didnt hire expensive cabs or transport options (unlike yours truly - guilty as charged!) and she always took public transport or hitch-hiked - whatever was available basically. I mean - a woman - all alone - in Ladakh!! This was something that I couldn't even imagine and here she was - sitting with us in the Scorpio - sharing images of her "adventures" in Ladakh through her smart phone - and hitching a ride to the HSO! Hats off to this lady! And yeah - the model/actress bit - that's where the "maine aapko pehele kahin dekha hai" fits in!!!

Soon, we arrived at the top of the hill and were greeted with howling winds. We got down from the Scorpio and made our way towards the HSO. While Anwar and Ms. Goldie were busy trying to find an "entry" to the HSO, I was busy clicking pics of the observatory in the majestic evening light. After taking some decent pictures, I joined them in their quest to find the entrance to the observatory.

En-route - going uphill!
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Wait - what ? Those observatories look so tiny!
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You have arrived at your destination!
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Tiny?! Who said Tiny!? This was massive!
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Beam me up .. Scotty!
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Made it in time for the Golden hour!
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Lo and Behold: Hanle Space Observatory in all it's glory!
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Where do we enter!?
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After a while, we found a small door and entered it - and were greeted by a Ladakhi guy. On asking him if we could come in, we were welcomed with open arms and we were told to keep our cameras and phones away as this was a no-photo zone inside the observatory. After 15 minutes, we had completed the tour of the HSO and were amazed at the amount of equipment required to stare into space! I even got to operate one of those things that moves the telescope around! Later, we came out and I took a few more parting shots of the observatory. It was already pretty dark and the light was almost gone. Thanks to my camera's High ISO performance and some remarkable software, I was able to get some decent pictures. I took a couple more pics and soon, we were on our way down towards Khaldo.

Dusk envelopes the sky!
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From another angle
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Parting Shot
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Coming up the hill, I did not notice how steep the curves were as we were busy discussing the adventures of Ms. Goldie; now apparently, the darkness made things look really dangerous and Anwar was very careful in coming down the hill. Soon, we go down and headed back to the guest house.

Darkness falls!
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Once we arrived at the guest house, we continued discussing Ms. Goldie's adventures and how I thought she was out of her mind having done what she had done. After some time, we were told that dinner would be ready in half an hour and we could have an early dinner and retire for the night.

However, after coming to Hanle, I had my mind set on getting another set of star trail pictures - after all we were probably at a very high altitude and the star studded sky looked fantabulous! During dinner, I had the chance to meet Mr. Sonam Dorjey, the guy who's behind the Padma Homestay and I informed him about Team BHP, HVK and and Devil on Wheels forum and he was very very happy to know that I came to know about this place using discussions from online forums. I even told him that the stickers on his door from all the forums was reassuring to someone like me.

Soon, we got talking and he asked me and Ms. Goldie about our stories and while I was telling them how unlucky I was to have missed Pangong, Mr. Sonam dismissed it off quickly and told me that I could go to Pangong from Hanle and that it was doable in one day. Unfortunately for me, I had to get back to Leh as I had kept one spare day for rest/shopping/misc activities at Leh. On hearing this, he reassured me that we could do Pangong - Leh from Hanle and the entire stretch can be done in one day, although it would be a little tiring. Ms. Goldie, being adventure hungry as she is, also added to the discussion and said that if we wouldn't mind, she'd also hitch-hike and tag along with us for the ride back to Leh! Anwar was also very enthusiastic about the idea and was like "chaliye .. appko Pangong bhi dikha denge" Soon, there were some excited discussions in all directions around the dining table area and everyone fell silent when Anwar spoke up - he said that he did not have enough diesel in the tank to make it on this so called journey and more importantly, the permits were a problem for us coming to Hanle; and going to Pangong would mean even more problems as the route falls within the ILP zone.

Ms. Goldie then chimed in, saying she had procured permits to all possible places in and around Leh, not knowing when she would need them (specifically in cases like this!), and that I could simply tag along with her. Round 2 of chaotic discussion started and soon, everyone was of the opinion that the permit issue would be taken care of by reassuring "ho jaayega"s and "chalega"s in the air. It was settled that we would "try" going to Pangong! If the folks at the checkpost allowed us, we would proceed; else we would head back to Leh via Loma, Nyoma and Chumathang. I had no intentions of taking further risks and flatly said that we should simply head back to Leh - as per the original plan! This said, we all finished dinner by 9:30pm and finally, it was decided that we'd be heading back to Leh as planned - no risks with permit business. Somehow, at the back of my mind, I had a feeling that I would be missing out if I didn't visit Pangong when I was this close, but again, I was in no mood to take risks.

After some time, I setup my camera equipment outside the porch area of the guest house in order to start my star trail photography session and looked up - to be disappointed by the fact that there was a very bright moon in the sky and it would be almost impossible to get a nice dark background on a long shutter shot. Mr. Sonam looked up and told me that the moon would go away soon and in an hour or two I should have a clear black sky. So, the wait began - this time, thankfully, I was adjusted to the cold and had the comfort of a nice bed and quilt - and a solid roof over the head - that I could take refuge in, in case things got too cold.

Fast forward 2 hours and I'm super excited to see a clear dark sky with nothing but stars - hell lots of them! I setup my tripod and camera and begin my first long shutter shot for the night. After hopping around in the cold like a kid on a trampoline, and after waiting for 45 minutes, I ended the shot and looked at the results - and I was totally disappointed! Somewhere in between, there was a trail of clouds that had moved in and ruined the star trails! I glanced at the time and it was past 1 am and the weather was getting too cold for comfort. It had been a long time now that the generators had been switched off and I had only my flashlight as my guide in the darkness. Again, somewhere, dogs were howling and barking and I had no idea how close they were to me. I looked up again and saw that more clouds were headed our way and there was no way I could get a clear star trail photo tonight. Moreover, I was super tired from the long and adventurous journey I had had during the day, and was in no mood to stay up further. With a heavy heart, I packed my gear and called it a night.

I had a hard time falling asleep as the thought of missing Pangong was coming up repeatedly. I knew I wanted to do it - but somehow, taking the risk without permits wasn't cutting it for me. Convincing myself that I'd take a more informed decision in the morning, I rolled into a good night's sleep.

Last edited by GTO : 26th August 2016 at 08:50.
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Old 26th August 2016, 08:47   #34
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Day 10: The Crescendo!

Thanks to my photography madness, I was still groggy the next morning after half-a-night's worth of sleep. To make matters worse, I still had a big decision to take - whether I'd take the risk and try going to Pangong and then Leh, or just follow the beaten path and get back to the safety of Leh directly.

With the thought still bouncing in my mind like a ping pong ball, I had tea and freshened up. Ms. Goldie was also up by then and she was all for taking the Pangong Route, back to Leh. Anwar was nowhere to be found - I was somehow hoping that he would be around for tea and may be I could discuss the matter with him in detail and then take a call on his experience, gut feeling and his final feedback. I was still pondering over what to do when Anwar suddenly came running into the guest house and told me to pack up quickly and leave - I was clueless on his urgency and asked him what happened. He told me that he had somehow managed to hunt for diesel in every nook and cranny at Khaldo, and that he had successfully found a place selling fuel and he had filled up the tank - he was literally jumping with excitement saying "Chalo chalo, jaldi - aapko aaj Pangong dikha hii denge!"

I had no words to express at this point - I was totally amazed by the poor guy's sincerity and his humble nature - he had got up early in the morning just to hunt for fuel and had spent a good 2 hours looking for diesel!!! Moreover, he had paid a lot of his own money to get the tank filled up and didnt expect anything in return!!! Ms. Goldie was also very excited on hearing the news about the fuel and she also pushed me to take a decision - towards the Pangong route. Still uncertain, I said I need some time to think and thought it would be in my best interest to update my wife on the proceedings and let her know about the plans and also get an idea of her opinion. Thankfully, BSNL works well at Hanle and Anwar obliged by allowing me to use his phone to call up my wife.

After 5 minutes, I'm back and I announce to everyone's delight that we shall be doing the Pangong Route - and only if the permits thing is not too much of a hassle. Everyone was overjoyed except me - I still had my doubts, even though my Home Minister had approved of the Pangong option - telling me to go for it since I had come so far, and if there were any permit related issues, the safe route was always available as Plan-B.

Soon, we had some amazing Aloo Parathas and the mood in the dining hall was filled with a sense of uncertainty and excitement. I decided to hold onto my horses as the last time, just a week ago, I was all excited about Pangong and later, it was an utter disappointment. Keeping my excitement in check, we consulted with other folks (who I think are family members of Mr. & Mrs. Sonam) who also said that there is a road from Hanle to Pangong but it wasn't in the best of shape. Basically, we were told that "a route exists" from Hanle to Pangong and that we should travel via Loma - Chushul - Merak - Man and we would reach Spangmik, which is where the Lake is.

After packing my bags and after being embarrassed on how much luggage I had carried with me (compared to Ms. Goldie, who had all of a tiny backpack to carry her luggage with her), we thanked Mrs. Padma for her generous hospitality and posed for a customary pic. Sadly, Mr. Sonam was not available when we left, so we gave our regards to him through his wife and left for our next stop - Loma check post.

A customary pic at the guest house:
Pic taken from the cell phone, so excuse the poor quality.
Ladakh: Better Leh'd than never. EDIT: Part 2 on page 3-img_20150726_075319383_hdr.jpg

Soon, we were bouncing on our way towards Loma. The entire landscape looked so much different during early morning, as compared to what it looked like the previous afternoon. There was an eerie calm in the air and like the previous afternoon, ours was the only vehicle in sight for miles and miles.

We started heading towards the Loma Check post
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... and I had miles to go before I sleep; Miles to go before I sleep!
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Everything looked so different compared to the previous evening!
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Oh the reflections!
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We're approaching Loma
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At the Loma Checkpost
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We made good progress towards Loma and arrived at the checkpost bright and early.

Now, this was a crucial point for us - because here - at Loma checkpost, we would be taking the detour towards Chushul (and hence Pangong). If we were denied an entry here, we would be going back to Leh on the usual route we had arrived. After a nervous 10 minutes at the checkpost, it was apparent that Anwar had worked his magic again. He was all smiles when he returned to the car and asked for Ms. Goldie's permit. Once that was submitted, my permit from the previous evening was attached to hers and it was made to look like Ms. Goldie and I were traveling together. Since she had all the permits required, and since I had the permit till Hanle, the officer acknowledged our decision to head towards Pangong and told us to stick to the roads. He also warned us that there is another check post at Chushul and possibly, our permits thing could be a problem there as the place is quite close to the border.

Anwar then came in with a million dollar smile and said "dekha - maine kaha na ho jayega" and I was more like .. Ok sir - abhi chalo yahan se! Not knowing what this entire "stick to the roads" meant, we were simply relieved that we would be traveling towards Pangong. I still did not have high hopes since the officer had told us about the permits being a problem at the next check post. At that point, I was just taking every minute as it came; and from what happened next, I would remember every single minute that came by in the next few hours ...

Free Roaming Kiangs
Ladakh: Better Leh'd than never. EDIT: Part 2 on page 3-dsc_7354.jpg

Last edited by GTO : 26th August 2016 at 08:50.
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Old 26th August 2016, 08:47   #35
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In Pursuit of Hap(Pangong)y-ness...

Soon, we were past the check post and heading towards Chushul. The roads appeared decent where we started off and we were making good progress. Anwar miyan said that we will reach the lake in no time as the roads are nice and that we could have the entire afternoon at the lake. We didnt realize that with that sentence, good old Anwar had just jinxed the trip that we were about to undertake!

We stopped somewhere on the way for a quick photo session when our dear Ms. Goldie - the model-slash-actress - decided that she wanted to pose for a pic against the stunning landscape. Being the assigned "photographer" for that trip, I obliged and took some pics for her and we moved on.

Somewhere around Loma
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We had not traveled for more than 5-10km and then, the tarmac suddenly disappeared. We had nothing but tyre tracks on the dirt and gravel to use as our "guide". By this time, I was somehow getting a little uneasy with the fact that we did not have any solid road up ahead. I somehow assumed that the roads would be under construction (just like the Karu-Kiari stretch) and we would hit tarmac pretty soon. That "pretty soon" never happened. We went on and on and on for more than 30 minutes on the dirt roads and there was no sign of a road - no sign of a sign post and no sign of anything else!

Near Tsaga / Tsaga La - look at the "roads" change in colour!
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Apparently we were travelling near Tsaga or Tsaga La, but I didnt see any high passes, so not sure why the "Tsaga-La" name was being used. Being true to my nature and being brought up in a "no tolerance to risk" environment, I started getting a little nervous and was wondering if we were actually "lost". I checked my phone and obviously, there was no signal. I tried to use Google Maps and discovered that the particular route we were on was not in my offline maps' list! The phone screen simply displayed a blue dot on a pale yellow background and that was it - there was nothing else - no roads, no landmarks - nothing!

Now, I realized what that officer had said - "stick to the roads"! B-A-M!!! Stick to the roads - but what roads - which road - where is the damn road!?!? All we saw ahead of us was some loose gravel, faint tyre tracks and an expanse of high altitude barren desert!!! I decided to check with Anwar whether he knew the route, but even he was new to the entire place and he gave me a rather quizzical response that he was just following the tracks on the dirt - "kahin pe to leh chalega woh".. was his logical reasoning! That's it? I told him - you are just blindly following a set of tyre tracks and you expect us to reach Chushul?!?! He gave me a look like "do you have a better idea" and I understood that something is better than nothing and kept quite. We drove on, trying to mask the ever growing undertone of uncertainty and to keep things cheerful, Ms. Goldie decides to share a few "share"s with us (pun intended!)

Random shots!
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Soon, she started off with her poems and share-o-shayaris and this kindled Anwar's hidden talent. Even he started off after a few minutes and there we were - in the middle of nowhere - listening to and entertaining ourselves with some well rhymed prose and poetry! Since I was not very familiar with the complex hindi/urdu in some "shers", Anwar and Ms. Goldie had a good time translating them to the simpler Hindi (and sometimes even to English) that I could somewhat manage to understand. As we moved on, the scenery changed and we were back amidst hills - and travelling within a "valley" sort of a place. I look around and I start seeing bunkers - army bunkers - hidden within the hills and only showing a tiny little entrance to them. This visual spooked me a bit and I started wondering whether we were very close to the border - and whether we were actually on the right side of the border!!! What if we had entered our neighbor on the east!?!? I didn't even have proper permits!! Basically, as they say in local Bangalorean Slang, "Sisya, fulllu meeeter off agittu!" or, as they say in Hindi, "meri toh phati padi thi" and when I pointed the bunkers to Anwar, he replies saying "shaayad border ke nazdeeq hain"!!!! Ms. Goldie meanwhile continues with her poetry! This my dear friends is what they call as the "Whaaaat Thaaa Fish moment" of the trip!

Are we lost?!!?
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Bunkers!?!? Yikes!! Where are we!?!
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The hills have eyes - Part 3!
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Thank God!! Found someone!!!!
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Soon, after over an hour of traveling on the dirt roads, we finally see some humans - and thankfully, they were wearing Indian Army uniforms! We asked them whether we were on the right track towards Chushul and one of them says that we should continue in the same direction as we're heading and again, we hear the phrase "follow the road"!!! I mean - WHAT ROAD?!?!? Thanking my stars that we're still in India and to the basic fact that we're not lost, we move on towards Chushul and soon, we come to a sudden stop.

Right in front of us was a massive water crossing. The snow from the hills was melting and this had created a mini-river kind of a thing ahead of us. The so called "road" we were following went into the water crossing and came out of it some 40ft ahead, and some 20 ft to our left! So, it was clear that we could not go straight - we had to take the direction to where the path started again from the other side of the crossing. I looked in all directions to see if there was another vehicle coming behind or ahead of us which we could use as a guide/ help in case we got stuck, but there was nothing but desert!

All 3 of us got down from the vehicle to inspect the so called water crossing. I was thinking that I would go across the stream to the other side and probably guide Anwar onto the "correct" path. Anwar, knowing the guy he is, tells me to sit in the vehicle and that he will take us across without any issue. Sadly, due to the seriousness of the issue ahead of us, I do not have any pictures of the water crossing - I was completely occupied with the "crossing" bit and didn't think of even picking up my camera, forget clicking pictures.

Alright - so it began - gingerly, Anwar entered the water and slowly guided the Scorpio within the water. My heart was in my mouth and I was watching out of the window for any massive boulders or stones that could hit the car/damage the tyres. After what seemed like 10 years, we finally made it out of the crossing onto the other side and stopped. Heaving a sigh of relief, we all looked back and were amazed at how well the Scorpio had handled the water crossing - without a single scrape or a underbelly hit! I was overjoyed when we had passed the crossing. It takes great skill to cross such a massive path of water and Anwar had done it without breaking a sweat! I was overjoyed - to know that the worst was behind us - or so I thought!

Soon, we were back on the so called "road" and continued further. Again, after just about 10 minutes, we stopped - again - for yet another water crossing! This time, the crossing was not too big, may be just about 10-15 feet across, but this one was DEEP! The water was gurgling and rushing madly in the deep end and I took a big "gulp" looking at it. This is probably what happens when you sit in the passenger seat - you get to see things first-hand and realize the possible outcomes almost instantly. Again, Anwar got down, analyzed the water crossing and he probably made a mental map for him to follow. Soon, we were in the middle of the water crossing, moving ever so gently across the water, slipping and sliding across boulders the size of car tyres!! Again, Anwar skillfully drove the Scorpio across the deep stream and we were out of trouble!! Phew (raised to the power 100000)!!

Again, we were on the "path" towards Chushul and casually, I asked Anwar where the 4x4 switch was on the Scorpio and whether he was on the "low" or the "high" mode. Anwar, doing what he does best, gives me that million dollar smile and asks "kya 4 by 4 sirjii - yeh toh 2 wheel drive hai"!!! Right there - I was floored by his skill and at the same time, a nervous wreck, realizing that we had crossed some really crazy water crossings on a 2WD Scorpio! The only saving grace for us was the high GC!!! God bless that Scorpio!

Back on solid ground, we were moving along slowly as there was no real road - only pebbles the size of tennis balls (and at some places, we had soccer ball sized rocks) and this meant that our speed was reduced to a crawl. In the distance, we could spot something - it looked like a tent of some sort. Excited that we could finally take a break and see other humans, we moved towards the "tent" like structure and realized that it was some war memorial as we approached it. On arriving at the memorial, we saw that it was the Chushul War memorial. We got down to look at the memorial, half expecting to see an Army Jawan or some human with whom we could interact and cross check our position & location. However, since no one was there, we soon left the memorial and headed on towards our destination.

Approaching Chushul.. Finally!
Ladakh: Better Leh'd than never. EDIT: Part 2 on page 3-dsc_7384.jpg

Pleasing scenery near Chushul...
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Reflections of Relief!
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Finally - Civilization!
Ladakh: Better Leh'd than never. EDIT: Part 2 on page 3-dsc_7387.jpg

Thankfully, we started seeing signs of civilization in the distance and realized that we had arrived at Chushul. Just before we would enter the village, we were stopped for our permits and we handed them over to the officer who asked us how we managed to come till here without a permit for me - and with the "ladki" alone having the right permit. Anwar went on to explain his story and told the officer that the Loma check-post guys had told us about this check post and that we should show them our permits and IDs. The officer then asked me for my ID proof. I submitted my DL to him and told him that I was from Bangalore. He asked me what I was doing here and when I told him about my photography trip and shared some of my pictures with him, he looked convinced. He took the permit from Ms. Goldie and my ID proof, wrote down all the details and handed over my DL back to me and told Anwar that he should bring people only with valid permits in future. Anwar gave his million dollar smile again and soon, we were told that everything was good! We were allowed to enter Chushul and soon, we made our way into the village.

We stopped at a nearby shop selling tea and had a well deserved break here. We had been traveling for over 4 hours since morning and the very fact that we had made it to Chushul was a small victory in itself. After tea, we asked the locals for directions and were told to move towards Merak.

Quickly, we were on our way to Merak and we were back on the old beaten path of stones, pebbles and gravel. Soon, we left the signs of civilization and were back in unknown territory. Slowly, we moved on and as per the locals, the "lake" would be visible to us in a short time. Eager to see the lake, we had our necks strained - looking out of the window towards our right, expecting to see the massive Pangong and have our socks blown off. However, the elusive lake evaded us and showed no signs of presenting itself. Now, the landscape had changed significantly. There we tall mountains on one side and nothing but a barren rocky desert on our right.

As we were moving along, and discussing our road trip, I happened to tell Anwar that I wish I could have driven my own car here (getting my Alto here would have been a certain disaster practically speaking). Ideally though, the thought of driving on these roads in one's own vehicle gives a superb sense of achievement and I was sharing this idea with Anwar when he suddenly pops the question whether I wanted to drive the Scoprio here. Being "Mr. No-Risk-No-Nonsense" that I am, I quickly turned down his request, stating that driving here would require a good amount of skill and moreover, I did not have any experience of handling a Scorpio (and that it was a diesel vehicle meant that I had no idea about gear ratios and the other geeky gearhead stuff we're used to discussing). As soon as I turned down the request, Ms. Goldie decides that she wants to have a go at driving the Scorpio! I requested her not to do so, specially since these "roads" required a lot of skill and any goof up meant that even basic help was literally 4-5 hours away. And typically, being Ms. Goldie - true to her adventurous spirit, she decides to drive the Scorpio - ignoring what I just said. Reluctantly, I got down and into the rear seat of the car while Anwar took up the passenger seat and Ms. Goldie took the wheel.

With Ms. Goldie at the wheel, we made quick progress - she rumbled over stones, pebbles and rocks and it felt like she was a rally driver in her previous birth! She was doing a pretty good job at driving and Anwar kept a watchful eye over her progress. Ms. Goldie, however, was thoroughly enjoying the drive and had a grin plastered over her face! As quickly as she had started off, she came to a sudden halt and I looked over to see that we were staring at another water crossing. I asked Anwar to take over the wheel and told Ms. Goldie that shes better off as a passenger over the crossing. Well - guess what!?! She would have none of if and decided to drive over the water crossing herself. Anwar, being himself, guided her on how to take the vehicle over it and soon, with my heart pounding away, we crossed our third water crossing!! Obviously, Ms. Goldie was extremely pleased with herself and decided that she would continue to drive, much to my dismay!

Fast forward 15 minutes and we're stopped at another water crossing. This one is a lot smaller than the others we had already crossed and there was no stopping Ms. Goldie! She started going over the water and suddenly, we all hear a massive and chassis shattering T-H-U-D!. With my heart going at 200+bpm, I give out an exasperated yelp (and probably swore a few times too) and we stop the vehicle after the crossing to inspect the damage. Anwar and I quickly got down and started scanning the underbody of the Scorpio! That's it I thought - we would probably end up spending at least 5 hours here and my brain started working on survival tactics (thanks to a binge watching spree of Mr. Bear Grylls's TV series). Meanwhile, we continued to scan for big dents on the Differential, suspension and check for oil leaks, and thankfully, we do not find any major damage. Now, I was really annoyed and asked Ms. Goldie to get down and let Anwar drive - and again, she would have none of it and decides to continue driving! I didn't know what to say.. or even what I was supposed to do! My situation was pretty much something like this:

Would you jussssst...!?!?!!!!!!
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Anyways, moving on, we continued to drive on the path and soon, we saw that there was some greenery on our right side. Curious to know what it was, we continued to travel along the path, keeping our eyes towards the greenery and soon, we saw a water body - it was blue - not the light blue that one associates with Pangong Tso. This blue was more of a dark, almost navy blue kind of a blue and we all thought that it was probably some other smaller lake (just like Kiagar Tso was to Tso Moriri). Without having any maps to rely on, we moved on and discovered that the blue continued to follow us on the right side. It was still the dark blue and had none of the brilliant hues that Pangong did (IIRC as per my observations on TBHP and DoW forums). Anwar said that it could probably be Pangong, but he said we're still a long way off from Spangmik, so even he wasn't sure.

Is that what it is!?!?
Ladakh: Better Leh'd than never. EDIT: Part 2 on page 3-dsc_7391.jpg

Ms. Goldie however, was somehow certain that the lake was indeed Pangong Tso. While I was browsing through the offline TLs and posts on my phone to get a clue whether what we were seeing was indeed the Pangong Lake, I quickly realized that I had another location and maps application - Nokia's Here Maps and more importantly (and rather stupidly), I realized that I had saved the entire J&K map onto my phone!!!

Still in the middle of nowhere!
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More rocks, more pebbles, more dirt paths to follow!
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AAarrghhhhh.. all this while, I had the maps of the entire route (and the entire state of J&K) on my phone and I hadn't realized it! Quickly, i opened Here maps and pin pointed my location and W-O-O-H-O-O-O-O-O!!!!!!! Ladies and Gentlemen, we were indeed very close to the Pangong Tso, and that blue thing towards our right - was indeed the massive Pangong!!! I could barely control my excitement and shouted with joy that we had arrived near the lake!!! YES - after all the disappointment in the previous week and all the crazy adventures that I had gone through in the last 48 hours, I had arrived at the Pangong Tso!!! My dream was coming true!

Last edited by GTO : 26th August 2016 at 08:49.
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Old 26th August 2016, 08:47   #36
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Pangong Unlimited!

With Pangong on our side, we all felt that we had reached the Moon! There was no limits to our joy and we realized that we had come across some really crazy terrain - all "In pursuit of happyness"! With our latest discovery, Ms. Goldie decided that she had enough of driving and wanted to join the photo-party too. To my relief, she got back into the passenger seat and let Anwar continue the drive while she clicked pictures from her camera and phone. The mood in the car was upbeat and we all had a million Watt smile on our faces! I quickly picked up my Camera and started clicking pictures like no tomorrow!

I realized that in the anxiety of the last 4-5 hours, I had barely clicked pictures, or used my action camera to record the surreal beauty of the place! Quickly, I setup the action camera within the Scorpio - to mimic a dashcam and started clicking pics from the DSLR. You may ask me why I setup the Xiaomi cam within the car, and not mount it to the hood / side panel to catch the "action". The reason was pretty simple - the roads we were travelling on were pretty horrible and all I had with me was a lousy "Go Pro" knock off made in China suction mount that was delivered to me by eBay on the day of my departure from Bangalore. The seller "claimed" that it was as good as the original (which costed a whopping 3.5K) and I foolishly ended up buying the el-cheapo 600 Rs. knock-off which I regret even to this day! The damn thing wouldn't remain stuck even on a flat panel of glass - forget a dusty hood or a pebble-worn bumper! In an attempt to 'not-lose' my action camera, I chose the dashcam point of view from within the car.

So, coming back to the TL, We still could not believe that it was the Pangong - it just didn't look like it! The water was not calm, the color was not right, and basically, it didn't give that breathtaking "wow" factor that one associates with Pangong. Moving along, we noticed a couple of Kiangs strolling on the banks of the Lake and I setup my equipment for some wildlife photography. Somehow, the Kiangs heard our Scorpio and the shy animals they are, they quickly ran away! I was lucky enough to get just a couple of shots of the Kiang before they disappeared into the distance.

What's that Scorpio doing here?!
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Let's get outta here!
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We continued to travel on the road without signs for about half an hour and soon, we noticed that the lake was moving further away from us. At the same time, we got to witness the "gradients" of blue for the first time - The color near the banks was a lighter shade and it got darker as the lake got deeper. I dont remember how many pics I was clicking as I exhausted 2x32GB memory cards within no time.

Hues of Blues - Finally!
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This does look like Pangong..
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Thankfully, I had lots of storage with me and I popped in the next set of cards and continued to make merry! As we drove along, I realized that we would be traveling along the banks of the Pangong all the way till Spangmik, which was still quite a distance away! I double checked on the maps app on the phone and it confirmed my guess. At some places, the road disappeared into the lake - this made me a little uncomfortable, as I thought that we would have to enter the lake and out of it - more or less like a water crossing. Anyways, since we had already done a few challenging water crossings, I thought we could do any more that came by - the positivity in the camp was somehow blanketing the nervousness of the possibility of having more water crossings ahead.

We moved along the Pangong and saw that we were getting quite close to the lake now - almost touching distance and the lake looked just stunning! It had begun to show its colours and the clouds were playing hide and seek with the sun - which only meant that we got to see some amazing shades of blue. At one point, we were only inches from the banks of the lake and that too - the banks were sloping gently into the water - more or less like a beach. Taking this photo-op, I got down from the Scorpio and started clicking pics, mere inches from the brackish waters of Pangong.

Close to the lake!
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Beach-like approach to the edge of the lake
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The direction in which we came from!
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Living on the Edge!
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At the banks of Pangong!
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What a sight!
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Ms. Goldie also got down and requested me to take some portraits of her - with the lake as the backdrop. She had a basic Canon camera and the 18-55 kit lens on it. Stunningly though, the portraits were coming out really well against the backdrop of the lake! I was pleasantly surprised with what the little entry level camera and kit lens could achieve! Ms. Goldie was thoroughly impressed with my photography skills and told me that she would be bothering me for more such portraits along the way. Naturally, I obliged and told her to feel free to let me know where she would like to have more portrait shots taken.

Anwar meanwhile was ever obliging and stopped every time I started clicking pictures. He assumed that I needed to have a steady, stable platform in order to click pics. However, as I was hanging half of my torso outside the Scorpio's rear window, I told him to simply keep driving as I didn't want to delay reaching Spangmik. While the scenes towards our east kept impressing us every second, the ones on the left were pretty much the same - tall mountains, hills and rocky desert and pebbles.

No Drama on the other side though.
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However, at some places, the pebbles gave way to erstwhile streams which had dried up and left behind a trail of soft slippery wet clay-like sand. We had to be extremely careful navigating through these patches of so called "yesterday's water crossings" as one wrong move here and our tyres could end up getting stuck in the soft wet mucky sand. Being the expert he is, Anwar guided the Scorpio across the tricky stretches without much hype. We came across several of such passive crossings and Anwar told us that all these were probably streams from the last couple of days and today, the snow on top of the mountains had dried up and hence, there was no water. He was also thankful that we did not have to deal with active water crossings like the ones we had passed earlier in the day.

Soon, we spotted what seemed like signs of civilization, yet again. The mood in the camp was already good, and seeing signs of a village alleviated any fears we had. We had arrived at this place called Merak. The time was approximately 1-2 pm and we were a bit hungry. We thought we would stop for lunch here but sadly, didn't find any food-places. Moving slowly through the village, Anwar spotted a small eatery and on asking them about lunch, they replied with a doubtful response and I decided that we would go further down and stop at the next village, which was "Mann". Anwar was apparently not happy and although he didn't say it, it looked like he wanted to stop here for lunch. Since he didn't say anything about my decision to move on and stop later for lunch, we went along.

Arrival at Merak
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Moving further, we noticed that the lake was almost always 10-15 feet away from us. The views that we got to see were simply splendid and no amount of words or explanations, or photos, or videos can do justice to what we got to see. To keep things simple, I'll simply post pictures of the scenes we got to see and hope that they do the talking!

Spectacular scenes
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More Spectacular scenes
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Two eyes cannot do justice to the beauty here!
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Close to the banks again!
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Oh the majesty...
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Picture Perfect Pangong!
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Photography on the move...
Ladakh: Better Leh'd than never. EDIT: Part 2 on page 3-dsc_7514.jpg

As we were so busy with our cameras, we didn't notice the village of "Mann" which was a bit towards the hills - and we were literally next to the lake. Somehow, we managed to miss Mann entirely and didn't realize our mistake till we were a good distance from it. After what had seemed like years, we finally spotted a Toyota Innova coming from the opposite side! This was the first civilian vehicle we had encountered since we had left Loma in the morning and boy - was it a relief to greet another vehicle!!! Anwar exchanged details with the driver of the Innova and apparently, they were heading to Mann. Surprised, Anwar now realized that we had traveled across Mann and had skipped it entirely. Anwar and the driver again exchanged information on the road condition ahead on either direction and soon, we moved along. Clearly, Anwar appeared irritated - for the first time since I met him, the talkative jovial person that he is, was somewhat miffed by the fact that we had not stopped for lunch at Merak earlier. Sensing the hunger in the air, Ms. Goldie then turned magician and presented some almonds, walnuts and raisins out of thin air! I don't know where she had kept this stuff in that tiny backpack of hers but somehow, she had always kept surprising us throughout the trip. Thanking her profusely for the magical act she had just performed, we all shared the dry-fruits pack and this kept us going for a little longer. By now, the time was almost 3pm and we were quite tired and hungry. It had been a LONG drive from Hanle and a tiring and anxious one, to say the least. We were simply waiting to arrive at Spangmik, where we would find some decent food.

We kept moving away from the lake and coming back towards it repeatedly
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Suddenly, the water was almost mirror like.
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Although the scenery on our right side continued to blow us away each second, we were concentrating more on Spangmik now - we had to have something to eat. Finally, after half an hour, we reach the point where the 3 Idiots' movie's ending scene what shot. Anwar asks us if we want to visit the spot and obviously, we did! He then said that we would first have lunch and then visit the spot. At 3:45pm, after an arduous and adventurous ride of close to 8 hours, we finally arrived at Spangmik! We headed to a hotel overlooking the lake and had some good dal-roti-sabzi. Anwar also had a special tea, which according to him was a Ladakhi specialty. It was salted tea and apparently was a favourite amongst drivers, as it kept them alert. I decided to try it too, and after a sip of that liquid, I decided that it was not my cup of tea (pun intended again!)

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After a well deserved lunch break at 4pm, we headed towards Pangong Tso's 3 Idiots' Movie Shooting location. The drive to the spot was a bone-rattling one. After driving over boulders and rocks, we finally made it to the soft sandy beach of the Pangong where Anwar, in his eagerness to get us as close to the lake, drove on very quickly over the soft sand and sunk the front tyres of the Scorpio within the sand. Sporting his million dollar smile again, he asked us to get down and walk the remaining distance to the lake, while he got the Scorpio out of the sand - with the help of the other drivers around.

I got down with my SLR and action camera with me and walked towards the Pangong. I could hardly believe the turn of events in the last 36 hours, which had led me to visit Hanle, visit the Space Observatory there and then, of all the possible places, arrive at Pangong over non existent roads! Somehow, I was glad that I had taken the decision to go to Pangong and was equally thankful to Anwar and Ms. Goldie - amazing personalities with whom I got to spend so much time!

Anyways, I walked hurriedly towards Pangong and realized that I was no longer huffing and puffing as I used to in the previous week! I was probably acclimatized to the altitude and all the positive string of events since morning were a huge motivating factor too! I had a good time clicking pictures of the lake.

At Ground Zero! (Rather .. Ground 14500)
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Yours Truly - again
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Later, I was happily taking portraits of Ms. Goldie and Mr. Smarty Pants - our good buddy Anwar! After continuing the photography session for 30 more minutes, the battery on my camera died. Although I had a spare battery in the bag (which was in the Scorpio), I decided to "chuck" the idea and simply stood there - soaking in the wonderful experience of being at Pangong. I had attained a sense of Digital Nirvana - no camera - no phones - no nonsense - just me and the Lake - and it felt wonderful. After spending a few more minutes by the banks, Anwar told us that it was time to leave since we had the ultimate goal of reaching Leh by night. With all that had happened till now, all of us had forgotten that we had to reach Leh by the night. Although I had a day to spare and could have spent the night at Pangong and could have possibly returned to Leh the next day, I had to respect Anwar's schedules as he had a trip to do the next day and even Ms. Goldie had plans of her own.

It was time to leave!
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Respecting their plans, and believing in the fact that a "little bit of something amazing" is a lot sweeter than a lot of the same thing which would probably end up leaving a bad taste in the mouth (yeah yeah I know - I'm all philosophical now!!), we decided to head back to Leh. I was witness to the majesty of Pangong Tso all the way from Chushul and frankly, I wanted this to be more of a fleeting moment that would be remembered for a long time. Also, the fact that I had spent less time at Pangong meant that I could look forward to another trip where I could do justice to the lake and the beauty around it by spending more time here.

Until we meet again ...
Ladakh: Better Leh'd than never. EDIT: Part 2 on page 3-dsc_7565.jpg

Right - so that was the plan. We headed back to the Scorpio and Anwar enquired about the state of affairs of the road to Leh. After all, we were bound to cross the mighty Chang-La Pass and a little advance information on the conditions of the road wouldn't hurt anyone. Finally, at around 4:45pm, we bid adieu to Pangong and started on our way to Leh. Since I had literally super-glued my camera to my palms for the last 10 days, I decided to pack it up and simply enjoy the scenery with my eyes alone.

As we moved along, we saw a number of marmots on the marshy lands near Luklung and we moved along and did not stop for any more pictures. We approached Tangtse and soon, were climbing up hill - heading to Chang La Pass. By now, daylight had faded to a dull grey and the mighty Chang-La looked imposing as ever. Anwar skilfully navigated the roads uphill and narrated a few incidents which had happened in the recent past that sent chills up our spine. An avalanche had wiped out 3 Army trucks and we got to see the crumpled mess of metal lying on the valley floor below. Thankfully, Anwar had done this part of the circuit countless times and he was confident on the roads and other related things. In fact, he had done so many trips on this path that he told us that he could drive even in the darkness of the night and could make it across safely. As the discussions continued, the falling daylight and the increasing altitude meant that the temperature was dropping and dropping fast. By around 645 or 7pm, we had arrived at Chang-La top. The place was deserted and no one was around. I just got down for a customary shot of the Chang-La Pass board setup by BRO and quickly got back into the car realizing how cold it was. Donning my jacket, I got down again and rushed to the board, clicked a pic, posed with Anwar for a "selfie" and quickly got back into the Scorpio. Ms. Goldie, however had decided to stay back in the car and was spared of the torturous cold outside.

Stone cold Chang-La
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Soon, we started the descent from Chang-La. By this time, it was completely dark and the massive mountains on both sides completely covered whatever daylight was visible from the setting sun. Anwar drove really well in the darkness and although we had a few close calls (nothing major - just missed seeing rocks/rubble on the road), he navigated the roads like an expert with night vision! The headlights of the Scorpio were woefully inadequate but that didn't make things difficult for Anwar. After a tense 1-1.5 hours, we were finally looking at street lamps and other signs of civilization. One final turn and we were back on level ground! In the darkness, we arrived at Karu and from there, it was smooth sailing. On arriving near Thiksey Monastery and getting signal back on my phone, I called up the travel desk person to enquire about my accommodation for the night. I was told to head to this place called the Horpo Guest house, which was again near the market area.

At around 9-9:30 pm, we finally arrived at the guest house! Anwar helped me unload my luggage from the Scorpio. After exchanging pleasantries and having been thanked profusely by Ms. Goldie, I bid farewell to her. I also bid farewell to Anwar and offered him some money for the extra effort and time that he had to put to drive us across Pangong, which was not a part of the original plan. Being "Anwar", he flatly refused the money and declined to have anything remotely close to it. I insisted and asked him to take the money for the extra diesel that he had so painstakingly searched for in the morning. He still refused to take the money and said that my company, the friendship and the time he spent with me was more valuable to him than any money that I could offer. I somehow managed to get some money into his pocket forcefully and told him that he should keep it - if he didn't want me to feel bad/insulted. This trick worked and finally he obliged! After exchanging hugs and contact details, Anwar left for the day and I headed into the guest house and had some amazing dinner of "dal-chawal"!

Recollecting what I had gone through in the last 48 hours, I was thrilled beyond words, and in a sense, I had defied my own reasoning and achieved something amazing - just by taking some decisions and risks. The entire experience would probably stay with me for a long time and I couldn't wait to narrate the entire story to my family & friends; speaking of which, reminded me that I had to call home to inform them I had arrived back at Leh. After a quick phone call, I crashed into the bed and called it a night!!!

The journey of my dreams was now a reality and I had a stunning sequence of events that were simply out of this world!

That - my friends is how I got Leh'd - It was a journey of self discovery - I learnt a lot on this trip! I learnt more photography techniques, I learnt to survive in harsh conditions and to top it all, I had learned more about myself at Ladakh! Probably in future, when I look back at this trip, I can be glad I did it and can say this :

It's better to be Leh'd than never!

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Old 26th August 2016, 09:44   #37
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Default Re: Ladakh: Better Leh'd than never. EDIT: Part 2 on page 3

Fantastic thread, fantastic pictures, fantastic story telling. And, did I say this? Fantastic pictures

Wonderful wonderful thread and you just took me through your journey. I was imagining the scenes in my mind as you explained them. Really enjoyed the thread
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Old 26th August 2016, 16:39   #38
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Part two is even more brilliant with stunning pictures. One of the best travelogues I had come across in recent past. Thanks a lot for the wonderful narration and visual treats.
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Old 26th August 2016, 17:52   #39
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Take a bow vsathyap !!!

What a story.... I came back again and again to finish it. The pictures are stunning.

Thanks a lot for sharing your story with us and taking us along for the incredible journey that you had.

Warm regards,

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Old 26th August 2016, 19:20   #40
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Awe-struck!!! Man you are gifted. The photographs are stunning and your narration skills are just too good. I was reading your travelogue and was virtually traveling with you.

Hats off to Miss Goldie and her courage. The way she looks upon her life is just amazing. I envy her. While reading this part of your travelogue i was thinking whether am watching a Bollywood movie or reading a travelogue in Team Bhp! At last i concluded, movie plots are from real life stories itself! I must confess many of us dream to live a life like Miss Goldie but due to certain commitments we cant!
And lastly Mr.Anwar do deserve a special mention too. He is a nice person. Am sure every one hiring a cab will definitely want to have a friendly driver like him.

We visited Hanle last year and i could visualize every bit of your description about Hanle. Even i loved Hanle a lot and a 2nd visit to Hanle is on the cards. Padma home stay is one of the best over there and Mr Sonam is really one gem of a person. Even we chatted with him for the whole evening.

Rated a well deserved 5*.

In your free time you can have a look at our Ladakh travelogue from 2015 !
http://www.team-bhp.com/forum/travel...r-kolkata.html (Sailed through the high passes in Hatchbacks, SUVs & a Sedan - Our Ladakh chapter from Kolkata)

Last edited by Samba : 26th August 2016 at 19:34.
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Old 27th August 2016, 03:54   #41
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Beautiful pics

Quick question, how did you resize your pics? Am sure they must have been above the permitted limit! I have been wanting to post a travelogue of my Iceland road trip but unable to get a handle on resizing pics (in one go).
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Old 27th August 2016, 08:47   #42
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What a wonderful travelogue sir. The pictures are nothing less than heaven. I personally feel that you are the one who had enjoyed the Himalayan adventure to the core. Hanle is sure a such a beauty and seems like a paradise on earth. Thank you for kindling up the adventure guy in me. Will sure do this trip in near future.
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Old 27th August 2016, 09:03   #43
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Wow Man, you really have amazing writing skills and narration style, I was thrilled and hooked to the thread, it was like reading an adventurous novel, amazing travelogue, I thoroughly enjoyed it. Keep it up.
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Old 27th August 2016, 20:38   #44
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Beautiful post, vsathyap, and even more beautiful photos! You've been truly blessed to have witnessed this place firsthand, and we, the readers, are too, to see these pictures. You have no idea how many new wallpapers I've got for my phone after I've joined T-bhp! :P
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Old 29th August 2016, 15:30   #45
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For once, I did not want this story to end. It is almost like time travel. You have beautifully narrated the entire episode. Your tryst with Ms.Goldie could not have come at a better time.

Amazing Writing mate and brilliant pictures!!
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