Tuesday, March 15, 2011

A Ride

While planning a vacation, each person has his/her own choice of place. If one wants to go to a river side, another will wish to see the desert or snowy mountains, etc. But what if all these exist in a single place — right here in India, in Ladakh? The name Ladakh was derived from the words ‘La’ (Passes) and ‘Daks’ (many) meaning ‘Land of many passes.’ Situated in the North Western region of J&K, Ladakh is bounded by Chinese Tibet to the East and South East, Kashmir Valley to the West, Kuen-Lun range and Karako-ram to the North, Lahul and Spiti of Himachal Pradesh to the South. It consists of two districts, Leh and Kargil, among which Leh is the largest district in the country in terms of area.
Dry & rocky mountains, serene monasteries and picturesque lakes competing with the sky for the perfect blue shade are all synonymous with Ladakh. However, there is something beyond all these in this place which makes one go spellbound. I discovered this during a ride on the world’s highest motorable road.
Along the entire stretch of the journey starting from Leh to Khardungla Pass to Nubra Valley, we witnessed different faces of nature keeping us at the edges of our seats. As the ride began, a little distance uphill, we came across the ‘Khardungla frog.’ It’s not a local frog species but a large boulder shaped like a frog by nature and painted very artistically by an unknown person. It is a perfect blend of nature’s creation and man’s imagination. We were also lucky enough to spot the Himalayan Marmot as it usually camouflages well with the stones and is very swift. They are also called as the ‘Tibetan snow pig’ by locals. 
The Khardungla Frog
Himalayan Marmot
As we reached the top, the Khardungla top, at a height of 18,380 ft, we saw nature at its best with a breathtaking view of snow capped peaks all around us. It is marked by the many colourful prayer flags hung all around. And what could be better than enjoying the scene with a great cup of lemon tea or soup — Rinchen Cafeteria (‘world’s highest cafeteria’ as they have named it) is at your service. There is also a souvenir shop located at the top. A long ride down hill and then again through many mountains took us to the Nubra Valley. From Leh to the valley, around 5 hours drive, we passed through South Pullu and North Pullu (both of which are Army camps) and Khardung La in between. All along the journey, we saw differently coloured mountains ranging from rocky brown to purple and at times reminding us of the Grand Canyon in the movie Mechenna’s Gold.
Nubra Valley is drained by the Shayog and Saychan rivers. The Shayog River, originating from the Karakoram Mountains, is joined by Saychan in Shatsa village near Diskit. Due to its soft, fertile soil and comparatively thicker vegetation, the Nubra Valley is also known as Ldomra meaning the ‘Valley of flowers.’
Khardong, Khalsar, Deskit, Hundar, Sumur and Tirith are the major villages of Nubra Valley, offering a variety of camps and guest houses of which we chose Tirith camp. The camp consists of a number of tents furnished just like a hotel room. Also most of the camps have their own kitchen gardens and apple orchards and our hosts were very generous with their supply of juicy apples! 
Tirith Camp
Next day we headed to Diskit which is the district head quarters of Nubra. A rugged road through this village leads to the Diskit Gompa (monastery) situated at a height of about 200 mts. It is the largest and oldest monastery of Nubra Valley. Founded by Changzen Tserab Zango in 1420, it belongs to the Gelugpa (yellow hat) sect of Tibetan Buddhism. The monastery, with the traditional prayer flags and wheels, contains beautiful Buddhist murals and idols of fierce guardian deities, whose heads are uncovered only during festivals. A number of Tibetan and Mongolian texts have also been stored here. It is believed that an evil anti-Budd hist Mongolian demon once lived near the Monastery and was killed here. It is also said that the head and hand of the demon still lies inside. The topmost level of the Monastery provides a panoramic view of the entire central part of Nubra Valley. There is a beautiful 35 mt statue of Maitreya Buddha near the Monastery, facing the Shyok River towards Pakistan. 
Diskit Gompa
Maitreya Buddha
Shortly after leaving Diskit, towards the right, are the sand dunes of Hunder. Breaking the monotony of Monasteries and mountains, this desert is also a home to the double humped Bactrian camel. We were left wondering about its existence here as one look around showed us rocky mountains, snow capped peaks, blue river flowing from glaciers and right in the middle of all these, a desert with two humped camels! Visitors can also take a ride on these camels.
Sand Dunes of Hunder
Bactrian Camel
As we headed back to Leh, Khardungla greeted us again with its beauty. However, this time it was with the start of snowfall (our visit was during Sept.). What more can we ask on a vacation after seeing a river, desert and snowfall, all at once?
So the next time you are confused about deciding a place for vacation, pack your bags and take a ride on the world’s highest motorable road and beyond! 

** Photographs in this article are the property of the author. Kindly do not use it elsewhere**

(Published in Star Of Mysore dated March 9, 2011)


Nitya said...

Ultimate clicks apuurva...

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