Leh, the beautiful beast

The Asian Age.  | Jose Thomas

Life, Travel

A journey to Leh is a dream for many. Go prepared for a tough terrain and get mesmerised.

Jose and his friends

A journey to Leh was a dream for me and my friends, and we had been planning this for a long time. We knew that it’s a not a regular destination which you can go with little preparation; instead it had a lot of do and don’ts. So our first efforts were to find them out and some we learnt on the way.

This is an adventurous trip and hence one would follow some precaution and safety measures. We did find a few families with children at some of the high altitudes but I would suggest avoiding taking elderly as well infants to such terrains because of the altitude and the associated issues.

The best time to visit Leh is summer which falls between April and July. One needs a minimum two weeks to plan for a fairly good trip.

Preparations and precautions
  Since we went by road, we fitted changed all new tyres, kept a puncture kit as well as a heavy duty air compressor which works on car battery handy. A jumper set is necessary, just in case the battery gives troubles. There are a few stretches of more than 700 kms where there are no fuel stations (sometimes no settlement and not even roads) available. Hence, it is better to always keep enough fuel reserve depending on your route and vehicle. Don’t go by the usual mileage your vehicle gives in the plains; it would be much lesser up there. Our automatic Innova Crysta which normally gives 12 kms per litre gave only 7 to 8 km per litre in Leh.

Once the vehicle is taken care of, then turn to yourself. Carrying a few portable oxygen cylinders or cans (cans cost around Rs 700 apiece) and acetazolamide tablets (like Diamox) that make you comfortable at high altitude is advised. Avoid a full meal when you are at high altitude and restrict consumption of alcohol and non-veg food.

You must be watchful for high altitude sickness (HAS): giddiness, severe headache, uneven heart beats, irritation, breathing trouble or vomiting sensation are some of the symptoms. Once you identify HAS, sit somewhere and breathe in oxygen immediately. Drinking water is another remedy to protect your body from dehydration and HAS. Some of our friends confronted these issues at Pangong lake and Khardungla pass which all are at high altitudes.

Always keep stock of enough drinking water and food or fruits for a day’s survival since you may be stuck in an indefinite traffic block! Keeping a power bank will help you in case you drain out the mobile phone y taking pictures and videos during your ride.

We chose the Delhi – Jammu – Srinagar – Sonamarg – Kargil – Leh route which helps climb the high altitude at gradual intervals. And the challenging  stretch was that from Jammu to Srinagar. Since there was a red alert by Army on July 8 (which is the death anniversary of Burhan Wani, who was the commander of a Kashmir militant group) the army advised us take a halt at Patnitop, which is about four hours’ drive from Jammu. In fact Patnitop turned out to be a beautiful spot to spend a day.

Next day we started for Srinagar and decided to skip our halt at Srinagar and drove till Sonamarg. Missing the Dal Lake experience left us feeling a bit sad but we had no options.

The presence of the Army is very pronounced at Srinagar: you can see a soldier standing with AK47 keeping his index finger on the trigger at every 100 metres.

Sonamarg is a hill station in Ganderbal district of Jammu and Kashmir, about 80 km north-east of Srinagar and at an altitude of 9200 Ft. It is a scenic valley surrounded by glaciers all around. We did horse trekking at Sonamargand which took us to almost 6 to 8 kilometers up the hills through really tough patches. God knows why the horses always prefer to walk through the edges of rough pathways!

Next day we started for Leh which is around 350 kilometers and which we could cover in 9 hours. Keep an hour for spending at the Kargil war memorial, which is on the way to Leh. If you are in slippers or shorts, you won’t be allowed to enter the museum.

Leh is a high-desert city in the Himalayas. It is not a big town and some of the places to visit are Hall of Fame (a museum/war memorial houses weapons, history exhibits & and a souvenir shop -  run by Indian Army ) Leh Palace and a few ancient monasteries. The Rancho School featured in 3 Idiots is located at Leh. You can easily cover these since it is advised to spend at least two to three days to get accustomed to the high altitude weather before travelling further.

The destinations were isolated places and hence we arranged for additional fuel, water and food. We left for Nubra valley early morning, which is a 5 hours’ drive though the distance is only 140 kilometers. As usual, tough terrains, no roads and no settlements on your route and no fuel stations for sure. The main route to follow is Khardungla Road and will find the highest motorable road and an all-weather restaurant and Khardungla top which is at an altitude of 18380 ft. at this stretch.

From Nubra we started for Pangong lake, which is around 190 kilometers away and will take 6 hours’ drive. Pangong Lake is an endorheic lake in the Himalayas situated at a height of about 14,270 ft. It is 134 km long and extends from India to China. Approximately 60 per cent of the length of the lake lies in China. The lake is 5 km wide at its broadest point. During winter, the lake freezes completely, despite the water being saline .

This lake is very popular with photographers and cinematographers. We arranged our stay in a tent camp, which is pretty close to the lakeshore. It was a clean and well-equipped tent with attached toilet and solar lightings. It rained heavily at night coupled with very strong wind and the temperature dropped to less than 12 degrees and gave us a scary night, since some of us were facing HAS and had breathing issues.

However, the morning was pleasant and after breakfast we started for Tso Moriri, which is a 230 kilometers drive and took around seven hours from Pangong. The lake is at an altitude of 14,840 ft. It is the largest of the high altitude lakes in India. It is about 26 km north to south in length and 3 to 5 kilometer wide. The lake has no outlet at present and the water is brackish.

Our next destination was Jispa, which is a village in Lahaul of Himachal Pradesh. Jispa is 340 kilometers from Tso moriri and took around 11 hours to cover. We needed to halt there for a night to move further down to Manali. At Jispa, you may find one or two fuel stations to refill your tanks.

Jispa to Manali is only 150 kilometers and could cover it in 5 hours. Manali is a resort town nestled in the mountains of Himachal Pradesh near the northern end of the Kullu Valley at an altitude of only 6,726 ft. The town is at fairly safe altitude and having all amenities like restaurants, hospitals, shopping etc. The main attractions of Manali are Rohtang Pass, Vashisht hot spring, Tibetan monasteries, Beas River etc.

The writer is a deputy general manager in a pune based corporate company.