Leh’d, what I wanted to be, when I first saw a photograph of “Tso Kiagar”. The lake was so serene, so empty, so pristine and virgin that there was this blue sky and lake skittered by white clouds. I planned to go alone to be the part of that vast Himalayan Emptiness, to rediscover myself and what I miss from this world.
I decided to join this Canon Photo tour with 18 strangers, and why not-- to be alone in the group of photographers, learning skills and discovering the inner self. What I didn’t know that one night at Sarchu will turn this group of strangers into “The Sarchu survivors” and a family later on.
13th Sep 2009
We started our journey from Ambience mall in Gurgaon to Delhi (around 6 PM), where we boarded our Volvo for Manali. We soon crossed Chandigarh, Ambala to have our dinner at a dhaba.We were making new friends each passing time, I got my partner Sameer (from Luckhnow) seating next to me, we were initially hooked to photography talks, and then later moved to other aspects of life. Night was passing by. Around 2Am, we crossed Saar Ghat and stopped at Bilaspur (HP) to have a cup of coffee. Ascend was already started with mercury dropping at regular intervals. We proceeded to Mandi via Sundernagar. We crossed over a tunnel named Mandi Dwar to move parallel to Sarvari River in Parvati Valley to reach Kullu via Bhuntar. Around 9 Am we reached Kullu and saw our first glimpse of snow capped peaks. Whole of the team got really excited and brought our cameras to life. Forgetting that after two days we will be crossing over those snow to our destination. River Beas was flowing with little known rapids, finally we reached Manali.
14th Sep 2009- Same day continued in Manali.
Manali is surrounded by sceneryful snow capped mountains and pine trees. It was our main jumping off point for Lahaul, Spiti and Ladakh. Manali is based around one street called The Mall and two roads running along Beas River. We strolled in groups to reach Hadimba temple, shooting Manali and people for portraits. Kish uncle’s keen interest for portraits was helping us a lot as he has a good skill of making our subject comfortable. Hadimba temple was covered in wood carving, horns of bull and ibex, surrounded by Deodar (Cedar) trees standing tall.
At dinner, all the non vegetarians and alcohol-lovers united at our very next door Johnson’s Cafe. The setting was marvellous for our first night together, no I don’t mean orgy here, the right kind of music with the very right kind of food. Rivers of Kullu and Parvati are rich in Trout and Masher. I’d butter garlic fresh Trout for my dinner along with beer among others.
15th Sep 2009- Extended stay in Manali.
We had our orientation and quick breakfast. Our plan was to do some adventures like paragliding and River rafting in Beas. We forgot that today roads were closed to Solang nallah and the rapids were not good enough to be suited for an adventure. However few Adrenaline-Pushers like me went half the way to Solang nallah, in hope of jumping off from Gulaba. We returned back shooting river Beas instead. Later we visited Tibetan monastery and old Manali. Later in afternoon Sai and I went for beer in Mall discussing camera, girls and life.
16th Sep 2009 Real Journey begins----
We started from Manali around 6 o’clock for Sarchu via Lahaul valley. Manali is a gateway to Lahaul and Spiti (Largest District in HP), highway runs to Rohtang pass (4000m) in just 50Kms for 4 hours of steep climb. We passed Chode Bridge to encounter a traffic jam at Gulaba due to a landslide. We soon crossed Kothi, Rahala and a very breezy Marhi. We reached Rohtang (Pile of dead bodies: literal meaning of Rohtang: A reference to the hundreds of traveller who have frozen to death over the centuries.) The pass was covered with snow on both the sides, and we had our first taste of chill and snow. We were taking our time shooting snow sky and White Mountains. We were told to move forward for our journey by promises of more snow at Baralachla. We proceeded to Keylong (the capital of Lahaul) continuing our journey to Ladakh.
We crossed Grampu signifying end of Spiti valley and reached Khoksar. It has several Dhabas and a checkpoint. We’d our hot Maggie Soup. We also met some foreigner monks and clicked them too. We moved from tiny Khoksar for a sheer sided valley hemmed by rock walls and rough terrains of Sissu. The Chandra River was accompanying us.
We reached Jispa via Keylong, which is a popular overnight stop for bikers. Mercury was dropping very fast as we felt those bitter coldness. We reached Darcha (Nicknamed Daru by our Gagan Sir) for our late Lunch. No prizes for guessing that we had same Maggie soup for our lunch. Meat-Rice was another option to devour upon; however we were advised not to take oily food at the beginning of our journey for the heck of AMS. We needed to acclimatize ourselves for those high altitudes, the toll was already brooding over 4-5 fellow passengers. Darcha was last permanent settlement before Rumtse in Ladakh. We crossed Bhagal nallah which combines with Chandra River to become Chandrabhaga River. We crossed a military settlement called Zing Zing Bar where I took a shot of whole army from behind (Pheeche Se). Later it became a famous phrase as it was used anywhere.
There was another check post at Patseo before the road climbs over the breathless Baralachla. I clicked our Tiranga hosted over the valley. We crossed Chandra Tal and Deepak Tal. Snow was visible now, soon to take over the entire view. I have not seen so much of whiteness in my entire life, a sign that we are nearing Baralachla at a striking height of 4050m. We were literally breathless by the emptiness of nature. That time of day, I realised how important Oxygen is for our life. Even a lesser amount was leading to dizziness, fatigue and breathlessness. I wish I could stay a bit longer there, however we hurried downhill to reach a city of four parachute tent Dhabas called Bharatpur. We soon wrapped ourselves with more warm cloths, sipping hot ginger lemon Tea that went down a treat.
The cold breeze was something of a devil, shivering down our spine. From Bharatpur, it was along dusty drive to next Island, SARCHU. It s a bleak and bitterly cold spot and unfortunately our night stay. Our dreadest night was arranged by Golden Camps, though camps were modern and very warm but not enough to keep us warm. We had our hot soup and dinner. We started clicking stars with our shutter set at BULB. Thanks to Sameer for keeping everyone motivated enough in that night.
Still between 16th and 17th Sep 2009--- The Graveyard Shift.
Here are some excerpts from that night.
Time 12:30 AM
Tent number 9:
Sarabjit: Partner, what is the time?
Sai: It’s 12 F***ing 30 AM.
After some time, Sarabjit: Partner, what is the time?
Sai: It’s still 12 F***ing 30 AM.
Believe me, Sleep was also frozen somewhere that night. Mercury was falling below eight and we had just a tent above our head. Nobody slept peacefully. I retired early but woke up in the middle of night gasping for breath. My hot water bag was lying cold with me. After a very long time around 2 AM, I got myself being called upon by nature. It took another 20 minutes for me to decide whether I should go for it or not. Finally I called my partner to check whether he is awake.
Tent number 10:
Saurabh (as Me): (Whispering) Sameer??
Me: (surprised) you awake, didn’t sleep!!!!
Sameer: Sort of, it’s really hard to get a nap.
I moved, removed the two layers of quilt, and went up to bathroom, which was luckily inside the tent itself. I screamed” Sameer, come here have a look, All the water in the bucket, pipe and toilet is frozen!!!!”
Around 5 Am, we came out of our tents to shoot the Himalayan Sunrise. Then, we had our breakfast and proceeded towards Leh. We passed Whiskey nallah and Brandy nallah (well guessed by Sai) to reach a magnificent view of Tantanatan valley. The view was straight out of the painting, I have not seen before those shades of blue and those sculpture crafted naturally by the extreme Himalayan weather.
Another set of spectacular scenery started and soon we reached Gata loops. It had 21 hairpin bends where road winds through a series of dramatic switchbacks. It rose up to 5060m to lachungLa Pass. We also crossed kangla Jal after Nakeela Pass (15500 feet). The beauty of Nakeela is its loneliness as it stands high and several small stones kept on each other to value a Ladakhi tradition. Soon we were reaching another bleak point through several breath taking mountains, sculpture, iceless and water-caves to Pang. Pang was another set of parachute tents and noisy yellow beaked crows. We had our typical Maggie Noodle soup for lunch along with Omelette and Black Ginger Tea.
Morrey Plains, after pang, was a stretch of straight bumpy ride of 49Kms. We saw several tribes with sheep and Pashmeena goat’s herd, as our Innova was torturing us with its weak shock-absorbers. Soon the plain road struggled up to desperate slope of second highest motorable pass of the World at breath taking height of 5328m-tanglangLa Pass (17580 feet). From here we sped down rapidly to beautiful and greener Indus Valley via Lato (Maroon colored hills) to Upsi, crossing Rumtse. Leh was only 49 more kms away. Here roads were better as we crossed Karu Cantt (Trishul Wheelers’ Army), Thikshey, Shey and Choglamasar to reach Leh. We hurried to our hotel stay which was much more comfortable and warm than the last night. Luckily we had our tern to have hot water bath. It was so relaxing that the hint was very much clearer that we were acclimatized.
18th Sep 2009 Leh day tour
To my surprise Leh was a better tourist town with all Pizzeria, Rooftop Bars, ATM, Cybercafés and more like a backpacker’s paradise at its highest (3505m ASL) with crumbling glimpses of Old-Leh.
We started our local sightseeing with Leh market shooting for portraits. After lunch we visited Thikshey Gompa, the largest of all, which is actually a 12storey Gompa on a hill and more than 600 monks stays in. It was quiet and peaceful, with beautifully painted morels and well decorated worship places. It was followed by Shey palace and Gompa-once a summer capital of Ladakh.
Next, we crossed Indus to reach Stok Palace – The official home to Royal family. From Stok Palace we could see peaceful lanes and white washed farmhouses and Golden peaks of Stok Kangri (6120 m). We then move towards Kargil highway number NH1D to visit and feel the phenomenon of Magnetic Hill, which pulls the entire vehicle uphill. We crossed Spituk Gompa (Kaali) and also the airport Army base to be pulled by Magnetic Hill. It looked more like an illusion to me, but phenomenon.
Our day was finished and before crashing we had our dinner at Tibetan Kitchen on Fort Road a midst din and bustle of small Leh. We had Shabakleh (Stuffed bread with Meat) and some Ruchowtse (Momos).
19th Sep 2009 Pangong Tso
We left early for Asia’s longest lake and most beautiful lake among all. We reached Changla Pass through a narrow and tough road from Leh. It is the third highest pass in the world at height of 5289m. There is a army tea canteen which provides all the travellers Black tea and dry fruits at no cost. Beyond Changla another breath taking valley opens up along with some greenery where you can see Wild Himalayan Horses, Ibexes, Tibetan Antelopes, Himalayan Wolves, Black necked Cranes and our own favourite Himalayan Marmot (Phiya in local language). This fat rat, size of a small dog, from squirrel family was fearless and friendly. I game him my partner’s parantha and chocolates. We stayed some quality time with him in his wild while returning. We also saw kiangs (wild Tibetan asses) that roam freely here.
Soon we crossed Pagal nallah and reached Pangong Tso (13950 feet) backed by magnificent Karakorum Mountains. It runs 130 kms into Tibet and 70% of it is in China, making it the longest in Asia and highest lake of the world. This Brackish water lake is having a melancholy beauty. Water is real blue and so is the sky. F22 in the midday with ISO100 and 1 stop less exposure did all the magic for our shots, esp., for 501 series. Life came to a full stop admiring it. We saw common Merganser Duck, Ruddy Shell Duck swimming calmly making ripples. There is a boating option available too.
We returned via Tangtse Village for a short visit to ancient Tibetan kitchen which is 100 yrs old. We didn’t eat any delicacies there but shot some good flashless, handheld shots of the owner.
20th Sep 2009 Road to Nubra.
From Leh, a rough road runs over the highest motorable pass of the world- Khardungla (5602m/19780 ft) after crossing south Pullu. Here our team learnt a new law of Mountain Motions—“Altitude is directly proportional to the Bowel pressure”- By our own Isaac ‘Sai’ Newton. This was also verified by Pj (Parichay Joshi), while returning from the same pass which was witnessed by our own Chantu and Bantu (Ankur and Ankush, not in the same order).
Soon beyond the pass we saw beautiful valley of Nubra, criss-crossed by Shyok and Nubra rivers. After we reach north Pullu, the road winded down to Khardung village and then to Diskit. Diskit was the main town of Nubra, where we visited Diskit Gompa. The Gompa was very peaceful and quiet. From the top we could see whole of Nubra, overpowered by a newly built Future Buddha statue; Maiterya.
Beyond Diskit, the road passes through a wide area of rolling sand and dunes and scrubby grasses. We reached Hunder and settled in Royal Camp resort, next to a full stream. A beautiful oasis in the middle of the highest cold desert is what I call Life. We were speechless as our night was fulfilled with antaksharies, lectures on Thank you and How to meet bacterian Camels (Some of them had a chance to kiss them), love songs and absolutely no Rum with the lasting Camp fire.
21st Sep 2009 Back to Leh
We woke up too early at 3:30 Am to cross Khardungla before 6 Am, to avoid the closure of road until next day to witness the beautiful highest Sunrise of our life.
We reached Leh early and visited Shanti stupa and Leh Palace. Leh palace was in ruins and constructions were being carried out. It has Namghyal Gompa, victory fort, soma Gompa and chanma Lakhang, along with the Leh view from the top. Our trip was nearing an end and our tiredness was coming to our restless.
We had our dinner together at Summer Harvest along with Godfather Beer and laughter which had its moment. Trip is over. Six of us were to return back to Manali. The rest were either flying back or proceeded to Srinagar via Kargil.
22nd /23rd Sep 2009 - Leh to Manali.
Next day we were back on the same route to Leh. We stopped at Keylong for our night stay. Next morning we crossed Rohtang and saw some of the paragliders. We stopped the car, Sai and I decided to Jump off to Kothi (9 Kms before Manali) from Rohtang. So we jumped to view tiny valley shooting pictures. I landed 30 minutes after to witness Sai’s crash due to a pressure pocket. He had his leg fractured; soon we rushed to Manali Mission Hospital for his proper medication. The day was over with all of our adventures.
24th Sep 2009 Last day
Sameer and I were the last men standing in Manali, so we decided to Pat ourselves. We bought one 6pack of Godfather and strolled through a large group of Deodars on the banks of Beas. The entry to the nature’s park was altogether illegal. We saw many birds like Monal Pheasant, Common Tit and Tern. We had some memories together, River Beas was flowing with all of it.
We had our lunch at Chopstick before proceeding towards the Bus Stand.
Delhi and life, here we come after a well deserving break.
“GAR FIRDAUS BAR RUE ZAMIN AST, HAMI ASTO, HAMI ASTO, HAMI ASTO”
“GAR FIRDAUS BAR RUE ZAMIN AST, HAMI ASTO, HAMI ASTO, HAMI ASTO”
Kish Uncle with Nikon (Our GuruJi)
Deepu and Ram - from kerala
Deepali and Sameer - From Nagpur
Gagan Sir- Cowboy
Ankur and Ankush: From Delhi
Jyot- the Fittest
Sid- CEO from Rourkela
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