Saturday, September 12, 2015

Ladakh- Traveller's Paradise

This is my first ever travelogue for public reading. I have travelled to many places from childhood days, more after marriage and I have also made it a point to document every travel experience in my personal diary. It took a long time for me to realize that sharing travel experiences in public can be of great help to fellow travellers who might be clueless about the place I have visited.

I graduated by sharing my experiences on TripAdvisor. I started recalling all the places I have visited, restaurants I had been to, hotels I have stayed in, places of attraction visited and reviewed them. You can read my reviews here:- TripAdvisor. When fellow travellers found my reviews useful and asked me queries about a place, it started giving me the satisfaction and happiness I have never felt before. I also started reading Travel blogs and following them. I realized that every experience is unique and it must be shared.

After all food, travel and emotions are the only ones that connect people from different walks of life.

With constant nagging from my sweet and encouraging husband, Yd and my dearest blogger friend, editor and mentor Harshit Gupta’s enlightening words of wisdom I decided to share my travel experiences by blogging about them.

The first one to top the charts has to be the visit to every Traveller’s Paraside – Ladakh, Jammu and Kashmir.

I won’t go in detail about the geography and location of the place but would like to tell you that Leh district is at about an altitude of 9500-11,500 ft. The mountain ranges in Ladakh extend into the Great Himalayan region. This place has a mixture of the Indo-Tibetian-Buddhist culture.  The region is lapped in the snow- covered fringes of the Himalayas. Being a major settlement along the ‘ Silk Route’, Leh was chosen as the commercial capital.
This region shares its borders with Tibet which is in the east, valley of Kashmir, Jammu and Baltiyul regions to its west, Lahaul and Spiti region in the south and the Karakoram region in the north. Kargil is around 213 km from Leh.

To know more about Ladakh and its history and the latest event updates do visit their official page at http://leh.nic.in.

View from the flight while landing in Leh

The snow capped mountains  as seen while landing
We were a group of six- Three couples who travelled to Ladakh in mid July 2015 from Bangalore. We took a flight from Bangalore to Delhi and from Delhi we took a flight to Leh, Ladakh. Indigo and Go Air flights gave us reasonable rates for travelling to Leh and back. We booked our tickets four months in advance. We had to halt in Delhi airport overnight in order to take the early morning flight to Leh, the next day. Apparently flights do not land in Leh after 2:00 PM.  It was a self-planned trip with detailed inputs from Yd, who had been on a bike trip to Leh from Delhi in 2012. 

We also got a lot of information from Devil On Wheels and TripAdvisor which helped us in planning our trip well. We had only nine days for our trip in Ladakh including the travel days. Had we got a month’s time we could have been more relaxed about planning our trip. We had a fixed yet tentative itinerary which helped in covering decent number of the places in Ladakh.  I say tentative because when in Ladakh nothing can be predicted. It is always better to have back up plans and also one should have the presence of mind to change the trip itinerary ad hoc depending on the weather conditions. July mid is considered as an ideal month for travelling to Ladakh but despite taking enough precautions and planning well we had to face the unexpected too.  Well, how can one not expect adventure in Ladakh?

Only after visiting Ladakh I realized why Yd keeps telling me that if given a chance he would love to travel to Ladakh every year. Every trip experience will be different and the place is certainly magical. One week is not enough to explore the entire region. Some places are totally at the mercy of nature and also being preserved by the locals and the travellers who want Ladakh to remain as surreal as ever. Although over the last 2 years, travellers, bike riders and trekkers have increased, which is good for the Ladakh and J&K Tourism but hoping they do not destroy the beauty of the place.

Our accommodation in Leh was booked at Hotel Druk, Fort Road. This hotel should not be confused with the hotel 'The Druk' which can be searched for online. The hotel where we stayed doesn’t have a website of its own and is also not mentioned on TripAdvisor or Lonely Planet. It is a small cosy hotel with all the basic amenities required. Yd had stayed here on his visit to Leh in 2012. The hotel owner, Mr. Dawa had arranged the stay for us here. All we had to do was to just give him a call and inform him in advance about our travel dates. He also arranged his staff to pick us up from the Kushok Bakula Rinpoche/Rimpoche airport, Leh.

We were allotted 3 rooms in the first floor. It is a family run hotel and maintained very well. The rooms were neat and clean with hot water facility, clean washroom and also clean rugs. You won’t find fans or air conditioners in many hotels here because it is not required. The sun shines bright but the breeze is cool. The nights can become pretty cold. The hotel staffs-Dawa’s family members were very friendly and helpful. Whatever we asked they were always ready to provide us. They serve tea, breakfast, dinner and lunch with prior information. The menu comprised of dal – chawal (the staple food for the vegetarians there), roti-sabzi, pickle and papad. There are many restaurants available for good food in Leh but we preferred having dinner in our hotel most of the time. Mainly because it rained in the evening and also we were too tired to travel anywhere after a day’s travel.

The very first thing that a traveller needs to know before landing in Ladakh is about altitude sickness. It is a very common symptom and can worsen one’s health condition if medication is not taken on time. First aid is a must while going to Ladakh. One must ensure to carry all the medicines required for them and also what suits best for them. The most important ones being medicine to reduce symptoms of altitude sickness like Dimox, medicines to prevent vomiting and loose motions, ORL-S to replenish body fluids in case of excess loss, a sunscreen lotion with SPF 30 or SPF 50 and other basic medicines. I would advise you to consult your doctor before taking medicines like Dimox. Altitude sickness can have different symptoms. We all felt a bit numb and slightly dizzy with headache after landing at the airport. We did take Dimox but what helps is giving our body complete rest and time to acclimatize to the atmosphere there. Adequate sleep also helps a lot. Drinking water also helped and by afternoon our symptoms reduced. It takes one day to start feeling normal. I had a tingling feeling and also numbness in my hands and feet for an entire day. Some had bouts of headache, restless feeling, and sensation of vomiting too. They are all normal unless the symptoms become severe. So it is always better to relax. One must avoid travelling a lot on the first day. In fact, if you have time I would advise you to take two days for just sightseeing and roaming around in Leh market. A good night’s sleep and simple food will show changes the next day. Carrying enough warm clothes, rain coat, extra pair of shoes, extra pairs of socks, light snacks like biscuits, instant energy chocolate bars like Sneaker, 5 Star, Granola, and dry fruits is advisable. There is no scarcity of food in Ladakh. One can at least fine Yippe noodles ( Maggie was banned there too) or dal chawal but there can be situations where we would not be having enough time to search for hotels or food joints while travelling to a destination on the bike. Devil On Wheels gives a good list of things that one must pack for the Ladakh travel.

We rented out bikes from Apex Adventure Tours . They have their rental shop with a garage in the Leh market. Their contact is available online. We had to pay an advance amount to book the bikes for rent before 15 days of our travel. On the first day they gave us Royal Enfield 350 cc Bullet since the 500 cc Thunderbirds were undergoing maintenance. These bikes were enough for travelling around in Leh. They give helmets and also saddle bags. Saddles bags are at an extra cost. For long distance travel saddle bags are really important because the pillion rider cannot carry a heavy backpack for a long time.

We bought the Leh district’s and Ladakh’s map in order to get a clear picture of the route.  Our first meal in Ladakh was at the World Garden Cafe. The ambiance was good and everything that we ordered was really tasty.

We had just enough time to visit the Shanti Stupa on day 1. It was getting cloudy and we could expect a heavy rainfall any time. It was sunny in some areas while there were also areas with dark clouds ready for a downpour.

The first bike ride in Leh to Shanti Stupa was a great way to begin our journey. This was built based on a Japanese order and was inaugurated by Dalai Lama - A stupa that was built as a symbol of world peace. The view from the stupa is really exotic. It is just about 3-4 kms from Fort Road.  

You can find more details here: JK Tourism .

I wish we could have visited the Shanti Stupa at night to view it decorated with lights. The pictures I have seen are really beautiful. 

View from Shanti Stupa

Lord Buddha's statue in Shanti Stupa

View of Shanti Stupa from the Changspa Road

Experience the peace at the Shanti Stupa
The ride gave us the first taste of being free. It took us one day to absorb into the beauty of the place. Since we saw dark clouds hovering around in some areas we left early from there. The evening was quite relaxed. While Saveen and Yd waited for almost an hour to withdraw money at the ATM and Viren and Spiti went in search for buying raincoat, Deepa and I spent time shopping for earrings at the local market. The collection of stone and beaded jewellery was extremely good. We bargained and got a decent deal for few of them. I  was so engrossed in shopping for the stone jewellery that I did not have time to click a picture of the colourful market. We later headed to a shop to buy Pashmina and Ladakhi woollen shawl. 

After the mini shopping  spree we had coffee and snacks in one of the restaurants in Leh market. We bought the Buddhist colourful prayer flags for the three bikes from a shop there. Later, we collected the 500cc Thunderbirds from Apex adventure. Yd, Saveen and Viren were too excited to ride on their 500cc’s. We took our helmets and saddle bags and left before it started raining. Savy-Deepa, Yd and I reached but Viren and Spiti had not reached yet. Suddenly, Yd got a call from Viren saying that his bike had some starting trouble so he was stuck there. (Only Airtel/Vodafone post-paid or only BSNL network works there). There are also many no network zones. So it is better to keep the family members informed about our whereabouts whenever network is available.)

The problem in Viren’s bike was rectified by the mechanic but this minor incident was just the introduction to bike related problems in our trip. I guess every biker would be able to relate to these situations.  After dinner we packed ourselves up to take a good nap and be prepared for the next day’s journey to Lamayuru. Dawa suggested us to start early the next day and come back to Leh on the same day so that we could have the day after dedicated for white water rafting in the Zanskar River. However, our plan was to stay back at Lamayuru and try river rafting on our way back to Leh. I had booked Hotel Niranjana in Lamayuru as a backup option if we were planning to stay back for the night. We had not paid an advance so if at all we had to stay back we had a hotel accommodation fixed for us.

It took a long time for me to understand the routes, directions and the locations of the places were going to visit. Generally, when it comes to travelling to new destinations I do a lot of research about the place but with the Ladakh trip I did not get into the details. I had left everything to Yd for a change. I just did a rough check of the places around on the map to have a fair idea about our destinations. I think I wanted to be surprised. I now feel that I did the right thing by not having any expectations about the trip because I got more than what I could have even imagined.

 Day 2 adventures will be continued in the next blog post. 

20 comments:

Vimala S said...

Very very interesting.Waiting for the next episode!!

Power of Words said...

Thanks amma :-)

POTPOURRIOFMYLIFE ! said...

Hey Archana! So glad to have found you here :) I am new to indiblogger :):) i loved ur travel story...Leh was on our list last year but then we had to move overseas so coudlnt do it..hope to do it someday...the place looks so wow...and like u said every year to leh would be so awesome ;) do check out my blog too .... :) https://potpourriofmylife.wordpress.com/2015/09/13/moussaka-must-try-food-while-in-greece/

Power of Words said...

Great Vinita!!! I just read through all your blog posts. Seems like you have been quite active on your blog these days. Liked your recipes and travel experiences. I still have Europe in my bucket list. Thanks for being an active follower of my blog posts. I have more stories to follow.

POTPOURRIOFMYLIFE ! said...

Thanks so much Archana :) Oh yes, Europe is must do !!! Looking forward to more awesome travel stories from u :) Keep writing and keep inspiring :)

Ydntn said...

Keep it going :)

Ydntn said...

Keep it going :)

Ydntn said...

Keep it going :)

sandhya kumar said...

Interesting Archu :) post the second part too. Lovely pics btw

Power of Words said...

Soon Sandy :-)

Vimala S said...

Very beautifully described .Virtually takes you on a tour of Ladakh . Very very informative too . Keenly looking forward to the entire travel experience on the blog.appa

Vimala S said...

Very beautifully described .Virtually takes you on a tour of Ladakh . Very very informative too . Keenly looking forward to the entire travel experience on the blog.appa

Ravish Mani said...

Great captures :)

Power of Words said...

Thanks appa.

Power of Words said...

@Ravish Mani- Thanks :-)

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Amistya said...

hi Archana...the power of your word have really made me visualise your first day in Ladakh...you have have an art of narrating thing beautifully...Keep up the work...

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