Ladakh- Tortured Twice in Two Months

Oh, I love Ladakh. Let the title not misguide you.

When I went to Ladakh for the first time in June this year, I was awestruck by the insane natural beauty of the place. Brown mountains with ice capped peaks all around a desert with sand dunes, a perennial blue lake with no vegetation or plantation anywhere close to it till as far as the eye could see, an ancient town with yellow buildings falling apart in most places- it was beautiful. During the 11 day trip I realized a very important thing- Ladakh’s beauty was in all the road journeys we took and not just in the destination we arrived at. If one can appreciate these changing landscapes within a few kilometers, only then can they appreciate the beauty of this cold desert and that of life sustaining at such a remote place. Apart from this there is little to see there.

At K-Top, Khardungla in June 2017 when it was still snow covered due to a late summer
The road journeys in Ladakh’s difficult terrains aren’t anything close to pleasurable when it comes to comfort. The roads are in a very bad shape, only being constructed and widened slowly year after year by the Border Roads Organisation. A distance of a mere 150 kms between Leh to Pangong Lake takes as much as 7-8 hours because of the bad shape of the roads, rocks falling from the mountains at some places. The view one gets throughout the journey while climbing and descending the high mountain passes and crossing the valleys, does make up for the torture of the vehicle’s movement. But then, for how long can one keep going?

At the end of my June trip, having covered the Srinagar- Kargil- Leh- Khardungla- Nubra Valley- Shyok- Pangong- Changla- Leh route, I was wondering if I would want to come back to Ladakh. Although I had loved the beauty, the answer in my head was a firm ‘No’. I didn’t want to take this treacherous road journey yet again. Once was more than enough. (And to think the road didn’t exist in some parts. Like the Shyok river route)

Exploring places like newbies. June 2017. Srinagar-Leh highway

Two days after I returned to Delhi, I put up details for a group trip to Ladakh in August that I would lead.

In August when I went back to the region, this time with 5 other people- as their trip leader- the landscapes looked absolutely different. The snow I had seen in June all around had melted. Dried river beds were now gushing streams of water. This was a contrast to my memory but looked equally beautiful. The boredom I thought I would have of visiting the same places twice in less than 2 months, didn’t crop up at all.

Arriving in Leh felt like homecoming. While last time everything was left to imagination, this time I knew exactly what to expect and where. I knew exactly how the city looks like. I knew the roads, the restaurants, the functional ATMs, the faces of shop owners, waiters, travel agents.

I have always believed a trip becomes as memorable as the people you are traveling with or the ones you meet on the way. The people have a bigger influence on one’s memory than the place itself. While my first trip was with two friends, well planned and researched over a month’s time, the second was with five people who had signed up with me so they could live their Ladakh dream. No two trips, howsoever similar the itinerary might be, can ever be the same because the ‘people’ are different.

So while we headed to Pangong this time around, we had conversations about all the films that have been shot in the region way before 3 Idiots made it famous. As the car drove towards the lake, we did a big countdown to the exact moment when the lake is first visible to the eye, several kilometers before one reaches it. Why? Because we want to see that blueness as soon as we can. That picture in the head needs to be seen in front of the eyes. As every single head in the car looked in anticipation in the direction, I felt a sudden joy. I knew this anticipation. I had experienced it two months back. And right now I felt proud to be able to show it to them in that way.

The roads had improved slightly this time all across Ladakh and also on the Srinagar highway that we took. The torture of the car going over potholes and rugged roads was still mostly the same. But this time we had the entire vehicle to ourselves, unlike the shared vehicle we took last time. There was never a dull moment, if I assessed it right, because we played an insane number of games throughout the journeys. When not playing, we became bad Mozarts and storytellers or simply listened to the wonderful playlist the trippers were carrying. One game became an addiction to such a level that we had to impose a self-ban on it for sometime. That was the fun.
The group departing from the beautiful homestay in Nubra Valley, August 2017

Last time my friends hadn’t really appreciated me including Nubra valley in the plan, so this time I didn’t want to keep the expectations of the people much from the place. Surprisingly, the group loved Nubra Valley- playing in the silver sand dunes for hours, standing in the chilled waters of the Shyok river, having a bonfire in the unexpectedly chilly night and then spotting more than 10 shooting stars in less than 10 minutes from the rooftop of our homestay.

We also went to the Hunder Fort, met the marmots on the way to Pangong, played in the snow at Khardungla and hoisted the national flag, climbed up the Nanak Hill, witnessed the moonland at Lamayuru, visited the Spituk Monastery and Hemis Gompa- all things which my first trip hadn’t seen.

This second trip definitely took the weariness out of Ladakh for me. At the end of this August trip, I was wondering if I would want to come back to Ladakh. The answer in my head was a surprising Yes. Yes, I would want to go back to the cold desert because there is so much more to explore there. More than that, I would like to take more groups of people to this dream destination and watch them live their dreams.

Ladakh, I shall see you again in the summer of 2018.

Have you visited a destination more than once and still want to go back there?

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  1. You people must have had a lifetime experience over there. Hoping to get into the place once in a lifetime..


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