I looked up at the river flowing down blue
It pointed at the peak of the mountain high,
covered with tonnes of damp white snow hue
Got speechlessly stuck at the azure clear sky.
Every time someone brings it up, that’s the kind of visual most of them imagine. Had read a lot about the place, and had wanted to be there to see for myself what it actually meant when people screamed in awe at the slight mention of the place. So, when our colleagues suggested way back in the summer of 2017 that we should do it together, I agreed to it at the drop of a hat. That is where it all started. A journey which not just changed my perspective on many things around, but the people too. So off we took in air from Hyderabad to Delhi by Air and reached by road via Manali and from there onto the lap of the warmest snow mountains.
One trip where we had tried almost all kinds of commute from Air, water to road. From flights in the air, bikes, taxis, tempo travellers, All Terrain Vehicles (ATV) on road, River rafts, rope sliding, boat rides on water and not to forget the camel ride, which I am not too proud off to write about though, but couldn’t resist wondering with a place which is all about sand dunes and surrounded by snow mountains, offering camel rides is a major occupation of many locals here who believe it not only adds up to their tourist attraction but takes it to a complete next level. I guess even the Animal Protection folks will be offered rides may be for free if ever they turn up this far.
The most controversial part of our trip was Khardungla Pass Enroute from Let to Nubra Valley. Controversial because it is falsely claimed as the highest motorable road or passes in the world by the anonymous of course, most of whom have been there to believe it to be true. We also believed it back then and had a sense of achievement standing at that very point. Almost felt the same as a 5 year old who has conquered his first ever bike (bicycle) ride in the street across his home. Thanks, not just to Wiki Naani and Google Daadi, but those umpteen mountaineers and trekkers who have actually been to the highest motorable roads / passes in the world. But what is more interesting is the pass. If you are ever travelling by any such passes, beware of landslides, unforeseen rain which can cause the snow to melt, random snow fall which can block you from going ahead even an inch adding the risk of getting stuck in nowhere with a pool of strangers around you seemingly trying to get out of this crisis but enjoying every moment of being stuck there.
We then visited the Jampa (Maitreya) Buddha statue which is located in the Diskit monastery in Nubra Valley. Must say, it was the most peaceful place that I had ever visited. Unlike our temples down south or up north, the monasteries somehow bring in the best of us, at least for that moment. Maitreya Buddha is said to be the bodhisattva who will appear on Earth to achieve complete enlightenment and teach pure dharma. Also known as the successor to the present Gautam Buddha according to scriptures. It is a different feeling totally. Imagine when we were kids, our grannies used to tell us stories of the Lords and the holy ones in the past and here we get to tell our grandies about the future Buddha. The statue, a 32 feet long one is no less than a spectacle itself. May the buddha provide enlightenment to all of those who have visited the statue. Wishfulness. Must say. Apart from the Buddha statue, if there is something that you must visit if you are a culture enthusiast is the stores that exhibit and sell souvenirs, mostly Tibetian. Truly mind blowing.
I am sure you all must be wondering by now if we went to that place where the iconic climax scene of the movie 3 Idiots was shot. Yes. Pangong Tso (Lake), as it is less popularly known, is a one of a kind place to be. A lake that is about 140 kms away from Leh, a third of which is in India and the rest two – thirds in Tibet. A lake that can come up with all the colours of rainbow without an actual rainbow in the clear sky above. A lake that can show you almost 6 different shades of blue as you travel along side it. Defining blue as it is. May be if we start conducting our cricket matches here, our team will also truly bleed blue (pun intended).
Statutory Warning: It comes as a place where one feels that one’s life is wasted if one cannot capture this erotic beauty in pictures and videos. But before that, please remember that you have folks to get back to back home in single piece as humans and not as snow struck rock holders!
From this erotic lake we headed straight to Srinagar via Kargil and Sonmarg, witnessing the Zojilla pass or the Zero point -known for temperatures as good as Zero degrees most of the times. One place where all you can do is sit inside your vehicle hoping for the route ahead to be clear and praying that you don’t get caught in the wrath of the temperature there. Oh! and there is a particular time slot here, only in which one can enter or exit through the pass. If you miss it, you got to wait in your vehicle only to be frozen before you go dead.
Reaching Srinagar was like home, well almost. The whether there was normal, food normal, people around normal, natural beauty normal. We stayed there a day before we boarded our flight back home. We got around to the best human practice ever possible on earth – SHOPPING and that too in the beautiful waters of DAL lake. Could spend the whole day riding around, stopping other boats, bargaining on trivial pieces of jewellery, spices, bags, souvenirs of walnut wood and what not. We also paid a visit to the (in)famous Shiva temple – Shakaracharya. 243 steps which feel like 1000 or more after one has climbed them, leading one to the temple area make it seem no less than a penance to reach the Lord himself. Unfortunately for us (Or should I say fortunately) there had been a massive terrorist shoot out just about 15 kms away from the temple, a week before we had been there which solved the mystery of too many army clad personnel there. Probably triple security. Not sure if the presence of so many army personnel staring at you weirdly was more scarier or the fact that there was still a threat of another possible attack. Nevertheless, safe is how we reached back home.
Overall, it was a trip to be remembered, cherished and brooded over later. Sharing few random clicks of our memories.
- Places – Hyderabad – Delhi – Manali – Leh – Zanskar – Leh – Khardungla Pass – Nubra Valley – Diskit – Hunder – Leh – Pangong Tso – Zero Point (Kargil) – Sonmarg – Srinagar – Hyderabad.
- Location – Kashmir, India
- Entry Ticket – RISK. Enter at your own risk.
- Eateries – Staple food is Maggie and Omelettes. And if you are not used to it then the only other option is TIG (Trust In GOD)!!!
Lessons from my SNOW COLD trip
- Be well planned and totally prepared at what’s in store for you ahead. But make way for surprises on the path like land slides, snow storms, snow melting rainfall. After all it is the journey that matters and not the destination.
- You might be travelling from one place to another mostly during the days and be reaching tents only in the nights. Take time out to have fun with your gang with food, games or just a walk along side the road.
- When in Leh, do have a round of the local market and indulge yourself in some bargaining and shopping. Best place for souvenirs like shawls, carpets and even silver ware. Do remember you have flight to catch before you tuck in half the market.
- Make sure you spend time speaking to locals there. There might not be much to do apart from travelling, eating or taking pictures. Cannot rely on the network or wi – fi signals. Besides, turns out they are as human as we are. May not be as smart or intelligent as us though, but definitely human.
- Do not wander away alone from your gang / team unless of course you are travelling solo. Also, would not recommend it for adults below 10 and kids above 50. It would then be hard for you to choose from either handling them or falling down form one of the highest peaks of a snow mountain with no clue of where you might land.
- If you get stuck somewhere during the travel after sunset, without second thoughts, plant yourself at a nearest place overnight. For all that you know, you might turn out to be a distant relative of our very own Columbus and discover a new route, place or may be just a new day. Blah!!! Plan gone for a toss again. Rewrite it. Reschedule it. Redo it. You are the boss.
- Keep yourself hydrated during travel. You don’t have to wait for the snow to melt to drink it. You can always try out the different varieties of tea offered here. Or for someone like me may be a hot cup of Maggie soup, the local brew Chaang (Barley Liquor) or the Aaraaka (Rice Liquor) would do. I should have tried knocking the doors of locals for a taste of the brew. May be next time.
- All those hard core Non Vegetarians should try and focus on Maggie and Omelettes instead when on the go. We had to travel 3 – 4 days before we could smell chicken at a local restaurant. One good thing, if you are lucky enough and the store is not crowded, you get to custom make your own Maggie / Omelette and they, do not think twice before offering their kitchen to you. So overwhelmingly welcome.
- We should take care we do not ruin their near nature life into a litterati, specially with all our plastic.
- It is completely alright to enjoy the view from inside of your vehicle. You don’t have to get down at every point to snap pictures or take videos. It is better to have memories and experiences rather than pictures and videos to talk about your trip. Might as well turn out that your photo becomes a memory for the rest of your gang. This, after 785 pictures and a near to death experience.
- AMS. Acute Mountain Sickness. Give yourself at least 2 – 3 days time for acclimatisation during your 10 – 12 day trip. Laze around. Shop around. Walk around. Sneak around. Worth the try.