Saturday, September 13, 2014

Beauty has an address- Day 7-8

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After our ride full of thrills, we realized that we have lost the entire day, and just have one evening left for all shopping, seeing around, experiencing the town, and packing. Soo, we sent the cars away, decided to walk down and marched towards the main bazaar. 

As I said already, Leh is a small town, a typical touristy hub at that. You would find bistros and street side Cafes serving all sorts of food, from Ladakhi to continental to Israeli, fleet of white-skinned tourists clad in exotic hippyish attire and internet cafes, tour operator offices, bike rental facilities and woollen shops mushroomed everywhere. It is possible to get lost in this web, but we did not. All of us wanted something different to take along, and hence we roamed around pretty independently.

I and Hrushi had already roamed around the market even a day before, after our return from Nubra. We had a nice walk in the pleasing weather. We sat in a modish cafe, and had cappuccino and Cafe latte. I spotted a heap of fresh apricots (not the dried ones, the fresh fruits, they look like lichies) and bought handful of them, got some souvenir knick knacks like fridge magnets and Tshirts.

Today, we sat in a nice open-to-sky cafe at a corner, had something else than Dal-rice (Sagar and Shruti went adventurous with mint juice and humus-Pita!) , engaged in just some small talks, and it just struck us that our trip had come to an end. All the planning for last 4 months, all looking fwd to, all passionate discussions and debates, all was over. The atmosphere outside was boisterous, market well-lit, we were tired yet satisfied and I remember this small patch of evening in a very pleasant way. 

We went some shop-hopping, bought other exquisite knick knacks like Sea-buckthorn juice, prayer flags, apricot jam, and a cotton tote bag saying 'Julley', and returned to green villa to some excellent Ladakhi food, personally cooked by dear Angmo. Momos were quite amazing, and Thukpa was not really a favourite dish of many, but I did not mind, considering eating local is always good. 
Eat local, think global. :)

We looked at the oh-so-beautiful sky for the last time, saw the outline of now sleepy Leh, looked at the glowing Shanti-Stupa from our terrace, and went off to sleep. Next morning was pretty uneventful, with a car dropping us off at the Leh airport (quite a mini-airport), we boarding a flight to Delhi and then onwards to Mumbai, we landing in Mumbai- a direct journey from 11500 to 0 ft! 
It was humid as usual, the traffic and the dust and the sweat greeted us and mobile networks got a range, people got hooked on to their cellphones on our way back. We halted at the food-mall and hogged on the usual comfort food like Pav bhaji, reaching Pune around 6pm, ending our voyage.

As I write this today, I see the images of flooded Srinagar on TV, and I feel sad, thinking of the good time we had at that place. 
I saw the images of PM's visit to Kargil war memorial and I could immediately relate to it. 

I remember the star-studded sky very clearly, and it comes to me every time I close my eyes.
I keep on looking at the 3000-odd photos every now and then, and one of the photos at Nubra has gone on a wall, framed. 
The prayer flags adorn walls and work-desks, the apricot jam is eaten.
I wrote multiple blogs, trying to explain the feelings Ladakh gave me. 
I finally wrote the account of our travel, and yet I feel that something is missing. 

I also decided that next year I am again going to Ladakh, as I have left something there. And I know what that is.

A piece of my heart.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Beauty has an address- Day 6-7

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Today's excursion was originally supposed to be only a day-long trip to Pangong lake. We converted it into a day-and half trip and booked us on a tent facility right on Pangong. and it proved to be the best decision we took in our entire trip. We could lazily leave from Angmo's place in Leh, look around for bikes to carry (our hope had not yet died) and actually found one to carry with us to Pangong! An old, worn out Royal Enfield, with no mirrors. We were so bullet-hungry though that we got the bike, got the can of extra-petrol filled and set on our way, with Soham on the bike in between two Innovas.

It was not a ride as smooth as Nubra through Khardungla, and at certain places, no road even existed. We practically stepped into aggressive streams full of slippery stones, and it was a good thing that we took turns of riding the bike as the road would have probably rendered lower back of a single driver useless. We crossed the mighty Chang-la en route ( the third highest motorable road in the world after Khardung-la and Tanglang-la), but proceeded ahead on the strenuous road without halting, as the supposed beauty of Pangong lake was calling us towards her!

Despite the road condition, I would rate road to Pangong as more scenic, due to presence of colours, these gushy streams mid-way, placid water bodies, and the Changthang Eco-Zone. It is wildlife protected zone, exhibiting typical high-altitude flora and fauna. A strikingly beautiful, yet strikingly desolate place.

Large part of our journey went through Changthang, right until we reached the glorious, pristine, magical, serene Pangong-Tso. The first sight of the lake was enough to make us forget all our words, seriously.

The lake, situated at almost 14000 feet, actually lies on the international border. In fact, one third of this lake lies in India while two-thirds goes to Tibet(Now China). The ride on the banks of the lake practically had us spell-bound. I could not move my eyes away from that mass of blue. I have never seen this particular shade of blue in any water body in my entire life. You know, at such moments you realize, that there are treasures hidden away by nature in remotest of places. Nature reigns supreme, and you are in fact just a small negligible unit in this entire set up.

What all did we not see that day by the lake?  Barren, brown mountains, (which exactly look as if they are oil painting btw)  surrounding the lake. One-odd Sea-gull. Sound of small waves in that water. Stark-white sand. A full-ring rainbow. A super-clear sky. A giant national flag up in the sky on the excellent backdrop of this lake. And magnificent blueness of this water. Almost divine.  

We had booked the tents right on the bank of this lake, and we couldn't have made a better decision. We stayed that night in the tent, kept looking at that lake till almost we lost the track of time, saw the star-filled sky once again and were almost about to cry at all this beauty. Heaven.


We started from Pangong almost by 9 am, (again sat looking at the changed colours of water for some time) fully satisfied with the day before, fully convinced that this was the highlight of our trip, and headed back to Leh.

Remember, I had written that you can never be sure that travel through Ladakh will be smooth. By our collective fortunes till now, we had escaped every possible delay that could await us. However, today was not the day when luck was smiling at us, and we encountered every single issue which we had missed till today! So, to begin with..

No sooner were we on the way that we saw the bike slip in front of our eyes due to sand on the road. Fortunately, Soham-Shraddha fell down on the sand, and did not sustain too many scratches. deciding safety was a priority, Soham continued to ride alone for some time, till we stopped for some food at a shop which served only Maggi and tea, as a rule. There were practically NO human settlements on the way, and we had to be OK with whatever food we could get. So, we hogged on Maggi and stuffed ourselves with a bowl-and -half along with steaming tea. VERY, very wise decision.

After stuffing ourselves, Jatan got on the bike, and we began the arduous climb of Changla-once again. Unfortunately for us, the road was packed with Army trucks today, making it almost a bumper-to-bumper traffic and reducing the speed thereby. Amidst all this, on one fine turn, the old bike stopped. The ignition would not fire. Nothing.stopped. broke down.

NOW! We halted, and took stock of the situation. It was a heavy Enfield, which is even otherwise difficult to manouver. It was not a straight road, we were climbing up the Changla, somewhere around 15000 Ft, in low-oxygen levels. We did not have even the remotest sign of human settlement, let alone a mechanic/workshop. Two members from our car were suffering from a bit of breathlessness. None of us knew how to repair an Enfield, and to top it all, there was no signal to any of our mobile networks.

Next one hour involved all sorts of acrobatics we could do with the bike, including tying it with a rope to the back of an Innova and taking it fwd. This foiled, as it was impossible to control the handle and the direction the bike takes. (It took Jatan almost falling off the bike in a valley to understand this). Our drivers physically pushing the bike fwd, which was a disastrous thing to do in low-oxygen levels. Once, one of our drivers took to the rider's seat with Jatan driving our Innova through the gushy streams!
Meanwhile, we also tried halting bikers and asking them for help, halting army trucks and asking them to take our bike with them, to no effect. Finally, it was decided that we leave the bike with two boys where it was and reach Changla-top for help. On approaching army post on Chang-la, w were asked if it was a life-or-death situation. Upon hearing our peculiar problem, Army expressed inability to help (which was right, in a way).

However, our driver Feroze seeked help from couple of Faujis there, took them down the road for help, got the bike repaired and came back victorious with a smiling Jatan riding the bike to Changla top. It was an episode which lasted two-and-half hours, and we were grateful that it was over without major trouble. I suppose luck was still laughing at us.

Next, we were stalled for some work involving speed-brakers. Again almost an hour lost in all of this, making us hungrier and grumpier. Chiwda, Barfi, Khakra and all that stuff had been finished. Once the roads were open, we went ahead, and almost as we got close to Leh, one of our tyres went flat. Again Feroze to the rescue, changing the tyre. marching fwd. We reached Leh, and just before we entered the town, the bike tank went empty. By this time we had almost lost our capacity to be irritated. We calmly refuelled it, reached Angmo's villa and decided to call it a day as far as vehicle went.

What a day! And no regret of missing the originally planned white water rafting- the thrill we experienced kind of made up for it!

Beauty has an address- Day 4-5

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The day four of our tour was a highly anticipated one- we were leaving the town of Leh and beginning of journey into the interiors of Ladakh. We were going to climb up to the highest motorable road of the world- the Khardung-la and then enter the famous Nubra (NuFra as the locals say) valley.

Our attempts of getting a bike with us were foiled, as practically every single bullet in Leh was pre-booked, owing to the peak season. Kind of sad, as our chance of experiencing the thrill in riding upto Khardung-la was Kaputt, but good in a way as that gave a chance to really sit back and enjoy the roads, which is essentially what you do in Ladakh.

The journey began from Leh and we started climbing up. These roads built by BRO have been given names. The road from Srinagar to Leh is called the project Vijayak, while the roads from Leh to Nubra valley and Leh to Pangong-tso are named as Project Himank.  Appropriate with Vijayak reminding of the operation Vijay in Kargil,and  Himank representing the surrounding snow-capped mountain ranges.  

Our climb up on Himank was as smooth as it could get, ignoring a couple of uneven patches in between. A very important thing to be mentioned while traversing through  Ladakh is the unpredictability of Journey. The roads are constantly being worked upon, so a bulldozer or a JCB can suddenly pop up and make you halt for an hour. Or the traffic can be manually controlled with only one side operating at a time, or at least a land-slide can occur if nothing else. We had heard of these things beforehand, but were lucky enough to escape it until now. (we did not know that it did await us within next couple of days!)

You know, Leh is somewhere around 11500 feet, and still you can see mountain peaks, high up in the sky from Leh city. As we started climbing up, gradually the level difference between us and the peaks started reducing. The joy of seeing the overbearing peaks at your eye level is unforgettable. I will never forget a particular point, where our car took a turn and a whole valley came into our sight, with the tall peak overbearing it and we being at the level of that peak. A line called ‘Abhalachi Chhaya tuzi samindarachi maya’ was playing in the background, and at that moment, the meaning of ‘abhalachi chhaya’ struck me like never before. I could see the infinite vastness that is meant in these lines, and could not help but shedding a couple of tears.  

Reaching Khardung-la was a moment of gratification, of experiencing the thrill of being at 18650 ft, as high as a vehicle can get you. We of course shot the customary pictures, had steaming black tea in the army canteen, AND went up to the army men posted here for a quick chat. We had brought some Pune-specials like Amba Barfi and Bakarwadi for them, as a small token of appreciation, which they were happy to receive!

Descend from K-top into the Nubra was spectacular, with the changing terrain. I can not believe that surrounding mountains can change their colours, patterns and surfaces so rapidly.At certain points I would rate this descend into valley even higher than the grand Canyon, exhibiting deep-cut gorges, sudden flow of river and infinite shades of earth.

Our foray into the valley and the time we spent has two highlights- the otherwise non-specific little village of Diskit, with a hill-top monastery and a statue of giant, golden Maitreya Buddha. Maitreya is also on a hillock, more than 100 feet in height, adorned with colourful engraved ornaments and peace in his being. He overlooks the giant valley, a 360 degree panorama of peaks, gorges, sand, sudden belt of greenery and river Shyok- a subsidiary of Indus. It is a location out of this world, I am unable to describe it in words. 

A little away from the village Diskit are the famous sand dunes of Hunder. They are your regular dunes, with white sand and ups-downs, just like in Rann of Kutchh. To top it all, they also have camels! That too double-humped. These camels are native of this place, and can be found only here.Now understand the uniqueness of this place- a single place with mountains, barren land, river, green bushes, desert and camels, at 10000 feet!!

These dunes offer you camel-rides as usual, but we preferred not taking it and encountering the dunes in different way. We actually perched ourselves atop a sand dune, and just let us roll on that slope. Yes, a childish act, and sand is so fine that its stuck at all places possible, but what a liberating exercise and what a way to feel those dunes! :)

Sunset saw us driving around the valley to our camp site- Mystique Meadows- and stopping at N number of places for wonderful pictures. We were put up in a pretty little set up, in comfortable tents, and spent a quiet night there. One of the highlights of this trip happened there though- we sat outside the tent on mini-lawn, and just sat looking at the sky- so full of stars- so brilliantly lit up- so serenely beautiful and mystifying! 

Next day was mostly spent rather uneventfully, with our travel back, checking in at Angmo's Green Villa, and exploring Leh Market. And except the excellent home- cooked, authentic Ladakhi food that Angmo served us, not much to say about it :)