The Journey so far…
- My Never Ending Journey to Ladakh
- Sham Valley – Nature, Monasteries and More
- Stakna, Hemis and Chumathang Hot Springs
- Magical Colours of Tso Moriri
- Hanle – The Cold Desert in Changthang
- Remoteness of Changthang
- Blue Hues of Pangong Tso
- Adventures of Shyok Village Route
- Sacred Yarab Tso Lake at Panamik – Nubra Valley
- Exploring Hunder and Deskit – Nubra Valley
Day 7 | Deskit – North Pullu – Khardung La Pass – South Pullu – Leh
We kept moving amidst the picturesque terrain passing by Khalsar village and decided to stop at Khardung Village about 34 KMs from the Khardung La top, to enquire about things up at Khardung La top. It was snowing even at Khardung La village and conditions were not favourable but there was no worry as such because we had a buffer day before the flight and enough acclimatization to stay good for long time as compared to direct ascent from Leh in initial days of the trip. We decided to have some momos, tea and soup as Rigzin had his favourite Thukpa and momos there. The shopkeeper told us that no vehicle had come so far from the other side of Khardung La and the pass is closed as it is snowing heavily at the top but road clearing operations is going to happen soon. If we go then we will be stopped and asked to wait at North Pullu but we decided to better wait at North Pullu and move ahead as soon as the traffic is allowed to pass through.
As we approached towards North Pullu, the roads started showing signs of snow on them and as we go further closer it was snow over both sides of roads and over roads as well but nothing compared what we would be seeing in the later half of the day. We reached North Pullu only to see hundreds of tourists and local vehicles parked aside as traffic was not allowed even for the army trucks. It had stopped snowing up there and a party was doing the clearance operations. Initially we decided to explore around and captured few pictures but it was very cold and I wanted to keep my energy preserved as there was no hint what could surprise us for the rest of the snow filled adventure later in the day.
We remained inside the car for about 90 minutes till 3.00 PM types before the high drama ended and traffic was allowed to move ahead towards Khardung La pass from Nubra Valley side just to let the stranded tourist and vehicles reach the other side. It was conveyed that no traffic will be allowed towards Nubra Valley from Leh today. Before I jump into the photo tour of rest of the journey, well there happened alot of drama at North Pullu between locals and army guys as army guys kept letting one of their truck move about 100 Mtrs with chains and then one officer comes and shouts to call that truck back to parking. It happened 3-4 times after which large number of locals gathered and surrounded the army police deployed there and argument started. All was happening because one of the high rank guy’s wife was having supper and lunch inside though they believed the clearance has been communicated by the gypsy that went about 40 minutes before for the recce. Thanks god they allowed because it was time too much of a time at such a staggering height of almost about 16000 Feet even for us who were acclimatizing for the last 6 nights. There were lot of people majorly tourist who were suffering from severe headache and were puking all over the place including many who returned to Nubra Valley to make themselves comfortable. AMS!!! It is deadly and we knew but thank god only a mild headache was coming in between.
Anyways, we moved ahead on those pristine white roads covered with snow all over them. Many of the vehicles were having chained tyres, almost all of them but Rigzin was pretty confident that he does not need them at all :confused: … We kept moving slowly and slowly deep into what looked like an ocean of snow all around Khardung La pass which was still very far away… After climbing about 4-5 KMs bang!! There was an army tempo coming from the other side which made every one to halt as there was no space to pass by two vehicles. This was the precise reason that every one wanted to out race other as soon as the traffic was opened because you cannot over take here and if the vehicle in front of you has a driver with bad skills in such conditions or with lack of tyres that have a firm grip on slippery roads, you are in big trouble. We were waiting them to pass by about 100-150 Mtrs before the blocked point and even after giving so many dipper and waving hands as soon as that army guy crossed those vehicles he raced into our car and just 10-12 feet started applying breaks but tempo kept skidding and the heart was in our mouth as we were shouting including Rigzin who was outside… Thank god that just 2-3 feet before the tempo came to stop!! Bloody Idiot!! Then some exchange of helping verbs and finally came to know that idiot was again drunk!!! It was too scary as there was nothing but a gorge behind us if he had hit it from the left corner. The skid was so powerful that it ended up that tempo towards right hand side 😯 …
After sometime as our senses came back we moved ahead and as we reached close to the avalanche prone section, the snow had started to prove its affect on the road by skidding the vehicle in front of us all around. No one can pass by, every time a turn comes the vehicle in front (2 vehicles in front) of us comes to halt after hitting the snow walls aside, making stop all the vehicle line behind us – hundreds of them!! No one was ready to push it every time it gets stuck Rigzin kept pushing the vehicle with other locals to let it ascend the snowy, slippery curves. It happened for about 5-6 times and each time people had to give several number of tries to get it through. The toughest one was just before the top (about a KM) when for about 30-35 minutes everyone kept trying to push that vehicle by jumping on top it but there was no traction at all and it refused to climb. Mind you all this was happening at a staggering height of 18000 Feet almost where body cannot with stand the exertion of standing and exhausting such amount of energy tells the story of the strength of these ladakhi people. Also, it was so white everywhere that lack of glares made watery eyes and was even difficult to get the pictures clicked as sun comes out to shine. Snow glare can make you crazy at night with painful eyes for several days not just one, so keep a pair handy with you but what for people like us with a pair already as vision 😀
It was almost 2 Hrs we had started from North Pullu and this time at such height, the vehicles behind us had tourist who were suffering alot puking, severe headache, dizziness –AMS. Things were quite bad. Even at the last stoppage near the Khardung La top even I was feeling trouble with slow reaction time and slow reflexes. The vision was getting blurred as well 😯 as asked Himanshu to bring Rigzin back. Rigzin came back after getting that stuck vehicle out yet again but was completely out of of breath!! We gave him water and dry fruits to get a bit of the lost energy. He told us that everyone has warned him that if the vehicle gets stuck again then they will leave it aside somehow and let the whole traffic behind pass through them. But, thanks to God that he did not get stuck again and reached the top and now we were like it is safe!! I was certainly not well and Rigzin got us the local herbal masala black tea which army guys used to take at that altitude. As per locals, it does help you fight AMS a bit and lowering the signs. I had two cups and cold was such that it came out hot in cups and was totally cold in last few sips. It was the first time that I saw no tourist vehicle that stopped at Khardung La except us and all just rushed pass us to the other side as if they got out of some jail or trouble after a long time. Soon we clicked pictures in a rush too for Himanshu and Tejas and we went back in the car to get going as Army guys were also instructing us to go back soon.
The descend started but came to halt behind a long line of vehicles who raced pass us at the top. Reason was one local Nubra Valley guy was coming from the other side in his Santro even when it was not allowed (not sure how he managed to pass through South Pullu guys, could be part of local arrangements). On one side I was praising him for his talent to drive a car like Santro at such a terrain and that too in such conditions but on the other hand I was cursing him because still I was not feeling well and we had not even descended 150-200 Mtrs 😥 … The more I will stay at such height, the more ill I will get – I knew it!! But, somehow the guys at front managed to pass through it as he waited for all of us to move pass him. It was a big sign of relief and after descending about 15-20 minutes more, I was completely back to normal and you can see how even 600-700 Mtrs of altitude can make a serious difference with respect to Acclimatization and AMS. We kept enjoying the heavenly views from as we descended and Stok range was visible between the clouds looked ominous.
At about 7:15 PM we reached Leh and were completely thrilled what we witnessed in the later half of the day. Snow, snow and snow – It was everywhere as if an ocean!!! Rigzin took us to a new guest house this time, Paul Guest House where we liked the room and just for Rs 500 with extra bedding it was completely worth being so close to market. After getting fresh we decided to walk in the market and came to know that Srinagar – Leh Highway has been opened for the season and supplies has arrived in Leh that day. Good news it was for everyone there and only they can feel the importance after being cut-off from rest of the country for about 6 months. Tonight we decided to change the restaurant and try a new one and entered Hotel Dreamland Restaurant. The service was bad and slow but food was food enough to eat. However, nothing beats Lamayuru and Gesmo 😀 … As we were having dinner a foreigner came shivering and was sitting in front of heater to get her senses back, asking the hotel guys to call up the doctor and her condition was not good at all. She went to go over Khardung La pass where we were stuck but from Leh side and finally after being stuck for about 3 Hrs or so, came back to Leh. The only difference between us and her was that she landed in Leh just two days before and was not properly acclimatized to get stuck for so long at such an altitude. We had our dinner and she was feeling a bit fine in a while with blanket over her (I hope she remained fine throughout whole night). As we moved out, it was snowing a bit with rain in between and we rushed to our hotel to have a good night sleep after deciding that we will be renting bike and riding to Sham Valley on our own next day!!
The Journey ahead…