“Jhuley” which means “Victory to the Gods!” is the most common greeting heard everywhere in Ladakh. I realised how true it was, when we, 19 of us from Mumbai Karnatak Society, Matunga & around, decided to go to Ladakh. I didnt know much about the terrain, but had only heard Devrai, my dear husband, mention Pangong, Zanskar, Lamayuru etc. which sounded very much foreign to me. We were really excited to be visiting these exotic places.
This was Devrai’s third visit to Ladakh. But this time he was leading us with Ganesh Kamath, our dear friend from Karnatak Society. They left few days in advance to make arrangements for the entire team. Our trip was divided in to 2 parts. Ladakh – Land of Passes & Kashmir Valley. To visit Ladakh by road, there is a window period of 3 months, from July to September, rest of the year many of the high passes are blocked by ice.Some people prefer to take a direct flight to Leh, but we flew into Srinagar & drove to Leh to get acclimatised to the altitude & secondly to witness, unparalleled scenery on the road trip. From Srinagar airport we travelled to Kargil, crossing the dreaded Zoji La. In Ladakhi “La” means a mountain pass. This was the first of the many passes which we would be crossing in our trip.From Zoji La to Kargil the road is so close to the Line of Control that walls are built next to the roads to protect vehicles from enemy fire. When we crossed Tiger Hill, we were reminded of the sacrifices of our brave soldiers and stopped our vehicle for two minutes to pay homage. Respect for our jawans increased manifold seeing the extreme topogrophy- a land of freezing winds, burning hot sunlight, a cold desert in the rain shadow of the awe inspiring Great Himalayas.
Next day our destination was Leh. Our first stop was at a place called Mulbek. It’s chief attraction is a 9 meter high rock sculpture of Maitreya, the Future Buddha. Our second stop was the monastery(Gompa in Ladakhi) of Lamayuru. It is one of the largest and oldest gompas in Ladakh, with a population of around 150 permanent monks resident.A particular landscape on the highway near Lamayuru is called Moonland – this looks similar to landscape on moon.Then on we drove to the sangam of two great rivers the Indus or Sindhu (from where our country got our name) & Zanskar. Our last stop before Leh was the mysterious Magnetic Hill . The hill is alleged to have magnetic properties strong enough to pull cars uphill. We reached Leh by evening.I saw how popular Leh-Ladakh is among international tourists. There were hordes of foreign tourists & Indian tourists were a minority.
We visited local sights on the next day which included the gompas of Hemis, Thiksey & Shey.The highlight of the trip was the school featured in movie 3 Idiots named “Druk White Lotus School”, founded in 2001 by His Holiness Gyalwang Drukpa.This school had won three World architecture Awards even before the release of ‘3 idiots’ which has made the school more famous. Now, it has a cafe named “Rancho’s cafe”. Our last stop was the Shanti Stupa atop a mountain at Leh. By then we had become very familiar with the deities like MaaTara, Padmasambhava & the adornings within the gompas like the Thanka, Mandala, Prayer wheels, multi coloured prayer flags, Dorje etc.
Our itinerary would now take us to the exotic locales.Next day we started early as were going on the Highest Motorable Road in the world, Khardung La at 18,380 feet where you see a board pointing out health hazards at such high altitudes & warns you to leave the place within 15 minutes. But we were so excited with the snow and clicking snaps with the army jawans that we didn’t realise that we were there for an hour when all the time Devrai was pointing at the board. We realised the reason, when some of our team members started complaining of splitting headaches & breathlessness. From then on nobody questioned Devrai’s instructions. From Khardung La we crossed in to the Nubra Valley with the beautiful Shyok river & the dessert sand dunes at Diskit. We rode on the double humped Bactrian camels & stayed in tents, for some of us first time in their lives.The night we spent at Hunder in the tent & the apricots we plucked off the trees & ate will be etched in our minds forever.
Next stop was Pangong Lake ( Tso in Ladakhi). Enroute when we crossed Chang La at 17,500 feet, our group was back inside the vehicles within 10 minutes to avoid the recurrence of “Khardunglitis”. The trip to Pangong was like no other, what with the sightings of the marmots- large ground squirrels, Kiangs -largest of the wild asses which is native to the Tibetan Plateau, the herds of Yaks & of course the lake itself, one third of which is in India & two thirds in China.It was mesmerising with it’s different shades of blue which you would rarely see in nature. And there was the trip to the 3 Idiot point which has become a tourist attraction after the movie. Pangong was the coldest place we encountered on the trip. Neeraj Chandaver, the youngest member of the group scaled Garnet Hill which is next to the lake & had a grand adventure. Returning from Pangong, Devrai stopped at a Yak herder’s tent where Yak milk, Yak butter & Yak paneer was available. Here we tasted Ladakhi tea which is topped with Yak butter locally called “Gud Gud Chai”.
We came to our last day in Leh. Ten members of the group went on a white water rafting trip which was a thrilling experience for them all. The others like me spent the entire day shopping. Leh is a Shopper’s Paradise.There is something here for everybody from artefacts, jewellery to trekking gear. I must mention our gastronomic experience with Tibetan food such as Thukpa- noodle soup with meat or vegetables, Teemok- steamed bread eaten with either mutton or vegetable curry, momos are like our ukadiche modak stuffed with either meat or vegetables. I should not forget to mention our vehicle drivers Mr. Lotus & Mr. Fungshuk who within 9 days had become part of our team. We would be missing them during the next leg of our trip. Thus ended our sojourn in Leh.
We departed Leh to return to the Kashmir Valley. Enroute to Pahalgam we stopped at the last monastery of the trip at Alchi. We also stopped at Sonamarg where we had the best “Kahwa”( Kashmiri spiced tea) of the trip.Here we took some time to visit “Thajiwas Glacier”. We reached Pahalgam crossing the safron fields at Pampore & the cricket bat factories near Anantnag. Next day we did local sight seeing covering Aru Valley where Shahrukh Khan was shooting for his forthcoming Yash Chopra film, Chandanwari -the starting point of the Amarnath Yatra & the Betab point where this movie was filmed.We strolled along the Lidder river. Pahalgam is like a beautiful picture postcard with its pine trees & rolling meadows. From Pahalgam we moved to Srinagar, our last stop of the trip & did local sightseeing covering the Moghal Gardens -Chashmeshahi, Nishat & Shalimar & the mosque at Hazrat Bal, before we moved into the Houseboats on Dal Lake, which were going to be our residence for the next three days. Staying in the houseboat was like icing on the cake. You sit on the deck & watch the shikaras move about silently & smoothly. Here you dont go to the market, it is the market which comes to you. I was surprised to see the wide variety of goods being sold on the shikaras from jewellery, Kashmiri handicrafts to kebabs from live barbeques & the costliest of wines.The house boats are aesthetically decorated with wall to wall carpets , fine carved wooden furniture. There is homely warmth to your stay as the owners have their residence behind the houseboats & they take very good care of you. It was interesting to watch the kids go to school or ladies going to the land market using the shikara like we use an auto rickshaw here. Next day we made a day trip to Gulmarg & some members travelled by Gondola (rope way) to Khilanmarg. In Srinagar we tasted Kashmiri Wazwan or cuisine,and dined on items like Rishta,Yakhni, Goshtaba, Tabakmaz, Nadur (lotus stem)Yakhni etc.
All good things have to come to an end & so too our trip. But the memories of the full Moon rising over serene Dal lake, the wide expanses of Ladakh & chantings of Om Mani Padme Hum linger on…..!
– Mrs. Kavita Devrai Shanbhag