14 July 2010
We were still recovering from the aftermath of high altitude stress from the trips of the last two days, but the excitement of going on the highest motorable road in the world was too tempting. We decided that we would break our journey and spend at least one night at a village across the Khardung La Pass. KhardungLa Pass is the highest motorable road in the world (at 18380 feet).
After a delicious breakfast of Ladakhi bread, apricot jam and tea, we set out towards Khardung.
Here is how the road starts to wind up the Ladakh Mountain Range starting out from Leh. In the background is the Zanskar mountain range.
The weather was getting nasty as we approached the pass. The road was non-existent at places because of landslides or water erosion. There was a flurry of snow when we got to the top.
This picture says everything about the roads. This car was stuck and needed to be "lifted" before anyone else could move. It was nice to see everybody repairing the washed out road.
We had to stop at several check-posts along the way to show our "inner line permit". Since this area is very close to the border, all visitors in Ladakh need to have permits to travel around, even if you are from India. The process of getting the permits is straightforward but have to be obtained from the district magistrates office in Leh.
Each of us had mild headache or general uneasiness by this time. The effect of altitude manifests itself in different ways in different people. Rahul was perpetually hungry. On the contrary, I was never hungry but needed to hydrate all the time.
We had hot chai at a small shanty in the village of Khardung. These breaks for something hot were very refreshing. Khardung was a small village and did not seem to have much by way of an economy. I am not sure if this makeshift tea stall was the only source of income in this village. Tshiring, our driver, helped translate our questions to the tea stall owner. Most of the villagers are shephards who own yaks, dze (yak-cow hybrid), goats & lamb. There were signs of minimal farming along the river valley.
We stopped for lunch at the small village of Khalsar. There was very little hot food available since the usual rice-dal-vegetable was over. We settled on eating Maggi noodles, which seems to be quite commonly available around these areas. It is cheap & filling but definitely not nutritious!
We drove towards the Siachen Glacier that is unfortunately known for the last Indo-Pak war. We wanted to go to the village of Sumur. It is one of the last villages that we could access with the "inner line permit". Sumur is a beautiful village dotted with poplar trees. The village was being spruced up for the Dalai Lama's visit. The gompa here was very pretty.
We were headed towards Hundar, a little village in Nubra Valley. Nubra Valley separates the Ladakh and the Karakoram ranges. Look at the road through the valley.
Nubra Valley is breathtaking! The sights, the colours, the peace and tranquility, the fresh air...
We found a reasonable guest house (Jamshed Guest House) in Hundar where we freshened up, had nice hot chai & pakodas before we headed towards the sand dunes.
It is odd to think that you can find camels in the high desert of Ladakh. The double humped Bactrian camels were used for riding and transportation along the 'Silk Route' via China and Afghanistan. The camels that are found in Hundar are the few that remained. Now they provide entertainment to tourists.
Each of the camels we rode had interesting names! The big one on the right is "Napchak", which has a meaning that I cannot remember! The one in the middle is "Nakhturu" (black camel). The other one is "Churmen".
We headed back to the hotel to get some rest after a rather long and exhausting day. The location of the guest house was awesome. A stream passes through the property and adds a refreshing gurgling sound to the peace and quiet. We had a good chat with the owner Abdul Majid, who showed us around his property. The dinner of chapati, aloo mutter, palak paneer, dal fry, yogurt & rice was more than what we had expected!
Tomorrow is another day!
(See here for more Ladakh photos)