Destination: Leh – Ladakh – India

 

Leh – three small letters, but symbolizing a place with scenic landscapes, warm people and fresh air that you don’t find in the plains.

My holiday last year was from Srinagar to Leh. While driving we halted at Hambotingla, at a height of 13,202 ft with a breathtaking view. Standing tall were mountains shaded in brown dust, with vertical structures resembling Egyptian temples.

The endless winding snakelike roads lead deeper into the valley where we came across a village called Darchick, an Aryan Village remnant from the time of Alexander the Great with people having features similar to erstwhile Aryans like sharp noses and light eyes. To see an actual bloodline trace of our history still prevalent in our country was interesting.

En route from Drass to Leh was a beautiful monastery called Lamayuru, also the name of a small village with the 1000 years old monastery set amidst an area known as ‘Moon Land’ (as it resembles the topography of the moon) and a ravine.

Other interesting visits were to the Magnet Hill, also called ‘gravity hill’ as it produces the optical illusion of a vehicle moving on its own without being started. Near the hill is the Gurdwara Pathar Sahib, a Gurudwara famous for a stone placed within the Gurudwara which bears the mould of Guru Nanak meditating, and this has its answers in a mythological tale.

While in Leh the Shanti Stupa is a peaceful place, at a high altitude where a lesson in the history of Buddhism can be undertaken. It is built by Japanese for world peace & inaugurated by the Dalai Lama in 1985.

The Thiksey monastery, few kilometres from Leh had a lot of old scriptures and a golden three story high Buddha statue in the main prayer hall. I also visited the Defence Institute of High Altitude Research (DIHAR) where scientists had undertaken a successful plantation drive, driving up oxygen content in the region and even helping farmers produce vegetables (of massive size) when transportation routes from the valley seize during winter months.

A fascinating fact was the organised cultivation of seabuckthorn, a plant better known here as Leh Berry, which earlier grew wildly and was considered useless, now being used to produce a number of products, helping in economic and self sustainment of the people of that region.

Visit the Hemis Monastery, the largest & richest monastery in the region and the Stok Palace– the residence of the Royal family.

Ladakh is unparalleled by any other landscape in the country, a rare example of an intact historic Tibeto-Himalayan urban settlement.

(c) Photographs by Ritika Sabharwal

 

A Pillion’s Leh Travelogue: What to pack for a biking trip?

In most of my travels the luggage restriction was in terms of weight and not volume, so when my husband told me to fit everything we both needed for a 6 day trip in a single saddle bag, I was less than amused. Never the less, it is important to travel light, prioritize requirements and share with fellow travels.

Some of my tips as trip essentials that one can use as a basic blue print –

CASH:  Carry some money, ATM’s haven’t been installed and most people believe in the saying ‘In God we trust, the rest pay cash’.

CLOTHING:  On a trip like this you shall experience extreme heat and cold; you’ll get wet from the water crossings and have very dry skin from the cold harsh winds. So you’ll need it all. My suggestion is to only pack comfortable clothes and use the layering strategy. You’ll definitely need –

  1. All weather Jacket – water proof, wind proof, reasonably warm.
  2. Gloves – take a warm pair for the passes and cold that you can wear under the biking gloves. The wind is cold and harsh.
  3. Waterproof high shoes if possible, but keep a spare as your shoes will definitely get wet
  4. The normal stuff – T’s, socks etc take as few as possible, nothing really gets dirty under the big jacket you’ll be wearing. And all the pictures will have you in the same jacket and jeans anyway.
  5. I would also suggest Rain gear. It not only cuts the wind and rain, it makes up for an extra layer. Also, try to water-proof your luggage as this dust and slush out, especially during the water crossings.

TOILETRIES

  1. The basic toothpaste, toothbrush, hairbrush. Try to buy the small travel packs for everything.
  2. Must take sunscreen and Lip balm, and apply it like you are the Aussi Cricket Team. Your skin will peel off even under the goggles and helmet.
  3. Goggles or some eye protection
  4. Helmet and please wear it at all times on the bike. Not wearing it, is not Cool.
  5. Carry a roll or two of toilet paper and a box of garbage bag. One needs tissues and plastic bags all the time. As a special favor to me don’t dispose away the plastic bottles/ bags till you reach Leh. We have to protect the few clean places left in this world.
  6. Torch, Matches, Lighter
  7. Cell phone, camera, extra batteries, chargers etc

FOOD: You’ll find small eating places every few 100 km or so, they all will serve Maggie, tea/coffee, biscuits and dal-chawal. Trust me all of these taste awesome when you are hungry. Try to drink bottled water/ boiled water if possible if you have a weak stomach. Carry Mother Dairy Milk Chocolate for instant energy. Dry fruits and some small nibbles to keep in your pocket.

MEDICINES

  1. Diamox is used with varying success to speed up acclimatization. Those that are allergic to sulfa medication cannot use Diamox, should consult their doc. To avoid Acute Mountain Sickness drink lots and lots of water. The oxygen in the water helps especially on high mountain passes where oxygen is low.
  2. Basic stuff like pain killers, flu pills, stomach infection pills (constipation is not that big a problem), and other regular medicines one takes.
  3. Band-aid, muscle spray like Moove and crepe bandage.

BIKE – FUEL & TOOLS

  1. Fill up fuel where ever you can. We got a 25 litre tank fitted on our bike for the trip and had success with it.
  2. Check the air pressure and one of the travelers should carry an air pump
  3. Spark Plug, Clutch Cable, Accelerator Cable, Front brake Cable, Spare Tube -2, Duplicate Set of Keys, Chain Link,
  4. Spare Headlight- Halogen, Spare Tail Light, Tool-Kit, Petrol Pipe, Spare Fuses, Insulation Tape and so on.
  5. Map

STAY & RESERVATIONS

  1. Make your bookings in advance wherever you can. Keep a print out of your tickets and hotel reservations.
  2. If you are staying in tents on the way, make sure you have enough warm blankets /clothing.

DOCUMENTS & PERMITS

  1. Keep identity card with yourself while travelling.
  2. Get permits for going to various places like Nubra Valley, Pang etc
  3. License, Vehicle Registration+ Insurance Papers- Original Xeroxes of the same-2, keep one copy in bike other carry with you or in the toolbox, another in the luggage.

CAMERA: I don’t think there is a need for an explanation here 🙂

Also, The Lazymoterbike has some great tips for the rider & pillion.

 

Bon voyage!

 

 

(c) Photographs by Sharninder Khera and Nitin Joshi

Thai New Year: Songkran & it's Indian Connection

Last year at this time, we were drenched to the skin and loving it as we walked down the Beach Road at Pattaya. No it was not raining, it was bright and sunny. Hot to be precise. It was Songkran day and ice-cold water was being poured on us by everyone on the street.

Songkran is Thai New Year. A festival, celebrated for 3 days starting from 13th April, where getting wet and having fun is all part of the celebration.

At about eight in the morning we left our hotel and walked down the street in search for some breakfast. We noticed locals with bottles of water and big drums of ice water placed outside the shops, assuming that on a hot day like this, hydration must be high on the agenda, we walked on. But as we turned to the Beach road we were bombarded with a garden hose. Stunned, Speechless and completely Soaked, we felt a little Stupid not remembering that today was Songkran. The posters and information was available all over since we had arrived in Thailand.

From then on there was no looking back, you can’t avoid it (unless you stay in your hotel room for 3 days). The lively celebrations on the streets were infectious and we even spotted foreigners joining in with water battles. And they say – if you can’t beat them join them! So we did.

It’s like our very own Holi, just no colors and the other skin harming stuff. Only some chalk (white mud paste) and water is sprayed. From garden hoses to the well-aimed bucket or water-cannon delivered in a festive spirit. The best way to beat the heat, wouldn’t you say!

Bands of youngsters roamed the streets or whizzed past in open trucks with water guns and buckets of water with which they doused one another and others on the street. You’ll find toy stores in big malls selling water-guns and accessories. 7-Eleven sells handy little plastic purses that are the right size for a camera, some money and keys.

Although Songkran seems like amusement for the kids. It has a more significant role – the underlying significance of Songkran is the process of cleansing and purification – the purging of all ills, misfortune and evil and starting the New Year afresh with all that is good and pure. Water is symbolic of the cleaning process and signifies purity.

Traditional Songkran celebrations focus on the renewal of the earth and the home. Wats, homes and Buddhist statues are cleaned. Often, the statues are removed from their wats and paraded around their communities, allowing everyone the chance to make merit by washing them with water, which Buddhists believe will help them achieve a higher ranking in the celestial order when they are reborn.

Songkran Day has been celebrated as New Year’s Day in the Thai solar calendar since ancient times. It is also popular in the neighboring countries of Myanmar, Cambodia, and Laos. The date coincides with the day the sun leaves Pisces and enters Aries, usually falling on April 13 of each year.

Doesn’t Songkran kind of sounds like of the Hindu festival of Sakranti? Well, because it is related to it. Sankranti is the sanskrit word in Indian Astrology which refers to the transmigration of the Sun from one Rāshi (sign of the zodiac) to another.

Sankranti is celebrated all over South Asia with some regional variations. It is known by different names and celebrated with different customs in different parts of the country. In India it is known by different regional names Makar Sankranti, Uttarayan, Maghi, Pongal, Magh Bihu and so on. In Thailand it is Songkran, Laos – Pi Ma Lao, Myanmar – Thingyan, Cambodia – Moha Sangkran.

Here are some things that coincide with the Thai Ney Year, and are significant in India.

  • The festival of Baisakhi falls on April 13 every year and April 14 once in every 36 years. Change in date is because of the fact that date of Baisakhi is reckoned according to the solar calendar.The other celebrations are ‘Rongali Bihu‘  in Assam, ‘Naba Barsha’ in Bengal, ‘Puthandu’ in Tamil Nadu, ‘Pooram Vishu’ in Kerala and ‘Vaishakha’ in the state of Bihar.
  • On 13th April 1699, The Tenth Guru of Sikhs, Guru Gobind Singh founded Khalsa Panth or the Order of Pure Ones and gave a unique identity to Sikhs. On the same day the guru administered amrit (nectar) to his first batch of five disciples making them Singhs, a martial community.
  • On 13th April 1875, Swami Dayanand Saraswati founded the Arya Samaj – a reformed sect of Hindus who are devoted to the Vedas for spiritual guidance and have discarded idol worship.

 

Back to our trip. Last year Thailand was under political unrest and yet the Red shirt anti-government protesters celebrated the Songkran New Year festival with full enthusiasm and let others enjoy as well. The Siam area where they were protesting was ironically a peaceful sight.

Like any other form of good entertainment, there is an unfortunate side to the holiday. There is a lot of drinking and roads/pavements get slippery and wet by the end of the day. It’s best to be careful mostly about – road accidents, rowdy hooligans and getting sun burnt. Basic common sense helps!

It would be silly in my opinion to avoid Songkran, I mean, welcoming the New Year with a gigantic water fight seems like the best idea ever. But here are some tips from Travelfish on avoiding the water festival.

Although Songkran Festival is celebrated throughout Thailand, I have read that Chiang Mai City is the best venue for the event. Here tourists can take part in the Grand Songkran Festival ceremony and pour scented water on the image of Buddha. The important ritual of bathing Buddha with the water is witnessed by thousands of foreign tourists.

We had a great time in Pattaya and Bangkok and wish I was there today!

Wish you all a happy new year!! sa-wat-di pi mai!!

 

Photos courtesy – Ratchaprasong, Kara van Malssen, Karol Gajda , Eternal Vagabond and Ritika Sabharwal

A Pillion’s Leh Travelogue: Day Si6 ‘Leh to Delhi Airport’

 

We saw all that we could in two days, shopped, ate and had a festive time. And now it was time to say goodbye. We were flying off from the Leh Airport to Delhi and the weather conditions were good, so unfortunately we didn’t have an excuse to extend our trip.

 

If you are flying in or out, make sure to book yourself a window seat since the view of the snow-capped Zanskar & Karakoram ranges from the aircraft with the dawn breaking is simply amazing! The mountains turn from deep blue to golden in a span of half an hour.

A trip like this traverses one of the highest road passes in the world and is surrounded by wild rugged mountains. The scenery is fantastic, though it is definitely not for the faint hearted. I’m glad I did it in this lifetime.

 

I might not have an opportunity to ride to Leh again, but I am gonna be telling the tales of my trip of ‘The Road to Heaven’ for a long-long time.

Hope you enjoy your trip, as a rider or a pillion, whenever you can. Do leave your comments and add to the Pillion’s chronicles of the Road Trip to Leh.

 

(c) Photographs by Ritika Sabharwal and Sharninder Khera

A Pillion’s Leh Travelogue: Day F5ve ‘Karu to Leh’

Today was an easy breezy rest day. The total distance we had to travel was 45 km, from Karu to Leh, and just about an hour of driving time. We rode along the Indus, appreciating the smooth road, the sun and the cool breeze. Enjoying ever last bit.

 

We reached our destination. It’s an uneasy feeling, for months you are planning a trip, preparing for it and in the last couple of days you are struggling towards it. But when the final destination is just an hr away – you don’t want it to end.

 

Many people rush through this route completing it in 2 days, which is a crime. Manali-Leh should be done leisurely. The real fun is in the journey and not the destination. Although if the destination is Leh you are still in for a lot more experiences.

Leh is India’s bond with the striking past, when long caravans plied the ancient Silk Route and lingered long in Leh to rest, to buy, to plan, or just to visit. Leh is situated at the summit of a triangular plateau formed by the Indus at an altitude of 3368m. Ladakh is the most remote region of India; a barren cold desert. Ladakh beckons for more than one reason. The defiance of its barren landscape is its unique flora and fauna, its culture, it’s clear blue skies and clean air, the land where things are done differently.

There are so many things to do in and around Leh that you need another week to get around it all. I’m going to need a couple of other posts to cover all of them. Right now, it is my day of rest.

 

(c) Photographs by Ritika Sabharwal, Sharninder Khera and Nitin Joshi

Day 4 Part 2: ‘Morey Plains to Karu’

Debring to Taglang La (About 30 Km)

Debring marks the end of the majestic Morey plains and the start of the long gradual climb up to Taglang La. Debring is also known for the camps set up by the nomads (Changpas)  from the nearby TsoKar village during their summer months. There is a detour via Tso Kar and Tso Moriri to Leh (240 km) from here.

The stunning Tso Kar Salt wetland at 4600m is the breeding ground of numerous birds such as the endangered Black-headed Crane and the Bar headed geese. One can reach Tso Moriri and Karzok village (75 Km from Tso Kar) and observe the wildlife at the Wetland Conservation Reserve.

Most people do the Leh-Upshi-TsoMoriri-TsoKar-Debring-Pang route on their way back, since you require permits to visit TsoMoriri that are available in Leh.

We didn’t take this bifurcation and continued our journey to Tanglang Pass at an elevation 5415 m, it is the second highest mountain Pass in Ladakh, after Khardung La. It is also the last pass on the Manali to Leh road.

I had just about got used to the mighty plains when the twirling roads of the mountain started. The long-long-long sections of constant gradient climb went on forever. Interestingly we would be able to see the destination at all times. The visible peak may fool you with a sense that it is just a touch away- in reality it was a long hard laborious climb from the base.

 

Taglang La was breathtaking beautiful. Crossing over the five thousand metre passes affords views of the stunning and bizarre territory. We took a couple of pictures and we were off.

Taglang La to Rumtse (About 50 Km)

 

The pass was our last altitude feature before we descended down to the Leh-Ladakh valley. The snow was melting and trickling on the road, creating small waterfalls. The road was mainly sand or gravel with ripples that made driving a very shaky experience.

We saw a group of men and women making the road. The Border Roads Organisation (BRO) does whatever it can in building and rebuilding these roads. One really appreciates all the hard work and effort that goes in to this. Project HIMANK was started in Aug 1985 exclusively for the development of road infrastructure in Ladakh due to the ever-increasing workload of the BRO in J & K.  The Project provides the necessary wherewithal to keep the lines of communication open through out the year, not only in Ladakh, but also in the operationally sensitive Siachin sector. Battling tough terrain and extreme climatic conditions, coupled with a short working season of four months, Himank has carved a niche for itself in the Ladakh district of J & K and can rightfully claim the title   “The Mountain Tamers”. Project HIMANK has the unique distinction of maintaining and improving roads over the three highest passes of the world viz. Khardungla, Tanglangla and Changla. They also have a lot of humorous signposts to give the travelers a doze of laughter.

 

We continued to lose height and finally reached Rumtse, We had just conquered the Second highest motorable pass in the world, a picturesque setting with conditions equally harsh. The road soon turned from bad to awesome, half way after the decent. The freshly made road is as good as freshly baked bread. Actually, after witnessing the kind of roads we had – much better!!

 

Rumtse to Upshi to Karu (About 20 Km)

We almost screamed with joy on the sight of the first inhabited village after 350 Kms after Jispa. Rumtse as it is called is situated on the banks of a local river, which starts from Tanglang La, a tributary to River Indus. We stopped at a ‘market’. Yup! I’ll call the six or so shops with all supplies a town market now. Firstly, these were not tents!!  Also, there was even a STD booth.!!

We all had some lunch, a full thali experience with dal, veggies and rice. Walked around a bit and talked to the locals. Learnt – Julley. The most important word in Ladakh, that means – hi, thank you, good-bye, good-day and so on. Say it with a smile and everyone is your friend here.

 

As we continue the descent to Upshi the scenery changes dramatically as we arrive in a fertile irrigated valley by a river dotted by pretty villages and Stupas. The spectacular red colored mountains around us add to the beauty and richness of the scenery. Ladakh is unparalleled by any other landscape in the country.

The trip is a photographers dream come true. While we all were carrying our cameras and tripods, I didn’t take too many photographs. Probably because I didn’t know which one to take and which to leave. Everywhere one looked was a photo-op. I just left it to the others, while I enjoyed the ride.

 

Soon after taking a turn from Upshi, we reached Karu. Reaching Karu brought back some old memories for me. I had spent a long summer here when my dad was posted in this region. Back then, this was a dry desert with sand storms and all. Ladakh is a cold desert and Leh was part of that landscape. Things have changed now, Karu is green – Lush green.

There is a Defence Institute of High Altitude Research (DIHAR) in Leh & Karu. Here scientists have undertaken a successful plantation drive, driving up oxygen content in the region and even helping farmers produce vegetables. This acts as life support when transportation routes from the valley seize during winter months.

This was the last stop for the day, we all had mixed emotions, feeling happy to achieve what we did and sad that it was coming to an end. It’s like when you put your heart and soul into something and when it is over, you feel kind of empty. We had been through the highs and lows – literally and figuratively. That’s where the journey becomes an adventure and that’s what makes each kilometer on the 475 kms Manali-Leh an experience of a lifetime.

 

(c) Photographs by Ritika Sabharwal, Sharninder Khera and Nitin Joshi