Chadar Prologue – Around Leh

Leh!

Leh!

Day 1 ( 24th Jan ) – Arrival At Leh, Shanti Stupa, Leh Palace and Leh Market

The day started with high expectations. I had booked a non stop flight to Leh and flight duration shown was almost 3 hours. I thought it will be a small flight and so it would take so much of time. If it would have been a small flight of 25-30 people capacity then it would have been a treat for photographing Himalayas. But it was a regular flight and it stopped over at Jammu. Though I have been to Himalayas so many times before, but for the first time i got aerial view of gigantic & majestic Himalayas from the plane. When I got down at the airport by 11.30, it was sunny and temperature was -5°. Till we were standing in the sun, a thermal and a fleece jacket was warm enough. But the minute I stepped inside the Airport building, I realised what -5° is.

Leh was already covered with 3-4 inch snow. In the night temperature would drop to -15°. The hotel where I stayed had heaters which would be on morning 6 to 10 am and evening 5 to 10 pm. Bathroom was like the “21 Fahrenheit” Ice Lounge, an icy room, with no running water. All the pipe lines were frozen, So there was a barrel for help. But unfortunately the water in barrel to had a thick layer of ice. This is when i realized the real reason why westerners use tissues. After taking rest for a while, I went down for lunch, but nothing was available except Maggi! I had hot Maggi and started for Shanti Stupa, about 2km walk from my hotel. The view of Leh from Stupa was awesome. I took another route – the steps to climb down as I wanted to go to Leh market and Palace. For my whole walk from my hotel to Shanti Stupa to Leh market, I crossed only 7/8 people and few furry, lazy dogs in those 6/7 kms. Whole city appeared as if it was under curfew. Due to winter, only a part of Leh was open. Most of the hotels in Changspa, where we were staying, were closed. No shops, restaurants, nothing was open. There was hustle-bustle only in market place. When I reached Leh Palace even that was closed due to winter and I could see only the exteriors. So I went to inquire about a taxi to take me on a day tour around Leh for the next day. But i found it too expensive for a single person. While going back I met Sudhir in the market, he was on the same flight as I was, and he was staying in the same hotel. By the time we met it was already quite dark. After the sun set, it started becoming very cold again and we started walking back to the hotel.

Day 2 (25th Jan)– Hemis, Thiksey, Shey & Stok

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Stakna Monastery near Karu

I got up early morning and got ready to go to Shey, Thikse, Hemis and Stok. Sudhir & I went to bus stand and there were no buses for Hemis. All the vehicles were going only till Shey. There was a mass prayer at Shey. We had planned to go to Hemis (further most point) and visit all the places on our way back. We took bus till Shey and at shey fortunately we got a lift in a heated pick up till Karu. From Karu we hired a taxi for Hemis. The road to Hemis was full of snow and the driver had to drive very carefully and not exceed 20/kmph. Hemis monastery is deep inside the mountains, its the oldest monastery and a seat for the senior most lama in the area. The monastery is beautiful. In most of the area photography was not allowed. All the water streams in Hemis were frozen and small kids were playing skating kind of games on the frozen streams. Hemis was much more colder than Leh and all other places we visited that day. To enter prayer halls we had to remove our shoes and socks which made our feet numb and then it was difficult to walk with only 2 layers of socks on. The same taxi got us to Thikse. This monastery is build on a small hill. The steps route to this monastery was through old village, built on the same hill. This monastery too was closed but the view from the top was awesome. One can keep a watch on vast area from here. There is an old Buddhist library on the top most floor of the monastery. A side of the monastery was very windy. While coming down we took a trail towards Shey. By the time we reached Shey, at was about 2 and we were too hungry so we found out small shop, Thupka & momos were our lunch! Since it was mass prayer at Shey, it was kind of small fare, approximately 2000 people had gathered from places around. We visited monastery, this was newly built and had advanced kind of interior. From Shey we hired a shared taxi to Zompa and from Zompa we hired a taxi to go to Stok palace. But the palace too was closed. From there we had good view of Leh and Choglamsar. When we reached back to Leh it was just 5. So we took a walk in Tibetan market, on our way back to hotel.

Day 3 (26th Jan) – Republic Parade, Ice hockey and Shanti Stupa

Ice Hockey on the 26th

Ice Hockey on the 26th

It was quite relaxed morning, since republic day parade started by 11. In the morning I met 3 more guys from my batch (Vinay, Pathik and Pavan) and then we all went to see ice hockey match at Karzu pond. It was 1st time I saw ice hockey game. And the game is fastest game I have ever seen. We went to Polo ground around 11, where republic day ceremony was. It was a good to see many localites attending flag hoisting ceremony. Then we had Thupka and Momo at Tibetan restaurant. After a small walk in market, we came back to Shanti gust house and rest of the people took some rest while I worked for an hour. We started for Shanti Stupa by 5. By the time we reached up, sun had already set. But we got some good photos of golden peaks around Leh. We waited for some more time and we got to see moon rise. Its a full-moon night and moon rise looked really picturesque.

Day 4 (27th Jan) Lamayuru

Today we ( Pavan, Pathik, Vinay & I) had planned to go to Lamayuru, Alchi and Likir. We had booked a xylo, and Vani and Usha too joined us for the trip. We stared by 8am after having our breakfast. The route is very scenic. We enjoyed taking snaps on our way to Lamayuru. Just before Khalsi, army was constructing a bridge and they made us stop for 20 odd mins till they finished their work. We stopped at so called magnetic hill, a frozen water fall and moon land on our way. When we reached Lamayuru and it was closed but we had awesome view from Lamayuru, we took some good snaps and we started back. We had planned to stop at a panjabi dhaba at Khalsi for lunch. When we reach Khalsi, People there told us that army is closing the road for 3 days to construct the bridge. We skipped our lunch and rushed to the bridge and the road was closed just 2 mins before. And there was no way it could be reopened as they already had started fixing some metal base for construction. We had to leave the vehicle and cross 1 km patch walking. While we were crossing the frozen stream I stepped on thin ice sheet (Chadar) and it broke. Piercing -10°C water gushed into my show and my foot became numb immediately. I kept walking and after 10 mins it got warm again. But lower side of my track pant had got wet and with in 5 mins the water on my track pant turned into ice. After crossing the bridge we were looking for some food, but nothing was available except Maggi. Within some time our xylo driver arranged a Maruti Omni for us. And finally again we had hope to visit Alchi and Likir.

The 'moonland' at Lamayuru

The ‘moonland’ at Lamayuru

After traveling for an hour we took right turn to Alchi and rear tyre got punctured. Driver instantly changed the tyre and we were about to seat inside, we realised the tyre did not have enough air. So we skipped the plan to go to Alchi and we started walking towards nearest village – Saspol. Pathik and driver went ahead to check for Air. Till we reached Saspol they had managed to get tyre from some local omni owner. And finally we started back to Leh. Now only Patthar Sahib was on the way and easily accessible Gurudwara. So we stopped at Gurudwara and had awesome food at Langar. We have had nothing till then (4 ) after our breakfast in the morning so we were very hungry. After finishing all this adventure we reached Leh by 5. Then we had to go to market to get gumboots as it was told to us by our organizers last minute. We got the gumboots and had Samosa chat and Jalebi at Neha Snacks in the market and came back by 6.30. We then got introduced with all other participants and it was good to see a young group.