After a hectic gompa hopping in Leh – similar to beach hopping in Goa and pandal hopping during Durga pooja in Calcutta - we were getting ready for the journey of our life to the highest motorable pass in the world – Khardung La ( La in Tibetan means “Mountain pass”). Zigmet – our driver – was to come at 8 AM and we were ready after a quick breakfast of cereal and omelet.
The road to Khardung La is a steep climb. It is a short distance from Leh and the climb is steep when you go from 11,000 feet to 18,500 feet. The road is excellent as the Border roads organisation maintains this diligently. Khardung La is an important army base as the troops and supplies to Siachin is routed through this pass.
A steady climb over winding road gave us a panoramic view of Leh town below with Stok Kangri peak in the background. A stream had created lush green fields with houses around it. An isolated gompa on a small hill provided an enchanting picture as we climbed up.
|Stok Kangri - Tallest peak in Ladakh - basking in morning light|
|A green valley amidst dry and barren terrain|
|Start of the climb to Kardung La|
|A Gompa perched on a small hillock|
The road condition started to worsen and the last few KMs were really bad. We asked the border roads team about this and they said that this stretch was avalanche prone during winter! We could see tonnes of snow on either side of the road and could well imagine the scene during winter!
|First glimpse of the snow clad peaks|
|Tough roads - The Avalanche prone area|
|Panoramic views of mountains|
|Snow clad valleys|
As we came closer to the pass, the dark brown terrain suddenly gave way to a mix and match of snow and brown. On reaching Khardung La, it was white all around.......all we could see around us was snow!
Hurray! We were on top of the world! On the highest motorable road in the world!
We could not stay there for more than 10 minutes. It was windy too. n fact there is a signage cautioning visitors not to stay for more than ten minutes and not to exert too much. The rarified atmosphere really hits you hard. You feel tired after few steps. Hats off to the armed forces guys who not only stay here but also work in these hostile environs. The road from Khardung La descends into Nubra valley, which we could not visit. Nubra is supposed to be the place where you find beautiful sand dunes and two humped camels. It is also called as “Valley of flowers”. Possibly we will do that in next visit.
|Hurray!! On top of the world!|
The drive though short provided us the glimpse what mountaineers undergo when they climb those heights. Snow, wind, lack of oxygen makes life miserable at these heights. The drive back was again comfortable and we were in Leh by afternoon. The time after lunch was spent going around the antique shops hunting for some Tibetan masks, Tangkhas. We were back in the hotel in the evening.
We are no excited with next place of visit. We are to go to Pangong Tso – the largest brackish lake in Asia – made more popular after it was shot beautifully in the climax scenes of the Hindi Blockbuster “ 3 Idiots”. Zigmet asked us to be ready at sunrise to travel to the beautiful lake.
We can't wait to go there.
Khardung La can be reached comfortably from Leh by Jeep. It is also an easy ride by Bike which can be hired in Leh.
a) Don't stay for more than ten minutes on the top. You can actually feel getting exhausted.
b) Don't play around with snow and exert physically. AMS may hit you badly.
c) Ladakh Scouts - An army unit - has a nice store selling memorabilia. Pick one if you wish to.
d) Generally Khardung La is a planned as a transit to go to Nubra which actually makes sense. Visitors normally spends a night or two in Nubra and then return to Leh.
Gompa - Buddhist monastery
Pandal - A covered area
Durga Pooja - A festival involving worship of Goddess Durga
Siachin - A place in Ladakh Himalayas where Indian army has base. It is the highest battleground in the world.
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