I went to LEH LADAKH in last week of July 2014. This was my first trip in North of India. Well during that time craze of LEH LADAKH was still lesser compared to what it is now. Route of the Trip was Bangalore -> Srinagar -> Kargil -> LEH LADAKH -> Bangalore. Here I am describing the Core part of our trip which was road trip to LEH from Kargil, A Bike Trip from LEH to Nubra Valley and another Bike Trip to Pangong Lake from Leh and Exploring LEH City on a Bicycle. We wanted to experience Buddhist Culture and wanted to visit Monastery and feel it's incredible atmostphere. This trip was very special to me as after this trip i found my true hobby that is explore various parts of this world. Before that, I don’t use to roam a lot. But now I am travel freak. Especially love for Bike riding started after this trip only.
Road Trip from KARGIL to LEH
Our driver came early in the morning. And we resumed our journey towards LEH. There are few journeys which are memorable not because of its destinations but because of the roads and the company of the journey. Well, this was one of those. We were traveling via mountain range of Himalayas. The mountains were completely lifeless, not a single tree could be found in those mountains. In the beginning, there was still some traffic but once we crossed Kargil, the only thing we could see was beautiful mountains.
We stopped by one Buddha Temple ( Monastery ) at MULBEKH. This was the first time I went into Buddha temple. It was different from the other temples. There was a stupa and a MANI. You have to rotate MANI. “The reason behind it was, MANI has mantra written on it and by rotating it you are kind of reading it”. We went inside the temple and there was a tall Buddha statue carved on the Hill. It was amazing. Around this region, Houses and temples were having white walls with Red windows and lot of flags on it. I never saw those kinds of houses and temples before. It was very beautiful, I really liked it. After that, we had breakfast there. In breakfast, we got omelets, juice, and parathas. Well on the route from Kargil to LEH many famous monasteries were there so we decided to visit few famous ones. The best part of NH1 was, Funny slogans/messages were written on the boards on the entire highway and reading them gave us many light moments. For example on curvy roads there were boards with a message like “Please be gentle on my curves!” and so on.
On the road, we saw a lot of Bike riders and travelers. Till now we didn’t know how it feels to ride a bike on these roads. Or should I say how proud you will feel after driving Royal Enfield on these roads! Well, we came to know these in few days as we hired the bike and drove it. Anyways we reached to a point where the altitude of the road was the highest. On entire NH1 no part of the road was at a higher altitude than this. So it was kind of a milestone and a memory to capture for us and hence we captured it by saying “Yaha ek pic lena to Banta hai ;)” We sat there for a while and enjoyed the view there. We could see Mountains on our eye level and as no one was around it was very peaceful. I would love to build a tent there and spend few days in the mountains with myself.
After some time, at a distance and at some height we could able to see few buildings and green trees. Here we came to Lamayuru Monastery, One of the famous and well-built Monastery on that route. This was the first time I was visiting a Monastery. It was so silent and peaceful. Small monk kids were playing and running here and there in their typical red gown type clothes. When we entered into monastery it was so peaceful and quiet. I never experienced such an atmosphere before than what I experienced there. We sat there silently. After some time, Monks started praying. They were chanting mantras and few of monks were playing musical instruments in rhythm. Seriously it was an incredible atmosphere and an experience one must have in their lifetime! I felt a lot of positivity (+ve vibes) around me. Really, I felt like I didn’t want to leave that place.
From Lamayuru Monastery, we saw a hill named Moonland because Land of a particular part of that mountain was looking different from the rest. It looked similar to the land of the moon and hence they named it Moonland. After these, we left Lamayuru & Moonland. Now we were moving from a higher altitude to lower altitude hence, roads were passing between the Mountain range. In some time, we met a river. One side of the road had tall mountains were on the other side of the road A river was flowing. There were few trees on the bank of the river - “Nature at its best!”. Well, you can do river rafting in this river as well, Due to lack of time we needed to skip it. But it would be awesome experience for sure.
We crossed that river and arrived at an ALCHI village. Well on this road whenever you will find a village there will be a monastery near to it and vice versa. Here also one monastery was there. Here we saw few stalls from where you can buy various t-shirts with Ladakhi slogans or drawings of Buddha, mountains etc on it or Buddha idols or flags. This monastery had few colorful huge Buddha statues inside different halls. Those were the main attractions of that monastery. “In the Buddhist religion, two types of belief is there. Those who believe Buddha had already born and others who believe Buddha is yet to be born”. Nearby ALCHI village only another Monastery was there called LIKHIR Monastery. Here we saw a huge golden statue of Buddha called Golden Buddha. It was visible from few km. On this route, Golden Buddha was one of the main tourists' attractions. Here we found a restaurant and hence we took our delayed lunch almost at the time of supper.
After this only thing left was to reach to LEH. One of my friends wanted to take a pic sitting on the long straight road. So after Likhir when we met to a long straight road we stopped our vehicle and did some photo session. Meanwhile, Puneet and I had decided to do pushups at the Altitude of 10K ft. It was a crazy thing to do but we were on a trip where we should do crazy things. Even my friend told us that “Saale Mar jaoge mat karo!” we did some 10-12 push-ups, though.
After that near to LEH there was one Gurudwara( A Sikh temple ). I have never been to any of them and Puneet my friend is Sikh so we decided to go there. We put Orange clothes on our head, washed our hand, leg, and face and then entered into a temple. To reach at Gurudwara we needed to climb 70+ steps. We climbed it in one sprint. Well, that was some task at that much altitude. Inside Gurudwara, he explained us Sikh traditions and how to pray in a Sikh temple.
Then we reached to Sangam where two river Zanskar and Indus meets. We could easily saw the exact point where they met. The place was at some height hence View from there was very good.In January people do CHADAR trek on frozen Zanskar river. Trek is to go to Zanskar village and come back to LEH via this frozen river. One day definitely I am going to do this for sure.
We reached to a magnetic Hill where car moves automatically even though the slope is upward. Due to bad weather and our tiredness we didn’t try it. That’s it we arrived at LEH. Even though most of the time we spent in traveling, the day was a memorable one for me.
Exploring LEH City
We wanted to get some much-needed rest plus want to get acclimatized before going on Bike trip around LADAKH. Next Morning, we got up and took our breakfast on the terrace of our Hotel/Homestays. The view from there was breathtaking but probably it’s the beauty of Leh and view from anywhere in the city would be amazing. Now our main question was how to roam Leh City. Two of my friends had decided that they wanted a Bike and hence went with Royal Enfield Classic while we took Bicycles. We wanted to go for a Monastery and Hall of Fame Museum. Both of them were nearby each other and around 10kms from Leh.
While going, the entire route was full of downwards slopes. So we just needed to control the speed of our bicycle. It was fun riding though it became a big task while returning. We reached to Hall of Fame museum. The location of the museum was amazing. This museum had all information of Kargil war including how they captured different points (locations) and won every battle, the guns they captured after winning every war. There were documentaries for few of India’s heroes who fought bravely. I found my hero Captain Vikram Batra who gave his life for us from there only. He was brave, badass and coolest person I had ever read about. This museum had entire details about Ladakhi cultures as well.
Then we went to a monastery nearby H.O.F. It was situated on a hill. Roads were very steep, it was almost vertical and a tough task for us to ride a bicycle on it. Anyways it was a crazy ride. With a lot of struggle, we reached there. Our friends, who were coming on the bike had enjoyed both the roads and our struggle :D. The monastery was very silent and very well constructed. Beautiful silent monastery between the mountains, One cannot ask for anything more. We sat there for a while and admire the scenic view from that place.
While going back we ride till the gate of Leh City but then inclination was damn too much for me to ride and hence I just walk along with my bicycle. But overall it was an amazing experience to ride a bicycle in Leh. One should definitely do that if they will go to Leh.
We spent entire evening finding Bike. As we just had 1 Bike and we needed 1 more and that too Royal Enfield Thunderbird as “Leh ja kar Royal Enfield nahi chalaya to kya chalaya – My Dialogue”. As we wanted to leave for Nubra Valley next day early morning we had to manage our bike tonight only. We walked through all streets of Leh for around an hour and a half in search of a thunderbird. Luckily we found what we were looking for aTB350. After that much walk we became so hungry so directly went for dinner. Leh had amazing restaurants which serve you various types of cosines such as Italian, English, American, Thai, Indian food. We went to one restaurant which was really a cool place. Dim lights, light music, mountains of Leh and best buddies had made that dinner a memorable one.Exploring LEH by Bicycle and Walking around Streets of LEH between the mountains were the things I will always remember.
Ride to Nubra Valley via Highest Motorable Pass KHARDUNGLA
This was the best Route of our trip. It has everything, scenic mountains, waterfalls, desert, Valley, Rivers and road trip adventures. We left Leh city by 9 am. Whenever you travel out of Leh city, you need to take a form and submit it at one of the army camps on the way. Total distance we needed to cover was 160+ km. But don’t think it is a simple job. We needed an entire day to reach to our destination though at no time we were in a hurry. We wanted to take as many breaks as possible in order to enjoy the beauty of Ladakhi mountains and Nubra valley. Well, today our main attractions were to visit coloring Buddha at Diskit Monastery, enjoy the beauty of Nubra valley and experience the adventure of driving a Bike on a highest motorable pass at Khardungla.
Initially, roads were very good and we thought our ride will be an easy one. At every milestone, there was an added board telling you the altitude of current place. We stopped by one milestone whose altitude was 13000 ft. As of now, I was not feeling the thrill of Bike riding through with every milestone the height of surrounding mountains was reducing. Meanwhile, we reached to South Pullu where we submitted the form we carried with us which had our traveling details.
At South Pullu one Dhaba was there where we got Omelet and Maggi in breakfast, Well don’t get surprised back then Maggi was safe to eat plus those extra Led were making it one tasty meal for many of us :P. Just behind that Dhaba one stream was flowing and few Yaks were eating grass. It was a perfect rural scene. I loved it. Well after a much-needed breakfast we resumed our journey. South Pullu to Khardungla was just 14kms but it took 2 hours at least for us to reach to the top. Trust me we were traveling as fast as we could. Roads converted into a path with full of dust, stones, and mud. Now riding became a challenging task and a ride converted into an adventure. With every passing milestone, the weather was becoming cooler and altitude of roads was increasing and the air became thinner. Now Roads became so narrow that if a Car or Truck passed by you, you had to simply stop and let them cross you. One side of the road had mountains and the other side of the road had a deep valley. A little carelessness would end up losing a life. Finally, after 2 hours of adventure, we reached the top. Indeed, I felt I achieved something very special today, I drove at a height of 18380Ft which was the highest motorable pass back then.
There was an army base camp at the top and they were running a restaurant. It was very chilly so we ordered hot black tea with pakoda which were the only variety alongside Maggi on that route. There was a strict notice that one should not stay on top for more than 20 minutes and with the various season, this period will be changed from 20 to 5 minutes. Even few of my friends started feeling headache hence, we left after having snacks. But before we left it, we made sure that we were carrying a photo with the milestone.
Roads were still bad but now we were climbing down which needed more control than climbing up. We managed 14km in another hour and reached to North Pullu. Now the adventure part got over. Well, during this entire journey, roads were having hairpin turns at almost every 100 meters. Have to admit that Indian army had maintained the roads very well. At North pullu again we had Maggi and tea.
From here, A beautiful and scenic part of the trip started. The entire route was so scenic that I just needed to click a photo and it would definitely be good only. At every 20-30 km one small village was coming and with that village, one army base camp came, too. Even though there were army men at almost every place, we didn’t feel we were unsafe. Army people were helpful too, they had prepared tea and kept it near the road, whoever wanted to drink should take a glass and have it.
The entire Nubra Valley was scenic. There were streams, river and mountain range. I still remember while traveling I heard the sound of the river and at that time no way there was a possibility of a river. But all of a sudden within 5 minutes I saw a river. That river followed that road for almost 10-15 km. We were also flowing on our Thunderbird with that river between the mountain range. That was nostalgic!
In some 15 minutes, We saw some statue far in the mountain and we realized its coloring Buddha of Diskit. Diskit was still some 10km far but we could see the statue, it was that much big and mountain range was that much straight. It was evening but the sun was still high enough so that its Rays can pass through mountains and fall on the ground. That partially passed rays of the sun made mountains look even more beautiful. I just loved It!
Around 5 pm we reached to that statue where we took few snaps. We had a friend who is 6’3” tall so we told him to stand in front of the statue and look at the statue. We took a photo and told him that “Finally tuje b upar dekhna padta hai!” That statute was at some height, view from there was amazing. We were getting late as we didn’t book our hotel in Hunder so we skipped Diskit monastery and left for Hunder. Hunder had sand dunes and is famous for sand dunes and Camel riding. In this area, you will find camel with double humps. When we reached there it was a bit dark so we just search a home stay and stayed there for the night.
They served us a proper Indian veg meal with Sabzi, Roti, rice, and dal. After eating Maggi for the entire day, getting homemade Indian food was like a dream comes true. Overall it was the best day of the trip so far where I enjoyed every bit of it.
Riding Back to Leh
Next morning our plan was to see sand dunes and if possible do camel Safari. Then travel back to Leh. I was worried about those 30kms I needed to ride as yesterday it took us 3 hours and I didn’t wanted to drive on those roads at night.
So we took breakfast, checked out and went for sand dunes of Hunder for which it is famous for. Nature is really incredible as how on earth sand dunes can even exist between this mountain range. We stopped by sand dunes. Played in sand dunes and took few snaps. At that place, I saw every form of nature. There was mountain range followed by sand dunes followed by some green grass and a water stream followed by another mountain range. That scene had made my day. We waited for camel safari but as it was getting late we decided to leave without doing the camel safari.
While traveling one straight road came and definitely I wanted to have a pic where I am sitting on the road with my bike, between the mountains. While we were taking pics, few kids came and they asked me if they can get a bike ride. I was more than happy to do that. I rode with them on the same road. A kid was sitting in front of me and 2 on the back seat. They were so happy and even they made me happy. While leaving they gave me “hi five”. they were awesome kids. I missed them.
As we had seen everything yesterday, today we were not having many halts and reached to North pullu sooner than expected. The best part of a bike ride in Leh was whenever the fellow rider was overtaking us or crossing us, they generally did thumbs up or said Best of Luck. We did the same as well. This was how riders were passing their regards to you. It touched my heart. I really felt proud fo riding a bike on Khardungla pass. I gain a lot of confidence from that bike ride and now I am sure I can drive on any route. On the way, I saw one guy’s vehicle got broke down and hence he stopped there for help. While he was there, whoever passed from there, stopped and asked if he needed a help. Even we stopped there for some time. I realized humanity still exists. Probably this was the best experience I will be carrying from this road trip with me.
While returning from Khardungla to Leh, I saw group of Cyclist who were traveling to LEH from Manali and after LEH they were going to Shimla. That's call passion and adventure! We wished them ALL THE BEST for their adventure. Meanwhile I saw few of the foreigners riding a bicycle. They hired a cab and took their bicycle via cab till Khardungla and from there they were coming back. It was a nice idea and definitely someday I will be going to do that. And our Adventure got over bit early then expected and We reached to Leh.
A Visit to SHANTI STUPA - LEH
We freshen up and then went to Shanti Stupa, which was just outside Leh City and situated on a Hill. It was the biggest and fanciest Stupa I saw in Leh. From the entrance to the Shanti Stupa, two Buddha Temples were there. Both of them were very quiet and peaceful. We spend some time there. Few foreigners were also there experiencing Buddhist culture and atmosphere of Monastery. Then we went to Shanti Stupa. View from there was wonderful. You can see entire Leh city from there and the best place to take photos or to do time lapse photography. After sunset, we left from Shanti stupa for dinner. We wanted to go to have some Ladakhi food so went to Ladakhi restaurant and had nice dinner.
After Nubra Valley experience I was pretty much excited for Pangong Lake ride which was again 160kms. It had another high motorable pass which is third highest in the world called ChangLa. As there wasn’t network we had to rely on static maps and locals’ knowledge. Well, we lost our way and we asked few locals that we want to go to Pangong Lake. Can you please tell us the route? One guy showed us a route and warned us that it was very steep but it’s the shortcut else we needed to travel back few miles to catch the correct route. Well, we didn’t know it was the best adventure we were going to have on that day. The route was full of mud and dust plus it was really steep. trust me, my bike could not even able to carry my weight. So I had to start my bike and run with it by giving accelerator. I did this for around a km and when we reached the top we realized what a crazy thing we just did.
After this adventure, the ride became bit easy. And in some time we reached to Chang La. Well, numbers of riders on this route was very less compared to what we saw on Nubra Valley route. Because of that, the thrill of the ride wasn’t there. Chang La had a restaurant where we had Maggi and black tea. there, we met 2 soldiers of the Indian army. They were so nice and polite. We had very good conversations with them. We requested if we could take a pic with them and for that, they smiled and said you can take as many pics as you want.
Well after ChangLa we traveled through Mountain range of Himalayas. Suddenly we saw one river and we decided to take a halt there. Overall the ride was decent with many hairpin curves to enjoy but enjoyment level wasn’t as high as of Nubra Valley route.
After traveling for another 2 hours we reached to a Tangtse and took much-needed supper. We got Maggi, Omelets, and Chocolates here. The best part of this break was the shop keeper Ladakhi aunty. Firstly, she greeted us with a smile and talked a lot with us. at the time of paying the bill, we didn't have 10rs change and she told us that its ok no need to pay those 10rs. Plus I and my friend were fighting over a chocolate. Though it was a friendly fight, she came and gave one extra Dairy-Milk and told me that it's from her. This kind of small things matters a lot in the current world. While traveling there were few places where water was flowing on the road and hence my shoes were wet plus it was freezing cold. So I removed them and tied them with my bike at these shop. rest of the journey from here, I did bare-footed which was kind of cool ;). From there Pangong was just 30kms but that was the best part of that road trip. After Tangtse, the entire route was declared as no stoppage zone. You were not allowed to stop your vehicle on that route and if you found doing it then the government has rights to seize your vehicle and driving license of the driver. Even you were not allowed to feed to the animals on that route. After driving for 5-10kms we saw wild horses running, eating grass etc. It reminded me the scene of “Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara”. Then we saw Yaks, Sheep, and many more animals. It was a really incredible scene that animals are roaming here and there and no one is stopping or controlling them.
Well after this we reached near Pangong Lake. There was a place from where you can see first sight of Pangong lake which was mind blowing. From there in no time, we reached to Pangong Lake. We forgot all our tiredness and boredom of the journey as soon as we reached to Pangong lake. Seriously telling you, as soon as we reached there we parked our bike and ran towards Pangong lake madly. Lake was so beautiful and shades of water changed from dark Blue to Green. Water was so clear. It was freezing cold too. It was very peaceful as no one was there when we reached there. We thoroughly enjoyed it those moments.
We were staying in a Tent in Pangong Lake and that was the best night stay of the trip. If you go to Leh you must stay a night in a tent at Pangong Lake. At night, it was so windy and cold. We had dinner there and then with all jackets, we sat outside our tent. The Sky was full of stars. It was so clean that we saw hundreds of shooting stars and the Milky Way. It was the experience that I will never forget.
Next morning we got up early to see the sunrise and then we had breakfast. After having breakfast we went to place where the shooting of Movie “3 Idiots” happened. The place was even more beautiful than the time when I saw it in a movie. We didn’t forget to take a photo in 3 Idiot’s pose :P. After having an amazing morning at Pangong lake it was time for us to say Goodbye to amazing Pangong Lake.
While returning, we went to one Monastery which was very good but as we were traveling from last 4-5 days and the fact that we saw many monasteries we were not much interested in it. After that, we directly came back to Leh city. We freshen up and went to Local market of Leh. There you can shop for stone necklaces which were very famous or t-shirts which had some Ladakhi slogans written on it.
Well, I might have forgotten many stories as that trip was the best trip of mine so far and many things happened during those days. Everything was good, people of Leh who were very simple, Mountains of Leh, Culture of Leh, Nubra Valley, Pangong Lake and Buddhist Monasteries.