Monday, 20 June 2016

Mumbai -Leh- Ladakh -Mumbai:- Dangerous and Nomadic Adrenalin junkie mileage travel.

Having travelled to 52 Country's to date and almost entire India  was fascinated of  the thought of travelling and discovering  the most dangerous mountain roads in India.Have sailed the Seven Sea's on Mercantile Marine ships for over two decades from 1983 to 2006   as a  "Marine Engineer" and was immune to 'Seasickness" or "Cyclonic storms" while   experiencing the worst oceans  and climatic conditions of the World .More than once i have sailed non-stop on a cargo ship for over a month without touching a single port either for victualing  or cargo loading/discharge.Once a sailor you are always a sailor and the love of adventure at times   makes land living devoid of rough seas a real  boring life .Now it was time to navigate mountain  land routes post premature retirement from sea employment  and get acclimatized  to "Acute Mountain Sickness" ! What's more dangerous a road travel route  in India or in the World than the Srinagar to Manali  mountain road across Ladakh ?
THE WORLD'S MOST DANGEROUS ROADS:- Ultimate dream fantasy mountain roads for  bikers and safari car enthusiasts.

 This mountain road bordering the "L.O.C(Line of Control)"  on the Kashmir side  touches a maximum altitude of   over 17,000 feet  and averages 10,000 feet  through narrow mountain passes and highways ? As usual did my research on the Internet  and made up my mind to undertake this dangerous and torturous land route. Booked a train ticket  to Jammu   on the "19027/Vivek Express"  on  Saturday(28-5-2016)  for scheduled  departure from Mumbai  on Saturday(25-6-2016).Train tickets have to be booked well in advance.Strangely this would be  my first  on the spur of the moment tours as i had booked no onward tickets nor the return ticket back to Mumbai.This tour was to be the  ultimate in Nomadic travel across North  India with a permanent home address in Mumbai.My tour plan  was to do  the  initial  long and arduous train journey of  1881 Kms  from Mumbai to Jammu   and later the  mountainous road journey from Jammu  to Leh in Ladakh  by bus or shared taxi's.Planned to stay in Leh for a few days and explore  Ladakh before finally departing to Manali  by the Leh-Manali mountain road and then back to Mumbai.A real ambitious train and road journey of self discovery  as well as gradually  accomplishing my goal of touring entire India in my lifetime.
A "Book-Worm" on the long train journey to Jammu.

Departure Mumbai.(Saturday 25-6-2016) :- Received my berth reservation "S3 seat 48"  on my cellphone  early in the morning from "IRCTC" as i was on a "R.A.C" waiting list.As mentioned train tickets in India require  at least a month of advance booking for confirmation.I was lucky .Boarded the bus from my locality in Prabhadevi and alighted at "Lucky Restaurant"  in Bandra ,very fortunate to not encounter the monsoon showers.Crossed the over-bridge into Bandra East and boarded a shared rickshaw costing Rs 20  to the main Bandra train terminus.Was dry and bustling with energy on arrival at the platform, about a hour early from scheduled departure.The train was punctual in departure at 1210 hrs and it was a pleasant start to a long destination of 1881 kms by rail  to Jammu  with the novel "Six Suspects" by Vikas.Swarup being my non-tangible companion.The sky was cloudy and weather cool and towards the evening encountered heavy showers on approaching Ahmedabad. It was a long 30 minutes train stop at Ahmedabad in the State of Gujarat .Rain water seeped into the compartment causing a little inconvenience and strangely had a good nights sleep on the upper berth normally a insomniac while travelling.
Lush paddy fields.

"19027 Vivek Express train journey-Day 2 "Sunday(26-6-2016) :-  The next morning we were in the State of Rajasthan and it was cool weather with cloudy overcast sky.Got acquainted with some of the co-travellers  in the compartment and total strangers became acquaintances. Mr Agarkar a travel proprietor from Mumbai  was conducting a tour group to Leh and we discussed the tour with him encouraging me to join his tour group .A fellow traveller Mr Pankaj.Mistry asked me if i would join them for shared travelling expenses to Leh to which i agreed and got acquainted with his colleagues Mr Sanjay.Patel,Mr Rakesh.Patel,Mr Kunal.Desai and Mr Hitesh.Patel.As the train cruised towards Jammu got a window-seat look at the changing face of India's diverse geographical and cultural diversity.I unloaded my "Nikon compact camera" for capturing some landscape photo's and almost had a heart-attack to find it in-operative..My entire enthusiasm for the tour vanished in seconds as the camera was my non human travel companion on all tours recording my travelogue while i later wrote the blogs back home in Mumbai."A gambler never says die until bankrupt" and hoping against hope i was betting on getting  the camera repaired in Srinagar or buying a camera smart phone.At 1115 hrs reached "Churu Junction" in Rajasthan, also  called the "Gateway to the Thar Desert" . This  district in India has the distinction of  being the hottest region in India in Summer with temperatures touching 55*c ! In winter its the opposite with temperatures below zero and partial freezing of water in bowls and dew drops on vegetation.I could definitely feel the difference in ambient temperature  post Chiru with hot air blowing inside the train compartment. Lunch was at Hisar Junction  where the train stopped for 30 minutes and for the first time in my life's countless  train journeys  ventured out of the station into the town outside to purchase some food or snacks. Nothing non-vegetarian which disappointed the carnivore in  me and just satisfied my hunger with some fruit juice, puree bhajee and banana's.Yes, the journey to Leh was definitely all  about the travel and not the destination.On entering the State of Punjab was greeted by the sight of beautiful paddy plantations with stagnant water irrigating the precious "Basmati rice fields".The weather in Punjab was cloudy and a cool journey after the hot air of the Thar desert passage through Rajasthan.Had a good nights sleep and for the first time in my life was asleep while arriving at my end destination on a train journey.
EPIC ROAD JOURNEY BEGINS :- The  mini bus from Jammu to Srinagar.

Arrival Jammu Tavi station  and road travel to Srinagar.Night stay in Srinagar (Monday 27-6-2016) :-  The "19027/Vivek Express" had definitely  created a record of sorts by arriving at its destination a few minutes early than the official scheduled time  of 0125 hrs ! Remember that it had travelled 1881 Kms through different geographical regions of the Indian sub-continent in peak monsoon season.
At :"Maqbool Inn" in Srinagar.
                                                                                                                                   After alighting from the train i grouped along with Mr Pankaj.Mistry and  friends while bidding adieu to Mr Agarkar and his travel group..I got introduced to local Gujarati culture of Bulsar as all of them were from Bulsar region of Gujarat barring Mr Sanjay.Patel who was from Mumbai and related to Mr Pankaj.Mistry .ASll of them were married barring Mr Kunal.Desai, the youngest of the five colleagues.They had planned a tour to Leh and later a pilgrimage to Amarnath  and back home to Bulsar and Mumbai.We walked out of the station in the warm night with Jammu being warmer than temperatures back home in Mumbai.The World including me acknowledges the Gujarati Community of India as being shrewd businessmen and the Bulsar working class Gujarati acquaintances  took over the transport logistic prices with all of us sharing the total costs..
At crowded "Lal Chowk" in Srinagar.

                                                                                                                                We hired a auto from the station  to the main bus stand costing Rs 150 with 3 to a auto amounting to Rs 50/person.At Jammu bus stand we haggled for a shared van transport to Srinagar and finally managed at Rs 550/passenger with a total of 14 passengers seated in a large year old  Mercedes  mini bus.Our driver Mr Sajad.Ahmed.Dar  began the Jammu-Srinagar drive at approximately 0300 hrs on a warm Jammu pitch dark morning.I had previously visited Srinagar in  March 2013 and hence the route was familiar  with the only difference being the climatic conditions between autumn and peak Summer .Military personal and armed vans were visible along the journey as militancy is a fact of living and life in  Kashmir.There was no ice along the roads and at 0600 hrs reached the quaint hill resort of Patnitop which was picturesquely green with conifer trees akin to Switzerland  and not having frozen ice blocks along the road and tree tops  as  during my last visit in March 2013.Mr Sajad.Dar was a expert driver and at approximately 0900 hrs we crossed the "Jawahar Tunnel" which is the main road  link to  Srinagar valley .Passed along "Titanic Viewpoint" and descended into the valley and was surprised to be greeted by lush green germinating rice fields.It was a normal drive along the valley with acres of rice fields on  land which is barren with thick snow during winter and autumn.
"Maqbool Inn" our residence in Srinagar.

                                                                                                                      Finally with a  intermittent rest stop on the way we arrived in Srinagar city  at approximately 1130 hrs and  crossed "Zero Bridge" and  parked ourselves at "Maqbool Inn" in the the plush Rajbagh locality of Srinagar.As usual we haggled for accommodation prices and finally settled at Rs 1500/room with 6 of us in a large plush ground floor room. Rajbagh locality is one of Srinagar's plushest residential areas and is a replica of a mini English countryside village with large 2 or 3 storey bungalow style houses and wide clean pathways..During the devastating Srinagar floods of September 2014 this plush locality was one of the worst affected  and this entire hotel was submerged upto the first floor level with flood water.The flood lasted 25 days , the rarest of rare natural calamities in Srinagar's history.Hence the entire hotel structure  was rebuilt where damaged and re-decorated giving the present structure a modern plush countryside aesthetic look.
Classic "Maqbool Inn" complex in Rajbagh locality.

                                                      We six  of us adjusted to the large room and got acquainted with each other with myself being the total outsider as a  non-Gujarati speaking individual.Non Indian origin foreigners are always amazed and awed by the diversity , cultural and religious differences in a single Country which is the main attraction and uniqueness of  of India.After a cold water bathe i got a taste of unique Gujarati vegetarian snacks  and was surprised at the 'Food luggage" carried by my co-tourists all the way from Bulsar and Mumbai. All the T.V news channels  was tragically about a militancy attack in Pampore near Srinagar that killed 8 C.R.P.F jawans. Definitely low morale news on our arrival in the city and was hoping that peace would prevail in the valley otherwise our entire tour could be a write-off since militancy also affected the local life and travel in the valley.Later walked out of the hotel and surprisingly found life normal as any other Indian city.I was familiar with Srinagar's Dal lake locality and after crossing "Zero Bridge"  was directed towards the locality of Dal lake  in search of a camera repair shop.Located a camera shop at Dal Gate and was told to collect the same after 1500 hrs.Walked back towards Rajbagh, a very long walk  and en-route  had lunch at "Dal Restaurant" situated next to the "J& K Bank" opposite the Srinagar tourist arrival centre. Lunch was excellent Kashmiri rice curry/mutton costing Rs 110.After lunch walked the distance to the Inn  and after  some rest returned back at 1530 hrs to inquire about the camera.Was aghast to hear that the camera couldn't be repaired immediately and hence collected the same and decided to visit Lal Chowk locality of Srinagar which is the commercial heart of the city.After local inquiries boarded the local mini  public bus heading towards Lal Chowk with the ticket  costing Rs 5 and alighted in the vicinity. .Observed a large busy open air market selling a variety of goods and on entering the "Makkah Market" was surprised at excellent cheap clothing and footwear available in a variety of different stalls. Purchased a pair of "loafers" and made my way towards main Lal Chowk  city square..Lal Chowk Square is a traditional place for political meetings and  was bustling with activity and the street filled with shoppers .Most prominent was  the armed military vehicle stationed  near the main chowk  with  police patrolling the locality.Srinagar seemed like any common bustling Indian metropolis and definitely not a troubled city.Nikon camera had its main repair centre in Lal chowk and they also told gave me the same reply as the Dal gate camera repair shop.I requested the Nikon salesman to take a photograph of me at Lal Chowk for memories of having visited the city to which he duly obliged.Strolled around the beautiful Lal Chowk locality which had a small square where pigeons strutted while a few locals or tourists sat on benches.
Getting the "Chevrolet Travera " packed for  Leh 
                                                                                                                                              Later  purchased some dry fruits and chocolates and boarded a bus back towards Rajbagh locality alighting at zero bridge bus stop.From zero bridge  walked to  Dal Gate which was bustling with activity.Spotted a road side cafeteria selling barbecued fish and entered the small restaurant. ordering a early dinner consisting of "Barbecued lake fish/roti's".. While i was eating a local well dressed Kashmiri picked up a conversation with me and explained his Kashmir politics.He was adamant that Kashmir did not belong to India and should be a Independent Country neither with Pakistan or India.He knew i was a tourist and Indian and was very volatile on his opinion of Kashmir Independence.He later left the restaurant driving away in his car, the educated elite of Srinagar and not the riff-raff stone throwers normally seen on television news.. After dinner made the long  walk to plush Rajbagh and "Maqbool inn" only to find my room locked with the young group of co-travellers having gone on a exploratory tour of Srinagar.Sat down in the open air garden of this palatial inn  and whiled the rest of the evening talking with a few locals of the vicinity.Here again was surprised at the locals expressing "Kashmir Independence" ! I had heard the same opinions from locals during my visit to Srinagar in March 2013 when the entire valley had a few day's Bandh(Closure)  to protest the "Afzal Guru Hanging" .Read my blog :- .Numerous romantic films have been made on Kashmir including films on terrorist insurgency in the valley.Having seen the film "Haider(2014)" which was loosely based on William.Shakespeare's classic tragedy "Hamlet" vividly remember the classic dialogue uttered by Hindi actor Ashish. Vidhyarthi playing the role of  Brigadier T.S.Murthy in the film . Quote in Hindi , "Ab Ye Log Hindustan Ka Ghulam Hain  lekin Abhi Pakistan Ka Ghulam Banna Chathe Hain( Now The Kashmiri's are Indian slaves  but are now  fighting to become Pakistan slaves)".This brief poignant dialogue describes the  tragic "CATCH 22" situation of the average common Kashmiri. The "C.I.A" has predicted that the "KASHMIR PROBLEM" will remain for another 100 years and as for me since my last visit in 2013 found no difference in thinking of the average Kashmiri regarding India, Kashmir and Pakistan.Hope peace prevails as Kashmir is a real Paradise of natural beauty. .Later in the evening our driver Mr Sajad.Dar came along with his brother also a driver in order to fix our further tour agenda to Leh .My co-travel colleagues finally arrived and a deal was set with Sajad's brother Shaan for chartering his taxi to Leh.It would be a two day road trip  with a  nights rest stop at kargil  and normal sightseeing itinerary on the 420 Km mountain road  to Leh also known as NH1 D. . The entire taxi hire charges amounted to Rs 10,000 which shared between the six of us  amounted  to  1,666/person and was found reasonable.I was most satisfied and happy when co-traveller Mr Kunal.Desai offered to lend me his spare Samsung automatic camera  and learnt a important lesson of always carrying a spare camera while on travelogue tours.After my close knit travel colleagues relished their home packaged dinner engrossed in their own private entertainment the six of us managed to fit ourselves into the large double beds and i did get some sleep.

Below is the road map from Srinagar to Leh
Srinagar to Leh

Departure Srinagar  and  night's stay at Kargil (Tuesday 28-6-2016) :-  As usual woke up early and was surprised to see Mr Hitesh.Patel in a classic yoga pose.
Sindh River flowing through  Kangan Mammer district.

                                                            This was his normal daily exercise regime and i marveled at his yogic athleticism also learning a few simple yogic exercises from him.Although a fitness fanatic i was somehow never a yoga student  although a fan of their unbelievable body contortions and breathing exercises.Driver Mr Shaan. Mohammed arrived at 0700 hrs and we packed ourselves into the vehicle.Paid our hotel bill and finally departed for Leh. As we drove through the plush ministerial locality of Srinagar  driver Shaan explained us the various plush bungalow residences and further away from the city we came across lush green rice fields, the staple summer crop in Srinagar valley besides saffron.The Srinagar-Leh highway  known as NH1D  was declared as a National highway recently in 2006.Travel through the highway offers distinct topographical changes from green alpine mountain tops and forests in Srinagar and Sonamarg to absolute barren mountains of towering heights in the Ladakh region of the route.It was  one of the World's oldest trade routes  forming part of the "Silk trade route" to India.At 0900 hrs we reached  Kangan Mammer, our first sight-seeing stop .The Sindh river which is a tributary  of the Jhelum  flows through this district along the main road highway.We alighted our vehicle and headed towards the river stream with its gushing sound and beautiful view of the green mountains.Spotted some small shed houses mid-way along the mountainside and was told that these were abandoned houses. As usual i was busy with the camera and after about half an hour we headed back to the vehicle and began our onward journey to Sonamarg. The total distance from Srinagar to Sonamarg  is approximately 80 Kms  and from Kangan Mammer  district it was a slow ascent up towards Sonamarg on the NH1D mountain highway.Finally reached Sonamarg which was a identical copy of Switzerland  and amazingly having a ice sheet along a part of  its mountain slopes  known as "Zero Point".
"ZERO POINT" in Sonamarg :- Unbelievable Winter sports playground in peak  Summer.
At "Zero Point" we alighted our vehicle and it it was freezing cold  with a large crowd of tourists on the ice slopes.Made my way towards the slippery ice slopes and was approached by a few snowmobiles  owners offering rides  ranging from  Rs 1250 to Rs 1650 for a single round along the ice slopes.
"Snowmobiles" at "Zero Point" in Sonamarg.

       Sleigh rides and skiing was also on display , a unbelievable playground for winter sports in peak summer weather in India.It was a scene straight out of any James Bond film franchisee and definitely shooting in India would be cheaper than in Europe or America.This is the beauty and natural gift of the Indian sub-continent where different geographical climatic conditions are prevalent within  the Country.A Indian citizen need not venture beyond the geographical boundaries of the country to experience  some of the World's most diverse  climatic conditions and exotic landscapes , vegetation,flora and fauna.I  was hungry and lunch was hot noodle soup costing Rs 60  in one of the small dhabba's at "Zero Point"..It was nice feeling natural ice with my hands and also  walking on a ice sheet .From Sonamarg we began our onward journey towards the famed and dangerous  "Zoji La" mountain pass which is at a distance  of  9 kms from Sonamarg.
Finally crossing the dreaded "ZOJILA PASS".

Traffic through the "Zoji La Pass" is one way in a convoy format with  a certain time-frame being set for vehicles travelling from Leh to Srinagar and another for Srinagar to Leh vehicles.Morning hours is for the Srinagar to Leh vehicles and at approximately 1145 hrs we began our slow ascent towards Zoji La pass situated at a altitude of  3528 meters(11,578 ft).Came across military vehicles and there was a minor traffic jam along the narrow route where a slight error meant a drop of  over a 1000 meters  into the valley.Got a birds eye view of the Amarnath Yatra camp situated at Minamarg  in the valley below the Zojila pass.Finally at 1230 hrs the traffic jam cleared and we gradually passed across the dreaded Zoji La pass. At 1300 hrs we crossed "Captain  Mode Point" on the Zoji La pass which was the final termination of the treacherous mountain pass on the Srinagar to Leh route.It is a sharp curved turn and the most dangerous on the entire Srinagar-Leh highway as it is frequented by either high winds, snowfall or muddy rain water depending on the season of the year.It's named "Captain Mode point"  after a   Army Captain named Mode who perished at this spot while building the treacherous mountain road.Its a tribute to his memory and legend has it that  his ghost  haunts the vicinity. Due you believe in Ghosts ?

                                                                         As for me a "Adrenalin junkie" the thrill of just travelling on this mountain road was a high that was impossible to describe.I was also relieved that my physical body showed no signs of  "Acute Mountain sickness(AMS)" which is the prime medical emergency for first time tourists visiting Leh. Nausea,shortness of breath,headaches or vomiting are symptoms of "AMS" caused due to lack of oxygen while scaling heights.Altitudes are graded as follows  A) HIGH ALTITUDE :- 8,000 to 12,000 ft (2,438 to 3,658 meters) B) VERY HIGH ALTITUDE :- 12,000-18,000 ft ( 3,658 - 5,487 Meters) and C) EXTREMELY HIGH ALTITUDE :-  Above 18,000 Ft ( 5,5000 meters)
At Zoji La pass i had scaled into high altitude levels  with the very high altitude stress limits  awaiting us on the mountain road ahead..The mountain road was a nightmare  akin to sailing  in peak monsoon season   in the Arabian sea .At approximately 1345 hrs we reached the "Zoji La War Memorial' at Gumri dedicated to the martyrs of the  first Kashmir war of 1947- 48. Zoji La holds strategic importance as it connects the Kashmir valley with the Ladakh region and in November 1948 this strategic pass was recaptured by Indian troops from Pakistan intruders..After a few photographs of the War memorial we progressed onto our journey towards Drass.
"DRASS " town.

We were now in the Ladakh region of Jammu and Kashmir with Drass being the Gateway to Ladakh region.At approximately 1530 hrs we reached Drass town. Drass is situated at a altitude of  10,990 ft ( 3230 Meters) with its surrounding mountain ranges being in the vicinity of  16,000 - 21,000 ft ! I was surprised at the compactness of Drass, just a long single street main market valley town.It  shot into prominence during the 1999 Kargil war when Pakistan intruders occupied the surrounding high mountains which was later recaptured by Indian forces. Drass also has the distinction of being the coldest  town in India and once also recording the second coldest temperature in the World after the Siberian arctic region.A large board in the main town street advertises drass's claim to fame as one of the World's coldest city's.I was comfortable in my jacket with the ambient temps ranging at about  15*c..Lunch was at  Drass which consisted of a "Omelette bread/"  costing Rs 30 and a banana costing Rs 7  .
"Capt Batra Transit Camp" in Drass.

                                                                                                 The astronomical price of the humble banana surprised me as Drass was India and not First world Europe or America.Travel educates and realized that life and living in high altitude villages of India is expensive as well as physically challenging in many aspects compared to average city living.Yes, i was on a forced slimming diet ! After a brief rest and stroll around the small one-horse road town we began our further 56 Kms drive from Drass to Kargil. One important startling  change was the excellent expressway road from Drass to Kargil akin to a Formula-1 race track.Warning signs with hilarious  anecdotes were installed at various intervals warning drivers of over-speeding. The weather was excellent as also the drive towards Kargil.The Indian  army and the "Border roads Organization" maintain this vital mountain road highway during the summer months from May to September for civilian traffic after which it becomes inaccessible during the winter months.Came across "Capt Batra transit camp"  just a few minutes away from Drass .In every war a few mortal men and women become everlasting war hero's after death and Captain Vikram.Batra(PVC)  of the "13 Jammu and Kashmir rifles" was one such war  hero .He along with a few of his men captured "Point 5140" on 20th June  1999  which later led to a string of other successes.He died at the young age of 24 years in battle while recapturing "Point 4875" on 7th July 1999.He coined the war slogan "Yeh Dil Maange More" indicating mission success. This slogan became a popular advertising slogan after the war and a house-hold phrase in India..
Entrance to "Kargil War Memorial" near Drass.

Our next halt was at the "Kargil War Memorial" situated approximately 5 Kms from Drass town.The memorial is also known as "Vijaypath" and built at the foothills of the Tololing hill in memory of the soldiers killed in conflict during the 1999 Kargil war.This was India's first tragic modern "Television war"  and also the war which i personally experienced through the media in Mumbai. In 1999 i was employed as a "Chief Engineer" on "J.N.P.T" tugs in Nhava Sheva port of Mumbai and recollect reading the daily news about the war  and now here i was at the actual scene of action with  Tololing and Tiger hill mountains towering above the memorial site.
"Manoj Pandey War Gallery".

                                There was quite a large crowd of tourists inside the memorial grounds.On entering  the memorial its a long walk to the  "Memorial Epitah" which has the names of all the Indian soldiers who perished in the Kargil War of 1999. Kargil Vijay Divas is celebrated annually on 26th July every year  at the memorial while in Delhi the Prime Minister simultaneously pays tribute to the soldiers at the "Amar Jawan Jyothi at India Gate.A giant National flag flutters at the memorial Epitah.Visited the souvenir shop and later the "Manoj Pandey War gallery" situated within the war memorial locale.Captain Manoj.Kumar.Pandey of the 1/11 Gorkha rifles was a war hero awarded the highest  military  honour the "Param Vir Chakra".
"War Cemetery"  "Tololing(Tallest peak)" in background..

  This gallery has  photo's of soldiers in war action as well as ammunition and machinery used during the Kargil war.Captured Pakistani weapons are displayed and also the picture of a dead Pakistani soldier  Capt Karnal.Sher.Khan whose valour impressed the Indian army.He was posthumously awarded the "Nishan-E-Haider" by the Pakistan Government.The Kargil war also got the two country's into a Nuclear warfare mode and honestly war seems romantic and chivalrous in movies but definitely not in real life and living.Visited the large war complex memorial cemetery with the mighty Tololing ,Tiger hill and other "L.O.C" mountains looming over the complex.
Our group of travelers in front of "Kargil War Epitaph" with "Tololing" and "L.O.C" mountains in background.  L-R :- Mr Hitesh.Patel, Mr  Sanjay.Patel,  Mr Rudolph.Furtado, Mr Pankaj.Mistry, Mr Rakesh.Patel and Mr Kunal.Desai.

Later a Jawan gave us  tourists a lecture outside the "Memorial Epitah" explaining us the sequence of the war and pointing towards the towering mountains facing us on which the actual theatre of war bloodshed took place."Tiger Hill" resembled Mt Everest among the group of mountains on the "Line of Control(L.O.C)" having  a thin sheet of ice on its peak.Tololing looked ordinary without a ice-cap and with binoculars spotted some cattle high up on the mountain ridges adjacent to Tiger hill. In fact it was a shepherd who alerted the Indian army patrol about infiltrators into the line of control and the rest was "Kargil War-1999" history.
Kargil Main Bazaar.

                                                                                         Finally at approximately 1700 hrs we made our exit from the war memorial and headed to Kargil .It was a excellent drive along a 'Formula-1" type mountain road and en-route spotted a badly damaged tourist van along the highway and stopped at the accident site..The entire front engine of the vehicle was smashed  with the young driver sitting along the road next to the vehicle, his head bandaged and arm in a sling.Further ahead on the opposite side of the road was a lorry with a slight dent to its front chassis.The lorry had rammed into the tourist vehicle and miraculously  there were  no major casualty with the driver receiving  a few bruises and the passengers escaping their worst nightmares.If any of the vehicles had to go off the road then it would be a deep fall into the Drass  river running alongside the highway. .No wonder this highway is considered one of the most dangerous in the World as even smooth paved roads  did not guarantee safe vehicle transport.
A accident on Drass-Kargil road :- Lucky  Survival.

                                                                                                        Finally at  1830 hrs reached the  city  of Kargil. Akin to Drass Kargil had one long main street but definitely more populated  than Drass.We checked into the cheapest lodge "Kargil residency guest house" situated in the heart of the town  where the six of us squeezed into a tiny single room with attached bathe.It was akin to doing compulsory military training or experiencing prison style living conditions ! I last remember staying like that decades ago  but never in such numbers and this was a first experience of  community living to save rental expenses. All a road trip adventure after a fat cat style living in Mumbai..To the amazement of my younger travel companions i immediately rushed to the bathroom  and had a cold water bathe.Winter temperatures are  often upto  - 40*c! The summer we were experiencing was hot  day's with cool nights. Yes a cold water bathe in one of the coldest regions of India and the World.Although cold throughout the day the intense Sun's rays tends to heat the water storage tanks and hence the water is warm and not ice cold towards the evening.Its ice cold early in the morning.
Beautiful Drass to Kargil mountain road

                                                                                                                          After a bathe strolled around Kargil main bazaar and being a dominant Muslim town Ramzan fasting was being observed. Kargil is the second largest city  in Ladakh after Leh and has a strong Shia Muslim population.Saw a prominent  photo of Ayatollah Khomeini  as also a large Shia mosque in Kargil main chowk. 77% of Kargil's population are Muslim's of which 85% belong to the Shia Muslim faith. Kargil is famous for its local bread and confectioneries and tasted the cheapest kargil bread costing just Rs 5  Dry fruits were on sale along the main street with the most popular product being apricots.
Street food in Kargil after Ramzan fasting.

                                 A "I.C.I.C.I"  bank  A.T.M  was prominent on the main bazaar street and checked my account. I just couldn't believe that this small city was the result of almost a nuclear war between India and Pakistan in 1999.After fasting hours which ends at dusk the roadside non-vegetarian food was on display and came across some exotic local dishes.Beef(Buffalo meat ) stew was sold as also tripe sausages,I didn't take a chance of experimenting on new exotic street food on my weak stomach as a long tour lay ahead and decided to have "Momo's" for dinner .Yes, "Momo's" costing only Rs 20, something unthinkable in my home city of Mumbai..Kargil valley has a average elevation of  2676meters ( 8780 ft) and hence recommended for an overnight stay to get acclimatized to altitude oxygen deficiency and hence avoid "A.M.S(Acute mountain sickness). Darkness set in at approximately  2000 hrs and headed back to our lodge.
Photo shoot on a "Royal Enfield" at "Sangam" point  where the Indus and Zanskar rivers meet in the  gorge below.

 Departure Kargil and arrival Leh ( Wednesday 29-6-2016) :-  A sleepless night as never in my life had i slept in such congested conditions. Daybreak  was at approximately 0445 hrs and officially left my bed and after normal toilet routines headed into the empty street.
"Suru River"  along kargil.

                                                  The street was absolute desolate and a local guided me to a tea-stall near the market place. Kargil city situated on the banks of the Suru river which is a tributary of the Indus river  was once the old silk route connecting Kargil and Skardu now in Pakistan.In recent years Kargil became a household name in India after the Kargil war  and i was surprised at the simplicity and living in this city that captured India and the World's eye-ball's during the "Kargil War-1999".At approximately 0745 hrs we departed from Kargil meandering up the valley along the Suru river.Rafting is a popular sport on the Suru river during summer.At approximately 0845 hrs we reached  Mulbekh  town  which has a prominent monastery  called the Mulbekh Monastery.
"Maitreya Buddha" temple.

The Monastery  consists of  two Gompa's, one  Drukpa and the other a  Gelugpa Buddhist gompa(Monastery)..The double Gompa's offer a beautiful view from the highway situated  on top of a hill 200 meters (656 ft) above the highway..The altitude of the town is 3,304 meters( 10,839 ft).Just a kilometer from the Monastery is the famous Chambha statue situated  along the main highway road.We stopped our vehicle next to the  rock statue situated on the right hand-side of the road and visited the small temple that is the entrance to the monolithic rock statue.The temple was of recent construction dating to 1975 while the  statue dates to around the eighth century.The standing statue of the Maitreya Buddha  overlooks the old trade route which is now the modern road highway.After photography we had breakfast at a dhabha on the opposite side of the temple.Breakfast was omelette bread while my co-travel colleagues relished their home snacks.
"SELFIE": at Namika La Pass(Pillar of the Sky)..

Barren desert mountain landscape of Ladakh.

After breakfast  we proceeded towards Leh and began our gradual ascent to Namika La Pass (Pillar of the sky pass).The mountains were barren rocks devoid of any vegetation with occasional tufts of grass.Sighted a herd of Pashmina goats ,beautiful in their long silk hair coats that have made their wool a World luxury textile.At approximately 0945 hrs we passed the peak of Namkila La Pass ( 3700 meters or  12,139 ft) and began our descent.A few minutes of driving and we arrived at  Khangral village which has a police check post for tourists.Indian tourists have to just fill in a form along with a identity proof  and submit it to the driver to be verified by the police.Non-Indian's have to acquire special permission by personally alighting the vehicle and submitting information at the police check-post.We were now on our way to passing the highest mountain pass on the "SRINAGAR-LEH HIGHWAY".
Ascent to Leh from Srinagar :- At  Fotula Pass Top.

                                                                                                         It was a short ascent from Khangral Checkpost towards the highest pass in the Srinagar-Leh highway which was the "Fotu La Pass ( 4,108 Meters or 13,478 ft).".    
"SANGAM" of Indus,Zanskar and Sindh rivers.
                                                                                                                                                             At 1045 hrs  we reached the peak of "Fotu La Pass"  and could feel the breathlessness due to deficiency in oxygen although  immune to "A.M.S" .Met a group of  Royal Enfield motorcyclists at the peak who were on a  16 day Delhi to Delhi road tour circumnavigating the Srinagar to Manali mountain road.The ultimate Adrenalin junkie trip .After a few photo's at the peak we began our onward journey  and at approximately 1115 hrs passed by  Lamayuru Monastery  founded around the 10th century and the oldest monastery in Central Ladakh.
"MOON TOPOGRAPHY" at "Moonland point".

Lamayuru Monastery as seen from road.

                                      Further ahead was the "Moonland" rock formation that brought back memories of my tour to Cappadocia in Turkey. a little stretch of mountain rock formations  had a identical topography to Cappadocia region of Turkey which is World famous for its rock cut caves , limestone Moon formations and hot-air ballooning..

                                                                            Stopped our vehicle at "Moonland" and after the normal photography session progressed onward to Leh. At 1145 hrs  we reached  Khatse village police check-post where our driver had to disclose the details of the tourists entering Leh. From the check-post it was a drive through loose gravel mountains which had warnings of "Shooting stars(Gravel landslides)" for motorists.No wonder this highway is termed as one of the most dangerous in the World.To quote Hindi actor Anupam.Kher from his hilarious autobiographical play , quote, "Kutch bhi ho saktha hain(Anything can happen)" ! That's the beauty of road travel.. At approximately  1215 hrs we reached  Ulley top , a eco - resort from where we got a panoramic view of the Karakuram mountain range.At approximately  1230hrs reached Suspol village situated in Khalsi Tehsil of Leh.Its famous for its amazing rock-cut caves.
Driver Shaan.Mohammed  on "MAGNETIC HILL".

            We didn't stop but just passed along the village and finally reached Nimo village where we stopped for lunch.I had a non-vegetarian lunch consisting of  Chicken chowmein and Lassi costing a total of Rs 100 only.Came across a young couple of Caucasian cyclists and on inquiry for amazed to know that Mr Ryan.Morris from Ireland and Ms Eirika.Leino of Finland were on a World tour on their cycles.They both were below the age of 25 and in the prime of their youth with a target of completing their World tour in 2 years.Rarest of rare tourists on the road to Leh.At approximately 1400 hrs we left Nimo  and reached the "Sangam Point" where the Zanskar and Sindh rivers bifurcate from the Indus river.Stopped at this juncture and posed for a motorbike photo  thanks to a Royal Enfield motorcyclist who allowed me to take a photo astride his bike.
"Gurudwara Pathar Sahib"

                                                                                                                                                       From "Sangam" it was a short drive to "Magnetic hill"  where nature's law of gravity was practically ridiculed.A slightly  elevated road on the highway had vehicles running in reverse direction up the elevated inclined slope on "Neutral gear" and with  engine shut.. We all alighted the car and driver Shaan.Mohammed demonstrated us the phenomenon with the car literally racing uphill on neutral gear ! Tourist vehicles were literally in a queue to experience this strange anti-gravity phenomenon on the Srinagar-Leh highway near Nimo.It's no magic or paranormal phenomenon but just a "Optical Illusion"  that tricks the human mind in thinking that the road is going uphill while in reality it is inclined downhill.The layout and landscape of the surrounding mountains creates this optical illusion in the human mind.Yes its definitely not "Black magic" !.From "Magnetic Hill" it was another short drive to "Gurudwara Pathar Sahib",This Gurudwara was established in the 1970's  by the Indian army,lamas and local people in remembrance of the first Sikh guru and founder of Sikh religion Guru Nanak Dev Ji..Having visited the Golden temple complex in Amritsar  was familiar with Sikh rituals regarding entry to a Gurudwara.
"Military Barracks"  approaching Leh City.

                                               There is a local legend regarding the boulder and the establishment of the temple.On entering the Gurudwara viewed the sacred boulder which has the imprints of  Guru Nanak Dev and is worshiped."Gurudwara Pathar Sahib" was our last tourist stop and we made our final drive into Leh city. On arriving at the outskirts of Leh city came across various army camps and also the "Hall of Fame" museum based on a history of the Indian army in Ladakh and Kashmir.Leh is situated at a altitude of 3524 meters(  11,562ft) and with a  district area of  45,110 Sq Km area is the second largest district in India after Kutch district in the state of Gujarat .It is also the highest hill station in India.We were again in search of the cheapest accommodation and finally at 1515 hrs stopped our vehicle near the airport  at Skanzanling airport road and inquired for accommodation  at "Shilmor Guesthouse", a long single storey lodge facing the airport road..
"Shilmor Guesthouse"  our residence in Leh.

           The manager , a young man named Raja agreed to our terms and three of us Pankaj, Rakesh and myself squeezed into  single room Nos 108 while Sanjay,Hitesh  and Kunal booked another room next door.Finally we were in Leh in bright hot sunshine with cool breeze.From our room which faced a diesel motor repair and scrap factory  named "Ali Mohad Khabari"  had  a beautiful view of the Desert sand snow capped Mountain in the distance.Memories of the picture post card photo's of the Nubra Desert with its camels.The lodge rooms didn't have fans as Leh didn't require either fans or air-conditioners being in permanent cool to very cold mode throughout the year.Load shedding is a major problem in Leh city with the current frequently being shut during the day or night.Again to the surprise of my travel colleagues i had a quick cold water bathe and dressed up and later we all  headed into the real outside World of Leh city. Leh city has Maruti van shared taxi's and boarded a taxi below my guesthouse that charged us  Rs 10/head  for the last stop at the "Old City bus stand" in downtown Leh. Realized that "Shilmor Guesthouse" was reasonably far from downtown Leh although cheap in travel due to the shared taxi travel formula.On reaching "Old Bus stand" was greeted by the sight of  a  uphill and downhill narrow street  lined with shops on either side of the road.Noticed large Tibetan prayer wheels on the main city road intersection which had a large arched gateway.
Main Leh city near Old Bus stand.

                                            We bargained with the taxi drivers regarding chartering a taxi for visiting "Pangong Tso Lake" but  the budget seemed beyond the majority and we decided to head towards Leh Palace, the most prominent edifice in the city.The walk to Leh Palace was up a steep hill and at the age of 56 years i was no Cristiano.Ronaldo  but over the years had had transformed myself into  a  football Manager rather than a player. I was conserving my energy to last the entire tour and not retire hurt in rarefied atmosphere where fatigue let alone "A.M.S (Acute Mountain Sickness)"  was a reality. A few minutes of play and i could scheme  a vital goal which in tour terms would be discovering  exotic locales and sights. Wasn't Sir Alex.Ferguson the best football manager on the planet ?
A open air garbage dump  on New airport road.

                                                                                                                     Requested the young group to go ahead on their trek to Leh Palace and Shanti Stupa , the prominent trekking hills within the city while i decided to head to the main city town square. It was a long uphill walk from the old bus stand to Leh main bazaar square.which had a prominent Jama Masjid Mosque and also a Shia Mosque .The Leh Palace overlooked the Main bazaar from the hill just above the Jama Masjid. There were  large shops selling mostly "Pashmina shawls" and "Kashmir carpets".The city post-office was a beautiful structure on the main street road, a vintage edifice in the internet era.Strolled around the small town square filled with tourists and vegetable sellers .Leh is a very dusty and windy city.Observed numerous well fed dogs with matted hair as a result of extremes in climatic conditions. Later walked the long downhill distance to Old bus stand and hailed a shared taxi back to my guesthouse  at Skanzanling airport road .Observed a huge open air garbage dump at Skanzanling road  with a majestic bull and dog  resting in the garbage ..Later in the evening we discussed about  renting a car to visit Pangong lake and thanks to guesthouse manager did hire a taxi for Pangong Tso lake for the next day  costing Rs 8,000.Expensive but then Pangong lake or Venice is not a daily visit for the average tourist or traveller.
"PANGONG TSO LAKE" :-1/3 rd on  Indian side with Tibetan prayer flags fluttering on a part of this beautiful indescribable lake  .2/3rd of  this  lake is in Tibet controlled China.A boat ride across the length of this lake could transport you from India to China and vice-versa !

A days trip to PANGONG TSO lake and back to Leh.(Thursday 30-6-2016) :-  Day break was at 0430 hrs and after the normal toilet routines got ready for the day trip to Pangong Tso lake.At 0600 hrs walked alone to  the local Punjabi Dhabba  just a few meters down the main road from the guesthouse.Breakfast was Aloo-Paratha//tea costing Rs 40 and was back to the guesthouse.Our chauffeured car arrived at 0830 hrs with two drivers  Mr Mohammed  Akbar and Mr Amaan.Hussain for the long mountain journey to Pangong Tso lake and back to Leh on the same day. Driver Mohammed .Akbar was at the wheel and Mr Amaan.Hussain was his assistant in case of emergency reparis or exhaustion due to driving. Normally Pangong Tso lake is a two day tour package with a rest day at the lake and back o Leh the next day.We were doing the entire tour in a single day.A tiresome tour for the driver as well as the tourists.Pangong Tso lake is approximately 140 Kms from Leh and we were a total of 7 people in the large comfortable vehicle. At approximately 0845 hrs we began our journey to Pangong Tso lake
Pangong Tso lake although well known among elite and professional educated  tourists of  India was made famous to the Indian masses through the Hindi box-office film " 3 Idiots" which was mostly filmed in Leh . Pangong  Tso lake mesmerizing the audience with its indescribable beauty and the film added value to the tourist potential of the highest salt water lake in the World.
At  0910 we passed by Shey Monastery and came across a sign board  with direction's to "Rancho School" made famous in the film "3 Idiots".A little ahead along the road was the famous  "Thiksey Monastery".
Thiksey Monastery :- Approx  19 Kms from Leh city  on way to Pangong Tso Lake.
The Thiksey Monastery  at a altitude of 3,600 meters(11,600ft)  is perched on a hill in Thiksey village  overlooking the  Indus valley with high barren brown mountains  in the backdrop.The Monastery is a 12 storey   complex housing  10 temples, a nunnery, and a residence for more than 100 monks.It has a Buddhist school providing education to poor children and is referred as the "Mini Potala palace of India" as it is a replica of the Potala Palace in Tibet which was the residence of the Dalai Lama.. A Maitreya temple installed inside the Monastery in 1970 to commemorate the visit of the 14th Dalai Lama has a 15 meter(49 Ft) high   Maitreya  statue .This is the largest Maitreya statue in Ladakh covering two storeys of the building.
Our "S.U.V"  on the mountain road to Pangong Tso lake.

After a brief stop at the monastery we proceeded on our journey and at approximately  0930 hrs reached  "Kharu Checkpost" .We had to fill in a tourist form along with our identification proof  which was handed over by driver Mohammed.Akbar to the security personal at the check-post."Kharu Checkpost" is the main bifurcation route for motorists with one road heading towards Manali route and the other to Pangong Tso lake.There was a long queue  of vehicles at the check-post and finally after a short waiting period we proceeded  on our epic  road drive..From 1000 hrs onwards we began our gradual ascent  up towards "CHANG LA PASS" situated at a  altitude of  5360 Meters(17,590 ft).It was a scary steep climb  and we came across a convoy of army trucks  which slowed our ascent. Skillful driving was the need of the hour as the mountain road was steep and  not paved with a slight drop meaning a descent into the valley below.Spotted abandoned  ruins of some army trucks in the valley below which could have been a accident months or years ago. At approximately 1115 hrs we finally reached the summit of "Chang La Pass". The World's highest research station  established by the "Defense Research and Development Organisation" of India   at a altitude of 17,500 Ft is at Chang  La top.
At "CHANG LA PASS " :- One of the World's highest mountain passes.
From "Chang La Pass" it was a slow descent towards Tangste Village which was the final checkpost for entrance to Pangong Tso lake.Reached Tangste village at approximately  1300 hrs  where our identity papers were checked.Tangste village is picturesque surrounded by  mountains with a tributary of the Indus called Harong stream flowing through the village.From Tangste village it was another short one hour distance towards Pangong Tso lake passing through the Changthang wildlife sanctuary  which has sparse grasslands with barren mountains. We got the first glimpse  of Pangong Tso lake  while descending the mountain towards the valley.Words cannot describe the first sight of this World famous lake that is a common post card picture .At  1400 hrs we finally touched the shores of Pangong Tso lake and parked ourselves near the tourist car park.There was not much of a tourist crowd and the lakes shores were spotless aclean,A few photo's  i clicked do justice to the beauty and serenity of  one of the most picturesque locales in the World and in India.
Glimpse of "PANGONG TSO" lake in the distance as our vehicle descends down the mountain.
A typical picture post card view of "Pangong Tso lake on a bright Sunny Thursday afternoon. Spotted a duck with its chicks in the water.
The Transparent crystal clear brackish water of "Pangong Tso lake". You can see your reflection in the water.The water has slight salt content.
At "3 Idiots Restaurant" situated on the lake shore.Rooms for tourists are available at Rs 400/Night..The Hindi film "3 Idiots" put the spotlight on this beautiful Ladakh region of India.

Finally at 1530 hrs we departed from Pangong Tso  lake and while driving along the Changthang wildlife sanctuary spotted numerous  Marmots on the grasslands of the plateau.This was the only natural  wildlife i spotted during my entire road travel of Ladakh.
Entrance to "CHANGTHANG WILDLIFE SANCTUARY" on  Leh-Pangong Tso Lake route.
It was the same long route back to Leh city and finally at approximately 20000 hrs we reached our destination guesthouse. Everyone was tired after a days travel.Dinner was just fruits and i was on a genuine forced slimming diet.

Leh Old Town :-  In 2010 Leh was damaged by a cloudburst and the Old Town is on the "World's Monuments fund's"100 most endangered heritage lists.

A Days exploration of Leh City.(Friday 1-7-2016) :- Was officially awake at daybreak(0430 hrs) and for the first time had a bucket of hot water bathe heated through a indigenous designed heater.
Typical local Dhabha in Leh. city near our guesthouse.

 My five co-travellers from Gujarat would be leaving for Jammu today in order to join the Amarnath Yatra pilgrimage .I would be alone and hence changed over to the cheapest single room having a common bathe and toilet costing Rs 500/day.On all my tours, overseas or in India i always try to spend the least on lodging and maximum on sightseeing  and Adrenalin junkie experiences.Transferred my bag to room Nos 102 and bid adieu to my co- travel colleagues, Total strangers from different cultural backgrounds becoming acquaintances due to necessity reminding me of my Merchant navy employment  days where i sailed  and worked with almost all the different religious  communities of India. The Indian Merchant Navy taught me the meaning of true cosmopolitan living akin to the armed forces.Solo travel post Merchant Navy employment  further made me a truly International citizen.
Leh Old Town road leading to Polo Ground.

                                                                                                                                A big thank you to young Kunal.Desai for his camera which salvaged a part of my travelogue tour. I would now have to request fellow tourists to use my memory card for photographing on their camera.My  new room was facing the airfield and saw a "" aircraft take-off from the airport.Breakfast was omelette/bread  costing Rs 40 at the local Dhabba  down Skanzanling airport road..At 0830 hrs boarded a shared taxi and alighted at the "Old bus stand" which is the last stop for shared taxi's into the city.Four  large  Tibetan prayer wheels  are a prominent sight  at the old bus stand  terminus.My next tour agenda was Nubra valley and inquired about shared taxi's to Nubra valley. Was directed towards the polo ground situated higher up the inclined  road.The polo ground in Old Leh city was formally a official polo ground but now used as a parking lot for vehicles after a new polo ground was built in Leh.I was happy to hear that shared taxi's to Nubra valley were available daily in the morning after 0600 hrs  costing Rs 400/passenger.
The passage through  house lanes to "Leh Palace".

                                                           Also inquired about the "Hemis Monastery" which is about 45 Kms from Leh city and is the biggest Monastery in Ladakh. Hemis Monastery  would be celebrating a month long festival in September 2016 which they titled the "Kumbh Mela of the Himalaya's" in honour of a 1000 years of  Buddhist Yogi Naropa's visit to Ladakh .Hemis  was in the  International news  due to a book published in 1894  by Russian author Nicolas.Nitovich which claimed that Jesus Christ traveled to India and died in Kashmir.He claimed that his source of facts was from the Hemis library which was later proved to be a fake by historians and Nitovich confessed that he had fabricated the story.Indian Semi-fiction best-seller Indian  writer  Ashwin.Sanghi has written a best-seller called " Rozabel Line" which deals with the presumption that Jesus.Christ died in Kashmir  akin to Dan.Browns "Da Vinci Code" based on Jesus.Christ having married.
Gompa in Old Leh City.

                                                        I myself didn't see any signs of Christianity or the cross symbol in  the old city  of Leh  proving that Christianity  hasn't had much converts in Ladakh. There is a  Moravian Church built in 1892 by German Missionary priests and is definitely the oldest Church situated at  the highest elevation in the World which serves a congregation of about 200 Protestant Christians.Recently  in March 1986   the " St Thomas Catholic Church " was built in Leh near the airport road  far from Old Leh City.This Hexagonal designed Church is also the highest Catholic Church in the World  and  mostly serves the army   and air force personal  and affiliated to the Archdiocese of Delhi.The population of Leh Ladakh Christians might number in just a few hundred's.  Even Hinduism is not a very prominent religion  in Leh with Buddhism and Islam being the two dominant religions of the Ladakh region.The Leh Palace looms over Leh old city and decided to trek up the small hill to the Palace. instead of hiring a taxi and travelling all the way to Hemis Monastery.It was a long uphill walk towards the palace through narrow lanes  having  a cluster of houses.I was feeling the lack of  high altitude oxygen and tired easily  hence taking some rest mid-way up the hill .Admired the simple rustic life of the city dwellers where 21st century modernization seems to have not touched much of their lives. Observed numerous dogs in the vicinity as also the lack of cats.At the foot of the hill leading to the Palace came across the "Castle Cuisine" restaurant and took some rest. Suddenly heard the deafening roar of fighter jet planes and spotted a pair of fighter jets roaring out of the  barren brown mountains  into the city skyline  and back into the distant mountains.Walked up towards the Palace and came across a young couple  and requested the gentleman to shoot a few photo's on my memory chip to which he obliged Thanked Mr Suryakant.Golipkar for the photo's  and made my way to the entrance and on payment of Rs 20 entrance ticket  walked into the ancient Leh Palace.
Leh Palace.

                 This Palace built on Tsemo hill is modeled on the Potala Palace in Tibet and built by King Sengge .Namgyal in the 17th century. The Palace is 9 storeys high with the upper floors accommodating the Royal family and the lower floors  the stables and storerooms.
Local vegetable sellers in Leh Main Bazaar.

                                     It was dark inside the Palace premises which was in ruins and being given a face-life externally akin to a housing project.Entered the prayer hall of the Royal family which was the best preserved part of the large Palace complex.Visited the museum  floor of the Palace which has a collection of jewellery, costumes and  Tibetan Thangka paintings.later went to the main courtyard of the Palace which has a beautiful bird's eye view of Leh city. Sat down on a bench and just watched the World go by in slow motion in the cool and Sunny morning.Spotted a beautiful white dove on the topmost floor of the Palace..Leh is a natural air-conditioned city in summer  and hence fan's are almost non-existent in the city restaurants,shops  and hotels.
Shia Muslim Mosque in Main  Bazaar.

                    Through my binoculars watched a "GoAir.In" plane land in the airfield near my guesthouse accommodation Art approximately 1115 hrs finished my Palace tour and made my way back downhill to the city main town..While walking towards main Bazaar along the narrow road footpath came across a shop selling local Ladakh souvenir T-shirts. Designed a "T-Shrt" titled  "How i got Leh'd" showing a line diagram of  the land route from Jammu to Manali  while crossing some of the World's highest mountain passes.A advertisement for Adrenalin junkie adventurers. After placing the order walked the short distance to the Main bazaar square of Old Leh city. As i had visited the Main bazaar on the first day of our arrival into the city  was familiar with the lay-out.,It was Friday and a large crowd had gathered in front of the Shia mosque with anti-Israel posters and the liberation of Palestine.Had never seen such a demonstration in Mumbai and shows the diversity of India and its culture which puzzles non-Indian origin tourists.Entered a Pashmina shawl shop and understood the Pashmina goat hair trade which is big business in Leh and Kashmir.
Leh Main Bazaar Square :- Jama Masjid and Leh Palace

                               The cheapest Pashmina shawls were available at Rs 4000/each but guaranteeing its genuineness  was of prime importance as fake shawls are not uncommon.Inquired about a good eatery  or beer bar and was directed to "Ibex Restaurant"  situated in a lane of the Main bazaar square. A excellent open air restaurant with a beautiful view of the melting snow capped mountain in the distance above Leh city.Watched the snow capped mountains in peak July  summer sunshine while sipping "Godfather " brand locally brewed beer of Jammu and Kashmir  in the open-air restaurant.At approximately 1415 hrs finished the the beer and headed to "Budshah Inn Restaurant" situated a few meters away from  Ibex restaurant.Lunch was a lavish mutton biryani costing Rs 230, my most expensive dish of the roller-coaster Adrenalin junkie tour.A plush restaurant with a similar view of the snow capper mountain.
Shops selling Tibetan handicrafts in Leh.

                                                                 At approximately 1500 hrs finished my late lunch and strolled around the Main Bazaar square. Entered "Art Asia Handicraft" shop which displayed carpets and was surprised to be talking to a young British accented Kashmiri man who showed me the priceless collection of  silk carpets.He was a  British citizen from Glasgow of Kashmir origin originally  from Srinagar and the carpet business was a  traditional family  business.. To my disbelief he showed me silk carpets costing  Rs 40 to 60 lakhs each ! He educated me on the reasons for the value of these heirloom carpets akin to jewelry as they were hand-made through indigenous  "Knots" technology and not mass produced factory products. He still surprised me stating that at his home in Glasgow he had in his family's possession  inherited Kashmiri carpets worth over a crore of rupees.
Normal breakfast  of Paratha /Omelet

                                                                                                                     I thought "Rolls Royce's" were a status symbol among the ultra wealthy but on visiting this shop and meeting the owner realized that Kashmir carpets were a priceless heirloom passed along generations akin to diamonds or priceless jewelry.From the carpet shop visited a travel agency  and inquired about shared taxi's to Nubra. Was surprised at the difference in rates between a plush travel agency and the numerous  private taxi operators at Polo ground.Akin to prices between  a 5-star hotel and a common restaurant.Next visited a travel agency to inquire about shared taxi's from Leh to Manali and was told that the average rate ranged  from 2200 to 2500/person with travel being during the night.It didn't suit my travel agenda as i wanted to travel through the day with a rest stop at  Keylong  at night in order to sight-see the Leh -Manali mountain route with its high mountain passes and terrain.Was surprised at the high cost of Internet  at Rs 45 for half hour in the chic  cybercafe near Main Bazaar.
Numerous well fed stray dogs in Leh City.
                                                                                                                                                       At 1630 hrs walked  to the T-shirt shop situated in the lane next to the Jama Masjid and collected my designer  "Leh T-Shirt" . It was a long walk downhill to the Old bus stand and boarded a shared taxi to my now familiar residence at Skanzanling airport road .Leh is a small city  for sightseeing which can be covered within a day.Had some rest in my room and browsed through the t.v channels as usual.Later in the evening walked down to "Niyaz milk products" and had a special lassi along with some fruits. My dinner for the night. Watched T.v in my room and gradually fell asleep.
With a Bactrian  camel at Sand Dunes in Hunder at Nubra Valley.
SAND DUNE FESTIVAL  at Hunder in Nubra Valley(Saturday 2-7-2016) :- As usual daybreak was approximately at 0430 hrs  in the northernmost City of India , something i was experiencing for the first time in my life in India.At 0530  boarded a shared taxi to the now familiar "Old bus Stand" in Leh city and walked up the hill to the Polo ground.
Barren mountains with green valleys.

                                                                             Was lucky to get a comfortable seat in a local Scorpio taxi whose elderly driver seemed to be a part-time taxi operator of his own vehicle. I was the only tourist while the other two occupants a woman and a man were locals. I was surprised at their casual clothing  while i was wrapped up in a warm jacket.At approximately 0600 hrs we left the Polo ground taxi stand for our long road journey to Diskit  in Nubra valley which is approximately  150 Kms North of Leh city.The road was excellent and paved as we climbed up the mountain with a beautiful bird's eye view of Leh city.At approximately  0700 hrs reached  "South Pulli Checkpost" where tourists have to submit their identities.Luckily the elderly driver had a tourist form which i duly filled and submitted and we began our onward journey.
At "Khardung La Pass.A motorists zenith road travel 

                              The road from South Pulli to Khardung La was a nightmare akin to being on a bronco horse with huge dents and bumps.At approximately 0745 hrs we crossed "Khardung  La Pass", one of the highest mountain passes in the World..The elevation of Khardung La is 5,359 Meters (  17,582 feet) and is gateway to the Shyok and Nubra valleys of Ladakh. Khardung La was historically a major Caravan route between Leh and Khasgar in Central Asia. Approximately  10,000 horses and camels used this route annually and the Bactrian camels at Hunder are a legacy of this once common land route in Asia.At 0945 hrs reached "North Pulli" check-post where tourists identity checks were verified and finally had breakfast at Khardung La check-post. It was chill cold and i quickly ate a omelet  along with tea.After the quick breakfast drove along the highway which was paved towards Diskit .Passed along Khalsar which is a popular river rafting locale  and finally at  1100 hrs reached Diskit bus stand.Alighted the car and after paying the driver Rs 400 made inquiries about further transport to Hunder. I was at the right place at the right time and there was a "Sand Dune festinal" in Hunder on the 1st and 2nd of July which was advertised in Leh city.Today was the last day of the festival and i had reached Diskit.
Hunder in Nubra valley :- "SAND DUNES FESTIVAL-2016".

                                                                                    Boarded a shared taxi costing Rs 20/person  to Hunder and at approximately 1130 hrs was at the  Hunder "Sand Dune Festival" parking ground.The sight that greeted me reminded me of seeing the American rock festival  "Woodstock" on film.There was a large crowd and the sand dunes in the distance seemed like a mirage in a desert.Also resembled a "Red Indian" village setting with the tent camps and Ladakhi's in their traditional headdress costumes.Truly out of the natural World like a artificial film set.
World famous poster cards  of Nubra  valley :- "Selfie".

                                There was greenery in the valley with just a patch of  a few kilometers of pure desert sand dunes with camels  in the midst  reminding me of Mui Ne in Vietnam. Akin to Pangong Tso lake the Hunder sand dunes of Nubra valley with its Bactrian camels are a photographer's delight and a familiar sight in all travel magazines and posters.I made my way into the festival grounds which had separate large  tented accommodation for the audience, performer's and guests.A Group of local Western singers along with young Caucasian tourists were belting out cover songs of English rock classics..Heard live performances of "Wish you were here" and "Hotel California" which sounded out of the world in the beautiful  Hunder valley of Nubra.At the other end of the open air valley was the Sand dunes where camel rides were on offer. Various small tents were  on  the ground catering to food and was not surprised to find a "Gambling tent"  where card games with wagered money was on display.Had lunch in one of the tents which was local chicken/rice curry costing Rs 110.Prices of food was normal as most of the crowd was locals.This was a local Ladakh festival showcasing local Ladakh culture and traditions with a little bit of modern Western performances like the rock concert in a corner of the main performance tents.Luckily i did manage to get photograph's taken on my memory chip and have displayed the same..
A local group belting English cover rock songs  at the 'Sand Dune Festival" in Hunder.
Grooving to  "Wish you were here "at the "SAND DUNE FESTIVAL".

"RIGHT PLACE, RIGHT TIME" :- At the Sand dunes festival in Hunder.

World famous Bactrian camels of Hunder desert in Nubra valley.
Ladakh Musicians  performing at "SAND DUNES FESTIVAL-2016" in Hunder.
Open air stage in Hunder valley of the "SAND DUNES FESTIVAL-2016" in Hunder. The main local Ladakh dances and performances began at  approximately 1300 hrs in the afternoon. V.I.P's which included the local M.P and military personal were seated in the tent  facing the main podium.
Local women artists performing cultural dance at "SAND DUNES FESTIVAL-2016" in Hunder.
Musicians playing local music Instruments while  ladies perform the Ladakhi folk dances at "SAND DUNES FESTIVAL-2016" in Hunder.
Performing artists  getting ready for their performances at the "SAND DUNES FESTIVAL-2016" in Hunder.
Musicians relaxing  in their tent at the "SAND DUNES FESTIVAL-2016".
                                                                                                                                                                    At approximately 1415 hrs the Member of Parliament gave a speech  and the cultural programme came to a end.It was a large fun fair akin to any fair in any part of India  with the only difference being the locale of the enchanting Nubra valley with its Hunder sand dunes as the venue.It was location, location and only location that mesmerized the tourists besides the entertaining local ladakh cultural programmes.
View of Nubra valley in Diskit.

At 1500 hrs i decided to call it a day at the festival and boarded the local bus to Diskit.It was a  distance  of 12 km distance from Hunder to Diskit and on arrival inquired about economical guesthouses in the locality.Checked into room No 111 costing Rs 500/day  in  "Thachung guest house" situated a short walking distance from Diskit bus stand.After checking into my room had a hot  water bathe heated from  Solar power.This was my best hot water shower during the entire tour and real refreshing akin to a sauna bathe.

At  "Thachung Guest house"
                                                                     Later walked down the small narrow street of Diskit bazaar with almost all the shops closed.observed a lot of well fed donkeys in Diskit. Donkeys and dogs were the common domesticated animals roaming the streets of Diskit. Met some young Korean tourists from Seoul  at the hotel and did get a few photo's.Diskit is the headquarters of the Nubra valley  and  the Diskit Monastery is situated on a hill with a grand view of the valley.The landmark of  Diksit and Nubra valley is the  32 meter statue of Maitreya Buddha in the sitting position  near the Monastery facing down towards the Shyok river and Pakistan.The statue symbolizes peace..Dinner was fruits which are very expensive  and on par with prices in  Leh. Towards late evening a car load of young men and women stopped near my hotel and danced to blaring music.Fun to watch the younger generation  having a Saturday nights party in Diskit.Had a decent nights sleep ans was woken up at 0330 hrs by the Muezzin's call for prayer's. Daybreak was at 0430 hrs as usual  and after my normal toilet routines  bid goodbye to Diskit.

Melting  glacier waterfalls while motoring to the top of "KHARDUNG LA" Mountain pass. Notice the ice caps on the top of the mountain peaks.

Departure Diskit and the last day in  Leh city (Sunday 3-7-2016) :-  Walked the short distance from the hotel to Diskit bus stand and found the entire locality closed as it was a Sunday holiday. Two local Kashmiri workers were awaiting a taxi to Leh and the minimum number required for a shared taxi is 8 passengers.We three had to wait for a long time and i was surprised on seeing a athletically  built women with heavy backpacker kit approaching the bus stand.and requested her to join our taxi group. I mistook her to be a Latin American backpacker and was surprised to know that young Shraddha.Alva was very much a Indian from Bengaluru. Later a few more passengers finally made the magic number of 8 passengers and at approximately 0645 hrs  our taxi took off to Leh. Shraddha .Alva was a Karnataka state level swimmer and we developed a conversation as the taxi began its long journey.Akin to me and although very young  she also loved "Solo travel"  and total strangers became acquaintances and later "FB(Facebook)" friends.At approximately 0815 hrs we reached Khardung village where i had a excellent breakfast of  "Aloo paratha/tea". 
Khardung La Top Pass :- At top of the World in India.

                                        From Khardung village it was a gradual climb  and at approximately 1000 hrs reached Khardung La Top peak.There is a advisory for tourists not be exposed for more than 20-25 minutes at Khardung La Top due to lack of oxygen  and acclimatization. Khardung La has been erroneously advertised as the World's highest mountain pass which is not true although it does rank among the 10 highest civilian motorable passes in the World.Tourists returning from Leh love to sport the T-shirt saying "Khardung  La,Highest Motorable Road" which is good for T-shirt business  sales but  not true. Took some photo's at Khardung La top with Shraddha's smart phone  and later at approximately 1045 hrs we were at "South Pulli" check-post with the now familiar formalities as usual. Finally at 1130 hrs reached Polo ground taxi stand in Leh.Paid the taxi driver Rs 400 and bid Shraddha goodbye wishing her a happy adventure to Pangong Tso lake which was her next destination.Walked down to the Old bus stand and boarded a shared taxi to my guesthouse at Skanzanling Chowk  on Skanzanling airport road .On alighting at the stop  had a "Special Lassi" costing Rs 40 at "Niyaz milk products".This shop owned by a Kashmiri sold only milk products with everything sold by 2000 hrs in the evening. His Lassi was excellent for the price and once  before i had tasted the same while it was not sold out  on my next visit to the shop.Hence lunch was Lassi with banana's.Had some rest in my room and at 1430 hrs walked out of the guesthouse and boarded a taxi heading in the opposite direction to "Hall of Fame" museum.
"Hall of Fame" army museum  in Leh.
The "Hall of Fame" army museum  is located near the Leh airfield  and is a War museum maintained by the Indian army in memory of soldiers who lost their lives  in the Indo-Pak conflicts. Entrance ticket to the War museum was Rs 25 and the museum was crowded with tourists.The museum consists  of two floors.Got to understand the Siachen glacier battlefield and the hardship encountered by soldiers manning the borders in these sub-zero temperatures.A "NDTV" sponsored channel in a corner of the museum on the first floor  continuously  explained and repeated the Siachen glacier and other facets of war. One of the most memorable and factual quotes on the Siachen Glacier is ,quote, " ONLY BEST OF FRIENDS AND WORST OF ENEMIES VISIT US" Indian war hero photographs with their war decorations were prominently displayed.There was a souvenir shop on the first floor.As i had visited the "Kargil war Memorial"  found some similarities between the two war museums.A board on the wall encouraged visitors to express their views on the museum .I  voiced my opinion of making "Military Service" mandatory for all Indians for a stipulated time frame so that every civilian understood that peace comes at a great cost of money and human lives.A war cemetery  akin to the "Kargil War Memorial" is situated outside the museum premises.
From the "Hall of Fame " memorial boarded a shared taxi and  alighted at "New bus stand" which is  a short walk downhill from the "Old Bus Stand".Inquired about public buses and shared taxi's to Manali .Shared taxi's left from the "New Bus depot" daily at 2000 hrs in the evening with the fare being Rs 1900/person and bookings to be done on morning of departure.The taxi's drove non-stop from Leh to Manali arriving at approximately 1100 hrs in Manali. Only one bus plied between Manali and Keylong in the morning which was the "Himachal Pradesh State Bus" due  to arrive at 1900 hrs at the depot. i was told to buy tickets directly from the conductor on arrival of the bus from Keylong. Explored the nearby locality  with the "SNM(Sonam Norboo Memorial)hospital" being the landmark situated next to the main road.Walked past the "SNM hospital"  and  tasted the most delicious  Punjabi samosa's at "Shubh Punjabi Dhabba".A little further away near the petrol punp was a wine shop   and i  purchased a can of "Godfather" beer. Walked back to New bus depot and was in the nick of time to see the Himachal Pradesh state bus arriving into the depot.I was first in the queue and booked a ticket to Keylong costing Rs 539 with the departure time at the unearthly hour of 0500 hrs on Monday(4-7-2016).At that hour it would be difficult to get a taxi let alone a shared taxi at Skanzanling airport road.A gambler never frets and hoped against all odds to not miss this bus tomorrow morning due to  non-availability  of a taxi ! Boarded a shared taqxi back to Skanzanling airport road and watched t.v in my room.Darkness  set in at  approximately 2000 hrs and so also was the load shedding which plunged the locality into darkness. Ventured outside the guesthouse with my torch  and walked down the now familiar road towards Skanzanling market. All the shops were in darkness with torch's  or candle lights providing partial light.There were two .roadside barbecued meat sellers and dinner was barbecued  meat.After dinner walked back to my guesthouse  with my torch providing the road guidance.Power resumed at around 2130 hrs and after  browsing through T.v  finally did go to sleep.
"LEH to DELHI BUS SAFARI" :-  Travelling on the "Himachal State Bus" on a epic road roller-coaster. drive.

Departure Lah and arrival Keylong(Monday 4-7-2016) :- Left  Shilmor guesthouse at 0400 hrs in pitch darkness and was the only human walking along Skanzanling airport road  hoping to catch a taxi.Not a single human walking along the normally busy main road and the only vehicles that passed me was a army truck and a transport lorry.Kept walking along the road hoping not to walk to the New bus stand in rarefied oxygen weather !Spotted some taxi cars parked below a chawl type building and also a light on the first floor room of the building.Shouted to the occupants about a taxi and providence saved the day as these men  were taxi drivers living in this building.Two men came down to the street and and i was definitely the first customer of the taxi service of  the day  heading towards new bus stand. The charges were Rs 100 as it was a short distance  to the bus stand and on arrival was the earliest at the bus terminus.Gradually passengers arrived including two young Caucasian tourists and a young Indian couple  while the rest seemed local common regular travelers. This was the first time in my travel tours that i was travelling on a common bus over epic distances  from Leh to Delhi ! The distance between Leh and Manali  was  490 Kms over some of the World's toughest roads and highest mountain passes while the  distance from  Manali to Delhi was approximately 570 Kms.  I occupied window seat Nos 14 having 3 seats  in a line and  the aisle in-between  with  2 seats on the opposite side of the aisle. For the first time in my life i came across a Govt run bus company being punctual in departure time and exactly at 0500 hrs we left Leh new bus stand on our way to Keylong.
Leh to Manali highway route.

A beautiful scenic mountainside morning drive from Leh  to Karu and then crossing the Indus river to reach Upshi Check-post. Our first stop at 0615 hrs  was at "Upshi Checkpost" where the two young Czech backpackers had to authenticate their identities with their passports while the rest of us had breakfast at the local dhabba. Breakfast was Aloo paratha/Tea costing Rs 50 and through my binoculars observed a Pashmina goat farm on a small hill near Upshi village
Ar  0645 hrs we left Upshi village on our way to the highest mountain pass on the "Leh-Manali" highway which was the "Tanglang La Pass". It was a gradual incline climb to Tanglang La pass finally reaching the top at approximately 0830 hrs.Our bus stopped for a short photographic break at the pass.Thanks to the young Indian couple that i managed a few photo's for a "Been here , seen that" memory bank.
TANGLANG LA PASS :- At the highest mountain pass on "Leh-Manali mountain route"
From "Tanglang La Pass" it was a gradual descent to the flat More plains plateau situated at a altitude of  4,700 meters( 15,400 ft). until we reached Pang at approximately 1000 hrs which has the World's highest transit camp.The mountain topography at Pang was not barren and had grass and vegetation.From Pang it was a steep climb  through the "Lachulung La Pass ( 5,065 Meters or  16,616 ft) and later the "Nakee La Pass ( 4,739 Meters or 15,547 ft)  before entering the famous  "Gata Loops" which consists of 21 hair pin bends along the mountain highway.We finally reached the military base  of Sarchu at approximately 1400 hrs which also has a police check-post.
Picturesque Keylong  Town with fluttering Tibetan prayer  flags and a view of the Main bus stand  with  the towering  snow capped Mountain tops.

                 The  State boundary of  Ladakh region of Jammu & Kashmir ends at Sarchu and after the Check-post we were now travelling through the State of Himachal Pradesh  reaching Bharatpur at approximately 1515 hrs It was chill cold with snow capped mountains in the vicinity.From Bharatpur it was a steady ascent towards Baralacha La Pass (4,890 meters or 16,040 Ht)  through a  melting ice route.The Bhaga river and the Chandra river originate from opposite ends of the melting snow  from the  Baralach La pass.
Backpackers Adda :- Rs 100/bed  & classic food restaurant

                                                                                                                              From the Baralacha Pass it was a descent into Zingzingbar and further down to the last police check-post of Darchu . We reached Darchu at approximately 1745 hrs where we stopped for refreshments.Had a snack of  bread/omelette in a classic restaurant.We were now gradually descending and finally reached our destination of Keylong at 1900 hrs in the evening. A beautiful town with green mountain sides and snow capped mountain top in the distance.Our bus stopped at Keylong main bus stand which was a small square for buses and taxi's. Keylong is the administrative centre of the Lahaul and Spiti administrative districts of the State of Himachal Pradesh. and at a altitude of 3,080 Meters( 10,100 Ft).

Dinner with beer at "Tashi Deleg Dhaba".
                                                                    As soon as  i alighted the bus a young  boy approached us offering a room bed for only Rs 100/person .Once in 2007 at a Rock concert in Mumbai   i  personally happened to be standing within handshake distance of  controversial Hindi multimillionaire  film star Sanjay.Dutt. Sanjay.Dutt ,son of one of the first families of the Hindi film Industry was born and brought up in ultra luxury and  spent a few years of "Jail time" for possessing guns and destroying evidence during the "1993 Mumbai Bomb blasts".Wondered how it would feel to sleep in a Rs 100 bed for the night ! If a millionaire actor could spend a few  years in jail accommodation then it was time for me to experience  how the economically poor people of India survived and lived. The young boy took  me along with the two Czech  tourists to a  building just next to "Tashi-Deleg Dhabba"  a few meters away from the bus depot.On entering the large room was greeted by a sight which resembled a common ward  of a govt municipal hospital .
Czech Backpackers Martin and Tonas enjoying Indian beer.

                                     There were a number of beds equally spaced in the large room and almost all were occupied.This Rs 100/Person  bed dormitory accommodation was definitely for overnight bus passengers,hardcore backpackers and low-income travelers or locals..The weather was chill cold with the toilet/bathe outside the building in the darkness.With my torch made my way to the toilet  and had  a quick wash although a bathe was on the agenda. The ice cold water could have given me hypothermia and hence avoided a bathe. Next to the Dhabha there was the continuous flow of gushing water down the hillside  into the drainage below the road and into the valley.Explored Keylong town which was just a small walk through the main market place passing a few hotels and back to our dormitory style accommodation. Inquired the hotel rates which were reasonably priced at Rs 1500 for a large double bed room with T.v   that could be shared between two people.I had hit the jackpot in my life-time of travel  by discovering  a Rs 100/Person bed accommodation ! Its difficult to get a meal at that price let alone overnight accommodation in a classic hill resort of India.Went for dinner next door to "Tasha Deleg Dhaba" and came across the young Czech backpackers drinking beer  and total strangers became acquaintances.I purchased a Kingfisher(mild) beer from the wine shop just a few shops away and we discussed travel, Czechoslovakia and India. Mr Martin.Duda and Mr Tonas.Halek spoke reasonable English  and were in their mid twenties on a tour of India.They were surprised when i told them that my last International tour was to Prague in September 2015 and even educated them on a few tips of the best beer watering holes and entertainment locales in Prague.Czechoslovakia has the highest beer consumption in the World. Was surprised that they had not heard about the World's strongest beer called  "X-33"available at "U Medvidku" restaurant in Prague ! These youngsters had learnt about their own city from a foreigner as i had at times during tours in India  learnt from foreigners about the specialties of that particular  Indian city.Tourists especially "Backpacker budget tourists" do the maximum research  about the city's they visit and hence at times more knowledgeable than the locals of that city or locality .They both lived about 100 Kms or a hours travelling distance from Prague as  road distances within  European city's are not time consuming  with speeds of 100 Km/hr and over  very normal on most highways.They ate vegetarian food while i relished a mutton curry/rice.They were on their way to Manali to meet their backpacker friends and continue their tour. After a excellent dinner costing me a total of  Rs 240 which included the cost of the beer   we went back to our dormitory next door .The dormitory  was now house-full with two more Caucasian tourists and the others being local Indians.Made acquaintances with a young Swiss and Chilean backpacker sleeping on the bed's opposite me.The bed's were decent  for the price charged with a thick quilt provided for the cold.Had to wake up early at 0400 hrs in the morning to book the bus ticket to Delhi.
At Keylong  with a natural perineal miniature Glacier  waterfall behind me  

Departure Keylong and arrival Delhi.(Tuesday/Wednesday 5/6-7-2016) :-  Strangely got a good nights 4 hours sleep after ages in the cheapest accommodation of my tour.At 0400 hrs had a quick wash in the cold morning and walked across  to the bus depot to inquire about the tickets.Booking for the Manali bus had opened while Delhi bus bookings were at 0545 hrs.Went back to the dormitory and informed Martin and Tomas who quickly booked their tickets and boarded the bus at 0430 hrs.The Himachal State transport bus service deserves a award for maintaining departure punctuality from bus depot's.Akin to a plane there were no refunds if you missed the Himachal State transport bus !Later after booking my bus ticket to Delhi costing Rs 851 checked out from the classic dormitory and entered the Dhabba opposite for tea. Met  young Chilean backpacker Mr  Gabriel.Aldea who was tramping across country's having worked in Australia and earning some good money to tour India and now on his way to Manali  and finally back home to Chile.He worked and traveled as do most young Western backpackers.As we came out of the Dhabba was surprised to know that the gushing fountain of water next to our dormitory which i mistook to be waste water drainage was actually a perennial natural waterfall formed due to the melting glacier in the high mountains above Keylong  town.I had spent the night in the midst of pure unpolluted nature. Rare for a city dweller. Took some photo's with Gabriel's camera surprised that he carried such a expensive camera in his backpack.Thanked Gabriel.Aldea wishing him a happy tour and made my way  to my bus. At 0630 hrs boarded Bus "HP66A1528" and occupied window seat No 6 just behind the driver and began the start of  a   long road  journey  of approximately 659 Kms  from Keylong to Delhi.
The Indian road safari

Observed vegetable fields  in the valley at Tandi village situated at the confluence of the Chandra and Bhagha rivers that merges to form the Chenab river downstream in Jammu and Kashmir.. At 0800 hrs  we passed Sissu village  which had a beautiful full flowing glacier waterfall  from the mountain top into the valley.I had last seen such a glacier waterfall in Switzerland.There was a small tourist village with camps set near the foot of the waterfall.From Sissu it was a elevated climb to Khoksar police check-post.At 0830 hrs we stopped at Khoksar for breakfast which was excellent Aloo Paratha with Curd/Aacher costing Rs 40.Spotted a herd of Pashmina goats which are real beautiful with their silky long coats.The Pashmina shawls are made from hair extracted from the beard of the Pashmina goat.After breakfast we began our onward journey and headed up the steep winding road towards the famed and dreaded Rohtang Pass.Came across ice glacier top mountains and observed dense mist covering Rohtang pass top.At approximately 1030 hrs we crossed Rohtang Pass top ( 3,978 Meters or 13,050 ft) and began our descent with the surrounding mountains undergoing a topographical change.On the Other side of Rohtang Pass facing Manali valley the entire mountain sides was  covered with Alpine trees and totally green.A beautiful picture post card sight.It was a gradual winding descent from Rohtang Pass surrounded by green alpine vegetation and a few waterfalls.At approximately 1130 hrs we reached  Kothi village situated at the bottom of the Rohtang a altitude of  2500 meters (8203 Ft) .Stopped for lunch at Valley View" restaurant whicch true to its name offered a beautiful view of the valley and Mountains. Kothi has a picturesque view  of the glacier mountains and the Beas river flowing through a deep narrow gorge at this village.It is a favourite locale for Bollywood films and a inspiration hor writers, poets and painters.After lunch we began our 12 Kms descent down to Manali.At approximately 1230 hrs reached Manali city bus stand( 1950 meters or 6,400 ft) situated in Manali Mall  and was in familiar surroundings having toured the city in 2013.Was surprised to find the weather in Manali warm in the hot Sunshine rather than cool.Strolled around the main town square as the bus was to depart at 1330 hrs and hence ample time for refreshing memories. Checked my weight on a weighing scale and was the usual 82 Kgs, slightly overweight.The mall area was bustling with people  and tourists but seemed less of a hill station climate  during the day.Mumbai during monsoon weather was cooler than Manali in the month of July.
TOURING THE WORLD ON A BICYCLE :- Mr Ryan.Morris from Ireland and Ms Eirika.Leino of Finland at Nimmo Village on the "Srinagar-Leh highway. This young cycling couple intend touring the World in two years and i wished them all the best as its not everyday that a person comes across World tour cyclists.

At 1345 hrs the bus left Manali and it was a familiar route with the Beas river on one side of the highway passing through picturesque Kullu valley with its river rafting .At approximately 1600 hrs passed through the longest road tunnel in India , the  "Aut Tunnel". The 3 Kms long tunnel seemed endless and dangerous.Dinner was at a Dhabha besides the main highway packed with other tourist bus passengers. It was a vegetarian restaurant and was satisfied with a vegetable hamburger and bananas .We passed Chandigarh city around midnight  with the bus speeding on the well paved highway to Delhi.At approximately 0500 hrs was at the Delhi bus depot.End to  two  days and one nights travel in a common Himachal State public bus.This was a first time personal record of sorts in my lifetime of touring in various parts of the World including India.On alighting the bus a rickshaw driver approached me for hotel accommodation and i requested him to take me to Delhi railway station.He took me to a local ticket booking agent and i managed to purchase a "Tatkal Ticket" to Mumbai on the "Golden Amritsar Mail"  costing Rs 2200 only.It was a long drive from the agents booking office to  Hazrat Nizamuddin railway station with the rickshaw fare amounting to Rs 500 only ! I was thankful that at least i had got a reservation in the second class sleeper compartment  although at the cost of a normal A/C berth.I was early at the station and washed myself at the railway's common toilet.The "12904 Golden Amritsar Mail" was punctual arriving at 0735hrs on platform No 1.Made my way  into compartment S8 and onto window seat  No 23.It was a comfortable overnight journey as the weather was cool due to the Monsoon climate over India. Finally  at 0530 hrs on Thursday(7-7-2016) reached  Dadar station in Mumbai . For the first time in my life i had done a continuous road and train journey of 3 days and 2 nights. End of the mileage travel  from Mumbai to Leh and back home to Mumbai  through some of the World's highest highways and Mountain passes.


No comments:

Post a Comment