Friday, August 27, 2010
After a hectic gompa hopping in Leh – similar to beach hopping in Goa and pandal hopping during Durga pooja in Calcutta :-) - we were getting ready for the journey of our life to the highest motorable pass in the world – Khardung La ( La in Tibetan means “Mountain pass”). Zigmet – our driver – was to come at 8 AM and we were ready after a quick breakfast of cereal and omelette.
The road to Khardung La was a steep climb. It is at a short distance from Leh and hence the climb is steep as you climb from 11,000 feet to 18,500 feet. The road is excellent as the Border roads organisation maintains this diligently. Khardung La is an important army base as the troops and supplies to Siachin is routed through this pass.
A steady climb over winding road gave us a panoramic view of Leh town below with Stok Kangri peak in the back ground. A stream below had created lush green fields with houses around it. I am not sure of the fate of these houses after the floods. An isolated gompa on a small hill provided an enchanting picture as we climbed up.
The road condition started to worsen and the last few KMs were really bad. We asked the border roads team about this and they said that this stretch was avalanche prone during winter! We could see tonnes of snow on either sides of the road and could well imagine the scene during winter!
As we came closer to the pass, the dark brown terrain suddenly gave way to a mix and match of snow and brown. On reaching Khardung La, all we could see around us was snow! Hurray! We were on top of the world! On the highest motorable road in the world!
We could not stay there for more than 10 minutes. The rarified atmosphere really hits you hard. You feel tired after few steps. Hats off to the armed forces personnel who not only stay here but work in these hostile environs. The road then descends into Nubra valley, which we could not visit. Nubra is supposed to be the place where you find sand dunes and two humped camels. It is also called as “Valley of flowers”. Possibly we will do that in next visit.
The drive though short provided us the glimpse what mountaineers undergo when they climb those heights. Snow, wind, lack of oxygen makes life miserable at these heights. The drive back was again comfortable and we were back in the evening to our hotel.
Sunday, August 15, 2010
Previous day, Deleks, our Man Friday from Ladakh Safari had confirmed that we should take things leisurely till we get properly acclimatized in Leh. Drink lot of water, he said as we saw him off in the evening with confirmation that the cab to take us around the Leh would be at hotel at 10 AM.
Coffee kick started the day for us. Hotel Namgyal Palace - where we stayed - is a new hotel in Leh with good and spacious rooms. Not a “Star” hotel but a decent hotel with good sheets, towels and excellent service. The room had French windows which gave a glimpse of the colorful garden. The many flowers which I found difficult to grow in my house in Bangalore were growing as if it was wilderness!
The breakfast was light - a cup of serial and two toasts. We wanted to keep it light as it was first day and we did not want to take chance. The packed lunch was already in the car. We could feel the rarified Leh atmosphere with less oxygen as we climbed ten steps to reach the parking. We were already feeling tired.
Zigmet, our driver was a young bloke. A ladakhi who stayed in his village 15 Kms from Leh. We got into the Innova to start our tour of Mountain town.
Leh is a small town. A big valley town on the banks of Indus and surrounded by mountains. It could be as big as a small suburb in a Metro. What immediately struck me was the cleanliness on the roads. The roads were spic and span and we could hardly see any rubbish. Ladakhis are generally very friendly and are able o converse in Hindi quite well. We started with Stok palace located off the Leh – Manali road. The sun was bright and was playing hide and seek with the clouds. The mountains were bright with the tallest peak in Ladakh range – Stok Kongri (the tallest peak in the pic) - basking in glory. It was a pleasant drive to the palace. The road side is interspersed with white “chortems” of all sizes and huge prayer wheels. We halted to take pictures of beautiful chortems built by Dalai Lama. As we exited the Leh town, we were now driving through fauji area. Army and Paramilitary forces have a huge presence in Leh.
The Stok palace is on a small hillock overlooking a green valley next to Indus River. The setting of the palace is very romantic. The mountains as back drop, the river in the fore ground with green fields with a dash of yellow in between. A slow climb – no exertion pls J - of few steps led us to the entrance of the palace. This is the palace where present maharajah and his family stay. A four storied mud structure, it had a colorful and carved entrance. The windows were colorful as well. Not an architectural rave, it made up as a pleasant place. The palace has a museum which is not worth its salt. The balconies of the palace provide you a panoramic view of Indus valley.
Thiksey Monastery is the next stop, said Zigmet. Touted “Mini Potola palace”, the monastery is located in beautiful setting. The best part of monastery hopping in Leh is that you will get to see the surroundings differently. Thiksey again was on a small hill. Thanks to good road, the car was able to climb up till the entrance. But the climb form here was quite steep. We had to stop couple times with gulps of water before we reached the courtyard. The monastery looked deserted with very few monks as most of them had left for Nubra where Dalai Lama was camping. Thiksey being the second largest monastery in Ladakh, was well maintained. The courtyard leads to the two shrines. The walls are painted with Buddhist tangkhas and look very colorful. The piece-de- resistance was the 40 feet statue of “Maitreya – the Future Buddha”. It is a beautiful sculpture with a pleasing face of Maitreya. Notice the intricate work on the crown. Climbed up to the terrace of the monastery to get the awesome views of the surroundings.
We were feeling tired and when we went back to the car it was relief. After gulps of water, we were moving towards Shey palace – the old palace of maharajah – a mud palace being restored by Archeological survey. The palace is on a steep hill and will be tough to climb if not properly acclimatized. We climbed, but stopped at least three times. The palace is in dilapidated condition and being restored. There is shrine inside with a 30 story tall statute of Buddha.
It was nearing lunch time and we were also tired. The lunch was on the banks of Sindhu. It s a pleasant place for a chilled beer and lunch – I missed beer though…... Thank god there weren’t hoardes of tourists in this place – as there is no boating in the river - the place was very quiet and we could hear the sound of water flowing over pebbles. The water was very cold. Every year the Ladakhi government conducts “Sindhu Darshan” festival at this place. A peaceful lunch and a bit of rest….. we were raring to explore the other parts of the town.
Our next stop was the “Hall of fame” museum. This place on Kargil road was a pleasant surprise. Excellently curated by Army, it brought tears to our eyes as we saw the pictures of martyrs who had laid down their lives in various wars for the country in the region. The galleries depicting the Kargil war and Saichin are well done. Apart from exploits by the army and air force, it also showcases the flora and fauna of the region. The touching moments were when we read the last letter by Capt Vijayant Thapar who laid down his life in Kargil war and was awarded Maha Vir Chakra. This is one place no visitor to Leh should miss.
Our last stop before calling it a day was the City Palace. This one jetting out of the heart of city is again a mud palace. Being restored by Archeological Survey of India, it is in better shape than Shey palace. The roof top of the palace gives one a panoramic view of Leh. A climb from the palace is the “stand alone” gompa – Tsemo Gompa which gives you breathtaking views of Leh and surroundings. Ideal during sun set!
As we came back to the hotel, we called Badri Prasad – the Kancha - for a cup of coffee. The coffee was never refreshing more!
Saturday, July 31, 2010
Our journey started from Manali on a cold rainy morning. Being my first trip up north, every road - ascent upwards unfolded a lot of surprises- the omnipresent apple trees with “red juicy” apples, the streams which gently flow down the tall mountains creating numerous waterfalls, the green carpet of trees and plants in the valley, the clouds which gently seem to caress the mountain peaks was a “visual” poetry.
Our car slowly climbed towards the snow-capped Rohthang Pass only to wait behind a “km long” pile up of cars due to a “mud slide”. We had a long journey ahead as the plan was to stay overnight as Sarchu which is approximately 150 KMs from Rohthang. Employees from BRO (Border Road Organization) were summoned from Manali to help clear the “mud slide” and when our car cleared this hurdle, we had lost about 2 hours of precious time.
Having had breakfast at Marhi, our journey resumed towards Sarchu. The journey beyond Rothang was suddenly silent- the only noise we could hear was the air rushing against the mountain or the tip – tap of the melting snow or the screech of the car tyre on the road - the road was sometimes “cemented”, sometimes a “patch of mud” or sometimes “a path thro a running stream”. Very soon the green valleys and mountains were replaced by shred of brown and rust and the snow peaks lingered in the background. Driving along the Bhaga River and listening to its different notes transformed me into a different world.
Post Thandi and Jispa, we began our ascent again towards Baralacha la which is at about 16500 ft. The journey was an absolute delight- beautiful and pristine Suraj tal lake and the winding snow capped roads , the low hung clouds with sun breaking in between and creating a beautiful rainbow, I could not just take my eyes off the road- wished I had a 360 degree vision. Barlacha la was white sheet spread out in every direction and made me sway between dream and reality!
Sarchu is where we find tents pitched in the pristine valley of the mighty mountains…for a city bred person, having to stay and sleep amid these mountains and listening to the noise of the winds and the gentle noise of the rain/dew/snow on the tent was a surreal experience. The altitude, the strange yet beautiful surroundings kept me awake the whole night at Sarchu - Even the sun did not miss out on the beauty of this wonderful place and he was up and running at about 4.30 am and I was ready for the second day’s trip by 6 am.
Along side the road from Sarchu, we cross the river Tsarap Chu which has created canyon like structures in the mountains, all along its course. The road begins to climb again – notice stalactites of ice hang precariously on the rocky overhangs on the road. Past Nakee la and Lachlung la Pass notice the terrain becomes desert like and we enter the vast plains surrounded by mountains. We find ourselves in a “wild west” set up where we see rocky outcrops, natural arches and steep rocks on the tall mountains. Our final climb is towards Tanglang la, which is over 17000 ft. As soon as we start our descent towards Leh, we find ourselves accompanied by “Indus” river, which flows all along till Leh. The mountains suddenly become more colourful and we find shades of red, amber, violet and brown. The Indus brings with it more life and green and we find ourselves driving in a multi coloured tunnel. We now get a glimpse of “gompas” on hilltops and the mountain air seems to carry with it soothing “Buddhist chants”. The road towards Leh becomes more desert like and we notice “white chortems (stupas)” in various places on the road. The army camps make an appearance and the road is now “alive” with long convoys of army vehicles which are moving towards Leh and Kargil. After Upshi, Karu, Thiksey and we enter Leh
As I sip tea in a café in leh, I could not help but recall the beautiful moments on the road- the memory of this drive will lingers along for years after the road has gone- It’s an experience of a lifetime!
a) This trip is not for faint hearted. You really need to rough it out on the treacherous roads. So be prepared mentally and physically!!
b) Remember that you will be driving from a height of 6000 ft in Manali to close to 18000 in Tanglang La. Acclimatization is the key. Else, AMS - Acute Mountain Sickness - is likely to hit you at these heights. Most of the cases will be mild and result in nausea, headaches, sleeplessness. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000133.htm
c) Though the trip can be done in two days, we recommend doing it in three days with overnight stay in Keylong and Pang. This will help one acclimatize better and fit and raring to go once you reach Leh.
d) Driving in hills takes more time and speeds are drastically reduced as road condition is not good. Always have buffer time to allow delays due to land slides and flooding of roads. Land slides are particularly common between Manali and Rohtang.
e) Doing the trip in three days will also help you stop and savour the beauty around. This will also give you time to take a detour to Tso Kar a beautiful lake in wilderness closer to Moreh Plains.
f) Our advise is to hire the local transport to do the trip. The roads are narrow and bad. The driver will not be able to enjoy the ride as his eyes will be fixed on the road. We have seen bikers on the road and we do not advise unless you are interested in adventure alone. Believe us; the guy who drives the vehicle - bike or car - will not be able to enjoy the drive.
g) Fill up fuel in Manali and carry supplies in Jerry cans. There is only one petrol bunk in Thandi and if it runs out of stock you will curse yourself. Diesel may be available in "black" at exorbitant cost but getting petrol will be difficult.
h) Follow the golden rule of hill driving. Start early and reach early!
i) Carry enough memory cards for your pictures. There is so much to click that you will regret if haven’t had these chips.
j) Eat less and don’t overfill yourself while driving in hills. Drink lot of water.
k) Carry a good medicine kit. Talk to your family doctor and take necessary medicines.
l) Do not exert and run around in high altitude. Oxygen content in atmosphere is 30 - 40 percent lesser in these areas and will make you tired and sick. Do not stay for more than 10 minutes in passes above 15000 ft
m) Carry a good Binocular
n) Pack your long johns and woolens. You require them at these tented camps where the temperatures fall to 5 deg
o) Ensure that you have the complete vehicle accessories and kit. If self driving, practice trouble shooting techniques and become confident. Carry a good map of the area.
p) Dal – Chawal, maggi and Omellettes are staple food you get in dhabhas on the way. Don’t expect anything more!
q) If possible try and plan your drive during full moon day period. You will possibly see the brightest moon ever in these rarified and unpolluted areas at night in tented camps.
r) Do not rely too much on your cell phone. It may not work most of the time.
s) Do not sleep on the journey. You will regret having missed on some of the outstanding sceneries in the world.
t) Lastly, if you get stuck up anywhere and find an army camp close by, go in and take their help. These great guys will never say NO.
Wednesday, July 28, 2010
The sweet tooth made us start this trip with a visit to the very famous Dariba Corner for jalebis. Having savoured this to our hearts content, we window shop for the various other bric a brac which has been sold for centuries- silver – jewellery, perfumes, wedding invites, other wedding essentials etc . We gather a nice appetite and head straight to Pandit Gaya Prasad Shiv Charan Paranthewalla- which has withstood the influence of time and has managed to retain their core. This paranthewalla boasts of about 30 variety of Paranthas…we notice certain famous political figures having visited this place and tasted the Paranthas. The Paranthas come on to the table accompanied by dollops of aachar, saunth ki chutney, aloo methi sabji…These are cooked on special karhai and these ensure that the paratha does not get burnt and retain their original aroma and flavour.
Moving on a little walk will lead us to Ghantewalas Mitha Shop, which is one of the oldest sweet shop in Delhi- and famous for its sohan Halwa. Chaina Ram serves the best Kachori in town –head there before 5 or you will be disappointed
A little further from the Fatheripuri Chowk, we are treated to the delightful Rabri Faloo at Gyanis- it’s a solid chunk of thickened milk topped with nuts and eaten with falooda.Our evening ended with a very tasty lassi at Amritsari Lassi
These eateries are famous in their own right and they have stood as mute witness to the time induced changes. Here with every bite, I felt we sampled not only a delicacy but also a piece of history !
Friday, May 28, 2010
People flock to see the celebration in jubilation
A scholar is entrusted to educate the masses thro sermons and lectures
The entire place echo a religious fervour
The God is given a bath in holy waters and sweet perfumes
And decked with best of jewellery and costume
The devotees throng for a slice of the holy blessing
A trip to the temple to wash away their sin?
The priests sing the holy verses and the scholar recite the holy script
The masses gather in their finest silks
What are they trying to hide and conceal
Don’t they know that God can look beyond their silks and thrill?
A procession of the God in streets and lanes
Only the road is swept clean and decorated with holy designs
Once the God passes by, its back to normal folly again
The procession, the sermon not showing any real gain
The God is a commodity and his wedding an activity
A platform for the priests and scholars to show their authority
A salvation is promised and its attained thro ‘money’
God, speak out and punish this farce and felony.
Sunday, May 23, 2010
The shroud was lurking just so near
The people around me are full of cheer
God, why don’t I hear your voice loud and clear?
Adorned I am with a flowery noose
And looking around for sympathy and support
Are my prayers falling on deaf ears?
God, why don’t I hear your voice loud and clear?
A short journey- from cradle to grave
Was I sent here to fulfil just this mission?
Who are these men and what is my fault?
God, why don’t I hear your voice loud and clear?
The crowd is cheering and waiting for the kill
Its destiny – I can’t go against their will!
Can a single soul fight the cause of this crowd?
God, why don’t I hear your voice clear and loud?
The slaughter is near, am walking to the altar
Is one death a means to so many dreams?
I stand confused failing to fathom this riddle
To whose prayers do you pin your ears?
God, why don’t we hear your voice loud and clear?
Saturday, May 22, 2010
Extravagant stage packed with actors performing different roles
Flashy costume, generous make up and meaningful dialogues
I sat there – watching a spectacle unfold !!
The GOD appeared amidst grandiose special effects
Promising the world a rescue & relief from demons so dreaded
The GOD seemed all powerful and the demons extra wicked
Curious as I watched the audience rapturous and totally involved !!
The drama ended, GOD worshipped and the villain dead!
Audience elated and the troupe delighted
The ovation was loud and the applause extended
Happy ending for both - the actors and the crowd !!
Backstage, world - all bare and plain
With costume and make up done away, actors open to naked glare again
The curtain made all the difference
Bringing me back to reality again !!
Outside, a bigger stage and larger canvas
I am sure to meet both-GOD and Demon without any premonition
No costume -No make up to set them apart- the same person will stage both parts
Who triumphs over the other- the antagonist or the protagonist?
The world is a stage – not easy to tell
Men are fickle changing their roles at will !!!