Ladakh Diaries: Aati Kya Khardungla

Leh, the capital of Ladakh, is not like the other high-altitude towns that you visit. The topography is markedly different, and because of its height (11,480 feet), there is always the chance of altitude sickness if you do not take proper care. Two of our co-travellers had to be admitted to a hospital for half a day each, as they complained of a lack of oxygen. The best part is that they recovered quickly and were back with us the next day after spending a night at the hospital with an injection and drips being administered to them. One of them even went to Khardungla and Pangong and was with us till the end of the trip.

Also Read: The Tso-s of Ladakh

Though there are many opinions on this, I strongly feel one should take the medications (Diamox or Coca in homeopathy) as it definitely helps in keeping a person safe from altitude sickness. Also, it is extremely important to relax in the hotel on the first day that you reach Leh.

On our earlier trip, we visited most of the landmarks of Leh, so the local sites were mostly a repeat for us. Sangam (the confluence of Indus and Zanskar), Magnetic Hill, Shanti Stupa (where you get one of the best views of Leh), and Thiksey Monastery were all part of the day trip that we took.

A highlight was the Ladakh Army Hall of Fame, where we were treated to some elaborate presentations about the Kargil war and a brilliant sound and light show in the evening. The new place that we visited was the Rancho’s School made popular by the movie Three Idiots. It was more of a gimmicky place in my opinion. And finally, the Leh Market provided a good diversion for some shopping and food.

Both I and my wife are big mountain buffs, visiting the hilly terrains at least twice a year. Ladakh is special because apart from the landscape, it has some of the highest motorable passes in the world. Khardungla is often the reason many people visit Ladakh. The road goes up steeply a few kilometers after Leh to cross the 18000 feet pass in a couple of hours. Beyond that, it is the green and lovely Nubra Valley with its Diskit Monastery and then leading into Gilgit-Baltistan in Pakistan. 

We started as early as possible and soon reached the top after having breakfast of Alu Samosas at an army canteen on the way. Our convoy had about twelve Innovas, and every alternate car had an oxygen cylinder. Our driver Stanzing Namgyal was very experienced and filled us in on titbits of the village life here, and how they stock food for themselves and their animals for the harsh winters. He explained the need to have a little water every fifteen minutes when you are approaching a La (mountain passes are called La in Ladakhi). 

Khardungla looked like a celebratory place to me. There were two milestones for you to pose for the pictures so that you can announce on social media that you have been here. The toilets were clean, and there was a canteen serving warm tea and snacks. Quite a few army personnel kept a close eye on the tourists, as many fall sick complaining about lack of oxygen here. 

After crossing Khardungla, we were moving along the Shyok River towards Nubra Valley. Of all things, we came across a Bengali dhaba here, serving snacks from Bengal. The Shyok originates in Siachen, flows through Nubra Valley, and then enters the Gilgit-Baltistan state in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. We stopped at Riverside Restaurant and Rafting, where some of us had our lunch. And some others, including my wife, went for a river rafting session on the Shyok. It was late afternoon when we reached Diskit Monastery with a huge statue of Maitreya Buddha. 

Our hotel at Hunder, Nubra Valley was not too far from here. I was slightly disappointed looking at Nubra Valley, compared to what we saw in 2011. The valley has become very congested with narrow roads and lots of hotels mushrooming up here. Infrastructure is not keeping pace with the growth. If the government does not interfere, this place will soon become a concrete jungle.

The next day, we went further into the Nubra, towards the Pakistan border. As we travelled along the Shyok, we visited two villages that came into India during the 1971 war. Thang is the last village on the border, it was part of the twin villages which are now on different sides of the Line of Control. 

Turtuk is a densely populated place where you can visit the local King’s (zamindar) palace and interact with him, where he and his family gave us a presentation of his ancestral line and the history of his kingdom. We looked at the palace rooms, with the displayed arms as well as utensils used by their ancestors displayed in a very orderly fashion. The King was affable and very forthcoming in taking selfies with all of us.

The Nubra Valley leg of our tour was disappointing in parts, mainly because of the congestion we witnessed in the area. Commercialization has set in, like in parts of Uttarakhand and Himachal, and it is high time some caution is exercised about the mindless expansion of tourism infrastructure. On the flip side, the quaint villages we saw in 2011 have transformed into buzzing tourist destinations, possibly providing employment to a lot of locals.

Also Read: From Srinagar to Leh via Kargil

                   The Tso-s of Ladakh

No comments:

Post a Comment