I went to Ladakh reluctantly. I returned reluctantly. That in a nutshell sums up my pre and post Ladakh experience.
If you think, mountains are mountains and you’ve seen one, you’ve seen it all. Go to Ladakh.
If you think deserts are arid and greenery can only be in the form of a mirage. Go to Ladakh.
Needless to say, I came back reformed, humbled and an ardent ambassador of the place.
Armed with Diamox (more on it later) amongst other things we set out on our Ladakh holiday. Mumbai to Delhi to Srinagar by air and then on by road throughout our 15-day trip. Naturally, visions of frost bite, back strain, road sickness and death due to lack of oxygen figured largely on my mind. As you can sense, I wasn’t the best travel companion for this trip. Later I got to know all of us in the group had the same thoughts. Phew! This is the reason why they say share your thoughts, however dark and morbid. At Delhi airport, along with Kulche Chole we downed the tablet Diamox, a life saver to counter every possible side effect lack of oxygen or heights might have on our city hardened system.
After landing at Srinagar we drove to Sonamarg, our first base before the real trip. The next morning refreshed by sound sleep and plenty of fruits for breakfast we set out for Drass (the second coldest place on earth) and a place that spelled war, Kargil. Kargil is beautiful, but yes for us it is full of war memories and you can know all about the war and its heroes with a visit to the Memorial built for them and the museum displaying all the memorabilia, to say that you come out chest swelled with pride and a lump in the throat is an understatement. At every point you encounter our army folks, they are standing guard everywhere because geographically Ladakh is highly vulnerable to attacks from our not so friendly neighbours. We had a very special interaction with one such army man. He stopped our vehicle, a brand new Innova Crysta and our driver was a gem, he drove with the agility of a mountain goat and was a great company. Highly recommend him. If you are interested I could share his contacts.
Coming back to our encounter, so we were stopped and when he saw Indians he was very happy, I saw his name tag and spoke to him in Marathi, he was elated, from far away sunny Sholapur, here he was in the bitter cold, to further take him closer to home, we offered him tilgul laddoos (sesame seeds and jaggery sweet) his eyes misted, he told us to wait and ran to his tent, surprising the other guys posted there, he came out with two cartons of fruit juice and insisted we keep it, we took one and parted with indelible memories.
The rest of our road trip was a slideshow of perfection and the pinnacle of the beauty of nature. We went along with the flow of the Indus, it was heartening to say that the river about which we had read so much in history was right there for us to feel and feel we did. Sat on the banks with our feet in the icy cold water and drank in the serene beauty. The monasteries of Leh Ladakh are not, you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all, each is a work of art, held together with strong, quiet faith and enhanced by the scenery around it and the views below it. We had a wholesome lunch at the famous Pathar Sahib Gurudwara, where like all gurudwaras service was key. Travelled on the highest motorable road (Khardung La(pass) and thanked our stars we had Diamox and kept sniffing on camphor tablets, we heard one of the passengers in a car behind us had succumbed to the vagaries of the highest pass.
Pangong Lake with its glassy perfection depicting every shade of blue is a sight dreams are made of. Nubra Valley is a green haven filled with singing birds and orchards, heaven? Yes! At Tso Moriri the sight of peak hour traffic was the most welcome impediment to our journey, a huge herd of Pashmina goats, their priceless wool shimmering in the morning sun, crossing our path.
Do not miss the opportunity to visit the Aryan village, it is said that the inhabitants are originals from the Aryan race. Whether their long, hooked noses and fair skin prove it right or not, the village and interaction with the villagers are certainly a must-do. The trees are laden with fruits, the fields ripe with golden wheat, the water gushing through the streams and vales and the people, smiling and content, happy in their world!
Yes, the entire journey is risky, the huge boulders can come down tumbling any time and cause your vehicle to fold up like crumpled paper, yet it is worth every risk, it is the journey of a lifetime, to take in so much natural beauty, interact with the sweet, innocent locals, know about the difficulties they face with the hostile climate makes it all worth it…after all you can get knocked down even in your seemingly safe city.
PS: Please consult your physician about Diamox.