The Ladakh Diaries – I

 

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I have a dream. And the answer to it starts in Ladakh. There’s a reason it is located in the crown of India. There is a reason why it is the most revered destination of almost every traveler in the world. The reason cannot be written on any piece of paper. It can only be experienced. And the journey to tranquility begins in Ladakh. And precisely the reason why the first words out of me when I landed in paradise were “ I am coming here again.” I had barely stepped on the tarmac when I uttered these words. That’s the power of this place. Its an addiction. I shall try my best to make you’ll experience the beauty of this land through this series of blog posts titled , “ The Ladakh Diaries”.

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It all started about 20 months ago when I got my first paycheck. This is it. This is what I’ve been waiting for all my life. To be able to travel on my own. I made my intentions very clear. I am going to Ladakh before embarking on my MBA journey. The first set of messages to my friends went out in search of potential travel partners. This process continued till the end day. A great marketing campaign (:P) that had 2 friends join me for what was going to be one of the best trips I will ever have in my life. Its not easy to go to Ladakh. Not only do you need a lot of days to explore the place but a substantial budget to enjoy the majestic landscapes. Hence, the result of 3 travellers on 1 awesome trip.

After a lot of planning and making of the itinerary, we came up with an amazing plan. As regular followers know that I like to plan my own trips and include the things that I find it pertinent for traveling. DSC_0197The plan was simple. Mumbai to Delhi via train. Then onwards to Srinagar via flight. And then a road trip to Ladakh via Kargil. The details of this route will come to light later on. As luck would have it, the road to Leh from Srinagar was not open 2 days before departure. With no option, we had to fall back on our contingency plan. A direct flight to Leh.

TravelKien Tip : The Srinagar-Leh road generally opens around Mid April. In 2013 it opened in first week of April. In 2014 it opened to traffic fully in the third week of May. The road is very sensitive to the weather. Make sure you check the road status before starting the journey. We were at the other end of the ‘Luckiness Scale’. It was the latest the road has opened till date in recent times.

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After a lot of waiting for the trip to start, the day had arrived. The doors to my dream were about to open. This was the first step to what will be an amazing travelogue that I can share with my grandkids sitting on my beach chair in Seychelles. An early morning flight to Leh was what we had booked. There was a stopover in Delhi. The flight was nothing out of the ordinary. But our trip started sooner than expected. As we were over Shimla, the Captain called out to us to have a look outside the window. Breathtaking !!! Snow capped mountains as far as the eyes could see. And the view didn’t even seem to end. It only ended with the flight landing at the Leh airport.

TravelKien Tip : Always anticipate the window seat you book keeping in account the position of the sun. At such a height, the sun is always visible and one side of windows are always shut.DSC00018 Also, web checkin to get the window seat. The three of us got three window seats. Although a few angry glances were thrown at us, we didn’t care. For a flight to Leh, NEVER EVER MISS this view.

The Kushok Bakula Riponche Terminal sits pretty between the mountains. Surrounded by nothingness, this is an airport that is not traditional in any sense. Just one flight in the hangar, and a superb view from the tarmac itself is what makes you fall in love with the place.IMG_20140512_082224 And that is why I vowed to come back to the place. That is the charm of this place. We were greeted by Wangtak from Ladakh Voyages who had helped us in the bookings for our stay. Our driver, Namgyal was a very shy person who later talked with his driving skills. We checked into our Hotel , Oasis de Villa. A 2 minute walk from the Leh main market. A hot cup of tea later, we retired to the room to get settled with the climate. When traveling to a place at this altitude, it is vital to take rest on the day you land to get acclimatized to the atmosphere. The air is very thin and the body can go in a downward spiral if this is not observed. Even if you’re medically fit.

We then decided to do some light traveling in the evening. The first destination was the Shanti Stupa. DSC00049A beautiful monument that was visible from our hotel but even more beautiful up close. Out came the cameras for some creative bursts. Our photography starred the WWE wrestlers, Triple H and Big Show, the Minion and Sherlock. These were the select few people who witnessed the beauty of Leh with us.

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The first impression of Ladakh is mesmerizing. I could not stop gushing about the fact that I am in Ladakh. A day that was long awaited. Even now , I am transported into the lands of the misty snow. IDSC00044 will be posting about my 3 mini trips in the blogs to follow. Today, I would like to share with you’ll the first Ladakhi experience. The first day was very mild in comparison to Day 2 which had awesomeness written all over.

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On Day 2, we departed for some sightseeing around Ladakh. Lo and behold, our mind was blown. The journey on NH-1 was one of the best road trips I have had. A road with so smooth, you feel like flying. With absolutely nothing on either sides of the road, we could see vast landscapes of mountains with a little bit of snow on some of them. The road had a lot of army presence for obvious reasons. This road is the lifeline of Leh. As the highway was closed due to bad weather near Kargil, Leh had limited supply of food and essentials. The Zoji La Pass near Kargil is the one which is the most sensitive to the climate.DSC00077

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The beauty of the journey was not the mountains. It was the lack of vegetation in the area. I’ve seen a lot of routes that are surrounded by trees and farms. This was different. And that is why I loved this more than anything have seen in my life. The experience is more than surreal. Its serene. How many times have you visited a place that is made up of nothing but still has everything ?DSC_0261 This is that place. The car kept going on the long and unwinding road and there was not a second when I got bored. You might think that after a while the scenery is just there and you ignore it but Ladakh is different. You cant ignore it. Every few minutes, there was a army van going to one of the camps. Very few tourist vehicles at this time of the year. The season was just starting.

We took a break on the banks of the Indus. Clear blue water just flowing peacefully. Come monsoon, and the raging river will have rafters trying to navigate the route.DSC_0269 A quite sitdown to chalk out the days plan and some great maggi from a nearby stall was all we needed to give the day a great start. Moving ahead, we visited the Lamayuru monastery. It is one of the largest and oldest ‘Gompas’. We had many more monasteries to visit during our trip and this gave a perfect introduction for the same. The peacefulness of theDSC00075 place was palpable. And when you are in Ladakh, which itself is so peaceful, this speaks volume. There was no one except the three of us during this time of the day. We had the whole place to ourselves for exploration. We read a lot about the Buddhist culture and way of life. The idols that were kept had a lot of information. It was an interesting read.

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After a spiritual break which was one of many throughout the course of the trip, we headed back to Leh. We stopped at a place which was called the Moon Landscape for its uncanny resemblance to the surface of the moon.DSC_0014 With only a handful of basic colors that adorn the landscape of Ladakh , it is wondrous to see that you can actually differentiate the changing landscapes. The moon landscapDSC_0040e was a very pretty sight. The place is definitely a stop on the route. If nothing, just click some wallpapers for yourselves.

 

 

In the next part : The journey continues on NH 1. We explore the market of Leh. I shall give some secret hidden places where you can find the most sumptuous food in Leh.

Till next time, travel safe 😀

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