The Lost Horizon- Ladakh

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#1 Jul 4th, 2016, 17:29
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#1
When we were at school, we had read the book "Lost Horizon" by James Hilton. I remember being captivated by the description of Shangri La and did believe at that time that it truly existed. As i grew up and encountered the humdrum of real life, the realisation slowly crept in that Shangri La was a figment of the imagination and it evaporated as quickly as my carefree and innocent days of childhood.
Not so anymore! I have revived those memories, those days. Shangri La exists. I have seen it.



Ladakh had been on our bucket list and we wanted to self drive all the way from Ahmedabad to Ladakh. However, since there were other friends joining, it was decided to fly to Srinagar and hire cars to drive down to Leh. We left on the 24th June night to Delhi, checked in the Holiday Inn Express at the airport for the night, and took the flight to Srinagar the next morning.



The mountains looked gorgeous from the aircraft and we couldn't wait to drive through them.



There is something about the mountains that gets me. They are majestic and awe inspiring. They thrill and provoke fear at the same time. It is truly said that mountains have to be treated with respect and i would understand the truth of this statement many fold during our journey through the mountains.





We reached Srinagar before time and after collecting our bags, we were happy to see our drivers waiting for us. The luggage was loaded and we were off after a quick stop at a nearby store to buy some snacks and a case of mineral water.
It was a beautiful morning and the weather was quite pleasant, if a trifle hot. Still, we could not complain having come from Ahmedabad and its 46 C heat!
The first mistake that we had done was to start at around 1100 hrs. The notorious Zozila pass can get jammed up with trucks and other vehicles, and it can take hours to clear up. In order to avoid this, the authorities generally allow trucks after 12 noon, so that the bulk of the small vehicular traffic (who are in a hurry) goes on ahead. We knew that we were late when we saw trucks coming down:



The countryside was beautiful and lush green. The air was pure and invigorating. A far cry from our dusty Ahmedabad.

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We stopped for a chai break and to use the conveniences. Aha! Conveniences! Toilets are pretty rare and far between. At best, they would be small, hole in the wall affairs, with a door. The ladies would suffer them, while it was the free open air for us.

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The mighty Jhelum river looked quite peaceful and sedate, though this same river had created havoc during September 2014.



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The Amarnath yatra was to commence from the 2nd July and preparations were on both by the Government and private parties to ensure that the pilgrims were made comfortable.



A short while later we reached Sonemarg, where we had a spot of lunch.

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We congratulated ourselves on the pleasant ride while having lunch, little knowing what was in store for us.
#2 Jul 4th, 2016, 17:31
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#2
So, Ladakh has arrived...

That too with a bang!
#3 Jul 4th, 2016, 18:43
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#3
Super pics and great start to Ladakh trip.
Kindness is like snow - it beautifies everything it covers
(Kahlil Gibran)
#4 Jul 4th, 2016, 19:44
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#4

Sonemarg to kargil

Sonemarg is a popular destination for those who visit Kashmir.





Unfortunately, as is seen in all popular tourist destinations, the area gets over exploited and loses the serene beauty of yesteryears.



A lot of structures were being erected and one but wonders whether they have the requisite permissions or not.
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Nothing tranquil about that one, for sure!



Apart from a beautiful countryside, crisp and clean air, the visitors can enjoy snow sports, the most popular of which was "sledging". Snow scooters, for the young turks who fancy themselves as avatars of James Bond, are in abundance; a testimony to the changes that technology, communication and appetite for thrill have created.
Gone are the days when a Shashi Kapoor would lead your horse ( or is it tattu?) singing a soulful song.


Now the godawallahs have Sumos, which they use to ferry tourists to and fro from Srinagar and have a good thing going with the sledge wallahs. Together, they take the tourists to the cleaners and funnily the tourist does not seem to mind it, since they still come in droves.
Our driver could not hide his irritation with these goda wallahs and we had quite a few scenes similar to those of the knights of yore, who charge with lances drawn ( or is it levelled) at each other. These Sumos are parked on the road, on both the sides, and as is expected create a traffic jam.
After successfully navigating this bottleneck, we started climbing. We had a chance encounter with an old timer, on a horse. These are gypsies who migrate here during the summer months along with their goats and cattle.




( Can you see a long meandering line of goats coming down the mountain?)
We had just started climbing when there was a hold up.


The road, for want of a better word, is pretty bad and consists of rocks and mud..read that fine dust that gets into everything.











Sonemarg to ZojiLa pass is only 9 kms. We took about 2.5 hours to cover it. It was quite hot and the UV radiation quite uncomfortable. Still, what can't be cured must be endured. I passed the time taking some pictures.



This is the base camp for the pilgrims of Amarnath Yatra. There is an helicopter service now to take one to Amarnath. One day affair and costs Rs 5500 -6000/- according to Abdul.



Once we cross "India Gate", we could make faster time, said Abdul. India gate is the narrow bottleneck where one can see a line of vehicles waiting:



We slowly make our way to India Gate with a lot of stopping and waiting...




At last we cross India gate...


The view is terrific from up here, particularly when you have crossed the last(?) hurdle...or so we thought!

Last edited by Earthian; Jul 4th, 2016 at 20:19.. Reason: added a description
#5 Jul 4th, 2016, 19:50
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#5
Quote:
Originally Posted by Prakaant View Post That too with a bang!
Thank you, Prakaant.
Quote:
Originally Posted by theyyamdancer View Post Super pics and great start to Ladakh trip.
Thank You TD. Glad you like it.
#6 Jul 4th, 2016, 20:07
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#6
Stunning fabulous pics and lovely engaging write-up!
#7 Jul 4th, 2016, 20:14
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#7
Quote:
Originally Posted by ViShVa View Post Stunning fabulous pics and lovely engaging write-up!
Thank you, ViShVa.
#8 Jul 4th, 2016, 22:24
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#8

The road to Kargil....

Once we crossed India gate, the road became better and we could move at a relatively faster pace. For about 3 kms or so. remember we talked about the godawallahs and their Sumos? Well, they were here with a vengeance! The road was jammed with Sumos parked on both the sides.





We finally crossed this hurdle and could move at a better pace. The road was metalled or stone (cobbled) and there was enormous relief from the dust. There are quite a few army installations on the road:



The Jhelum river had now given way to the Drass (or Dras) river which was to be our constant companion till we reached Kargil.



Shortly afterwards, we entered Kargil district- However quite some way to go before we reach kargil.



The sun behind the mountains brought out the peaks in all their jagged glory:



We rounded the corner and we came upon this majestic sight:



One of the tallest flag poles that i have seen and one of the largest flags. There was this sign:



We entered the beautifully maintained Kargil war memorial. Must compliment the army in keeping everything so spic and span in such difficult circumstances.







A jawan was cleaning the memorial diligently. Every name was lovingly and painstakingly cleaned and painted. The soldiers who sacrificed their lives for the country would not be forgotten.



Nearby was a memorial to Capt. Manoj Pandey, PVC who was awarded the highest honour for his valour and courage: See : https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manoj_Kumar_Pandey
The Kargil war is known for the courage and sacrifice of Capt. Vikram Batra, PVC; who died retaking the famous Tiger Hill, which has become synonymous with Kargil. See:https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vikram_Batra

There was a briefing about the kargil war, the heroes and the memorial. A young Jawan spoke about the war, whilst the visitors listened attentively. It did the heart good to see that every one paid attention and were disciplined.





We had chai and samosas at the army run canteen and bought some souvenirs. The sun was setting and Tiger Hill was shrouded in a ball of fire, almost as if it was reliving its experiences during the war.



One could almost hear the last post being sounded in honour of Capt. Vikram Batra and Capt. Manoj Pandey.
It is indeed a great honour to serve one's country and i mused silently at my misfortune. Or should that be thoughtlessness? We preferred to join the private sector and serving the country was not in our minds then.
While leaving we saw this:

#9 Jul 4th, 2016, 22:56
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#9
What a wonderfully written travelogue. Great photos too. Looking forward to the next installment
#10 Jul 4th, 2016, 23:43
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Originally Posted by Hashy View Post What a wonderfully written travelogue. Great photos too. Looking forward to the next installment
Thank you. Shall post the next instalment soon.
#11 Jul 5th, 2016, 09:03
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#11

Stay at Kargil and on to Leh...

Our moods were sombre when we left the Memorial. We were trying to visualise the scene when strapping young men, so willingly and unselfishly gave their lives for the country. Some stanzas of the poem of Lord Tennyson, "The charge of the light brigade came to mind:
Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon in front of them
Volley'd and thunder'd;
Storm'd at with shot and shell,
Boldly they rode and well,
Into the jaws of Death,
Into the mouth of Hell
Rode the six hundred.


We halted for the night at the J&K government tourist center.
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The next morning, one of the ladies in our group had a mild case of food poisoning and i was woken up at 4 am with a request for some hot tea. I was just trying to figure out how to arrange this, when as luck would have it, a group was leaving for Srinagar and were having tea at the reception of the center. We got the tea!
Having got up, i decided that i may as well take some early morning shots at the magic hour. Unfortunately the sky was overcast.

The location of the tourist center is very good and the mighty Drass river flows alongside. The sound of water flowing is so beautiful, though this was a river in spate. I got some shots:









I was enjoying the morning air, when a group of young men and women entered the scene. I was bemused since it was about 0530 hrs. One doesn't normally see the young get up so early. Pleasantly surprised, i took a photo of these young adults from Mumbai. Hemil Shah's email ID seems to be wrong and hence i am posting it here in the hope that someone sees it and down loads it for the group.



well, everything happens for a purpose. I had got up at 4 am and here i was enjoying the morning air. The sun was just rising and i got this shot:



The sky was overcast and hence the window of opportunity was quite short. the conditions were not perfect, but i was happy to have got this shot.
It is quite enjoyable to photograph during the magic hour, particularly in such beautiful and pristine surroundings.









#12 Jul 5th, 2016, 12:53
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#12

From Kargil to Leh...

We were invited by the CO of the Army camp at Kargil for breakfast, and accordingly we dressed suitably and had a wonderful breakfast in their tastefully furnished and impeccably maintained officer's mess. The army does things in style, no doubt.

After breakfast, we popped in at the Army hospital to get our ailing member checked up. All ok. AMS, no doubt. Reassured, we left for Leh.



I have understood that it is the journey that is important and not necessarily the destination. This adage is apt when travelling from Srinagar to Leh by road. The sights are breathtakingly beautiful. Nature at its best. The landscapes are something a photographer would die for.







In these areas, there is very little rainfall. Houses are made with mud (unbaked) bricks as can be seen in the bottom of the above photograph. It is said that if it were to rain heavily, then most of these house would be washed away.



It was a beautiful morning and the road was good. Very little traffic in the morning and we had the opportunity to take in some quality sights that nature afforded.

Shortly, we arrived at the Mulbek monastery:







There were a group of bikers from Pathankhot whom we had met at the Kargil memorial. They were here too. Talking to them, i was pleasantly surprised to see that these strapping young men from Pathankhot were using their energies positively and seeing India by riding on their Bullets. I took some pictures of them.



#13 Jul 5th, 2016, 19:26
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#13

Onwards to Leh...

After a cup of tea, we made haste. We had dawdled quite a lot and being on the road for 2 days in a row in tough terrain and at an altitude, without acclimatisation is inviting trouble. Nearly all of us had a mild headache and the next few hours saw diminished activity. We got down once at Namikala pass and again at Fotula pass.







A group of people from Gujarat were around and i did the usual honours.





We were nearing Leh and we were looking forward to some rest. Just some distance more...



We came upon the sangam of the Indus and Suru rivers.



A short distance later we came upon the famous "magnetic hill". Every one wanted to try out whether the cars really moved up the slope without power. Our driver tried it too. At first it looked like it really went up against gravity, but on a repeat try, it did not look so. The jury is still out.



We reached Leh in the evening and i had resolved to have an early dinner and off to bed. However, looking at the night sky, after dinner made me want to experiment with night photography and i spent an hour fooling around:





Off to bed. Tomorrow, we had planned to take it easy.
#14 Jul 5th, 2016, 19:34
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#14
Wonderful!

How'd your group cope with the food and drink? Were you all vegetarians?
#15 Jul 5th, 2016, 19:39
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#15
Wow!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Traveling with your narration and viewing with your snaps. Great...
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