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Old 23rd July 2016, 16:11   #1
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Default Ladakh: Better Leh'd than never. EDIT: Part 2 on page 3

"Ladakh : A place where you can get sun-burnt during the day and frost-bitten in the same night" - Anonymous

Its been one year since I visited Ladakh and there is no better way to respect the visual treats this place has to offer by penning (or typing) down a travelogue of this Magical Land!

Yes! I know - yet another Ladakh travelogue! If Team-BHP had a rupee for every Travelogue on Ladakh, it would be a very rich company by now. I'll try to make this travelogue more of a "photo-logue" as that was my main intention of visiting Ladakh: To capture the surreal and rugged beauty of this mystical place!

A preview of what's coming up - IMO, Nothing represents Ladakh better than this picture - Blue skies, prayer flags fluttering in the crisp mountain breeze, mountainous deserts and the sheer experience of it all ...

Ladakh: Better Leh'd than never. EDIT: Part 2 on page 3-dsc_6434.jpg

Okay - before it all begins, there should be a post about "how it happened" - right? It's almost a tradition here in TBHP! So, without breaking the tradition, here's how my Ladakh trip happened!

How it all started


Note: Slightly long - so hope you don't get impatient!

Little over 8-9 years ago, one of my good buddies had told us casually over our usual meeting adda (which was this road side shack that sold piping hot Bajjis and Bondas) that he would be going to Ladakh. At that time, due to my ignorance is bliss attitude, I pictured the place to be some land - far far away and I thought that it was in Tibet (aka China) and the Dalai Lama's picture popped into my head. After ridiculing my buddy for the next half an hour, we the "gang" went our separate ways and headed home. Those were the days where digital cameras were still a thing of mystery and Nokia was still the supreme leader in mobile phone technology.

After my buddy was back, and after listening to his "story" of the ride to Ladakh, I concluded that only the crazy would take up such risks to visit such places. Also, there weren't too many pictures my friend took, so I had no clue what he was talking about.

Soon, the "gang" went its separate ways and onto different jobs, cities and even countries and we all got busy with life. Then, the TBHP membership happened and I was reintroduced to Ladakh - which was still this land of craziness and adventure and I thought to myself that only adrenaline junkies would dare do such trips.

As years went by, I read a TL that one bloke did the Ladakh trip on his Alto K10 (which was the car I owned that time) and I was pleasantly surprised. Soon, the interest grew and I was hooked to Ladakh and Leh travelogues. All the discussions about those high passes, the strange names of places, etc. got me more confused and more excited... Worry-La, TingTing-La, Kurdong-La, Ush-Pi, Noora Valley, Gata Loops, Morre Plains - all these names kept coming up again and again - and hell - I better start concentrating on how to read them, pronounce them, and spell them correctly as I wanted to visit these places - Alright, I had to do this too!

Thus began the hunt for "buddies" who would want to join me to Leh/Ladakh. Initially a handful of them were interested and as days went by, the handful turned into only 2 - me and fellow BHPian girimajiananth. One more BHPian did show some interest initially but he had to back out due to various reasons. Very soon, unfortunately, even girimajiananth had to drop his plans to personal reasons and there I was - the lone guy who wanted to visit Ladakh.

When I discussed this plan at home, everyone thought I was joking. Of all places, why would someone go so far and that too alone?! Nope - the verdict was out and the idea was trashed instantly, specially since we had a tiny new member in the family and the entire trip was just "wrong".

Now, I need to admire my wife for what happened next - she said that I should do the trip since I was so hooked to the entire idea and that she would handle the little one all by herself. After lots of long discussions, and immense support from my wife, it was decided that I would indeed be traveling to Ladakh, but the only condition was that I would have to do it in some sort of an arranged tour package where I would be a part of a group (like a make my trip package)! Reluctantly, I agreed to this and started scouring the net for good photography based packages. Now, there's a funny thing with these so called tour packages - the moment you mention photography tour, the price instantly shot up to 4x the actual price for a regular package. So, this was out of the window too. Soon, I came across Toehold - a photography company that also does photo tours and super duper luckily, they had a tour for Ladakh.

Dream Come True!

Excitedly, I collected all info from their website and discovered that the tour starts and ends at Leh - which was a little unsettling for me because I wanted to enjoy the journey from Manali to Leh and then to Srinagar - of course - when you are going to Leh, you would want to cover the entire circuit! Anyways, I thought I'll take care of those other logistics problems at a later stage and booked the photo tour to Ladakh! I was super excited that my dream of going to Ladakh was coming true.


Mission Impossible!


The next few days, I ended up scouring for information on how to reach Leh from Manali. Of course there were shared taxis but that idea was welcomed with frayed brows at home. I would not be travelling to Leh on overcrowded taxis on dangerous hilly roads. Finally, it was decided that I would be taking a bus from Delhi to Manali and then a HPTDC bus from Manali to Leh. In fact, I even went ahead with the booking of seats on the HPTDC bus. There was a very strong opposition at home about all this "bus" business too as they weren't very comfortable with the idea of me traveling with heavy camera gear as well as luggage - that too all alone.

As days passed, I came across a hotel in Manali with very good reviews and called up the place to reserve a room. A very nice person on the phone spoke to me and told me that I could walk in to the hotel and they would have a room read for me. He enquired about how I was going to Leh and was a bit surprised that I told him I'm going alone. "Akele? Arre aap akele ja rahe ho? Manali se? Bus mein?" He was totally puzzled as to why someone from the south would want to travel so far - all alone and would want to go by bus!?! Anyways, he told me that the room was reserved and hung up. After about 3-4 hours I get a call from the same person and what happened next surprised me and aligned my priorities in a way I could never think of. The same guy spoke to me and advised me against going alone. On enquiring about the safety factor, he laughed and said that its not a question of safety but a question of the entire "experience". He went on to explain that as it was my first time traveling to this part of the country, he wanted me to have the "full experience" rather than a crammed up and uncomfortable journey and experience. On telling him that I'll be joining a bigger group in Leh, he immediately suggested that I either go by private taxi (single occupancy) or by flight and strongly recommended the latter. I thanked him for his advice and hung up. I did my research thoroughly and arrived at the conclusion that it would be in best interest of everybody that I visit Leh by flight. With a heavy heart, I had to drop the "road trip" and all the associated pictures I had in my mind about the Gata Loops, the Moore Plains and the rest of the experiences I would have had if I had done the trip by road.

Soon, I had to book my flight tickets and due to all this dilly-dallying on the topic of Bus, taxi, etc, I had lost the chance to get a good price. I ended up paying 1.5x the normal fare and although I regretted not having the chance to go by road, I was somehow happy that my dream was about to come true - I would be going to Ladakh!

Last edited by vsathyap : 16th August 2016 at 11:03.
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Old 23rd July 2016, 16:50   #2
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Default re: Ladakh: Better Leh'd than never. EDIT: Part 2 on page 3

The Preparation:


Now that I was definitely going to Ladakh, I had to start the preparation phase. First stop - TEAM BHP ofcourse! I headed straight to Tanveer's Ultimate Guide and religiously studied the maps and the locations. I even took soft-copies of the entire guide and loaded it onto my phone so that I can refer to the information whenever I need it, and can re-read everything when I get bored. Seriously - hats off to this guy!

My next stop was the Devil-On-Wheels (DOW) forums where I pored over tons and tons of articles, posts and topics about Leh and Ladakh in general. Dheeraj from DOW has painstakingly put up amazing information that is a must read for every newbie heading to Leh-Ladakh. His tips about AMS, acclimatization, etc are superb to really understand how the body works at such high altitudes.

After the mental preparation, the physical prep work started with getting stuff I'd need - shoes, extra clothes, spare batteries, battery banks, camera gear, tripods, monopods, etc. Since this would be a photo-tour, I gave more emphasis to the camera and photography gear. Fast forward 2 weeks and I'm on my way to the airport to catch a flight to Delhi!

Confusion in Delhi!


I'm at the BLR Airport and after a light warning for carrying excess luggage, I'm let off and I head towards the gate. I'm super excited about the trip and can barely control my excitement! I'm twiddling my fingers and going through Tanveer's Ultimate guide again - just to make sure I've not missed a single word from his guide and the very next moment, we get the announcement that our AirIndia flight is going to be delayed. I'm sure AI has the reputation for the best buzz-kill in the world. With no idea on how long the delay would be, I just sat there looking at the announcement screen, waiting for it to change to 'boarding'. Nothing of that sort happened anytime soon and it was already sunset time and close to getting dark. After what seemed like eons, we finally boarded the airplane at dusk and some 3 hours later I landed in Delhi. Already tired from waiting all day for the flight, I just wanted to get some sleep - so I requested for an Uber taxi and then the chaos began.

After 5 minutes, I get a call from the Uber driver saying he's waiting for me at the departure gates section. I ask him for his vehicle number and i go hunting for the cab - nothing. After a 15 minute walk around the airport, I call him again asking him where he was. He replied that he was right there waiting for me and that I should come quickly as the traffic cops were making him go away. Hurriedly, I did another round of the taxi-pickup-parking areas and didn't find him. Again, he calls me and asks what flight I came from and what pillar I was standing at. I informed him that I arrived from AI and was at pillar #6 or something. Then, he scolds me for telling him this information now - apparently, there is a separate exit/entry for AI flights at Delhi (probably terminal 3?!) and that I should have asked him to come to this place. After some grumbling and light hearted arguments, he finally comes to where I was - a cool 1 hour after my arrival time. I was super hungry and was also tired from all the packing and preparation that had been done earlier at home. I quickly grabbed a sandwich from a nearby store and headed into the cab. I couldn't believe I wasted over an hour in that crazy heat with all my bags and luggage running around the airport waiting for a cab in the wrong terminal! To my defense, I have traveled to quite a few places and countries and nothing of this sort has ever happened! As they say, experience teaches you everything!

The Last Le(h)g of the journey

After a sleepless night (of-course - how can I sleep when I was about to land in Leh in a few hours?!), I got ready and left to the airport - making sure that I am dropped off at the AI terminal and not the other terminal for the rest of the domestic flights. Once at the airport, I was astonished to see the queue at the check in counter. As minutes flew by, I was still at the end of the queue and nowhere near the counter. Soon, there were AI staff running through the queues calling for people to going Leh with our flight number. After heaving a sigh of relief, I raised my hand and within no time, I was briskly walking towards the gate. When I arrived at the gate, there were just a few people sitting - mostly foreigners and I was confused whether I had come to the wrong gate (and God forbid, the wrong terminal)! Soon, my fears were laid to rest as the screen at the boarding gate was turned on and all the flight details and status were displayed correctly - matching my boarding pass.

I don't know what happened in the next few minutes - all I can remember is peeking out of my window - with my jaw on the floor, looking at the stunning snow capped peaks of the Himalayas. I was floored by the visual treat that I got to enjoy from 35000 ft above the sea level and it was indeed a sight to remember!

I've made a small video of the views from the plane:


View from the Plane:
Ladakh: Better Leh'd than never. EDIT: Part 2 on page 3-dsc01194.jpg

From 35000 ft!
Ladakh: Better Leh'd than never. EDIT: Part 2 on page 3-dsc01195.jpg

Approaching Leh:
Ladakh: Better Leh'd than never. EDIT: Part 2 on page 3-dsc01193.jpg

Day 1: Acclimatization


After what seemed like a quick touchdown, we got out of the aircraft and onto a bus and into the Airport to collect our luggage - I was half expecting to start breathing heavily as soon as I got down but strangely enough, I didn't feel any "lack of oxygen" that I had presumed I'd feel. Anyways, once in the airport, I waited for my luggage and as soon as it came through, I picked it up and put it on the trolley and B-A-M!!! It felt like I had just climbed some 3 floors of stairs and I was panting for breath! I realized that the reduced oxygen here makes it presence (or absence) felt this way!

After heaving and pushing the luggage trolley, I was finally outside - basking in the morning sun and awaiting my other photography buddies who would be joining the tour. Soon, everyone arrived and we were off to our guest house. We spent the rest of the day getting to know each other and just taking it easy - acclimatizing ourselves to the altitude as well as with each other. Our guest house was in this beautiful location - off the crowded streets and market area of Leh, and very close (in fact, on the banks on one of the tributaries) on the Indus river. We had this stunning view from the room - snow capped peaks in the distance with a steady sound of water gushing and gurgling as it flowed below. We spent the entire day in leisure - doing nothing - just spending time getting to know everyone in the group and discussing camera and gear. We also discussed AMS and there was this debate and vote on whether people took Diamox and why, etc. Soon, we had an early dinner and called it a day - the trip of a lifetime was about to begin tomorrow!!!

View from the Guest house
Ladakh: Better Leh'd than never. EDIT: Part 2 on page 3-dsc01196-large.jpg

Right next to the Indus!
Ladakh: Better Leh'd than never. EDIT: Part 2 on page 3-dsc01197-large.jpg

View from the Room!
Ladakh: Better Leh'd than never. EDIT: Part 2 on page 3-dsc01199-large.jpg

Last edited by vsathyap : 28th July 2016 at 22:43.
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Old 26th July 2016, 12:20   #3
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Default re: Ladakh: Better Leh'd than never. EDIT: Part 2 on page 3

Day 2: Around Leh... and a problem!

The day started off early with a plan to hit the monasteries around Leh and spend a good chunk of time taking pictures. We headed to the Hemis Monastery first which was a good distance from Leh. The mood in the group was cheerful and everyone was excited to start the trip. Soon, we were on our way and the stunning vistas had begun to unfold!

Personally, having been exposed to so many posts, pictures and travelogues of Leh and Ladakh in general, I was expecting to see clear blue skies - a blue that is so special that I was mesmerized by it. However, my expectations were shattered as the weather during my stay in Leh so far was pretty gloomy and cloudy. There were only pockets of blue and even those went away in a few minutes. All we saw were grey clouds and very neutral looking landscapes; this was something totally opposite to what I had expected. This turned out to be a slight bummer!

Anyways, now that the journey has started, I'll begin with the photologue:


Tiny cars make it uphill to the Hemis Monastery:
Ladakh: Better Leh'd than never. EDIT: Part 2 on page 3-dsc_3519.jpg

Hemis Monastery: Prayer Wheels
Ladakh: Better Leh'd than never. EDIT: Part 2 on page 3-dsc_3535.jpg

Hemis Monastery:The clouds finally clear to reveal the splendid blue colour!
Ladakh: Better Leh'd than never. EDIT: Part 2 on page 3-dsc_3528.jpg

Corridors of Prayer:
Ladakh: Better Leh'd than never. EDIT: Part 2 on page 3-dsc_3537.jpg

Wall Art
Ladakh: Better Leh'd than never. EDIT: Part 2 on page 3-dsc_3542.jpg

Wall Art - From an angle:
Ladakh: Better Leh'd than never. EDIT: Part 2 on page 3-dsc_3543.jpg

Furry Friend takes a nap
Ladakh: Better Leh'd than never. EDIT: Part 2 on page 3-dsc_3546.jpg

Offerings
Ladakh: Better Leh'd than never. EDIT: Part 2 on page 3-dsc_3548.jpg

The monk who sold his Lamborghini!
Ladakh: Better Leh'd than never. EDIT: Part 2 on page 3-dsc_3550.jpg

Overlooking the mighty hills
Ladakh: Better Leh'd than never. EDIT: Part 2 on page 3-dsc_3551.jpg

The hills have eyes
Ladakh: Better Leh'd than never. EDIT: Part 2 on page 3-dsc_3553.jpg

A typical shot of the Monastery in its full glory:
Ladakh: Better Leh'd than never. EDIT: Part 2 on page 3-dsc_3564.jpg

Now, let me take a break here for a breather - quite literally! You see, we were hauling our camera equipment in and around the monastery for quite a while now. Anyone who has been to Ladakh or places at similar altitudes can understand what it is to walk around with heavy luggage - specially when they haven't fully adjusted to the sparse oxygen levels!

I was literally panting for breath after a small climb of stairs at the monastery. In my excitement to get a good vantage point for a good photo, I did a stupid thing - I climbed too quickly and didn't do it one step at a time - and I had to pay the price for it! Once I was at the vantage point, I was breathing heavily and was well out of breath. I thought that I was screwed and all sorts of negative thoughts started coming to my head - What if I could not do the rest of the trip - What if I had to go back ..etc. Then, I turned around and saw a few more folks from my group and what I saw shocked me, in a pleasant way. I saw that a few folks had sat down on the stairs and even they were gasping for breath - heavily breathing, resting their heads and arms on their tripods! they had not even reached the height I had climbed and were out of breath! This was something that I will never forget! On enquiring with them, they told that climbing those 1-2ft high steps of the monastery was something they found quite challenging and that they were out of breath too! What a relief!!!

Soon, after I had rested for a while and I had found my breath, I started clicking more pics which are posted below. From my vantage point, I saw that a Magpie was resting in the distance and couldn't resist clicking this pic:

The Magpie
Ladakh: Better Leh'd than never. EDIT: Part 2 on page 3-dsc_3593.jpg

After taking the time to click pictures for a time-lapse video, we headed out of the Monastery.

Stairs leading out of /in to the Hemis Monastery. The play of light here made this an interesting subject:
Ladakh: Better Leh'd than never. EDIT: Part 2 on page 3-dsc_3606.jpg


Soon, when the group had gathered back at the entrance (and listening to how everyone was taken by surprise at how difficult it is to climb stairs with heavy camera gear), we left from Hemis. On the way, we found some splendid scenery for which we stopped and clicked pics.

Now, my first lesson was right here - I learned that in order to get a good pic, one needs to walk as close to the subject as possible and basically, involve oneself to get that perfect pic/ composition. That said, the entire group scurried and scrawled over the loose dirt and into the fields for the perfect shot:

Ladakh: Better Leh'd than never. EDIT: Part 2 on page 3-dsc_3626.jpg

Moving on, we got back into our vehicles and headed towards Thikse Monastery. The skies had cleared up and we got to witness the vastness of the stunning blue skies for the first time:
Ladakh: Better Leh'd than never. EDIT: Part 2 on page 3-dsc_3635.jpg


Finally, we arrived at the entrance of the Thiksey monastery and as soon as we got down from the vehicles, everyone's jaw dropped - there was a big climb ahead of us - almost 2-3 storeys up in order to reach the monastery. While some members decided to stay back and not risk health in the initial phase of the trip, some decided to take it slow, while the enthusiastic lot decided to go for it in one shot and take rest once they reach the top! I chose to take it slow and hence started the arduous climb. Once on top, I was greeted with a stunning view of the valley and a sight that surprised me quite a bit - on one side there was a barren desert and just as if it were magic, the other side was filled with lush green trees! The contrast was spectacular:

Contrasting Landscape:
Ladakh: Better Leh'd than never. EDIT: Part 2 on page 3-dsc_3645.jpg

While climbing the next flight of stairs, I came across this window which was a perfect subject for framing nicely:

A window of opportunity
Ladakh: Better Leh'd than never. EDIT: Part 2 on page 3-dsc_3647.jpg

Similarly, I found another door which was very nice to look at:
Ladakh: Better Leh'd than never. EDIT: Part 2 on page 3-dsc_3653.jpg

Finally, on reaching the top, we got to see a stunning sight:

Om Ma-Ne Pad-Me Hum:
Ladakh: Better Leh'd than never. EDIT: Part 2 on page 3-dsc_3654.jpg

We got some time to explore the monastery and this sight intrigued me.

Contrasting Colours:
Ladakh: Better Leh'd than never. EDIT: Part 2 on page 3-dsc_3674.jpg

More Corridors:
Ladakh: Better Leh'd than never. EDIT: Part 2 on page 3-dsc_3677.jpg

A colourful sight:
Ladakh: Better Leh'd than never. EDIT: Part 2 on page 3-dsc_3680.jpg

More Contrasting Colours:
Ladakh: Better Leh'd than never. EDIT: Part 2 on page 3-dsc_3682.jpg

Mini Stupas
Ladakh: Better Leh'd than never. EDIT: Part 2 on page 3-dsc_3696.jpg

Once we had clicked pictures to our heart's content, we headed back to our guest house for lunch. On the way back, we stopped for a parting shot of the Thiksey Monastery:

Parting Shot:
Ladakh: Better Leh'd than never. EDIT: Part 2 on page 3-dsc_3713.jpg

On our way back to the guest house, we had to go around the Monastery. If you look closely at one of the pics above where there is greenery on one side and barren desert on the other - and they are separated by a strip of road - yeah - we had to travel back on the same road. While on this road, I got to take a pic of the monastery:

Monastery, as seen from the road:
Ladakh: Better Leh'd than never. EDIT: Part 2 on page 3-dsc_3718.jpg

As we travelled, the clouds moved away revealing a deep blue sky.

Deep Blue Skies:
Ladakh: Better Leh'd than never. EDIT: Part 2 on page 3-dsc_3727.jpg

Soon, we arrived at our guest house and had a scrumptious lunch. We were all super hungry from the "exercise" in the morning and we had a good time discussing each one's experience of the sparse oxygen and what effect it had on them. After lunch, we retired to our rooms and were told to assemble at 5pm for a trip to the Shanti Stupa...

Meanwhile, I started developing a numb pain in my throat and I discovered that it was due to the extremely rare and dry air. The dryness in the air and the sparse oxygen levels combined with the heavy breathing due to our photography antics meant that I was mostly breathing through my mouth - and this made my throat hurt. This was definitely worrisome ...

Last edited by vsathyap : 28th July 2016 at 22:42.
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Old 27th July 2016, 13:21   #4
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Day 2: Continued: Shanti Stupa


Post tea, we all gathered in the hotel parking lot and left for the Shanti Stupa. Now, again, all the pictures that I've seen of the Stupa are about this white dome with stunning blue skies, or the Stupa set against a setting sun which gives some amazing colours. Alas, I could get none of that! The weather got cloudier and murkier as time progressed and we quickly made it to the Stupa after a short breathless trek uphill. While we were walking uphill, the faint warm light of the sun behind the clouds gave this wonderful orange-red glow to the sky which was mesmerizing!

More Contrasting Colours:
Ladakh: Better Leh'd than never. EDIT: Part 2 on page 3-dsc_3735.jpg

What a location! Tsemo Monastery as seen from the Shanti Stupa
Ladakh: Better Leh'd than never. EDIT: Part 2 on page 3-dsc_3734.jpg

A Stunning play of Light:
Ladakh: Better Leh'd than never. EDIT: Part 2 on page 3-dsc_3737.jpg

After clicking some pictures of this wonderful lighting phenomenon, we went to the main Stupa area where we were to try our hands at this thing called "time lapse" photography.

Shanti Stupa!
Ladakh: Better Leh'd than never. EDIT: Part 2 on page 3-dsc_3751.jpg

And the clouds start rolling in!
Ladakh: Better Leh'd than never. EDIT: Part 2 on page 3-dsc01233-large.jpg


To the uninitiated, what this means is that we setup our cameras to click pictures at regular intervals and then stitch all these pictures in order to make a video. Sounds simple - right ? Well, it actually is, provided the conditions are photographer friendly. What we encountered was totally opposite to friendly. There was a howling wind and the temperature was dropping fast. The windchill factor made it worse and we all had watery eyes and nose due to the wind. None of us had come prepared for this cold (it was a balmy evening at the time we left the hotel) and we were struggling without any cold weather gear!

The pain in shooting timelapses is that one needs to wait and wait for a L-O-N-G time in order to get enough pictures to make a decent 10 second long video. For example, a 10 second video to be made from pictures, with the camera clicking a pic every 6 seconds means that one needs to wait for 30 minutes! As it got darker, the cold became unbearable and to add to this, my sore throat was almost unbearable - like someone had dropped a grenade in my mouth! To top it all, we decided to wait for the lights to come up - as it would present a wonderful photo-op.

While my main SLR was busy clicking pictures for the time-lapse, I headed towards the Stupa with my tiny P&S camera, which did a terrible job at capturing the light and details! Anyways, I had to be content with whatever I had and got busy clicking pictures in the horrid cold weather.

Cloudy and Cold
Ladakh: Better Leh'd than never. EDIT: Part 2 on page 3-dsc01231-large.jpg

Look at those clouds!
Ladakh: Better Leh'd than never. EDIT: Part 2 on page 3-dsc01243-large.jpg

Chilly Weather!
Ladakh: Better Leh'd than never. EDIT: Part 2 on page 3-dsc01240-large.jpg

In order to while-away the time till they switched on the lights at the Stupa, we started yet another time-lapse! Now, the weather got worse and it started drizzling initially, and after some time, the steady drizzle changed into light rain. This was enough for all of us and we decided to the get back to the comfort of our cars/hotels and we quickly packed everything and left. We later found out that half of the group had already called it a day and were already back at the hotel! Now, we had to wait for the cars to come back to pick us up and this meant more time in the cold.

Thankfully, there was this chai-shop at the base of the Stupa and we decided to head there for some tea. Soon, we were sipping steaming hot ginger-honey tea and nothing in the world felt better! We were in heaven! Soon, our cars came to pick us up and we quickly headed towards them. On the way to the hotel, I asked for the driver to stop at a local medical store where I could pick up some medicines for the bad throat. Once I collected them, we headed back to the hotel and had some amazing soup and dinner.

We had started off our Ladakh Trip - and it was one hell of a start! With Day 2 going like this, I was starting to prepare myself mentally for the stuff that was ahead of us ... We were scheduled to head to the Nubra Valley tomorrow ... and we were up against the mighty KHARDUNG-LA!

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Old 27th July 2016, 15:46   #5
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PART 2: Nubra Valley & Khardung-La

It was Day 3 of our photo trip and there was a sense of nervous excitement within the group. This was a big day as we were scheduled to cross the mighty Khardung-La Pass. In fact, not many folks in the group were interested in Nubra; they were more excited about the Big K!

After a good solid breakfast, and after popping my throat pills, I was all set to conquer the might pass that lay ahead of us! We were allotted cars (by cars, I mean Innovas) and we all got in to our respective vehicles. Fast forward 20 minutes and we were out of Leh and moving uphill. The weather was still very cloudy and I was disappointed that the blue skies that I was so looking forward to, were playing hide and seek with us. Soon, we arrived at this section of the road which was a nice little vantage point. The view point (approx 13500 ft high) offered us some amazing views of the valley and hills below us, while giving us a glimpse of what lay ahead.

Breathtaking view of the Valley - Shanti Stupa in the distance
Ladakh: Better Leh'd than never. EDIT: Part 2 on page 3-dsc_4502.jpg

Prayer flags at the View Point
Ladakh: Better Leh'd than never. EDIT: Part 2 on page 3-dsc_4505.jpg

Contrasting Landscape
Ladakh: Better Leh'd than never. EDIT: Part 2 on page 3-dsc_4515.jpg

The road ahead
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There was still a lot of cloud cover over the mountain peaks ahead and the drivers of our group were constantly touching base with the traffic from the opposite side - enquiring on the status of things ahead.

As we climbed higher and higher, we went through one set of low lying clouds and soon, we were at a height where we had clouds above and below us! The valleys became smaller and smaller and the views became more and more spectacular!

Going uphill - away from the viewpoint
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Winding roads - reminded me of Top Gear where they find the world's best road
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Sandwiched between layers of clouds
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Soon, we arrived at South Pullu and everyone got down for a quick 2 minute break while our taxi drivers went to submit some paper work. Until here, the roads were absolutely brilliant - smooth tarmac and amazing scenery! From this point onward, the tar went away and dirt roads greeted us. Loose rock, boulders and streams lay ahead of us and crossing them was one thrilling experience.

A convoy of Taxis making their way up the Khardung-La
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Landslide Territory
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Our taxis made their way up these non existent roads gingerly and I was amazed at the way the drivers handled the terrain. They were very confidence inspiring and their steady driving over the treacherous roads was something to really observe and learn. They always maintained a slow yet steady pace to move uphill and almost always kept in touch with other drivers coming from the opposite side to get to know the situation ahead.

Slowly and steadily, we made our way uphill and finally arrived at the super hyped Khardung-La top. Now, we were told very strictly that we must move off from here within 15-20 minutes as the high altitude and the rare air meant trouble for those who may stay longer. With this in mind, We all got pictures of ourselves against that board put up by the BRO. I'm not going to post that pic here as almost everyone would have seen it!

In fact, what struck me most was the sorry state of things at K-Top. I had imagined it to be a very pristine location - a secluded spot with abundant snow and basically, clean white snow. What I saw was the total opposite. The place was overcrowded, dirty and there were paper cups (which formerly held tea) strewn all over the place. It almost looked like the scene of a railway station closer to home! I tried to concentrate on better things like the views one could witness from that height:

Majestic Views
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What I saw next amazed me - there were a few foreign folks, probably in their late forties/early fifties wearing nothing but cycling shorts, thin T shirts and helmets, cycling their way up K-Top. I was amazed at their fitness levels, comparing it to our sorry state of health, as we were breathing heavily and panting for breath trying to hold just our camera gear. Respect!

Anyways, after we had stayed for ~20 minutes, one lady in our group started feeling weird and was looking very listless. Hurriedly, we decided to leave and soon, we were going downhill, towards South Pullu. Our drivers kept scolding us on exceeding the duration of our stay on K-Top. Her condition was worrisome initially, but soon, thankfully, she was feeling better with the decrease in altitude.

Going down!
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On the way down, we were spectators to more amazing scenery and I was shutter happy!

Lovely views
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More treacherous roads!
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One massive water crossing!
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Colourful Shed!
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Alien-Planet!?
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Soon, we hit North Pullu and after the customary paper work, we were allowed to cross onto smooth tarmac!

Tarred roads!
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Rally Check point!?!
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On the way to Nubra Valley, we came across lots of tiny streams, gushing with crystal clear water - which was basically melted snow from the peaks above us. At one location, the stream was just too beautiful and we had to stop for a photo session. After spending close to an hour at this stream, (and almost getting frostbitten fingers) and after capturing some good long exposure shots, we moved on towards Nubra Valley.

Slow Shutter Pic
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We then set off towards the valley and I didn't get to click more pics as it started drizzling and raining ... and we had to stow our gear back into the bags! On arriving at Nubra Valley, we checked into our guest house and got together for a good lunch.

Post lunch, everyone was tired - the long drive, the pitter patter of rain and the gloomy weather were all catalysts towards the nap and the heavy lunch didn't help things either! We all went back to our rooms for some siesta and decided to meet up at 4pm for tea. After tea, the plan was to visit the sand dunes, provided the rain Gods showed mercy on us. Thankfully, my throat was feeling better after the medicines and I was feeling much better compared to the previous couple of days!
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Nubra Valley: Sand Dunes at Hunder


We were welcomed with the most disappointing news at tea time - the weather had gotten from bad to worse and it was expected that there would be heavy showers later in the evening. Immediately, the mood in the camp came crashing down! It was still drizzling lightly and we decided to have some hot beverages to beat the chill and then decide the next course of action over tea.

Everyone sat down to have tea/coffee and while it poured like no tomorrow, we were contemplating on visiting nearby monasteries in the evening and do the sand dunes the next morning. While the debate grew stronger, the rain became weaker and almost subsided! We saw the sudden turn of the weather and decided to stick to the original plan of visiting the dunes.

Everyone packed their camera gear and we were off to the dunes at Hunder! Within no time, we arrived at the dunes and we made our way on to the sand after clumsily trying to balance ourselves and our gear.

Soon, we were told to "distribute" ourselves across the vast dunes and try to get as many pics as possible, before the rain Gods showed themselves again. Thankfully, the weather was cool and there was a slight breeze that helped things a lot!

Dunes of Hunder!
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A Rainbow in the distance!
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We were at a high altitude Desert!
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Threatening Clouds
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Life goes on!
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Be Gentle on My Curves!
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God's Artwork!
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A glimmer of hope - warm sun rays over the clouds - A magical atmosphere!
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After spending a couple of hours on the sand, we moved on towards Disket where we would get to witness the double humped (Bactrian) camels of Ladakh.

Picture Perfect at Disket:
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Can it get any more picturesque!?
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Bactrian Camels
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Double Humped Camels! Would the ride on them be similar to the ride on Bangalore's humpy-bumpy roads?!
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After taking a few pics of the camels, it was getting very dark and we decided to get back to our guest house. Thankfully, it didn't rain in the evening and everyone was happy with the fact their gamble on the Sand Dunes v/s Monastery decision earlier in the evening had paid off!

We were back in the guest house and after a long dinner out in the cold weather, we called it a day.

Day 4: Maitreya Buddha and back to Leh!


Next morning, we were in good spirits (quite literally for some folks; from the previous night! ) and we decided to spend time doing time-lapse photography at the massive Maitreya Buddha statue!

Dreamy Landscapes as seen from the Buddha Statue
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View of the Monastery from the Buddha Statue
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Jaw dropping contrasts in landscape
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Maitreya Buddha!
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After attempts at time lapse photography, we decided to skip the Monastery as our taxi drivers informed us that water crossings enroute Khardung-La would become challenging as the day passes. We packed our bags and bid goodbye to the valley. On our way towards North Pullu, we came across something that we had missed all these days - blue skies! The clouds were finally moving away and the sun was shining bright. In our excitement, we asked the drivers to stop for some pics!

Blue Skies Finally!
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We soaked in all the blue we could get!
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A convoy of army trucks greeted us!
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Yours truly - Basking in the Blue!
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It got better and better!
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Our excitement wasn't shared by the taxi drivers - they were more worried as the sun came out and naturally so - they were concentrating on the task ahead which was to get us safely across the K-Top.

Enroute North Pullu
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To the dismay and irritation of our drivers, we asked them to stop for one more time at the stream where we had stopped earlier - during our onward journey. After-all, we had come so far to capture the beauty of this place and we couldn't hold back on seeing the gushing streams!

More slow shutter pics!
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Soon, we crossed North Pullu and headed towards K-Top. What we saw was somewhat unsettling. As we climbed higher and higher, it became evident that there was a massive traffic jam almost near the top of Khardung-La. Moving on, we realized that there was a massive landslide/avalanche at a couple of places on the road and the BRO was busy getting the snow cleared. While we waited for the traffic to move, I captured another "wannabe" avalanche waiting to happen in the distance. If you look clearly in the pic, there is a massive ridge in the snowline across the mountain!

Avalanche Territory!
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The wait was getting more and more uncomfortable as we were approximately at 17000 ft with nowhere to go and the sparse oxygen made matters worse. Just when we thought that things would start getting ugly, we were relieved to know that the snow ahead was cleared off and we were ready to move.

Moving through the FIRST cleared Avalanche
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Moving through the SECOND (smaller) cleared Avalanche
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Soon, we arrived at K-Top. Having spent so much time at 17000 ft, no one was in the mood to spend more time at K-Top, specially since the weather was closing in.

Quick shot at K-Top
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Later, we descended without any issues and made it across South Pullu and back into Leh and to our Hotel. As Day 4 came to an exciting close, we were happy about the fact that the clouds were clearing up and things were looking brighter.

Descending the K-Top!
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More importantly, we were extremely excited as the most awaited part of our trip was about to begin tomorrow. We were about to travel to the amazing Pangong Tso and the excitement was contagious!

Last edited by vsathyap : 28th July 2016 at 22:46.
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Part 3: From Pangong to Pang-Gone!

Day 5 of our trip and everyone is so excited that we're talking loudly and one can sense the buzz in everyone's voice. This trip was going unexpectedly well - specially since the sun had come up bright early in the morning and it looked like a splendid day! The skies were royally blue and the air was nippy - and crisp. It was a fantastic day to wake up to and get going towards our destination.

Without any delays, we left our hotel and were on our way to Pangong! Looking out of the window, I saw that the skies were a stunning blue, and I thought to myself that it would be the perfect setting for a lovely blue Pangong Lake and I would literally go bonkers with my camera.

My reverie came to an abrupt halt at Karu, when there was some commotion up ahead on the road near the check post. Our taxi slowed down and came to a halt. The drivers got out and went to have some discussions. We were unclear on what the fuss was all about - we waited for the drivers to come back. After about 15 minutes they were back and they had the earth shattering news that the road to Pangong was blocked by a massive landslide and there was no way we could go to Pangong - atleast not that day! This came as a shocker to all of us and we were so desperate that we tried to convince the drivers that we would go all the way till the block and see if we could somehow squeeze our vehicles past the roadblock. The drivers would have none of it and said that the roads would be jammed and navigating those jams at high passes would be very risky. Plus, the sun was shining bright and they also said that water crossings would make life even more miserable.

After biting the proverbial bullet, we all gathered to discuss the plan ahead. We were scheduled to visit Tso Moriri a couple of days later as per our itinerary and our group leads went on to check whether we could go to Tso Moriri today, instead of Pangong Tso and later visit Pangong on the days we were scheduled to visit Tso Moriri - basically - a swap of schedules between Pangong and Tso Moriri. Soon, we found out that Tso Moriri was fully booked and there was no accommodation available there.

That was it - we would not be visiting the Pangong Lake! On our visit to Ladakh, we would be missing the most iconic location the place is known for! I was already thinking of how my friends and buddies back home would react when I would have had to tell them that we didn't do Pangong when we had gone to Ladakh! What a bummer!

Minutes passed by and we were debating on what to do next - we were all pretty bored of visiting nearby Monasteries and that plan went out of the window immediately. After deliberating over the topic for an hour or so, our group leads came to us and informed us that we could go towards the Lamayuru Moonlands which were a good attraction to visit. They had also confirmed that accommodation was arranged there for our group and that we should head in that direction quickly as we had already wasted a lot of time at Karu.

Soon, we were moving back towards Leh and heading towards Lamayuru. On the way, we got to see the most spectacular scenery one could imagine! On our way back, we stopped to photograph the popular Stakna Monastery - as seen from the Manali-Leh Highway.

Stakna Monastery as seen from the Manali-Leh highway
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Next, we passed by the Hall of Fame where I wanted to stop. Owing to time constraints, we skipped that and headed out towards the open roads leading to Lamayuru.

What a view!
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The scenery was worth a gazillion clicks and I was in awe of the entire landscape. Thankfully, I had connected my action camera and it was recording the beauty of this entire landscape. We passed by the Pathar Sahib Gurudwara and Magnetic hills and headed towards the confluence of Indus and Zanskar rivers.

Prayer flags fluttering in the wind
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Approaching the Confluence
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In no time, we arrived at the confluence and had a good time clicking some amazing pictures. As per my recollection, the waters of the rivers were supposed to be a confluence of "green and blue". However, due to the recent rains, the water was pretty mucky and all we got to see was a confluence of "grey and brown".

The confluence!
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Nonetheless, we got pictures to our hearts content and moved on towards Lamayuru. Soon, we were in the Sham Valley and were close to our guest house for the next 2 days. After what seemed like a maze, we arrived at our hotel. My smart phone GPS showed me that we were at a place called "Tingmosgang" and a quick check with our taxi driver confirmed that Mr. Google was indeed correct. It took me a while to get the name correctly and I was thrilled on having pronounced it correctly!


Finally at the Hotel!
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Our hotel was this amazing place within an apricot farm - and we had a gushing stream right next to the hotel. We opted for tented accommodation and it was a fantastic experience. The tent was really really luxurious and well maintained. After dumping our bags in our tents, we went on to have lunch. We noticed that there were mainly foreigners at this hotel and by the language they spoke, they sounded like Germans.

After a good lunch, we relaxed a bit - some in the group was trying their hand at photography, while some resorted to chit-chat and discussions in general. We were all bummed about the fact that we had to skip Pangong. As we'd had a late lunch, we decided to skip tea and go on for some local sightseeing.The sightseeing session started off with a visit to the Tingmosgang Monastery.

Tingmosgang Monastery
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Wide Angle Shot!
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Old Broken down structures as seen from the Tingmosgang Gompa
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Ladakh in a picture!
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Tingmosgang Monastery as seen from the street below:
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After spending a few moments here and with nothing very interesting happening, we went on to a local village - which happened to be one of the driver's home town. We arrived at the village after a confusing and winding drive around the hills and stopped our vehicles when the road was too narrow to go any further. We then started to go around the village - taking the path by foot. Soon, we came across lovely gardens, homes made entirely out of stone and dried twigs, and winding paths laid with stones. We were behaving like the typical tourist - clicking pictures of everything we could possible find - such was the beauty of this place!


Local Homes with carved stones
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Now, we approached this tunnel like structure and we had to pass by this to go further. While me and another buddy from the group stopped here to click pictures of the play of light in the tunnel, our group went ahead without us! Soon, we were lost and had separated from our group. Looking at each other, we decided to click pictures of the locals instead and we found this wonderful old lady who was beating wheat into flour. I think she was possibly more than 90yo and still, she was pounding away at the wheat using a pretty heavy long wooden pole.


Play of light - and we got separated from the group!
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Stunning houses and storage rooms!
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Portrait of a local woman
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While we waited for our group to join, we spotted another local man who was interested in what our cameras did. On showing him pictures, he was delighted and asked if we could click a couple of his photos. We obliged and showed him the picture and he was literally on cloud9 on seeing his phot in the camera's display!


Ecstatic after seeing his own picture
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After discussing general things with the locals, we got asked a very basic question which literally stumped us! One of the locals came to us and asked "which country you from"? I was caught off guard and thought I misunderstood the question. He repeated again and we told them we are also from India to which he appeared stumped. We were then asked to why we had come here as this was not a touristy spot (more or less like..what business do you have here - go to some other spot where people like you are in abundance )



Baby's picture while discussing random stuff with the locals
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A local woman with her kids
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We were answering his questions and soon, our group got back to the point where we all had started. We were sort of relieved to see them! Now, this village was at a point where there was a heavy gushing flow of water right besides the houses. It was more like class-5 rapids on a rafting trail. The sound of the water was thundering and the entire place was very pretty - almost picture postcard territory.

While we were sitting on the road next to the river chatting with each other, a very horrible thing happened. One of the members of the group was setting up his camera on the edge of the gushing water in order to take a pic. DSLR folks will understand that we constantly need to keep changing lenses to match the subject. So, this guy was changing his lenses from a portrait lens to a wide angle lens for the nice landscape. While doing so, he bumped his tripod and BAM - the super expensive wide angle lens went into the water and was washed away. Obviously, the guy was deeply shocked and saddened. This was a Canon Full frame wide angle "L" lens with the red ring! It easily costs a mini fortune and it was now gone in the water. On hearing the commotion, one of the drivers of our taxi decided to get into the water and try and find the lens. However, we all convinced him that the lens is now gone since it would be fully submerged in water and its pretty much a dead weight now - who knows the lens elements may have cracked and would have silt and mud within the layers of glass! Well - the driver was seriously out of him mind trying to dive into such ferocious waters! Although the gesture was appreciated, we all told all the drivers that they should not risk their lives for something like cameras or lenses!

Minutes flew quickly as everyone wanted to know what had happened and how it had happened. While some tried to cheer the guy who had lost his lens, the others went on to discuss with the drivers on how crazy they were trying to get into the water!



Evening sets in
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Soon, we decided to get back to the hotel and within a few minutes, arrived at our tents. With nothing much to do, we just chilled out around a bonfire in the chilly evening and it started to get really really cold. We all decided to have dinner and started going in one by one. At the dinner table, the guy who lost his lens was still upset about the entire thing and one of the members in the group tried to say something about it and there was a heated argument about the incident for some minutes. Everyone was in a horrible mood that time. Firstly, we got to miss out on Pangong Lake and now, one guy lost his superbly expensive lens and now, there were some arguments about petty things.

Being responsible adults and pushing all this to the back of our minds, we quickly had dinner and stepped out to see one of the finest sights we had ever seen - a spotless night sky with over a gazillion stars! We always wanted to try out star trails at night and this was a perfect opportunity.

Excitedly, we all went back to our tents and hauled our camera gear to a place that did not have any glaring lights distractions that could ruin a good shot. We waited for the hotel staff to turn off the other lights so that it was pitch dark and then setup our equipment. Now, anyone who has done star trail photography knows that its something that needs perfect conditions. When we started off, the conditions were just right - no clouds, chilly night, no lights anywhere and everything was just fine. Soon, however, while we were into our long exposure shot, clouds started rolling in and people started stumbling in the darkness. We had to keep turning our flashlights on and off for such minor issues and due to this, we lost a great chance to get decent star trails.



A Failed Attempt at Star Trails!
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A quick check on the clock showed that it was well past midnight and we all decided to call it a day - specially since the clouds had moved in and there was no immediate chance of getting a good star trail shot.

Day 6: Lamayuru, Swelling waters and a Strike!
With what seemed to be a low point in our trip behind us, we were up early and ready to leave to the Lamayuru Moonlands. Soon, we arrived at the Moon lands shot some pics of the amazing landscape. After trying our hands at some panning shots on moving trucks, we moved on to the Lamayuru Monastery. It was an interesting time here and we tried clicking portraits and other interesting things. I'll allow the pictures to do the talking here.



Winding roads at Lamayuru
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Trying my hand at Panning shots at Lamayuru
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It's all about perspective!
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A Local at the Monastery
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The Hills Have Eyes - Part 2
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More play of light and shadow!
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A curious boy looks at my camera in amazement
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After some time, we decided that we'd have some lunch and head back to Leh. Once we had our lunch, we were moving on towards Leh when one guy stopped our convoy and informed us that the water levels are increasing rapidly at some place (I don't remember the name!) and that we should get back to where we came from, or move out of the place before the entire highway collapses into the gushing Indus river.

Madly Ferocious waters of the Indus eating away the road!
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Taking his warning, we moved on towards Leh and found that there was a Taxi Strike going on. This was the famous "taxi union strike at Ladakh" of 2015 when a couple of self driven cars were damaged near Leh. Despite the strike, we thought that ours being true Leh registered vehicles (JK-10), we would be allowed to pass through. However, once we arrived at the area where the strike was happening, we realized that no yellow board taxi vehicles were being allowed to pass - as this was a taxi union strike. Realizing that we could be stuck for a while, we retraced our paths to a nicer location and settled on an empty stretch of road and did nothing for almost 3-4 hours. After what seemed like ages, there was some traffic on the highway and we decided to make a move. Soon, we arrived at the same spot where the traffic was being blocked and were surprised to find a queue of vehicles! This was a taxi-traffic-jam! After 6-630pm, when the strike was lifted, we started moving towards Leh - FINALLY!


Long queue of vehicles lined up due to the strike!
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Stunning Sunset on the way back to Leh
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After a 2 hour drive, we arrived at our guest house - extremely tired and exhausted. After an uneventful dinner, we called it a day. Tomorrow, we were heading to Tso-Moriri, and as per our group leads, we should not worry about missing Pangong since Tso Moriri was supposedly a better lake and a superior experience than Pangong!

Last edited by vsathyap : 31st July 2016 at 16:08.
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Part 4: Tso Moriri and Tso Kar - Heaven on Earth

Day 7 of our trip and we were all set to head towards Tso Moriri. After the usual morning routine of breakfast and getting into assigned taxis, we were rolling down the Manali-Leh Highway. The day was bright and sunny and it was picture perfect - just like the start of our so called trip to Pangong. Not trying to be too optimistic, I had no expectations for the next few hours as we didn't know what lay ahead. However, there was good news since we did not have to cross any major passes on the way to Tso Moriri and this meant a good chance of reaching the place.

Om Ma-Ne Pad-Me Hum @ Upshi
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After passing the Karu and Upshi check posts, we were barreling down a straight stretch of tarmac which looked absolutely mind blowing. As far as I am concerned, I had seen such roads only on Windows Wallpapers and other "exotic" places. Little did I realize that Ladakh was indeed one of those exotic places and I was witness to the same. The roads looked like they were laid fresh and the entire landscape was so stunning that there are no words to describe it.

We had to get down to take some pics!

Caution: This is not a Runway - This is a Highway!
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After playing around the road and taking pics in all perspectives, and almost being run over by a few bikes, we all got back into the taxis and moved on. Soon, the dream-like tarmac ended and we were on dirt roads. We thought that this would be a small bad stretch. Boy!!! Were we wrong! The dirt path continued almost for 30+km and it was a bone jarring, teeth chattering and body-dislocating ride!

Bridge on the River (Indus) Kwai!?
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There was dust everywhere and we could barely look out, forget opening the windows! The heat of the glaring midday sun didnt help things either and we were getting cooked in the taxis. IIRC, the bad roads went on till this place called "Kiari" where I think there is some army canteen/base. After that, we got back onto tarred roads - not butter smooth, but manageable nonetheless.

Hats off to these guys! Always helping!
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Soon, the manageable roads turned into stunning roads with amazing views on all sides. There are a couple of quick hairpin bends somewhere on this road and the views we had cannot be described in words, nor can they be justified by some of the pictures below! It was that beautiful! We had to stop here for another photo stop and we took a few pics here too.

What a View ... What a Highway!
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Moving on, everyone was hungry and we decided to stop for lunch. Our drivers informed us that we can halt at this place called Chumathang where we could have lunch as well as have a look at the hot springs there. Once we arrived at Chumathang, we quickly grabbed a bite to eat and headed out to the hot springs to see what the fuss was all about.

Pit Stop - Chumathang!
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Again - What we witnessed was something really cool (or hot rather)! Here we were, approximately 11K-12K ft above sea level, next to the Indus river and right there, next to the pebbles, we saw bubbling and boiling water. One guy was cooking an egg there (boiled egg obv) and we were watching him do that! The entire place smelled weird and we had a walk around and took a look at the other hot springs around the area. Some pics are put up below.

Bubbling Hot Water!
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Soon, as the sun got hotter, we got back into the taxis and moved on towards Tso Moriri. After traveling on some more stunning roads and witnessing some more amazing scenery, we arrived at a check-post called Mahe Bridge. After the paper work was checked (I don't know what they were checking), we moved on. The roads became dirt roads from here onwards; Correction - the roads became dirt, slush and gravel from here onwards. We moved slowly over the bad roads and everyone was getting tired of the long journey. Thankfully, after some bad stretches, the tarred road was back and we made good progress. Quickly, we got down a hill and saw a lake in the distance. The lake had this absolutely amazing colour to it - a mix of green and blue and quickly, it went out of sight as we drove round the hills. Everyone was asking each other whether that was indeed Tso-Moriri!?!

Is that Tso Moriri!?!
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Soon, we found out that what we saw was a smaller lake called Kiagar Tso. However, the smaller size of the lake didn't make it any less beautiful. In fact, when we drove past it, we had to stop for photos. When we got down, the sun was playing hide and seek with the clouds and this created a stunning play of colours on the waters of the lake.

Kiagar Tso! What lovely colours!
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After taking some more pictures, we moved on towards Tso Moriri. The landscape changed again and this time, the rocky hills and treacherous mountains gave way to some amazing grasslands. There were mounds of green patches as far as the eye can see and there was a lone stretch of tar on this grassland which made it look mind numbingly beautiful.

Stunning Landscape - from Mountains to Grasslands!
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We were busy clicking pictures of the views from within the taxis and soon, our driver told us that Tso Moriri was the one that was visible up ahead! We had our first glimpse of the massive Tso Moriri!

First Glimpse of the Tso Moriri
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Due to winding roads, the glimpse of the lake went away quickly and we were moving very slowly since the roads were bad again. The Indus river (or a stream from the main river) was flowing right next to our road and it was eating up the path ahead of us. We stopped our vehicles to make a note of the extent of roads that were eaten up and found that there was barely any road left up ahead. There was a tiny sliver of tarmac that was holding on and it was barely as wide as our taxis. After analyzing the situation, our drivers agreed that we could move on over the narrow patch of road since it was being held up by a giant boulder below it. Quickly and gingerly, we moved over the spot in question and made it safely to the other side. Soon, we were traveling along the mighty Tso Moriri on our left.

Along the Tso Moriri!
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After about 5 minutes, we had arrived at our accommodation for the night - tents overlooking the massive lake. After a quick stretch, we went to have some hot coffee / tea as the weather was getting chilly. There was a main dining tent in the camp and the rest were all smaller tents with 2 beds. The hot tea on the cold and windy afternoon felt awesome and we got ready to make some more pictures.

We dumped the rest of our luggage in the tents and carried only our camera gear and got into the taxis again. We were going to be driven to this vantage point where we could have a panoramic view of the lake. Soon, we passed by the Karzok Village and headed towards the view point.

View of Tso Moriri from Karzok
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Once we arrived at the lake, we setup our gear for one more session of time lapse photography. It was extremely windy at the vantage point and we were literally getting blown away by the wind! We could barely stand up straight and the wind was ice cold! Baring the cold, I setup my tripod with shivering hands and my fingers could barely manage to tighten the knobs on the tripod. I had not got my gloves here, thinking that the weather will not be very cold - VERY BAD IDEA!

A Camera cannot do justice to this amazing place!
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Although the sun was shining bright on the west, the winds coming in from the east brought some rain clouds along. What happened next was jaw droppingly gorgeous. We had a rainbow - bang in the middle of the lake - extending all the way up into the clouds!

Jaw Droppingly Beautiful!
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We'd hit the "Pot of Gold"!
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Soon, the winds picked up even more speed and the temperature dropped to freezing point. If one didn't know what windchill meant, they had to be here to experience it. The strong winds brought with them some very dark rain clouds and that was the last thing we wanted at this point of time. I had just started my time lapse and everything was setup perfectly. I could barely breathe owing to the high altitude and the strong ice cold winds. Now, it was starting to drizzle and the rain felt like needles on my face. Everyone was scampering with their gear and trying to hold on for dear life when the rain started. This my dear friends was possibly the coldest weather I had been exposed to directly without any warm clothing and it felt like !@#$%^&*!!!!!

Brrrrr... Its Cold!
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Thankfully, our taxis were parked just over the hill and we all packed our gear and struggled to get back into them. No one was in time-lapse mood any more - not when fingers were about to get frostbitten! We shuffled ourselves into the taxis and waited for the rain to stop. After some ten minutes, the rain got stronger, the clouds got meaner and the entire place became 4 stops darker (photography friends will understand what I mean by this!).

Then, it was decided that we will head back to the comfort of our tents. Soon, we were back in our tents and we were madly trying to get hold of anything that could help us warm up again. We scurried to the dining tent where we had extra hot chais - which was THE most blessed thing in the world at that moment! Nothing felt better than the cup of hot tea that we were sipping. After gathering our senses and feeling the blood circulating back into our numb fingers, we headed back to our tents to pack/repack for the day. We got all our warm clothes out and everyone was dressed in 3-4 layers! Thankfully, my roomie loaned me an extra pair of gloves he'd got and soon, we were all warm and comfortable.

As there was nothing much to do at the tents, we went back to the dining tent and found that the rest of the group were there too! We took our seats and had a good time chit-chatting and discussing random things. We were basically waiting for dinner! One of the persons from the group had this blood oxygen level measurement device which clips on to the finger. Basically, it measures how much dissolved oxygen is there in the bloodstream. We all took turns measuring our O2 levels and for a few of them, it was pretty low. However, that did not deter them from having a good time and soon, we started dinner.

The weather was so cold that by the time we had helped ourselves to piping hot rice and dal and gotten our plates to the table, the food was already cold! Not having any other option, we had a good dinner and got ready for sleep. We got back to our tents and I was speaking to my roomie about the weather and how cold it was. Soon, we got the surprise of our lives when someone got us a hot water bag! OH GOD THAT FELT GOOD! Packing the hot water bag within the layers of our thick quilts, we called it a night - or not!

In Pursuit of Happiness

After a sleepless 30-40 minutes of tossing around and trying to move under the heavy quilt, I got up. I heard some voices outside and decided to check out what the voices were. I struggled to put on my shows and after fumbling in the darkness for about 5 minutes, I was on my feet! On opening the tent, I saw that one of the group leads was trying out star trail photography! What a missed opportunity! In our rush to get to dinner and get some warmth in the quilt and sleep, we had forgotten what we had come there for - photography!

I had a look at the sky and was amazed beyond words on what I saw. There it was - a clear night sky, with a billion trillion stars shimmering and twinkling and giving us the best show of our lives! I rubbed my half-sleepy eyes and just stood there mesmerized by the light show! Quickly, I went into the tent and got my gear out. On hearing the commotion, my roomie also got out and saw the sky with open eyes and mouth! Even he got his gear out and we setup tripods next to our tents. We were about to begin star trail photography.

Once my camera was setup correctly, I pressed the remote shutter and that's it- all I had to do now was wait! Now, this would be a pain in the proverbial @$$ as the temperature was almost 0 - it was freezing and I had pretty much nothing else to do. Even my roomie setup his shutter and we were just looking at the sky - taking in all the starts we could possibly ever see in a lifetime! On observing keenly, we even got to see some shooting stars. Since we were so close to the Chinese Border, I was joking that the Chinese folks are testing their missiles and that the shooting stars were indeed missiles


Your's truly: Fooling around with the flashlight and water bottle on a cold cold cold night!

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Due to the noise we were making (and due to the fact that no one was really sleepy at 10pm), almost everyone in the group had go out of their tents and were trying their hands at star trails. Some decided to head back into the tents realizing how cold it was while the others couldn't get their cameras setup correctly to take star trails and decided to quit and call it a day. The cold weather didn't help things either.

Fast forward 50 minutes and I decided that I had got enough of a "trail" and remote pressed my shutter to stop the exposure. My camera took its own sweet time to generate the output. Once it was done, I gave out a yelp of joy when I saw the preview screen of my camera. My roomie quickly came and saw what I had captured and now, even he was anxiously waiting for his camera to capture enough of a "trail" to end the exposure. Soon, even he was done and we both exchanged high-fives looking at the results we'd obtained. While our result inspired some in the group, the others felt that 50 minutes was too long a time to spend in the biting cold.

Time: Sometime after midnight; Weather: Something below zero; Result: Priceless!
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Happy with what we had got, and being true to photography, my roomie and I wanted to try one more shot with a different composition and we started our next time lapse again. Now, we left it on for a little longer (close to an hour) and when we got the results, we were overjoyed. Although it was past midnight and the temperature was well below zero, there was nothing that could stop us! At this time, we were only a handful of folks still out there in the open, clicking photographs of stars while the majority of the country was asleep. After getting some amazing trails of the stars, I spotted something even more spectacular - THE MILKY WAY!

Now, from the place we were at, there were a lot of obstacles that were ruining the photo of the milky way. So, we had to venture out a little further to get a better shot. Without knowing how far we'd wandered off in the dark, we were finally at a position where we could get a good shot of our own Galaxy!

Milky Way!
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Looking back, we could not spot our tents and we had no idea how we had come to the spot we were at. Anyways, not wanting anything like clouds to ruin a moment like this, we captured more pictures of the milky way. The time was almost 2am and when we decided to head back, we were greeted with some angry dogs! Somehow, in the dark, we managed to get around the dogs (we didn't know where they were and if they were tied up, etc. - we could just hear them growl and bark) and soon, we came to a spot where we cold see our tents. Heaving a sigh of relief, me and my roomie decided to call it a day! However, one more guy decided to carry on with the pictures! We thought he was mad, specially since the temp had dropped sharply now and we could barely feel the tips of our noses! Anyways, we got back to the comfort of our tents and had a good night's sleep - except for the fact that I had to wake up at 4am for a quick nature's call! You see, in the excitement of the star trail pictures, I had drunk a lot of water and had slept directly after reaching the tent! It was a pain to wake up in the horrid cold and putting on shoes in that weather is something really really horrible. Anyways, one needs to do what one needs to do!


Day 8: The last day of the photo tour!

The next thing I remember is waking up to a bright warm sunny day and there was excited chatter on the other side of the tent. Again, after a painful session of putting on my shoes, I walked out to see that everyone was up and chattering about something. Apparently, what had happened in the night was this - you see the over enthusiastic guy from our batch who decided to carry on taking pictures after us - apparently, he was approached by some person from the Army and he was questioned on what he was doing at such a time and he was also asked to get back to the tent.

Everyone in the group were grinning and pulling the guys leg and giving him a hard time! LOL! Anyways, after a quick hot tea, we had a solid breakfast and decided to move to Tso Kar, which was our next scheduled photography stop. Quickly, we packed and left Tso Moriri - bidding farewell to one of the best experiences I had in my life - sleeping in a zillion star hotel!

Soon, we arrived at the place where the water was eating into the road and thankfully, we made it across without any issues. However, we soon found out that the road connecting to Tso Kar was cut off due to a similar issue and there was no way we could reach Tso Kar from this route. The group decided that we would skip Tso Kar and head back to Leh.

Kiagar Tso: A new Colour in the Morning Sun!
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One for the Phone's wallpaper:
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Farewell Tso Moriri!
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After what seemed like eternity, we finally arrived at Leh and had lunch at one of the road side hotels near Karu. During lunch, it was decided that the evening would be spent at the Leh Market area where folks in the group could get some souvenirs. Since this was the last day of the trip, everyone thought that it would be a good thing to visit the market area and get some souvenirs. As per the photo-tour, we would part ways the next day and go on to our respective homes and destinations, drawing a close to a somewhat successful trip to Ladakh (considering the fact that we missed Pangong Tso).

Now, back to my story which deviates from the main story-line here. Being a member on TBHP and DOW forums, and having read Tanveer's and Dheeraj's posts on Hanle, I had planned to visit Hanle during this trip of mine. Hanle was supposed to be this untouched piece of land, probably what Leh, Ladakh would have been like - a decade ago. I had always dreamed of doing the Hanle circuit and I had also planned for it and had booked my tickets back to BLR with 2-3 days as "spare" days in the end. Now that the photo trip was over, I had the chance to utilize those spare days by visiting Hanle. This meant that I would have to bid farewell to the photography group and head to Hanle on my own - which was something folks back at home were not very comfortable about. Clearly, they wanted me to travel in a group. Honestly, having spent my time with the photography group all these days, I was accustomed to the "group" being there at all the locations we had traveled so far and the rapport with the group was immense. Now, even I was not very sure if going to Hanle all alone would be a wise idea.

One more option was floated within the group. Since most of the group folks had booked their tickets after 1-2 days due to unavailability of flights, there was one more option that we could possibly make a smaller group of our own and head to Pangong. This way, we would complete the Ladakh trip. I was still in two minds whether to go with the guys towards Pangong (which was still an idea - nothing concrete was planned yet), or just get my tickets advanced by 2 days and fly back to BLR tomorrow, or whether to actually do the dream trip to Hanle.

After going back and forth a lot of times, I decided to go for it!!! After-all how many chances do we get to travel to such places and when we are already at 99%, how hard can the remaining 1% be .... why not make full use of it!!?!? So with this in mind, I contacted the travel advisor from the photography group and he told me that everything for my trip to Hanle would be arranged and that I just needed to go to a travel office in the Leh market area and give them a copy of my ID for permits. This worked out well for me as we were scheduled to visit the Leh market area in the evening and I thought that I could visit the office then.

In the evening, I was introduced to the chaos called Leh Market. All these days, we had a blissful stay on the banks of the Indus and visiting the Market was like getting back to civilization! Soon, I made my way to the travel office and arranged for my permit and cab to Hanle. I was informed that I should report to the travel office around 1030 am the next day where I would start my 2 day round trip from Leh to Hanle.

With all formalities done and after spending a few hundred rupees on trinkets and other things (which I'm sure would be useless in future) called souvenirs, we made our way back to the hotel. We had a good dinner where we exchanged the highs and lows of the trip and called it a day. Various members of the group had their own plans - some had to catch flights on the same day, some had a day's time at Leh for leisure, some were contemplating a visit to Pangong via shared taxis while some were heading back to civilization by road via Manali!

That was it - the dream trip to Leh Ladakh was coming to an end .... and little did I know that my adventure was just about to begin!

Last edited by vsathyap : 4th August 2016 at 14:49.
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Old 16th August 2016, 13:57   #9
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Default re: Ladakh: Better Leh'd than never. EDIT: Part 2 on page 3

Thread moved out from the Assembly Line (The "Assembly Line" Forum section).

Spectacular scenes, thanks for sharing!
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Old 16th August 2016, 14:36   #10
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Default re: Ladakh: Better Leh'd than never. EDIT: Part 2 on page 3

Beautiful pics. What about the videos from the action cam ?
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Old 16th August 2016, 15:26   #11
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Default re: Ladakh: Better Leh'd than never. EDIT: Part 2 on page 3

Quote:
..and little did I know that my adventure was just about to begin!
So when do we get the next instalment?
Congratulations! A very successful trip and beautiful photographs. The portraits are really class. Shame about the wide angle lens of one of your group mates falling in the water. I have had a couple of such close calls and i shudder to think what would have been the outcome. One was with my 600 f4 at Ranthambhor. Nearly crashed, and just managed to save it.

Too bad you didn't get to see Pangong Tso. Gives you an excuse to go a second time.

Your narration is very good too. Thank you for sharing. Could you share your gear details?
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Old 17th August 2016, 11:43   #12
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Default re: Ladakh: Better Leh'd than never. EDIT: Part 2 on page 3

Awesome, breathtaking views, amazing photography. Some pics are "goosebumps guaranteed" views.

Thanks for sharing.

Was checking "toehold" website and their Ladakh photography tour details. They are offering high end Sigma lens rental as complimentary for this package. Did you get any for your trip?

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Old 17th August 2016, 13:04   #13
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Default re: Ladakh: Better Leh'd than never. EDIT: Part 2 on page 3

Ladakh by your lens looks much more mesmerising than in real . When did you do this trip? I mean the month and dates.
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Old 17th August 2016, 15:01   #14
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Default re: Ladakh: Better Leh'd than never. EDIT: Part 2 on page 3

Didn't expect any less a story from your photos Vishwas! Well written, simple background story as well. :-)
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Old 17th August 2016, 20:04   #15
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Default re: Ladakh: Better Leh'd than never. EDIT: Part 2 on page 3

Are you a professional photographer? These are truly outstanding pics which really makes this travelogue stand out even though it was yet another Leh thread.

Thanks Again.
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