Road Trip to Ladakh…
LADAKH means the land of high passes. I want to share one of the most memorable trips of my life. During this trip, I learned a lot and I enjoyed a lot.
LADAKH was a dream destination for me. For so many years, I wanted to go there, but I wanted to visit Ladakh with my three children and of course, my hubby. Till now, my children were very young and of when you visit such places, the kids must be of a certain age, so that they can also enjoy and at the same time parents too can do so. That’s why it got delayed, but it was always on the list.
For LADAKH, we made the travel itinerary by ourselves. One of my friends, who had traveled earlier in that region, also helped and inspired. During the entire process of making the travel plan for LADAKH, I was very excited. I was very curious about the HIMALAYAS, I wanted to visit that region thoroughly, so when planning the itinerary, we made sure to plan stays of at least two to three nights at each destination. So after including all the places of our interest in itinerary, a tour plan of 21 days was made.
We decided to travel by our own SUV, the Ford Endeavor 4×4, with terrain assist features, a model most suitable for the rugged roads of Ladakh. In fact, we had decided that we should plan for LADAKH only if we can travel by road, that too a four wheel drive SUV. So we bought this vehicle, only with the reason of taking it on this tour.
We knew that we wanted to explore this region in various ways. In the past, we only did luxury tours. But this was going to be a very thrilling, all terrain experience. So mentally I was prepared for a rugged tour and I prepared my children also that way. We all were ready to concur this. I gathered all the knowledge about this region – like how would the weather be, what would be the extreme conditions, what would be required, what medicines should be taken along, how much food and what type of food should be carried , everything. We bought suitable clothes, winter wear, thermals, scarfs, caps, woolen socks, all weather jackets, all weather shoes, one big tent so all 5 of us can be accommodated, stools, kitchen vessels, stove, water tumbler, plastic plates, spoons, disposable glasses, paper napkin roles, newspapers for collecting waste, extra bed sheets (what if we didn’t get clean bed sheets so generally I keep bedsheets and rugs with me always, when I travel by road), a brush to clean the car from inside, small compact bucket for multiple uses, knife to cut fruits and vegetables, neck pillows for all of us (as we have to travel 21 days in a Car), a rope, 2-3 types of foot wear for each of us, one for the room , other to wear during traveling and one pair of all weather shoes for the outdoors. We also took lots of music for everyone.
Here is another list for other essential items we carried : Toiletries, cold cream, petroleum jelly, mosquito repellent for body and room also. So I packed up all these basic needs. We took dry fruits, God of Gujarati nasta (snacks) – Theplas, pickles and Garlic chutney. So All the required preparations were done. Bingo! We were ready to roll!
We all were very excited and ready to go. The night before the D-day, we put all our luggage in our Car, we arranged the baggages such that – we all could sit comfortably and all required things would be easily handy .
Next day early morning we left on our great journey. Every four hours or so, we took break for food and for the call of nature. We reached Udaipur by evening, which is at a distance of around 760 km from Mumbai. After getting fresh, we relaxed, had some walk , chatted with each other regarding the first day’s experience. Everyone was comfortable and enjoying too, so all good. Next day early morning by seven, we left for Panipat. We were traveling in the month of May and during that period, temperature was so high that it touched 50 degrees. Till the time we kept moving in the car there was no problem of heat, but whenever we were out of the vehicle, the situation was really bad. We traveled almost 750 km to reach Panipat from Udaipur. So by the night time, we reached Panipat. All our Hotels were booked by us when we planned our trip. So there was no issue of looking for places to stay.
Next day early morning, we left for Jammu after having our breakfast. We traveled 505 km from Panipat to Jammu. We were reaching all the destinations very smoothly without any hassels. So by late afternoon, we reached Jammu.
HARI NIWAS PALACE, JAMMU
There we stayed at HARI NIWAS Palace Hotel. It’s the beautiful old palace of the Maharaja of Jammu, which is converted in to a hotel. Nice comfortable luxurious hotel. We stayed there for a day and next day we left for Srinagar.
I was very excited because the journey to the HIMALAYAS was about to begin. Curvey mountain roads started, weather was getting much cooler, the terrain was changing, people around were different. So we traveled around 300 kms. and reached Srinagar by late afternoon.
DAL LAKE, SRINAGAR
We had booked a House Boat at the Dal lake. We experienced house boat stay, site seeing in Srinagar and stayed there for a day. Next day we left for Gulmarg.
Gulmarg is so beautiful, indeed Heaven on the Earth. Very first time, I realised that when I took a breath, oxygen went through all the way from my nose right upto my navel point. It was as if I was getting high on Mountain air! We stayed there for two days. During the Gulmarg stay, we took a ride on the Gondola – a beautiful cable car. Gondola is a cable car which takes tourists to the Kongdoori mountain. There are two stages of this cable car. Stage one is from Gulmurg resort to Kongdoori station, at 8530 feet, up through a bowl shaped Kongdoori valley.
KONGDOORI VALLEY, GULMARG
The second stage of the ropeway, takes skiers to a height of 12293 feet. At the height of 12293 every side of site was covered by snow, white all around.
Many locals were offering skiing experience to visitors. It was so nice and beautiful, I had never seen so much snow in my life. Many trekking routes were available there.
GULMARG GOLF COURSE
After spending a few hours there, we came back to our hotel. By 4pm, we went on a trail to the Gulmarg golf course, enjoyed all day, and returned to the hotel.
We then prepared for our further journey to the LADAKH region in Jammu & Kashmir. We knew that the LADAKH region is very rough, rugged and at a very high altitude. So I was worried about the high altitude sickness, discomfort in body , sickness and headaches resulting due to thin air, and low oxygen levels etc. But we were carrying all required medicines, including Oxygen cylinders, and were aware about the circumstances.
Next day early morning after heavy breakfast, we left for Kargil. In Kashmir, everything was so serene and beautiful. As we left Gulmarg, everything around was so beautiful and air so pure. I can say, one can inhale 100% oxygen in every breath. there. You feel so fresh and energetic and alive.
By noon, we reached Sonmarg , which is around 120km from Gulmarg. Also known as “Meadow of Gold” and is at around 10000 feet above sea level. Sindhu river passes parallel to the road, sometimes just next to road. It looks so beautiful. It was still early part of summer, so many glaciers were approaching the river and even the sides of the roads.
It is nice green during summers. The scenery was a mix of bare dry hills, glaciers, and very green landscapes. Before entering Sonmarg, at one location, on the Sindhu river bank, a Glacier was meeting the river. We stoped there for a while, enjoyed the beauty of nature. Water of the river was in great force, due to melting glaciers. Then we moved ahead to Sonmarg. There were combinations of green and white mountains.
A very beautiful Sirbal peak was visible, which is 17175 feet high. I captured all the sceneries in my camera. We spent some time over there, had our lunch and moved ahead.
As you move forward, a very beautiful valley runs along the road side. Extremely beautiful. At most parts, the river running along, was frozen. Roads were broken, many land slides were visible over the road and BRO (Boarder Roads Organisation) were still working to maintain motorable roads.
BRO AT WORK
Snow caped mountains were quite visible and near by. Fresh stream water was constantly running on roads as the snow was melting. As we moved ahead, Zoji -La (La itself means pass) pass arrived.
It is at the height of 11575 feet. It is a link between Kashmir and Ladakh valley. It is the second highest pass on the Srinagar – Leh highway. It is mostly closed during winter season. BRO is responsible for clearing and maintenance of the road during the winters.
ROAD BLOCK ON ZOJI-LA
When we entered this road, it passed through 20 feet walls of frozen snow on both sides. There was snow everywhere, in the valley, on the mountains, on the roads every where! Fully loaded Trucks were passing by these treacherous roads at slow pace, and to me, these trucks were looking like proud mature village women passing through the village lanes with pots of water over their heads. It was wonderful all around.
VEHICLES PASSING THROUGH SNOW WALLS
At Zoji-La, the entire valley was covered with snow and many tourists go there to enjoy the snow. Many activities like skiing, sledging happen there. Because of many tourist vehicles parked along the road , there was a major traffic block and we were stuck there for almost four hours. We also got down from our car and started enjoying the scenic beauty. Temperature was around 5 degrees. But but it was comfortable and exciting. Then as the road cleared, we moved ahead. The roads were almost broken, there were walls of snow on both the sides of roads. It was extremely exhilarating.
SINDHU RIVER VALLEY
As we moved ahead, Sindhu river which was completely frozen , was running side by side. We could see lots of thrilled and happy faces of tourists all around us, fully enjoying the nature, just like us.
Full of joy and exploring a new world, we reached Drass. It is called the Gateway of Ladakh. We could see changes in the landscape from here. In Drass, there is a war memorial. The memorial is in the memory of the soldiers and officers of the Indian army , who were killed during the 1999 conflict between India and Pakistan.
DRASS WAR MEMORIAL
There is a food and souvenir shop there. As we went in, a commander told us the whole story of that war. We visited the Drass war museum and moved ahead.
As we moved ahead, I noticed that landscape was changing. It was getting drier, more rough and sandy.
COLOURFUL DRY MOUNTAINS
We arrived at Kargil town, where we stayed for a night. And next day after breakfast we moved towards Leh. Around 45 km from Kargil, there is a famous Chamba statue in Mulbekh village.
MAITREYA BUDDHA STATUE, MULBEKH
It is a statue of Maitreya Buddha, built in around 8th century. We visited it and moved ahead. Mountains started changing colours. Many khakhi coloured (light brown) mountains started showing. Now snow caped mountains were not much visible.
As this area is in a rain-shadow region, it gets very little rain or snow. Beautiful curvey roads were visible, as we moved ahead and when we looked back, we could see serpentine roads winding up the hills .
We then crossed Namik-La, which is a pass at the height of 12198 feet. No towns, no people around, just beautiful roads and beautiful weather.
When we found amazing views, we captured all those moments in our camera. Passing through this National highway No. 1, we arrived at the highest pass of this region, Fotu-La Top at the height of 13479 feet.
Now the landscape was changing drastically. There were many colours on the hills. We noticed red, dark brown, purple colours on dry and sandy hills.
Then we reached near Lamayuru Monastery. As we took a turn, from distance we saw a village on the other peak and it was looking so beautifully picturesque. We all were more happy to see a village because we all were very hungry and it was the lunch time. We were sure that along with site seeing, we would also get a chance to have lovely local food.
Lamayuru Monastery is located on the Leh highway at the height of 11520 feet. This is one of the oldest and largest Monastery in the Leh region. There is famous Moon land behind this Monastery.
MOONLAND AT LAMAYURU
It is muddy white mass of land which looks like the moon’s surface, created due to some unknown reasons. We saw some old broken structures and tunnel type old buildings behind this Monastery. We had a tasty lunch at small restaurant, and left.
As we traveled to Leh, there is an area called Magnet hill , near to Leh, which is a gravity hill. The layout of the area and surrounding slopes create an optical illusion that the down hill road is actually looks like an uphill road. Now roads are more straight and well-built.
LAST LEG TO LEH
At the entry to Leh, we saw a big hording welcoming all – JULLEY, on the bank of river Indus. “JULLEY means Welcome.” Finally we reached Leh, the capital of Ladakh region. Not a very big city but a small self-sufficient beautiful town.
Leh is at an altitude of 11562 feet. There was an important trade route between Tibet and Kashmir and between India and China through Leh for centuries. Leh palace is one of the major attractions for tourists here.
The palace was built in 17th century by king Sengge Namgyal. It is a 9 storey building. From Leh palace we could see the whole Leh town in an aerial view. Other places of interest in Leh is the Namagyal Gompa, Cho khang Gompa, and Chamba temple.
And in surrounding of Leh , there are few other tourist destinations like, Spituk Monastery, Stok Palace, Thikse Monastery, Shey monastery, Hemis Gompa, Basgo, Alchi Monastery etc.
Leh is surrounded by sandy landscape all around and there is a major camp of army in Leh.
We stayed in Leh for three days. We visited almost all tourist destinations and enjoyed the beauty of the town. We walked through the lanes, had wonderful local meals, enjoyed local folk dances, and camp fire nights at our hotel.