The land of high passes, Ladakh is a region in the Kashmir state of India. With its series of majestic mountains, the coldest desert on earth where double-humped Bactrian camels are ready to take you on a ride, Pangong Tso Lake made famous by the movie The Three Idiots, the highest motorable road in the world, warm, honest and hospitable natives, some intricately worked silver jewelry and miles after miles of drives among snow-capped mountains and glaciers, Ladakh doesn’t fail to provide a muti-dimensional and unforgettable experience.
It was the first time in Leh, the capital of Ladakh, that I came across what’s known as acclimatization. When we landed after a flight from Delhi, we got busy taking photos of the mountains surrounding the runway. After we settled down in a small guesthouse, I started to notice that I was having vertigo. That’s when I realized that because of the higher altitude, we need to let our body acclimatize before we explored further. So the first day was spent acclimatizing. Even climbing up the stairs to the roof to get a postcard view of the magical snow-capped mountains turned out to be quite an effort.
Also for the first time in my life, I had to answer the call of nature in the great wide open. I took ages before I could muster enough courage to do the job, gently coaxing and scolding myself in turns to get it on as my friends and spouse waited in the off-road while I hid myself behind a giant boulder.
Another first was the amazing range of mountains with different hues – dusty brown, bluish grey, and the snow-capped peaks in their resplendent white. Never had I seen all these different colors on the same set of mountains.
The magnetic hill was a unique experience. As written boldly on the signboard, it defied gravity. While a car is supposed to go downhill in any other part of the world, here it was the opposite!
The drive to Khardung-la Pass, the highest motorable road in the world at an altitude of 18,380 feet, was probably both the first and the last time for me. I was dizzy, nauseous, cold, hungry, and too afraid to eat lest that meant another episode of unzipping my pants in the open. After that, relief came in the form of Nubra Valley. With a decent roof over our head – we opted out of the option of spending the night in a camp – I was at ease, at last. I wanted to lose myself in Nubra Valley where the streets – lined by grey boulders of all sizes, kissed by the mellow sun, bordered with rows of chinar trees, benevolently looked upon by the azure skies – literally have no names.
Another highlight of this amazing mountain trip was the Pangong Tso Lake, at a height of more than 14,000 feet. The skies were grey and it snowed a little while we were there so, we were not favored with the bright turquoise view of the lake. We stopped at the restaurant called The Three Idiots after the famed Amir Khan movie and warmed our hands around steaming hot bowls of Maggi noodles.
The chai or tea that I was expecting in Kashmir was the one I had in Pakistan – a creamy pink concoction with slivers of pistachio and almond floating lazily on the surface. So I was disappointed with the Kashmiri chai in Ladakh – a poor comparison to its cousin from across the border – as it was raw tea with one almond floating apologetically on the top.
However, all my tea-related disappointment melted away when I got my hands on some pretty silver jewelry that I would not trade for all the jewels in the world. And also the prospect of having a stopover in Kolkata on our way back home. The trip to Ladakh was an arduous one but worth every mile as it’s rare to see a desert and a lake halfway to the skies.