On 14th early morning, we left for Nubra Valley. We were suggested to go early morning so that we could avoid the traffic. We did. In order to reach Nubra Valley one has to cross the highest motorable road in the world which is the Khardung La Pass at a height of 18,380 ft (5,602 meters.), just for a frame of reference, Mt. Everest is at a height of 29,029 ft. (8,848 meters.). It took us about one and a half hours to reach Khardung La Pass which was like really cold…it was so cold that flowing water had become frozen. Just before reaching the pass we crossed a door like natural structure with ‘India Gate’ written on it. Ladakh has such natural doors just before almost every important tourist location. One experiences AMS once they start nearing the pass; it is advisable not to indulge in too many physical activities once you reach there. An amazing attraction of the pass is the Rinchen Cafeteria which is the highest cafeteria in the world. It is a different high knowing that you had tea at such an exclusive cafe as this!
We climbed down from Khardung La and came across an army camp which invited tourists to their cafeteria to dine with them. We took up the opportunity and had Maggie with a few soldiers of the Indian Army. It was such a different experience being with them, listening to them, their stories, etc… The entire canteen was filled with posters of Bollywood celebrities, if I remember correctly Hrithik Roshan & Katrina Kaif were the most popular. After having breakfast at the camp we carried on with our journey towards Nubra Valley. Apart from Khardung La, the roads that lead to Nubra Valley were pretty good.
On our way to Nubra we crossed some amazing landscapes, we crossed a small creek where the car has to get into the creek and then come out of it, that spot is generally where tourists stop over to have a meal, we did too but I’ll talk about that latter. The spot where Abhijeet Sawant’s ‘Junoon’ video was shot was also very close to this creek.
While on our journey to Hunder which is a desert in Nubra Valley, we came across a landmark that took us by surprise. It said ‘Siachin Treadmasters’. Siachin is the highest inhabited glacier in the world, it is inhabited by the Indian Army. It is above Kashmir and in between, China & Pakistan. India occupied Siachin in April 1984 When Pakistan gave permission to a Japanese expedition team to scale the important Rimo peak in 1984 which was strategically not good for India. India launched Operation Meghdoot (named after the divine cloud messenger in Kalidasa’s Sanskrit play) on April 13, 1984. Lieutenant General PN Hoon, the then commander of the Indian Army’s Northern Command based at Udhampur in Jammu & Kashmir, led the assault. The operation pre-empted Pakistani operations by 4 days as Rawalpindi was to launch its operation on April 17, 1984. Currently The Indian Army controls the heights, holding on to the tactical advantage of high ground. Pakistanis cannot get up to the glacier while Indians can’t come down. Presently, India holds the entire glacier and commands the top of all three passes. (Read more about Siachin here: http://ibnlive.in.com/news/what-the-siachen-conflict-is-about/155981-3.html)
I have always been mesmerized by the idea of the highest peaks and Siachin is one that really excited me as it is one of Indian Army most remarkable achievements. Siachin was actually just about 80 km away from where I was standing. There is another tourist destination very close to Siachin called Panamik which is famous for hot springs. It is about 35 Km from Thirit which is where one turns in order to go to Diskit. Panamik is the point until where civilians are allowed and is the base camp for Siachin. Panamik is also sometimes called the world’s highest dhobi ghat as the soldiers of the Indian Army wash their clothes there in the hot springs as it is impossible to do the same on the glacier. Siachin Glacier if only about 45 Km from Panamik. We could not go to Panamik as the package we had taken did not include Panamik while we were under the impression that it did. So we had to miss out Panamik (An excuse to go to Ladakh again). Make sure that Panamik is part of your package when you are taking up a package. Siachin is at a height of 6,400 meters.
While on our way to Hunder, I kept starring out of the window guessing which one of the high snow covered peak was Siachin, I obviously had no way of knowing if I was guessing correctly, but I was not wrong in trying to guess as Phoonsuk, our driver had shown us a few mountains and told us that they lie in Pakistan’s territory. So if Pakistan was visible, Siachin was in between India & Pakistan.
I got over my fixation over Siachin and reached Hunder, it was beautiful. The idea of seeing a desert at approx. 10,000 ft. above sea level was itself magical. The first view of Hunder is when you start seeing the vast lands of sand and sand dunes. Hunder is a desert surrounded by snow covered peaks and with camels around. These camels are however special in their own rights, they are (two-humped) Bactrian Camels. One can take a ride on the camels but I am not sure of the rates for the same as we did not go for a ride. Hunder, by the way was very warm, it was almost impossible, it was just too hot. The sand was boiling hot, so keep your shoes on. There is a small stream of water that runs in between the desert; the water in it is very cold though. So we have a desert in the middle of snow capped mountains with camels and sand dunes and a small stream of water running through it, how much more exotic can you get?
We then left Hunder after an hour or so. A lot of people stay overnight at Hunder and cover Panamik on their way back the other day.
We then went to the Diskit monastery. The driver almost insisted us to go to this one. It was indeed beautiful. Here we had a climb a lot of stairs, we actually never made it to the top as it was too high and we were already very tired, we were at a very high altitude after all. There is one corner in the monastery where one can hear a waterfall but we could not find it. At Diskit we went into the main temple and for the first time we actually got to know a little about the mythology and about Buddhism from one of the priests who was more than happy to tell the stories about his religion. The face of all the deities was covered with a piece of cloth. The priest told us that it is done because, these deities have very powerful and angry faces which is covered so as to protect the planet from their rage. These covers are removed only once a year on a special day which is sacred to Buddhism. Buddhism celebrates that day with great pomp & show.
Buddhist monasteries are built in the most unusual of places and are enigmatic to say the least. They seem to have so many secrets and in them and seem to have such rich history. The life of the Buddhist monks seems difficult as is evident by their lifestyle and choice of location but then, they still have a huge following and rightly so!
There was another part of this Monastery which was a huge statue of Buddha on a small hill right in front of the monastery. This particular statue had no cover on the face and the face was not even in rage. It was massive, like say around 200 meters high.
We finally left Diskit and started on our journey back to Leh and took the same route back. We reached the creek which I had mentioned earlier where people used to stop over for meals, this time it was crowded as most people were on their way to Nubra Valley, so this was the traffic. We, however, felt that we should have been with the traffic as when we went, we seemed to be the only ones. There was hardly anyone around; it would have been nice to have a few people around, we got bored being the only car as far as we could see.
While on our way back, we saw snowfall behind us, the place where we had just left and hoped that it would travel to us too but it did not. We kept staring at mountains peaks getting a fresh doze of whiteness but could not experience it ourselves. We crossed the Army camp again and this time they were playing cricket, I clicked a few pictures but I have a feeling it was not allowed as I heard a few of them passing directions to confiscate my camera, that’s when I stopped. On our way to Khardung La, we were interrupted due to some work which was going on of widening the roads, we had to stop for about 40 minutes before we were given a pass. We reached Khardung La in a few minutes and climbed down to Leh in an hour or so. The top was less cold this time for obvious reasons.
We reached Leh fairly early and went straight to the travel agent to discuss the plan for the next day. We had small dispute with the agent as he had misquoted the price of the trip to Diskit and wanted us to pay more than what was decided upon. We came to settlement and decided to not hire his services any further. The name of the store was ‘Ladakh Adventure’; it is very close to ‘Gesmo German Bakery Restaurant’. The owner is forgetful, in case you hire his services, have everything in written.
We spoke to Phoonsuk and hired his services for the next day to take us to Pangong Lake. Drivers generally don’t get into personal deals as they are not allowed but Phoonsuk had taken a liking towards us and we, towards him, so he agreed to take us to Pangong Lake the other day.
At night, once again we went out hunting for ‘Elements’ since we had received more recommendations for the same. Phoonsuk had also suggested us to try out ‘Elements’. This time all four of us went inside looking for the restaurant. We went into the dark lane and after walking for about 100 meters, we saw a really small bulb which was lit right in front of a door on our left, we went and opened that door and on the other side stood ‘Elements’. As told earlier ‘Elements’ was in the open with a large screen and a movie playing, in our case it was ‘Seven Years in Tibet’, behind the screen was the lovely backdrop of the beautiful mountains of Leh, and on top was the open sky covered with stars. Apart from the electricity playing spoilsport and a limited menu, the place is awesome, a must visit. It is very cold though, since it is in the open, so carry warm clothes. It is the kind of place where you want to go, have dinner and relax for a while. There were a few rumors that this restaurant hosts ‘special’ parties every now and then, if you know what I mean!
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