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Old 11th May 2020, 23:40   #1
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Default Ladakh and its Frozen Lake

THE PLAN

"So which treks are you planning this year?", I asked ze wife. Us IT folk need to plan leaves in advance ain't it? Some managers tend to apply the FCFS rule when it comes to approving leaves.

"Chadar and Chanderkhani", she says, while simultaneously glancing at me to check if I've heard of either of them. Fun fact - I love riding. But trekking? Nope. Not one bit. How many Himalayan treks have I done - 11. Why? I dated/married the wrong kind, that's why.

Anyway, a friend also decided to join. And then there were three!

We had everything we needed for -10 C. But what do you do when it gets colder? Layers of course. Learn to accept a rounder version of yourself in the cold.

This is in late January of 2017. The trek itself was eventful, but the prelude to it - well, let me get right to it then.

First - we must go through the pain of living down south - flight to Delhi

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Second - we must adjust to the Delhi winter, coming from the ever pleasant Bengaluru (yes we all complain that it's getting hotter every year too).

Third - sight seeing - Red Fort and Paranthe wali gali.

Revised second - Jet Airways "misplaces" the friend's bags.

Revised third - we struggle to understand how he can do a "Frozen" lake trek with naught but a t-shirt and pants. We decide that worst case, we will buy everything from Leh. Meanwhile, Jet staff try their "best" to help us. Nope, couldn't find it, nor confirm where the damn hell it was. Lodged a complaint with them and decided to carry on to Leh. Gotta love the dude's attitude (the friend that is).

Fourth - cheap as we are, sleep at the airport in all odd positions possible, have an expensive cuppa, muffin and all that.

Fifth - Next morning flight to Leh. And the best part - room temperature on the plane. Some things are best left unsaid and just experienced first hand.

Looking out the window of the plane, heading towards Leh, you couldn't but wonder if this was it! Do you need to see anything more in life? The answer is obvious but that's how overwhelming the experience was for me personally.

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As we near landing, el capitan gives us the good news - "The weather outside is a pleasant -11 C. Have a nice stay..."

The friend (let's call him Mr.C) is in a single layer. From Kushok Bakula Rimpochee Airport to our hotel in Leh, it's a good 20 minutes by car. Mr.C isn't intimidated by the prospect.

Now, if you ever believe in god almighty and/or a higher power, this was the time to be rewarded. Quelle surprise, the rotating baggage belt had Mr.C's rucksack! Believe you me, we both shouted so loud and gave each other big bear hugs as though we'd made it. We felt like kings in that moment.

So with that good news, we took a cab to our hotel, settled in to the concept of "no bath" for the next 14 days. Yep, water is mostly made available through melting of snow and you can imagine how warm and pleasant it would be!

The beauty of Leh market was taken in, Wazwan Planet and another up and coming restaurant (I forget its name) was tested by the taste buds. Most shops remain closed during the winters. Therefore, Wazwan Planet was made the food haven (and heaven for lack of other options) before and after the trek.

Last edited by shyamg28 : 13th May 2020 at 09:45.
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Old 11th May 2020, 23:46   #2
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Default Ladakh and its Frozen Lake

THE CARDINAL SIN

Being first timers, we were excited to see the "3 Idiots School" (Druk Padma Karpo School), visit the numerous monasteries and last but not least, experience the breathtaking Pangong Lake. We decided to do this the very next day of our arrival in Leh. Some of you are going "Amateurs!" right about now.

We booked a vehicle to take us places. INR 7k was paid for the vehicle, to take us to (and through) Shey, Thiksey and Hemis monasteries, Chang La, Tangtse and finally, the <insert-adjective-here> Pangong Tso. Oh and back to Leh. All this in one day.

Chang La left and Manali right.
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Road to nowhere.
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Mr.C began the day with a mild headache, such as is common across tourists in Leh (or any high altitude locations). But who are we to deny Pangong from seeing us? We proceeded as planned. Through the journey, it was becoming apparent that this wasn't going to be a "fun drive". And did I mention, our humble carriage, Maruti Suzuki Eeco! Four wheels, 13" each, through the snowy patches and winding narrow roads. Adventure for us, normal for the driver. At Chang La, my wife (then girlfriend) got out of the car and ran around taking photos. I got out of the vehicle for exactly 30 seconds (yes, I counted) and returned to the cozy van immediately. It was as though someone had placed a straw down my windpipe and was sucking the already sparse oxygen that was available.

MS Eeco!
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Chang La.
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I could sense that this trip wasn't going to end well for me. Pangong was breathtaking (quite literally)! We took a few pictures, noticed the frozen bit as far as 40meters into the lake, walked around a bit and returned hastily.

Altogether, I wish now that this hadn't been my first experience of Pangong lake. I wanted to be blown away by the lake. But the conditions had gotten to me and Mr.C in a bad way. Mr.C stepped down once and that too for a single photo.

On way.
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Many will know this bridge.
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First view of the lake, albeit, a different one from the more popular versions.
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Pangong Tso.
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Notice the frozen bit.
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Stone stacking.
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While we retreated, it was dark. I puked. Then I puked some more and then I was fine. Yay! Mr.C however, was down and out. The next morning, we all felt fine, Mr.C a little less than us both but nothing too serious we thought.

Before starting the trek, a doctor's certificate is mandatory. We had decided to get ourselves tested in Leh as we thought that would be an accurate measure of our fitness at the time of starting the trek, as opposed to our fitness in the comforts of home. This is where things really spiraled downhill. Doc tested my wife first - oxymeter read 90%, my wife's face read, "I'm sure I have you both beat!"
Doc tested me second - 88%. Not bad I thought.
Mr.C was next. Oxymeter was put onto every finger on his hand and then doc gave us a mean look - 40%! We were all quite shocked for Mr.C didn't appear that bad at all. He marked my wife and I fit for the trek, and then asked us to take Mr.C to the hospital immediately.

We hailed a cab, headed towards SNM Hospital. Upon entering the hospital, we felt warm all of a sudden. That's because it was set to room temperature. Within seconds we had gone from -10 C to +20 C. All of us in 4 layers (thermals, t-shirt, fleece and jacket). Mr.C was taken right in to the ward while my wife and I were left with the formalities. Doc schooled us for our adventurous Pangong trip without properly acclimatizing. He explained to us how badly AMS had set in. Poor chap Mr.C, could've had pulmonary edema (fluid filling up in lungs). In any case, the doc scared (and scarred) us right to the bones that day!

SNM is a government run hospital. The most pleasant surprise on that trip - INR 5 paid for admission and INR 30 paid for the injection. A princely sum of INR 35! Truly shocking.

Mr.C was well taken care of that night. In fact, after about an hour, he began to hallucinate that he was fit enough to still do the trek. Which was to start the very next day! Our trek leader gently brushed aside these requests. Next to Mr.C, sat an elderly gentleman, who was recently admitted. This fella had started the trek, but midway, his oxygen level had gone really low, he had a fever and could barely walk. The helpers had to tie him to a stretcher and slide him back to base camp to get him back quickly. In fact, the gentleman had booked his stay in an expensive 5 star, as a reward to himself for completing the trek, so that he could have a warm bath upon completion, and soak in the merry of civilization post the trek. Evidently, things don't always go as planned. He was instead spending his time in the glorious hospitality of other patients and patient nurses.

Hearing all this, I convinced myself that at 26, I had already lived a full life and was mentally prepared to accept any consequences

The wife and I were asked by the trek leader to head back, since we were to start early the next day, while he himself stayed back with Mr.C. Visually, he seemed completely fine and we couldn't but feel bad for him. He was to continue staying at the hotel until the end of the trip.

Now that was the prelude. The trek itself was quite uneventful, for the most part

Last edited by shyamg28 : 12th May 2020 at 18:44.
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Old 12th May 2020, 12:15   #3
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Default Ladakh and its Frozen Lake

THE FROZEN LAKE TREK

Our trek leader, whom we knew well from previous treks, had a very famous saying: "Mumbai ka fashion aur pahaadon ka mausam badalte rehta hai!"

So apt. If you frequent the Himalayan belt, there's one thing you would already be prepared for - acceptance of the unpredictable.

Our trek guide, Tenzing, was all of 14 years old.
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A tempo was filled up with our bags, ourselves as well as the helping staff. And so we headed towards the base camp, from which point, we were to begin walking on ice, towards Camp 1, Tsomo Paldar. Lo and behold, there had been a landslide and our 70kms journey on the tempo was cut short. We had to pick our rucksacks and walk the rest of the way towards base camp. At this point it had started snowing intensely. We put on our ponchos, looking very much like jaadu from Koi Mil Gaya. This turned out to be a fine walk alongside the Zanskar river, for almost 5 hours. Due to loss of time and daylight, Tenzing decided that it would be best for us to halt at base camp that night. All I recall that evening is, sitting in a tent full of people, getting up to go to sleep, and noticing that my poncho had frozen ice on each of the corners.

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Now the tent arrangement - the helpers were kind enough to pitch 2 man tents, with 4 sleeping bags inside each. Simple math - 4/2=2.
These are the same sleeping bags provided to the army apparently, that they use in conditions as harsh as Siachen. Without doubt, us mere mortals needed to stuff ourselves into 2 of them, to survive the night.

On most of my other treks, we need to pitch tents ourselves, head towards the dining tent for food/tea and pack up our tents ourselves. Now this isn't such a tough job by itself. Now imagine wearing thick snow gloves with warm liners within and you in 3 more layers than you'd normally be comfortable in. Oh and did I mention, -20 C

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The staff was most kind on this trek though. They had our tents ready before our arrival, food preparation would already be under way, and a warm cuppa handed to us as soon as we reached. Atithi devo bhava!

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The common understanding for me was, if it snows, it's going to get colder. Here it was opposite. Snow on the chadar, meant that the wind would not be able to hit the surface thereby, making it hard ice. And so it snowed and snowed. We soon hit a patch, where the ice had melted making way for water gushing at high speed. In order to get past it, we had to climb the banks, on slippery snow (you know the one that's ice like), all while wearing gum boots and carrying our rucksacks. If I thought this was tough, what about the staff, who normally slide the heavy luggage across the ice - I kid you not, they lifted what felt like 30-40 kgs, tied it to their backs and climbed it as though saying, "Yeh toh kuch nai hai." I consider myself fit. But in those moments, I realized that on a relative scale, I was about .1% of those guys.

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That's two generations right there - Left is the nephew and right most is the uncle.
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The ice had melted quite a bit leaving behind just a narrow patch to pass through.
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And so we reached our next camp, Tsomo Paldar, not really huffing and puffing, but tired nonetheless. We went about the camp taking some photos and called it a night. The next morning we're woken up by one of the staff, who hands us our tea inside our tents. Ah, what a wonderful world!

We began our journey towards our next camp, Tibb Cave. This spot quite literally, has caves, inside which you can take shelter, and it's actually possible to sleep within just a sleeping bag, without the protection of tents. But it was not to be

As we were nearing Tibb, things unfolded: My wife and I were walking together, when suddenly we noticed that the ice was cracking under our feet and water had started to flow, ever so slowly. I hate getting my feet wet, and so left her all alone and retreated. Within a few seconds, the water gushed with more speed and I could see from far that it had reached almost knee level. I was in a safe spot along the bank and took not even a single step to help my wife up where I was perched I still get an earful about it till now and my character has been stained ever since.

Almost near Tibb, but caves here nonetheless.
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As you'd have already figured by now, the final destination, Nerak (the frozen waterfall), was now completely out of the picture. I was quite ok with it but my wife, not so much. She insisted on proceeding through the waist level water. No doubt, it has been done by many, but it all depends on how capable your guide is as well. Now, ours being 14 years old (read young), had decided that the safest option was to stay back where we were and ensure that we could reach back safely. Make no mistake - he was experienced enough to do all this by himself, but leading a pack through all that...nope, not happening. By now, there was a disappointment seeping through, at what could have been. We saw another group that was ahead of us, making their way back towards us and their guide came towards us. Seeing our sad faces, he explained that it was just not possible and that we should not risk our lives. There's always a next time he said (we were to come back to Leh the next 2 years as well, but for different treks).

The next day, we had decided to head back half way to a new camp location. As we were getting closer, my fingers had started paining due to the cold wind. If you play leather ball cricket, you would know how the fingers get swollen when you repeatedly catch that hard ball. I wish my hands were just swollen. They had lost all color and each finger looked as big as 2 together. The gas stove was switched on to make pakoda (chef = god). I removed my gloves and immediately shoved my fingers into the flame. As they heated up, I could feel more and more and the pain was only increasing, but I knew it would eventually decrease. To this day, I can recall the size of my fingers and that feeling of pain.

Pakoda.
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Central heating.
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The last day - we had decided to head back all the way to base camp, climb up towards the road, walk on the landslide area, catch our tempo and head back to our hotel in Leh. As we reached base camp, there's a shallow area where the Zanskar flows ever so softly, almost welcoming you into it. Tenzing asked us if we were interested in taking a dip. A lot of people do it on the return journey. My wife jumped at the offer. I stayed well away from it all, not letting any part of my emotions or ego, affect my decision making, which was solid at that point I think. The staff pitched up a temporary tent to change clothes. My wife went in first followed by a couple others. All she did was, step in, take 3 head-down dips into the water and came out shaking, unable to utter a single word! Crazy or what? I did my bit of getting fresh - washed my hair and face with cold water. Funnily enough, when you begin the trek, -20 to -30 C can feel like a nightmare, but this human body is quite a wonder. On the way back, the sun was out in all its glory, which certainly helped, and were able to knock-off 2 layers.

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Snow bubbles.
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Notice the texture of the cracking ice.
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Hair wash, face wash and maggi. Life is good!
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Poor man's snowman.
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These two weren't feeling cold enough.
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Our saviors on ice.
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A river flows here? Are you serious?
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Old 12th May 2020, 14:27   #4
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Default Ladakh and its Frozen Lake

THE WEATHER AND AIR INDIA FIASCO

We reached our hotel, hugged our friend Mr.C, who had by now made friends with quite a few mates at the hotel. He was completely fine by then and had been exploring Leh. When we returned, he took us shopping, found a new joint called "Neha Snacks" which we would frequent over the next 2-3 days. That thick coffee, chole bhature and aloo parantha at -10 C! Unforgettable!

From le Google.
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Meanwhile, there came news that flights were cancelled/re-scheduled due to the weather. Leh was covered in snow and visibility being key in take off and landing, a lot of flights were unable to fulfill the bookings. A lot of people were therefore stuck in Leh, worse still, a lot were stuck at the airport for a few nights. Apparently, Air India's offices were most badly dealt with by angry passengers. Can't fault either party but that is how it is in such places.

Our flight to Delhi was booked via Jet Airways. The situation now maybe different, but Jet was ever reliable back then. They were doing extra flights for passengers at that time to ensure everyone can get back home safely. Much needed luck coming our way on this trip! We reached Delhi and this time, ensured that our luggage would be directly delivered in Bengaluru.

After we reached Bengaluru, another surprise awaited us. Mr.C and my rucksacks were picked up from the belt, all safe and sound. My wife's however, was nowhere to be found. We raised a complaint at the Jet Airways help desk, who were able to identify that it had indeed been left behind due to load (or some such reason, I can't remember now). They promised to deliver it directly to her house within the next 2 days, and they did keep their word.

CONCLUSION

A journey to Leh will make you grow. Grow out of your comfort zone, physically and mentally. Grow out of your notions of pre-planning, scheduling etc. We have now been there 3 times in 3 years and each time things have gone awry at the drop of a hat. Heck, the last time we were there, network was removed for a day and the next day came the announcement of Ladakh becoming a UT!

If you have watched Marvel's Agents of Shield, you'd remember Phil (son of Coul) repeatedly saying about Tahiti, "It's a magical place!"

From le Google.
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I feel the same way about Ladakh. It's a landscape that just has to be experienced.

With that, I leave you with something a restaurant owner said to us on our last night there -

"HUM HAIN RAAHI PAHAAD KE, PHIR MILENGE CHADTE CHADTE!"

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Old 12th May 2020, 14:33   #5
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ACCLIMATIZATION

There's a lot of us that visit Leh, Ladakh, that might say, "nothing will happen". But my friends, AMS is very real!

If you plan to visit, this is a must read guide, recommended by the government themselves: https://www.lehladakhindia.com/acclimatization/

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Old 14th May 2020, 06:00   #6
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Thread moved out from the Assembly Line. Thanks for sharing!
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Old 14th May 2020, 12:36   #7
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Very nice, brought back many memories. We visited Leh in 2014, canít remember the exact time. But we had gorgeous weather with a very pleasant temperature.

Our Leh trip is still one of our most memorable trips of the many places we visited in India. What amazed us how different the Himalaya mountains are from the Rocky Mountains or the Alpes. Stunning landscapes!

Thanks for sharing this Leh winter experience. I recognise many places, but it is amazing to see what a different season does to the landscape.

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Old 14th May 2020, 15:10   #8
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But we had gorgeous weather with a very pleasant temperature.

Our Leh trip is still one of our most memorable trips of the many places we visited in India. What amazed us how different the Himalaya mountains are from the Rocky Mountains or the Alpes. Stunning landscapes!

I recognise many places, but it is amazing to see what a different season does to the landscape.
Thank you!

I've been there twice in summer and once in the winter. The difference is crazy!

In the summers that I had been, it was mostly pleasant, though it can get quite hot. Dry heat is also a killer.

I hope to be able to experience the Alps in my lifetime I've done treks in Uttarakhand and Himachal as well. In Uttarakhand itself, at the summit of Kedarkanta trek, the 360 view is very colorful, with each range having its own hue.

But Ladakh is just unique though!
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Old 14th May 2020, 21:27   #9
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Awesome log and nice photos man. Can you post some details on expenditure - hotel and food?

Also, I feel you haven't covered all your days there. We would love to know about all your days spent and what else you saw.
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Old 14th May 2020, 22:26   #10
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Awesome log and nice photos man. Can you post some details on expenditure - hotel and food?
Also, I feel you haven't covered all your days there. We would love to know about all your days spent and what else you saw.
Thank you!

Expenditure on hotel is included in Chadar trek fees (which was around 19k all inclusive I think) for 1 day before and 1 day after the trek.
Post that, it was 500 per person for a 3-person room. That still holds.

Food wasn't too expensive as per my memory. An aloo parantha (if that interests you), might've costed slightly more than what it would in Delhi.

Flight tickets to Leh are cheaper in winter than in the summer. Roughly INR 10-12k round trip per person in winter. This goes up to 17-20k in summer.

Actually we did not do anything else from what I already mentioned The first day was spent just trying to understand how to survive the remaining days. The second day was our grand mistake of travelling to Pangong Tso. Once we returned from the trek, we spent just one day going to some more monasteries around Leh. I guess the cab cost INR 1500 for that.

The fare there is standard. Every year the union fixes the rates: https://www.ladakhtaxiunion.com/rate%20list.html

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Old 15th May 2020, 07:54   #11
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Brilliant trek and one of the most beautiful ones in the country. The sight of fresh water and ice is nothing less spectacular (and that too in times like these where we can only read about it!)
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Old 16th May 2020, 10:41   #12
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I was in a safe spot along the bank and took not even a single step to help my wife up where I was perched I still get an earful about it till now and my character has been stained ever since.


Nice writing style! Had a wonderful time reading the whole thing - and I'm not usually a travelogues person. Quite an experience indeed! Makes me want to try a shorter version of it first (and with a longer, more relaxed itinerary), but first - I have to realize my dream of riding to all these places first.

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Old 16th May 2020, 13:18   #13
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Nice writing style! Had a wonderful time reading the whole thing - and I'm not usually a travelogues person. Quite an experience indeed! Makes me want to try a shorter version of it first (and with a longer, more relaxed itinerary), but first - I have to realize my dream of riding to all these places first.
Kind words!

There are plenty of treks in Karnataka ranging from easy to challenging.
You can always try one of them and see if you like it.
I still don't But it contributes to my choiceless happiness.

Riding for me too, remains top of the list!

I want to be sipping coffee at Nubra or Pangong, turn back, and see my bike's number plates, not "JK"!
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Old 16th May 2020, 16:19   #14
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Default Re: Ladakh and its Frozen Lake

Beautiful write up, it carries a reader along with the travel. Those little sweet memories with life partner will be ever green and you will narrate them to your grand children. Thanks for the details and big thanks to your partner who made this amazing experience come true.

PS: It could be more apt if the title mentioned Chadar trek since it would pop up in searches.

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Old 16th May 2020, 17:09   #15
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Default Re: Ladakh and its Frozen Lake

Quote:
Originally Posted by Thermodynamics View Post
Beautiful write up, it carries a reader along with the travel. Those little sweet memories with life partner will be ever green and you will narrate them to your grand children. Thanks for the details and big thanks to your partner who made this amazing experience come true.

PS: It could be more apt if the title mentioned Chadar trek since it would pop up in searches.
Thank you!

I'm ready to thank her after treks. Never before, definitely not during

I have no qualms in the title being changed (guessing the Mods will do that?)
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