Friday, April 9

Driving from Delhi to Ladakh via Manali and back via Srinagar.

Not for the faint hearted.
Adventurous, ambitious, very satisfying trip.

We reccommend :

           Read up all you can before you start this trip.

  • Carry a foot pump ( we met a Ford Endeavour that suffered 5 flat tyres!!),
  • Oxygen cylinders, medicines for mountain sickness, nausea etc.
  • Extra jerry can of fuel. The last petrol pump between Keylong and  Leh is at  at Tandi , about 9 km before Keylong.
  • Rope. ( Our Innova got stuck on a rough patch with water from a glacier running onto the road...if you can call it that. It was only huge pebbles, rocks, gravel , glacial water.. you get the picture) . We had no rope then, nor could the other people help us out. Eventually we had to call in an Army truck from 8 Kms up,  at Pang,  to pull the car out.
  • First Aid kit, including anti allergy pills, combiflam, band aid, disprin etc.AND the Oxygen, as mentioned above.
  • A very high spf sun block lotion. The UV light at higher altitudes can be very damaging to your skin.
  • Sun glasses and a hat.
  • At least one extra blanket. We were grateful for ours at Sarchu !
  • Charge-able torches, or carry extra batteries for the other kind.
  • Cell phones may not work in all areas, but do keep checking. SMS es did go through where calls did not.
Eat light during the journey. Digestion slows down due to lesser oxygen in the higher altitudes, leading to slight complicationslike headaches, nausea.
You can carry chocolate bars. Even a few bites restore energy levels and provide carbohydrates.

And do get into shape a month before you make this trip. It really helps. Go walking, practice deep breathing, or if you can, join a gym.

The route we took :

{{ For those going the Kinnaur and Spiti Route, you will have to cross the following passes:

1. Kunzum la -  (25 - 31 May)
2. Baralachha la - tentative opening date: 31 May
3. Tanglang la - tentative opening date: 31 May.}}


From New Delhi to Leh
  • New Delhi to Chandigarh. { Normally 5 hours.}Night halt
  • Chandigarh to Manali.{Normally 7 hours} Night halt .
  • Manali to Keylong.{Normally 4 hours}{took us longer due to bad road and traffic jams.} 2 nights stay for acclimatisation.
  • Keylong to Sarchu. { Normally 5-6 hours, including halts for photographs.} night halt in tents. No other accomodation till Leh, other than the few and far between shacks usually used by bikers.
  • Sarchu to Leh. {Normally 9 to 10 hours}
For Leh to New Delhi:
  •  Leh to Kargil. {Took us all day, since we stopped at Lama Yuru Monastery, Magnetic Hill, Pathar Sahib Gurudwara, Kargil War Memorial, Alchi Village..? Zanskar Indus confluence}Night halt.
  • Kargil to Srinagar.{Normally 6 to 7 hours} Night Halt.{{ I wish we had spent a week here--this is my hometown!!}}
  • Srinagar to Udhampur. {Normally 6 to 7 hours}Night halt.
  • Udhampur to  Ambala. { Normally 10 hours} Night halt.
  • Ambala to New Delhi. { 3 hours}
You can make different travel plans, depending on the time at your disposal.

Keep an eye out for the wildlife . You will see Yaks, Marmots, Ibex ( rare to see) and maybe if you are lucky enough, you will see the Himalayan desert ass/donkey :) KIANG. You get to see its desert cousin in Gujarat, in the Runn of Kutch, where it is known simply as the Indian Wild Ass or  Onager or khur.

We saw a pair of huge Yak skulls with horns lying in the desert areas  I wondered later, what do they signify, when I saw several nomadic homes in the interior areas embellished with these horns. These skulls and horns are also found atop several Mani walls (Prayers carved into stones in Tibetan script) Read somewhere, they portray YAM's doorway...not sure what that means, now !  Yam as in Yam Devta, the Lord of Death? Then why put them up on the roofs of one's homes? As a gesture of veneration? Or as a decoration?? I checked the net and found pictures of these skulls with horns...beautifully decorated with stones and metal. I would never decorate the walls of my home with these..shudder.... !

You will see colourful flags with prayers printed on them, strung on strings and fluttering in the breeze, as if blessing the very air, almost everywhere. One cannot but fall in love with the picture they make against the stark landscape.

From Wiki :There are two kinds of prayer flags: horizontal ones, called lung ta (meaning "Wind Horse") in Tibetan, and the vertical Darchor. "Dar" translates as "to increase life, fortune, health and wealth", "Cho" translates as "all sentient beings".[1]

Lung Ta (horizontal) prayer flags are of square or rectangular shape and are connected along their top edges to a long string or thread. They are commonly hung on a diagonal line from high to low between two objects (e.g., a rock and the top of a pole) in high places such as the tops of temples, monasteries, stupas or mountain passes.
Darchor (vertical) prayer flags are usually large single rectangles attached to poles along their vertical edge. Darchor are commonly planted in the ground, mountains, cairns or on rooftops and are iconographically and symbolically related to the Dhvaja.

Color and order
Prayer flags in Kathmandu, NepalTraditionally, prayer flags come in sets of five, one in each of five colors. The five colors represent the elements,[1] and the Five Pure Lights and are arranged from left to right in a specific order. Different elements are associated with different colors for specific traditions, purposes and sadhana:
Blue (symbolizing sky/space)
White (symbolizing air/wind)
Red (symbolizing fire)
Green (symbolizing water)
Yellow (symbolizing earth)

Another thing I fell in love with is the Buddhist chant..Om Mani Padme Hum.
Check out this video at Youtube :

Or this

If you visit at the time of Ladakhi festivals, you might get to see Chaams--the mystic dances performed by the Monks. We were lucky enough to see the biggest fair of them all at Lama Yuru Monastery. Monks from all over India and other nations had gathered to be a part of the ceremonial festivities.The monks wore colourful attire, masks, danced in slow rhythmic circles . The local crowd was a spectacular blend of smiling old wrinkled women with the prayer wheel in their hand, turquoise laden head gear. And sunny, cherubic children watching the monastic dances patiently.

In Keylong, we like putting up at the Dei Kid hotel. Warm, helpful staff. Good ,clean rooms. Excellent view.
You can drive around during the daytime , pack a picnic lunch and go towards Tandi, take a left turn, uphill.
A few metres up this road, you come across a field of wild flowers.Knowing a little bit about the flora and fauna of the place you are visiting adds so much to the charm of your experience. We have been to Keylong twice, and on my first visit here I was totally unprepared for the beauty of the place. You will find Himalayan Musk Rose growing in abundance here. As also Yarrow, Violets, chickweed, Dutch Clover(Shaftal ),Mistletoe, Tridax, Windflower...the list is endless!!

If you'd like to brush up on your knowledge of wildflowers before or after your visit to these Himalayan meadows, check this out:-

For lovers of wildflowers, this can be a full day picnic, observing, photographing and enjoying the fragrance of the meadows in bloom. When we went there, we were so taken in by the beauty of the place that we stopped there for over an hour. We had tea in a thermos, and some packed sandwiches, so it was a perfect picnic.There are fields around, but you rarely come across anyone here. Our kids had fun playing around with the glacial water running out of a little pipe in the hill side.

Our stay in Leh included
  • Visit to the Shanti Stupa
  • Stok Palace, Leh.
  • Pengong Lake
  • Several Monastries in and around Leh.
  • And shopping sprees at Old Fort road :) Lovely Thangkas here, and turquoise, crystals, Tibetan artefacts in tiny shops tucked into the bylanes, dried apricots, apricot oil....
Photos from the Trip:

Suggestions:-Carry plenty of warm clothing, thermal clothes, water, dry eatables.
Start early wherever you can, gives you time for halts for photography. The route is extraordinary in terms of landscape and beauty. Due to lack of oxygen and lower atmospheric pressure, one feels the mild effects of AMS(Acute Mountain Sickness)  in the form of headache, nausea, loss of appetite and breathlessness.In rare cases,  AMS can  cause the brain to swell and the lungs to fill with water.Take time to  acclimatise, do not rush into anything or anywhere too fast. Drink plenty of water and avoid smoking and alcohol.

Useful phone numbers:-

Acute Mountain Sickness Hotline: 01982-52360
Ambulance: 01982-52014.
Police Station: 01982-52018
Tourist Reception Centre: 01892-52297


Anonymous said...

Wonderful, enlightening, informative blog Minnie. Thank you for sharing all parts of this wonderful journey with us. :)

Minakshi and Himangshu Watts said...

Thank you so much for reading , Judi! There is so much more one can add here but then I would have to write a book on Ladakh! :)
Thank you so much for coming by,Judi, I really appreciate it :)

larry said...

What an adventure! Soul -stirring no doubt..and what grist for the imagination once you've returned..I am sure your art is flourishing like a tropical garden,Minnie..

You've described similar symptoms of mountain climbers .Minnie..I guess traveling so high and quickly in a vehicle does not allow tyhe body much the 'bends' for those that explore deep underwater..

Wow..I am in awe of your courage..
thank you for sending me this and I will follow you,my friend!
Ah! hello,Judi!

from sheila h...:)

Anonymous said...

Wow! Minnie! this is magical! This blog of yours is such a wonderful idea! You remember I lived a couple of years "on" the Pyrenees, don't you? I can feel the cold air cutting the skin of my face through your journey. I'll be back often to see more of those wonderful pics and descriptions of yours. I'm delighted with the energy down here,
This earth of ours is so beautiful, it's so refreshing to have someone like you bring us back to places like the ones you're visiting, thank you dear heart.
I was thinking Fred Hose is doing that at South Africa, I'm doing it from down here having been at incredible places, and you're doing it now in India. More people should be doing this at these stupidly difficult times. There is so much to enjoy and so few people who care to see that. But there's more and more of us, isn't there?
Lots of love,and thanks for the journey.

Stirling Davenport said...

Now, I want to go too, Minnie. Thanks for this wonderful blog with so many good tips. I agree with all of them (similar to my trek around Mt. Kailash years ago). I especially love the photos you took.

Minakshi and Himangshu Watts said...

Hi Sheila. Good to "see " you here, ol pal! We sure had adventure with a capital A during this trip. What with getting AMS, sleeping in minus 4 degree temp in a tent that threatened to fall apart in the windy landscape...and then gazing upon the turquoise blue salt water lake at 14,270 ft.!
I wasn't aware that deep water explorers also get similar symptoms, Sheila. That's info.
Thankyou for 'visiting' this part of the world with me--all of you !
Hope I can post more of such adventurous stuff here. Soon :)

Minakshi and Himangshu Watts said...

Daniela!!! So glad you came by !
Yes, I do recall your mentioning the time on the Pyrnees.You have had some adventures of your own!
Yes, there is so much to explore, immerse ourself in..this beautiful earth and its lost corners, old civilizations, ancient cultures...sometimes I wish travelling to these peaceful places is all I had to do in life. I would gladly give up the mundane city life, ha !

And what are you writing about?? Do send me a link...
Yes...there are more of us around now :)
Lots of love to you too ...

Minakshi and Himangshu Watts said...

Stirling, when I mailed this link to you , I was thinking of your beautiful poems about McLeodganj and the paintings of Buddhist people you made sometime back. I knew this would remind you of your memories of India :)
I haven't been to Mt. Kailash yet. I hope , someday I can go there. My father-in-law has been there several times and we have some amazing pictures of Mt. Kailash at home.
Thank you so much for dropping in, Stirling :)