Travel

Leh Ladakh – A Mountainous Desert

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Day 1

Disclaimer : We went to Leh with the intention of participating in The Half Marathon that happens at 11142 Feet. Read all about the marathon here and check out my experience of the marathon here.

The trip started with a flight from Mumbai to Ladakh with a small layover in Delhi of about 40 minutes.

Take my word for it, do what you have to, but make sure you end up on a window seat. That Himalayan view is something you won’t see anywhere else! Those white clouds like balls of cotton, clean brown mountains with literally no vegetation and then the snow clad mountain ranges.

Pro Tip : When you take a window seat, make sure you don’t take one in the centre of the plane, or else your view will be blocked by the wings or propellers.

 The landing at the Leh airport is also very fascinating. The airport area is a flat plain situated right between a range of mountains tied to each other like the knots in your earphones just after you take them out from your pocket. One thing to note is, photography is not allowed anywhere near the airport! Phones or memory cards can be confiscated or you’ll bee made to delete your photos.

The Ladakh Airport, more like The Ladakh Air Strip.

There are no taxi meters here, prepaid taxis is the only way, but the prices are standard, so no chances of one getting cheated. One has to buy a pass from a ticket window and then head to their respective taxi!

There are two main area for stay:

  1. Somewhere near the Changspa Village
  2. The Leh Market
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We were staying in Evam Chunka, exactly opposite bobs cafe. It’s a good hostel/hotel and very reasonably priced! I personally recommend it cause the caretakers/owners are really nice people who will serve you with mint tea/coffee or normal tea right outside your room.

As far as acclimatisation and care for the first day go, one must just drink plenty of water (4-6 liters) and avoid any kind of physical exertion in the first few hours and neither go to sleep. Avoid sleeping even if you’re tired from your journey or sleep deprived due to an early morning flight. The reason being that the air is too thin and your body hasn’t gotten used to it yet; and sleeping in this situation would mean inadequate oxygen supply which would only cause severe headaches.

The reason behind drinking excessive water is that the body uses the excess water in the system to absorb and make up for the lack of oxygen in the air. In case of a headache, take a crocin (cause we are more accustomed to it) and not diamox (despite it being recommended for acclimatisation at high altitudes, diamox takes a few hours to show results, also, please double your water intake if you’re switching to a diamox routine. I would strongly suggest taking your doctor’s opinion)

While I am not a doctor, I’ve trekked at high altitudes a few times and finished my Leh Marathon without the use of diamox. In my personal opinion, it is not  necessary to take it (unlike a lot of people suggest). Even if you do, start a day before your trip and not after reaching Leh.

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Steps to Shanti Stupa

For lunch, we went to Rice Bowl, a good and peaceful place and one must try the ‘Kashmiri Dum Aloo’ there! As far as mobile networks go, stick to BSNL (surprising, I know!) or Airtel. Cellular data displays 2G, however it is pretty non existent. Most restaurants and cafes have Wi-Fi, with a rotating password that changes everyday.

In the evening, we headed for the stairs of the Shanti Stupa, and marvelled at the shades of sunset. There is also an alternate route to go there via a vehicle, which is towards the other side. The slope is about 1km in length one way, a great place to practice for the marathon.

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View from the top of the steps
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View from the top of Shanti Stupa

We were lucky enough to see a full moon, rise from beyond the mountain, which was magnificent and I was lucky enough to grab that on a time-lapse.

One must be very careful to climb down irrespective of the time of the day, because the steps are uneven and there are no railings whatsoever. It is also a must to carry a powerful torch or use the flash off the phone, for the same.

Reminder : Your phone battery will give up on you a lot faster in cold weather. You won’t realise how it drops from 70% battery to 40% within 30 minutes.

We had dinner at Bob’s, and slept by 9:30 due to excess fatigue and an early running and workout plan the next day.

Day 2

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View from the hill

The next day started at 6am. We freshened up and set out for our morning workout. Through the market, taking the uphill route that goes towards the Khardung La pass, we went up 6kms, rested and did some more light jogging followed by another 6kms downhill on our way back. This was one of the best routes I’ve ever jogged on.

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Runner’s High + The View = Literal Heaven Feels
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A Seat with a view
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During the whole journey, we made sure we hydrated adequately. It is also recommended to buy a cotton mask here, due to a lot of dust. It is available in most stores in the market, and barely costs 50 rupees. However, it is quite uncomfortable especially if you wear specs, since mouth breathing causes it to condense on your glasses (super annoying).

Once back at our hotel, we freshened up and then set out to collect our race bibs. Later we enquired about hiring a car and bikes and headed for lunch.

Important : It is important to note that a permit is required if you’re stepping outside Leh, which includes Pangong Lake, any of the high altitude motorable passes, etc.  which can be done at any travel shop in the market.

Later around 4, we hired 4 Royal Enfields (commonly known as bullets) and set out to the magnetic hill! The route is beautiful, unlike something I’ve ever seen! And the journey takes anywhere between 60-90 minutes. Also worth noting is that the rental companies mess with the ignition so that the bike is unable to go too fast, so if you really want to enjoy your bullet or speed up, figure that out beforehand.

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The magnetic hill and phenomenon is very real and works on a vehicle as big as an army truck! Just 5kms ahead of that, is a sangam of two rivers, also where they take you if you want to do some rafting.

While going to the magnetic hill, one will come across the Patthar Saheb Gurudwara. It has a very interesting story behind it. This place is solely managed by the Army and has the best masala tea in Ladakh. A heaven for tea lovers, who don’t get decent tea in the city!

Day 3

Today early morning, we set out towards the Pangong Lake. We hired a car the previous day, and left Leh at around 8:30am. The distance to the lake is not more than 150kms, however it takes 5-7 hours or sometimes more due to bad roads and depending on traffic(usually an army convoy or too many vehicles on a narrow road) and the climate.

It is totally okay to skip breakfast and leave early, since there is a small strip before the first checking, where one can have breakfast. These places serve delicious Aloo/Cheese/Paneer Parathas with Rajma (Beans) and curd. We could not enjoy as much as we would’ve liked, because the weather switched to extreme cold and snowfall while driving up the hill towards the Changla Pass.

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At Chang La Pass

It is the second highest motorable road, after Khardung La at 17688ft. The air up here is extremely thin and oxygen scarce. So it is advisable to just get down, freshen up, click some photos and leave and not overexert physically.

Ps. Me and a friend went and played with ice for not more than 5 mins and felt nauseous with a head splitting headache right after we got back in the car.

NOTE : IT IS ADVISABLE TO STOP FOR PHOTOS ONLY ON YOUR RETURN JOURNEY BACK FROM PANGONG LAKE, SO THAT YOU CAN REACH THERE ON TIME DURING DAYLIGHT!

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The cold weather continued, and it was super windy at the lake. Usually, it is cold all through the summer months too, however not too windy! After clicking photos at the start of the lake, we headed forward to the Shooting Point as the locals call it (the place where the final scene of 3 idiots was shot) which is a better place to click photos, and then head ahead towards the tents!

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Pangong Lake Shenanigans.

One has three options while coming here :

  1. Leave early morning, visit the lake and come back.
  2. Spend the night at the lake and see the sunrise the next day.
  3. Spend more than one night here.

Note – Last I heard, staying at the Pangong Lake has been discontinued due to the Indo-China Border disputes. I am not certain and would ask you to do your due research beforehand.

If you’re going for option 2, it is advisable to stay in a tent which is about 5-7 kms away from the start of the lake. It is quite economical and one can select a tent based on the luxuries they need.

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That is how option 2 looks.
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Option 2 from the other side.

And if you’re going for option 3, one can opt for proper wooden cabins, that offer a great view of the lake.

It should be noted that the lake area gets colder than Leh city, and hence proper winter wear (preferably snow wear in case of extreme weather) is advised.

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A choice of soup, fried rice and some eggs is all you’ll get near the camp site! One has to drive all the way to the start of the lake for better food! The organizers usually have a campfire at 9:30!

There is nothing else much to do here!

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