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Old 1st September 2009, 00:10   #1
abk
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Default The mother of all trips: Exploration Ladakh, destination Leh

Note: I am pasting relevant portions of text from the separate travelogue (word document now) that I am doing intending to circulate it amongst the gang who we made the trip with. Therefore, frequently one would find names & personal references. Please ignore if that irks you.

Prologue:
The idea of exploring Ladakh has been one long fancied adventure. The desire had been fuelled by Mrigank (TBHPian with 2 bullet trips to Leh under his belt) via his narration of his Royal Enfield Himalayan odyssey experiences & several other sources (Team BHP in particular). It was over a few glasses of malted barley one evening that Yash (my always companion for any trip) and I made the first stab at the fancy that was brewing in our heads. By the time the malted barley was over we were quite resolute of ACTUALLY doing Ladakh – and doing it this year! The ball finally started rolling..

Our immediate task was to mobilise the idea and rope in more folks – more the merrier! However, we hit hitches one after another. There was a time we were practically looking at 4 people doing this trip. Eventually, we were what we were – 7 spirited souls embarking on what I phrased as "The mother of all trips". Unfortunately, Chinu (mate since college days) who was all warmed up about the trip dropped out due to severe resistance from his home ministry.

After initial rounds of deliberations the dates of the trip were finalised as 13 Aug to 22 Aug. The next task was to chalk up an itinerary, which too was achieved by adopting an approach of balancing driving stress appropriately with the risks of potential hazards. The first cut of the plan was later made more aggressive by aiming to reach Leh on 15 Aug (drive from Delhi to Keylong in a single stretch without a night halt). But then, destiny had other surprises in store waiting for us, each day of our exploration! Did I say this was The mother of all trips? Most apt, on the hindsight.

Preparation:
Preparations started soon after finalising the plan. We bought stuff like Oxygen cylinders, sleeping bags & sleeping mats from Kamla Nagar, cars’ emergency repair kits sourced from different places, stockpiled rations for us to survive for 36 hours without any help, & most importantly first aid that included Diamox. Tanveer (TSK)'s detailed excel was most invaluable repository of shopping items & trip preparation. Thanks Tanveer!

The decision to finalise the cars was one of the most deliberated ones. In fact, we did a formal benefit analysis of 8 combinations of cars & ultimately decided to take Pasha’s almost brand new Indica Vista along with a hired Innova (with driver). My wifey (my OHC II), sadly, had to stay away from doing this adventure. It does seem sensible now!

Day 01: Thursday, Aug 13 : GURGAON – DELHI – NOIDA – CHANDIGARH – BILASPUR

The Innova turned up an hour late (@2:30 PM) than it should have. I wasted no time in packing it up with our stuff & set on the road. Yash picked up Pasha (from his office) and Reena (Pasha's wife - they have been married only 3 months now) from home whilst I proceeded to pick up Amit & Ankush from NOIDA. But not until realising that the car wobbled alarmingly at speeds as low as 80 Kmph! Went to a tyre shop in NOIDA and got one of the front tyres (it was cut from inside) replaced with a new one. I was keen on replacing both the front tyres but the car owner would not budge. Little did he know what lay ahead..

We left NOIDA at 6:30 PM & dashed straight into Sukhdev’s dhaba at Murthal to gorge ourselves on Aloo paranthas & thick creamy teas whilst waiting for Pasha’s car to appear, which they did after an hour. With tummies filled delightfully we left together for Manu Phaaji’s (Mac) place. Despite all frantic efforts we were already delayed by a couple of hours which did look ominous for us to make it to Keylong by next evening. In addition, we realised the 3rd row of the Innova could not be used for sitting due to too much of stuff packed in.

Soon before we were to reach Pipli the rear left tyre of the Innova went flat. It took more than 45 mins to replace the tyre (because it was a struggle getting the spare tyre out of its chained storage) & being back on the road again. I decided that it would be too risky to take the Innova with the current tyre conditions all the way to Leh. We agreed on hiring another car from Chandigarh & let go the current car if the Innova’s owner does not agree to changing all the tyres. Instead of getting the punctured tyre repaired we pushed all the way to reach Mac’s place at 1:30 AM. Here is when we decided to continue with the same Innova after Naresh (our driver) confessed that current tyres are a hazard & that he will convince the owner to replace them. Meanwhile, at Mac’s place aunty would not let us leave immediately because it being too late into the night. After fervent appeals & reasoning with her that if we fail making it to Keylong the next day we might get stuck up in Manali because of the rains & potential landslides. She finally allowed us to go at 3:00 AM not before a sumptuous home dinner. Naresh by this time looked drowsy so I take the wheels of the Innova whilst Yash continued driving the Vista.

Here's a pic of our gang being completely together the first time (Outside Manu Phaaji's place at Mohali)
The mother of all trips: Exploration Ladakh, destination Leh-p1010439.jpg
Pic 01 | L to R: Yash, Ankush, Manu Phaaji (Mac), Amit Mangal (Matey), Abu (myself), Reena & Pasha

Last edited by abk : 1st September 2009 at 00:25.
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Old 1st September 2009, 01:15   #2
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Default The mother of all trips: Exploration Ladakh, destination Leh (continued..)

Day 02: Friday, Aug 14 : BILASPUR – MANDI – KULLU – MANALI

We take the first break of the day at 5:45 AM for teas and refreshments. We see many other tourists, all packed, which sets our holiday mood the first time After the teas are over Mac takes charge of the Vista and Naresh takes over the Innova from me. I'd have anyway driven only a 100 Kms from Mohali before handing the Innova over. Although it was my first experience of driving an Innova but the handling was so good that I never felt I was driving anything other than a comfortable car!

The mother of all trips: Exploration Ladakh, destination Leh-img_0232.jpg
Pic 02 | The fleeting dawn

Soon after we reached Bilaspur, the first major town en-route in HP, where we tank up diesel. As morning progressed we passed by Mandi & then Kullu with most of the tyre shops being closed or the few that were open did not have new Innova tyres. Ah! Did I tell you that in those early hours of the dawn we managed to convince the owner of the Innova to replace at least another 2 tyres? Whilst we were looking out for tyre shops, in one of the narrow lanes of Kullu a traffic cop gestured with his hands for us to stop. We realised that the lane is so narrow it would allow traffic from only one direction at a time. So far so good! However, when the cop gestured he also indicated us to reverse. Not realising there was a car that had by then pulled up right behind us when we stopped, Naresh reversed the Innova in a hurry & right onto the front bumper of the Maruti 800! There were some voices & noises but fortunately for us, it wasn’t an ugly outburst of wrath as one would have imagined in horror in places like Delhi. We placated the Maruti driver & its occupants and left the place without creating a scene. Whew! No bad words uttered; no money paid!

Just as soon as we thought the incident was past than HP traffic cops stopped us. They were challaning all vehicles that had non HP registration number plates & were not yellow. Although I reasoned with the cop saying the Innova belongs to my friend he suggested I rather prove it in the courts of HP! We got away quietly after parting with Rs. 300. The cops were well behaved, i must confess

By the time we left the cops & were sensing the Manali air we realised we were racing against time if we were to make it to Keylong that evening. We kept pushing hard (I would not let anyone any breaks – be it food, thirst or natural!) in order to leave Manali by 2:00 PM with new tyres. But alas! There were no Innova tyres (new or used) available at Manali either. We learned from the most well known tyre shop in Manali that Innova tyres are not available anywhere in Manali / Kullu or Mandi. He could get us new tyres on order, however, that would take 3-4 hours to arrive. Knowing that after Manali the next town is Leh we had no choice but to order the tyres & call it a day. Amit Mangal, the street smart Delhite that he is, found us a decent cottage on the outskirts of Manali for Rs 1,500/- (for the floor: 3 double bed rooms). All these tyre issues have had us delayed by a day from the original schedule. I was rather upset about losing that valuable day. Little did I know way lay ahead..

Nestled in the warmth of the cottage we sipped "warming drinks" whilst watching the rain pour down the hills & clouds coming down to the valleys. I fancied getting soaked in the rain but others strongly advised against it. I got a li'l drenched, nevertheless!

Tired & sleepless that most of us were, we grabbed some sleep before venturing out for dinner on the Mall road at 9:30 PM hoping we may find some restaurants open. Lo & behold! We were most appalled by the mass frenzy of populous tourists swarming the Mall road and its restaurants – turning the entire place to Delhi's Chandni Chowk! Looking at the humongous number of tourists we realised with sad faces that the next day will be tough through the congested traffic on the way to Rohtang La. Based on the information I gleaned from TBHP on road conditions prior to starting for the trip & reviews from my friend who visited Manali a week before, I forewarned the rest of the gang to be prepared to see what might well turn out to be the toughest road day of the entire trip ahead, especially the stretch of road from Marhi to Rohtang La. The warning, as it later turned out, was a gross under estimation. In addition, the lousy dinner at the Punjabi restaurant had us hurry back to our cottage and retire early to beds, hoping tomorrow will bring in fresh new light!

But did it?
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Old 1st September 2009, 07:07   #3
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Abk, now don't you stop when the storyis picking up .
Quote:
Originally Posted by abk View Post
Day 02: Friday, Aug 14 : BILASPUR – MANDI – KULLU – MANALI



Just as soon as we thought the incident was past than HP traffic cops stopped us. They were challaning all vehicles that had non HP registration number plates & were not yellow. Although I reasoned with the cop saying the Innova belongs to my friend he suggested I rather prove it in the courts of HP! We got away quietly after parting with Rs. 300. The cops were well behaved, i must confess
Are you sure it was not the famed Manali Entry Tax that is collected on all out of state vehicles. Didn't they want to see any documents?

Quote:
Originally Posted by abk View Post
Amit Mangal, the street smart Delhite that he is, found us a decent cottage on the outskirts of Manali for Rs 1,500/- (for the floor: 3 double bed rooms).
Could you provide the contact details please
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Old 1st September 2009, 07:15   #4
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Oh great another one gets Leh-ed. Bring it on, I'm all eyes.
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Old 1st September 2009, 09:37   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by MileCruncher View Post
Abk, now don't you stop when the storyis picking up .
Are you sure it was not the famed Manali Entry Tax that is collected on all out of state vehicles. Didn't they want to see any documents?


Could you provide the contact details please
Dear MileCruncher, no it wasn't the HP's green tax. We paid green tax (Rs. 300 for Innova & 200 for Vista) separately. The cops asked each vehicle (non HP pvt registration) if the owner was travelling in the car; if not they would challan. There was one group who could, after lengthy debates, prove that the car belonged to the brother of one of the guys travelling in it.

I will provide the contact details by tomorrow.
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Old 1st September 2009, 16:44   #6
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wow, another leh-ladhak travelogue to hear.Keep on with your trip log sir and pictures along with.Dont stop when the story really starts intresting.
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Old 1st September 2009, 18:08   #7
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beautiful beautiful, start pouring boss, no teaser weaser
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Old 1st September 2009, 18:42   #8
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wow...
i'm planning a trip to ladakh too .! ! (from mumbai )
had planned one this year made the hotel reservations too but because of the swine flu thing my tour operator asked me to cancel all bookings and i had to give the endeavour back to my uncle
but i am following this thread and will surely plan a trip before october.
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Old 1st September 2009, 19:17   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by abk View Post
Dear MileCruncher, no it wasn't the HP's green tax. We paid green tax (Rs. 300 for Innova & 200 for Vista) separately. The cops asked each vehicle (non HP pvt registration) if the owner was travelling in the car; if not they would challan.
This is totally disgusting, i only thought that only Punjab Police is known to trouble the vehicles with non PB plates.

Were they challaning the private vehicles apart from usual taxi vehicles like Innova/Qualis/Sumo/Indica ?

Or did you see any honda city/Swift/Safari etc getting challaned ?
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Old 1st September 2009, 19:36   #10
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Nice build up ABK. Now if you could pleasee continue

I am sure soon threats will be issued - that if you don't post soon then...
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Old 1st September 2009, 21:10   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by simply_sunny001 View Post
This is totally disgusting, i only thought that only Punjab Police is known to trouble the vehicles with non PB plates.

Were they challaning the private vehicles apart from usual taxi vehicles like Innova/Qualis/Sumo/Indica ?

Or did you see any honda city/Swift/Safari etc getting challaned ?
I disagree that this is harassment. We ourselves try to cheat the govt of tax by taking private number plate taxi's. This is their way of making sure atleastthe Govt gets some revenue.
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Old 2nd September 2009, 01:23   #12
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Day 03: Saturday, Aug 15 : MANALI – ROHTANG LA – KHOKSAR - KEYLONG

Having lost a day (we should have been at Keylong yesterday), the revised plan was to make an early start from Manali & reach Jispa. Early start at 10 AM it was!!

The mother of all trips: Exploration Ladakh, destination Leh-img_0252.jpg
Pic 03 | View from our cottage on the outskirts of Manali

Since Jispa is 142Kms from Manali we thought we were reasonably well placed until the first sign of rains, mud, slush, choked traffic & bad visibility gradually started showing up their ugly faces. They all got worse after Marhi with another 12kms to go before Rohtang La. To add to our woes, the Vista went out of the sight and would not turn up even after waiting anxiously for half an hour. That’s when we decided to go back to locate them. Sure, we found them driving up after they have had a hearty break despite the frantic need to keep moving on! C’mon! This is when Yash (in Innova) switched to using BSNL SIM card & Ankush (in Vista) picked up his other phone with MTNL SIM card. Other networks would not work. Oh, by the way, much to our chagrin Yash found out that the second BSNL post-paid SIM card does not work!

The mother of all trips: Exploration Ladakh, destination Leh-img_0261.jpg
Pic 04 | The misty / cloudy morning at Manali

The mother of all trips: Exploration Ladakh, destination Leh-picture-056.jpg
Pic 05 | En route to Rohtang La through extremely adverse driving conditions (though road on the pic looks brilliant!)

The mother of all trips: Exploration Ladakh, destination Leh-dsc05039.jpg
Pic 06 | Mountains or clouds - that's all there on this earth!

The frustrating bumper-to-bumber traffic had us driving at a snail’s pace. A lot of returning car drivers rolled down their windows to advise us to return to Manali as Rohtang La was all rainy & cloudy without a trace of snow. I told a couple of such bonhomie advisers that we are bound for Ladakh consequently Rohtang La for us is just a milestone, not a tourist's spot Besides, most of the gang had been to Rohtang La before.

Anyway, in the middle of all these mess we finally made it to Rohtang La & spent no time in quickly driving ahead & away from the tourists' swarm, to the other side of the mountain. Immediately, we were greeted with clear visibility and streaks of faint sunlight, a lot of space to breathe the chilly & moist but nevertheless, fresh air. It was 4 PM then. It took us 6 hours to cover the 52 kms from Manali to Rohtang La. But we were relieved that we finally managed to leave Rohtang La behind (my friend who was with his wife on delayed honeymoon a few days before could only go as far as Marhi from Manali as the road was closed due to monsoon landslides). We started to regain our energy & spirits back. Therefore, time for a break - for some roasted & salted sweetcorns, & of course a few pictures, albeit under a dimmed sun!

The mother of all trips: Exploration Ladakh, destination Leh-dsc05042.jpg
Pic 07 | The other side of the mountain immediately after Rohtang La

Because of the adverse sunlight conditions the evening seemed to descend much earlier than I expected. Fortunately, the road started to get better (though a little narrower) as we descended to Khoksar (or was it Sissu?). We found a cosy roadside restaurant on the valley & ordered hot steaming rice, with dal & rajma; paranthas with butter & omelletes; & teas. We devoured anything that was served regardless of who ordered what! Guess we were a li'l hungry. Although we had initially thought of having a quick tea & continue driving till Jispa where we would have a full-fledged dinner, the lesson learned from yesterday's episode of tyre unavailablity had us eat to our stomach's content & taste buds' delight than having to wait until we reach Jispa. The long stopover for lunch-cum-dinner was based on the experience of not finding Innova tyres whilst Amit Mangal did insist to check ALL tyre shops en-route regardless of whether the shop appeared like an authorised dealer. We did not stop assuming we will get them from an authorised dealer at Manali anyway.

On a side note, at this restaurant is first time I used the greeting: Julley! Soon others got into using this greeting.

The mother of all trips: Exploration Ladakh, destination Leh-dsc05055.jpg
Pic 08 | Would remind Simon & Grafunkel of "A hazy shade of winter"

The mother of all trips: Exploration Ladakh, destination Leh-p1010564.jpg
Pic 09 | Stopover for lunch-cum-dinner at Khoksar (or Sissu?). See how low the clouds are

At 7:30 PM we started again & soon it struck us that we should have been early for refuelling at Tandi. As luck would have it the petrol pump there was closed. Upon enquiring we were told it is open between 7 AM to 7 PM. Call for us to review & modify our plan, yet again! We decided to halt for the night at Keylong instead of Jispa so that we do not retrace a long road in order to refuel next morning (Keylong is closer to Tandi – 8 kms).

The mother of all trips: Exploration Ladakh, destination Leh-dsc05076.jpg
Pic 10 | Stream dancing down restlessly as we try to make as much ground before the light fades further. "What is life if, full of care, we have no time to stand and stare …"

The mother of all trips: Exploration Ladakh, destination Leh-img_0359.jpg
Pic 11 | Twilight on the distant horizon soothes our frayed nerves & transports us to a peaceful & timeless world

The mother of all trips: Exploration Ladakh, destination Leh-img_0376.jpg
Pic 12 | Through the car's windscreen. The rains have gone away but the droplets remain like "A tear drop on the cheek of time; Beautiful, pristine & sublime"

At about 9 PM we reached Keylong & asked for the HPTDC's hotel. Me in the Vista (I started driving the Vista from Rohtang La) found the easier entrance to HPTDC’s Hotel Chandra Bhaga (Chandra & Bhaga are two rivers that meet at Tandi) whilst the Innova went around the bus station & crossed a pool of water running across what seemed like no roads exist! We were fortunate to find a family suite in the hotel, the last of the rooms available. By then, I was feeling unwell, maybe the first signs of AMS despite swallowing a Diamox pill in the morning at Manali & one yesterday morning. We moved in to our hotel room & laid our bones to rest a bit. Others made merry sipping the warmth of Old Monk whilst Ankush & I preferred warm milk (a personal precedent for me - that too when I had my preferred choice served generously!). However, milk just by itself tasted unappealing - so I mixed a little of what others were drinking & felt better! Sleeping bags & mats came handy as Yash, Manu Phaaji & me slept on the floor, after deciding who are the guys who gotta get up early in the morning & get the cars refuelled. Fortunately, due to my deteriorating health I was not chosen to be one of them.

Or was I?

Last edited by abk : 2nd September 2009 at 01:29.
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Old 2nd September 2009, 01:27   #13
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Very nice! Waiting for more.

Last edited by WanderNomad : 2nd September 2009 at 01:28.
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Old 2nd September 2009, 02:19   #14
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amazing pics buddy eagerly waiting for more
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Old 2nd September 2009, 08:45   #15
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A very well written Travelogue indeed. The pics look awesome. Cant wait for your next post....Eagerly waiting...
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