This place is a dream. Only a sleeper considers it real….
I have been to Leh for my Chadar trek. The weather report was not good for travel, so I have to add buffer days before and after the trekking schedule. Flight delays and cancellation is quite normal during winter. The temperate while I land at the airport was -14°c, experiencing for the first time in my life. I get off the flight with out wearing jacket, realised it was not really good idea, have to run to the bus and grab the jacket. A monk was smiling at me showing some body warmer packs and his blanket. The airport and the mountains were snow covered. I grab a taxi and check in the hotel which was included in the package. In Leh, only postpaid connection of BSNL, Airtel and Aircel works. During that time there was not internet at all in whole Leh region because of optical fiber issue. I don’t have any idea about which places to visit as I didn’t shortlist places to visit(was lazy, planned to Google while moving). So I have to ask everyone for possible places and collect random travel agency brochures from hotel and restaurants to find out destinations around Leh/Ladakh.
I went roaming in the Leh market, had talk with a random taxi guy and decided to visit monasteries. The roads, mountains, buildings, everything on the way was covered in snow. The driver was not quite sure whether we can reach Hemis monastery, since part of our route was closed because of snow during previous week. Our car was small, so the route was a bit challenging. You can see at least a military camp in all 5km distance, emergency medical support and many military vehicles passing while you are traveling in Leh. Car was struggling to reach Hemis Monastery negotiating the snow covered road and hair pin turns in between mountains. All the monasteries I visited are located on a hill top. So we have to struggle a little bit to get to the monastery and mostly the access to the top most temple used to be closed to the public. I love the silence, the Tibetan chants and the positive vibe inside the monastery.
Thanks to taxi driver, he agreed to give me his spare local SIM card for me for the time being. So finally I got covered on phone, but still no internet at all. Then I left for 10 days epic Chadar trek!!!. We shorten the trip and came back one day early than expected. We checked in Mahey Retreat hotel.
In Leh during winter very few hotels have running water. Some of our trek mates were planning for Pangong lake. But most of them left gave up the plan because the road to Pangong lake was closed due to bad weather. I heard there is Dosmoche festival in Leh palace during the weekend, so I decided to stay while most of others left. During the stay in the hotel, I met three wildlife photographers. They came for Snow Leopard trekking. They used to come to Leh during this time of the year. No surprises, Snow leopard trekking is added to my checklist.
With out internet, I couldn’t find any new places. Only thing I remember was Nubra valley, where mountains meet desert meets snow. Its 10 hour drive from Leh, so we have to stay there one day as we are traveling from Leh. I decided to go to Nubra Valley. The route was via Khardung La pass(the highest motor able road). We started in the morning. After around 10 km, we met another taxi who was returning since Khardung La pass was closed due to bad weather. Another option was via Chang La pass(third highest motorable road) , Pangong Lake, Nubra and come back via Khardung La. I heard the climate was not good and the route is lethal, worth a try. So we decided to go on this long route. The beginning was pleasant and after a few kilometers, snow wind started blowing. Of course its awesome, but not for those who is traveling. The visibility was below 20meters and I was helping my driver to navigate. We helped some of the cars on the way that got stuck. We pass Changla La pass with out much hustle. Only SUVs were passing, and then we saw a small car stuck. The snow on the road was thick and he was getting stuck every 100 meters slowing us down and causing the traffic block. We also helped them, but after some time it caused huge traffic jam on both sides. Somehow we get rid of the block before getting dark. We had late lunch on the way and reached Pangong Lake in the evening. On the way we saw running horses, donkeys, even a mini storm following us till the lake. It was off season, we were only human beings near the lake and a doggie. We walk on the lake and every single drop in the lake is frozen.
Next day morning we left for Nubra valley. The route was through the villages, mostly one side of the road was mountains and the other side beautiful valley. Driver was collecting water from the running river to drink. On the way we visit Diskit Monastery, the largest and oldest Buddhist monastery in the region. Then we went to deserted Nubra valley, no humans, no camels, nothing. I saw only camel crap in the valley and I thought I will miss double hump camels. Fortunately. I was able to see was two double hump camels near the home stay where we stayed overnight.
On the way back, we realised that Khardung La pass is still closed, so we have to go back in via same route. So the trip expense almost doubled altogether. Chemeny monastery is on the way. I miss Khardung La pass , may be another time. We came back and went to the same hotel.
Next day, I explored Leh local attractions on foot including Leh palace, Shanti Stupa, Chokang vihara, Leh market, etc. I go to Shanti Stupa climbing more than 1000 steps to reach the top, later found out there is another proper road on the other side. I met my new photography friends as they were back to hotel since they changed their plan. They were supposed to go another side of Ladakh, but they got a chance to witness snow leopard in a nearby location. I got some tips about wildlife photography, snow leopard, sites to spot wildlife and Spiti valley from them. I might catch them during next February for a selfie with snow leopard.
I went to Leh market early for Dosmoche festival. I roam around there for 2 hours, but I couldn’t find anything other than the crowd. Finally I gave up, on the way back to hotel, I met the new friends. They were going to the festival with the guide. I join them and we reached there before the festival started. The show was fantastic. Dosmoche festival is celebrated with the sound of drums and thumping steps of masked Lamas from various monasteries performing their sacred dance. The Lamas are experts in astrology and tantric practices prepare the complex thread crosses to capture evil spirit.
Next day, I fly back to Delhi in the morning, then to Dubai and then drive to Abu Dhabi. While I was coming back, the snow started disappearing, giving Leh a deserted look. I love snowy Leh, I can’t even think of visiting Leh in non winter seasons. I heard about Spiti valley from my new friends, there is option for snow leopard too. So Spiti valley, see you soon…