After planning for almost a year, we finally managed to land in Leh in July 2014. Ladakh meaning 'land of high passes', is a region with spectacular beauty, lies in the state of Jammu and Kashmir. Even though it is termed as biker's paradise and one need to enjoy the vistas and high passes only by travelling through road; we decided to take aerial route to get there.
The first glimpse of Leh's "Kushok Bakula Rimpochee Airport" was both spectacular and scary. Look at the image below, taken from the flight, to understand what I mean ;-)
Leh Airport: A bird's eye view of the scenic Leh airport, There is a message written on the airport, probably for the pilots, that "if you don't land in the first 1/3rd of the Airstrip, please take off and land again" :-)
Our stay at Leh was at Hotel Kidar. This place is a mix between homestay and hotel, and is very well managed by the owner Mr. Jigmet. The hotel itself has beautiful surrounding and one of the best place to relax in Leh.
Hotel Kidar: A beautiful homestay amidst nature. This place is at 5 mins. walking distance from the main Leh market.
After taking a mandatory day's rest, we went around the Leh city and visited many 'gompas' and 'palaces'. We hired a local driver cum guide, the ever smiling Mr. Rigzin. We knows the place as back of his hand and is a very efficient driver.
Leh city was very hot during our stay and the temperature was touching 33 degree celsius. It was difficult to do any site-seeing, forget taking pictures in that heat. But we did manage to get some good snaps of places around Leh.
View from a Ladakh 'gompa': Taken from the terrace of Hemis Gompa, it shows a typical Ladakhi landscape with Buddhist flags.
A Monastery: Beautiful view of a monastery just outside the Leh city. The serpentine river seems to be flowing to the monastery.
Impending Storm at Leh Palace: A sudden formation of cloud behind Leh Palace, gives a feeling of impending storm. Though it threatened to rain that day, but it seemed that they were just the passing clouds. Leh palace is a former royal palace of Ladakh overlooking the entire Leh City.
Side View of Shanti Stupa: Shanti Stupa is overlooking the Leh city and gives a panoramic view of surrounding snow capped mountains. I took this photograph lying down on my back and trying to cover a cross section of the stupa with clouds.
Flowers at a monastery: A different perspective. This picture taken at Hemis Monastrey, shows the Buddhist flag post in the background.
Life- As tough as it gets: Workers carrying stone bricks on their back for renovation of a monastery. Most of these monasteries are situated on top of the mountains and these people have to carry heavy workload to the top throughout the day; to earn a living. Given high altitude and thin oxygen level, this is life- as tough as it gets :-(
Next day we left for our journey towards Nubra valley. We crossed Khardung-la pass, the highest motorable pass in the world, on way to Nubra Valley. Diskit monastery is situated at the start of the valley and there we visited the spectacular Maitreya Buddha statue. This statue is 32 meters high and faces the Shylok river which crosses Nubra valley, towards Pakistan.
Maitreya Buddha- A 32 meters tall statue: It is tricky to photograph this huge and beautiful statue. One our first day here, the sky was overcast and gave a dull feeling to the entire atmosphere. We traveled to this place again next day and got much better sky to click.
Nubra valley is a deep valley of the Shyok and Nubra River. Diskit is the capital of this region and has small villages like Hunder and Panamik surrounding it. We stayed put in a homestay in Hunder village, just next to the sand dunes of Nubra. Our home stay was small but beautiful. It was surrounded by apple trees and sun-flowers.
Nubra valley is also famous for its double-humped camel or the Bactrian camel. Tourists enjoy the ride of a double-humped camel in the evening.
Crossing over at Nubra Valley: A tourist crossing over the makeshift wooden bridge at Nubra valley, near sand dunes.
Double-humped camels returning home after a long day at work: Clicked against the setting sun, these double-humped camel seems so eager to go home and relax.
A Buddhist Monk: A monk engrossed in prayer; this is a common sight at the monasteries. Sometimes they are not willing to get clicked and sometimes they just pose for you. I guess, it was one of the days where this monk was in good mood.
After spending couple of days at Nubra, we started our journey towads Pangong Tso. The road to this lake passes through Chang-la pass, the world's third highest motorable road. Just after crossing the Chang-la pass, we came across a vast open ground, which is home to cute little Himalayan Marmots. Marmots are large squirrels live in mountainous areas.
Himalayan Marmot: Peeping his head out of the burrow, I was quick to click this baby marmot. These marmots are now used to tourists and allowed us to come close.
On the way to Pangong Tso: A beautiful landscape on the way to Pangong lake. You can see the wild horses grazing at a distance.
After a good 6-7 hours drive, we reached Pangong Tso. Pangong Tso means "long, narrow, enchanted lake", also referred to as Pangong Lake. It is one of the most beautiful places in India. This lake is shared between India and China and approximately 60% of the lake is in China.
This lake is also made famous by a bollywood superhit movie "3 Idiots" and all the new restaurants or home-stays around starts with '3 Idiot' like '3 Idiot Restaurant', '3 Idiot Stay', etc.
We stayed in a tent just next to the lake. The place is so scenic that you would just want to sit there and look at the vistas. We spent the entire evening strolling at the banks of the lake. The night sky was glittering with millions of stars and if it would not have been spine chilling cold, I would have preferred to sleep under the sky.
First View of Pangong Lake: When driving to Pangong from Leh, this is the first view of the lake one will see from above the mountains. A breathtaking view indeed. The play of light due to the shadow made by low hanging clouds, made this scene worth capturing.
Pangong Tso: The water, the mountain, the sky and the combination is so mesmerizing that you would not want to leave this place.
After spending a night there, we returned to Leh for our final journey home. Our final journey home was via Lamayuru (which has moon-land), the hostorical Kargil city, mesemerizing Sonamarg and Srinagar (which is termed as heaven on earth). Here is a glimpse of this journey, but will soon publish a detailed account in another photo-story.
Horse-scape: I fondly call this picture 'horsescape' and not landscape :). This was one of the toughest pic I made in Ladakh. Lying on my stomach and my whole body touching the wet ground, I clicked this "horsescape" with grazing horse.
Dal Lake at Dusk: Shikaras at dal-lake shot against the setting sun. As mesmerizing as ever.
I hope you like this photo story and the pictures. We had so many wonderful experiences in this 10 day adventure that it is impossible to cover it in few words or few pics. The windchill at Pangong Lake, the restlessness due to high altitude, the survival by just eating Maggi, the breathlessness while trekking on high altitude; all these are worth for witnessing the unending vistas and mesmerizing beauty of Ladakh.
Do tune-in for my next photo-story and yes.... good, bad or ugly... do not forget to leave your comments :-)