You know why we call India, Incredible?!
Because in no other country of this world, you will find such diversity of opinion, culture, food, language, clothes, art, handicraft, topography, flora and fauna, religions, festivals, terrain and beliefs.
No other country. Period.
Wherever you go in this country, you see a glimpse of ‘unity in diversity’. That more often than not also results in divide & conflicts. But if you can evolve yourself to look beyond that, you will see a beautiful piece of a larger puzzle. And this piece looks complete notwithstanding the way in which you look at it – as a part of the puzzle or as a unique piece in itself.
One such unique piece of Incredible India is Leh, Ladakh. Beautiful, surreal & extraordinary. A place with high mountains, higher altitudes & down-to-earth native people. The place with adverse conditions for agriculture but quite advanced in heritage, spirituality, culture, creativity & courage. The dangerous passes, pristine rivers & avalanche-prone mountains give you the rush that no adventure sports can match. The days remain adventurous but the nights are calmer. One look at the star-studded sky at night, is enough for a good night, deep sleep.
I never do itineraries, and always talk about places, monuments & stories. This is my first itinerary post because Ladakh is a saga, not a story. And I guess, the place h changed me after all.
Day 1: Land in Leh & stay in Hotel Togochey
Being a corporate junkie, I don’t have the gift of a long leave. The longest I could manage was a week. So, I flew to Ladakh from Delhi. Here’s a bit of a surprise. The flight time is 1 hour 10 mins. & before you know; you are in Ladakh.
Tip: Window seat on the right is a gift from the god. You would see snow-capped mountains, peaks covered in cloud as if playing hide-and-seek and amazing satellite views of Ladakh. There! You have had a fantastic beginning.
Once you land in Leh, gear up for the dust, ultra-violet rays and altitude. By ‘gear up’, I meant prepare yourself. By ‘prepare yourself’, I mean – use dollops of Sunscreen & use goggles and a cap.
Checking in your hotel:
This is where the real deal begins. I stayed in Togochey & I loved it. It’s a beautiful, lovely property with walkable distance from Leh Bazaar, near to the airport & some 2-3 kms away from Shanti Stupa. I really loved the place. They welcome you traditionally, Ladakh-style. And the owners are a couple of Ladakhi brothers who are intelligent, soft-spoken, good to speak with & super good looking. Yeah, Yeah, I am married. Give me a break!
Now, calm the eff down & chill. My husband who runs 5 kms every day, does exercise with a 16 kg kettlebell & can kick-box 6-7 guys at the same time, started to feel weak after taking stairs to the first floor. Think about me!
For the first 4 hours after checking in, we stayed in the balcony of our brilliant hotel & just worked on calming ourselves down. When you fly up to 13,500 ft from Delhi, your body starts to show signs of altitude sickness. Don’t just make it tougher. Calm down, take a chill pill & drink lemon-ginger-honey tea. There are a few rules to acclimatise better which I would share later.
For now, just know – Altitude Sickness is REAL. Calm yourself. Acclimatise.
Visit the Leh Bazaar. Check out Shanti Stupa in the evening & watch the Sunset. You would love it. Eat very light & go to sleep. You need it. If you can do it, you have done a great job.
Day 2: Local Sightseeing: Hemis, Thiksey & Shey Monastries & Rancho’s school
Take it light today and go on the monastries tour. Click pictures. Use lots of sunscreen. Wear shoes, a cap and shades. And pls – for God’s sake, dress appropriately. No bermuda, shorts or dresses – monastries are places of worship. Don’t go dressed like a male or a female apsara there.
Come back to the hotel in the evening. Watch a relaxing movie that soothes you, and sleep.
Day 3: Khardungla Pass (the highest motorable pass in the world) – Diskit – Nubra Valley – Hunder
If you have heeded my advice of calming down and acclimatisation, you would be all good by now. Start for Nubra valley early morning. You would today pass the highest motorable road & be a witness to some of the majestic sceneries. How do you enjoy this? Eyes wide open & jacket up. Khardungla is very cold & is at 18500 ft. You realise what this is? Very high! Oxygen levels go down drastically and hit you like Vodka hits you for the first time.
My advice – cover yourself properly. Fashion can wait; Lungs don’t. Wear a woolen cap. Wear gloves if need be. Wear socks and do not spend more than 10-15 mins here. There are way too many places in India where you can play with Snow without gasping for breath. So, the drill is:
Reach – Cover Yourself – Click a Picture – Leave
Run, Run! Run for your life. Leave Khardungla as soon as you can.
Reaching Diskit Monastery
I have seen very few ethereal things in life. The Buddha statue in Diskit is one of those. I prayed, wished and worshipped. And I felt at peace. Don’t miss this place for anything. Go to the monastery and come to Hunder.
In the evening, go for the double humped camel safari & watch the Sun setting in the sand dunes. It’s not out-of-this-world, but it’s an experience worth having.
Day 4: To the last village: Turtuk & the border of India-Pakistan: Thang
You will remember this day throughout your life because the road to Turtuk is more beautiful than the village itself. Turtuk is a small, little village that was part of Pakistan and came to India only after the war of 1971. Also, visit Thang if you can – that’s the border area. Watching the Indian Flag there reaffirmed my faith in my country and I once again realised why my India is Incredible.
Meet the localites, talk to them (if they want to), follow the trails and experience Turtuk.
Come back to Hunder & spend the night there, or you could opt for homestay in Turtuk also.
Day 5: Drive to Pangong alongside Shyok river
This is the day for Bollywood Tourism. If you are taking the route of that of Shyok river, start very early. It’s quite a risky route and it’s better to leave early morning. Reach Pangong, and enjoy the windy place that gets too cold.
Word of Caution: If you are booking a tent, do not expect hotel treatment. Power is available only between 8 pm to 11 pm. The poor caretaker can’t tend to you like you are a kid. You won’t get charging points in the tent. Keep battery back-ups. And tents get ice-cold at night. Take warm jackets with you.
Even when you are at the lake, cover yourself up. If you don’t, you would fall ill, and spend a miserable night. The next day, you will blame Ladakh.
Day 6: Come back to Leh
While coming back, you may spend some time at the shooting point (of Three Idiots Fame), get yourself clicked, in Three Idiots Style. Also, spot Pashmina sheep on your way back. You would also meet Kiang and Mermot. 🙂
In the evening, spend time shopping in Leh Bazaar, buy souvenirs & buy Pashmina. I have a very good recommendation for authentic, hand-woven Pashmina. Ask me.
Also, eat Ladakhi cuisine today. You would not be disappointed.
Day 7: Gurudwara Pather Sahib – Magnetic Hill – Sangam – Hall of Fame
If I have to rank order, I would recommend Gurudwara, Hall of Fame, Sangam and then Magnetic Hill, in that order.
Hall of Fame is a reality-check. While we curse Mondays, bitch about our bosses and roam around with a resignation letter in hand; many leave their homes, families, kids and wives behind to protect their country, living in inhumane conditions, surviving on almost nothing, without saying a word. Come here to see how many heroes India had already produced and continue to, as we sleep, eat and make merry back in our homes.
It’s the day for Goodbyes today. Breathe all you can. Look around. Shake hands. Give hugs. And treasure the good memories for those would stay with you always even if you leave behind places and people.
I spent many evenings with my childhood/school friend, Thinles (now Thinley) who happily accompanied my husband and me. He committed the mistake of showing us around and then we never missed any chance of tagging along with him. I am quite sure that he was super irritated by the end of it, and celebrated as we left. 😀 Thank you so much, Thinley. It meant a lot.
But I left with a heavy heart. And I left a piece of me behind at 13,500 ft. as I came back to the sultry, hot Delhi the next day.
Do plan Ladakh once in a lifetime and ask me if you have any questions. I would be more than happy to help.