Ladakh Diaries

Photos by – Amit Rane & Jyoti Rane

Text By – Jyoti Rane

What you see is what you don’t see

Having returned from Leh, many inhibitions have changed for me. Inhibitions because of the challenges this place has right in terms of living, breathing, surviving at such high altitude and nature, for city people things are yet simpler. In a quiet moment now, I recollect the raise of the bullet engines, which move in a convoy across Ladakh. The roar of the bikes against the silence of the valley, tempt you into embarking a new journey, this time all geared up for an adventure. Hats off to the spirit and the challenges the bikers choose for themselves.

So the journey begins

The charismatic Leh, Ladakh has hooked me on for years and a trip was undoubtedly on the cards sooner or later. The painted, majestic, rustic mountains of Leh, the golden sunlight and the monasteries kept calling. I yearned for being there time and again, but the final call had to be taken. An initiative from my husband(Amit Rane) set things in place and yes we were booked on a flight to Ladakh in the early August. The gusto started with shopping for woolens and bright clothes for photography. I was all set  with my wardrobe, what I was going to wear against the cyan waters of Pangong Lake, at the sand dunes of Nubra valley and yet not to miss the Khardungla pass. As the trip neared I got more information on the adversity of this place. Our friends who visited there, had a tough time coping. Stomach upset, vomiting, bleeding nose, headache, giddiness, oxygen deficiency were common ailments on their list. Also, as we were flying down unlike people driving from Manali/ Srinagar, we would be directly subjected to high altitude in a mere 3 hour journey (from Sea level to 11,500 feet above sea level). That was another blast and we had to keep up in Leh for a day just getting acclimatized. More to the list of tyranny I read this one blog last moment where the blogger just couldn’t reach Ladakh as his plane couldn’t land due to bad weather conditions. Tucking my daughter in the cosines of her grandma, with all apprehensions Amit and me headed to Ladakh, to take our share of the adventure.

The Rustic Himalayas

The never before form of Himalayas came as peppered mountains, red, grey, yellow mountains of varying hues and colors from the airplane. The unending barricades of huge barren mountains were extremely robust. Occasionally the valleys were a dash of green, more or less like an oasis in a desert. I reached Ladakh in the early hours of August’4 2012.  As I deplaned, the wind hit hard and I suddenly had all the surroundings to myself… unlike the claustrophobia the cities have on us, I had the open sky on me. The golden mountains were stark barren, mounds and mounds of unending scree , rocks and boulders.

Leh Airport

I considered myself fortunate to at least have set foot here without any hassles. My resort was based 4 kms from the airport in the village of Saboo. A quaint little village; again a playground of mud and rocks. Rocks, boulders all strewn across like a battlefield having faced the brunt of a raging war. The resort surroundings were like an oasis, a mere green patch of some acres bordered by lifeless huge mountains. I later learnt that the hail of huge rocks which occupied the land outside the resort had come streaming from the mountains as a result of the 2010 cloud burst. The valley between the hills appeared as swept down by a mighty avalanche.  Such was the impact that, within 10 minutes everything in vicinity was destroyed. Locals still shiver at the mention of the tragedy.

 

Saboo Resort and surroundings

Having been offered a nice breakfast, we were all too reluctant first about eating, as we were warned of not being able to cope up with food. I munched and munched, as I was starving, and after a refreshing coffee started exploring the surroundings. Things weren’t easy and somehow I felt restricted on energy. It was the oxygen that deterred my activities. I was feeling tired with every small activity and decided to head for bed and relax. As evening came things hadn’t changed for me… heavy breathing was part of my life since reaching Leh. After a stomach full of dinner, I retired to bed early. Local sightseeing at Leh was on my cards for the next day.

 

Resort interiors

I set out to explore Leh next day early. Thiksey Monastery remained closed due to the preaching sessions of His Holiness Dalai Lama in Leh. The whole Leh gathered for the religious discourses. In the early hours of morning people streamed in from all nooks and corners. Adults, youngsters, children, infants, old aged people filled the streets of Leh heading towards the gathering. The major crowd were dressed in Ladakhi costumes and appeared delightful. We dropped the idea of visiting the discourse last moment after seeing the huge crowd. I did like to see though, the religious involvement of the locals here.

 

Locals

Monastries always fascinate me for their vibrant colors and their quaint atmosphere. Thikshey monastery remained closed due to the religious discourses. I explored the exteriors of the monastery; the colorful monastery looked beautiful against the blue sky. Shey Palace my next stop, was another gem in Leh.

 

View from Shey Palace

 

 

Statue at Thiksey Monastery

At Thiksey Monastery

Shey Palace

The Lotus Druk School from the 3 idiot’s fame was our next stop. A cafeteria called Rancho’s cafeteria runs in the campus. The school faced the brunt of the cloud burst episode in August’10 and is in restoration state. The huge school is designed beautifully and houses different departments and an open amphitheatre under the cerulean sky.

Thiksey Monastery

The 3 -idiots school -Druk School

The 3 -idiots school -Druk School

The 3 -idiots school -Druk School

The 3 -idiots school -Druk School

What caught my fancy where these white structures through out the town of Leh. These structures are called stupas or chortens and could be seen everywhere in the town. These structures were actually graves of the deceased. The ground opposite the Druk School had an array of them. They looked picturesque bathed in the sunlight against the earth colored mountains. An evening at Shanti stupa and a round at the local market left me drained of all the remaining energy. I planned to visit Tsokar Lake which is one of the high altitude lakes, next day.

Shanti Stupa

The twist in the tale came with the Tsokar Lake episode. Tsokar Lake is a high altitude brackish lake, at an altitude of 15,075 feet, around 155 kms from the town of Leh. The approach is through Tanglang Pass which is supposed to be the second highest motor able road (17,582 feet) in the India after Khardungla Pass.

Tanglang Pass

The way to Tsokar Lake displays unique formations of gigantic mountains. The windswept, rain swept surfaces are a delight to watch. The campsite at Tsokar Lake was pure, and the sky clear. I appreciate the efforts of the orgainsers who run the camp at such high altitude. They brave front to the bone chillings winds , extreme drop and rise in temperatures through out the day, high altitude problems and yet making comfort available to us at arms length.

 

Tsokar Lake

Tsokar Lake

Tsokar Lake

Albeit, the journey to Tsokar Lake was so grueling that I was dangerously down on oxygen level and kept drifting into sleep or un-consciousness. The wind was cold and biting and I kept blabbering something the entire night as my folks say. I don’t remember the entire way back to Leh from Tsokar as I drifted in a deep slumber. I was immediately taken to a Local doctor at Leh Town, who prescribed me some medicines and a whole night of oxygen intake at the Local SNM hospital. We were in Leh for only a week and this activity was not on the cards and was surely going to affect our further plans. Having no choice, I was admitted at the local SNM hospital in Leh for a dose of oxygen. The SNM hospital has created a special Tourist ward. Oxygen deficiency is a common problem here and therefore cases like mine are treated here at no cost. I was accompanied in the ward by an elderly UK citizen and another man from Mumbai. A grueling night, fighting back the apprehensions for my further travel plans and wondering that things shouldn’t get worse in this remote land. After all Leh, Ladakh was a place of my dreams and I couldn’t fall back on my plans. Under the kind care of the nurses, I was discharged in a better condition the next morning.  The reason I am contributing this piece of information here is to share the hospital and government initiative in taking care of the tourist staying in Leh. A good effort very much appreciated. Hoping to see more such initiatives for tourist visiting across India. India is a tourism oriented country and when we are making chunks from the tourism industry, of course these first aid or life support activities should be a government’s initiative across all India.

So Leh wasn’t coming easy on me. But the people at Leh were generous enough. The Nurse who kept checking on my oxygen from time to time came around every 10 minutes to talk to me and remind me to drink more water. My resort owner Mr. Padma who got me a refreshing herbal tea, soup and breakfast early next day at the hospital. Not to forget the chacha (uncle) working at the resort, who always greeted us with a smiling “jule” (Namaste in Ladakhi language). This kind of courtesy is rare to see in our city life. I was back at the resort. My host at the resort Mr. Padma’s parents obliged us by dressing in the traditional Ladakhi dress and accessories. Amit took delight in photographing them. My host was kind enough to let us photograph their typical ladakhi house and kitchen. We left under their generosity back to the resort.

 

A typical Kitchen

Sitting area

I geared for my further journey to Pangong Lake where I passed through Changla Pass, which is the third highest motor able road in the world at 17,590 feet.

Changla Pass

The way to Pangong Lake gets picturesque once you are on the other side of Changla Pass. The brooks, turning in to river carrying the ice cold waters of the glaciers drains down the valley. The entire valley floor was grassland dotted with wild flowers of various types. The painted mountains stood stubborn and the river played its way down the valley. Pangong Lake appeared in distance exhibiting the cyan, turquoise waters. As we neared the lake, the lake waters were again camouflaged with the surrounding grays and browns. An occasional stroke of sunlight painted the lake floor in shades of blue & cyan. Pangong Lake is the place where 3 idiots climax scene was shot. Pangong Lake is a huge lake extending further to China. 70 percent of Pangong Lake stretches in china and the remaining 30 percent in India is but a gigantic affair. A close encounter with the crystal clear waters of Pangong Lake and a Maggi session and we were back on the road to Leh. As we started approaching the Changla Pass the climate turned from the harsh strokes of sunlight to rainy skies, a trickle drizzle and a spray of snow. Unusual though all in the span of a few kilometers.

Pangong Lake

Pangong Lake

Pangong Lake

Near Pangong Lake

Yet what remained now was the Nubra Valley. Nubra Valley was supposed to be a dessert after a sumptuous meal. Dessert after a meal or a real dessert as it was, Nubra valley turned out to be the best outing. Nubra Valley’s approach was through Khardungla Pass, the highest motor able road in the world at 18,380 feet. An arduous journey of hairpins bends and turns, the way up to Khardungla pass is one challenge for every driver, the melting snow on the path is yet another thing to deal. A flat tyre and a break fail was all we dealt reaching only half way to Nubra Valley. My driver arranged for an alternate vehicle for us to reach Nubra.

Khardungla Pass

Khardungla Pass

Nubra Valley

Nubra Valley

The landscapes kept unfolding like a pandoras box. The gigantic, rugged, windswept planes of the mountains seemed carved in time by nature. The streaks of colors added a twist to the lifeless mountains. The winding roads exposed every angle of the breath taking mountains. The roads descended in the valley which was bathed with ivory sands flooded from the mountains above. A river camouflaged with the sands ran the entire length of the valley. The landscapes here were breathtaking and came unexpected. A waterfall dashed in the valley from between the lifeless mountains. Nubra was like “Save the best for last”.

Nubra Valley

I visited the colorful Diskit Monastery, Maitreyee Buddha Statue  and the Nubra Sand dunes while in Nubra and it kept me mesmerized with the painted landscapes.

Nubra Valley

Nubra Valley

Nubra Valley

In all this effort, one person saw to it that we get the best from our journey. I wish to offer my Thanx to Mr. Rahul Rao from Infinite Journeys. Rahul made travel to Ladakh easier for us in terms of stay, transport arrangements and of course with all the useful information and tips he offered us.

Diskit Monastery, Nubra Valley

Diskit Monastery, Nubra Valley

Diskit Monastery, Nubra Valley

Ladakh came as beautiful, iconic, surreal, rugged beauty. As we see most stunning photographs on ladakh being appreciated and commented, but it’s not easy out there. Today I value every breath I take as for the people living in high altitude….life is not that easy and every breath is an effort.

Photos by – Amit Rane & Jyoti Rane

Text By – Jyoti Rane

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9 thoughts on “Ladakh Diaries

  1. As usual, amazing photography with detailed description from u, Jyoti. I am just waiting to be there. June 2013 is my plan to undertake the trip… Your inputs will be very very handy…

  2. Excellent blog, Jyoti. Really enjoyed reliving Ladakh through your experience. It seems like ages ago when I went there when it’s really been just a couple of months. If it were only up to me, I would get on the next flight back to Ladakh! lol

    Sorry to know that you had to be hospitalized overnight after that excursion to Tso Moriri, but I am glad you recovered and enjoyed the rest of your visit. Juley!

    • Hey Thanx Rishi.. Ladakh is beautiful and hoping to go there again. Thanx for commenting with your inputs. About the hospital journey, some adventure or off the track activity was required than the usual. Enjoyed throroughly.
      Juley!

  3. “Today I value every breath I take as for the people living in high altitude….life is not that easy and every breath is an effort.”

    That mam… is a perfect finish to this diary….

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