10 July. Jispa to Leh!
We packed up and left the hotel pretty much on time. It was a beautiful morning. I had very little sleep but then that was the norm for me throughout the trip somehow (for various good reasons and just one tough night (later in Pangong).
It started off with a beautiful morning. We had packed breakfast of sandwiches and boiled eggs. Off we went into the mountains from Jispa Valley’s beautiful daybreak. Streams, tiny rivers, waterfalls, bushes of pink flowers growing along the river bank.
The mountains were barren, changing shades every now and then. Through bad roads, it was the beauty of the mountains that both distracted us and kept our spirits up.
Along the way, we stopped for breakfast. It doesn’t matter whether you have packed breakfast or not, you will still eat and drink hot tea, talk to those who run the small wayside cafes and generally be in a good mood either way. These breaks and there were numerous because of constant hydration and need to ease ourselves. Loads of pictures add up to the stock because every single mountain is different. The sun plays on the mountains and roads, a hide and seek of shadow and light.
At about 65 kms from Jispa, we slowed down because what came up on the view took our breath away. The Suraj Tal lake comes up all of a sudden. Aquamarine blue, blue skies and snowcapped barren mountains. The Suraj Tal Lake is supposed to be the source of the Bhaga River and it joins Chandra River somewhere downstream. This lies very close to the Bara-Lach-La Pass (3 kms) at an altitude of 16,000 feet approximately, in the Lahul Spiti District of Himachal.
The Lahul Spiti District itself is a challenging and mystical area, full of adventure, challenges and gorgeous, harsh landscapes.
Driving on, we got to the Bara-Lach-La Pass on the Zanskar Range. It is said that the barren land of Ladakh actually begins after this pass. Herds of sheep, mountain goats are grazed on the little vegetation that grows here.The road got pretty rough here on for quite a while. After Killing Sarai, the river was on our left. There are various camps (tented) along the road, dotting the landscape in red and yellow all through to Sarchu. Numerous treks begin here I am told.
Ours was through the Gata Loops. The hairpin bends were sharp, 21 of them that take you from an elevation of 13,000 ft to almost 15,500 ft. There on the climb takes you to as high s 16,700 ft altitude, thin air, pure oxygen (except for the vehicle exhaust) and we got to Pang finally at around a quarter to three in the afternoon, running terribly late.
A hunt for Sonam Aunty’s Dhaba recommended by Vaneeta, we settled in for the warmth of Ladakhi hospitality, a difficult make-shift loo to relieve ourselves (this is important, no laughing matter) and general stretch and chatter. Here is a little help for women on the go. There is a great product to travel with. It is called PeeBuddy that is easy to use and disposable (there are about 20 in a pack). There are also the reusable devices like ZONTOM SILICONE FREEDOM for standing up and urinating that you can purchase. Amazon has these products readily available. I would totally recommend these for use as they are convenient, help you stay away from the disease at dirty urinals and be comfortable.
Lunch took over 45 minutes, consisting of dal (lentels) chawal (rice) sabzi (vegetables), roti (flatbread) sabzi, noodles for yours truly (for the umpteenth time – I never once ordered Maggi though). The Dhaba is a small cosy place with wooden beds one can also lie down and catch a snooze if needed. The dhaba bustled, fed us, and we were on our way post a customary picture with Sonam Aunty (which hopefully, someday will help another traveller feel welcome or I’d like to think so.)
Serious picking of pace was needed and fortunately, the roads got better. The Moriri Plains were crossed quickly as the road got better but deceptively bumpy. Pictures taken, horses grazing , desert winds kicking up a storm along the distant hillsides, all in all very breathtaking, and it felt good. Somewhere between to our right, behind those mountains was the Tso Kar Lake (which will have to wait for another trip).
More loops and the terrain changed from yellow to coppery, wine pink and what have you. The pictures give you an idea but trust me, nothing can describe the real thing and the awe one feels. We stopped at a clear spring, icy cold water. Shared our packed breakfast with the chaps who were working around the area, splashed our face with it, drank water from the spring and then drove on.
Rumtse was dotted with green trees, paddy fields and yellow mustard fields. Against the start mountains of almost coppery shade, it makes for a beautiful space to be in. Pitstop for tea refresher before we headed out again. Our next stop would be the first fuel pump so that the Audi and the Scorpio gets topped up. We did have jerrycans full of reserve fuel but why touch them yet.
The Karu Cantonment is a few kms ahead of our fuel spot. To the right of the cantonment is Hemis (but that’s for the next day).
After fuelling, we ran into the most gorgeous of sunsets. It was the best thing to happen. It lifted our tired bones instantly and it was just what we needed to cover the rest of the distance.
All along through Thiksey, and Shey, the gorgeous colours played out in the sky.
This was one of our most gruelling drives. 325kms in one day – ridden with beautiful smooth roads and treacherously bad ones. We had a drizzle en route, watched people stop by to play with snow that was still to melt, though those were very small stretches. Entire mountainsides either had beautiful roads or those cleared post landslide and made worse by rainfall. Fortunately the weather was with us most of the way, the air getting thinner.
Welcome to Leh indeed. We finally got to Spic n Span Hotel as twilight closed in. Tired, exhilarated, full of a sense of achievement at having done that long a stretch in a day.
All of us sat out, basking in the welcome we got from the staff and everyone had that incredible expression – did we really do those 325kms all in one day? Aye!
© Sandhya Suri