By Chetan Rana.
"A shikara ride in the rains of Srinagar, a beautiful sunset by the lake, a spectacular journey from Srinagar to Leh, the mystic monasteries of the Buddhist monks, the colourful Leh festival, the majestic Pangong Lake, the breathtaking Nubra valley, snowfall at the world's highest motorable road (Khardung-La Pass), an early morning walk in search for birds, a trekking expedition at the Tso-mo-riri lake - and back to life."
This part of the world is barren but beautiful; it is surrounded by some of the best rock formations in the world, snow clad mountains, beautiful lakes, birds, and a different kind of blue sky. A small group of 28 of us experienced heaven on earth in the August of 2011.
Srinagar and the journey to Leh
We started out from Srinagar, heading toward Leh, the capital of the Ladakh region. We spent a day in Srinagar, had a pleasant shikara ride showcasing the scenic beauty of the region, a deep green lake, flowers, bird,s and the beautiful people of Srinagar. To add to this was a drizzling rain that made the whole ride so much more pleasurable.
The next day we began our journey to Leh, with an overnight halt near Kargil. The journey was amazing, filled with heavy rains, scenic beauty, patches of snow, and almost zero visibility near the Zozilla Pass.
Enroute to Leh, make sure you visit Lamayuru monastery, Moonland (the big land patch that resembles the land on moon), Magnetic hill (that claims to be only place on earth which defies gravity!) and Pattharsahib Gurudwara. Leh was our base camp from where we travelled every day to the different parts of the region.
Leh and Nubra Valley
We spent our first day getting acclimatized, visiting the market place and various monasteries depicting Buddhist culture. We visited the Hemis Monastery, Thikse Monastery, Shanti Stupa and the Hall of Fame Museum. The next day we visited the mystical Pangong Lake.
1 Sept'11 was the beginning of the Ladakh Festival, spread over a fortnight. On the morning of first day, a rally left from the main Bazaar towards the Polo Ground in the city, where the inaugural session and all subsequent events were to take place. The rally was filled with people from the various regions of Ladakh in their vibrant and colourful traditional outfits; an absolute visual delight. The inaugural session and cultural events lasted for about three hours and simply cannot be described in words. In the evening we attended a friendly polo match, a must-watch for all sports lovers.
The day next, we visited the Nubra Valley via the world's highest motorable road - Khardung-La Pass. The journey was long and tiring, and we stayed overnight at the Nubra Organic Retreat. The camp site was a delight in itself; every meal is organic, made from vegetables grown in-house, coupled with fresh apples and apricots, straight from the trees!
The return journey was also memorable, since there was a considerable amount of snowfall at the Khardung-La Pass, making the whole journey a visual treat, with snowy patches on both sides of the road.
We began the last leg of our journey in the early hours of the morning, heading for Tso-moriri Lake; by far the best and the longest drive of the 240 km from Leh. Despite cloudy weather, the sun's rays from between the clouds kept the lake and its surroundings beautiful and majestic. In the evening we went for a trek with the locals who encouraged us along. Most of us city folk were limping by the end of the trek, and only a handful of us made it to the top of the peak. It was a truly heavenly feeling for those of us who completed the expedition.
The next day we planned a walk around the lake hoping to sight some birds, and capture the sunrise. With near-zero temperatures that the morning, very few of us made it to that most pleasant and memorable early morning walk. Tso-moriri Lake will by far be remembered as the best destination of the trip.
The next day was the day of rest - and shopping! Ladakh is famous for its handicrafts and artifacst, and it helps to have someone who is good with bargaining. We returned on 7 Sept'11 with great memories of the best holiday anyone could ask for!
Even as I write this, I find myself reliving the whole journey, counting the days till I can return. Ladakh - we will be back again!