|Window to heaven! 🙂|
|View from the room!|
On Day 2, we visited a lot of monasteries in and around Leh. First stop was Hemis Monastery. Hemis is a beautiful, colorful monastery that dates back centuries. It is apparently the richest monastery in Leh. We also got the opportunity to experience and witness the cultural fiesta of Ladakh in all it’s grandeur – the Hemis festival. This festival apparently takes place once every 2 years. It was quite an experience, except for the part where we got terribly roasted in the sun!
|The famous Hemis festival – the dance symbolizes the battle of good over evil.|
After Hemis, we visited Thiksey Monastery and Shey Palace, both of which I skipped. Who has the energy and the patience to climb a million steps in the scorching heat?! Not me. They all look the same anyway! Post this, we visited the Sindhu ghaat and finally ended Day 2 in Shanti Stupa.
|The beautiful Sindhu Ghaat|
Day 3 was one of the most anticipated days of our whole trip. We were supposed to visit the famous Pangong Tso lake! This place was the only reason I had even planned this whole trip. It was approximately 140 kms from Leh and it took us close to 7 hrs (one way!) to reach the place. Little did I know how badly I was going to be hit by altitude on my way to Pangong. Due to low oxygen levels, I had a headache that was 100 times more than what we normally experience. Add to that, nausea, breathlessness and the scary, narrow roads leading to Pangong. Damn.
|No wonder I look so phased out in this photo!|
|Panoramic View of Pangong Tso!|
After taking a million photographs, we finally headed to a lakeside cafe for lunch. Post which I was mentally preparing myself for the tough journey back to Leh. And as expected, the journey back was much worse than I had ever anticipated. I literally went through HELL. Never in my life had I thought I would go through this much pain. A lot of people had warned me about altitude sickness, but I paid no heed. I had always felt I would be able to cope in such conditions. But overconfidence rarely helps. At one point I was literally thinking why I had to put myself through all this just to see one place! The terrible state of the roads only makes your health worse. Thankfully I had moved into another car on our way back, and the driver of that car was awesome! He saw how much pain few of us were in and took a lot of shortcuts to make sure we reached Leh as soon as possible. And we did. We were in the hotel in less than 4 hours! We couldn’t thank the guy enough. I would have probably fainted if it had taken any longer.
Note to Self: Next time I go to a high altitude place, I will definitely get myself checked and take the required medicine to survive in such conditions!
After an over adventurous day at Pangong, none of us had the energy to do anything even remotely strenuous the next day. The initial plan for Day 4 was to go to Khardung La (18380 ft), which was at an even higher altitude than Chang La (17586 ft). But after the hellish experience most of us had gone through the previous day, we decided to postpone KTop to the last day and just settle in for a day of local sightseeing.
First stop on Day 4 was the Sangam, which is the confluence of rivers Indus and Zanskar. They had some river rafting there too. But since I had already done rafting before, I decided to give it a miss. Post Sangam, we went to the Magnetic Hill. Apparently these hills have the magnetic properties to pull vehicles uphill. But we didn’t experience any kind of phenomenon here whatsoever. We just happily posed for pictures and headed back. On our way back, we visited a beautiful Gurudwara, a monastery named Spituk Gompa and the Hall of Fame (a war memorial).
Green is Indus and Brown is Zanskar
|Hall of Fame|
After a good night’s sleep, our plan was to head off to Khardung La on Day 5. It is not very often that one gets to drive on the highest motorable road in the world. Khardung La, aka KTop is at an altitude of 18,380 feet. After my experience in Pangong, I was very apprehensive about going to KTop. I was already feeling breathless that morning even before leaving. A lot of people backed out based on the experience they had while traveling to Pangong. A big part of me wanted to back out too, and I kept asking myself if I was mentally prepared to go through that same kind of pain and altitude sickness once again. Even after I sat in the car I kept thinking if I should get down and go back to the hotel like many others. But I didn’t. Since I had come so far and since this was one of those places I really wanted to visit, I decided to go no matter what happens!
|Tough avalanche prone roads on the way to Khardung La!|
Leh is at an elevation of approx. 11,500 feet and Khardung La is at 18,380 feet. The distance between the two places is just 40 kms. So, you gain an immense amount of altitude in a very short span of time, which again is the fastest way to get altitude sickness! I popped a painkiller for my headache and kept my fingers crossed! The view while traveling to KTop is breathtaking and the air just keeps getting thinner and thinner. The roads are pretty decent till South Pullu, but after that it is the highway to hell! By the time we reached Khardung La, some of us had started bearing the brunt of it – nausea, throbbing headaches, breathlessness. I know I am not painting a very pretty picture, but none of us still gave up! Surprisingly the pain I felt while traveling to Khardung La was much more bearable than what I had felt while traveling to Pangong. A big reason could be that the distance was much lesser this time. But the amount of happiness I felt after reaching on top of Khardung La was unbeatable!
|On Top of the World!|
Hurray! I was on top of the highest motorable road in the world!
With a huge smile on my face, I was slowly taking in the view around me. The altitude sickness and the bitter cold was instantly forgotten and replaced with insurmountable happiness! Khardung La was one of the last few places we visited on our trip and just when I was getting used to the scenery around, our trip was ending and we were supposed to head back. On our way back from KTop, I was turning and looking around again and again to stare at all that was whizzing past us – the greenery, the mountains, the snow, the beautiful valleys. I not only turned, but stopped and took in the view in awe one last time.
Ladakh was truly an experience I will cherish for a lifetime. A place that has given me bitter-sweet memories and something that I will remember forever.
I hope you enjoyed your virtual tour of Ladakh through my eyes. Hope I get to explore many more such exciting places in future and keep these Travelogue posts going!
Thank you for coming in today and reading my post. Until my next big adventure… it’s Adios from my end!