Summer ’14 brought with it a long long-awaited trip to Ladakh – a barren, yet strikingly beautiful region in the Indian Himalayas. Ladakh’s been on my to-do list for the last few years but kept getting put off to the next year because of the remoteness of the region and the travel time needed to get there. Now that it has happened, I’d say it’s easily one of my all-time favourite destinations. I’m going to be documenting the legs of the journey one-by-one but first the top-level view:
When we went: Late July-early August. By this time, the snow has melted, roads have opened up and the weather is predictably sunny by day and still in positive numbers (deg. C) even on the coldest nights. Ladakh has a short tourist season from late May to late September – it stays snowed in and largely disconnected for the long, harsh winter that lasts the remaining 8 months of the year.
Route taken: Chandigarh to Manali to Leh – all by road. Chandigarh has a domestic airport where you can fly in from many major Indian cities. Leh is the capital and the largest town in the Ladakh district. Manali is an overnight stop in Himachal Pradesh and a charming town in its own right. We also made a detour on our way from Manali to Leh to visit Tso Moriri (Tso stands for lake in Ladakhi), one of the largest lakes in the region, where we camped overnight. Leh served as our base for other trips in the region like Nubra Valley, Pangong Tso and a whitewater rafting trip. Our return was via a flight from Leh to Mumbai. (See map further below for more details of our route – different legs of the trip are colour-coded differently)
Distance covered: 1800 kms over 9 days
Places visited: Manali, Leh, Nubra Valley, Tso Moriri, Pangong Tso
Motorbike vs Car: The trip is one of the legendary bike journeys for the more adventurous souls (who also have the luxury of more time), we stuck to a car (a 4-wheel drive SUV was the chosen machine) for time and comfort. We also encountered some even more adventurous souls who were cycling all the way from Manali to Leh (insanely tough).
Self-drive vs Hiring a driver: The roads are just dirt tracks and a bit tricky in places so it takes reeeally long to cover distances – we had very experienced (hired) drivers doing the tough work for us.
The Good: Views that will take your breath away and give you perspective of your tiny existence on this earth. The trip also gives you a chance to disconnect from your life back home with no mobile or internet connection for days. A word of caution though – don’t go expecting luxury and be prepared to rough it out a little – the jaw-dropping sights you’ll see will more than make up for the lack of luxury, I promise.
The Bad: Roads are non-existent in some parts so expect a rocky ride. You will be travelling at very high altitudes (7000 to 17000 ft or 2000 to 5000 m – yep!) and if you don’t get enough time to acclimatize, the dreaded AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness, more about that in another post) can strike and put you out of sorts. The route is not commercially developed – while I’m thankful for the lack of settlements not obstructing my view, but it brings with it the obvious challenges – filthy holes-in-the-ground will serve your purpose when nature calls.
More tales from the road coming up – I hope you decide to and get to experience this magical land on the roof of the world soon too! Just don’t let too many people know about it. 😉