Monday, September 14, 2015

Leh to Lamayuru - NH 1D

Day 2 of our Ladakh travel diaries was from Leh to Lamayuru via NH 1D. This route is taken by travellers who have reached Leh by flight. Bikers prefer visiting Lamayuru mainly while travelling from Leh to Srinagar via Kargil. Lamayuru comes before Kargil and can be a good place to halt for the night. The route till Srinagar is very scenic and each area is different when it comes to its beauty. The route to Lamayuru is mainly like a heritage tour because many monasteries are on the way.

The road is extremely good from Leh to Lamayuru. Thanks to the continuous work done by the BRO (Border Roads Organization). It is about 110 kms from Leh, estimated travel time being 2 and half hours from Leh. But it took us almost four hours to reach Lamayuru that day. The weather was really good in the morning. We were up by 6:00 AM and were also ready to leave after having a warm cup of tea in the hotel. Despite being ready early, it took one hour for us to set up the saddle bags in the bike and have breakfast at a Punjabi Dhaba which is on the way to the petrol bunk from Fort Road. The dhaba is a small roadside restaurant. We did not find any other place to have breakfast in so we went here. They had a limited menu comprising parathas,chole bhature and poori. But when we tasted their hot paratha we realized that it was not some ordinary Punjabi dhaba who were claiming to make good food in Leh. They did not give any extraordinary combinations but the food was simple and good.  From that day we ended up having breakfast in the same dhaba before starting our travel for the day.

After our bike tanks were made full we left from there following the road that joined the NH1 D. It was around 9:30 AM when we halted at the Hall of Fame which is near the airport. It is a museum constructed as well as maintained by the Indian Army in the memory of the soldiers who had lost their lives in wars after Independence in 1947. There is a memorial constructed with the names of the war heroes engraved on the granite wall.

Model of Ladakh-Zanskar Valley

Hall of Fame Memorial

The ground floor has a model of the Ladakh region just opposite to the entrance. They also have exhibited photos depicting the beautiful regions of Ladakh and Zanskar Valley, the flora and the fauna around, information about the brave soldiers who fought for us, the arms and ammunition used during the war including the ones used during the Kargil War. Yd said that this place had a similar feel like the Kargil War Memorial. We had planned to visit Kargil but because of some problem in the roads after Lamayuru we were advised not to go to Kargil on this day. 

We just stood at the memorial for a while feeling proud about the martyrs. Deepa wrote a message in the register paying respect to the brave soldiers.

They also have a souvenir shop in the ground floor. A small theatre is also there where they show documentaries and movies related to the wars that have been fought.  The second floor has a section dedicated to the life of the army men deputed at the Siachen glacier, their uniform, protective gear with the tents pitched in, the food they ate and the pictures of the various expeditions they had been on.

While browsing through the photo gallery where they had depicted different places in Ladakh and Zanskar region, Yd discovered a very surprising fact. Two of the photos that depicted the beautiful Nubra Valley and Hunder had been framed there. Photo credits were not given because he had donated his clicks to Wikipedia and the pictures had been selected from Wikipedia with a short description about the place. In the beginning I couldn’t believe that they were his clicks and ended up making him upset. But a photographer knows his clicks very well. Later, when he showed me the picture clicked by him in 2012 and the one that was framed I believed that it was the same one. Despite all this disagreement I clicked a picture of the proud and happy Yd posing with the photo.

Wiki link -Nubra Valley- Yd's click . Taken in 2012

Picture of Nubra Valley Clicked by Yd in 2012

We left from here and continued on our journey in NH1D. We had hardly travelled for half an hour when our bike broke down. I was capturing a video in the GoPro when he stopped the bike suddenly to the left. He was not able to start the bike. The other two bikes that went ahead of us also returned seeing us halt. Viren suspected that there was a problem with the battery as the horn and the headlight was also not working. We did not have a tool kit to rectify the problem. Yd called Rinchen from Apex Adventure. He sent two mechanics to rectify the problem. While they were on their way we enjoyed being stranded in the middle of nowhere. We had just covered few kilometres from Leh when this happened. The road was beautiful. When I say the road was beautiful it means that it was laid very well and also 
maintained well. So much that we could sit on the road and pose for photos to pass some time.  

We could only see few vehicles passing by. We were surrounded by barren mountains; the sky was just a perfect blue with fluffy clouds partly white and partly with a greyish tinge, cool breeze and our perfect company did not make us feel sad for being stranded at all. Time flew by and within an hour the mechanics came on a RE bike. They were swift in identifying and rectifying the problem. As Viren had checked,the battery’s wire had been burnt. The mechanics did not have any solution then but to change the battery and also replace the burnt wire by taking it out from his bike. Within 15 minutes the bike was up and running. Deepa’s photography skills were being put to use extensively here. Her dream of getting lost in the middle of nowhere was coming true. We were so mesmerized by the place that we forgot about our destination. Only when the mechanic asked us we realized that we had to cover a lot of distance to reach Lamayuru. While they were leaving they asked the guys for a lighter. Since none of us had one or even used it they took out petrol from their bike-put it on a grease laden small piece of cloth, ignited it with the spark plug- lighted their cigarette - threw that cloth in a corner and zoomed past on their bike while we all stood there amazed, not being able to digest what had just happened.

We did not stop at Gurudwara Pather Sahib thinking we could do it while coming. We had to cover a lot so that we could reach Lamayuru at least by 5:00PM considering our speed. It was close to twelve in the afternoon when we left the barren mountains and cloudy sky to enter into an area where we could see patches of greenery with a bit of sunshine in the sky. 

The clouds kept changing shapes as we moved ahead but the sky was the same pure blue as we kept moving. Despite the weather being sunny, the breeze was cool. When this cool breeze hits the face it leaves us with goose bumps. Being the pillion rider I could enjoy more because I could manage to look around and capture the scenic beauty at the same time. I would have made the maximum number of video footage in this journey. In between I left my hands free in an attempt to hug nature. I am falling short of words to describe the thrill I was getting during the entire ride. I am sure the other pillion riders would have felt the same. Yd was driving at a very normal speed still the breeze was hitting hard on the face. 

Advisable to cover the nose and face with a stole or a scarp to prevent cracks and sun burn on the nose and also wearing sunglasses is important as the dust particles can cause irritation in the eyes.

We passed the Magnetic Hill too without feeling any magnetic pull on the bike. Apparently its effect can be seen only in cars where one can leave the break and the gear. The car would move forward.

We reached Nimu/ Nimmu and spent some time to capture the view of the Sangam- The confluence of the Zanskar River and the Indus River. We can clearly see the the colour difference in both the rivers mainly because of the amount of silt/mud they are carrying and also the colour reflected because of the flora and fauna in it. The Zanskar river is a little muddy which gives it a reddish tinge while the Indus is a little clear and gives a greenish appearance.

The route after Nimmu/Nimu was even more beautiful. There were many small white stupas on either side of the road, patches of greens again, the trees were of a similar kind and also had some fruits which seemed like apples. Later we found that walnuts and apricots were cultivated in these regions. This green patch with the river Indus flowing on our left and the mighty yet colourful mountains with green patches welcomed us to Saspol. The village was a small settlement on either side of the NH1D. There were limited restaurants in this route. We chose a small family run hotel to have some warm food. I noticed that each house here had a mini garden with beautiful ornamental and flowering plants. I did not have the time to do much research but certainly wanted to know in details about the kind of plants that could grow in that region. There were not many bikers travelling in our route today. Since we were the only ones in that hotel, all the family members hovered around and were involved in serving food. We felt immense happiness in distributing chocolates among the kids there and also talking to them by merely wishing them with a ‘ Julley’ in Ladakhi language can be used for saying Hi, Welcome, Hello, Namaste, Bye and even Thank You. You just keep telling the villagers Julley, they smile at you and respond. I have never heard any word so far that could carry so much value and  could bring a smile in everyone’s face.

After crossing Saspol we had to take another abrupt halt to wear our raincoats as it had started raining. This exercise itself took half an hour. We were just getting used to the sudden change in the weather conditions. There were many bridges that we had to cross and also the road got a little difficult to travel in before reaching Khalsti. Khalsti is a small town and a Tehsil with few restaurants. After crossing Khaltse the weather changed again. The rain had stopped and the skies opened up into wide mountains which seemed of different colours. Some appeared pink/magenta in sunlight while the same seemed brown where there was no sunlight. We saw a mountain peak shining bright like gold where the sun rays were falling on it from right above.  It was 3:00 PM when we crossed Khalsti and reached the Moonland. You can see different crater like formations on the mountains that continue all the way till Lamayuru. They mountains are barren and of different colours. After crossing Moonland area the road starts becoming a little narrow and we can clearly see that it has been carefully cut out from the jutting rocks. 

Areas have been marked with sign boards to alert tourists about shooting stones and landslides. Despite all this, the roads were just perfect. The Indus river was flowing against our direction and had become very ferocious because of the rocks and the stones that were lying in the path of the flowing river. It was around 5:00 PM when we reached the Lamayuru monastery beside which is the Hotel Niranjana. Our accommodation was booked here. Since it was close to 5:00 PM , we decided not to take the risk of going back. The most important place to visit in Lamayuru is the Lamyuru/Yuru Monstery. It is surrounded by moonland and also at a great height. We can view the meandering roads and the moonland from here. The monastery closes by 6:00 PM in the evening so we hurried into our hotel and selected the rooms in the terrace. 

We found out that this hotel Niranjana was run by the monastery and attracted many tourist. The rooms were clean but we were concerned about the common bathrooms. It reminded me of our hostel days. It was too late for us to search for anything else. Since this hotel was also rated and reviewed well on TripAdvisor we decided to adjust with it. After all it was just for the night stay. When I went to the room and kept my luggage, to my dismay I realized that Yd and I had come unprepared for a night stay. We did not carry any extra pair of clothes and I had not carried my contact lens case, lens solution and also my spectacles. We had warm clothes to keep ourselves off the cold but I was worried about my lenses. I couldn’t take them off without a lens solution and neither could I throw them because I wouldn’t be able to admire the beauty and visit places the next day. Thankfully I was the pillion rider. Yd and I kept having a heated discussion for not bringing my lens solution.

The visit to the monastery eased out our tension a bit. It is the most ancient monastery of Ladakh.  To know about the history of the monastery you can visit their page at

A senior monk chose to explain to us about their tradition, their rituals and also about the scriptures and statues present. He spoke broken English and Hindi out of which we could only understand a bit. The surprise was that a Ladakhi tourist guide was explaining in fluent French to a group of tourists from France. Had it been in English we could have understood the history of the monastery well.

After a short visit to the calm monastery Yd and I went hunting for medical shops or dispensaries in that area to find lens solution. We asked the others to relax for some time till we returned. Deepa asked a few tourists in the monastery if they carried lens solution with them. None of them seemed helpful. A lady started advising me to always carry contact lens case in my bag.

Since it was a Sunday the dispensary closed at 4:00 PM and the next destination to seek medical help was 10 kms away. I remembered seeing the place while on our way to Lamayuru. We travelled till there and realized that it was again a small emergency medical help center. On asking one of the locals we were told to go to Khalsti where this area’s largest medical center/hospital was located. We had to drive back traversing the same route which we had crossed just an hour back. The advantage we had at 6:00 PM was that the sun had not set. It was still shinning bright on some of the mountain peaks. Sunset in Ladakh region happens after 7:00 PM or 8:00 PM in the evening. After an hour of debate I gave up and left it to the situation to take its course. My eyes had started feeling tired slowly. I was desperately waiting to remove my contact lenses. We had just crossed the Moonland when Yd realized that he was not able to apply his breaks. He adjusted his speed and managed to move slowly by managing with his gear. He played my knight in shining armour. We crossed Khalsti town and reached the medical center which had a pharmacy shop opposite to it. That had also been closed at 4:00 PM as it was a Sunday. Keeping my hopes still high I asked for the pharmacy counter in the hospital. The hospital was as good as a dispensary in the urban areas. There were two girls in the pharmacy distributing emergency medicine to patients who were suffering from fever, loose motions or vomiting. I knew that I couldn’t find a lens solution in such a place. Instead I asked for lubricant eye drops or tear drops. They did not have that but instead offered me an antibiotic eye drop. They also told me that it was impossible to find lens solution or even lubricant eye drops in this area. The next best health care facility and pharmacy will be in Leh. Yd was ready to take me to Leh but seeing the bike’s condition I did not want to go back to Leh. While coming out from the hospital we both wondered about the plight of the people living there. If someone in Lamayuru had a health problem they would have to travel almost 30+kms to reach a place to find medical help.

The journey to Lamayuru from Khaltsi was gloomy unlike the other two occasions. Since this hospital was the last hope we were already disheartened. We also searched for a mechanic shop in Khalste but there was only one shop which was also closed. We picked up necessary toiletries from a shop in Khalste and left quickly for Lamayuru before it became dark. We couldn’t contact our friends and inform them about our status as phone network was not available. In a place like Ladakh, we realized  how important it was to be connected to loved ones. Tears welled up in my eyes when I thought of foregoing a night’s sleep or throwing away my lenses. I had already given up but hope but Yd went to all the rooms in the first floor asking for lens solution or an eye lubricant drop. The hotel staff had told us that there were tourists from other countries who were staying there. I was just narrating about our unsuccessful attempt to Deepa and Saveen when Yd walked in panting with two small Fevi quick like tubes. There were some French tourists over the age of 60 who understood Yd’s sign language and had hunted out two lubricant eye drops from their bag. It was the last pair that they had. One of them was a doctor who understood Yd’s actions and broken French. The steps in the hotel were made of stone and were too high. Climbing 10 steps will makes us feel like climbing a mountain and leave us breathless. Altitude was also making a big difference. We found difficulty in breathing at times while climbing up or coming down.
The instructions on the tube written in French but I could only understand one word ‘LacriFluid’. I could at least feel relieved that it was a fluid for the eyes and mainly for tear glands. 

When we do not understand something the next option we have is to search it up on Google. We went down to the reception to ask for the Wi-Fi password. The hotel owner Tashi said that we might fight Wi-Fi network but couldn’t access it as there was no electricity. He also told us about something that left us wondering for a while. Lamayuru has been receiving electricity only from 7:00PM to 11:00PM in the night everyday since many years. He told us that the people there had adjusted to this kind of life. Mr. Tashi was a very helpful man and turned out to be multilingual. He spoke to us in Tamil and also owned hotels in Bangalore. Hotel Niranjana was one of his hotels in India. Thanking him we left and freshened up. Dinner was served in the restaurant but only till 9:00 PM. They closed the kitchen by 9:30 PM. We had simple food. The options in the menu were a lot but whatever we were served was freshly cooked and warm. The soup gave us a lot of relief. We picked up few souvenirs from the lobby and retired to our rooms. I used two mineral water bottle caps to keep my lenses. The lubricant was just enough to soak my lenses. I mixed it with a drop of water so that it doesn’t dry overnight. We were planning to stay awake till 11:00 PM to see the lights going off in Lamayuru but were too tired to wake up. The terrace had become very cold by 10:00 PM. Spiti and Viren stayed awake to see the complete black out in Lamayuru. They said that the only light visible from the terrace was a truck’s headlight.

There was pin drop silence and complete peace. Not a soul’s voice could be heard. Don’t know what the walls were made of but we have never slept in such a peaceful surrounding till date. We were enveloped by deep sleep as soon as we hit the bed.


Unknown said...

Julley :) Awesome awesome awesome. Loved it. This part is even more interesting than the first. It seemed like a beautiful story. I am still in awe looking at the photos too. I can imagine how exciting it would have been for you lot to be there and see it for real. I give a special thumbs up to YD's pics on the wall and two thumbs up for all your lovely write up.

Power of Words said...

Thanks a lot Sandy!!!! Julley!!! I've conveyed your thumbs up to Yd. Yes it was. I am glad I chose to do this trip after a lot of retrospection. Thanks again for stopping by and reading my blog.

Unknown said...

Superb Archana! Each episode is beautifully narrated. It is a virtual tour of Ladakh

Unknown said...

Superb Archana! Each episode is beautifully narrated. It is a virtual tour of Ladakh

Unknown said...

Superb Archana! Each episode is beautifully narrated. It is a virtual tour of Ladakh

Unknown said...

Got carried away 😊loved every bit of your narration . Would keep a close watch on your blog !!! Thanks for inspiring 😊

GV Krishnan said...

Very nicely narrated..waiting for ur next part now

Power of Words said...

@Appa and Amma - Thanks :-) Posting more soon.

Power of Words said...

@Rashmi Di - Thanks :-) :-) I've been inspired seeing you from college days with your hard work and sincerity.

Power of Words said...

@Sridhar - Thanks :-) More coming soon.