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