Ladakh is a destination which cannot match or compare to any other place you have ever visited.Ladakh actually means raw and unadulterated pristine nature.You have to be well prepared for dirt roads intense heat in the day, chill in the evening…And sudden change in weather.If the sky is clear it is an ethereal blue which is just unreal but that is how Ladakh is….It’s unreal and to make sure that it’s real please keep pinching yourself.
Despite being an avid traveller, I had a gnawing feeling that I could suffer from mountain sickness if I would ever have to go to Ladakh, so I was quite desperate to check out a companion for this travel though I am otherwise a very confident solo traveller. Enroute Helpful travellers give tips and my driver was very helpful in all his suggestions.
Srinagar to leh by road
I had heard quite a lot about the beauty of the transforming landscapes from Srinagar to Leh , So I booked a flight from Hyderabad to Srinagar spending a day there at leisure to check out a day trip which I hadn’t done before, so I finalised Doodhpatri ,55 km away from the capital into the beautiful valleys and meadows of the milk like streams here .It was definitely worth it and the pictures will tell you 1000 stories.
Staying in a houseboat on the Dal lake is a revealing experience, and Shama is the boat that I finalised because I knew its owners well.Beautifully decorated with carpets rugs and kilims,the Kashmiri hospitality was at its best with the owner Aslam who ensured the best of all services here.
From Srinagar the leh road trip, starts .Exciting is the fact that the national highway is NH 1 and going by the road acclimatises a person who assumes they could suffer from mountain sickness, but my advice please don’t assume because I had absolutely no oxygen related issues at all.The road from Srinagar to Leh via Kargil is actually a very important route because it is very close to the LOC and you can see army outposts practically everywhere ensuring you a very safe and secure feeling.
All along the way the Indus River does not leave you but after Sonamarg and onto Zojila ,Namki and Fotu la passes the terrain becomes harsh and barren .
So this is how my route map was to give you a correct idea on what you will be driving across
Srinagar – Sonamarg – Zojila – drass – Kargil – lamayuru– Saspol – Leh .
I chose to stay at Kargil as it is a bigger town and has decent accommodations and my guest house was called Suru view,Basic room accommodation with a north Indian breakfast.
Passing by Drass Valley reminds you of all the news you have been reading about the infamous Kargil war where Drass played a very significant role, remember the Pakistani Army in 1999 which started dropping shells in the surrounding villages and war broke out between India and Pakistan but in the end India recaptured drass and other parts too .
It is the second coldest inhabited and visiting the famous War Memorial to pay tribute to those who lost their lives in the India Pakistan war is definitely a must.The small town has a population of about 1200 people and the people here are mostly from the Baltic tribes and I feel May to September could be the best seasons for you to travel through drass Valley.
It was my driver Ghulam Mohammad who kept talking about Minamarg and the Amarnath yatra and just 30 km away from Drass are the beautiful Meadows of Minamarg enveloped by lush vegetation and I hopped off the vehicle several times for videos and pictures.
Along the way there are various treks for trek lovers called the musko Valley Saliskote , Amarnath.
After driving from Kargil around 45 km is the Mulbekh monastery known for its two gompas and altitude is just 3304 m and the statue of Buddha is 9 m tall overlooking the old trade route and the modern Highway.
After passing by Mulbekh which was the first monastery I visited on this route, the most popular amongst tourists is the Lamayuru monastery and this really needs time to visit.A large number of wall paintings artefacts statues and carpets .I was lucky to witness a special ritual where several monks conducted prayers for a young monk.
Finally the dream destination arrives and this high altitude capital city onthe mountain is around 10,000f ft altitude is definitely not easy for beginners.The landscape here is mesmerising There is so much to explore so the excitement quadrupled. From the magnetic Hill to Gurudwara Pathar Sahib,Both these places were worth it. Stories of how guru Nanak jee came here and miracles that happened will leave you spellbound. The Sangam or the confluence of Indus and zanskar rivers were a treat to the eyes.You can find two colours merging seamlessly here .
Enroute places to eat ,
you will find small joints which serves food like noodles, Momos, Thukpa .These are somewhat like snacks but enough to likely fill you up on the go.
I wanted to reserve my Leh sightseeing and shopping while returning back so I reserved it on hold.
It is important to rest and acclimatise better in Leh and my selection was a warm homestay called Green Villa guesthouse on chubi Road.Owned by a large family I particularly liked the huge bungalow surrounded by apple and apricot trees and all inclusive meals of dinner and breakfast gave a true home feeling
It’s Nubra Valley via Khardung La pass .
Leaving Leh the next day ,reached Khardung La around 40 km away with a boggling altitude of a good 18,000 feet ,chill winds , low oxygen ,Had a cup of tea pictures on the go and get set leave .
The road conditions are just average and it starts to deteriorate pass the South Kulu checkpoint until the very top.If you survive breathing well in Khardung La then you don’t have to worry for the rest of Ladakh.Walking even 10 steps can tire you so please walk slowly and slowly.
Remember here you need inner line permit which is important when you travel to protected areas for a certain amount of time.￼￼
When You are visiting Khardung please note
Because of its high altitude ensure that you don’t stay more than 15 minutes .
Nubra Valley and shyok valley
From Khardung La it is a total downhill drive till you reach the enormous Diskit monastery. A seated Buddha In fluorescent pink colours with a view to kill , most of the monasteries in Ladakh are simply amazing because they are all built on high altitude which covers the surrounding vegetation expansively .
At Nubra Valley there are various accommodation options either in Diskit or Hunder and my preference was Hunder which was again in a quaint guest house by the name Yourdum .
The hosts are always warm inviting and helpful immediately touching your heart and you long to stay in such places where you get home-cooked food for dinner and nice Aloo parathas for breakfast.
Turtuk village drive
Turtuk Is a very popular day trip because the village is very quaint and the culture of the people here is very different from the rest of Ladakh.This definitely should be included when you are visiting the Nubra Valley.Call some makes an interesting history because It was a part of Pakistan occupied Kashmir and India seiged it during The Indo Pakistan war in 1971.This is actually Baltistan.
Today it is nice to see the union of cultures and even the trek to the monastery close to the Indo Pak border is a beautiful trek with some school buildings around where most of the children study here.
Turtuk is the gateway to Siachen glacier and remember you need a inner line pass to visit here.
The geography of Turtuk is very interesting if you would like to see the village you have to cross the bridge and various options of homestay are available but I preferred to stay down as I reached the village after dusk and my guest house was a very nice place called Ashoor .The hosts were extremely friendly and ensured best service always ,They were from Jammu.
In the morning it is wise to leave a bit early and visit the village by foot as you walk in the narrow allies and see the local people and children going about their daily routine.Don’t forget to buy the apricots there and also the apricot oil which is very healthy for the skin and hair.I can recommend a restaurant called balti restaurant where you get amazingly healthy and delicious vegan food. Check out their variety of salads.
The polo ground is also interesting as well as the balti heritage house.
When you are in Turtuk do not forget to see the natural cold storage about how the villagers store their groceries and butter,
Drive from Turtuk to Nubra Valley checking out the sand dunes and double humped camels on the way,But since I am not one of those who will sit on the animals I chose not to take the ride and reached Pangong Tso.On this road trip you will cross military convoys in plenty as this is a military airfield and a tiny settlement.After Thoise the route becomes isolated with no sign of civilisation,The Shyok river always gives you company and there is a massive suspension bridge that takes you down to the river bed.
One of the most commonly heard destinations by everyone who has visited Ladakh is this massive huge lake A little before sunset and the weather being just perfect .The moment I cast my eyes on this lake,my weariness of the long winding drive with just a few stops relaxed my soul immediately because this is the magic of the calm waters and the waters were not blue but they were grey …And that’s its beauty. The lake is huge almost 134 km long extending from Ladakh India to Tibet China only 40% of it is in India while 60% comes under the purview of China.Highest altitude saltwater lake, Pangong enthralls you because of its fables and stories and being one of the hotspots for Bollywood dance numbers.As this lake is almost on altitude of 17,000 feet when you cross Chang La pass so ensure that you’re well acclimatised when you reach here .As I was not so keen to stay in one of the camps and my driver had a contact in a nearby village 14 km away call Mig Merak we decided to drive down there , a home stay right under the glacier, cold as hell but with a very bright sky and a full moon.The homestay called the peaceful homestay with hosts very warm and hospitable which is usual of Ladhakis .Yummy home-made food in the evening of Dal Roti sabji and a teeny-weeny room full of blankets was enough to spend the night here.
Merak to chushul to Hanle
Chushul honestly looked like a ghost town and nowhere you could find anyone to even ask for directions as there were several tracks but our driver was an expert. When you are travelling you come across Rezang La and there is also a memorial created in remembrance of the brave soldiers of 13th battalion of Kumaon Regiment.After this the road was really treacherous and the weather was getting colder and colder and when you are reaching Hanley it became super cloudy.Even though my expert driver was sitting just beside me I really got scared but after an hour we reached Loma bend and this is where the road to Hanle bifurcates and since permits are very important to visit this Observatory,Our papers were checked and we proceeded .Due to sheer luck managed to get an appointment to go inside the Observatory and visit the third largest telescope in the world.Celestial objects in the atmosphere are checked and reported to ISRO in Bangalore.It was truly remarkable something that I saw the first time in my life.Icy winds, very high altitude prompted me to make a quick exit via tsomoriri .Drove past Nyomah ,had lunch there and continued the journey towards Mahi Bridge and it was a quick decision to skip pso moriri for this time.I have seen pictures of it and I know it’s a very pretty lake but I keep certain things always for the next time.
Driving to Chuma Thang and then to Leh
The road to Chumathang was in good condition from Mahi Bridge to upshi was under repair .I had to make overnight stop at Chuma Thang though I found it has a very filthy but its popular only because of the hot springs.Managed to find a decent overnight accommodation, the host was as usual warm and this fills up for any lack of other facilities.Of course there was absolutely no mobile data network of Airtel anywhere for past three days.
Back to Leh
It was a relief to get back to the city, after the off-roading done but definitely the mountain memories haunted me and still does .After a nice lunch on the way proceeded to Shey Palace, this monastery is quite a climb ,but as soon as you reach the top you see a beautiful statue of Shakya Muni and the victory stupa .At high elevation the views are always fabulous and that makes a picture stop.
This particular monastery I was told exactly resembles the Potala Palace in Lhasa Tibet.Again a beautiful climb and this cave architecture where the monastery is built in the mountain leading to a gorge..Just about 20 km from Leh,I recommend you must go there for his sheer magnificance .
￼in Leh visit the Hall of Fame ,Jorawar fort and the Mall Road .
Sonam wangchuk school or Secmol .
Frankly my trip to Ladakh would be incomplete if I would not have carried the social message of what iSonam Wangchuk has done to this beautiful territory of Ladakh.
The philosophy of Secmol
No student is ever berated , those who do not want to pursue formal education and have failed in the 10th class take admission in SECMOL .
The students are the guides of the school.
Expenditures in running the school is very low as they are only dependent on natural resources which are fortunately abundant in the phey village in Leh .
My student guide is below … learning to communicate in English .
When visiting Ladakh please ensure you book an appointment and try to volunteer at the school here.
Left my heart in Ladakh as I bid adieu
Ladakh definitely captures your heart for its sheer beauty, raw and brazen environment, the very calm innocence of the Ladakhi people,￼.
The military outposts everywhere also surges in you an intense feeling of patriotism.You understand how they put up with treacherous conditions extremely volatile weather all for our safety and security. For once I was so happy paying my taxes honestly because I know a part of it will also go in the security of our nation.