LADAKH ONLY HEAVEN IS HIGHER!BY ASMA TORGAL

LADAKH IS VERY SPECIAL: A lot of travellers prefer to do Ladakh partly on bikes for the grand stand scenery of mountains of Himalayas! Making it to Pangong tso (lake) is one of the highlights of any trip to Ladakh

Doing Ladakh the adventurous way on bike! ASMA TORGAL with her friends tells us about India’s coolest high altitude destination….

LADAKH is still a rustic and heavenly destination for those who love mountain holidays. Here are clear blue skies, strings of prayer flags fluttering everywhere for blessings and everywhere in the near distance the snow-capped mountains, cool meandering rivers, winsome winding roads – rosy-cheeked children smiling away as if forever! Then there is the food of Ladakh, the domesticated yaks are part of the landscape…it’s hard to take one’s eyes of the scenic beauty of Ladakh for a while. Ladakh in northern India as an extension of the Kashmir valley mountains in the western side has Tibetan charm (it’s just next door to Tibet), the people are a warm and full of ebullience, every cheerful. After all this is all Buddhist territory.
To visit Ladakh you must remember that it has a small travel window and is open for visitors from June to October, after that the high mountain passes get blocked by snowfall. There are multiple routes to choose from, but the most loved route is the Delhi-Leh-Delhi route and since August and September are considered the best time to visit Ladakh – you will see tourists everywhere.
To begin the journey we took a flight from Delhi to Leh. Views from the plane of snow-capped mountains looked glorious. Once you land in Leh the visuals will hold you spell bound first and then the feel of the cold and cool wind and breezes around you. It is exactly as we have seen it in the photos and videos of Ladakh! But remember you may not click any pictures at the airport for it is a restricted and military controlled area. Military presence in Leh is 24/7. You will see soldiers everywhere for obvious reasons, but be assured that civilians and tourists are safe. Do note: Only post-paid SIM cards work in Ladakh!


Since Leh is at a high altitude and if you arrive by air the quick gain of altitude will leave you somehow get you. It’s important to ensure that you acclimatize for a day or 24 hours, that is, take it easy somewhere with just rest and getting used to the high attitude. Or you may end up with a headache! So play it safe and do acclimatize for an entire day. Travel agency Ground Support Officer Parth Mudgal says, “We refrain guests from smoking or boozing alcohol and recommend they drink at least five liters of water so that they are well hydrated.” Also, most of the hotels and local vehicles are equipped with oxygen cylinders if required.
EXPLORIGN LEH
THE next day explore Leh City which has loads to offer. Starting with the Leh Palace which was built in the 17th century and is open for visitors. Interestingly, the former royal family which used to stay at the Leh Palace now stays at Stok Palace (another visiting place). The famous place Shanti Stupa is located on a hilltop. Ahead of it is the Hall of Fame, where the Indian soldiers, who lost their lives during the Indo-Pak wars, are honoured. Another popular place: Magnetic Hills, which attract people for here the law of gravity is defied and vehicles move up the elevated road on its accord! Of course, no matter where you take a break you are treated to enthralling view of the near but not so near mountains.

AT KHARDUNG LA
THE world’s highest motorable pass is Khardung La. We were on the third day at this famous pass called Khardung La. Now there are two ways of travelling. You can either hire a car or bikes. If you are accompanied by family and want to enjoy all the places together, hire a car. But if you like adventure the bikes is the greatest mode of transportation – then you see the real beauty of a trekking trip to Khardung La. Also, remember there will be perceptible changes in the climate rapidly, so be prepared with warm clothing. And yes, you do need an Inner Line Permit to visit places like the Khardung La, Nubra Valley, Shayok Chang La, Tangtse and Pangong Lake.
Khardung La is located at 18,380 feet above sea level and here the road is asphalt along with dirt tracks – together they make for some of the most dangerous places to traverse. Once you reach K-top and stay a little longer you might experience dizziness and breathlessness – all due to the pristine high altitude. But when you stand and re-vive the moment, you will realize what it feels to be vitally alive! Enjoy every moment of the ascent.
Coming down from the pass one felt terribly famished! Mercifully, at a rounded, steep curve, we found refreshment tents.Get reacquainted with a signature dish from your school dorm years: Maggi and chai. Bend over your bowls, gulp the noodles quickly and head for your next destination before nightfall.
When you see a rugged valley, a long road, like the one we traversed, it was impossible not to recall Shah Rukh Khan’s epic entry on his Royal Enfield in “Jab Tak Hai Jaan” – you have arrived at Nubra. The Nubra Valley is a route to the Siachen Base Camp. The picturesque route leads you past the cold desert landscapes of Ladakh. Driving on find the sand dunes at Hunder. It seems hard to believe that there is a such a desert above the mountains of the Himalaya. You will find here the Bactrian camels for camel joy rides. Sunset is the best time for a safari ride, when the dunes turn golden under the sweeping rays of the setting sun.

A MIRACLE CALLED
PANGONG LAKE!
THE first sight of Ladakh’s fable Pangong lake leaves one totally enthralled. It’s a saline water body of which 40 km is in India while the rest flows on towards Chinese territory. The lake colours turn into multiple shades of blue throughout the day and it is quite mesmerising and fabulous.
Pangong lake is probably the most breath taking lake one may set one’s eyes on. Stay overnight at Pangong in lake-facing tents. Wake up to a sunrise over Pangong lake which you will never forget.
RETURN TO LEH
THE return journey to Leh was via Chang La. This pass is at a height of 17,690 metres and most of the roads are off-road but not that desolate. It is very cold up but when on the descent section you will catch lush green enticing meadow lands opening out to breathtaking landscapes coming alive with the glow of the setting sun as you ride into the reassuring comforts of Leh.
If you want to visit Ladakh with ease without struggling on your own vis-a-vis transport, tour guides and hotel bookings, your best option is to do let a tour agency organize everything for you. One of the best tour companies in India is Thrillophilia. Choose from one of the packages offered and your trip of a lifetime is made.
“Every guest is our priority,” says Satya Rajput, Project Manager at Thrillophilia. “And if you want to savour tranquillity, then September is your best month — that’s when tourists start dwindling and Ladakh looks more like the desolate heaven often portrayed.”
India’s first fastest female rider Kalyani Potekar, from Indore, came on a bike tour on the newly launched KTM 390CC bike. Her response to a query, “Exploring Ladakh is a wild idea, but the thrill of riding the bike on those roads is too hard to resist. I had fun riding KTM. What I loved about the bike was that it has sharper handling and more precise steering.”

LEH MARKET CHARMS
ON the last day of your trip it is best you do some shopping for family and friends back home. The Mall Road is a great place for looking and buying at souvenirs – there is something for every taste ranging from Tibetan handicrafts to colourful stone jewellery to pashmina shawls…cashmere, the orange apricots of Ladakh, and of course you must buy some prayer flags. Enjoy your shopping and eating experiences but do not spoil the beauty of it all by littering the place anywhere! Keep it clean, free from any of your litter. A tourist, Sharad Bhandari from Bhiwandi, shared, “The Ladakhi people are the warmest hospitable people. See how their smiles reflect their inner beauty!”
Truly, Ladakh. It is so dramatic in its stunning mountains of the Himalaya beauty and the culture of the people – one may feel like one is in the middle of nowhere and yet if you look there is every comfort and all amenities here. Leh in Ladakh is like no other town in the country. Pack your bags and get set to go, and eternal memories will be yours.

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