The day had arrived when three of us were set to go on a long two day road trip to Tso Moriri. Why long? Yup distance wise it might not look much consider it was 250+ kilometers from Leh but as I mentioned before with it’s vast Mountainous regions, stones, roads, big and wide to narrow loose ones, considering all this, it would take us at least 7-8 hours including pit stops.
But just that morning as we were getting ready to leave, I got a wonderful message from a dear friend. She saw my Instagram pics of Ladakh and I could literally hear her screaming on whatsapp! She was in Ladakh too! Of all the places to know that some one dear to you happens to be there too.
And she was special, very special to me. This brave girl went ahead and achieved something I am so proud of but more on that later because she deserves more than just a line!
Anyways when she mentioned she was around Nubra Valley and she would be back in Leh the next day, I was excited for I would be coming back late afternoon that day and I would be meeting up with her.
And as we took our backpacks and came to the car, there we saw our driver, Zakir. One look at him and I knew he was the ‘HERO’ among his folks 🙂 His style, his jacket, his demeanour, everything was all about that. ‘Main is Ilaake ka Hero hoon’ (I am the hero of this region).
Immediately my friend started calling him Zakir Hussain remembering the Tabla Maestro and the other friend would call him Jackie Shroff – remembering his style and all in that old movie HERO and the names stuck till the end of our journey 🙂
And within 20 minutes of driving on the road, we missed hitting a car just by sheer luck. Yup, Screeched the car inches within another vehicle as he was looking everywhere else except on the road. We Indians really have Gods!
I was sitting in the front and I could see life flashing before my eyes. Rash, fast, no sense of safety in any way, on the phone, searching for stuff in the car while driving and so much more.
I looked back and I saw the same look in my photographer friend so I told him firmly, please go a little slow, I am shit scared, there are older people behind us, we are not in a hurry and guess what he says bringing his sunglasses to his nose and sneering at me, ‘DAR KE AAGE JEET HAI’ I seriously didn’t know if I should burst out laughing or just scream at him. Filmy character totally!
Narrow roads, loose stones, climbing higher and higher and most of the times tottering on the edge and all my fears of heights came up again. But I listened to my friend who gave me a sound piece of advice, ‘ In the Himalayas, don’t ever look down’ and I followed that thinking that even if we fall to our death, I will keep looking up 🙂
The next 100 kilometers tests your physical, mental, emotional ability to the core. Your body is shaking, reverberating, every inch of your bones are rattling as the roads range from semi to raw to complete ones. Being fit physically is very important during these kind of trips but you also must have a really strong stomach to take in the altitude, speed and mountain sickness.
As you go up higher, the roads become very very narrow and in some of them, there are no roads and you just have to believe in the ability of your driver, you have no choice. I can tell you this, it is definitely NOT for the faint hearted.
Our car drove through many places starting from Shey near Leh to Thiksay – where we visited the monastery yesterday to Karu, then to Upshi, Likche. As we were passing Likche we saw the canals of the beautiful grey flowing Indus River. We crossed Rani Bagh, Himank and finally came to Mahey Check post.
Before I go on further, let me say this, whatever roads have been built and some of them massive is totally due to the Border Roads Organization. I have to write an entire blog on that and especially about the army. It was a revelation.
Sensitive areas in Ladakh requires Inner Line Permits and we had got all that organized with our agency. As our driver was showing the permits and our identifications, I saw something nice.
A Biker with all his backpack stuff was talking to the army personnel, basically chatting and there I saw a small Indian flag proudly put up on his bike. I can’t begin to express what it made me feel. I was overjoyed.
The feeling of being here, in this country, to enjoy the freedom that we have, to not berate it constantly and seeing the army posted in areas like this, even worse as I saw later and I thought how easy it is to blame someone like that, right? Here was this man proudly wearing the pride of his country in his own way.
Once we crossed Mahey, the region was getting more and more remote and when I say remote, it means really remote. You truly feel you are in the mercy of nature and it just takes a second of calamity to no longer exist.
We are powerless,totally powerless in front of it. The utter rawness of the landscape humbles you, makes you feel like zilch as you gape shamelessly in awe just like how you used to do when you were a child, not caring about what people think.
We stopped at Chumathang known for it’s Hot Springs for lunch and thanks to the HERO, he recommended a small place that had a fantastic view of the mountains. Just getting Dal Roti there was delicious. And when my two gujarati friends took out their Khakhras, it was bliss 🙂
We started playing songs from my friend’s pen drive and listening to Direstraits as we traversed through really rough roads. It was a blessing believe me to hear him whenever we felt we could no longer go further than this!
After an excruciating what seemed like forever trip we slowly entered into Tso Moriri region. It is famous for it’s lake – Tso Moriri that is also known as the Mountain lake and a part of the Changthang plateau. Not as touristy as the Pangong Tso – a much bigger lake. It was pristine just like everything else we had seen so far.
We had now reached an altitude of almost 15,000 feet. Leh was 11,000 feet. And we could feel the biting cold, the cutting wind chill and immediately the layers of clothes started and for me gloves included. The region was just 30 kms away from the border of China.
Bones were shivering to the core. This was my very first time being in Northern India and experiencing cold in such raw conditions.
We decided to be adventurous and thought we will reach there and search for accommodation because who is gonna visit here right?? So completely wrong. It was raining hard now, really cold rain and we went from tents to small guest houses to search for a place to stay and all was full. Zakir even commented that we could sleep in the car if nothing was available.
And since all the accommodation is near the lake for it’s view, it was biting cold. Finally we found two tents but no attached bathroom, there was a common bathroom sharing for all and when I meant all, I meant for all the people who were staying there. It was a first for me.So many firsts in so many ways 🙂
The tent was neat, cozy but so so cold. Welcome to the real world where there are no heaters, no generators, no electricity except a night bulb if it lights up and just raw nature around you.
We had something to eat and immediately set out to explore the place because it’s not good to sleep, the altitude sickness will hit you. As we started walking, I saw a hill and a nice trekking track, very nice in fact and I started prodding my friend to join me, he slowly joined me and the other friend joined in.
Slowly, with the wind chill, with the air, watching the pristine mountains, the beautiful lake, the air you breathe that seems divine, we did walk up the hill and what a feeling it was! I felt I conquered Everest! This was a mini trek of sorts and when you look at the pictures you will see what I mean.
That exhilarating feeling of being there, being alive, where you listen to every breath of yours and feel thankful.
I felt blessed,the tiredness of that rough road trip just went away. I was surrendering to it. I was happy we could get something to stay for the night! Look at our faces in the pics and you know what I mean. My goofy smile and all!
As we slowly walked down, we saw loads of bikers, all royal enfields, solo riders, with their partners/ girlfriends all zooming and riding along the hill and how amazing it felt!Most of them were from Delhi, Punjab and Bombay.
The best thing about being in a place like this is you meet different kinds of people who match your interests, who understand your spirit of adventure, who dare to take a different road altogether.
As we walked back, we met such an interesting mix. We met a group of school kids from St. Peter’s school – Yoghshe, a place 200 kms from Tso Moriri and they were camping out too, setting up tents.
We met a couple of guys from Bombay and Pune, a cinematographer,biker ,an animal lover and his colleague who specialized in Time Lapse. Yup I didn’t know what it was either until he explained it 🙂
They were capturing Tso Moriri, it’s landscape, the clouds through different time frames and would make a beautiful time lapse video of it. They were also gonna climb one of the steep peaks tomorrow and make a video of it.
We connected, exchanged our contacts and left with a feeling of completeness. We would or wouldn’t meet them later but isn’t it wonderful to connect even briefly with someone whom you share similar interests with?
Late evening, when we sat down for dinner, it started, the altitude sickness hit me really bad. One side of my head was pounding so hard, I wanted it to explode, I just wanted to die.
Yup it’s an extreme word but it was really painful and I must tell you, if not for my friend I don’t think I would have come out of it. He took care of me so well, got me dinner, tucked me into layers of blankets as the whole tent was shaking, shivering and it was raining outside.
After all that exhilaration, I was awake till late night wondering if I can survive out of this pounding head, this feeling of helplessness sets in, totally.I remember chanting, breathing and hoping I see the next day.