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Old 24th September 2009, 15:23   #76
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excellent travelogue.
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Old 3rd December 2009, 02:36   #77
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Default Back to life!

Folks, its been ages since the travelogue has been gathering dust. Since the trip to Sojha, one thing after another kept me away from spending meaningful time on TBHP. However, lets now bring the travelogue out from the 'ol closet & look at it afresh. The last few pages that disappeared, let me go out find them & append them to the travelogue to complete it. Will return it back to the wooden chest of drawers once done..

Notes from the trip that were all carefully manuscripted (albeit in crumpled papers) have gone blissfully missing on their own. Or they thought it was not worth being there where they were, in utter humiliating ignorance Little that I could rely on my memory cells, jogging them I could recollect that we booked Pasha's & Reena's flight in the same evening. They got an excellent deal flying Srinagar to Delhi. This might be a useful tip for those of you who find it more convenient to fly all the way to Srinagar & then let your urge of relishing the adventures of the tempting roads unleash gradually. When (later) we enquired about the kind of transport services available from Srinagar to Leh we were advised the options are not too way below what are offered in Manali, including bullets on rent.

Having booked their flight tickets (scheduled departure from Srinagar early afternoon on Thursday) we thought we can finally leave Leh the next day (Wednesday) morning without much of a rush in the interim. Until then we had been one bunch of reckless wanderers, tired & breathless (literally & otherwise) ever since leaving the cosy comfort of Gurgaon / Delhi behind. The sudden break offered by the freaky accident came as a warm relief in disguise (Pasha & Reena, please do forgive us; others - I had to confess!) & had us laid back. We took time to sip in the local buzz & the charming hospitality of the Leh town. Of course, malted barley at night only added to the bonhomie

Yet another eventful day softly came to a warm end. With the abundance of memories each day of the trip brought with it so far, will it not be worth packing up bags & set forth for Ladakh yet again? Folks are you hearing? Shall we explore what 2010 beckons?
..............
..............

Amen!

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Old 4th December 2009, 04:40   #78
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Question Unplanned; Separated. Nervous!! Reunited :)

Day 09: Thursday, August 20 : LEH – NIMU – ALCHI (Innova) – KHALTSE – LAMAYURU – MULBEK (Innova) / BATALIK (Vista) – KARGIL – DRAS – ZOJI LA

Rise in shine! We did when the sun was shining mid way in the skies! After shelling out a whopping amount of money to the hotel for food & accommodation we filed our loads of stuff gradually in the cars. Ah! The Innova by then had its rear protected by a thick plank of plywood firmly attached. This unique innovation was a sheer fortune we discovered later at night. More about it in just a while..

The gloomy spell of having to leave this wonderful place had us so blue that we completely ignored planning the itinerary for the day & the rest of our return journey. The matter of the fact is – our original plan was to return retracing the same roads via Manali, because few of us were uneasy at the thought of returning via Kargil & Kashmir. On top of this the folks of most of us back at home would be too shell-shocked if we were to tell them our intention of returning via Srinagar. In the last couple of days I kept on pressing the rest of the gang to return via Kargil & Srinagar on the basis that we had already seen & experienced all that we planned we would returning via Manali, like spending a night at Sarchu & one at Keylong. As we had stopped for a night at each of these places (unplanned; plan was to halt for night only at Jispa & then drive all the way to Leh), there would be no novelty left if we did not exit Ladakh via the other gateway. Most of them fortunately budged to my pressing suggestion. They also decided not to harass & alarm their folks back at home needlessly by sharing our return itinerary. Ignorance is bliss!

At around the noon we finally turned the ignition on & rolled the wheels towards Kargil. The warmth & hospitality of the Leh town was fast fading away through the rear glass (or mirror!) as we sped to our first stop over for brunch. Hungry as we were, we pulled up at the first sight of a restaurant that boldly claimed to do Chinese, Indian, Thai & Italian cuisines. Grand, eh, in the middle of almost nowhere! It took the restaurant guys good 3 hours to serve us food. This is despite each of us taking turns to invade their kitchen & blurting out repeated loud warnings of leaving for the next restaurant. If there were a collective test of patience of famished souls those guys would win pants, err.. hands down! Severely irked, but tummy filled, we set off again. Whilst counting those endless moments of eternal wait we realised that we would reach Kargil quite late in the night to see anything around. Pasha & Reena were a li’l worried that they might not make it to the airport on time, despite our several assurances.

We briefly stopped over at the Magnetic Hill to verify the authenticity of the claim – that on apparent plane road the car rolls up in the neutral. They did! Naresh, the driver of the Innova was so bewildered experiencing the phenomenon that he could not resist amusing himself by trying it many times – both forward as well as reverse driving until we reminded him we gotta buckle up & go much further!

It was late in the afternoon when we guys in the Innova decided to deviate away to the model village Alchi assuming the Vista behind would probably see us & follow or otherwise we will catch up with them eventually. One of the wrong assumptions that almost had us pay up very dearly. More on this later.. Frankly, either we did not see Alchi completely (but what else was left unseen?) or it was futile to deviate. Disappointed, we returned & were back on the right road soon driving fast to catch up with Manu Phaaji driving the Vista. Ankus, who was the co-driver in Vista was handed over a map of the route to Kargil, but I did not clarify which of the two routes to Kargil we were supposed to be on. With the kind of expertise I have seen Ankus has in reading maps & finding directions in non-English speaking European countries, I thought it redundant to be more precise than doling him out the road maps. Almost a disaster!

The late afternoon soon turned into a visual riot of various hues of golden & orange in all their exotic glories as we drove past the lunar landscape around Lamayuru & its monastery in a distant secluded mountain top. It looked so serene, so dreamy, lit up brilliantly in the golden glow of the fading sun. The sight so peacefully appealing that one would want to treasure it crystallised in memory forever..

Peace lasts, but not too long. Or does it? Soon we were stopped by the BRO because dynamites were being exploded in the mountains in front of us to make way for roads. We realised the roads were being widened greatly (perhaps 1999 lesson learned well!). The overhanging strong smell of freshly exploded gunpowder welcomed us to Khalste. Reminded me of the famous dialogue “I love the smell of napalm in the morning.” from Apocalypse Now. A trip to the state of Jammu & Kashmir would not be complete without smelling the gunpowder, I thought. Completeness of experience reinforced, yet again!

Soon after, in the fading light of the day, a narrow perpendicular road branching out had us thinking about the right route. We went back. Fortunately found somebody who advised that was the road to Kargil via Mulbekh. We wasted no time in turning on it. The road got from bad to worse with vast stretches of it under construction & narrow extremely dusty diversions alongside. The last high altitude pass Namika La greeted us soon with road condition rapidly deteriorating further. As we drove through the darkness we began to realise that it was unlikely the Vista was all this way up before us. We ought to have caught up with them, knowing the solid, steady & patient driver that Manu Phaaji is. We began to call Ankus on his Mumbai MTNL phone in vain. As the darkness grew deeper & the roads more & more deserted, we became increasingly restless to locate the other car. We stopped & asked almost all trucks & other vehicles coming on from the opposite direction if they saw the Vista. A few of them answered in affirmative but we were not sure ourselves if they understood the actual depiction of the car. It was not easy to spot a car with its headlights & fog lamps on on those dusty, albeit very narrow roads. At about 10:30 PM we arrived in the town of Kargil. First thing we did was enquire about all the entry & exit roads. Next we strategically parked our car much of it on the main Kargil entry road on a stretch of it that was not winding, hoping if people in the Vista had stopped over at Lamayuru monastery & we overshot them, they couldn’t miss spotting our car from behind. Meanwhile, Mr. Mangal found a convenient road side dhaba run by a Sardar & had his tummy filled to his delight whilst Yash & me frantically tried calling the phones of the occupants of the other car from local calling booth. The PCO owner finally had to shut his shop for the night (we made him stay up for long but no business for him as none of the calls got through). That’s when our hopes to establish contact with them via phone rapidly sank. We decided we will wait & watch for them till midnight. If they didn’t turn up by then we will inform Army posts & drive back to locate them.


At about 11:50 PM sipping tea & chatting up a British couple enquiring if they saw the Vista, with my chair turned to look at the road, I spotted the bright headlamps of a car whizz past by. Instantly, I knew it was our second car, only a new car could have such bright lights. I jumped out of the chair & ran out wildly to the road to see much to my relief the car slow down & pull up. That was indeed the Vista. Phew!!!!!! They slowed down & stopped after noticing our Innova from behind by dint of its rear plywood board! We all were extremely relieved! All of us & the British couple cheered as we were reunited with our missing gang. As we gathered our breathes & let our heartbeats normalise we felt hungry & devoured whatever the restaurant could serve us at that hour of the night. It was then we learned they did not take the sharp left to Kargil via Mulbekh but kept on driving & reached Kargil via Drass & Batalik. In fact they said that the road was extremely good. Blessing in disguise, at the cost of holding our nerves on the wires!

By 12:45 AM we were back on the road again – this time me on the Innova wheels & deciding a driving protocol with Manu Phaaji – that he would be leading always. I would trail him by no more than 50m. If we could not be seen in the vicinity for more than 5 mins he would stop. With few vehicles on the road, this approach worked fantastically well.

Soon we drove past the famous Tiger Hill (much of the action in 1999 happened here) but alas it was all too dark to see anything beyond the road. We were stopped several times by the army check posts. On each of the occasions the Army jawans were highly courteous & respectful. We so much wanted to stop over at the Kargil War Memorial but the darkness, the rain & the urge to reach Srinagar early had us driving on. We regretted the lack of planning that denied us the chance to see all these during the daylight.

In one of those routine stops at one of the Army check posts (was the last post actually) I enquired how far was Zozi La. Was told we were on Zozi La. I was very glad that we had finally made it to Zozi La. In half an hour from then we would be in the Kashmir valley, back to civilisation. Excited, I turned the music up & followed Manu Phaaji with renewed jest as lines of truck convoys drove past us. Srinagar did not seem distant anymore. All the adventures of Ladakh began to appear like experiences from the past. We were almost back to sanity; back to mankind. The mood turned upbeat again!

On the other hand, it appears, fortune was not quite ready yet to let us off its firm tricky tentacles. The sting of the scorpion, they say, is in it’s tail..

The mother of all trips: Exploration Ladakh, destination Leh-img_0769-1.jpg
Pic 87 | All that we brought & bought

The mother of all trips: Exploration Ladakh, destination Leh-img_0774.jpg
Pic 88 | Leaving Leh behind..

The mother of all trips: Exploration Ladakh, destination Leh-picture-731.jpg
Pic 89 | Memories remain..

The mother of all trips: Exploration Ladakh, destination Leh-picture-737.jpg
Pic 90 | BRO is wonderful. Salute to those who braved their lives & comfort so that we have them!

The mother of all trips: Exploration Ladakh, destination Leh-picture-744.jpg
Pic 91 | River rafting is done here, commercially

The mother of all trips: Exploration Ladakh, destination Leh-picture-747.jpg
Pic 92 | Whilst waiting for the food to arrive..

The mother of all trips: Exploration Ladakh, destination Leh-img_0775.jpg
Pic 93 | Says it all

The mother of all trips: Exploration Ladakh, destination Leh-img_0778.jpg
Pic 94 | The terrain turning lunar

The mother of all trips: Exploration Ladakh, destination Leh-picture-753.jpg
Pic 95 | It is very cold but extremely scorching under the sun

The mother of all trips: Exploration Ladakh, destination Leh-picture-756.jpg
Pic 96 | Freshness redfined. Crisp, vast & clear

The mother of all trips: Exploration Ladakh, destination Leh-picture-772.jpg
Pic 97 | Vegetation in the midst of barren

The mother of all trips: Exploration Ladakh, destination Leh-picture-808.jpg
Pic 98 | A dynamite explodes. All for good causes.

The mother of all trips: Exploration Ladakh, destination Leh-img_0600.jpg
Pic 99 | Golden hue of the dusk accentuating landscape

The mother of all trips: Exploration Ladakh, destination Leh-picture-818.jpg
Pic 100 | From one fold of curvaceous mountains to another, seeking valley

The mother of all trips: Exploration Ladakh, destination Leh-picture-837.jpg
Pic 101 | More of the lunar landscape. Inadequate photography light conditions :(

The mother of all trips: Exploration Ladakh, destination Leh-picture-846.jpg
Pic 102 | ..continued

The mother of all trips: Exploration Ladakh, destination Leh-picture-863.jpg
Pic 103 | As we disappear in the depth of engulfing darkness..

Correction: “Day 07: Tuesday, August 18 : Stranded!!” should read: “Day 08: Wednesday, August 18 : Stranded!!”
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The mother of all trips: Exploration Ladakh, destination Leh-img_0780.jpg  


Last edited by abk : 4th December 2009 at 04:49.
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Old 4th December 2009, 15:31   #79
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Absolutely breathtaking pictures and wonderful narration of the travelogue!
Really enjoyed reading it till now.

What camera were you using?
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Old 4th December 2009, 17:31   #80
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Absolutely brilliant pictures! You have to be a pro! By the way, that resort you guys stayed in Manali..... Does it have a name??? Where exactly is it located??

Sad to know that it is not for commercial use.
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Old 5th December 2009, 15:34   #81
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ashpillai View Post
Absolutely brilliant pictures! You have to be a pro! By the way, that resort you guys stayed in Manali..... Does it have a name??? Where exactly is it located??

Sad to know that it is not for commercial use.
Quote:
Originally Posted by pulsar56 View Post
Absolutely breathtaking pictures and wonderful narration of the travelogue!
Really enjoyed reading it till now.

What camera were you using?
Thanks Ashpillai & pulsar56 for your appreciations

@Ashpillai - am just an amateur still overwhelmed & reeling under the gamut of experiences the Ladakh trip brought to us! The house in Manali is located about 3-4 Kms before entering the town from Kullu. Can't seem to remember it's name now. On the main highway almost immediately after a petrol station there's a left narrow lane that goes up the hills in winding fashion. It is about a Km or two from the main highway. There are a lot of holiday homes on that lane - used mostly by discerning visitors. Would recommend staying in one of the homes there than to be in the middle of the bustling town.

@pulsar56 - we had 5 cameras in the trip. The pictures that are posted here are the best from each of them, though i was a li'l biased in posting more pics from my camera
  1. Canon PowerShot SX100 IS
  2. Canon PowerShot A590 IS (two)
  3. Sony CyberShot DSC-W115
  4. Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ28
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Old 5th December 2009, 19:26   #82
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The canon powershot is an amazing series. For the last 6 years i was using an A80. Amazing pictures, and a lot of photographic controls for learning.

BTW, nice pictures and a good log. Thanks for sharing
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Old 20th January 2010, 00:45   #83
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Quote:
Originally Posted by laluks View Post
The canon powershot is an amazing series. For the last 6 years i was using an A80. Amazing pictures, and a lot of photographic controls for learning.

BTW, nice pictures and a good log. Thanks for sharing
Agree with you absolutely! I have so far bought about 8 or 9 cameras - half of them for myself & others for gifting. All of them from the PowerShot range. Amazing cameras. My personal favourite is A620 which was launched only in a few European countries & then quickly taken off the shelves

Thanks laluks for your compliments! Time for another stab at recollection of fond (& some scary!) Ladakh memories..
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Old 20th January 2010, 17:48   #84
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just came across this log today. Absolute treat!!!Thank you

pictures are awesome and your narration is very tempting, just read the whole log last 2 hrs continuously.

waiting for the next part.
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Old 21st January 2010, 03:36   #85
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Day 10: Friday, Aug 21 : ZOJI LA (continued) – SONMARG – SRINAGAR

The insipid ascent to the peak of Zozi La that began with euphoria gradually started to lose its indifference. The number of trucks passing by waned whilst the rain, snowflakes & strong icy winds enveloped us thick. A few kilometres of driving on the under-construction but wide roads of mud, pebbles & rock led us to narrow rocky trails. The jubilant mood soon turned cautious. We negotiated the uneven rocks more carefully displaying composed patience. In a while we found ourselves going downhill consistently that had us believe we left the peak behind. Srinagar ain’t too far anymore, our seldom materialised optimism echoed loudly at the back of our heads.

Our rate of progress kept dropping until we came to a part of the narrow trail that had us confronted with figuring out the right track – one that appeared continuation of the path we were treading on but with an extremely sharp drop after what appeared like a moderate hump to climb; the other – turned right very sharply, hardly appeared to be a road by any wild stretch of imagination. The lights of car headlamps were inadequate to show us much of the winding, going up & down road ahead. Yash & I after looking in the dark at both the options decided to take on the sharp right turn. At least we could see a few metres farther ahead on this “road” than to be driving on the other which we could not establish whether or not would have us land vertically down in unknown territories a few thousand feet below in a flash of second!! All this while everyone in both the cars were sleeping except Yash (albeit, Manu Phaaji & me, each being on the driver’s seat). The sharp right turn was atrocious with the protruding edge of the bare rocks of the mountain on our right being at a close kissing distance away. The length of the Innova combined with the highly uneven road surface made it alarmingly frightening to drive on & at the same time ensuring the right side of the Innova escape the scrapes of the projected harpoon-like rocks. During those moments I frankly did not care much about car body scrapes but the chilling fantasy of the car losing it's balance & toppling (should the tyres on the right hand side be on much higher elevation than the left) had staring at me diabolically. I kept driving stoically fixated at those ominous looking rock protrusions that evoked morbid thoughts of meeting our eventual nemesis sooner than later in this Godforsaken place of earth! Fortunately, both the cars did remarkably well to drive on without kissing anything except the tyres clinging on to the slippery rocky surface like a mother would embrace her restless kid. The rocky projections at the side did sniff & challenge us rather too well for me to have any reasonable degree of comfort. Yet the lurid dance of horror would not end any sooner.

Next challenge lay ahead of us in the form of a rocky & highly uneven hump with the path becoming even narrower. I stopped to witness the Vista take on the sharp rocky incline with each of its wheels resting precariously on shaky rocks all on different planes. Much like a one of those fantasy ET vehicles that “walks” effortlessly on severely uneven surfaces! Sitting in the car seeing the underbelly of the Vista as it climbed & then disappeared in the down slopes of the mighty hump I felt chilling sensations of cold sweat. That was precisely the time when Amit Mangal, blissfully dozing off all this while in my co-driver’s seat, woke up. Fortunately! After opening his eyes & taking a few moments to realise what we were grappling with, his first reaction was that of sheer disbelief that we were actually driving on such perilous no-man’s land. To add to his panicking horror I enlightened him we would not be able to reverse the car to go back to find the other road that we chose not to take. Reversing would be dead sure way of benefitting our folks with our personal accident insurance entitlements. Our only hope to take the other road was on foot. We could also choose to stay put where we were till sunrise. However, with rain, snow flakes & signs of fresh landslides exhibiting abundantly around us the idea of holding up there appeared very stupid indeed! Devoid of any practical alternatives we decided to drive on further.

Mr. Mangal had his neck sticking to its full stretch out of the window (like a giraffe, LOL!) guiding me as to where the edge of the cliff was & how close we were to it on the left. Just as soon as the Innova’s front wheels were on the top flat surface with the rear still on the incline I was jolted to discover half the road on the left did not exist! Instead a fatal gorge of what would possibly be several thousand feet laid its arms open wide welcoming us with the uncanniest grin! Mr. Mangal shrieked out hysterically that he could see no land on the left. How would he? There wasn’t any! Before I could react consciously my instincts had me instantly turn the steering wheel wildly to the right. Next moment I found the car heading on to the mountain side. In a matter of a flash my desperate foot found the brake pedal & slammed on it violently! The sudden jerks, shrieks & the grinding halt woke up the rest of the folks in the Innova. All of them had their eyes rubbing in disbelief what had just happened.

We stepped out of the car & heard the familiar tunes of “Hanuman Chalisa” loudly blurted out by Vista’s sound system. We all decided to take a break & broke into a commotion of each other’s narration of experiences of the last few minutes. That’s when we learned Pasha had put Hanuman Chalisa in the last few fateful minutes with the hope any misfortune lurking to pounce on us might be thwarted! Somehow it might have been effective; otherwise you would not be reading this travelogue, phew!


The extreme & almost fatal adventure of the last 20 minutes or so had me quickly realise that I needed to get out the powerful flashlight that lay tucked at the bottom of the boot underneath tonnes of bags & packages. After all, I sacrificed a lot of clothes & other usable stuff in order to carry that big, heavy & powerful 2 millon candela (or some other similar unit) flashlight all the way from London to India within the airline baggage limits. No sooner than the flashlight was shone than it became clearer that we indeed digressed to the wrong “road”. What appeared like a steep down incline earlier was actually the road leading to better roads further down. Roads mile or two away were then visible! I inspected the mud & the rocks around. They all bore evidences of fresh landslides, rain & snow but no traces of tyre tread marks of the convoys of trucks that passed by us. Looked like destiny had in store for us extremely precarious off-roading where no roads existed in the darkest of the night amidst severely hostile circumstances! All this while we thought Ladakh experiences & nightmares were things from the past. History repeats itself for those who do not believe in history. The truth of this saying could not have been replayed louder & more blatantly than this.

With laughter soon rolling back in our commotion we gradually began to breathe easier than before. Our spirits warmed up again as we prepared ourselves for the final assault before meeting the actual roads. We did the rest of this atrocious trail extremely cautiously. Fortunately, no more scares, shrieks or Hanuman chalisa played, which was an exception given the experiences we underwent ever since we embarked on this trip.

As soon as we were on tarmac roads (seemed like ages we saw them last!) we picked up speed & were grinding with ease a km or more per minute. We calculated we would be in the town of Srinagar no later than 8:30 AM. With the first streaks of twilight the greyish golden horizon widened & brightened up more with every passing minute. We glided swiftly past the beautiful but sleepy Sonmarg valley. A bright, better & soothing day looked waiting to be heralded for us. Sensing Srinagar wasn’t too far, we bothered the local roadside folks enquiring of good places to stay around Srinagar (we wanted to avoid living in the middle of the town for crowd, noise & traffic chaos). Instead we learned it was a day of “bandh” in the valley. Aaila! Another twist first thing in the morning?


We were advised by locals to stay put & avoid driving around in the town. With the pile of lessons learned (& my personal experiences of “bandhs” in Assam & how quickly they can turn real ugly) we dashed straight to Lal Kuan (heart of Srinagar?) not before losing our way a few times (had no city map of Srinagar). After several frantic attempts we finally found a very decent hotel at a surprisingly affordable price. Amit Mangal, as usual, swung the deal favourably for us as he had done throughout this trip & many others. With his acquired expertise in Kashmiri cuisine, Mr. Mangal strongly recommended us to venture our withered taste buds to Kahwa (Kashmiri tea). I found it alright. The warmth infused by the drink gently had us retire to the beds. Little did we realise when Pasha & Reena left for the airport without waking us up.

Long tiring yesterday; a wild, freaky & harrowing adventurous night; a pleasantly sunny & relatively warmer new day; imprisoned to the confinements of a hotel. Felt like a definite curtain drawn at an appropriate time.

The ever tempting beauty of Srinagar appeared to flirt mildly with our exhausted & weary wanderlust. Kashmir, Srinagar - what charms would thou lure us with, if thou'd? The magic of my last visit to Srinagar (during 1998 Diwali) gradually unfolded in my dreamy eyes transcending to a nostalgic ride.. …zzz…

Whilst for your eyes I have only limited pics; they would get even more rare as this travelogue inches closer to Delhi.

The mother of all trips: Exploration Ladakh, destination Leh-p1020514.jpg
Pic 104 | Descending from Sonmarg towards Srinagar. A glimpse of the wholesome beauty of the valley captured from within the moving car in under-lighting conditions

The mother of all trips: Exploration Ladakh, destination Leh-img_0620.jpg
Pic 105 | The tales, twists, fortunes & misfortunes with Innova's rear windshield

The mother of all trips: Exploration Ladakh, destination Leh-img_0612.jpg
Pic 106 | The beautifully enticing Dal

The mother of all trips: Exploration Ladakh, destination Leh-img_0614.jpg
Pic 107 | And modernity amidst water!

The mother of all trips: Exploration Ladakh, destination Leh-img_0788.jpg
Pic 108 | Beauty of the background. Oh! That's me. Ignore the background please. LOL!

The mother of all trips: Exploration Ladakh, destination Leh-img_0797.jpg
Pic 109 | Treat for eyes? Pleases your senses too. Please save Kashmir!
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Old 21st January 2010, 17:57   #86
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wow, the last pic is a absolute delight. Thank god you all came out of that night in full.
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Old 21st February 2010, 01:43   #87
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wow, the last pic is a absolute delight. Thank god you all came out of that night in full.
Hey sri, thanks for your appreciations & empathy The extremities of our feelings doing the Zoji La would be remembered for a long long time indeed
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Old 22nd February 2010, 16:50   #88
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Outstanding Pics mate. Beautiful!!

I am so so longing to go back.
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