Road Trip in Ladakh
Day 1 - Delhi to Manali – 540 Kms
We started our trip with #wanderers on a Thursday night. I took a cab from our house in Saket to Hayat Hotel. That was our meeting point at 11 PM. Took me about 15 – 20 mins to reach the main road outside the hotel and WANDERERS team was already stationed there to welcome. The cab stopped near the caravan, they quickly greeted and helped with settling my bags in one of the #bolero. 1 met the extended team – the chef who was called “Ustaad”, Driver – Ratan Singh and helper – Amit. Other travelers had also reached and we were introduced to them as well. We were waiting for 3 more travelers now. As we were talking, 3 of our travelers arrived in an auto. All of them were in early twenties. Later on got to know that they have just started to work about a year back and they saved for 6 months for this trip with WANDERERS.
Post a round of quick introductions we started our drive to Manali at 11:20 PM. Wanderers had already told us that this was going to the longest drive of the trip .. at least 12 hours if not more, hence, we were prepared. Out #suv was being driven by Lokesh and the other one was being driven by Devjit. Kitchen car was being driven by Ratan.
As we exited Delhi, there was barely any traffic on the road. We took about 4 breaks in the middle for the times in between for some chai and early morning breakfast at dhabas on the way. We checked into a nice homestay in Manali about 2 PM. This was run by a couple and we were there first guests of the season.
One the things I liked about #wanderers (which they had already told us) was that they were always trying to help the local people where ever they went in whatever manner they could Staying in small homestays was a part of that. There were 5 rooms where checked in, 2 of us in each room. The staff pitched tents in the backyard for themselves. We quickly had a warm bath (the host had arranged for warm water before we came) and went for lunch in the main room. Lunch served was simple, dal – chawal along with vegetable subji and salad. Some pickle and onions to go with. Post lunch we slept to recharge ourselves post the first long journey. In the evening we took a stroll down the by lanes of Manali and just sat at one of the cafes for some coffee. Everyone got to know about each other. It was good time. Dinner was served at the homestay at sharp 7 PM. The idea was to have our dinner early and sleep so that we are ready for next day early morning.
Day 2 – Manali to Jispa – 6 Hours, Call time – 4 AM.
Next day, we woke up at 3:30 AM with wake up calls from Lokesh. We were remined that we have to start early to avoid the tourist rush on the Rohtang pass. We got fresh and had a quick coffee and sandwiches and we were in the #boleros after exchanging the usual pleasantries with the host couple, by 4:15 AM and we were off to Jispa. In two hours we were crossing Rohtang pass. It was beautiful. The Snow peaks at a distance were mesmerizing. Devjit was telling us that this is just the beginning and I was wondering how much more beautiful can it be?
The only problem with this place are the number of shops small eateries that have opened due to the tourist rush. It is choc-a- bloc. While most were still to open, some were in full swing. We stopped at Rohtang pass for a quick breakfast of Maggie Parathas and some hot chai.
We started again and we crossed Gramphu – Kokhsar – Sissu – Tandi – Keylong and then reach Jispa. The scenes were beyond my wildest guess. I was speechless for most of the ride just enjoying the view. I also realized that from Manali onwards, the distance barely matters since the route gets rough and technical in nature. From here on, we calculated distance in terms of hours only Manali to Jispa is about 7 Hours drive.
Jisps is a small settlement with about 100 – 150 odd people staying. Generally, travelers don’t stop here, they driver for 4 more hours to the next village. However, #wanderers had already told us that we will be travelling less and spending more time at the locations to enjoy what mother nature has to offer. We stopped 5 minutes after we crossed the village, in a clear field. The boleros were parked in such a manner that we it made a semi-circle and we helped setting up the chairs and a small table. The #wanderers team also setup a small temporary canopy over chairs in between the boleros .. so it was almost a camp for us. Ratan, our chef was asking what we wanted for snacks and everyone agreed on some pakoras and chai / coffee for the time being. Meanwhile, Amit and Devjit setup a washroom for us to use. It was slightly far from the boleros, but within shouting distance. They also setup a changing tent so that we could change into something more comfortable in case we wanted to.
Parked in the wilderness, with nothing but mountains on all sides, sound of the wind only, clear blue skies on time … the clearest I have ever seen, some stars already visible, cool breeze blowing, chai in one hand…. This was best I could ask for. I roamed around the place trying to absorb all that I was seeing. Clicked a lot of pictures too. All of us then walked to the Bhaga river that flows here and spent some time around the banks of the river.
Some villagers brought over some dry wood from the nearby area (seems Lokesh had asked them to when we were crossing Jispa village) and we started a bonfire. In sometime we all sat around the bonfire. We were all chatting and we decided on the dinner menu too. We had some drinks as well. It got colder as the time passed. By dinner time, about 9 PM it was chilly. We were all wearing our jackets and lowers. Quick dinner and we all went into our roof top tents and were off to sleep. As night the passed we could see the stars more clear from our tents and it got colder. My tent mate’s name was Priya and she was from Bangalore. She had come all the way to delhi for this trip. Sometime in between star gazing, chatting about the scenes and dreaming, I slept off.
Day 3 Jispa to Sarchu – 4 Hours, Call time 10 AM
I woke up with Devjit calling us for coffee. I could a bit of chit chat going on. I called out good morning to everyone from inside the tent and everyone responded. Realized by tent-mate was gone already. Slowly I opened the tent’s net flap to peep outside. The breeze was chilly. Everyone smiled and greeted. I realized I was the last one to wake up. Looked at the watch and it was only 6:15 AM. Devjit, handed over a cup of coffee … and said “luxury in this region is limited to bed coffee” .. we all laughed. The coffee was perfect, strong as I liked it. Realized later that Devjit is a coffee freak and he insisted to bring his specific brand on the trip.
Post coffee and some cookies I came down from the tent and got fresh. Changed into my denims for the journey today. The sun was coming up and the temperature was much better. Still the breeze was chilly. Breakfast was served. Today we had aloo parathas along with pickle, pan toasted bread along with butter and jam, oats and milk along with boiled eggs. I had some parathas along with pickle. The staff quickly folded the tents and ensure everything that was pitched on campsite was retrieved packed back in the boleros. The idea for wanderers was to leave the campsite as they found it. All plastic waste was collected in one bag and packed in as well.
Post packing all the stuff, we started out journey to Sarchu. The drive from Jispa to Sarchu is really awesome. Every bend of the road bought us to a new landscape. We passed some very fertile villages filled with greenery to rocky mountain terrains to lonely desert mountain areas. On the way to Baralacha La we crossed Darcha and Zingzingbar. While in Darcha we halted at “Deepak Taal”. This is a small lake (considering what we saw in the coming days) with crystal clear water. The colour changes (or so it seems) depending on the sunlight. We spent sometime here clicking pictures etc ... Ratan cooked us some maggie and coffee quickly. It was a nice break. Next we crossed the snow clad Baralach la – a pass in the Zanskar mountain ranges outside of Lahual and Spiti. From here we climbed down and entered Bahartpur which had about 8 – 10 tents as food stalls resting place. We were able to see vast expanses of green valleys with small colorful flowers in abundance.
We entered Sarchu late afternoon. The support staff quickly pitched tents along with table chairs etc so that all of us could relax. Today we had already decided on the menu while we were on the way. Lunch was the quintessential Punjabi dish - Rajma – Chawal.
Today we also pitched a big ground tent in case anyone wanted to take quick nap before we were for star gazing. Some of the folks did take their nap. :-) while I went on a discovery walk. The scenes were too good to missed. I clicked a lot of pictures. I knew in my head I was making memories of a lifetime. Post the evening Tea we took a quick ten mins drive to Pang. Pang is a flat land in between two mountain ranges. This is the best place to see the Milky Way with naked eyes. Nothing required .. no camera, no binoculars .. nothing. The sight is breathtaking. As the sunset the stars started to twinkle and within minutes the entire sky just lit up. Once we have absorbed the sights, we returned back to our original site.
Dinner was ready. Simple stuff – roti, dal, subji and some egg curry along with pickle and salad. We quickly had our dinner and went into our respective #rooftop tents and slept.
Day 4 - Sarchu to Tso Moriri - 4.5 Hours
We started our drive post having breakfast, around 10 AM. Today’s journey was spectacular as the landscape changed from green to varied colors. At one point in time it looked very martian to say. While doing my research for the trip I had read that Tso moriri is inaccessible by public transport since it is off the route. So I was even more excited to reach the lake.
We could see a patch of blue in the distance and got all excited. That’s when Lokesh told us that we that was Tso Kar, another lake. We passed this lake too. Smaller size but the scene was too good to be true. Then we reached Tso Moriri. The grandeur of the lake just took me back. I was speechless when I saw it. On the way we were stopped by the BPTP guards and everyone had to sign in to enter the area. Tso Moriri is a protected natural reserve. We stopped right about 30 ft from the lake and the support staff pitched tents along with table chairs etc so that all of us could relax.
We all were almost speechless. Not talking to anyone just trying to absorb the beauty. We had a quick lunch of roti, dal, subji and kheer and went on exploring the area. Soon I realized Tso Moriri is not just a spectacular site but a good place to relax. Only explorers come to this place and hence it remains pretty untouched. Only homestays are available at this place. Tso moriri has been declared as a wetland reserve.
A Number of species of birds included bare-headed goose, the great-crested grebe, the Brahmin duck and the brown-headed gull. Himalayan hares are abundantly found here.
All of us then walked to the village near by and visited their gompas. We bought some soft drinks for the night.
By the time we came back, the sun had already set and the moonlight was getting reflected on to the lage. Magical. It was getting chilly too. We had some drinks and exchanged stories and our experiences. Dinner was served at 9 PM. By 10 PM, we were packed in our tents off to sleep. We had a an early call next day.
Day 5 - Tso Moriri to Pangong Tso – 8 hours
We had to start early today since we had to cover a lot of distance. We started sharp at 6 AM as decided. We had quick breakfast in the morning .. coffee, bread toast etc.
As we started I realized the route is most scenic with many small lakes and smaller villages coming in between. We stopped at some places to just enjoy the scenery. Around noon we stopped for lunch at one of dhabas on the way. We also bought some diesel from them just as reserve.
Although this is the shortest way to reach Pangong from Tso - Moriri, it will took a long time due to the road conditions. There is well laid tarmac until Loma but after that the road condition slowly deteriorates and becomes almost invisible by the end of it. As the tarmac disappears, you can see tracks ahead and we just followed them. There were stacks of stones all along the route to let you know the direction. An hour or two after we crossed Chushul, we were treated to the first glimpses of the mighty Pangong Lake, tracks might disappear around here but you be sure to take a left here at this junction.
As soon as we reached, the support staff will pitched tents along with table chairs etc so that all of us could relax. We went on to explore the aread. While it looked surreal people told us that Pangong today is a different story altogether. After Aamir Khan showed the world what a heavenly lake could mean, the repercussions were kind of disappointing to say the least. Hordes of tourists, a million tents/rooms and a gazillion tourists. Whining apart, Pangong still remains a work of art, beautiful and wonderful by all means.
Since this area is pretty commercialized, we got some chicken and panner today. Dinner was served at 9 Pm and we were off to bed by 10 Pm.
Day 6 - Pangong Tso to Leh – 5 hours
We started after the usual breakfast, today was omelet and bread along with coffee and tea. Today we were going to pass some of the highest passes. The drive was adventurous to say the least. For most part ascent is steep and initially roads are in good condition. When we started our journey it was a tarmac road and we cruzed through. Once we reached Tanksey, we started with the accent to Chang La.
As we approached the final few kms of the ascent to Chang La, road conditions started to deteriorate and steepness increase, making the affair of reaching the summit of Chang La more challenging and memorable. Of all the passes one encounters in Ladakh (barring Marsimik La), Chang La is the steepest and due to bad roads at the final ascent it is also the toughest, no wonder it is called "The Mighty Chang La". Once you come down from Chang la, it will be another hour drive to Leh.
As Leh, we stayed at a hotel (Ya Rab Tso) which was reserved for all of us. They were already ready for us. With all the check in formalities done. We were given the keys to our rooms. Finally a warm shower! Once we checked in and got fresh, had our lunch we decided to go for local sightseeing n the Leh town.
We went to the market and bought some tshirts and other knick knacks. At around 8 PM we met Devjit and Lokesh at a café in the market and we enjoyed out dinner there. We kept chatting about all the experience we had in this trip so far.
Day 7 - Leh to Nubra Valley – 5 Hours.
We started after the breakfast in the hotel. It was a good spread of lot of food items. We had oats, cornflakes, parathas, eggs, toast etc. Coffee and tea as well.
We had been told that today route was the most known, popular, easiest and quickest one. So we were pretty fast today. We reached Khardung La quiet easily. Devjit and lokesh were both very well trained drivers and it did not feel like it was a dangerous. At the top of Khardung La is an army base and small cafeteria, which offers free tea, without milk however. So if you don’t mind sipping down black tea, it is good place to sit with a cup in your hand and beautiful Himalayan peaks all around you.
We took several photos next to signboards reading “Khardung La, 18,380 ft, Highest Motorable Road in the world”. There is also an Army souvenir shop selling hats, caps, t-shirts and kitchenware noted “Khardung La”. We bought some stuff from there as a reminder. Roads from Khardung till Khalsar are smooth so it did not take us long to cover these. Road after Sumur and through-out Nubra Valley remained in good condition. Few Kilometers after Khalsar, we came across a bifurcation. Road on the right goes to Sumur, Panamik and Warshi while the one on the left leads to Diskit.
As we continued on the right and shortly realized why Nubra Valley is so famous. Greenery will start coming more in the picture and it would start looking like an oasis. From Diskit, on a moderate road and amidst fruit orchids is the village of Hunder famous for its sand dunes.
When we entered the Nubra Valley and toched the sand dunes, there was small stream passing by. That was the camping point for us.
While the crew got busy pitching tents etc, we walked onto the sand dunes. For the first time I saw, Bactrian Camel, commonly known as two humped camels. Yes, that’s right. Unlike the regular camels, this one has two humps on its backs. You can even get a ride on this camel at Hunder if you are willing to pay.
We took a lot of pictures on the sand dunes.
When we came back it was almost dark. The bonfire was lit by the crew. We sat around and had a few drinks and chilled out. To our surprise, it was a full moon night and the sand dunes look mesmerizing. Dinner was served soon. And post dinner we went back into our tents to sleep.
Day 8 - Nubra Valley to Leh – 5 hours
We started after the usual breakfast, today we had omelet – bread and oats along with milk and coffee and tea.
Today we took the same route back from where we came to Nubra. On the way back we paid a visit to the Diskit monastery. Diskit Monastery also known as Deskit Gompa or Diskit Gompa is the oldest and largest Buddhist monastery in the Nubra Valley of Ladakh, northern India. It belongs to the Gelugpa sect of Tibetan Buddhism. It was a divine experience.
Once in Leh, this time we camped at Thiksey monastery. As soon as we reached, we went to visit the monastery. I had heard a lot about it and wanted to see it from inside. To say that it was beautiful, is an understatement. It has to be seen to be believed. We spent time exploring the place and taking pictures. When we came back it was almost dark. The bonfire was lit by the crew. We sat around and had a chai and chilled out. At this place, since we were close the monastery, we restrained from music and alcohol as a mark of respect.
Dinner was served soon. And post dinner we went back into our tents to sleep.
Day 9 - Leh to Kargil – 5 hours
We were woken up by the monastery prayers and the sound of monks chanting. It was a surreal experience. It was 5 AM at that time. We made some coffee and enjoyed the early morning, surreal experience. In an hour or so, breakfast was served. Today we had aloo parathas along with pickle, pan toasted bread along with butter and jam, oats and milk along with boiled eggs.
As we start driving towards Kargil the rocky mountains start making an appearance in a very grand fashion. Every time you look back, you'll see snake like roads mapped on brown mountains. The route is beautiful and we will cross some small villages on the way. We stopped over at a dhaba, for a plate of maggi.
Just before entering Kargil, we stopped over a small dhabas which (according to the locals) was famous for some thupka. They were not wrong. It was incredible. That was lunch for us , thupkas and momos. Once we reached Kargil the screw got busy in preparing the camps etc, we walked to the nearby monasteries. Major attractions of the Kargil region include Sani, Rangdum, Zongkhul, Stonday and Mulbekh monastery. Built under the patronage of king Kanishka of the Kushan dynasty during the 1st century, Sani monastery is one of the oldest sites in Ladakh.
When we came back it was almost dark. The bonfire was lit by the crew. We sat around and had a few drinks and chilled out.
Dinner was served soon. And post dinner we went back into our tents to sleep.
Day 10 - Kargil to Srinagar – 8 hours
We had to start early today since we had to cover a lot of distance. We started sharp at 6 AM as decided.
We had quick breakfast in the morning .. coffee, bread toast etc.
As we left Kargil, the rocky terrains are replaced with more and more greenery all around. The route is a steady decent from the height of Leh. We went through a lot military bases on both sides and at some points we were not allowed to stop. More and more greenery took over the landscape.
We had lunch in the middle at one of the dhabas.
Once we reached Srinagar, we checked into a hotel which was close to the Dal Lake. We quick got fresh and went for visit to the lake. We were short of time hence could not visit other places. We went to one of the floating restaurants and enjoyed the evening tea there along with some local breads. We were back in the hotel by 8PM and had dinner at the hotel and went on to rest.
Day 11 - Srinagar to Pathankot – 8 Hours.
We again started early from Srinagar to ensure we do not hit the major traffic which start at about 7 AM onwards. We were going to be on the road for 8 hours hence we started at 5:30 AM.
We had our breakfast in the hotel before started and packed some lunch for the road. Now the scenery gets more and more green as we cross the mountains. In the middle we also cross some big streams. We reached Pathanko aroun 3 PM and we were tired. We checked into our hotel which was already expecting us. We had some quick lunch and went of to our rooms to get fresh. Today we did not venture out much, we stayed back rested and had some drinks.
We had our dinner at 8 PM and went off to rest.
Pathankot to Delhi – 8 Hours.
Call time 6 AM
Back to Delhi.