Every traveler has a been bitten by a bug. When this bug and the “love ka keeda” get along, the results are spectacular!
This is my story of getting Leh’d and braving the Chadar.
Greatest love story of my travel life.
Every January, as an engineering student, I was off for trips. Last year, I was off to North India and had some of the greatest adventures of my life. But, the hunger for travel is insatiable.
I have always dreamt of going on my Classic to the temple of bikers as a kid. But, just after finishing my Bachelors in engineering, the South Indian road trip happened and then I had an offer letter, which hooked me to join the monotonous single-phased life, of being in a cubicle while being bullied by the seniors. There were a few short weekend trips to Dandeli, Sakleshpur and few road trips around Bangalore. If anything, they increased my craving for travel and the lust for Ladakh.
Another road trip to Goa was lined up for the Sunburn festival and I realised that I needed some time off from hectic corporate life and weekend pub-hopping. I needed some time for the sole and the soul!
The lust grew and steps were taken to satisfy it!
This not be the ideal thing to do when you are so new to the IT industry, when you have just started earning, when you plan to blow up a big lump sum of your savings, when weather is trying to kill you and certainly, a river is not a place where one should be wandering!
However, love makes one blind and makes them commit mistakes they shouldn’t. But, also never regret the love you have had. This trip proved me right on each leg of its course. A perfect stage was setup for the story of love and lust!
How I broke boundaries
Preparations were brief. There was not much time in hand to be prepped for. I was physically was in a decent shape and knew I could do it. But psychologically, not so much! Every story has villains, this had many too.
Villain 1 : Having leaves approved from the manager
Scene 1 : Long meetings, begging and pleading. Nth moment (from the trip point of view) got approval
Villain 2 : Ticket prices soaring, tickets get sold out
Scene 1 : But, still you clinch them at high prices as booking for the trek (non-refundable) is done
Will Pick up on this villain and great moves later.
After getting the tickets and the trek lined up, there was not much time left to prepare for the trek physically. Luckily, I thought I would be able to survive it without much of a struggle. So I did not eat garlic, which many logs and forums suggest. Neither did I do any sort of physical/mental preparation before the trek and decided to take it on as it comes. I had 2 days before the trek in the heaven to get used to the beauty around and not getting struck with a cardiovascular shock! That’s the only acclimatization I required – realised so when I reached there. Even after being there for a good 10 days, you realise one can never get acclimatised to the beauty of Ladakh. You just can’t.
On the gear front, there was zero ammunition in my arsenal and zero gyan! With the warm clothes that I had, I would have survived maybe a few hours max out in those harsh conditions.
Being a Bangalorean, it’s always hard to find gear for any sort of weather. A lot of research was done to come to a final conclusion that getting things shipped was not an option – either re-schedule the flight and shop for one day in Delhi or manage with what you can get in Bangalore.
Obviously, the latter looked more safe feasible and hence, I decided to shop in Bangalore. Again, after a lot of research and avoiding Decathlon and trying to search for other sources, I came to a conclusion that there is no other place where I could have done shopping in the short span of time to get all the things.
A long week in Goa, the hangover of Sunburn and then, it was time to shift gears. With one weekend left, I decided to blow my hard earned money in the sport supermarket. After 6 hours of shopping and shelling out a big amount, I had finalised these:
2*2 upper thermals
2 lower thermals
1 zipped 100% fleece jacket
1 100% lower fleece pant
1 flowfit for upper
Forclaz 500 (My woodlands were worn out, wanted to buy hiking shoes either ways. Will explain about more on the footwear later)
Arpenaz 300 (Wind and waterproof with a fleece layer)
2 Woollen ski caps
Pair of woollen gloves
Pair of ski gloves (Wezde)
Arpenaz 200 hiking pole
I bought all of this and had to add a lot more to it and for that the existing rucksack that I had wouldn’t be enough. The padding had worn out over the years too. So, I decided to buy a Wildcraft Gangotri-65L.
The list mentioned above +
4 x 3 = 12 tees
2 cotton track pants
4 water repellent / novadry trackpants
8 pairs of undergarments
Overall 10 pairs of socks (woolen+cotton)
250 x 3 packets of dry fruits
6 packets each of ready mix tea and coffee
2 packets of chocolate syrup
1 packet of khakra
about 250 gms of other chocolates sweet meats
Torch + 3 x 2 batteries
1 notepad + 2 pens
2 rolls of tissue
1 liter thermos flask
200 ml thermos
2 kilos of orange for Qayoom (organizer)
1 camera bag – 550D + 18-55 + 55-250 + 2 batteries + overall 64 GB cards
Chargers for all the gadgets
Yeah I think that was all that I carried. I will update if I find few more things, which were in the nooks and corners. I was all set with little accessories to be bought now and then until the packing was done 2 days before.
Day -1 :
Villain 2, Scene 2 : Waking up around 11 after a long previous day at work and finding a text message from jet airways, which reads “Dear Guest, We regret” and you go “NOOOOOO, NOOOOOOOOOOOO, NO!”
You already have high priced tickets, which are going to get cancelled! But, this was for the Bangalore-Delhi flight and there would have been many other flights. Shouldn’t the company give you a rescheduled ticket? I go online and check only to realise that
Villain 2, Scene 3 : The rescheduled flight was on 9th of January, which would reach Delhi at 11 am and the Leh – Delhi flight was 6.30 am! 😯
And then I wonder, why do we stereotype the government offices and departments when the airline like Jet Airways can do this! I had a long conversation, only to realise the time between flights would be 12 long hours now!
I had to pack with a lot of anxiety and nervousness, the weather conditions of Delhi and Leh aren’t something you appreciate when you have a flight to catch.
After packing, I went to office and had a long and excited, yet scary day.
Day 0 :
With my luggage packed and double checks on the list, I was all set to go. I left 4 hours prior to the flight. I always use the Volvo bus service provided. I find it incredibly efficient. Got a bus on time and couldn’t even make it half way through in 1 hour 😯 Bangalore’s traffic had gone for a toss. The Volvo driver said there was a jam due to a rally and there were long jams for long stretches all around MG Road. It was dead lock. The Volvo driver did something I do not appreciate generally, he broke the traffic rules, drove a little stretch in reverse took a U turn and drove the wrong way :shock:. At each step until now, there was some or the other element which wanted to delay / cancel my trip. I reached the airport and started the hectic procedure of standing in queue and checking in. After a while, just when I was about to board the flight the boarding was called off.
Villain 2, Scene 4 : There was a technical fault in the landing gear and there was a huge team working on the aircraft. After 15 minutes, there was a sigh of relief as the boarding continued.
I reached Delhi and a had good 12 hours to while away before boarding the next flight. The flights were delayed and there were many passengers all around in T3 and the hustle and bustle of the airport lived up to Delhi’s mark. I was still nervous. There were so many flights that were getting cancelled and 2 days prior, the Delhi-Leh flight was delayed by good 6 hours, when it was about to get called off. Many hours of eating, drinking and whiling away time by clicking pictures of the beautiful airport and I was exhausted and took rest for a while.
Made a few friends from the US – had a good, long chat and could change a few of their wrong perceptions about India. Also, exchanged a few Hindi and Chinese notes with them. They were fun.
I really find every corner of Delhi airport worth shooting – from the corridors
to the food Court
Even these look beautiful
Day 1 :
Nervousness was brimming as the clock started nearing the 6.30 am mark. I was near the designated gate. There were a lot of Ladakhis – I was shocked to see so many of them. I was expecting a relatively empty flight, but the boarding gate suggested otherwise! It was a wonder that many flights were cancelled and delayed and were getting delayed, while the flight to Leh was on time and it took off exactly at 6.30 am. Just after 10 minutes, I was about to witness a dream, a heaven, a Ladakh. I was taken into the dream at 20 minutes to 7 and would wake up from it only after 10 days.
The infamous fog lived up to it’s expectations
And going into the dream
Well, every love story has a few setbacks and this one had some too! Work and a monotonous life sucks up all the juice from my body and even though I have time to present the story, the photograph segregation and processing takes its toll.
While I am completing small treks around Bangalore and going for road trips, there are these moments which always haunt me back from Chadar. Oh boy! Life did take a turn after the Chadar.
Coming back to the story, as I floated half high on the sun rise, I was taken to a different high all together, the huge, humongous, enormous… OK Himalayas were under and the gleaming sunrise was kissing the mountains gracefully as we moved towards the desert in the skies.
Waking up to see your love, while sipping at your coffee and a hot breakfast – I was already in absolute bliss!
There are layers and layers of awesomeness, which the Himalyas come in. The terrain can be seen and also the harshness of mother nature when there is a layer of snow, then the trees and the barren land. As I followed these plays of nature I ended up following it through, to a little hamlet!
Love at first sight
As we descended, my heart started racing, probably faster as the flight came to a halt as the pilot welcomed us with a note informing us about the weather outside. The whole setup looked warm cozy and scenic – movie types, where probably a Bollywood babe is running around in skimpy clothes to seduce…. ugh off topic! The temperature outside was -16.
I was already seduced by the great deserts and I was putting on layers ! As I stepped out, my heart was beating faster and as I stepped down, even the temperature also couldn’t hold back my joy. This wasn’t how I had planned to get Leh’d, but no matter how I got there, it was amazing already!
I had the moon on one side and sun on the other, snow peaks covered between the two and instructions not to shoot at it’s an army area.
After a couple of minutes, my hand started to freeze and my face felt dry as I picked my luggage. I moved out and the sun was beaming gloriously, but the cold however seeped in.
I went to the Hotel Siyala while being greeted by the great Ladakhis. The scenery around was equally inviting. The moment I was moving around, I realized how much I have been in love and how much more lost in love will I be over the coming few days.
I checked in and took a nap. I was exhausted from the travel and sleep-deprived.
I was in a heated room with a cozy scenic view outside and a couple of hours also felt like bliss. I had just sunk in, when I had to do my duties and I realized how tough it is (little did I know this will be the luxury for one). There was hot water running throughout and I could just take a couple of minutes to get dried up and change. Else I would have caught cold!
Even the streets are serene. No signs of green. It’s all harsh yet beautiful
As the sun comes up, people come out for their daily needs and there is a bustle in the market
We headed out to the market too, to pick up the essentials for the Chadar trek – gum boots, thick woolen socks, few fellow members whom I had caught up with in Ladakh who did not have the hiking sticks, baclavas and so many little essentials which you realise once you are at the shop!
One little tip – buy the minimal amount of gear in your metropolitan city! There are loads of options in Leh, where you can choose to cater your needs and can actually have a choice. There is a huge market and is open even in winters for winter shopping. So, the best bet would be to go and choose and buy the gear from the market, which would consume barely half a day and carry the bare minimal to survive one day from the cities. By doing so, we help the Ladakhis too, who are the most humble and kind people I have come across. More on this later.
School kids happily posing when asked to
The sun was out and the noon was fairly comfortable to move around as the temperatures were slightly on the positive side there were more people around in the market
We first headed out to the hall Of fame. The experience they are going through and looking at the conditions and the way our jawans put their lives on the edge, is beautifully put up there. It’s a poem – a sad one, but certainly a proud one.
I am not putting up any of those photos here, as I would really not be doing justice to the jawans. Tears drop when you read the description and the letters, there are a few letters written in Sufi and Urdu. I wonder what stories they tell. Everyone should know the tales of these heros and it’s true, they did give up their present for our future.
Even now, when I think of the experience in hall of fame, the quietness, the coldness creeping in, the documentary they showed and the tales hidden in those journals gave me goosebumps
Another clean stretch of road by BRO (Border Roads Organisation)
Next we moved on for some more peace, as the name goes, it’s the Shanti Stupa. This was my first time and it was amazing how every little corner, every little building, every little turn looked great. Every little thing looked like it has been put for attention to detail. The prayer flags, the prayer wheels, the chants – they all set take you back. You just get lost in the serenity of quietness.
Dragons, ice-caped mountains, absolute silence, sun beaming through
The temperature is just above 0 – the snow around the Stupa is still intact
The views from the Stupa – the winds howl here and the temperature of the wind is way below 0
The rays of the sun creating patterns. Notice the snow below
That’s my shadow
Harsh, yet beautiful!
As the day went by, we settled in for a late lunch + early dinner at Wazwan. There are very few options in winter to have food. We were served with some delicacies in Wazwan from a decent range available on the menu. Hot food after long, tiring day in the cold weather while you are cozy in a room on a couch – few moments just like these push you out and make your day worth it. The food tastes even better. We headed back to Siyala and called it day. The night got colder outside, we were asked not to use the heaters, so that we could get used to the low temperatures and would have a little less hard time at the Chadar. But, we had a heater on as the cold was creeping in. The beds were cozy with thick layered blankets. It felt amazing and comforting, but we did have fear and anxiety about the Chadar. We relaxed and drifted off into a deep sleep.
This was mere harshness seen, this was luxury! For the days that followed and the conditions that were upon us. This was just a beginning to what would be a test of endurance!