It was 2014 and I still kept looking at pictures from Leh/Ladakh trips people went for.
It was finally time to plan one trip to the north and experience firsthand. So it was time to do some research.
I went through every tiny detail I could find online, several forums were of great help including www.bcmtouring.com, www.devilonwheels.com & www.team-bhp.com. Getting weather reports, road status, what to carry, how much to carry, Etc. But as a photographer, I had to do some additional research for the trip. Like if you want to capture stars, one need to go by the lunar calendar to see when you have a moon less night to capture the stars, get some info on how to use apps on your phone to check the star alignments when there, see when and where you have clear skies, etc.
So that was the research part. Now I needed to gather some people for the trip to be viable if driving down or even taking a cab from Leh to visit the places nearby. Somehow I still couldn’t manage to gather people for the trip so I booked a flight to Srinagar a month before just as a last resort. I fixed the date of departure for 14th of September.
Just 10 days before the departure, the Jammu & Kashmir region witnessed disastrous floods across majority of its districts caused by torrential rainfall, including Srinagar, my port of arrival.
So now I had to either cancel my plan or look for another route. My options were to either take an overnight bus to manali then change to another bus going to Leh overnight. That would take at least 3 days. But then I already have that route planned for the return trip, so in total 6 days to and fro if I chose to go by bus. But then I was confused. So I decided not to change plans and wait for the situation in Srinagar to settle down.
It was 13th September and my flight was next morning. The situation in Srinagar was still futile. By then I was sure that this year again the plan is off. Again I thought of just landing in Srinagar and figuring out a way to get out somehow, or maybe try to reschedule my Srinagar flight to Leh if it can be without much difference in fare. Somehow i got it rescheduled to Leh without much of a difference in fare and now my plan was all set to travel to Leh directly.
Next morning, got into the flight, slept for the first half an hour then woke up to see the view of the Himalayas from the window. It was beautiful!
Couldn’t get many shots since I only had access to my phone that moment.
Finally when we landed, everyone seemed to be excited to take out their cameras and start shooting as soon as they got out of the plane. But as soon as we got out, the army people told us not to take any pictures at the airport and that we would lots of opportunities beyond the airport. But still you know how people are. People did all sort of stunts to get some pictures on the runway, slyly taking pictures while holding the camera down etc. Though I myself was so eager to take some pictures using my SLR but that big fat camera just doesn’t seem to be subtle enough ha-ha.
Took a cab to the city (Rs 200), cab driver took me to Fort Road where he said I will get all the hotels/guest houses.
Found a nice n clean guest house called Dolma’s guest house there on the fort road.
Gave me a room for 500 bucks a day. Now it was time to rest (acclimatize).
By afternoon I was up and ready to take a walk. Had lunch, walked till the main market.
All this time I was only looking at the clear blue skies and the cloud formations. As a photographer I would love that because everyone knows how good a photograph looks with clear blue skies and some good cloud formations.
So that day I walked around the city, explored a few areas, got to know where all the good eateries are (food is of utmost importance to me ha-ha), went to the Leh Palace, then to the famous Shanti Stupa. So the first day I almost finished the local places of interest.
That evening I luckily found a couple in my guest house who were looking for someone to share a cab to Tso Moriri and Tso Kar. I was obviously up for it as I had no plans whatsoever. Some benefits of travelling alone.
[8:00am] Next morning we left for Tso Moriri.
[9:00am] Halt at Karu for breakfast.
Then we continued our onward journey. On our way we encountered a lot of photography moments where we stopped to take pictures. The route was indeed gorgeous.
[12:00pm] Next stop for lunch was at Chumathang. Place was famous for its hot springs too.
[1:30pm] We stopped at Mahe Bridge to take some pictures and that’s where we turn right towards Tso Moriri. If one goes straight then you can reach Hanle, home to the famous Chandra Telescope. The location of both the village and the observatory is highly sensitive due to the close proximity of the Tibetan / Chinese border.
[2:00pm] We came to Sumdo Village where one road went to Tso Moriri and the other towards Tso Kar.
The view was surreal!
[2:30pm] Right before Tso Moriri, there is Tso Kiagar, this lake is also really beautiful. Be sure to stop and take some pics.
[3:00pm] Finally you see the starting of Tso Moriri, then 15 more mins from there till the Karzok village.
We got a homestay there for Rs.500 a room with 3 beds. Came out to approx Rs. 165 per head, which is really cheap!
There is a small tea shop where you get your meals. By 6pm, it was becoming very cold. Since we were right next to the lake, it was colder because this lake is at a height of 15,075 ft, almost 3500ft higher than Leh.
Post 11pm, I geared up with all the warm clothes, gloves, caps, scarves etc. whatever I could put on. Went up the the roof of my guest house, got a few pics.
Then went down towards the other side, got a few more pics.
The night sky was crystal clear and you could see the Milky Way from the naked eyes. On the other hand, pictures were even better as it was more exposed.
Happy and content by the pictures, my day was well spent.
[8:30am] Next morning we had our tea and left for Tso Kar.
[11:15am] Crossed a few villages and finally got to Tso Kar. Oh and btw the road from sumdo to Tso Kar was pathetic!
Personally I didn’t find Tso Kar that interesting.
But anyway, we then left for Leh.
[1:00pm] Crossed Taglang La.
We decided to visit Hemis Monastery on our way back.
After that, Thiksey Gompa.
And then Shey Monastery.
Finally we reached Leh after a long journey.
The route we took was Leh – Karu – Chumathang – Mahe – Sumdo – Tso Kiagar – Tso Moriri – Tso Kiagar – Sumdo – Tso Kar – Debring – Tanglang La – Upshi – Karu – Leh
But it wasn’t time for rest. I had to plan my next day. Can’t let it go waste since I had already finished most of the local sights. So I went looking for a shared cab to either Pangong Tso or Nubra Valley. Sadly I could not find anything for the next day. So I went to a motorcycle rent shop and booked one for next day. Took Rs.900 per day for a Bajaj Avenger.
[9:00am] Next morning I picked up the bike, got a full tank and left for Hunder (Nubra Valley)
Another Road block!
[12:45pm] Khardung La
I must say this place was really dirty and crowded. Anyway, I had Maggi and got up and running.
It is a different experience on a bike. But one thing that I didn’t like was whenever I had to take a photo, I had to stop the bike, unpack the bag, take the camera out, shoot and do all the above in reverse order. It was kind of annoying that’s why I used my phone camera more than my DSLR.
[4:45pm] finally I reached the point from where one road goes towards Panamik and the other towards Hunder. Right from that junction, there is an absolutely straight road for almost 3kms. One might want to go flat out! But since I’m no pro biker, I didn’t indulge in all those things, that too here.
[5:20pm] Reached Diskit
[6:00pm] Reached Hunder
Got a guest house for Rs 700 with all meals. There was one more room occupied there. Soon I saw a couple coming in on their bikes. Since there was no one else there, there was only the owner/manager and this couple who I could talk to. Got to know later that the couple rode all their way from Germany on their bikes till here. Yes, they were Germans.
One of them had to leave their bike midway in some country due to some problem in it. Quite an impressive trip!
Next morning we had breakfast and we all left together on our bikes. We were together till Khalsar, then they had to go towards Agham – Wari La then back to Leh.
I got back to Leh that evening, at night for dinner I again met the couple for the last time.
The next day was a day to take rest otherwise I might just risk it too much and fall sick and forget about going anywhere.
So I spent the whole day eating, sleeping, and doing some research on how to get to Pangong Tso.
So again there was a couple in my hotel who wanted to go to Pangong Tso. We contacted a travel agent to get us a cab with more people so that the cost can come down further. Finally we did get more but in fact it got a bit over.
By then we had already given the advance so we could not back out. The travel agent was a cheat. He had promised us 7 people in an Innova but he got us 9 people in a Toyota Qualis. Ridiculous!
By then we got to know that the city is closed from 6am to 6pm due to some protest. So we had no other option.
[4:30am] we left for Pangong Tso
It was still dark.
[5:30am] Reached Karu, now we had to take the left towards Chang La pass.
[7:00am] Reached Chang La, it was so cold that time that I could not be out of the car for more than a min.
[7:45am] finally, the sun! Oh it felt so good basking in the heat. We all had tea there and then left again
[8:40am] flat tyre! Somewhere near Durbuk village.
[9:15am] Tangtse, from there we take the route towards Pangong Tso
[10:30am] Came across grasslands where marmots live. The valley is full of their holes.
[11:15am] Finally! A peek of Pangong.
[11:25am] Reached the point from where Pangong Tso starts, called Lukung. Stopped there for half an hour, clicked photos, stretched out. Then headed to our destination which was further insde. A village called Spangmik.
In between a took a lot of halts as this lake was just unbelievable. The colours were changing at every angle. The contrast of the mountains and the water and the sky was incredible! At first you brain can’t process the beauty of this lake.
[12:00pm] Reached Spangmik. We now set out to look for a decent accommodation for us 3. Got a homestay again for Rs 200/head. Which was right next to the lake and clean enough.
We rested for a while, and then had lunch there. The lady there prepared a very simple meal which was really good after a tiring journey. After that we walked till the lake, sat there, took photos, etc. spent almost an hour or two there.
Then again I was waiting for the night sky to take some shots of the Milky Way.
I did manage some here too. But I think I got similar ones at Tso Moriri too.
[5:30am] The next morning I woke up as early as I could to get a shot of the sunrise. Packed my tripod, camera, wore my jacket, gloved and a cap and went straight towards the lake. Waited for almost an hour before I could actually see the sun.
Now the entire journey was coming to an end. I had nowhere else to go after Pangong. One place which I really wanted to cover was Hanley, but unfortunately I could not get anyone to come with me nor any kind of public transport which could finish my Hanley trip in a few days. Only mode available was a bus which runs once a week and for that I had to stay there for the entire week if I wanted to go.
Best of BRO signs.
So back to Leh after having breakfast. Reached Leh by afternoon, and thought might as well take the bus back to Manali the same day.
Just as I reached Leh, I went to the bus stand and booked a seat in a Caravan for Manali (Rs 2000).
Somehow managed the 17-18 hour journey. Reached Manali by 1:30pm the next day.
Meanwhile I had made some friends in the caravan.
But anyway I had nothing to do in Manali, so I took the bus to Delhi on the same day departing in the evening from HPTDC. Cost me 1300, looked extremely comfortable with reclining seats and gang, well after that hideous caravan ride, anything would seem nice.
Then at 5:30pm, I finally departed for Delhi.
Next morning reached Delhi by 8:30am and then home in the next half an hour.
Had a nice bath, hogged some breakfast and hit the bed.
Check out the small video i compiled –