31 July 2009
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A journey to Ladakh
Posted By bharath
When I think about Ladakh, the tale cannot be narrated without starting from the very beginning. Having made vague plans to travel to Ladakh six months previously the time to do something about it was overdue. I had decided to buy myself a Qualis with the express purpose of travelling to Ladakh with it. Of course, Toyota had stopped making the vehicle as the modern and up to date successor had been launched. The demand for the older cousin however, had not diminished at all, I must have driven over 20 of them before I found “the one”. When I did lay eyes on her, she had broken taillights and a cracked windshield and was covered in a layer of mud, but when I entered the cabin, the dash and upholstery were well maintained, and the engine was brilliant. I knew that this was the prefect vehicle the moment I drove it. To cut a rather lengthy explanation short …..I bought a Qualis.
The journey to Delhi was very interesting as we followed the GQ with the scenery changing from state to state. The most surprising aspect was the road itself, never having driven on the GQ before it was a brilliant experience as we covered 800km a day without too much effort (the road had just been completed). It had been a while since I had been to Delhi and really enjoyed the change, since the induction of CNG had changed the air quality.
We continued our drive up north after, spending a few days in Delhi recuperating. Manali brought about a dramatic change in scenery as we were now in the Himalayas. We enjoyed spending a couple of days resting in Manali and stocking up on canned food etc in case of an emergency. The drive from Manali to Leh is one of the most brilliant drives in the world. Nothing compares to the change in landscape from Himachal to Ladakh. The 475km drive took us two days, as is the norm but we weren’t keen on doing it any faster. The starkness of Ladakh is mesmerizing and the road extremely dangerous.
Anyone who enjoys driving has to do this section of India.
The danger about driving here is the possibility of high altitude sickness and we were starting to show signs of it. Manali being approx 6000 feet and our overnight stay at Sarchu being close to 14000 feet didn’t help matters either. Lingering around was not an option and getting to led as soon as possible was important. Leh being a pleasant 11000 feet and planted with vegetation was the ideal place to acclimatize.
I shall curtail my narration to mention just two places which are my favorite in Ladakh. Pang Gong Tso and Tso Moriri. We had spent nearly an entire month driving through Ladakh, to Nubra Valley, Rupsu Valley as well as numerous monasteries Hemis, Thiksey etc. covering all the 3 highest passes in the world in the process each place was unique and brilliant in ways that would take pages and pages to describe. Enclosing photographs here, will I hope compensate with regard to the other places.
Pang Gong Tso was the first lake we went to, around approx.140 km from Leh the road passes through the third highest pass in the world Chang La. The word ‘Tso’ means lake in Ladakh and Pang gong is definitely that, the lake stretches for 130 km from India to china, with 2/3rds of the lake in china. The drive to the lake is through typical Ladakhi roads but the terrain after the pass is marshy where it is possible to spot the Black Neck Crane, Marmorts, and Mountain Goat. As you make your way to the village of Tangste the lake is around 40 km from here. Driving to the lake as you make your way around the last turn you are greeted by all shades of blue. It makes for a spectacular sight as you see the lake surrounded by snow capped peaks in the background.
We managed to driving 7 km along the lake to a village called Spangmik where we spent the afternoon eating lunch and watched the sun break through the clouds. The water on the Indian side is brackish largely due to minerals dissolved in it, the Chinese side however has fresh water. It wasn’t possible to drive right up to the end as the road was non existent even to Spangmik. Pang gong is one spectacular lake and worth going back to.
Tso Moriri is located around 240km from Leh and is in the Rupsu Valley, it is about 28km long and it is possible to drive along the lake right up to Korzok the nearest village to the lake. The color of the water at Tso Moriri is a deep ink blue that has to be seen to be believed.
This area is populated by the Kampas who are nomadic in nature tending to their goats and yaks. This region has quite a bit of wildlife and is protected though the area surrounding Tso Moriri is especially vulnerable because of poor soil and precipitation. Surface damage and uprooted grass takes years to repair itself and therefore one needs to tread carefully when walking around the lake as well as driving.
Spending a couple of days here was worth the detour because of the breath taking views we were subjected to on a regular basis. The road on the way back existed only on paper as we drove through sand and stone trying to find our way back.
The brilliance about Ladakh and the brilliance about driving there is the isolation which is hard to find in the rest of the country. We would have driven for hours before we even passed another vehicle or human being, sometimes after having driven for a couple of hours the only signs of life would be a herd of goats that we may have spotted far away in the horizon.
We did manage to return to Bangalore without any incidents, but with memories of Ladakh always lingering on.
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Being best friends with Bharath has been my biggest challenge to date. Constantly arguing about most topics under the sun and having diametrically opposite perspectives to life makes us such good friends.
Having met at photography school, our shared passion for travel, culture, music, books and art made us drive off to different places on photography ‘assignments’. 5 years down post-grad school we still make spontaneous trips to feed our wanderlust.