At the end of a holiday, I always reflect on (and also ask my wife) what the 3 high-points of the holiday were. At the end of this week along vacation in the hills, I found it difficult to think of just 3…there were so many!
After much planning & waiting, the day finally came – 16th May, 2015. Almost 5 years after our first holiday together (a weekend trip to Hampi), Anu, Tarrun, Nidhi and I were excited and looking forward to this holiday.
Day 1: Flight, peaks, terrace & relax
The flight from Delhi to Leh was exciting. Well…at least the last 30 odd minutes were. We flew over a number of hills. Initially there were brown hills (no greenery at all)…and then the snow-capped hills followed. Looked beautiful.
Soon after landing in Leh, we were on our way to Hotel Lingzi. A short 15 minutes drive and we were there. Checked in and ordered an early (& light) lunch. While waiting for lunch we explored the hotel and landed up on the awesome terrace. Wait…it was actually a terrace with an awesome view – Leh palace, Shanti stupa and snow-capped peaks all around us. Had lunch, rested and then went out to the market in the evening. Had an early dinner at ‘Summer Harvest’ (Good food) and called it a day soon afterwards.
Tips: Block a window seat on the plane, get a room on the top floor if you are staying at Lingzi (it is a good hotel), relax on day 1 and eat light meals
Day 2: The action begins
We had a packed day today. Started early and went to:
- Hall of fame: A memorial to the martyrs of the Kargil war, the museum had weapons, war facts and photographs. We also learned about the history of Leh. Interesting place.
- Magnetic hill: A wonder of nature, our driver stopped the cab at a certain point on the road and the car started moving on its own even though it was an incline. Hence the name to the hill there – ‘Magnetic hill’. Tarrun, Anu n I then climbed half way up the hill. Walked back all tired but happy to have reached the spot.
- Pathar sahab: A popular Gurudwara in Leh, this place has a stone that has taken the shape of Guru Nanakji (this happened when a bad guy rolled the stone down on him). Prayed and sat there for a while. Had langar at the Gurudwara.
- Confluence: The spot where the Zanskaar river and Indus merge to become Zanskaar and flow into Pakistan.
- Monastery: Visited a small monastery on our way back. Had a good view of the airport runway from the monastery. Had Maggi (it was safer back then) and tea there and then got back to the hotel.
The weather was warm through the day, but post evening it got cold. Dinner was at Chopsticks… Noodles and Thupka.
Day 3: The highest motor-able road in the world, sand dunes & camel ride
After 20 long years the two of us met again – Snow and I. No wonder it was a memorable day. 🙂 The 6 hour drive to Nubra valley was a mixed bag. The initial part of the drive was good…even the hill roads. The view of the snow-capped mountains upfront was mesmerizing. The road for about 10 kms before and after the Khardung la pass (which is at 18,340 feet and is the highest motor-able road in the world) was bad…very bad. It was a bumpy ride and me being in the backseat didn’t help. We stopped for a bit at the Khardung la pass. There were strong winds blowing and it was very cold. There was a lot of crowd there, so we didn’t stay for too long.
The resort – Nubra Ethnic camp, is at a great location and the camps are comfortable and cozy. The weather was cold thanks to the strong winds blowing. After freshening up we went to the sand dunes and were soon riding double humped camels. The landscape was beautiful.
Dinner at the camp was tasty (even though it was vegetarian) and the service exemplary. Weather was pretty cold post evening and sleeping in the tents was a great experience.
Tip: Have a Stemetil / Avomine before you begin the drive. Do not spend more than 20 odd minutes at the Khardung la pass and don’t exert yourself up there.
Day 4: Driving back to Leh
We left the resort at 10 AM, stopped by a monastery at Diskit and then continued on. Better prepared this time, we got through the rough patch in much better condition. We stopped for pictures before reaching the Khardung la pass to avoid the crowd. We were back in our Leh by 4 PM after stopping on the way for lunch – Maggi again.
The evening was spent in Leh, the ladies shopping, the guys relaxing. Dinner was at Summer Harvest again…Kashmiri cuisine this time.
Day 5: Walk, chants, views & Rancho
I finally did today what I love doing during all my holidays – woke up early and went for a walk. To no place in particular, Tarrun, Anu & I just wandered around for about 45 mins before returning to the hotel.
Post breakfast, we left for our second and last day out in Leh. Sukay, our cabbie, picked us up and we drove to the Hemis monastery, the oldest monastery in Leh. We spent some time at the main temple initially and then came the highlight. At around 1 a lot of monks walked into the main temple and we followed them in. They started praying and the chants were mesmerizing. At one time I closed my eyes and could feel the music deep inside me. It was magical. Words can’t do justice to the way I felt.
Out of there, we stopped midway at Druk White Lotus school. Wondering why? It is the school where the final scene of the movie 3 idiots was shot (the school is more popularly known as ‘Rancho’s school’) The school was beautiful and we were surprised that it is run on donations. We had a quick tour of the school and were on our way again.
Came back to town and had lunch at Gesmos German bakery. The food was yummy, which wasn’t surprising, since we always saw a crowd when we walked by this place earlier.
We then went to Leh palace, which was a short drive away. It was fun exploring the palace. It would do great business as a haunted palace. A lot of places where dark and we had to switch on the torch (thank God for smart phones) to move around. The doors were small and so we had to be careful (after I bumped my head once). Got to the top floor. Great view of the town and the mountains.
Down and out, we went to the last place on the list – Shanti Stupa. The place offered some great views yet again and many a photos later we were back in the hotel.
Some window shopping followed and it was the end of yet another day.
Day 6: And finally…Pangong lake
This was unarguably the one place we were most looking forward to. And it did not let us down.
But before we go to Pangong, some quick background – The lake, which is 134 kms long and extends from India to Tibet, is situated at a height of 14,270 feet. There are a few camping options available there (which are situated very close to the lake), but it is not everyone’s cup of tea. I heard stories of a reasonable number of people falling ill here (HAS), mostly when they didn’t spend a few days in Leh before getting there. So try to keep this towards the end of your holiday, more so if you are planning to spend the night here. And given that it takes you a good 5 hours to get to the lake from Leh, I would recommend you staying overnight, provided you have a certain tolerance level for cold weather.
We enjoyed the drive to Pangong (a pleasant change from the route to Nubra) and were very pleased by the location of our camps – MarTseMik camping resort. The weather here was colder and the winds stronger. Post lunch we went to the spot where the final scene of the movie ‘3 idiots’ was shot. The lake was beautiful and serene and the many shades of blue were mesmerizing. We had a great time at the spot. Tarrun, Anu and I then got adventurous and decided to walk back from the spot to our camps. We covered the distance of 4 kms in 2 hours (we walked slowly, stopped often to take photographs and had to walk up to the road at places where we couldn’t walk by the lake).
The evening was colder and by night we covered in 6 layers (wearing 3 layers and 3 layers of blankets in bed). While I don’t know the exact temperature, it was definitely the coldest weather I have ever been in/slept in.
Tips: Carry lots of warm clothes, oxygen cans as a precaution and a camera with a lot of memory space for pictures.
Day 7: Snow fight & back to Leh
Up early and ready, we were on our way back to Leh by 9 AM. The drive back was smooth. Stopped near Changla pass for photos. A few minutes later stopped and headed into a snow field. Nidz and I had our first ever snow fight and a lot of pictures followed. While we would have loved to spend more time there we had to get going. In a few more hours we were back in Leh.
The evening was spent shopping (souvenirs mostly) and packing. Spent some time at my favourite place – the terrace of Hotel Lingzi. Dinner was at Gesmos again and that was the end of our last day in Leh.
The journey concludes:
As if we weren’t missing Leh anyway, when we landed back in Delhi, the hot weather made us miss Leh even more. A great holiday, in an awesome place…and a one of a kind experience. But this isn’t the end of it – I am going to go back to Leh again….a few years later…and this time driving up from Manali to Leh. Until then…