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Old 6th July 2020, 18:22   #1
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Default Ladakh in 24 Mega-Pixels

Ladakh in 24 Mega-Pixels-dsc_9496.jpg
The itch to revisit the Himalayas was growing every day and I was eyeing a trip to Spiti this time, more to complete my so called “portfolio” of the Himalayas, specially after my rather adventurous trip to Ladakh back in 2015. (Ladakh: Better Leh'd than never. EDIT: Part 2 on page 3)

If you have read my TL’s before, you would know by now that I concentrate more on the photography aspect rather than the trip/journey itself. This TL is no different. And it was indeed a trip to the High Himalayas again, but sadly it was not a trip to Spiti as I had hoped. It was however a repeat trip to Ladakh, covering all the usual places one would visit during their trip, with an added hint of culture and heritage to enhance the overall experience.

So, I don’t blame you if you’re bored of reading through Ladakh TLs by now (I’m sure there are atleast 500-1000 of them on T-BHP alone!)!
However, do spare a few minutes for this one while I try to tell you a story with pictures - a LOT of pictures!.
Fair warning - this is going to be a LONG Photologue. So, get that hot cup of coffee / tea and some thing to munch on before you get started!

How it all started:
You see, my classmate/buddy from Engineering runs his own Adventure company called ‘Adventure Sindbad’, and he does trips to Ladakh, Spiti, NE India, etc. He’s a true ‘adventurist’ and has been smitten by the mighty Himalaya and can be found somewhere near the mountains for almost 7-8 months of the year, only choosing to return to the traffic clogged roads of Bangalore in the off-season. So, long story short, he takes a look at the pictures from my first trip to Ladakh and is impressed. He wants me to join him on his next trip, and click some pics for him, so that he can use them to show his (potential) clients what they can expect on one of the trips organized by him/his company.

Soon, all things fell into place and since I had already visited Ladakh earlier, the family’s approval became easier this time. Having an experienced buddy also helped things! Days rolled by quickly and before I knew, I was packing my bags and heading back to the Himalayas!

Disclaimer Time: Since I am a hobby photographer, I enjoy photography as a passion and not a profession. I do not charge any fees for my pictures. All these pictures you are going to see have been shot by me and some of them have been used by my buddy to promote his adventures. You may also notice that some of the pictures have a watermark with his company’s logo/name. I am not promoting anyone or any organization here in my TL. This is for the viewing pleasure of fellow Team-BHPians and like-minded & passionate photography enthusiasts!

So, without further ado, lets get started! I now present to you, Ladakh in 24 Mega Pixels!

Last edited by vsathyap : 7th July 2020 at 11:56.
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Old 6th July 2020, 18:38   #2
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The plan:

Day 1: BLR Delhi - Delhi Board overnight bus to Manali
Day 2: Arrive Manali – Brunch + Local sightseeing and late lunch/very early dinner. EOD.
Day 3: Manali to Keylong; Keylong Camp
Day 4: Keylong Camp to Leh
Day 5: Thiksey, Shey Palace - Leh Local Sightseeing
Day 6: Leh to Diskit - Evening at the Desert
Day 7: Diskit to Leh; Hall of Fame
Day 8: Leh to Likir; Trek Day 1 to Yangthang
Day 9: Trek Day 2 to Hemisshukpachen
Day 10: Trek Day 3 to Lamayuru , Back to Leh
Day 11: Rest Day
Day 12: Leh to Tso Moriri
Day 13: Tso Moriri to Leh
Day 14: Leh to BLR

Days 1 & 2: Bangalore to Manali:
So after blowing off a mini fortune at Decathlon (I need to stop impulse buying here!), I packed my bags and headed out to the airport to catch my flight to Delhi. After being flagged for a (now usual) “bag check” at security check (thanks mainly to my camera equipment and the gazillion batteries and power-banks) I was on the flight to Delhi. On landing, I called my buddy (who also happens to be my namesake!) and enquired about the address where I should point the Uber app to. After a 1-hour Uber drive with an every so chatty driver, I arrived at a guest house where lunch was waiting. I was introduced to the rest of the gang who would accompany us for the next 2 weeks and I was pleasantly surprised to see that all of them, barring one couple, were over 50 years young! YES – we had a group of about 10 people, most of them being senior citizens – and they would be joining us to Ladakh for a 10-day trip, which also included a 3 day trek! Suddenly and quite embarrassingly, I felt a little “old” seeing their enthusiasm!

It was evening when we left our Guest house in Delhi and proceeded towards Mandi House - the place where we would board our bus to Manali. Quite obviously, yours sincerely, being the chosen photographer for the trip, had packed more camera gear than clothes and was finding it hard to balance the heavy gear on those tired shoulders. Once our luggage was loaded, we soon made our way out of Delhi and onto the highways, where my jaw dropped, seeing the elaborately designed “haveli” styled dhabas dotting the landscape every couple of KM!

My amazement was cut short when we had to stop on the left of the highway sometime around 8pm, when we discovered that our bus had broken down. After spending what seemed like a confusing couple of hours on the side of the highway just staring at the other vehicles buzzing past us, we finally got hold of another bus that would take us to Manali. My resourceful buddy had managed to get our group and some others on the first available bus headed to Manali and had craftfully negotiated with the other passengers to take the next available one. He has a gift with people - I tell you!

"Check Brake System for Diagnostics at Next Stop" the MID on the Volvo bus said.
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Soon, we were back on the highway on the second bus and stopped for a late dinner at some local Dhaba. Thankfully, we saw the other backup bus carrying the rest of our original bus folks parking next to our bus in 10-15 minutes of our arrival. Post dinner we got back into the bus and slept peacefully, till we were woken up at around 6am for a “Chai” and loo break.

The weather was misty and it was raining ever so lightly – that the rain drops looked something like a fine spray of water. If our “business” at a dark, wet and smelly toilet was not enough to wake us up, we were treated to an overly sweetened tea which woke the bejesus out of us and soon, we were heading down the hills, accompanied by a gushing river right next to us.

We wake up for Hot chai!
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The scenery next to the Chai-Point
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On arriving at Manali and taking stock of all our luggage, we were whisked away to our hotels where we freshened up and came down to the dining area for a very relaxing breakfast. It was so relaxing that you could call it brunch! I was pleasantly surprised to see bountiful apple trees exploding with fruit surrounding the dining area. Although the apples still had a few months until harvest, they looked amazing nonetheless! I guess this was the first time I was seeing apples on trees!

Post brunch, we started off with local sightseeing in Manali, covering the Hidimba Temple & local markets. Since no one was really hungry, we decided to visit the Roerich Art Gallery where I was acquainted with my rather meagre fitness levels, thanks to a predominantly urban lifestyle. The climb to the gallery involved a steep hill ascent over a few hundred steps and me, with my loaded camera gear found it annoyingly slow and difficult to climb to the top. We ended the day with an early dinner at the Fat Plate, where we met the ever-energetic owner (I forgot her name – my bad!) and had a wonderful time, munching on freshly picked strawberries and blackberries while we waited for our food to be ready!

We visit the Hidimba Temple
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Some sights near the temple and market place
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Delicious Freshly Steamed Momo's anyone?
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Some beautiful flowers at the Roerich Estate
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... and we Stopped for a late lunch at the 'Fat Plate'
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Relishing freshly picked strawberries
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Last edited by vsathyap : 7th July 2020 at 11:56.
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Old 6th July 2020, 18:58   #3
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Day 3: Manali to Keylong Campsite
After a quick breakfast and an early start, we bid goodbye to Manali and headed for the higher mountains. After a customary photo stop at Rohtang Pass, and after experiencing a traffic jam uphill, we soon made our way to the rain shadow region of Lahaul where the landscapes started looking dramatically different compared to the other side. We soon stopped for lunch enroute and passed the iconic “last petrol station” board at Tandi. We made good progress and by early evening, we were at the camp site at Keylong, right next to a gushing river!

So - the journey begins with some stunning landscapes just as we get out of Manali
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Clouds hug the verdant mountain tops as we make our way up to Rohtang La
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More Majestic Views Follow
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A slither of a waterfall can be seen in the distance
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Tiny vehicles look like toys!
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God's own toys?!
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Stunning Landscapes continue to enthrall us ...
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... while the climb continues!
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Alien like rocks make things look eerie in the fog
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And we reach the top!
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We enter Lahaul...
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...and the paved roads all but disappear!
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Locals cheerfully pose for my camera while we stopped over for lunch
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Common sights along this stretch
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Magical Landscapes stun us all!
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We suddenly feel so tiny and irrelevant in the grand scheme of things!
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One for the phone's wallpaper perhaps?
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And a couple more for Laptops
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Wallpaper: Yay or Nay?!
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Luxury in the middle of nowhere!
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The Customary Bathroom pic!
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After dumping my luggage in the ultra-comfortable tents, I quickly headed out to the open area and tried my hand at a few timelapse videos before the golden hour ran out. Soon, the other guests joined and we all had a good time discussing about everything under the sun. On sundown, we retreated to our tents, only to be called again for dinner. Tomorrow would be a L-O-N-G day and we had to leave early to make it on time to Leh. The group dispersed after a good dinner and it was time to hit the sack!

The scenery at our Campsite
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This reminds me of that Yosemite Wallpaper on iDevices
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Clear streams running over rounded, almost polished rocks
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Pictures are everywhere - even below our feet!
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Somewhere near our campsite
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The 'Sia' roses (and hence the name Sia-chen)
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Wild Grass!
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Calling it a day and heading back to Camp!
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Daylight fades with this parting shot...
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Old 6th July 2020, 19:25   #4
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Day 4: Keylong Campsite to Leh - Part 1

This was going to be a L-O-N-G day for all of us. We got up and got ready on time and left Keylong early. Soon, we made it past Jispa and before I could get my camera ready, we passed Deepak Tal.

Glimpse of the Campsite before we started our long journey
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Deepak Tal - Captured in the nick of time!
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The landscape was getting surreal and I was busy clicking pictures from within the vehicle. We arrived at Suraj Tal where stopped for a quick photoshoot and very quickly, we had to stop again at the Baralacha La Pass. I was a little underwhelmed looking at Baralacha La as it is more or less flat and did not have the dramatic curves and U turns like the other passes. Soon, we stopped for breakfast, somewhere near or before the Bharatpur Tent Colony. Piping Hot Maggi awaited us and we polished it all off as quickly as it came to our tables. Hot Tea followed and this felt absolutely heavenly, in that cold dry and windy weather.

Warming up for some jaw dropping landscapes on an otherwise cold day
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Shining between the clouds
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The scenery changes with each turn!
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And it just keeps getting better and better!
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We're so tiny!
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Follow the light!
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A road from nowhere to nowhere?!
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We finally Arrive at Suraj Tal!
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Look at the colour of that water!
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From a different Angle!
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We move on towards Baralacha La
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And we arrive at the Pass
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Doesn't look like much though; No Drama here!
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A Lone vehicle passes by
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We finally stop for breakfast!
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Our Driver Tsonam takes a break
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While we gorge on the piping hot noodles...
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More noodles to warm us up!
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My photographer friend/student (with the camera) & with my buddy from College (blue jacket)
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Tsonam relaxes and relishes those hot noodles!
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The high altitude was starting to show its presence as a couple of travelers were feeling a little uneasy. However, since we would rise and fall and pass through many more passes, we continued after taking big gulps of water to keep us hydrated. By now, some folks decided to take short power naps to conserve energy and we proceeded towards Killing Sarai and boy the road was rough! After what seemed like ages, we finally arrived at Sarchu, which is more or less a border area between the two states.

Dramatic change in the landscape
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Weird looking rock formations near the stream
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We're almost at Sarchu
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After a quick show of IDs at the check post, we continued onwards and arrived at the base of the Gata Loops. Soon, we were on the loops and I was shutter happy, trying to grab that iconic picture of the loops, as seen from above.

And we're on the Gata Loops!
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What a road!
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Sometime after passing by the iconic heap of bottles for the legendary Ghost of the Ghata Loops!
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Old 6th July 2020, 19:41   #5
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Day 4: Keylong Campsite to Leh: Part 2

After what seemed like ages, we finally crossed the loops and discovered that the weather had turned very cloudy and misty. It soon started to rain and there was a howling wind too. The bad weather made the going a little tough and we had to slow to a crawl. We continued further and soon, crossed the twin passes of Nakee La and Lachung La amidst the rain.

We bid adieu to the loops!
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The painfully slow ascent continues amidst a drizzle
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And the roads here are simply jaw dropping!
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We're finally at the twin passes!
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Climbing in the cold and rain!
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"Be Gentle on my curves"
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The second of the Twin Passes
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Soon, we arrived at the iconic eroded rock-tunnel formation before Pang. Everyone was pretty exhausted at this time and were in no mood to take pictures here. However, a couple of enthusiastic folks (the eldest couple) were gong-ho about it and went ahead to take pictures here. Ironically, the entire troupe followed and after a few skids, skirmishes and slips on the loose rocks, everyone was gleefully posing for pictures.

Bird's eye view of the rock formations
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Look at that!
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Humans - for scale!
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A short drive later, we arrived at Pang and stopped here for lunch. The wind was howling and it was bitter cold. Droplets of rain hit our faces like ice bullets, and everyone scampered into the warmth of the tents and settled down for lunch. The altitude-fatigue was evident on many faces. The rough journey was no comforting factor either but above all, we were hungry! After trying the local remedy of eating raw garlic bulbs for altitude fatigue, we all had a decent lunch. My buddy as always was pushing everyone to stay hydrated and cheerful.

Our host at Pang
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A sight for hungry stomachs!
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After lunch, we hit the Moore Plains! It was quick progress now since the rain had stopped and the roads were butter smooth. Very soon, we started the approach towards TangLang La. The uphill ascent and the increase in altitude was causing some uneasiness again but nothing untoward happened.

As Flat as it can get!
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They should rename this to Hoooray Plains - I tell you!
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Shutter happy!
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Some "moooore" pics!
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I'll stop with the puns and the pics of the Moore Plains! No...really!
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The ascent to TangLang La begins
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It was a slow and dangerous drive in the rain!
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We made it!
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Landscapes continue to amaze us!
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Another view from the top!
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And we begin the descent towards Leh
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Post TangLang La, we were heading fast towards Upshi and I was quietly happy because I knew that once we reached Upshi, Leh would be just a straight drive ahead. We stopped for tea somewhere on the way; I think it was probably Gya/Rumtse, but my memory fails me. The rain had stopped by now and it was early evening by the time we reached Upshi. The clouds were clearing and the sun’s golden rays were creating this magical scenery. Very soon, we passed the Hemis Monastery and I was lucky to capture the monastery in the beautiful evening light – all from a moving vehicle.

A sight for sore eyes!
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A Magical evening beckons us to a magical land!
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After a seemingly LONG day on the roads, we had finally made it to Leh. I was exhausted by this time as I didn’t catch a wink of sleep all the way (busy clicking pictures you see) and after a quick dinner at the hotel, I crashed into bed and called it a night!
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Old 6th July 2020, 19:55   #6
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Day 5: Local Sightseeing
Arrival at Leh means one thing – acclimatization! And so we did! This day was spent relaxing in the hotel and going around a few monasteries with no fixed time table as such. It was a leisure day and it was welcomed by all, specially after the previous day’s super long and bumpy road trip. This was the time to heal those sore bottoms!

What a place to relax and unwind!
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With this in mind, we left for the Thiksey monastery close to noon. After spending an hour here, we drove back and stopped at the Shey palace for some more pictures. I got an amazing chance to look at the Butter Lamps here and couldn’t help clicking a few pictures. The group spent some relaxing moments here and soon it was past lunch time.

Buddha at Thiksey Monastery
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From the front
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Decorative Door Handles
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At Peace!
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Detailed figurines adorn the Monastery
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One more!
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Some artefacts used by monks
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Contrasting landscapes
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An Overcast sky
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View from the top
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Quite a climb to reach here!
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Terrace Views!
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Time to get down!
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More contrasting Landscapes!
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Interesting Doors!
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A monk agrees for a picture!
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Buddha at the Shey Palace
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Shey Palace
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More Artefacts
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Butter Lamps!
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An awesome sight!
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Simply Amazing
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Parting Shot
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After a late lunch in Leh, we headed back to the hotel and decided to walk – exploring the town as we walked. We reached the hotel by tea time and decided to skip tea since we had such a late lunch. However, we did end up having tea later – there are some things we simply cant skip, can we 😉? We spent the rest of the evening at the hotel which had an amazing open space where we could simply sit on lawn chairs and relax. After the usual evening chit-chat, we headed for dinner after which we called it a day.
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Old 6th July 2020, 20:16   #7
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Day 6: To the Nubra Valley – and getting locked out! - Part 1
A bright and warm sun greeted us in the morning. There was not a single cloud in the sky and the blue-ness of the vast sky looked stunning! Today, we would venture out into the Nubra Valley, crossing the Khardung La. The morning was a standard affair – a quick and early start after a scrumptious breakfast and the entire group was raring to cross the highest pass of the trip. We made great progress, crossing the Pullu Check Post and arriving at the top without much hassle. I am not sure whether the roads have been improved (compared to my last visit) or if our driver was good – the trip didn’t have the drama and the earnest expectations that one would expect while arriving at the La! Moreover, there was very little or close to no snow this time around, but we had seen a LOT of snow during my previous visit 3 years ago. Global Warming or Tourist Explosion… you make the call!

Starting off to Khardung La
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Shanti Stupa in the distance
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What Roads!
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A Drive with a view!
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While we waited for a convoy of Army trucks to clear...
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Almost at the top - and not a drop of snow!
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On getting down at the pass, I felt like I was at a local fair back home! Kids, selfie crazy couples, tough looking rider groups, bands of boys trying to act macho-ish, groups of gals with pouting lips, boisterous uncles and aunties – everyone was there! The only thing missing was a cotton candy / Chilli Pakoda / Chana Garam-Sweet Corn stall here! The utter cacophony that I witnessed was something least expected! As usual, I got to see tea cups strewn around like no one’s business, energy bar wrappers, energy drink cans, and the random assimilation of plastic wrappers and bottles strewn around like it were a “mela” / exhibition. The sight saddened me but I guess the others in the vicinity didn’t seem to be too bothered by it.

Yours truly!
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After the customary photo shoot and after literally having to push and shove people into position, we got the pics and left the pass. The altitude made things a little uneasy for one person in the group and soon, we were descending the hills overlooking serene blue skies. We stopped for lunch somewhere close to the banks of the calmly gurgling waters of the Shyok. After a good lunch, we started again towards Disket, which would be our base station for the night. We reached our hotel in the late afternoon and all of us went back for a quick recharge and siesta.

On the downward leg - towards Nubra
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The contrast in the landscape and the popping colours are a sight to see!
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And the journey continues!
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Arid landscapes take over again
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At the junction towards Agham Shyok
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Take this route to go to Pangong
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Lunch stop somewhere on the banks of the Shyok
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The Vastness and the sheer emptiness of this landscape leaves you wide eyed!
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We're at Disket - well, almost!
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Our wonderful homestay for the night!
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What a lovely little place it was!
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It was a wonderful little place, far away from the usual hotels and was in a secluded area. We could hear water gurgling from our rooms and the bonus background music was soothing. After a refreshing siesta, we were feeling recharged. Tea was served at the wonderful sitting area in an open lawn. Thanks to the seniors in the group, home made delicacies were now slowly coming out of the ladies’ bags. To my (and everyone’s) utter delight, crispy treats like Chakkli, KodubaLes, Congress Kadlekais, Khaara puri, beNNe biscuits, etc. emerged from the secretive depths of the ladies’ handbags. (for my non-Bangalore friends, please google image search these items – its hard to describe them here!). Combine these with tea / coffee – sitting in an open lawn - in Ladakh, looking at the towering mountains against that spectacular azure sky and you know its one of those “life’s little moments” that will stay with you forever!

After the scrumptious “pet-pooja”, we all left for the deserts of Hunder. The group was very interested in the camels while I was twiddling my thumbs in eager anticipation of the golden hour in the Desert where I could go shutter happy! Soon, we arrived at the dusty and confusing parking lot and quickly made our way onto the crisp white sands of Hunder. What followed was nothing short of spectacular. We met a photo-journalist from Germany here who had come here “on the job” to take pictures of the Desert (and Ladakh in general). While I was envious of his job, I got busy clicking pictures as the light out there was mesmerizing, and the results are out there for all of you to see! You see, the last time I visited the desert, I got a very overcast sky and everything looked grey – not the best color if you wanted to make some eye-popping photos. This time however, the heavens were kind to me and blessed us with a stunning play of light and shadow.

I'll let the photos do the talking, specially since each can speak a thousand words
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A game of light...
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...or a game of shadows?
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Or was it a bit of both?
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Sands of time!
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More Camels do the circuit
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A sandy peak
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And a Sandy slope
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You have no idea how much sand was in my face, hands, pockets and my camera bag by now!
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Worry about getting sand in the gear? Nahhh.. Get that shot - gear can be repaired!
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Untouched by time!
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And the pictures continue!
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Old 6th July 2020, 20:46   #8
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Day 6: To the Nubra Valley – and getting locked out! - Part 2

I will continue with some more desert photos here - I hit the 30 pic limit in the earlier post

It is so hard to walk around these dunes without disturbing the fine grooves!
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One for the phone - wallpaper material??
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More Sun... More Sand .. No Waves of Water though!
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A Silhouette of the Maitreya Buddha Statue seen in the distance
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Sun playing hide-and-seek
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More Camels in the distance!
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Light and Shadow again!
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...and more camel riders!
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Selfies in the Desert seem to be very popular!
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While this group takes a breather
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This shot was inspired by the German Photographer who taught me how to frame and compose this one
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Once the group was done with the camels, we headed back to our hotel for dinner. Now, since the time we arrived, I had my eye on the night sky. I wanted to capture some more shots of the milky way and do some star trails. Post dinner, the night sky looked stunning. A billion stars shimmered in a cloudless, inky black sky and I was all set to capture some long exposure shots! “Perfect!”, I thought to myself! Armed with my tripod and my head-lamp, I ventured back into the lawn area which was open enough for my wide angle lens to capture the sky without having any man made (or other natural) obtrusions creeping in. Sadly though, a bright 100W LED spot-light lamp was on which was creating bad flares and ruining the shot. On enquiring with the resort staff, they told me that the lights would go off by 10 or 11pm.

A Long Exposure to capture star trails
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The Milky Way
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Bright Lights ruin the shot by lighting up the trees like its Christmas!
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Trying different compositions and framing - with a wide angle lens (duh!) didn't help either
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Lovely Sky - terrible foreground!
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I took this chance to get my jacket and I bundled up nicely in the warmth of one of my latest acquisitions from Decathlon. Time passed quickly and the lights went out as expected. I was still not happy with the angle of the milky way and the composition of the shot. So I decided to step out of the gates of the hotel. Howling dogs did scare me a bit, but the fact that I was just 50-100 feet away from the gates of the hotel was somehow reassuring. Joining me was another photographer friend in the group who was an eager student trying to learn about night sky photography. Minutes passed into hours and we got busy with our pictures. Thankfully, we got a few keepers and the late-night venture was not a complete waste.

Much better now!
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The results were great!
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Long Exposure to capture Star Trails paid off!
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The air was nippy, and it was now past midnight, or a little closer to 1am I guess. Another long exposure would mean 45-60 minutes easily and we were in no mood to stay up further. We decided to walk back to the hotel and call it a night. To our surprise, the main gate of the hotel was locked! Yes, we were locked out of the hotel at 1am in the night, with growling dogs somewhere behind us! Frantically, we tried knocking (and later banging) the metal gates, but there was no response. Our phones were useless as there was no signal. Just when we were about to try and jump over the gates like felons escaping a prison, a sleepy eyed staff member saw us and asked what we wanted. After explaining our situation, he calmly opened a smaller sub-gate on the side of the massive gate, which we had failed to spot in the darkness of the night. Sheepishly, we apologized upon realizing our gaffe and went back to our rooms to call it a night!
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Old 6th July 2020, 20:56   #9
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Day 7: Back to Leh
After the usual morning routine of an early breakfast, we headed out to the Maitreya Buddha Statue and the Diskit Monastery. Photo sessions later, we headed back to Leh, stopping only for lunch at one of the many food stops enroute. In the evening, some of use decided to visit the Hall of Fame in Leh, while the others decided to visit the market for a ‘shopping survey’. We ended the day with a quiet dinner at the hotel and hit our sacks soon.

Diskit Monastery
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Maitreya Buddha
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Maitreya Buddha
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Maitreya Buddha
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Maitreya Buddha
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A route map!
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Stairways to heaven?
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Cute little window!
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Maitreya Buddha as seen from the Monastery
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From another angle
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Customary B&W Pic
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A young monk
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Reflections of Nature
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More Reflections
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A young local happy to pose for the camera, while we wait for a JCB to clear the road for us, on the way to Khardung La
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A monk waiting for the roadblock to clear
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Assessing the situation
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Stunning Landscapes have now become a norm!
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Winding roads to the top
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We're back - towards Leh
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Same shot as before - different time of day
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More B&W pics
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A lone biker makes his way downhill
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Old 6th July 2020, 21:10   #10
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Day 8: The Trek begins!
This was the day all of us in the group were secretly hoping for. We would begin our trek somewhere after Likir and have a slow leisurely trek along the giant mountains for a total of 4 hours. Midway, we would stop for some amazing lunch and continue the trek over a high pass, and stop at a tiny hamlet called Yangthang.

As usual, the morning routine was done and dusted and we were in our vehicle, travelling on the Leh-Srinagar highway, towards the confluence of Zanskar and Indus rivers. We stopped at the confluence for a quick photo-op after which we resumed the journey towards Likir. Our vehicle would drop us off here, and meet us at the next stop. Obviously, we had to dump our luggage, etc. and carry only the most essential items for the trek to keep things light. As usual, for me, this meant that I had to choose between a good bottle of water and some munchies, or my camera. Yes, you guessed it right – I chose the latter!

The confluence!
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We reached the trek start point at around 930 am. The sun was shining bright and the high altitude meant that we needed some sunscreen. After slathering a generous amount on exposed skin, we began the trek – one step at a time. Since we were traveling with seniors, I presumed that it would be a slow walk along the mountains but I was completely shocked to find that I had to “keep up” with them – these were some well seasoned seniors! Once I got the hang of it and I settled well into my yet another Decathlon acquisition, i.e., my new trekking shoes, it was just a matter of keeping a rhythm to continue with the trek. “Tick-Tock, Left-Right, Heave-Ho” or whatever makes you go, you keep a mental note of the rhythm of your footsteps to continue on the difficult stretches and you will be fine! Since this was my first ever trek (ever!), I found the rhythm to help me settle into a nice steady pace on the trek. Uphill climbs were manageable but the downhill parts were tricky.

We start the trek by going on the right side of these Stupas
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And there were more to follow!
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Different angle
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Now, here’s something I learnt right away - I was totally underestimating the level of grip my new hiking boots came with, and my buddy helped me with this bit. To the folks unaware of having experienced trekking shoes, let me explain. I was expecting the braking power of a simple bicycle with thin tyres, but I was wearing shoes that held near steady and didn’t budge even a millimeter, at 80 degree slopes! They had a lovely bite - more like carbon ceramic brakes, if you may! My buddy told me that the lousy sport/canvas/formal leather shoes we wear in our “urban” circles had made me double guess the gripping power of these hikers and that I should be more relaxed while I had them on, and not doubt them, specially on down-slopes with loose gravel! With this new confidence, I was able to manage a good pace with steady footholds even on uneven surfaces and this newly acquired knowledge and assurance helped me tremendously.

The trek continues over flat lands
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Over Rocky Descents
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As usual, I ended up in the tail - while taking photos
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We were at the hydration break mark for the trek and we made good use of it. After polishing off home made granola and energy bars (thanks to our ever resourceful ladies in the group!) we continued with the trek. It was close to 1pm and we stopped for lunch at a shack on the way, right next to a gushing stream.

The local hostess for our lunch, and our trek support staff
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After a well deserved lunch, we took a small break and rested for some time. After the group was ready, we left the place and began the second half of our trek. This involved a gentle climb up a hill, onto a pass and down all the way, to a hamlet called YangThang. We spotted an Ibex (or Bharal? ) on the way up and I was lucky enough to capture it, before it dexterously jumped up and out of our sight. A few of us made it up to the pass early and took this time to take a breath! It was windy and cold here – just like any other typical Ladakhi Pass. The others soon joined us and from here, it was all downhill – the last part of our trek for today. The mood in the group was great, and hearing that this was the last part gave everyone an added boost of energy. We quickly arrived at the tiny hamlet and our designated home for the night at Yangthang.

Is this an Ibex?
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Pitstop for the day!
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After a quick fresh up, we all decided to have a village-walk to see, understand and relish the unique cultural traits of the Ladakhis. This is something that is unique on such trips that one doesn’t get to experience on the other “run of the mill” ‘Nubra-Pangong-Leh’ trips. We got to interact with locals, learn about their daily lives and got the lifetime chance to walk through their lush green fields and breathe the crisp mountain air.

We talk to a local lady and she's happy to get her picture taken
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A bemused man looks at us
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A rather shy lady responding to our photo request
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And she attacks us with her shoe when we tell her shes very beautiful!
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And the conversations continue with the locals
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Soon, we head out for a village walk!
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The view from their backyards!
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Lush green fields overlooking the massive himalayas
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My buddy tries a hand at landscape photography from his phone
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What a privilege to live here and breathe the pure air here!
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After the village walk, we all got back to our rooms for a well-deserved break. I was waiting for the post-dinner photo-op where I could begin my night sky photography again. That time came soon, and we setup our tripods and got clicking in the cold, while the rest of the group snuggled in their warm quilts and engaged in blissful shut-eye. Minutes and shutter counts rolled by and before we knew, we were hearing angry dogs barking somewhere nearby in the darkness. After a somewhat satisfying photo session, we called it a night, making it a point not to step onto some dog’s tail in the darkness.

Another star trail into the bag!
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Old 6th July 2020, 23:58   #11
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Day 9: The trek continues, I take a break, and there is a surprise!

It was time to leave the tiny village of Yangthang. After a brief adieu to our hosts for the previous night, we set on towards our next destination, Hemisshukpachen. We started bright and early and after a quick group photo at the homestay, we began our gentle trek. We went downhill and passed by a beautiful little stream of crystal clear water. After crossing the stream, we trod on towards our next high pass of the trek. A couple of folks from our group were advised to skip the trek today and take the vehicle instead, considering their age and their SPO2 levels. We made brisk progress and were at the base of what seemed to be a nice little valley. Our destination was on the other side of the hill that stared at us – right ahead! So we started the challenging uphill climb taking one step at a time. Keeping the rhythm of my footsteps as company, I made good progress as well, staying at the front of the pack and using the time gained to click pictures of the trekkers in action. While doing so, I always got behind and ended up in the tail of the pack.

A local boy looks curiously at my camera
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My buddy explains about Seabuckthorn and its benefits to one of the members in our group
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We cross a lovely stream...
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...and walk past prayer walls
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Fellow trekkers from Israel crossed paths with us...
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...and we took the well trodden path
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Nevertheless, we continued with the climb and soon reached the high pass on the saddle of the mountains. It was terribly windy here and there were tiny drops of rain that were hitting our faces hard. We could barely stand straight – it was that windy!!! Due to my constant hike-stop-click-hike-stop-click session today, I was quite winded when I reached the top. We were pleasantly surprised to see a big group of Yak here!

The uphill climb was a task in itself!
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We made it to the pass!
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Super strong winds were blowing us off our feet!
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Hemisshukpachen was now just a quick downhill trek but then, due to my exertion in getting to the top with heavy camera gear, and due to the smattering yet painfully cold wind & rain, I decided to take a break and head to the homestay in the comfort of the vehicle. Half of the group decided to take this option too. My friend told me not to worry and take the vehicle as he did not want me to get super strained on day 2 of the trek, and told me to save my energy for tomorrow. As a seemingly harmless hint to what lay ahead tomorrow, I took the easy option and boarded the vehicle.

It was still late-morning, probably approaching noon and all of us would be at the guest house for lunch. That was the plan originally anyways. With that, we took a quick 10-15 minute ride and reached our guest house at Hemisshukpachen. The guest house was huge, modern and very very clean for anyone’s standards! We were pleasantly surprised at how airy and bright it was inside. The hosts were welcoming too and served us piping hot tea as soon as we arrived. The other half of the group joined in no time and we were relaxing in the dining hall, discussing the trek so far.

The lady of the guest house greets us with a smile!
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After a scrumptious lunch, we were lazing around in the vicinity and the plan was drawn for the evening. We would take a small trek down the village and reach the Buddha Statue at Hemisshukpachen. After photo sessions there, we would trek back to the homestay and call it a night.

Picturesque Meadows everywhere you look
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The Buddha at Hemis-Shukpachen
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View from the top
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Breathtaking - quite literally
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For those who haven’t visited, Hemisshukpachen is simply heaven on earth! Lush green meadows on either banks of a gurgling stream overlooking the faintly orange sunset sky had setup a fantastic scenery for us. We loved the trek coming back and I took this opportunity with open arms to click many fantastic photos.

Heaven on earth!
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Enjoying one of those life's little moments
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The trek back to the guesthouse late into the evening
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Hilltops Basking in the golden rays
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Jaw droppingly gorgeous place!
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The massive and modern guesthouse
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The owner of the guesthouse talking about snow leopards
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We reached the homestay late in the evening and we all were in for a surprise when we realized that it was my friend’s birthday that day! The local support staff who accompany him (the cooks and the trek support staff) were busy cooking a cake to celebrate the occasion! A fresh baked birthday cake, icing and fresh apricots and a surprise birthday celebration – what more can one ask for?! Post celebrations, dinner followed along with lengthy discussions with the hosts of our homestay. Topics ranged from Snow leopard spotting in the winter to Leh becoming a rather typical touristy place in the last few years. As usual, I was more interested in the post-dinner photography session. We had a plan to go to the terrace of the house and setup our tripods for the clearest view of the sky. Sadly there was no direct route to the terrace and the only one they had was blocked with construction debris. With our hopes for a clear open sky dashed, I could manage to get star trails with a different effect using my zoom lens. With this rather disappointing turnout, I called it a night and decided to sleep early and get some Zs and not be sleep starved like I had been all these nights.

A Surprise Birthday!
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Star Trails on a Zoom Lens!
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Old 7th July 2020, 00:14   #12
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Day 10: Basophobia, Apricots & Lamayuru’s Avalokiteshwara!
After a fantastic stay at Hemisshukpachen, it was time to begin the last day of the trek. This was going to be a short but moderately difficult one. We started the trek by walking across wooden bridges across gushing streams and headed onto a plateau of sorts where we could see flat lands for a couple of km ahead. Walking here was fun and the group dispersed across the breadth of the plateau. The vast nothingness was a sight in itself and the clear blue skies made the beginning just perfect.

Walking away from Hemisshukpachen
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The meadows continue with us
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Is that a baby yak or a cow?
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Trails leading out of the tiny village
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We crossed stinky pools...
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... and headed out into the open
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What a lovely day!
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A slow gentle climb...and I was at the last - as usual
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The flatlands slowly turned into a gentle climb and soon ended at the top of a hill, more or less like a pass. From here, we walked down the side of the hill, until we ended up at a rocky valley of sorts. The descent was quite challenging as we had to make our way through huge boulders and had to be extra careful with our footing between these rocks. Once at the bottom of the valley, we started moving again and the terrain now had completely changed. The track had disappeared (almost), and the entire place was littered with rocks and boulders. Each step had to be calculated carefully in order to avoid mis-stepping and after trudging along for a little over half an hour, the decision-making and the calculated step laying part started becoming mentally draining. The group had virtually split into 3 sub groups. The quicker ones were ahead with the local trek support staff, and I, with my camera was stuck in the middle of the pack. My buddy, as always, made the tail, ensuring no one got left behind and was there to ensure that the slowest ones were always being assisted.

We made it to the pass! - yet again
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The descent into the valley littered with boulders - my friend assisting the tail of the pack while the rest move ahead
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We stopped somewhere in the shade after trekking for what seemed to be 2-4 km. We took this chance to catch some breath and have some goodies to munch on, while the rest of the group caught up to us. Once united, we took a well deserved break and ensured that everyone was well rested. I now realized that carrying my camera on this trek was a dumb decision! What I had done was indeed quite stupid. Due to the extra load, I had decided ditch my camera backpack and carry just the bare camera and the lens with me. Some decisions we take bite us back at the wrong time and this was one of those instances, trying to bite back at me. I had put off buying a good strap like the blackrapid (or its clones) citing very little ‘value for money’ that they offered. I was now realizing what a dumb decision that was. I was carrying my bare camera on its’ stock straps like a sling and everytime I moved over some boulders and rocks, I was constantly having to adjust and juggle the camera while balancing myself over those rocks. I ended up bashing and scraping the camera & the lens on these rocks a little over 100 times now and it was very frustrating to keep checking for damage everytime I heard that metallic thunk.

While we took the break, I made the decision to shorten the strap so that it wont keep flinging around my back and torso while I concentrated on the trek. Good decision, but I ended up with a hare-brained execution! I just went by my eye and ended up shortening the strap too much and now, the damn thing was very close to my chest. Slinging it around meant that it was obstructing the natural movement of my hand, or was so far up, on my back that any impromptu photography became impossible.

With this gaffe still poking at my monkey brain, we set off for the last part of the trek. This was the most difficult part too. We had to climb a massive hill and to do this, we had to walk across a barely visible track on the side of the hill, snake around, do the zig-zag and continue this pattern till we reached the top. With my camera now becoming a constant source of irritation, I moved along slowly and before I knew, I was at the tail of the pack, accompanying my buddy. The unbalanced camera meant that I was constantly fidgeting and adjusting my torso and this made the trek more challenging than it seemed. The sliver of a trekking path that lay ahead was also banking outward, following the slope of the mountain which meant that I had to balance myself well in order to move on. My buddy was helping another senior lady in the group who was taking her own time to make the trek. It suddenly became both our responsibilities to ensure that every step she takes was well balanced and well supported. I got so involved with her footing that I was not aware of my footing! Its here when I suddenly realized that If I don’t balance myself well, I may end up tumbling downhill with my oddly unbalanced camera. I was hit with a sudden sense of fear, that I may lose my footing and skid/fall here, and the bottom of the hill was easily some 75 feet below us!

Thankfully, my ever-resourceful buddy sensed my apprehension and gave me a makeshift trekking pole, which was basically a wooden branch/stick, strong enough to support my weight. It was thick – sturdy enough for me to put my weight over it, while I balanced myself and got back into a trek-able position and also help the lady keep her footing. While I dug the stick into the loose gravel-ish surface, I gingerly got back into position and was back in business! Here, we then made the impromptu decision to skip the long snaky zig-zag to the path above us and instead, trek right up to it, cutting across the mountain. For those who have travelled the Gata loop, this may seem familiar – one can easily skip the regular route and take the off-road dirt track to make the trip quicker. This is exactly what we did on our trek. Armed with the stout wooden stick, we started the shortcut and made our climb quickly. The slope was precipitous, and every step was carefully chosen. The loose gravel made things harder but thanks to some amazing grip on our shoes and to the freshly engineered trekking pole, we made it to the top!

Can you spot a trekking path here? Neither could I!
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Westerners seem to make it look easy!
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We took a well deserved break at the top. After spending almost an hour, relaxing and talking and sipping water, we began the last segment of the trek. This was all downhill – over a gentle slope, until we ended up at a small shack, somewhere near Ang. Once at the designated shack, we had an amazing lunch followed by another delight – fresh ripe Mangoes! This was the perfect finish to the trek! The mood in the group was electric. Everyone was totally tired, but the enthusiasm of finishing the trek was priceless! One could literally feel the energy within the group! This again, is one of those “little” moments one never forgets!

Post lunch, and after some groupies enjoyed a quick power nap, we were back on wheels and headed to Tingmosgang and later to Nurla & Lamayuru. We were greeted with trees brimming with apricots and we bought a few kilos of the fruit from local vendors who were selling it right after plucking them off trees! We made brisk progress towards the moonlands and stopped at the Monastery. We spent some time here and also visited an adjoining section of the monastery that no one usually visits. Here, we saw the thousand arms of the Avalokiteshwara and enjoyed a few truly golden and silent moments admiring the details of the hallowed sculpture. It was now time to leave this magical moon land and head back to Leh. After a couple of hours of easy smooth driving, we were back in Leh and at our hotel!

The magical moonlands
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The village as seen from the monastery
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Prayer wheels at the Lamayuru Monastery
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A thousand+ hands
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From the front
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Curious little window - wonder why the stone's kept there?
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Stupas in B&W
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Monastery from afar
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More weird landscapes
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The road back to Leh!
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Old 7th July 2020, 00:19   #13
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Day 11: Rest Day and Shanti Stupa
We spent the next day completely at Leh. This was a rest day post the trek and the ladies made full use of it by shopping and engaging in other “touristy” activities. I also took the time to roam around the markets and buy some trinkets for the ‘Home Minister’ and some toys for my kid. Apricots made it to the shopping list and shopping bags of everyone by default! The evening was spent visiting the Shanti Stupa and a nice dinner at a “happening” place sealed the day on a great note for all of us!

Captured the Tsemo Namgyal Monastery in lovely evening light, as seen from the stairs behind the Stupa
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A Wider perspective
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...and from another focal point
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The Stupa in all its glory!
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Om Ma Ne Pad-Me Hum
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A Magical play of light!
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Leh town in the shadows
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Evening sun's bursting rays!
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Old 7th July 2020, 00:32   #14
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Day 12: To Tso Moriri
The debate in the group was strong – what would it be? Pangong Tso, or Tso Moriri? Secretly, I wished we went to Pangong Tso (my last trip there was for a few fleeting seconds!) but at the same time, I also wanted to visit Tso Moriri, for the magnificent beauty of the overall place! The decision to skip Pangong was almost unanimous as it would be quite crowded and we wanted to experience a calmer, more magical place just to soak it all in.

Fast forward one hour and we were barreling down the Leh-Manali highway. It was a bright and wonderful day with stunning blue skies and smooth roads. The smooth roads ended abruptly at Kiari, almost like we had jinxed it! Post Kiari, we stopped at an army camp/canteen somewhere on the way and were treated to delicious hot jalebis and tea. With tummies full, we continued onto Chumathang, where we stopped for lunch. We continued towards the Mahe Bridge and took the right turn here, heading to Tso Moriri. After a bone rattling drive on non existent roads, we stopped when our jaws dropped to the floor – at the tiny yet majestic Kiagar Tso lake. We took this as a photo opportunity while a couple in the group decided to walk to the edge of the water, almost half a km away! It was magical to see the water change colour based on the sun’s angle and after satisfying my shutter happy appetite, we moved on.

Dry desolate landscapes were the theme today
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Until we saw the turquiose waters of Kiagar Tso
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It was still quite a distance away!
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Until we finally made it to the lake
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When pictures speak louder than words
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I'll let the pictures do the talking
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And we bid goodbye to Kiagar Tso
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We crossed some more amazing scenery – untouched meadows, snow capped hills, the evening sun giving us a hint of warmth – it was all too magical! We then arrived at the majestic Tso Moriri and checked into our comfortable tents. I was all too happy to recollect that we stayed at the same place when we visited 3 years ago – and this meant only one thing – awesome night photography, star trails and milkyway shots!

On checking in, we simply dumped our bags in and decided to head out to the view point near the lake, past the Korzok village. After having my fingertips nearly frostbitten last time, yours truly was intelligent enough to carry gloves this time! And boy they helped! We spent a good one hour here and I took the opportunity to create some timelapses too.

And soon welcome Tso Moriri into our sights
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View from the vantage point after the village
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Long shutter shot to smoothen out the choppy waters
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Reflections of joy
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At the edge of land
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And the evening was well worth the trip!
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Evening sun kissing the mountain tops
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When the wind got extremely cold, we decided to head back to camp! Soon, we were back at Camp and were huddled in the dining tent, sipping hot tea, while trying to thaw our finger tips. It was now getting dark and it was bitterly cold! The group decided to meet for dinner after an hour and so we did. After a quick dinner, the group called it a night. And as always, I was just about getting warmed up for the night – setting up my tripod and looking up at the night sky for a spectacular show of shimmering lights! To my utter disappointment, the sky was quite cloudy and I could barely see stars! We (me and my night photography aspirant student) decided to wait for sometime and check again by 1am. That’s when the conditions are best! So, we setup an alarm and snoozed off. We made the herculean effort of getting up again at 1am, getting dressed, and going through the laborious process of wearing our shoes. With half tied laces, we stepped out into the bitter cold and looked up, only to see more cloud cover! Disappointed and half awake, we wondered if this was a dream and quickly went back to bed and called it a day!

Last edited by vsathyap : 7th July 2020 at 00:33.
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Old 7th July 2020, 11:27   #15
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Day 13: Back to Leh

After a good night’s rest, we had a hearty breakfast and headed towards Korzok for some portrait photography of the locals. Some of them were shy, while the others simply refused to be clicked. We honored each preference, stopping only when folks were willing and happy to be clicked.

A local with his donkey
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Curious kid comes running when he sees the camera
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Some portraits of locals near Karzok Village
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We found this lady milking goats and she was happy to be clicked
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Another local lady milking goats
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The goats huddled together in the cold - notice their blue color coded horns
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The lady continues to chat with us
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After a few good shots, we had to get moving as we still had a long trip back to Leh. We took the route via Tso Kar and stopped there for a quick tea break and photo-op. The Approach to Tso Kar was completely marshy and the lake seemed to be a few kilometers from where we stood, from the road. We decided to skip going for a closer look and continued onward, only to stop for tea, water and loo breaks.

Kiangs cross our paths on the ChangThang Plateau
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And we continue towards Tso-Kar
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A bunch of prayer flags enroute Tso-Kar
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Nomadic kids running towards us when they see us handing out chocolates and other goodies
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Can I have that please?
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A nomadic lady looks on as we move away from their camp
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The weather was quite dull – grey clouds covered the sky and everything looked rather drab and dull. We were on the Changthang plateau and soon, we joined the Manali-Leh highway. After making it over the mighty Tanglang La again, we were back in Leh by evening.

Crossing the mightly TangLang La - it was snowing here!
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Once back in our hotels, we had the time to repack everything and prepare for our flights the next day. Since we were constantly traveling all these days and packing and repacking for 2 days at a time, this was a good time to set things neatly and pack the suitcase correctly. Once packed, we all met for one final time at dinner, which was nothing short of a banquet, specially arranged by my buddy!

We were all extremely grateful to him for having arranged what had been a fantastic trip – without a single glitch specially since we were a group of mostly senior folk. His planning and arrangements were lauded by all and then, we also had to do the final “bill settlement” - for all the expenses during the trip. Once done, we had a rather long dinner and had a great discussion about the trip and how we should all meet again, but next time in a different venue.

Soon, it was time to bid adieu to the group. The details of airport transfer for the next morning were exchanged and we all called it a night!
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