JustSaps

Just for SeriousAmateurPhotographerS

We reached Leh at about 1800 hrs and stayed put. Enough travelling. The body felt as if it was subjected to a wash in a washing machine, and at full load, to boot. We retired after a frugal dinner, since the next morning it was back to Srinagar. 
We had originally planned to stay at Srinagar for three days, having not seen the area before, but after Ladakh, we wanted to treasure the memories without any clutter. We therefore pre-poned our tickets to the afternoon flight on the 2nd and were back home by 2200 hrs. Not before the obligatory shopping for dry fruits and pashmina shawls, of course.
Thus ended our Ladakh sojourn. In conclusion, the last stanza of William Wordsworth's poem comes to mind:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the mountains.

(with due apologies to WW for changing the last word.)

Ladakh is a must visit for people who like nature, landscapes, the sheer expanse and solitude. I believe that it is best seen on a bike.

There is something about the mountains that gets me. They are majestic and awe inspiring. They thrill and provoke fear at the same time. It is truly said that mountains have to be treated with respect and i would understand the truth  of this statement many fold during our journey through the mountains here.

After a good night's rest, we started at about 0730 hrs for Nubra valley. Google maps does not have any clue as to the time it takes to travel in this area. a good rule of thumb would be to multiply the times given by Google maps by at least 2.5 times.
The sky was overcast and it looked as if it might rain. Bummer! We had our first taste of the powerful Taxi union of Ladakh when we came to a check post which was manned by the representatives of the union. When they saw Srinagar plates of our cars, they excitedly asked our drivers to pull alongside. Abdul, our driver, was a veteran in such matters and he produced an official receipt of the Union, which allowed him to ply this route. The representatives looked crest fallen, but had no option but to let us go. The climb was quite steep and if the sun had been out, the view would have been mesmerising.
Within a short time, we arrived at Khardung la pass, which was clear from the crowd there. Khardung la is at 18380 feet and we moved around the area, enjoying the scenery and the crowd. There was a rush to take photographs with the sign board and while we waited patiently for our turn, we saw that everyone was not so. In exasperation, i took matters in my hand and made everyone stand in a line so that they could have the photograph as they wanted it, instead of people coming in between and spoiling it. Once our turn was over, it was again mayhem as usual.















Shortly, afterwards , we came to Khardung la village, where we stopped for an early lunch. We had had a very frugal breakfast, since we had left early and my headache was acting up. The food was fresh, but i passed. There was a big group from Andhra Pradesh who were very friendly and passed some chikkies to us. That was what was missing from my diet! Sweets.

A group of children were curious about my camera. Not for the first time, i was kicking myself for not bringing some small gifts for the children such as chocolates, drawing material and stuff. We left and proceeded on our way. The scenery was breathtaking. I must point out here that the camera just cannot capture what our eyes are able to see. We arrived at our rest house, quickly freshened up, had a cup of tea and left for the sand dunes and other attractions:

We did our obligatory camel ride and left for our next attraction. Diskit Monastery. This is a beautiful and serene monastery, amid the mountains. The monk obliged me by posing for a portrait and then it was back to the rest house, dinner and to bed early since we would have to start at 0500 hrs tomorrow morning to go to Pangong lake. However, Homo proponit, sed Deus disponit. The lights went out and it was a god sent opportunity to shoot the night sky. Apart from the amazing landscapes that one sees in places like Ladakh, it is the opportunity to gaze at the skies in the night without any air, noise or light pollution, which according to me should not be missed. Satisfied, i went to bed at around 12 midnight.. Early wake up call tomorrow at 0400 hrs.

When we were at school, we had read the book "Lost Horizon" by James Hilton. I remember being captivated by the description of Shangri La and did believe at that time that it truly existed. As i grew up and encountered the humdrum of real life, the realisation slowly crept in that Shangri La was a figment of the imagination and it evaporated as quickly as my carefree and innocent days of childhood.
Not so anymore! I have revived those memories, those days. Shangri La exists. I have seen it.
Ladakh had been on our bucket list and we wanted to self drive all the way from Ahmedabad to Ladakh. However, since there were other friends joining, it was decided to fly to Srinagar and hire cars to drive down to Leh. 

The road from Nubra Valley to Pangong Tso has a peculiar problem. When the sun rises, the heat melts the snow which comes down, carrying small rocks and stones and erodes the road. Our drivers insisted that we leave at 5 am so that we could cross the worst before it gets too hot. Accordingly, we left at 0500 hrs and made steady progress. The snow melt had fuelled streams and they in turn rivers, which were like a raging torrent.
The topography was rock and mud mountains, with deep gashes left by the snow melt. It was a beautiful sight. There was no traffic on the road since many prefer to visit Pangong and Nubra valley as a morning to dusk affair from Leh. Thus the road from Nubra Valley to Pangong was quite deserted.

I must place on record, the yeoman service done by the Borders Road Organisation. They were at it, early in the morning led by Mr Surenderan. I thanked them for being so diligent and work conscious.These people stay in nearby camps for 6 months at a time, clearing the roads, making new ones, shoring the ridges, making bridges and such. It is hard work, particularly in such hostile environment. 


The Jhelum river had now given way to the Drass (or Dras) river which was to be our constant companion till we reached Kargil.
Shortly afterwards, we entered Kargil district- However quite some way to go before we reach Kargil. We rounded the corner and we came upon this majestic sight:
A jawan was cleaning the memorial diligently. Every name was lovingly and painstakingly cleaned and painted. The soldiers who sacrificed their lives for the country would not be forgotten.
The Kargil war is known for the courage and sacrifice of Capt. Vikram Batra, PVC; who died retaking the famous Tiger Hill, which has become synonymous with Kargil. 
There was a briefing about the kargil war, the heroes and the memorial. A young Jawan spoke about the war, whilst the visitors listened attentively. It did the heart good to see that every one paid attention and were disciplined.
We had chai and samosas at the army run canteen and bought some souvenirs. The sun was setting and Tiger Hill was shrouded in a ball of fire, almost as if it was reliving its experiences during the war.
One could almost hear the last post being sounded in honour of Capt. Vikram Batra and Capt. Manoj Pandey.

While leaving we saw this:
Our moods were sombre when we left the Memorial. We were trying to visualise the scene when strapping young men, so willingly and unselfishly gave their lives for the country. Some stanzas of the poem of Lord Tennyson, "The charge of the light brigade came to mind:


Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon in front of them
Volley'd and thunder'd;
Storm'd at with shot and shell,
Boldly they rode and well,
Into the jaws of Death,
Into the mouth of Hell
Rode the six hundred.


 We halted for the night at the J&K government tourist center.

I have understood that it is the journey that is important and not necessarily the destination. This adage is apt when travelling from Srinagar to Leh by road. The sights are breathtakingly beautiful. Nature at its best. The landscapes are something a photographer would die for.
In these areas, there is very little rainfall. Houses are made with mud (unbaked) bricks. It is said that if it were to rain heavily, then most of these houses would be washed away.
It was a beautiful morning and the road was good. Very little traffic in the morning and we had the opportunity to take in some quality sights that nature afforded.
Shortly, we arrived at the Mulbek monastery, where we stretched our legs and had a cup of tea.

After a cup of tea, we made haste. We had dawdled quite a lot and being on the road for 2 days in a row in tough terrain and at an altitude, without acclimatisation is inviting trouble. Nearly all of us had a mild headache and the next few hours saw diminished activity. We got down once at Namikala pass and again at Fotula pass.
We reached Leh in the evening and i had resolved to have an early dinner and off to bed. However, looking at the night sky, after dinner made me want to experiment with night photography and i spent an hour fooling around. Off to bed. Tomorrow, we had planned to take it easy.

We spent the next day visiting the local sights. The Hall of Fame, maintained by the Indian Army is a must see, along with Shanti Stupa, a beautiful buddhist monastry.


In the evening, we went to a local restaurant to sample the local cuisine and tried the various delicacies including Tibetian Thupka, a thick noodle soup.


The first mistake that we had done was to start at around 1100 hrs. The notorious Zozila pass can get jammed up with trucks and other vehicles, and it can take hours to clear up. In order to avoid this, the authorities generally allow trucks after 12 noon, so that the bulk of the small vehicular traffic (who are in a hurry) goes on ahead. We knew that we were late when we saw trucks coming down:

Sonemarg to ZojiLa pass is only 9 kms. We took about 2.5 hours to cover it. It was quite hot and the UV radiation quite uncomfortable. Still, what can't be cured must be endured. I passed the time taking some pictures.

After dinner, i was eager to do some night photography, but the howling wind and the chill factor did not allow me to fool around much. Still, i spent about an hour. Here is a shot of my friend, trying to locate the Milky way with a torch.
After fooling around with the Milky way, we went to bed at around 11:30 pm. We were nearing the end of our journey. The next morning, got up leisurely (read 0700 hrs) and after breakfast of alu parathas were off to Leh.

The Army was kind enough to offer us lunch and a boat ride on the lake which we gratefully accepted.
We left after lunch and proceeded to our hotel Chang La Queen. This property is owned by the J&K Tourism department and is given out on lease to a private party who probably had won the tender auction. The property is located just adjacent to the lake and is quite nicely made save that maintenance has been very poor. This could become the best property in Pangong Lake, if only the wooden cottages were maintained properly and aa bit of landscaping done on the surroundings. Still, we were happy to have a facility near the lake.
We spent more than an hour by the lake, enjoying the sight and the colours. I would like to stress that the colours as shown in my pictures are as it was. It may look like that the colours have been enhanced, but trust me, it was as such.
If Ladakh is the crown ( of india), the Pangong Lake is the jewel in the crown. One has to see it to believe it. It is so beautiful.

amazing ladakh

We had no breakfast since we had started very early, but were carrying bread (Yes, fresh bread is baked in Nubra Valley!) butter, tomatoes, cucumber and such. We stopped at a convenient and scenic place and enjoyed freshly made sandwiches, sitting in the open air, with a stream gushing by. We could have sat for hours here. It was very peaceful and the air, invigorating. Ladakh is best enjoyed by road ( no other transport available ), and more than the destinations, which are good, it is the journey that is so very enjoyable. 


And then we came to this beautiful spot where the river merrily bubbles its way. We had to stop, remove our shoes, roll up our trousers and soak our feet. We stayed here for more than an hour, enjoying nature to its fullest. I must say that our enjoyment could possibly have been accentuated by some excellent single malt, which was dipped in the ice cold water to chill it.
A short while later we reached Pangong lake.