Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Destination Leh

Just as the sky got clearer, the sun shone brighter; as the breezy wind cruised through the mountains around Dharmshala,  there was a sense of satisfaction that we were finally heading to our destination through a safer and probably a better route. The tempo picked up the speed; the music was a pure bliss; Pear fruit tasted heavenly; numerous water streams and falls running through the giant hills provided breathtaking views; curvy roads through the mountains and the lush green fields along the route appeared drenched in the golden light of a beautiful sunset; all in all, feeling of a perfect travel. The eye lids felt heavy as the vehicle moved smoothly and just before I could close my eyes for a nap, I could see a small stone skipped off from the vehicle on the opposite direction rushing down and the only direction it could find was the windshield of an unfortunate vehicle with even more unfortunate travelers in it. The silence was broken with the sound of the stone smashing the windshield. Another inch of drive could have brought down the pieces of glass on the driver; the tempo halted so was our travel. Short-lived, the feeling of a perfect travel! People in the tempo left in dismay, once again, for the 4th day of  our trip called "Destination Leh".

A gang of 9 people who left Bangalore on Aug 11 2011, towards Delhi to make a trip to Ladakh from there, never imagined what was waiting for them for the next week. Unlike last year's North India trip, this time we had a "plan", a neat plan indeed. The plan was to reach Manali on 12th morning. Start to Leh on 13th Aug and reach Leh by 14th Aug evening. Then visit places in and around Leh for next 3 days. Travel back to Bangalore through Srinagar->Delhi>Bangalore route. Perfect as it appeared on the paper.

On the 13th of Aug, we could travel towards Leh for only about 50 KMs just to see the Rohatang pass  blocked because of the landslide. The whole day was spent at a Dhaba in Marhi waiting for the landslide to be cleared. The day turned into dusk and there was nothing much for us other than heading back to Manali. The next day too didn't have good signs as no vehicles crossed either side of the Rohatang Pass. Adding to that,  heavy snowfall at Baralacha La kept the travel agents and tourists anxious as to when the roads would be cleared. It appeared it would take indefinite time, because of the bad weather. We thought of heading back to Delhi to take a flight from Delhi to Srinagar and travel to Leh. The bad luck followed us wherever we went and whatever we thought of. A bridge or pool had broken down due to heavy rains on the road to Delhi and the road was blocked indefinitely. The only way that was left with us was to travel to Leh through a longer route. From Manali -> Mandi -> Jammu -> Srinagar -> Leh, a gigantic stretch of close to 1200 kms. Otherwise it would have been a 9 days stint at Manali where there is nothing much to do other than shopping (during rains at least). The only thing that we were happy with at that point of time was that, we had our favorite driver Vijay ( who took us around Lahul and Spiti last year) with us. Vijay drove us through the scenic routes of the Himachal Pradesh towards Srinagar. Just when we thought everything was going fine, a small pebble had some other plans for us.

It was a moment of despair, helplessness and frustration. We didn't even know which state and which part of it we were in. Late in the evening under the moon light, with not many houses around; so many thoughts running in the mind - "will this trip happen?", "Should we just go back?", "What else is left?" We thought of possibly everyone who might have cursed us or felt really jealous of our trip to Leh. I remember tweeting "Buri nazar wale tera muh kaala". Meanwhile, Vijay was trying to arrange something to get us to our ultimate destination. The repeated attempts to arrange another vehicle from that remote place failed. Meanwhile, he met his cousin Rinku, a driver with Innova, who was heading back to Himachal. Both of them tried their best with no use in the end. We could have either got the windshield fixed by next day in which case we would have lost another day, or we could have gone with some other driver and in some other tempo. We were left with limited and difficult options once again. The group had a good spirit and there was still a lot of excitement. When I cracked a joke to Rinku, that we can manage to sit in Innova, he said he doesn't have any problem if we manage to squeeze in. I readily agreed and asked others to dump the luggage in Innova; and we somehow managed to fix ourselves inside. Imagine 9 people plus a driver sitting in an Innova with their luggage. Rinku, who was heading to his house after a month of travel had to turn the wheels back towards Leh again and was really unhappy though he said he would drop us to Leh. 

All the excitement was broken into pieces, when the Innova appeared to have lost it's suspension because of the heavy weight. Forget about the vehicle, the body parts lost their senses as we couldn't sit properly (obviously not possible!). On top of that Rinku's discouraging stories of misfortunes added to our frustration. "Apka luck bahut kharab hai sir, ek baar door check karlo, khul gaya hoga" - he was making fun of our situation and scaring us that a lot more can come our way. The pain and agony continued. Nevertheless there were quite a few jokes that happened during this short travel in Innova which were ROFL moments. When we realized that we might lose our limbs with numbness, we decided to drop this plan and get back to the old one. That is to call Vijay back, fix a new windshield the next morning (doesn't matter if we lose a day) and then go with Vijay, comfortably in the tempo. We came to know that we were close to a place called Pathankot, which is a meeting point for the 3 northern states of Punjab, Himachal Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir; and a major travel hub for the 3 states. Never in dreams had we imagined that Pathankot would make it's way into our travel plan. We made a night stay at some guest house and the mood in the group was terrible as we didn't know where the trip was leading to. The next day morning we saw our tempo standing outside the lodging with windshield pieces cleared completely. We traveled 20+ kms till the city without the windshield. Surprisingly all the faces were glowing with joy again; a new day and a new hope.

On a Monday morning tempo woes were fixed in a garage. With patriotic slogans, since we realized it was 15th Aug, once again we started our broken journey towards Srinagar. It took a whole day to reach Srinagar. Way towards Srinagar was pleasant and the roads were in a very good condition. I had always heard and read about Jammu & Kashmir, mostly about violence, through news since childhood. But for the first time I was actually traveling in the J&K state itself, it was kind of a different feeling. There were plenty of check points and we were asked questions like from where we were coming from and where we were heading to along with the purpose of the visit. We reached Srinagar, pretty late in the evening. We made a night stay at Srinagar. We paid hefty tariff for just 4 hours of stay in the hotel.

The next morning , in the wee hours, we headed to Leh through the scenic and heavenly roads of Kashmir. We were all set to experience a wonderful drive. Bad lucks and misfortunes were the forgotten stories. We were woken up for breakfast when we reached Sonamarg, Kashmir. That Tuesday morning was really pleasant as the Sun was raising up to provide another delightful day. The place is really heaven on the earth. As we climbed higher through the mountains the drive became very risky on the muddy road but the vast landscapes from that height provided a majestic view of undoubtedly the most beautiful place on the earth, the Kashmir. You feel as though you are in the lap of the nature of supreme quality. Though the military troops appear annoying or odd things in that place but the fact that they are there for a reason, to save this  pristine place from the infiltrators, must be appreciated. The beautifully lined up mountains with numerous herds of sheep on the green patches, the river flowing with crystal clear water with the horses grazing along the river provided perfect scenes that one can enjoy on such a travel.

Along the way, we spent some time walking on the street of Dras, often called as "The Gateway to Ladakh",  the second coldest inhabited place on the earth. It is this place where the major Kargil War happened during 1999, in which India successful captured the base back from the infiltrators. We crossed Kargil, however didn't spend any time roaming around in Kargil. On the way to Leh we visited a place called Mulbek where we found a huge statue called Chamba Statue. The view of Lamayur was just  exquisite with the sunlight lighting up the sand dunes behind it. The terrain kept changing from barren lands, to snow covered mountains to the green hills throughout the journey. Finally when we were just about 50 odd KMs away from Leh, the excitement was getting higher and higher. People who were ready to visit Leh, even if it was for a breakfast, had something better than that waiting for them. All the frustration seemed to be vanishing as soon as we got on to the plane roads at a height of ~12000 ft. Everyone's cheer of reaching Leh still reverberates in my mind. It was a great feeling. As they say it's not just the destination that matters but the journey itself. We really had one such awesome journey towards our destination.

Whatever happened was all blessing in disguise as we had escaped heavy rains in Himachal Pradesh and possibly escaped getting stuck between Jispa and Rohantang Pass forever. Yet another north India trip yielded yet another memorable experience. Further trip account and pictures will be uploaded separately in the next few posts. Meanwhile few pictures from Manali ->Srinagar -> Leh.

1. A dam near Mandi, Manali, Himachal Pradesh
2. We had a narrow escape from getting stuck on a broken road due the cloud burst and water fall

3. Windshield being fixed at a garage near Pathankot, Punjab

4. Girish enjoys a view on the way to Srinagar from Jammu

5. Roads appear risky as we climb higher and higher, Sonamarg, Jammu and Kashmir

6. Horses run along the road, Drass, Jammu and Kashmir

7. Sheep resting along the green patches of the hill, Drass, Jammu and Kashmir

8. Military Camps along the Drass roads, Jammu and Kashmir

9. Chamba Statue, Mulbek, near Kargil - You can see the rock carved Statue of Matriya Buddha 

10. Exquisite view of Lamayur; it has drizzled earlier, sun rays were lighting up the sand dunes

11. Another view of Lamayur

12. Mountain Goats  look at the other herd curiously, a big herd crossed the road in front of our vehicle

13. A candid moment; Vijay, a cool headed driver who took us through safely overcoming all the obstacles during our trip last year and this year. 
Must thank him a lot. (Caution: Cigarette Smoking is injurious to health)
14. What an awesome feeling it was when we were nearing Leh, everyone cheered  "oooohoooo!!!!"


  1. Wow this is pure brilliance well written and described...definitely on my to do list....will take tips from you when I do this!!

  2. Wooooooooooooaaaaanderful photos dude.. really gives a feel of ur beautiful moments @ Leh..

  3. I saw the pics on picasa..Just Wow..i hope in this lifetime I(We) could again join theeee gang to a trip:)..I really miss being there......after reading the blog and pics got included:)

  4. Brilliant work both with words and camera! :)

  5. SUPERB !!!! Makes me want to go to leh ....

  6. Beautifulllll pics and cool writeup .. One better than the other :)

  7. Great pics. Was there, a month back. It's awesome.

    Here are my experiences:

    BTW, good pics on all your posts.

  8. Another excellent. If I may suggest, that the page layout be made "center aligned" it would be nice. I have a big monitor and there are large white spaces on the right. These pictures deserve to be as large as possible on my monitor :-)

  9. Good job man nice pics and literature...

    Keep Walking :)