WildZests: Trip #5: July 2012 - Pozu's First Trip to La'L'akh

Friday, September 14, 2012

Trip #5: July 2012 - Pozu's First Trip to La'L'akh

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Well, you must be wondering who’s Pozu and what’s the deal with her first trip (doesn’t everyone go to Ladakh these days!).

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Pozu is our lovely 2.5 year old daughter who’s turned into quite a traveler by now. She just finished a good 8500km long road trip with us starting from Bangalore going up to the northern-most state of the country and back. She’s also the one who’s been so excited ever since we took off from Bangalore that everyday she’d ask us in her baby-lisped tone whether we’ve reached La’L’akh yet. And finally she did see and experience what the whole deal was about!

I had a similar trip planned for last year which had a lot of people perplexed about why I’d want to do such a thing. Deep within, I knew that it can be done if necessary precautions are taken and that Pozu will be able to do it without any trouble. Unfortunately, the trip could never materialize due to work pressure and my plans had to be pushed out. Now that I’ve done the trip I feel good about how easily she was able to cope with long travel hours, extreme weather conditions and an irregular food schedule.

Since early this year, we were pretty kicked about the idea of doing a road trip all the way from Bangalore so when the time came to get our bags packed, we had them ready a couple of weeks before time. We also raked in an extra week of holiday to get enough time and cover all places that we had listed out.

The plan was to do the Srinagar-Leh-Manali route since Gozu hadn’t done it yet and also since we’d be able to do Zanskar on the way which has been on my list for a long time. We were thinking of making this our last trip to the region and wanted to cover almost everything so that we can look elsewhere from the next year onwards.

The original plan for the trip looked something like this:

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  • Day 1: Bangalore – Mumbai – Surat – Vadodara
  • Day 2: Vadodara – Ahmedabad – Kishangarh – Hanumangarh – Abohar – Amritsar
  • Day 3: Amritsar – Jammu – Srinagar
  • Day 4: Rest day at Srinagar
  • Day 5: Srinagar – Kargil – Rangdum
  • Day 6: Rangdum – Padum
  • Day 7: Padum – Rangdum
  • Day 8: Rangdum – Kargil – Leh
  • Day 9: Rest day at Leh
  • Day 10: Leh – Hunder/Turtuk (Nubra)
  • Day 11: Hunder – Leh
  • Day 12: Leh – Tso Moriri
  • Day 13: Rest day at Tso Moriri
  • Day 14: Tso Moriri - Sarchu
  • Day 15: Sarchu – Losar
  • Day 16: Losar – Kaza
  • Day 17: Kaza – Chitkul
  • Day 18: Rest day at Chitkul
  • Day 19: Chitkul – Solan
  • Day 20: Solan – Agra
  • Day 21: Rest day at Agra
  • Day 22: Agra – Nagpur
  • Day 23: Nagpur – Bangalore

The first two day schedule was a very aggressive and/or optimistic and I knew that we may not make those 2700kms to Amritsar in two days given that we had short stopovers planned at Pune and Mumbai. With enough rest days built into the plan we could be quite flexible with our plan and accommodate such delays easily.

At the end of the trip, the final route was:
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  • Day 1: Bangalore – Pune – Mumbai – Surat
  • Day 2: Surat – Udaipur – Ajmer – Pushkar
  • Day 3: Pushkar – Kishangarh – Hanumangarh – Abohar – Amritsar
  • Day 4: Amritsar – Jammu – Srinagar
  • Day 5: Rest day at Srinagar
  • Day 6: Srinagar – ZojiLa – Drass – Kargil
  • Day 7: Kargil – Rangdum
  • Day 8: Rangdum – Padum
  • Day 9: Padum – Rangdum – Kargil
  • Day 10: Kargil – Lamayuru – Leh
  • Day 11: Rest Day at Leh
  • Day 12: Leisurely Stay at Leh
  • Day 13: Leh – Chumathang – Mahe – Tso Moriri
  • Day 14: Tso Moriri – Tso Kar – Pang – Sarchu – Jispa
  • Day 15: Jispa – Rohtang – Manali – Mandi – Ghaghas – Brahmpukhar – Subathu – Solan
  • Day 16: Solan – Chandigarh – Delhi – Noida – Agra
  • Day 17 & 18: Agra – Jaipur – Chittorgarh – Udaipur – Ahmedabad – Vadodara – Mumbai
  • Day 19 & 20: Family time at Mumbai
  • Day 21 & 22: Family time at Pune
  • Day 23: Pune – Hubli – Bangalore

You’d notice that we never really covered a few places off the original plan, but that was since midway through the trip we decided to convert the trip into a family vacation rather than some kind of expedition. Afterall, we’d been to most of the places before and the weather conditions weren’t all that great either. We also wanted to give Pozu enough time to play and get into a proper eating schedule since she wasn’t burning enough calories to feel hungry on the days we did the long drives.

The rain gods played havoc at a lot of places through the region this year and we were lucky to be a little ahead of the chaos and had narrow escapes.
  • As we crossed out from Srinagar and reached Kargil, all news channels were flashing reports of a flash flood situation in the Tawi river and the Jammu-Srinagar route had to be shut down.
  • Later when we were in Leh, there were reports that the Manali-Kullu highway had caved into the river due to heavy rains and that was shut for a couple of days. Later it was opened with regulated traffic but by the time we reached Manali, the situation had improved quite a lot. However the road section that had caved in couldn’t be repaired easily and the whole highway had reduced to half size for about 50meters or so.
  • Just about a month earlier, there had been flash floods near Kaza and the road to Pin Valley was closed down completely. As we were crossing Rohtang we met some guys who told us that they had to turn back on the Spiti route from Shimla to Kaza at Rampur due to heavy flooding. We were lucky to have decided against going through Spiti since otherwise we would have gotten stuck at Rampur.

Three days before we were supposed to leave, I had a minor accident with my car when some guy failed to brake on time and broke the rear bumper beyond repair. I guess this was the event that keep off bad luck through the trip and using all the contacts possible I was able to get the car fixed in less than 2 days – in time for the trip to begin.

On July 27th, I tried to finish all the work as soon as possible, but like the Murphy law suggests – Everything takes longer than what you think, it was not until past midnight that I shut down my laptop. The original plan was to leave at 1AM but we finally hit the road at 4.30AM and were on our way to Pune which was the first pitstop for lunch. Meeting family is never a quick affair and swe finally were out of Pune at 6PM or so and reached my parents’ house at about 7.30PM. After a lot of convincing that it’s okay for us to still carry on, we left for our destination in Gujarat. That day’s plan was to reach Vadodara but at around 1AM, I just pulled over at a hotel by the highway and we called it a day.

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Next day we were sure that it was impossible to reach Amritsar which was 1600kms away and decided to wrap up the day at Pushkar in Rajasthan.

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A slow start on the following day was still good enough to get us to Amritsar on Day 3. We got ourselves a hotel and ordered the most atrocious food of our trip, but given the limited choice we just ate enough to keep our tummies filled up and hit the bed. The next morning we were going to visit the Golden Temple at about 4AM and leave for Srinagar.

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All my experiences at the Golden Temple have been very satisfying and this was one was no different. The early morning kirtans and the dark sky added to the peace and serenity of the temple and we had a refreshing start for the morning.

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At about 5.30AM we were out of the city and marching towards Pathankot on the potholed highway, the roads dramatically improved after Pathankot though. Soon we crossed into Jammu & Kashmir at Lakhanpur and thereon we had planned to take the Samba-Udhampur route where we were denied access by the local police. They cited reasons of the road condition being bad but weren’t really able to give a convincing answer. I conceded to their argument to avoid conflict and moved on to take the Jammu bypass instead. Though the roads were good, the traffic was slowing us down quite a bit and we were averaging around 40kph or so. To add to that, the cops stopped our car at Anantnag because of tinted glasses and insisted that they’d have to strip them off immediately. I had retained the tints for this trip and was going to take it out anyways, but this event accelerated the process anyways. With the sunfilm gone, the sun felt like it was out there to burn us down and it was unbearable at certain times, but there’s little that we could do.

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We reached Srinagar at around 8PM and checked into the houseboat which was already booked for us by my uncle. The houseboat was a pretty nice one and we had it all for ourselves which was the best part. The next day we planned to do a customary Shikara ride and then go around the lake a bit to get the car fueled up etc.

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The morning Shikara ride was a very scintillating experience as we passed by the Lotus and the Lily gardens toward the Dal market where Gozu made herself happy with some shopping. Rest of the day was spent lounging at the boat.

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Pic 5.75The next day’s stop was going to be at Rangdum in the Zanskar valley, but we left a bit late from Srinagar and reached Kargil only at 5PM. Instead of taking a chance and driving in the dark, we chose to stay at Kargil and proceed to Rangdum on the next day. Now, Kargil has very limited stay options but we managed to find a really nice hotel D.Zojila which had good rooms and food albeit at a slightly higher cost.

On the way we visited the Kargil War Memorial which is symbolizes the victory and sacrifice in the war that took place in 1999. It’s a must visit place for anyone traveling on this circuit to pay homage to the brave soldiers who got us the victory in the war against the evil infiltrators.

The Amar Jyoti was a recent addition to the memorial as I hadn’t seen it on my last trip in 2009. The war museum had exhibits of various remnants of the weapons that were used and also pictures from the battlefield. This time they also had a short documentary film that was playing on a projector screen. Overall, this was a very enriching visit and just standing in front of the massive tri-color makes you feel humble about the freedom we enjoy while these soldiers brave difficult conditions to keep the nation at peace.

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The drive from Kargil to Rangdum was pretty interesting and after the initial 30odd kms, the roads are nothing but dirt tracks all through. Morever, there’s a lot of construction work going on which means that there are road blocks at various places too.

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Rangdum has only one PWD guest house with about 2-3 rooms in total. On that day, there was just one VIP room available and the care-taker told me that I’d have to vacate it if any govt official landed in later in the day. On our way, we had met a trekking group who were on going to do the Padum-Darcha trek. They told me that they’d camp at Rangdum for the night and that we could join them. Instead of taking a chance with it, we decided to camp along with the group and pitched our tent at the camping site about 4kms outside the village.

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Pic 5.79The trekking group was led by a Nepali guide and had a Nepali cook along with a few other Ladakhi men. They were very hospitable and when I inquired if they’d be able to help us with food, they were more than willing to accept our request. They were taking a group of 12 French nationals on the trek who were all excited to be there.

We had a couple of boys visiting the camp site who were very amused looking at Pozu and wanted to make friends. They stayed at the Tashi village which was about 4-5kms from the place and were returning back from school.

The camp site was simply amazing and so was the weather until after dinner time. It started raining after 8.30PM and the wind picked up speed as well. Initially I thought it would be a short drizzle but it continued all through the night. At one point in time, we even moved to the car for shelter for about an hour but it wasn’t comfortable to sleep and finally returned back to the tent. Gozu and myself were all covered up from head to toe and had the sleeping bag to keep us warm too. Pozu on the other hand had taken off her woolen cap, gloves, woolen inners and slept peacefully with just a sweater and a fleece blanket. The temperature outside showed -5 Deg C and even though inside the tent it was a bit better, it wouldn’t have been more than 4-5 Deg C.

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The next day we drove up to Padum which was a bit of a disappointment since we couldn’t find any camping spot and there were no good hotels as well. We finally found a guest house which was just about okay but we were expecting something more spectacular.

The Drang Drung glacier on the other hand is the one big reason why we wanted to move ahead of Rangdum and we were absolutely stunned by what we saw. The glacier is just about 15 mins ahead of the Penzi La pass which is the highest point you have to cross to start descend towards Padum. I’ve seen pictures where the glacier is in its full glory and the whole mountain slope is covered with absolutely white patch of ice, but given the time of the year most of the ice had already melted into the Doda river that emerges from it.

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On our way back, we made sure that we left Padum early in the morning so that we could drive all the way to Kargil and even try to get to Leh if possible. But we made a stop at Kargil since it was 4PM by the time we reached and it wouldn’t have been wise to drive for another 6-7 hours.

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We stopped by and visited the Rangdum Gompa which is one of the well-known places in the Zanskar region.

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The following morning we left Kargil early and visited the Lamayuru Gompa which is right on the way.

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We reached Leh a little after lunch time and checked into Hotel K’sar which offered a decent room at budget price. It had a dedicated parking space for the car which was a priority since I could just leave a lot of stuff in the car without worry. Soon we found ourselves at Gesmo for our first big meal for the day.

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We extended our stay at Leh by a day by ditching the plan to visit Nubra so that we could get Pozu to get into her regular food schedule and also get ample rest before we start the return leg of the trip. Given the conditions at Rohtang/Manali, we wanted to make sure that we don’t end up getting stuck on our way back.

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Just to make sure we don’t land up in a fuel shortage situation like the 2010 trip, we roamed around a bit in the Leh market and procured two army jerrycans so that we had around 40 litres of fuel in case of a contingency. We were going to take the Leh – Tso Moriri – Tso Kar – Pang – Sarchu – Manali route and even though theoretically the stretch could have been managed with a single tank of fuel, I preferred to carry that extra fuel just to have some peace of mind.

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The roads to Tso Moriri were pretty good until we turned off at the Mahe bridge and there on it was decent roads till about Tso Kiagar which is 30kms from Tso Moriri.

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At Tso Moriri, we chose to stay at the same tent camp where I had stayed before. We went for a drive around the lake and Gozu and Pozu enjoyed themselves at the shore throwing stones in the lake.

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The weather was pretty unpredictable and we had a quick drizzle from a dark cloud that moved from one end of the lake to the other, also creating a nice rainbow in the whole process. It was a very exciting experience to be there, but I was a bit disappointed from a photography standpoint since there was hardly any light.

Had there been enough sunlight, the water in the lake would have put up a brilliant show displaying different shades of blue and aqua just like Pangong Tso.

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The next day we drove upto Sumdo where you have to turn left towards Tso Kar. This is one of the most deserted route and like in 2010, we didn’t encounter even a single car/jeep on this road until we reached the intersection with the Leh-Manali route. The route has the Pologong La pass to cross which is one of the lesser known places.

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This was also one of the times where we had the signature blue skies of Ladakh showed up for about 15 mins or so. Unlike our first trip where blue skies were a regular scene, this time it was pretty cloudy at most places and photography was a bit tough since the while clouds caused a lot of under exposure in the pictures.

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Once we were on the Leh-Manali route, we continued our journey through Sarchu and BaralachLa to reach Jispa for the night. The Padma hotel we had stayed in 2007 was now a much bigger place and offered quite nice accommodation and food. This is where we emptied the fuel from the jerry cans even though there was still some fuel left which I think it was enough to reach Manali but didn’t want to take any chances.

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The next day we left early morning since we had to cross the dreaded RohtangLa and get to Manali. After some quick breakfast at Koksar, we started our ascent to the pass and soon the roads turned from bad to worse. The 10kms on either side of the pass are in a pitiful condition with about 1-1.5 feet of slush all across the road. The good thing was that the Safari never struggled at any of the stretches and even though there were some scary moments where the road was really narrow, we made it quite easily to the top. Coming down was not difficult, but we had quite a few stops because of road work being done. I realized that the local Rohtang tourists are no longer allowed to the top and all the cabs are now stopped at Marhi, that actually helps a lot while navigating through the slush which extends all the way from the top upto Marhi.

We crossed Manali at about 12PM and decided that we’d continue towards Solan and make it there by night. While the roads were pretty good until Ghaghas, they turned pretty narrow after that and we were able to reach Solan by 9PM or so.
Pic 5.95Our agenda in Solan was to visit baby Myrra who’s the newest member of our group. And what a delight it was to see her. She’s like a super cuddly himachal apple and Pozu was all excited to meet someone smaller than her.

The next day morning, our friends’ father gave us the shocking news that someone had deflated all 4 tyres of the Safari. Had it not been for the portable air compressor, it would have been a really difficult task to get out of the situation since the car was parked on an incline and putting it on a jack would’ve been very risky. With the compressor, I was able to quickly pump enough air to get to the petrol station and fill it up to the recommended pressure. Later, the parking attendant told us that there were three local men who did this sick thing in the middle of the night. They even put up some ugly scratches on the bonnet which would now need repainting to take them out.

Now I agree that I had parked it outside the parking lot, but it wasn’t in a position to block anybody’s way, moreover I had parked it with just about 9 inches from the wall so that there’s maximum space left on the road. The road was pretty much a small lane with a dead end and didn’t see any traffic except for the people who came to to the parking lot. There was another HP regn car in front of me which had gone by the time we saw this in the morning which means that my car was targeted only because it had outside state registration plates. Anyways, whoever did it didn’t really succeed in their plans since it didn’t upset my trip schedule and I was able to get it fixed without sweat. As far as the scratches are concerned, they’re superficial in my opinion and no action is required immediately. I’ve already gotten plenty others as well so it doesn’t really bother me now.

Pic 5.97We were wondering if we should just proceed towards Jaipur or go to Agra as per plan. Since we were anyways ahead of our plan we decided to go to Agra as we had tried doing it on the past two trips and it never happened. We took the newly launched Himalayan Expressway and reached Chandigarh in less than two hours from Solan. We reached Delhi about 6PM and were able to make an exit to Noida within 30mins, my fastest ever exit from the city. The Yamuna Expressway had been opened for public just a couple of days ago and they were doing free test runs until August 15th. The road is simply amazing with the whole stretch perfectly leveled, I’m sure a lot of people will be able to set personal land speed records on this stretch of 180kms.

Pic 5.98Once at Agra, we checked into our most luxurious stay of the trip, the Taj Gateway Hotel. Given that this was pretty much our last big stop, we wanted to stay someplace nice and even though we missed getting a Taj facing room, we were happy that we got the last available room for the night. That evening we all enjoyed the food and slept really nice too!

The alarm rang at 5.30AM in the morning and we left to visit the magnificent Taj Mahal. It was really a nice experience to be there and we were surprised to see enough crowd there even at that hour in the morning. While the rest of the city isn’t somehing that I’d want to remember, the Taj on the other hand is simply the most beautiful structure I’ve ever seen. We had hired services of a guide who gave us quite a bit of information about the place and I got quite a few shots of the majestic marble structure. I just wished it wasn’t all that cloudy on that day, but again, I’m sure there will be a better time that I can be there again.

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We left at 12PM from Agra and drove through Jaipur and reached Udaipur at about 11PM. We thought we’d check for some hotels to stay for the night at Udaipur but couldn’t find a good option on our way through the city. Finally, we just carried on towards Ahmedabad which was about 200kms away. At about 2AM, I started feeling very drowsy and we decided to pull over at one of the highway dhabas and rest for some time.

After catching some good sleep for about 2-3 hours, I was all set to drive for the day and we decided to reach Mumbai directly rather than making another stop for the day. As we reached Ahmedabad, we were greeted by some really huge craters hidden under the water logged road. Even though I slowed down quite a bit, it still managed to hit the transmission guard which had already been slightly bent by the rocks in Zanskar and then Rohtang. This time it had completely folded downwards and the ground clearance was reduced to half because of it. I called up my service advisor at 6AM and I was pleasantly surprised when he answered my call promptly. He confirmed that there was no issue if I drove the car carefully but recommended that I could either take it out completely or get it replaced. Now the options were to either wait in Ahmedabad until 9AM for the service center to open or get to Vadodara which was the next big city where I could get it done. Since there’s a nice expressway between the two cities, I decided to continue till Vadodara where we drove directly into the Tata service center and got the transmission guard replaced in just about an hour. The service advisor was very helpful and even though they didn’t have a new part, he quickly came up with a solution to use one of the old discarded transmission guards that was lying unused with them. With the car sorted out, we were all set to continue for the day and were able to reach Mumbai just before 6PM.

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The adventure trip had officially ended and what was left now was to spend some quality time with our family in Mumbai and Pune. For the next 3-4 days we just gorged on food and spent time talking to our loved ones before returning back to Bangalore in time for our work to begin.

This was one trip that was very special since we had Pozu with us and we were glad that she enjoyed every bit of it with us. There was not one moment where we looked back on our decision to drive up all the way. The three weeks that we were out helped us with some good quality family time. It also reinforced our faith in my trusty Safari that behaved so responsibly and never gave us any trouble through these three weeks.

Overall, it’s been one of the most memorable trips and now that Pozu’s done this trip, we have no reason to doubt whether she can cope up with any of our future travel adventures.

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  1. Wow, makes me want to drive out too...

    1. Thanks Vishwa, you must try and do a road trip sometime, it's serious fun!

  2. Small world - came to your blog from Team BHP blog on Mahindra Thar. Realized that you are a birder as well and looked you up on INW where I also post (look for Ajith Devakumar if interested)

    Very nicely written trip report along with some great images :)

    1. Thanks Ajith...glad you liked it! I do post on INW sometimes, but now its mainly on the blog or on my FB page. I'm a bit of everything actually...biker, birder, car enthusiast, photographer, blogger etc etc. Helps to keep me busy on the weekends :)

      Take care!