The Road to Leh, Ladakh – A travelogue

The beauty of Ladakh

Some travels are destined. I say travel and not destination with lots of care. Because the destination is sometimes not as important as the path taken to reach it. In fact, often the destination becomes only a shadow of the journey itself.

It is more than a decade since I made the trip to Leh, Ladakh with my college friends. Yet, even today when I sit to think of a travel story it is the journey undertaken those many years back that flashes in front of me with alarming clarity and a nagging sensation of wanting to make it again, once more, before it is too late.

On a clear early morning, our professor wrote the words Ladakh on the blackboard. There was an instantaneous uproar of joy and amazement. Ladakh was exactly the forbidden land that we all hoped to go to. Yes, we were going to Ladakh for our final year Geography Department trip. There would, of course, be tons of surveys, fieldwork, file and paperwork to submit. Honestly, no one cared, because Ladkah beckoned us!

Road to Leh, Ladalh
Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Road_between_Manali_and_Leh.JPG

Personally and collectively, Ladakh meant a lot more to us than to any other traveler. Leh was our final destination. However, the scenes we saw, hazards we crossed and the serenity and sense of achievement we felt en route were both awarding and satisfying.

Our itinerary: We planned to reach Chandigarh by train and continue the forward journey by bus. The first night halt would be at Manali, the second at Patsio and the third at Leh.

Day 1

Day 1 went as planned. It was all easy till we reached Manali and stayed the night over. Manali is a famous hill station, had all the amenities and comfort. The real test began the next day.

River Beas in Manali
Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Beas_River_flowing_through_Manali.jpg

View from Manali
Source: https://www.pikist.com/free-photo-vyvlr

Day 2

Day 2 ended at Patsio as planned. However, now that we were climbing higher into the Himalayas, our bodies were taking a toll. Headaches, vomiting and vertigo started gripping everyone, so much so, that the old rhymes of Old MacDonald and Bollywood songs that kept us busy in the bus so far, meant little to nothing, There was a hushed silence as one by one we all fell prey to the fatigue and sickness that set in. It was somewhere around mid-day that our professors looking at all of us suggested we stop over at Keylong and carry out our field survey there. However, we girls (Oh yes, did I forget to mention that we were a class of 22 third-year college girls accompanied by three female professors), resisted and willed them and ourselves to go ahead.

When we reached Patsio, an army headquarters, most of us were half of ourselves. The cold chill air hit us in force as we descended down the steps of the bus. The water was prickly cold and our dormitory not too warm. We ate the same salt less dal chawal that all army stops had made us eat so far.

The condition of a few girls was getting worse. An ambulance followed us and that night we had an oxygen machine sitting in the dormitory with everyone taking turns. At high altitudes oxygen lessens, thus being one of the most disturbing factors in our climb ahead. I doubt anyone slept that night. There was a growing sense of anxiety since one whole day of the bus ride still remained. This time we were going to cross the Trans Himalayas and Tang lala which was the highest point in our itinerary at a height of 5300m and only after which descent would begin towards the valley of Leh.

Tangla La
Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Tanggula_Railway_Station_2.jpg

The gnawing feeling of more dizziness, headaches, vomits and staple bland food loomed large ahead. Not to forget the chilling cold and barren landscapes. Well, there was no looking back now and as some of us looked up outside the clear cloudless starry night in Patsio, we felt an exhilaration of adventure and great courage taking root inside. No one had ever done something so drastic in their domestic cozy lives before. This was the moment, this was it.

At Patsio
Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Sunshine_near_Patsio.jpg

Day 3

And so Day 3 began. An ambulance following us we were running heavily behind schedule due to the numerous stops we were making as someone or the other was throwing up.

Let me just break this drab outlook for a while and let you take a look around at the landscape. The mountains no longer friendly-looking were beginning to turn barren and hard. The green cover slowly vanished and the strokes of nature were painting the sky, floor and peaks with shades of grey and brown. We saw cirques, U shaped valleys, arĂȘtes and so many more features that came alive right in front of us.

The joy absolutely enthralling for we knew how these features came into being. We were not marveling at the sculpture of nature by simply sighting its beauty. Instead, we were acknowledging the form with complete knowledge and intelligent understanding. We knew how this came about and we knew why. In some way, this made us different from the countless other bikers and tourists. We knew why we were here and we knew what it took for us to reach here.

Source: https://www.pikist.com/free-photo-vfprj

We stopped for late lunch at another army base called Pang. The terrain around was just outstandingly awesome. The large dark sturdy mountains painted in different hues of purple and pink and the sky above in shades of blue. It looked like a painting hanging in 3D format right in front of us.

Busy washing our plates in the nearby stream (an activity we carried out after almost every meal) casualty struck. A friend suddenly fainted, not being able to cope with stress and fatigue. After a rush to the army doctor on the base and we had to halt, waiting endlessly on the bus, not knowing how she was doing and what was going on.

Barren slopes in Ladakh
Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/nifortescue/19296882635

The silver lining

Well, after a while we got the news that she was in the army camp and doing much better with medication. Someone who had accompanied her started off at a lighter note that the army doctor was a handsome young fellow and so here came the silver lining.

A bunch of college-going girls, who are tired and looking at only mountains and each other for the last three consecutive days, obviously find the prospect of a charming handsome doctor, freeing damsels in distress very warm and welcoming. Suddenly, everyone started feeling nauseated, heads spinning, breathless, you get the drift. And so one by one, we all went to the camp to consult him. He gave us advice, medicines and sometimes just a smile that did the trick. It was evening by then and there was no way we could traverse the mountains at night. So we made an unexpected stopover at Pang, our friend doing much better, and secretly all us not minding one bit the extended stay.

Prepared, equipped with medicines from our dream guy and nearing Leh like never before we had only half a day of travel more. We knew we were almost near the finishing line.

The Leh valley
Source: https://pxhere.com/en/photo/1435513

Day 4

And so began the last day of the bus ride, our friend in the ambulance behind, the chirpiness and enthusiasm slowly but surely returning in the atmosphere, the mountains beginning to make sense, the Indus flowing beside us guiding us and the valleys speckled with green beckoning us.

We finally made it on the fourth day of a warm afternoon, crashed on our beds in Leh and laughed. We had all the surveys, mapping and studying to finish in three days now but we were at peace in this friendly valley with our mountain buddies overlooking and the sky as always painted in different shades of blue.

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  16. Delightful travelogue! Reminds me of the many field trips we have in the Himalayas and the memories remain etched.

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