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Stok Kangri The expedition — Day 7: Shang-Pu to Gangpoche

The trek from shang-pu to gangpoche would be a long one as per rawat. It would take us approximately 6 hrs to reach gangpoche. The inital plan was to camp at mato doksa and then proceed towards gangpoche the next day. However this had to be altered as there was no source of water at mato doksa and the distance to gangpoche is an hour or so.

As usual we started the trek after stretching exercises and breakfast. It was a the same routine as the previous day after climbing for 45min we took a break for a short while before moving ahead. The overcast skies was making us little cold and our jackets came out when we took a break

Break Time

The climb continued again and we were moving at a good pace. To reach gangpoche we had to cross two passes one being shang-pu la which is at a height of 16500 mts and another pass which is much smaller

We reached shang-pu la after a long walk on flat terrain. A short break and the climb began. It was slow moving as we had to stop after couple of steps to get some air into our lungs before moving ahead. The altitude also played a major role as this was the first pass of this we were climbing. Slow and steady progress continued and soon we reached the top of the pass.

Climbing the Shang-Pu la

We could see our camp site which was quite a long way across. Luckily we had an hour break at mato dohksa for lunch and a we spent the time relaxing while waiting for the ponies to come with our lunch. Once lunch was consumed it was a non stop march till the gangpoche.

After climbing the steep incline it was a full descent on a very narrow trail till we hit the river. After filling our bottles it was time to climb another pass which was not so high as shang-pu la. The trail was quite narrow and any slip would send us down the valley. Walking slowly we made our way to the next pass where we had another break.

The trail to gangpoche

We could see our camp site from the pass and to reach there we had to descend and cross another small stream which we did. Finally after 6 hours of trekking we reached gangpoche. The camp is situated in middle of now-where with snow capped mountains surrounding us on one side and a closed valley on the other.

Snow clad mountains @ Gangpoche

Evening was spent discussing about various foods and other topics. Dinner was served which we had under a camp fire and retired for the day as we had the climb to mankrmao the next day

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Stok Kangri The expedition — Day 6: Shang to Shang-pu

The actual trek began only today and it was also relatively short one for about 4 hrs.  We were asked to be out with the bags by 7 and after some stretching exercises we began the trek. We would be crossing lot of streams and boulder crossing and we were asked to wear our shoes.

The trek began after our breakfast and we started the long walk towards shang-pu. The initial path was on a well marked trail which lead from the camp and continued towards the river.

The march towards shang-pu

The path continued and after crossing couple of small streams and walking for an hour we took a small break. Discussions continued and after a short while we continued the walk.
Leaving the well marked towards we took a different path while consisted of boulders. Again we had to cross couple of big and small streams and continue our journey. Rajmohan rawat helped us by putting some stones in the flowing river which would create a makeshift bridge.

Rocky path

Walking for some more time we took another break after crossing another stream. We were asked to keep to the right to the river and keep going. Another hour or so and the sky became overcast threatning to open up at any moment. Jackets and other rain gear came out luckily there was only a slight drizzle which onctinued for a while. As we reached shang-pu the drizzle turned into a full hailstorm. There was a couple shepherd huts for which ran for cover. The hailstorm lasted briefly and soon the sun was out.

Our tents arrived shortly and were shown how to pitch it. Soon an interesting discussion regarding ads, domains and all things related to tech began and lasted for a while till lunch arrived.

For the accilimatization trek we were asked to climb a small hill and for those interested in goin further there was a ridge to be crossed to reach another hill which has a pile of stones. Me prakash sir and anshul headed for the second hill beyond the ridge. After an easy climb through the first part we encountered loose stones and soil and a steep climb which lasted for an hour. Finally me and praskash sir reached the second pile with anshul close behind us. It was a moment to cherish as the scenary from the top was breathtaking. With a valley on one side and lush meadows and far reaching sky on the remaining we spent some time enjoying those moments. Couple of snaps and we headed back to the camp

Shang-Pu climb

An hour of descending and we reached the camp. Hot soup was served which made our tired bodies better and after some more chit-chatting it was time for diner and nap time as we had a climb to gangpoche via mato-dhoksa the next day

Stok Kangri The Expedition — Day 5: The trek begins

When coming back from pangong we saw huge welcome signs in leh, later we came to know His Holiness The Dalai Lama would be passing by and everyone were excited to see him.

Early next morning people had lined up the street waiting to catch a glimpse of His Holiness. We too waited for the convoy to pass by. Some of the people were waiting since early morning. As expected there was a delay and after waiting for another half hour or so we could final see the car approaching.

H.H The Dalai Lama

It was back to the guest house and breakfast was served, as were told people would not cook till they saw His holiness. Once the convoy had passed, we had our breakfast and loaded our bags into the waiting cars. Extra luggage was to be kept back at the guest house itself.

As it was the first day of the trek we decided to drive down to shang village which involves a couple of hours drive from leh. We passed shey palace and took a deviation from the road going towards hemis monastery and continued towards shang village. Couple of cars had already passed us and had reached the village. We were asked to get down and after getting our daypacks we began the march to the camp site after a couple of group shots

The group

It was a short walk from the road to the camp site and we got busy chatting with the rest of the gang. We had a interesting mix of IT and Non-IT guys in the group and were sure to have an interesting time in the days to come. Soon we reached the camp site which was just across a small stream. Our bags had arrived and the tents were pitched up. After having the welcome drink which was served we got into the tents for a while.

Hills and Valley of shang

Soon lunch was served and we got back to our discussions which ranged from treks done by the guys to other topics which helped us while away couple of hours. Rammohan then asked us to go to the shang monastery which is located atop a hill as part of the acclimatization walk.

Shang Monastery

The climb took half hour and when we reached the top we found it to be closed, however we told we could go inside. The lamma i.e the head priest was out and we made use of the time goin to the top of the monastery.

Deepak who also had a SLR n myself along with vinay began a discussion about composition, exposure etc. The laama arrived shortly and we went down.  The shang monastery as per the laama was built over 800 yrs ago. The inner part of the monastery retains the original look, the pillars are continously reinforced.  The laama also showed us some old prayer books which the monastery houses. Spending some time there and seeking the laama’s blessing we headed back to camp.

More discussions continued with rawat and he shared some of his experiences while on treks. As the sun went down we had our dinner and retired to our tents as the actual trek would begin from tomorrow

Stok Kangri The expedition — Day 4: Pangong-Tso

Pangong lake is one of the largest lakes in ladakh. Covering a distance of over 300 kms the major portion of the lake lies in china. However there’s a vast amount of water present on the indian side as well.  The lake is 5 km (3.1 mi) wide at its broadest point. All together it covers 604 sq. km. During winter the lake freezes completely,

The lake is one of the popular destinations in ladakh and is a must do for any tourist in ladakh. The lake lies in a protected area and requires permit to visit it. Getting the permit is easy. One needs to submit their ID proof and Rs 220 at the office along with a form, wait for a while and the permit is granted.

As we had got the permit the day before itself, we started our journey to pangong. The lake is 130 kms from leh and takes about 5 hrs to reach. We had to reach the guest house as we had a briefing session and had to complete the formalities before starting the trek. An early morning start is essential if we need to return back the same day. One can also stay back for the night as pangong has few accomodations and return back the next day.

We passed through some amazing scenary and the roads took us to changla pass which is the second highest pass at 17586 feet.

Spectacular scenary and Changla Pass

Ice covered mountains greeted us as we neared changla pass. At such a high altitude breathing is difficult as air is thin and oxygen is not enough. With wind blowing it was difficult to stay out in the open for too long. A couple of snaps of changla and we headed off towards pangong

Ice clad mountains

There was more amazing scenery in store as we moved towards pangong. Cameras kept rolling as did the vehicle. The drive continued for few more hours and we saw a very small lake which we mistook to be pangong

Mountains and lakes

We reached the lake soon and were amazed by the size of the lake. It stretches as far as the eye can see. There are plenty of hotels at the bank for the hungry.

First look at pangong

Me and anshul went for a walk along the bank which stretches for quite a long way. There’s also a road which leads to the far end where a scene in the movie 3 idiots was shot. The lake has become famous once the movie came out and we even found a hotel named after movie.  Experimenting with light and shadows we tried various compositions while trying to cover the vast landscape.

Few shots of the lake

An hour of walking we reached the far side of the lake, the road also ends here and we could see the lake at its widest. More photos were clicked and when we were about to leave we found suhas, pradeep and bharani also coming the same way. Spending some time lazing the shore and few group shots we headed back to the car

Wide angle view

A short shower caught us unawares when coming back. Luckily we were close to the place where the car was parked, we rushed to the resturant and ordered our lunch. Due to the high crowd there, there was a delay in serving. Finally we bid adeiu to pangong at 1.30 and headed back to leh.

There was a briefing scheduled at 6 by bramha, me and anshul decided to go to the market to do some last min purchases, however that had to be postponed as we were asked to assemble in the courtyard for the breifing. After completing the formalities, we were given a short briefing about the trek and the main men who would be heading the trek, Tsering and Rajmohan Rawat were introduced to us.

After a Q&A round we headed to our rooms all excited to start the trek the next day.

Stok Kangri The Expedition –Day 3: Drive to Leh(Continued)

It was a slightly delayed start to the day and we first headed to the lamayaru monastery which is located top the hill and was only a couple of minutes from the guest house.

The lamayaru monastery is one of the older monasteries in ladakh. This monastery is one of the attractions on the way to leh, however it is in ruins. The monastery is atop a hill. Except for couple of  paintings there’s nothing else left in the monastery.

Lamayaru Monastery and paintings

Photography is prohibited inside the monastery. A few snaps of the exterior and we headed out. The smooth tarmac made driving fun and me and anshul were busy taking photos from the car.

Smooth Tarmac

While passing lamayaru we touch likhir and alchi which house some important monasteries. We decided to cover them along with basgo palace which also contains a gompa. The palace however is in ruins.

The scenary changed dramatically as we proceeded higher up. More barren mountains came into view and we could see dramatic scenary all around us. We were infact joking we had landed on a different planet owing to the change in scenary around us.

Dramatic Scenary

Alchi monastery was next to be visited and we reached there shortly. There was a big market selling items on the way to the monastery. The monstary is much inside and is made up of several small temples. Outside each of them there are boards indicating no photography is prohibited inside the sanctum sanctorum.

Here too as in other monasteries we found paintings on the walls which i found to be almost same. This must be due to my lack of knowledge about buddhism.

Alchi Monastery

One common item present in all monasteries are prayer wheels lined up which are spun. Inside the wheels there lies a paper which contains sacred mantras. The prayer bells vary in size and this is present outside.

Prayer Bells

Entry to the monastery costs Rs 20 per head which was paid. There are different figures of buddha and his teachers present inside. Since photography was prohibited we just saw the statues and took a couple of snaps from the outside and headed back to the cab.

The next stop was likhir monstary which is a different from lamayaru. There is a big buddha statue outside the monastery.

Likhir Monastery Front and Back view

We could take photos within the monastery as opposed to lamayaru and we made use of it by clicking a few and trying some different angles of clicking the buddha statue. Spending some time in the monastery we moved out before to the next destination as the sun was hitting down hard and we had to cover a lot of distance before we reached leh

Buddha Statue at Lihkir Monastary

The never ending wide roads with the horizon made a picture perfect snap which I found it hard to resist. A few group snaps and couple of snaps of the road and we were cruising along to basgo palace

Road to paradise

Basgo Palace was next to be visited and we reached there shortly. The complex contains a gompa which is still standing, however the palace itself is in ruins. This is one of the oldest monasteries in ladakh and was built in 1680.

Basgo Palace

There are other monasteries along the way however dorji told us it would be late by the time we reach leh if we try to cover all the monastaries. In order to make up time we decided to skip the remaining places. However we stopped at nimmu to see the confluence of indus and zanskar rivers which is also called “The Confluence at Nimmu”.

The confluence

Magnetic hill is another popular attraction on the way. The hill has magnetic properties which pull the vehicles downwards when placed at the specified location. This is a mystery as no one knows how it happens. We too placed our vehicle at the designated place and saw it move downwards on its own without any input from the driver.

Magnetic Hill

With the major places covered we were all set to reach Leh. Passing the Pathar Sahib Gurudwara we continued onwards and reached leh by noon.

We had decided to visit pangong lake which is a 130 kms from leh the next day. This is one of the very popular lakes in ladakh and a must visit for anyone who’s in ladakh. Since the lake lies in protected area permits are required to go there. Dorji knew the place where we could get the permits, hence we immediately headed there.  A couple of photo copies of our license/pan card etc and waiting for an hour or so we managed to get the permits.  With the permits obtained, it was then time to hunt for the accomodation. Indiahikes had booked accomodation at shanti guest house which is very close to shanti stupa.

Checking into the guest house, we were alloted rooms and after freshening up, we headed towards shanti stupa which is one of main stupa’s in leh and the most visible landmark.

The stupa is present atop a hill. One can either drive all the way to the top or climb the stairs and reach the top. Me, anshul and suhas decided to climb the stairs as we would get used to the demands of trekking which would start in couple of days. We got a very good view of Stok Kangri while climbing and we were busy discussing about the trek.

View of Stok and Leh

A couple of breaks and we reached the top. The shanti stupa is one of the biggest landmarks in leh and the design resembles the peace pagoda in darjeeling. The stupa is pretty big and attracts a lot of visitors. The stupa is present atop a hill in chanspa overlooking the leh market. The Shanti Stupa holds the relics of the Buddha at its base, enshrined by the 14th Dalai Lama himself.

Shanti Stupa

Spending some time atop the stupa while admiring the architecture and discussing about stok and the upcoming trek we headed back to the guest house. While in the guest house we met nutty, saloni and saish. A short discussion with them and it was off to our room as dorji had said he would pick us up at 6 the next day for the long drive to pangong.

Stok Kangri The expedition — Day 2: The drive to LEH

It was an early morning start as Dorji the driver had arrived at the hotel at 6 as per schedule. We settled the bill with the hotel management and loaded our backpacks and got ready for the long drive to leh. A customary group shot and we were off.

All set to LEH(From L to R – Anshul, Suhas, Pradeep, Bharani and Me)

Traversing through the empty streets of sringar which would come alive in couple of hours we proceeded towards sonmarg another popular tourist spot in srinagar. An hour’s drive with a few photos of the lush green mountains enroute took us to sonmarg where we stopped for breakfast. Dorji asked us to pack anything if required as we wont be getting anything on the way.

Sonmarg and lush green mountains

Spending about half hour or we continued onwards. The scenery improved as we moved and me and anshul who had SLR cameras were busy with various compositions as the journey continued.

The roads uphill were narrow and the border roads organization (BRO) in charge of maintaining the roads in the mountains were busy with some road widening work. Naturally when any work goes on there are going to be traffic jams. We were stuck in one such jam for a short while and this gave us an oppurtunity to click a few snaps of the distant mountains while waiting for the jam to clear.

Distant Mountains and Traffic Jams

It was smooth sailing once the jam cleared and we were goin at a good speed. A couple of hours of travel and we reached Drass which is supposed to be the second coldest inhabited place on earth for lunch.

Drass

After lunch we were given the option of having namkeen chai which was supposed to be a cure of acidity and headaches. As this was new to us we decided to give it a try and though it was tasting a bit odd we enjoyed the taste. Soon it was time to move and we were off.  Another couple of hrs and we reached kargil the place where the kargil war was fought in 1999. There is a war memorial dedicated to the brave soldiers who laid down their lives to protect the country.

Kargil War Memorial

The war memorial set in the backdrop of tiger hill and tololing which were captured by the pakistan army and was taken back later by the brave jawans. A soldier was explaining about the war and the significance of the hills present. There is also a huge flag which has the indian tri-color hoisted and the names of the brave soldiers who had died during the war

Flag and names of the martyrs

 

 

 

There is also a museum which has scale models of the key points of the mountains and photos of the battle.

Kargil war museum

There were huge no of bikers from karnataka who had stopped by at the memorial. Many of them were doin the leh-srinagar route this year after completing the delhi-chandrigarh-manali-leh route last year. A couple of exchanges with them and we moved on.

Before leaving for the trip, I had asked few of my friends who had been to ladakh and also searched on the net regarding the stay options enroute as it would take us couple of days to reach leh, Many of my friends had recommended lamayaru which is 100 kms from kargil as the place to stay.  There is not much to do in kargil and also it would take a lot of time to reach leh in case we stayed at kargil. Those who commute by buses stay in kargil as buses tend to break their journey here before continuing to leh the next day.

It was agreed we would be staying at lamayaru and since we had enough time we headed there after completing our visit at the kargil war memorial. The drive continued and we soon passed mulbek which houses a large stone cut statue of maitrey buddha. Since this is one of the major attractions on the way, we stopped briefly.

Maitrey at Mulbek

There were already a sizable no of visitors there by the time we arrived. We didnt spend much time there as dorji we needed to go to lamayaru soon. A couple of snaps of the country side and we headed to our final destination lamayaru

Scenary outside Mulbek

It was sundown by the time we reached lamayaru. After searching for a while we found a guest house where we dumped our luggage and went out for a walk. Soon it was time to hit the couch after dinner as we had another long day of driving the next day

Stok Kangri The expedition– Day 1: Touchdown at srinagar

Stok Kangri present in Hemis national park in ladakh is one the highest peaks in the stok range. Towering at 6,153m or 20, 182 feet stok kangri is one of the highest trekkable peaks in the region and this was chosen for this years trek.

When indiahikes announced the trek I immediately registered for it. Saloni, Suhas and Nutty with whom I had done roopkund last year also registered for the trek. We had planned to do this trek last year itself when we were discussing our options for the next trek in the himalayas after finishing roopkund.

With the bookings done, we got a mail from indiahikes regarding the travel plans and a chain mail started with various people pitching in with their travel plans. After a long mail thread, and few calls, me, suhas, anshul, bharani and pradeep who were are from bangalore decided to meet up in srinagar.

Tickets were booked by suhas for me, himself and anshul and I booked the accomodation at YHAI srinagar for the 5 of us and we met up at the airport on 8th morning. Pradeep and Bharani had already reached srinagar and had checked into the hotel. We reached srinagar by noon and reached the hotel in an hour or so. After checking in and freshening up we decided to head out for a tour of srinagar.

First to visit was the famous DAL lake which was just a couple of kms from the hotel. The lake is one of the major tourist attractions and the best way to see the lake is to take the shikara a small boat which is used by the locals to ferry people across the lake. There are houseboats lined across the lake which one can rent for a night or for longer stays depending on the duration. The rent for the houseboats starts from 3000 and goes upwards depending on the boat size and other factors such as rooms etc

Dal Lake and Shikara

We took a shikara for an hour and half after negotiating the price with the person. We could see various shaped houseboats and named after various places. The shikaras are the main source of transportation on the dal lake and during winter when the lake freezes people walk over it and even play cricket and even ride cycles on it.

Houseboats on the lake

As we went ahead the lake widened and we soon reached a small garden admist the lake where we took a short break and couple of snaps before getting back to the boat.

Wider view of Dal Lake

As our ride continued towards the inner parts of the lake we were shown the floating market which happens every morning. People who are living on the lake each day get their wares to sell and others can buy the same. People living on the house boats can also participate. As we rowed we could see different kinds of shops selling kashmir shawls, dry fruits etc.

Floating Markets

We could see quite a lot of grass present on the surface and upon asking we were told the grass is cultivated here and is harvested and sold in town. We even happened to see a huge grass cutting machine which went about doing its job. Upon asking how much it would cost to build the houseboat, we were told it costs anywhere between few lakhs to a crore and it takes more than a year to build a houseboat. Soon our ride was finished and we came back to dry land after paying the shikara owner.

As Srinagar is popular tourist spot local transport can get pretty pricey for tourists as the cab and autorickshaw drivers can charge exhorbitant prices and one needs to bargain with them to get the prices in our favour.

Srinagar has quite a few gardens and we visited the famous ones such as a mughal and nishant gardens. We stuck a deal with a autodriver to cover shankracharya temple, Shalimar and nishant gardens, hazartabal shrine, nagin lake and old city before dropping us back to the hotel.

Our first point of interest was the shankaracharya temple situated atop the hill. We had to pass a check post where we were asked if we had any cigarrates, or plastics etc in our bags. One needs to go empty handed to the temple as we need to keep our cameras, bags etc in the vechile before leaving to the temple. After a mandatory frisking at the entrance we climbed up the steps and reached the shirne. We could see people going up and coming down while chanting prayers. We reached the top pretty soon and went to the temple.

Spending some time at the temple we headed back to the auto and proceeded towards mughal gardens while stopping a brief while to take a few shots of Srinagar from the top

View of Srinagar

The next place in our list was the Shalimar garden which is one of the popular gardens in srinagar. This along with nishat and Chashm-e-shahi make up the mughal gardens which is a must visit for any one visiting srinagar.

Purchasing tickets we entered the shalimar garden. The garden has variety of flowers and with the backdrop of hills it looks very pretty,

Shalimar Garden

The long fountains with continous flowing water give the garden a smoothing feeling. However the weather wasnt ideal for us to enjoy the garden as the sun was beating down on us and we soon exited the complex after taking a few photos.

We then proceeded towards nishat bagh which is located a short distance from the shalimar gardens. The nishat bagh is constructed differently when compared to shalimar garden.

There is a huge fountain complex and small waterfalls dotting the garden. The garden is again set in the mountain backdrop. As usual the sun was still high up and the temperature was soaring thus preventing us from enjoying the garden, A couple of shots and we headed out

Nishat Bagh

Hazartbal mosque which is one of the popular mosques in srinagar was the next destination to be visited. It was already evening by the time we visited the mosque.

Hazratbal Shrine

A short tour of the outer portion of the mosque and we went out of the complex and to the auto.

Nagin lake was the second lake to be visited. This lake is smaller compared to dal lake. We found many houseboats here too and as it was evening it was less crowded compared to dal lake. As the light was fading we couldnt do much and we headed to the last destination, the old city where we did some shopping before heading back to the hotel

Sunset @ nagin lake

We met bharani and pradeep at the hotel and discussed the places to see on the way to leh and possible accmodation options in lamayuru and headed back to our room, as we had a long drive to leh the next day and we had to leave early by 6 the next day

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