Through the roads of Ladakh

Through the roads of Ladakh

Ladakh, the land of monks and monasteries - that was my initial impression of the world's highest cold desert before I boarded the flight to Leh two weeks back.
But when I landed there with my better half and younger son, there was one more characteristic of the landscape, military.

The olive green uniforms of our brave soldiers dotted the barren mountains, lending some greenery to the monotonous landscape.

I had read, heard and discussed the ravishing beauty and tough life on high altitude on umpteen occasions. But Ladakh was going to be my first encounter with the mighty mountains. It must be seen to be believed.

The minus temperature hit me the moment I stepped out of the flight. We were welcomed with a smile and a local Ladakhi greeting 'jullay' (hello) by our vehicle driver, who would drive us through the harsh terrain. He was certainly a hospitable and warm company in an inhospitable and cold terrain.

The 50 km drive from the airport to our guest house left me breathless, not just because of thin air but also due to the sight of our brave soldiers braving the extreme weather under low oxygen conditions.

After acclimatising for a day, we went around visiting the monasteries, nestled in tranquil and small hamlets.

The visit to the Hall of Fame war memorial was special. The walls and corridors were
decorated with memoirs of our wars with enemy countries, constantly reminding us of the sacrifices made by our mighty warriors.

A cup of hot tea at the historic Pathar Sahib Gurudwara rejuvenated my senses. By dusk, we were back to the comfort of our blankets and Bukhari; a traditional Kashmiri room heater.

The next day, we cruised through the snowy and slippery roads to visit the famous
Pangong Lake (famous as '3 Idiots' lake).

Traversing through the beautiful valleys, frozen rivulets, alternating between sand dunes and hard rocks, never had I seen the landscapes changing so swiftly.

After crossing Chang La, claimed to be the second highest motorable road in the world at the height of 17,688 ft above sea level, a hot cup of ginger tea at the frozen Pangong Tso was bliss. Another four hours drive from Pangong Tso, amidst stark slopes and boulder fields, brought us to the breathtaking Nubra Valley.

While the views were hypnotic, the scenery was frequently punctuated by the sight of broken vehicle parts lying scattered on mountain slopes, reminding us of the dangers of manoeuvring the mountain curves.

Few miles into the valley, we reached our destination Hunder, a small village on banks of river Shyok. The monotony of the landscape was broken by the two-humped Bactrian camels walking gaily on the sand dunes. On our return journey to Leh next day, we took was a different route via Khardung La. The imposing Khardung pass at a height of about 18,388 feet was certainly the most striking and precarious road I had driven on. It took us 40 minutes to cross the 500 meters slippery trail of mud and snow. There was a convoy of military and civilian vehicles stuck up at the pass, and the sight of the cars skidding off the road did make my heart skip a few beats!

Thanks to our experienced driver, we safely touched the world's highest motorable road.

As we got down, the cold winds slapped our faces and we were shivering and struggling to capture the moment in our cameras. Just then, I noticed a few army officers lost in conversation, oblivious to the freezing winds. I wondered whether I was getting too old or these men were made of iron! I turned around and saw my elder son treading the path with the same ease. "After all, he too is an army officer", I thought to myself.

That night I went to sleep with a sense of joy and pride. Having seen the hardships of high altitude, I was the proud father of a soldier posted in the mighty Himalayas, living a life less ordinary. The trip ended too soon, but as I boarded the flight back to my hometown, I knew that these reminiscences of mountains, monks, and military will be etched in my memory till the last breath.

 

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