There used to be (still is) an adage in North India in Pre-Independence era – "Jisne Lahore Nahin Dekha, Usne Jeevan me Kuch nahi Dekha!" (If you haven't seen Lahore, you haven’t seen anything in life!) If it were up to me, I'd replace Lahore with Ladakh.
Ladakh invokes a paradoxical feeling of infinite serenity mixed with excitement and adventure. Ladakh is, on record, the biggest region and Leh the biggest district of all of Asia. As a teenager raised by a farmer's family, my mind's landscape was moulded by the earth and found refuge in Ladakh's pristine beauty. In Ladakh, you don't capture the beauty; the beauty captures you and captures you absolutely.
When to Go: - When road is declared opened and snow is being cleared from the road. So keep an eye on Himachal Pradesh Websites or Leh City Website for up to date Information. Generally it opens in the last week of May until last week of September.
So guys there could be three ways to explore the Ladakh:
Bike Road Trip – It is advised for the guys who think and believe that they are tough. Mind my words; this road is the grand daddy of toughest road in the world. Females are strictly not advised either to go with guys or alone on this trip. Further this is for the guys with ample amount of time. (This is the opinion of the author and NOT of Travel Another India – we know women who have done this bike trip. Gouthami)
2. Four Wheeler Trip: - It is more convenient than the previous one. A group of friends, family can go in a four wheeler. Hiring a driver would be best option instead of driving self. It is good for females as well.
3. Flight to Leh - It is the best option available for anybody especially who want to do Leh but can’t take the road trip due to time and other constraints. This gives you an advantage that you would be fresh to explore the important spots around the Leh. From Leh city one can hire a motorbike as well as a four wheeler to further explore the beauty of the region.
Road Route: 1.Chandigarh to Manali to Leh
2. Srinagar to Leh
Distance: Either way the whole journey is around 2500-3000KM. Chandigarh being the starting and end point
Folks who would want to explore Ladakh by bike and road in an 'organic’ way must keep in mind the following points:-
1. A sleeping tent: According to the size of your group buy a sleeping tent which can accommodate maximum guys. Dome shaped tent is recommended. Don’t get looted through online purchase. Best way is to go to Azadpur Market in Delhi. It is a wholesale market for sleeping tents, bags and such stuff. I myself surveyed the whole day and purchased a dome shaped tent which could accommodate four people. It weighs around a kilo and easily adjustable.
2. Sleeping bag: Forget about the blankets; go for the warm and compact sleeping bag when you have decided to go organic way. Again it can be purchased from Azadpur Market in Delhi. You would understand the importance of both these items when you would arrive at Pangong Lake. You would want to spend a night and local tent owners would demand more than two thousand rupees for a night.
3. A small diesel stove: It is essential as you would need to make your breakfast, tea and food. If a bigger group is there, at night can go for cooking on firewood but again you have to carry them which would increase the weight of your luggage.
4. Utensils: Multipurpose small pan is the way to go where you can make noodles, warm the water and make chapattis in that.
5. Milk powder: Instead of searching for liquid milk, carry milk powder.
6. Shoes: A pair of strong water proof strong shoes with warm socks pair. Your feet many times would kiss water on the way.
7. Gear: Water proof jackets/ Gloves/ Windcheaters/ Warm inners/ Knee and elbow guards are essential for a biker. They must be of very good quality otherwise in no time your hand would stop talking. A special type of bandana comes in market for biker which covers your head and face and saves you from tanning. Go for a pair of it.
8. Bike Tools: A pair of extra Clutch Wires, Clutch plates, Extra Brake Wire, a small plastic air pump: Along with full serviced bike with new tires you must keep the above mentioned accessories along with you.
9. A pair of carrier: Iron carrier on both side of the bike is must to carry your luggage. This can be bought and fitted in Karol Bagh auto market of Delhi.
10. Reserve Oil Cans: Last but not the least one pair of 5 liter plastic cans. It is interesting for your knowledge that at many place the next petrol pump comes after more than 300 KM.
11. And yes, a good SLR camera to click the eternal beauty of the earth in this region. I bet this place is the photographer’s paradise. You would have not seen such a beauty prior in your life. An SLR with extra pair of battery, memory card would be your partner and you would thank yourself for it. We did shoot almost 8 hours of footage on a normal video camera. It would be a treasure to show your kids and grand kids.
12. Medication: Many blokes might feel Acute Mountains Sickness due to thin air in Leh and around. So there might be stomach upset, vomiting and dizziness. Don’t forget to carry a strip of Diamox (Acetazolamide) from your local pharmacy shop. For biker, you would start feeling this on the way near Sarchu. Don’t fight it. Take a tablet; drink a lot of water and go to sleep soon. Give your body time to acclimatize. Upon reaching Leh take a full day rest for acclimatization. (Please check with your doctor before starting on any medication – Gouthami.)
13. Travel Permit:-Anybody from the outside of Jammu and Kashmir region would need permission from Leh city administration to go beyond Leh. This is a must step for everybody. Write maximum number of surrounding spots to cover. This permit would be checked at various places by the state police and para military forces. If you are accompanying any foreign national along with you, he/she would get permission only in a pair. A single foreign national is not allowed. So you need to look out for travel agents, many of them would be humming in the same office for their client’s permit.
14. ATM n Cash: Most of the time there is only one ATM (SBI) is in working condition in Leh city. You would have to wait for long time for your cash. So it is better to carry a bit of extra cash with you than to stand in queue.
15. Phone: Up to Himachal your pre or post paid number can work. But in the state of Jammu and Kashmir you would need BSNL SIM. Your service would hardly work there. That is some disgusting stuff but make a query prior to your visit about the service providers that would work in Leh.
16. Why this adventure: If you seriously want to do an adventure this is the best option in the world. I have met hundreds of bikers on the way including enthusiastic bike lover from foreign countries. None of them have seen such an exciting, beautiful, tough and adventurous terrain in the whole world. You would be a changed person after this trip in many ways and particularly you would start respecting truck drivers and driving.
What NOT to do:
1. Drink and Smoke: Aha! Yes boys, no drinking there post Manali. As you would approach Keylong, level of oxygen would start dipping and your vehicle would tell it. Moreover, Alcohol dehydrates your body, so at lower oxygen levels you would need more water in the system. Less oxygen and tobacco too don’t go along very well. So curb your desire for the sake of safety.
2. Rain Drive: Absolutely not. Don’t try to do an Akshay Kumar or Salman khan there. When rain starts pouring, look out for a hiding rock. There are many sheds and villages on the way, take a refugee there.
3. Disrespect: On the road there would be many small monuments mentioning various soldiers and road making guys who died on their duty. Don’t put their feet, pee over them. If possible blow a horn when you pass by.
4. Night Driving: Not under the pain of death drive in the dark. 6PM and you are in your tent. In fact wake up after a full sleep and try to start the trip soon after breakfast.
Where to Stay:
In Leh city, give your tents and bags a bit of rest as it is not necessary to stay in tents in the city. Most of the Indian middle class choose to get looted in 3 star or 5 star hotels or guest houses. A sensible traveler in my opinion shall follow what an International guy is doing. There is a particular area near Police Station and Main Bazaar where Ladakhi people have opened their home for tourists. They charge like 150-250 INR a day. Plus you get to acquaint with Ladakhi culture from close as you live in their home. Most foreigners apply the same way of residing. Next day of your arrival shall be used in getting permits from local administration and minor bike repairing. Your camera, phone battery must be recharged fully prior to make a further move. It would also give your body to acclimatize according to the environment. Check out the Ladakhi festival date online before you plan your trip. That would be a great experience to indulge in.
Where to go beyond Leh:
1. Khardunga La: This is world’s highest motorable road at 18000 feet. It itself would be a sense of achievement when you would click yourself at that milestone. Alone Khardung La can be done in a single day easily. Post Khardung La there is astonishingly beautiful Nubra Valley where you must spend at least a night. Two hump camels in India are found here. Start early, explore Khardung La and by evening reach Nubra valley.
2. Pangong Lake: Beauty, beauty and beauty. It falls on different road than Khardung La. Almost 80 KM from Leh. 145 KM lake, 45 KM of which is in India and rest is in China. So apparently you would reach near China border. Spend a night in your tent. You would have not experienced such a night before in your life. You would want to stay there for a week. If not then I can bet whatever you ask. It is such a beauty, a virgin beauty. Climax of the film ‘’Three idiots’’ was filmed here. A famous song ’Satrangi re…’’ from the SRK flick ‘’Dil Se’’ was filmed here and to add to your information SRK used to take bath in the lake every day. 2 nights here are equal to a life time experience.
3. Top passes of the world: This terrain of Manali-Leh and further comprises of four world highest motorable passes. Khardung La, Chang La, Tang La, Baralacha la.
4. Sindhu Darshan: The Famous Sindhu River passes from Leh and special cultural festival is celebrated every year for tourists. So don’t forget to be a part of it.
Okay after exploring Leh and around you would be tired a lot. Most likely you would want to be at home as soon as possible. If yes, it is good for guys travelling by air. They can directly fly back home from Leh. Folks travelling in four wheelers either can take the same route via Manali or choose to go via Srinagar.
Then you will be on the Leh-Sri Nagar highway. Soon enough you would witness the magical Magnetic hills on this road. Your vehicles would be pulled naturally. (It is an optical illusion not to be missed – Gouthami) Geographically hills make such an angle that it creates magnetic force. Plus, don’t forget to take blessings from 500 years old Guru Nanak Gurudwara. It is known as Gurudwara Sri Pathar Sahib. Just imagine guys it is such a tough terrain in modern age and Guru Nanak came here some 500 years back with no facility.
Next destination would be Kargil, Tiger Hill, Drass, Amarnath boot Camp at Baltal and then lush green Sona marg.
Guys on bike would need to take a halt for night at Kargil. We camped just outside the Kargil city. This highway was the target of Pakistani intruders during Kargil war. Blokes with four wheelers even can stay for a night in Kargil. Point is one cannot make it to Srinagar in a single day from Leh.
Kashmir valley is lush green and divinely beautiful. It carries totally different culture from Ladakh region. Try to communicate with villagers in Drass area and you would hear the amazing stories of the Kargil war.
When you would reach Srinagar, take rest for the night and explore the beauty of Dal Lake. You can head from Srinagar to Jammu, Pathankot and finally Chandigarh.
I tried to cover as much as I can. Rest if any reader wishes to explore Ladakh this summer, yours sincerely would be glad to guide.
Trivia: 1.We shot the documentary film of the entire organic trip. We are planning to release it for Mountain Documentary Film festival. Tentative title is ‘’The Kicked’’.
2. The cost of this organic trip was INR 15000/. Half of the amounted is the petrol cost.
The author Samar can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org
The opinions expressed in this article are strictly that of the author. Travel Another India is not responsible for the veracity of the contents of this travelogue.