Leh, a high-altitude paradise is the perfect destination for sight seeing as well as for a taste of adventure
There can be no better road trip in this part of the world than the Manali-Leh route. Bikers wait all year long, padded up with backpacks and driving gear till May, for the Rohtang pass to open. The thrill of driving on this picturesque road has Royal Enfield clubs all over the country planning a tour to Ladakh every year.
For most part of the year — from August to April — this road is snow covered. And once the snow is cleared come summer, the rush of tourist groups takes on the challenge. And what one finds in the long hours of travel are landscapes — apple orchards of Manali giving way to a moon surface of a rugged terrain weathered by wind and water, to a breathtaking plain. The mandatory halt at Sarchu en route in tents is an experience by itself. For some the journey is the key element of the holiday for others it is the destination.
With an altitude ranging from 9,000 ft to 25,000 ft, Leh is the new holiday destination for people who are into culture tourism and adventure. With a line up of monastic festivals like Hemis, Phayang and more, Leh offers a sample of the vibrant Buddhist culture in this region. Colourful dances and people in all their finery do make good photo op to take back home. There is also the oracle of Matho who is a familiar figure with the Ladakhis. There is more that one comes to know about the place and people in this remote land of extreme weather.
The monastery tour that takes you to Thicksey, Stakna, Hemis and Alchi as also the palaces, gets one started on understanding Leh, the 17th century capital of the Namgyal empire. This sight seeing is essential as it prepares one physically to the low oxygen levels as one graduates to Khardungla — the highest motorable road — and other places in the region. Apart from the monastery, Shey palace and other local tourist spots, there is the beautiful Pangong lake —now popularised by the climax scene of Aamir Khan's “3 Idiots”. Jeeps full of tourists land up at this lake on the Indo-China border after over five hours of driving to have a look at the spot where the cameras rolled. Other films like “Tashan”, especially the songs, made use of the beauty of the place and put it on the domestic holiday map.
If you have the time, go to Tsomo-riri lake. It's far, but worth the trip. A home to many migratory birds, this lake in southern Ladakh is not on the regular tourist circuit. How does high altitude desert and hot springs in a cold land sound? That's exactly what's in store for you when you go to Nubra valley. It is a two-day circuit where one camps at a guest house in Diskit — the capital of valley, and goes to the high altitude desert for a camel safari on a double humped Bactrian camel found in Hunder, reminder of the Central Asian trade caravans. The visit to the hot springs and the last village on this route Panamik makes you wish you were living in this region.
For many years people used the old silk route here. The original Aryan families who live here still have the same affection for weary travellers today. Come July, most of the houses open their homes for tourists. These guest houses are reasonably priced and offer breathtaking view of the mountains. Pangong lake also offers tent facility to those who want to camp there. And for the adventure buffs there is white water rafting on Indus.
The shorter day trips with grade-three rapids are for beginners, but the one on Zanskar is for the professionals. Trekking is popular too. The Markha valley trek of ten days is popular much as is the winter walk on the frozen Zanskar. For mountaineering there is the Nun-Kun massif in the Suru valley as also Stok Kangri in the Leh area. Mountaineering expeditions need to take clearance from Indian Mountaineering Foundation in New Delhi. If you need a break from t he maddening traffic and hectic urban life, Leh can do a lot of good to you and will find you waving a ‘juley' to strangers on your way back. Take this trip.
Go in a group of seven or 12 so that you can get bulk discounts and since travel is via big cars that take about six to seven per car, it makes economic sense to go in a manageable group.
Accommodation ranges between Rs. 700 - Rs.1000 on twin sharing basis.
Bargaining is the key. Be it for car, accommodation or tours.
White water rafting costs between Rs. 900 and Rs.1200.
Be fighting fit on this trip to acclimatise to hypoxia or low oxygen in the air at this altitude.
Ladakhi families are warm and friendly so rest assured they will reach out to help in emergency.
When going to Leh take the road — it helps to acclimatise and not expensive. Flights from Delhi go Rs.7000 upward one way in July.
Srinagar-Leh via Kargil is another good option to go to Leh. Buses leave Srinagar in the morning or you can take a cab passing through Sonamarg and Zoji la pass.
Inner line permits are necessary to visit the Pangong lake, Nubra valley and Tsomo-riri. Carry your Voters Id card, PAN card or passport copies for the same. Tour operators get the permit for you.