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Stok Kangri The Expedition — Day 12: Around Leh

With the trek completed, we had an extra day to spare which we decided to make use of in the best possible manner. Suhas and few others were interested in rafting while saloni, nutty and few others wanted to rest in the guest house after a long and hard trek.

Myself and Anshul decided to visit the local places in leh. The local sightseeing began with a visit to the Leh palace which was  just walking distance from the main market. We had to take a detour and go via a longer route due to a bollywood shooting. Passing via some narrow streets we reached the palace from the back side.

First look at Leh palace

The palace is in a ruined state now and ASI is working on renovating it. One can however get a birds eye view of leh town from top of the palace.

Birds eye view of leh

We first went to the gompa which is situated just below the palace. The gompa is pretty old and as other gompas around it contains paintings depicting the teachingsof buddha. There was also a small library which cotains the manuscripts which are used by the lamas. A couple of photos there and we headed to the palace

Paintings and sacred books

With nothing much to do in the palace we head back to the city and looked for options to reach thiskey monsatery. This is one of the major monstaries in leh and one not to be missed. We were looking for bus which would drop us at thiskey however the bus had already left. With not many options left we had to settle for a shared taxi which we took for a short distance. We were told we could get buses from the place where we would stop. A short wait and we soon hopped into a bus and headed to thiskey

Thiskey monastery is situated on top of a hill and the sun was hitting hard by the time we got there. To get to the monastery we had to again climb a whole lot of steps. Before we could begin the climb we took a few snaps from below and headed to a small gompa present at the base

Thiskey Monastery

Photography was prohibited inside and we looked around briefly. Soon it was time to climb and we proceeded one step at a time. The hot weather didnt help us either as we huffed and puffed our way up. A couple of short breathers along the way and we reached the top. There was already a huge crowd by the time we reached there.

There were statues of buddha’s guru and other dieties present. As usual there were paintings on the wall as it was in other monasteries. We played around with the exposure and other settings in the camera and took a few photos before moving to other parts of the monastery. The monastery is huge and contains various sections

Dieties

As we toured the monastery we found other idols. Many of these idols resembled hindu gods n godesses. Clicking photos we contined the tour.

More idols

Towards the final part of the monastery visit we saw the huge idol of maitrey buddha. As per the description it took the craftsmen 3 yrs to finish the idol. The idol is simply amazing to look at. Taking photos from different angles we relaxed for a while. Our stomachs were already rumbling and we headed back to the main road in search of a resturant

Maitrey Buddha

Lunch was consumed at a resturant on the way down and we headed to the bus stop for our next destination Hemis Monastery

Hemis Monastery is one of the first monasteries in ladakh and is situated far away. With no buses to go we again had to settle for a cab. After negotiating with the driver we headed to the monastery. We took a deviation near shang and continued to the monastery. Suprisingly there were not many visitors. We were expecting to see something interesting in the monastery however we were disappointed as it was the same as other monastries. Some of the paintings were being restored back by the painters.

Hemis

Headed back to the parking lot and came back to Leh thus completing a amazing trip. Evening was spent packing our stuff and after dinner it was time to hit the sack as we had a early morning flight to jammu

Snaps can be found here

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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

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