Ladakh- More about the journey than the destination- Part 2

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Ladakh- More about the journey than the destination- Part 2

Postby SunilDhir » Wed Oct 11, 2017 1:50 pm

After spending couple of nights in Leh, now it was time for us to move on. I had expected the rest of our journey to be tough and to be honest that was what I looking forward too. So excited was I, that I couldn't sleep the night before moving on to Khardungla :)

Day 6 This was the day that had made me plan the entire trip. I will drive to Khardungla today :D .....yeah. How many times have you seen the videos on YouTube of people driving up to Khardungla and wishing that someday, you would do it yourself. Well today was that day for me. Couldn't sleep the entire night in excitement and when I woke up in the morning, Ladakh gave me a gift.

The High Altitude was finally starting to take toll..... Yep, sometimes you can feel the effect of the altitude after 48 to 72 hours and that's what was happening with me. It was a completely breathless morning and the dryness in the air had taken a big toll on my throat. I couldn't open my mouth to say a mere 'Hi' to anyone. If I tried, I would end up coughing for the next five minutes. So, I decide to keep my mouth shut for the rest of the day.

We left for Khardungla early in the morning at around 8, got the car full again, got the diesel can filled up also as there was only more petrol pump in the next 800 kms of our journey, in Nubra, and our host in Leh had advised that the fuel availability at the petrol pump in Nubra is very erratic. So, we decided to play safe.

With a full tank of diesel, we moved excitedly towards Khardungla and then on to our final destination for the day in Hunder (Nubra). Road is pretty good till South Pullu and you are required to show your permits there before driving up to Khardungla. Now when we reached South Pullu and showed our permit to the person there, in return he gave us a great news....Road to Khardungla was closed :o . Apparently, there was a snowstorm in the morning and road had been closed...What the...I had driven 1500 kms to reach here and just 14 kms before the top I've been told that I can't do it.... Damn!.

Very Patiently, I inquired about when the road will open and I got a very polite answer...."Can't Say"..."Can take 2 hours or up to 6 hours...provided there is no more snowfall". And then I looked up in the sky to see fresh snow flakes coming down and greeting my face.

South Pullu.JPG
Waiting Patiently
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Couple of hours, we waited patiently in the mild snowfall at 15000 feet for the BRO people to clear the road... "Heck I will drive to Khardungla, even if that means spending a night at South Pullu", I said to myself. And every 15 minutes like a loyal employee, I used to go and check if there is any chance of the road opening up.

Well, the loyal 15 minute visits to check the road status paid up. On one of my last visits, the person at the post told me that road has partially opened up and only 4 cars have been allowed to ascend..no motorcycles only car as it is still dangerous. Before I could respond to him, 3 local cab drivers nodded their heads in a yes and ran off to their vehicles. I saw a fourth one walking up the stairs to take the last remaining spot, but before he could say anything, I jumped in and said, "I'm leaving for the pass". The guy looked at me in a little disbelief I guess but he said "Okay". That's what mattered..

So before he or I could rethink about that decision, I was already in my car and had started to drive towards Khardungla. Thinking about it now, of course it was not one of my smartest decisions, but at that moment, excitement had vetoed out every other thought in my brain. There were lot of slushy and muddy areas on the route where my car had refused to climb even in the 1st gear and one of those places would have been enough for me to get stuck and put an end to our day. But all's well that end's well.

So off we went to Khardungla. Road is pretty decent barring 10 kms on either side of the pass and the feeling of reaching the top is amazing :P . Whether or not its the highest motorable road in the world (which is subject to a lot of debate and controversy). The journey is just too good and you hardly care if you are at 17500 feet and not 18350 feet. Who cares about those 850 damn feet!! :roll:

The khardungla Signboard.JPG
It still says 18350 feet
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At Khardungla Top.JPG
Playing with the fresh snow...
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We stayed at Khardungla for about 20-25 minutes, which is what I will advise to all the first timers as the thin air at the top is just too thin. To start with, you won't feel any symptoms, but once they set in, they won't stop. We spent only 25 minutes and felt heaviness in our head for the next couple of hours.

Comind Down from Khardungla.JPG
There's Khardungla in the back drop....the red tower
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Road from North Pullu to Nubra is good. Yep... need to make a stop at North Pullu too and make an entry that you've come down from the top.

North Pullu.JPG
Got down...
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After that, the drive till Hunder was great with Sand dunes and Bactrian Camels to our left. We stayed at the 'Snow Leopard' Resort at Hunder, which is a very nice hotel in Nubra. The sand dunes and the camel ride is just 3-4 kms and they alone justify the hard travel over the Khardungla.

Nubra Valley.JPG
The beautiful Nubra
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I believe that most of the people are unjust to Nubra by giving it only a day out of the whole itenary. It definitely deserves at least 2-3 days as in my opinion as it is far more scenic and beautiful than Leh. The air has more moisture and its at a slightly lower altitude than Leh, so you're bound to feel better.

Moving on, camel ride was pretty amazing, enjoyed it a lot with my daughter. The scenery for Nubra, with the sand, river, greenery and the barren mountain all fitted in one shot of camera is just too good. Hope I'll be able to go there again.. :P

Bactarian Camels.JPG
Enjoying a ride
Bactarian Camels.JPG (33.22 KiB) Viewed 353 times


Off to bed we went, because tomorrow we were going off the tourist map. So needed a calm and sharp mind...

Day 7 Next morning was again a breathless morning for me, but was slightly better than yesterday. Maybe, it was due to the lower altitude of Nubra or my body was getting acclimatized, but I felt just a tad bit but better. The morning was beautiful in Nubra and last night it had snowed on the surrounding mountain tops, so there was a chill in the air and as we were watching, we saw group of clouds moving from one mountain top to another and changing their color from brown to white. It was absolutely amazing to see them depositing fresh snow right in front of us. But again, we like everyone else in the hotel had given only 1 day to Nubra, so it was time for us to move to Pangong, our destination for today.

Morning in Nubra.JPG
Amazing morning in Nubra
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There are 3 routes that you can take to Pangong from Nubra; first, you can come back to Leh and then go to Pangong from there crossing the Khardungla and Changla, which would take at least 10-12 hours; second, you can go Agham and from there take the road to Sakti via Wari-la and from there via Chang-La to Pangong; and third which we had decided upon; from Agham along the Shyok river bed to Pangong. Now this was the shortest route and was supposed to take only 6-7 hours but in reality took us 9 hours to reach Merak (Pangong).

The road is gorgeous and courageous; and when I say gorgeous, it is not about the road condition, its about the beauty that surrounds it. The sharp pebbled mountain roofs above the road, where even a stone can fall if you honk hard, the drive in the shyok river valley, the moments when you loose the road in the valley (Yep, there were quite a few moments, when we lost the road and had to get down fro the car to and try to locate, everything was just too good.

Agham-Shyok road.JPG
Good start to the day...
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Shyok River bed.JPG
it is great...isn't it
Shyok River bed.JPG (168.13 KiB) Viewed 353 times


This road is completely off the tourist map, so isolation is everywhere. From Agham to Shyok, there is absolutely no civilization at all in the route for almost 60 odd kms (barring couple of spots, where we saw the brave men of BRO building the roads in the middle of no-where). Even in Agham, we saw houses and shops, but there was no one. :shock: . After looking for 3-4 minutes, we found only one person in the entire village , who had confirmed that we were on the right track. 8-)

Isolation is everywhere on this route and it is what you get anywhere else in Ladakh once you're off the tourist routes. So it is imperative that you prepare well for the trip and carry as many important things as possible. If your car breaks down on such a route, it can be hours before someone comes along and can be days before your car can be repaired. So carry enough items, so that even if you have to spend the night in the middle of no-where (which is what we had prepared for) you can or be ready to walk 20-25 kms in the high altitude, which is far tougher than spending the night in your car.

Agham-Shyok road (2).JPG
The isolation...
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After crossing Shyok, we had joined the main route from Leh, so now we could see a lot of vehicles on the road. (When you say lot, it means 5-10 every hour and that is a lot keeping in mind that we hadn't seen any for almost 3 hours on the Agham-Shyok road).

Pangong is a nice place with couple of villages on its bank where tourist usually reside, Lukung and Spangmik. But, we had chosen Merak, which was about 20kms ahead of Spangmik, Now as per the downloaded google map, there was a road from Spangmik to Merak, but as we got to know firsthand, a road on map doesn't mean there would be a road. :cry:

GPS into the lake.jpg
Don't trust the GPS
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From Spangmik to Merak, the 20 kms took us 2 and a half hours, the road was nothing more than a dirt road at times and on most occasion, it was even worse. Google map, every now and then used to send us right into the Pangong :lol: and it was again getting down from the car and looking for the road thing. I remember couting down every 100 meters on the map and assuring myself that I can cover the rest on foot if my car breaks down here. With a road full of big stones, it was a real possibility that a momentarily lapse can result in a big stone hitting the underbelly of the car and a breakdown ensues.

Pangong Tso.JPG
Beautiful Pangong with prayer towers
Pangong Tso.JPG (162.68 KiB) Viewed 353 times


It was already 6.00 pm which meant it was getting dark and with altitude around fourteen and a half thousand feet, the loneliness was getting just too much at that point. Since spangmik, we had met only 1 driver in which was going in the opposite direction. But we had to carry on as there was no other option, it was like whether we carry on for next 7 kms or go back 13 kms to Spangmik on same bloody road. So....carried on.. :roll:

Finally after a 2 hour torture on my car, we reached Merak at 6.30 pm which is a quite little village of about 300 people. On the banks of Pangong, it gives you a good in-depth view of Ladakhi Culture and people, although reaching there is a big task.

We stayed at 'Peacefull Homestay' as homestays are the only options available in Merak, but they are every penny worth it and the nice little dinner in their Ladakhi house was simply too good.

Our Homestay.JPG
Our place for the night
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Our hosts.JPG
Nicest people you'll ever meet
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Traditional houses in Ladakh are built was thick walls, so that the cold doesn't have an effect while you're in and that what we got to know at night. It was cold in Merak, but at the same time the night sky was... :shock: . I had not seen so many stars in the sky ever before. I wish I could show the picture of what we saw, but we couldn't capture the pic as the camera wasn't good enough..

Trip to Merak and Agham-Shyok road is something that I will recommend if you're a true traveler and don't care about whether there is hot water in your bathroom or not. Be prepared for something to go wrong as the road is full of such things and if something goes wrong, you may have to spend a night in the open. If you are ready and prepared for such a road, then go for it. It's way to good.. ;)

But, even a better road was awaiting us the next morning.....
Sunil Dhir
"If you don't have a passion worth dying for, then you don't have a life worth living for"
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Re: Ladakh- More about the journey than the destination- Par

Postby Capttyagi » Sat Oct 14, 2017 12:16 am

Fully agree with you Sunil that a true traveller should not miss Agham-Shyok route.
On day 6 AM at Leh, was it AMS? (dry throat).... :?

Continue the tale dear, cant wait for next instalment.
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Re: Ladakh- More about the journey than the destination- Par

Postby getpackingvinod » Mon Oct 16, 2017 12:13 pm

nice take sunil.. waiting for part 3...

it was nice to read the two parts in succession at one go !!
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Re: Ladakh- More about the journey than the destination- Par

Postby SunilDhir » Wed Oct 18, 2017 2:33 am

@Capttyagi..Yes Sir it was...what appeared to be cough, turned out to be High BP due to altitude. Visited a doctor in Chushul and was given BP tablets. ;) . Good doctor there said that it can happen due to AMS when the body tries to compensate for low oxygen..My breathing rate had increased and that too many breaths were the reason behind the cough. :)
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