DAY 1:- The Day We Left Mumbai
My first journey on the Rajdhani Express, our second vacation of the year and we were heading to Ladakh (North India), India, for a four day trek with five other people. On the 18th of July, 2008, we commenced our holiday by leaving for Delhi from Mumbai’s Mumbai Central station.
We were a group of seven people: – my sister, two of her colleagues, L and R, their friends/relatives, S, RV, SG (who would be meeting us at Delhi airport) and yours truly. None of us (except my sister and I) knew each other very well so a train journey was the perfect way to get acquainted with each other over hot soup and some yummy dinner. Talks about Kung Fu Panda – the movie, and martial arts in general seemed to take priority before hitting the bed.
DAY 2:- The Day We Reached Delhi
Around 9:30 AM we were at Delhi station. Since our flight to Leh was early next morning, we pre-booked a hotel to dump our luggage for the day. Having varied plans to spend our day we soon went our separate ways. My sister and I met with her friend, MB who is a thorough gentleman. You don’t expect too many men in India to open doors for you let alone let you enter a place first! I was mistaken.
My sister and I were starving. We hadn’t eaten anything since we reached and were eager to fill our growling stomachs. However MB had other plans. Trying to find a good place to eat turned into a mini tour around Delhi. Finally we got to the restaurant. Although the wait for a table made us turn right back and wail at MB to take us elsewhere. He did.
Finally we were satiated. The ‘I’ll pay the bill, no I’ll pay the bill’ argument was an excuse to avoid the killing heat outside. But we eventually had to leave so instead we stuck to sitting in his air-conditioned car and got out only if it was absolutely necessary. After yet another mini tour of Delhi, we finally decided to go watch a movie, The Dark Knight. The movie was brilliant! Heath Ledger’s (May his soul rest in peace) acting as the joker gave me goose bumps. He sure made jokers a bit distasteful for me for quite a while.
Later MB burned a bigger hole in his pocket (yes, he won the earlier debate) by also paying for dinner, at Nirulas’.
The desserts were tempting but I was craving for proper food. Post dinner, we shared a fruit shake kinda thing of which my sister and I took a teeny weensy bite and made poor MB eat the rest. Having enjoyed every second spent that day; MB dropped us off at the hotel at around 11 P.M.
The others had returned to their respective rooms by then and were waiting for time to pass by. Our flight was around 5:30 A.M. so with groggy faces we left for the airport and were joined by SB.
Day 3:- Reached Leh
One glance at the view as we touched down at Leh airport drove our sleep deprivation right away. The sight around the place was stunning. It was quiet, peaceful and surrounded by mountains. You’re hit with this cold wind which was a drastic change from the Delhi heat. But we ensured we had a jacket on us before leaving Delhi.
The owners and the cook of the guesthouse, Mahey, which we were staying at, were soft spoken, kind people. Having noticed that L spoke the same language, they were thrilled to the core. We were soon allotted our rooms and after refreshing ourselves, we breakfasted sitting in the garden area of the guesthouse.
The guys went off to sleep so we girls went out for a short walk around the area enjoying the cool breeze. Almost instantly we were subjected to plenty of tall Poplar (Populus) trees.
We also saw these tiny white cotton kinds of flakes floating around though we never came around to knowing the name of it. It felt a bit like it was snowing. After a short walk we headed back towards Mahey from another route and saw these guesthouses with beautiful handmade woodwork on them. It looked so different from the houses and buildings you see in cities. There were lots of yaks and donkeys lolling about in their own little world. It was quite a refreshing change.
In the evening we visited the market which was a 15 minute walk from the guesthouse. The market was really small having just one ATM in the whole area. But obviously there was a crowd hanging around there waiting their turn to pull out money.
Most of the restaurants were roof tops with large chocolaty mountains as a backdrop. We decided to grab a bite at the market and contemplated where to go. We zoned in on The Little Italy. By now it’s evening and getting cold so we preferred some hot tea to warm our hands and throats too. L’s mint tea looked like it had the entire Leh market’s mint stock put into her glass. Some piping hot spring rolls, hot cups of tea, mountains as the view… life was indeed beautiful.
After an hour or so we were back at the guesthouse talking till dinnertime. The cook of the guesthouse, Raj, made a scrumptious meal of dal, rice, chapattis and vegetables which were grown in their own backyard. Needless to say whenever we ate at the guesthouse we had fresh ‘home grown’ vegetables. It was the perfect way to end the day.
Day 4:- Leh Palace
Waking up to birds’ chirping is definitely better than waking up to cars and buses honking. Actually there is no comparison. Birds’ chirping was definitely better. Plus the early morning misty view was added bonus. After a breakfast of hot toast and tea, we went to the market since R wanted to get his broken spectacles fixed and also visited the Leh Palace.
We came across a shop that said ‘Dentist cum Optician’. We looked at RV and grinned. Deciding to take the safe route of some scotch tape and thread, he skipped the shop. As we continued further we came across a Prayer wheel. Well actually prayer wheels. They are cylindrical wheels that people turn while chanting a mantra or a wish. The ones that we saw was a long line of dome shaped ones like drums.
Purchase done we set off for Leh Palace. Leh Palace is built in a way that it overlooks the town of Leh. Of course the palace is almost in ruins but it is being restored by the Archaeological Survey of India. The path to the palace was interesting with its twists and turns through lanes of houses. At times we would get stuck but help was always around. For example, there was a drum which said ‘WAY TO PALACE’ along with an arrow sign on it. That’s right. A drum. I’m not kidding. I have a picture of it too. People sure are thoughtful.
There weren’t any smooth roads as such. A bit of a rocky climb to it. My poor sis wore slippers not remembering we were climbing to the palace and at one point she almost gave up because it hurt her feet to walk in slippers on rocks! But with a little encouragement and help from us, she continued with it.
The view from the palace was stunning. You could almost see the entire market which speaks in itself as to how small the place must be! The best part is that with all the restoration effort, they hadn’t changed the structure at all. They made sure to keep everything intact without destroying anything. With an entrance fee of 5 INR, we explored the palace. The view of oodles of greenery, tall mountains surrounding it and lots of yaks grazing around peacefully made it an absolute picture perfect.
In spite of the cool breeze the sun did get to us. Back at the market, we stopped to grab something to drink and cool ourselves. With that done, we returned to the guesthouse via a different route. On the way we passed the Shanti Stupa, a large white looking dome which to reach required strength to climb more than 500 steps. Not easy steps, mind you. Neither of us except for SB wanted to take that risk before the trek even begun. Off he went climbing and stopping every few steps to catch his breath. Of course all that climbing resulted in blisters on his feet and he limped all the way back to the guesthouse.
Before leaving in the morning, we asked Raj to make some Momos, a type of dumplings, for us. So when we returned to the guesthouse he was busy preparing them. After a wash and some relaxed time, we feasted on them. That was my first ever try at Momos and I loved it! It was absolutely lip smacking delicious.
DAY 6:- Khardung La and Nubra Valley
Since the drive to Khardung La which was around 40 KM away from Leh was a long and an extremely tricky one, we left at 7 AM. The person who took us also helped get the required permits to get to Nubra Valley and also did an outstanding job of driving there. The skills required to drive on that narrow path is something extraordinary. It is only when you look out of the window that you realize how close to the edge of the road you really are. One mistake and you topple down a steep descent filled with rocks.
In spite of the ‘rocky road’, we made it to the pass by 9:30 AM. The wind was icy cold, but the people around were ever so warm that you really don’t pay attention to the cold. At a height of 18, 380 feet, Khardung La, where La means Pass, is considered the highest motorable road in the world. Standing there, I had no doubts about it. Although it is being debated whether it indeed is the highest motorable road or not. The view around the place was breathtaking! Snow-capped mountains, non-snow capped mountains, the snow glistening with the sun rays kissing it made it a place that you wouldn’t mind staying a long while. But having to actually get there is all thanks to the engineers who helped build this road. Some (eighteen) even lost their lives doing so. The road is so brittle that it has to be re-laid often and it is also closed during the winter for it is just too darn difficult to drive there.
After spending a few minutes photographing the place, we stood about enjoying the scenery. Glancing about I saw this little bit of a mountain covered with snow close enough to touch it and I was thrilled. Now I have touched snow. Played in it too. But I don’t remember it. I was too young. So the thought of being able to do so again and this time REMEMBER it made me happier than ever. For a minute I enjoyed it. And then I got clobbered by it in the form of snow balls. Do I regret it? Heck no!
After our mini snow fight, we bought some souvenirs, breakfasted on hot noodles and set off for Nubra Valley.
As we went further down towards the valley, we saw plenty of little streams flowing down the mountains. That was the ice melting which made it trickier to drive. But then we had a star driver who drove smoothly as I mentioned earlier. Although in some places a hole of some sort was drilled in the road so that the water passed through it rather than on the road and making it slippery. It was quite a long journey and each turn would give a different view of the same mountains. We even saw this huge thing which at first sight could make you think its sand or even the ground itself. But if you concentrated on it for a minute you’ll notice that it’s water.
At Khardung La it was really cold and you saw mostly snow capped mountains but as you move closer to the Nubra valley it’s just mountains, mountains and more mountains with a tinge of greenery added here and there, a big river running along and sand. At an altitude of 10, 000 feet, it looks like a desert with tons of mountains around.
Before heading right down to the valley, we drove into the town for lunch. Once we leave the valley, it was impossible to stop over anywhere and it would be too late. So after a quick lunch we continued our journey. At the main valley you got to see bits of everything. Mountains (of course), sand, trees, water, gorgeous blue sky, a few camels too lazy to move and few tourists.
The camels were double humped ones and looked pretty sleepy and didn’t just feel like getting up. None of us wanted to ride a camel so we just took a few photographs. But the view was something that can only be described as awesome.
The ride back was a four to five hour journey so we didn’t stay for long. Driving on those roads is tricky enough during the day. Having to do so when it’s dark is something neither of us wanted to risk. The whole way my eyes were on the driver’s arms concentrating on the steering wheel. He made the drive look like a piece of cake although it definitely wasn’t. Around four the driver took a well-deserved break for a few minutes for some tea. We commended his driving skills all the time and truly appreciated him driving us back and forth safely.
We reached the guesthouse at 7:30 PM. Some food tucked into our tummies a few minutes later; there was nothing else to do except sleep and bid Ladakh a peaceful goodbye the next day.