Monday, November 3, 2008

Ladakh – A Journey in a Cold Desert.

Arriving at Leh

After going through all the information available on the net and other relevant books, I prepared a 13-day trip and got it confirmed with a local tour operator. Our team comprised of Amit, his wife Rumi, my wife Rima and I.

We embarked on our journey on 23rd August, 2008 from Bangalore to New Delhi at 9:25 pm. We reached New Delhi at around midnight and made the airport our halt for the night as we had to catch an early morning flight to Leh.

Air Deccan (now known as Kingfisher Red) took off at its scheduled time to Leh. When we boarded the flight it was dark outside. The sun had yet to kiss the horizon good morning. The darkness outside played a perfect ally to our plans of catching up on our sleep. But, soon our plans were spoilt by the voice of the captain informing us about the ‘not-to-miss’ sunrise. Yes, the sunrise was one of the most memorable sunrises that we saw in our lives. As the sun led us from darkness to light, the Himalaya and Karakoram mountains were visible. The view of the glaciers left us spellbound. We could only see the white peaks glistening in the golden light of the sun. It was a moment of a lifetime which everyone on the flight wanted to capture. Thus the noise of clicking of the shutters came as a no surprise. At 6:20 am on 24th Aug we landed at the Leh airport, a very small but beautiful airport surrounded by high mountains. At the very first sight we fell in love with Ladakh…

Our travel agent was waiting outside the airport and soon we were ferried to our hotel in Leh. In the comforts of the hotel room and amidst the serene beauty of this magnificent land, I penned the first few words of my diary.

24th August, 2008 8:00 PM

Leh

We were so excited that after reaching the hotel we hardly took any rest. Our morning was however spent trying to get accustomed to the high altitude. We are already at 3500 mts of height from sea level. In the evening we went to roam around the Leh city and Shantistupa. Shantistupa in Ladakh is located on the hilltop at Changspa. It can be reached quite easily from the Fort Road. The Stupa was constructed by a Japanese Buddhist organization, known as 'The Japanese for World Peace'. The aim behind the construction of the Stupa was to commemorate 2500 years of Buddhism and promote World Peace. His Holiness, the Dalai Lama inaugurated the Shantistupa in the year 1985. While we were approaching towards Shantistupa the sun was setting down behind the mountains and Leh fort was looking amazing in that golden light. I couldn’t stop myself from taking pictures of the beautiful old fort on the top of a hill in the dusk.

Tomorrow we will be traveling to Nubra, crossing the highest motorable path so I better hit the bed immediately.

25th August, 2008 11:00 PM

Nubra

We had some tough time today. We started from Leh to Nubra at 9 in the morning by car. We were traveling towards Khardungla, the highest motorable path in the world. The altitude of Khardungla is 18,380 ft. We were enjoying every moment of the ride. The road is steep and narrow. We were crossing the mountain ranges one after another. At around noon we reached Khardungla and made our biggest mistake of the trip— we challenged nature. After making a number of trips in the Himalaya, we became overconfident and completely ignored the altitude that we were in. Where we should have stayed for only 10 minutes, we overstayed for an hour. Although we were all aware of the high altitude sickness it just slipped our minds. While returning from Khardungla every body got a headache and my friend’s Amit condition worsened. He even couldn’t open his eyes because of the headache and back pain. But, the photo-enthusiast that he is, he managed to see Chukar Partridge from our car. At first I though he was just kidding. Then once I looked outside from the car window I saw the beautiful bird with five chicks. Chukar Partridge is a very beautiful bird that resides in high altitude of the Himalaya and the Karakoram and is the national bird of Pakistan. This pretty bird topped my wish-list before coming to Ladakh. Wasting no time we got down from the car with our cameras and started clicking the beautiful bird. For that moment we forgot the pain that we were in. I got some beautiful photographs of this bird.

With a smile on our face, we stopped in a small shop and had some noodles for lunch. As soon as food entered my stomach I recovered from my sickness. Amit, however, was still feeling unwell. After lunch we proceeded towards Nubra. It was late afternoon when suddenly our car stopped in a barren place amidst high mountains. We couldn’t see any humans around, not even a single car on the road. The driver said that the car had some technical snag and it would be very dangerous to drive on the mountain pass. He tried calling some mechanic from Leh which will take 5/6 hours to reach at this place but the place was out of mobile coverage. The nearest village from this point was around 12 km. I started preparing myself of walking towards the village as there was no hope of being rescued by somebody else. To our delight, we noticed a car approaching us. As it came near we saw that it was full of tourists and was going to Nubra. Our driver made him a request to pick us after dropping the tourist at Nubra. He left the place after promising that he would come back. All we could do now was to wait. The sun was setting on us and the temperature was pretty cold outside. Everybody was inside the car trying to keep them warm. I was however outside watching the side-and-seek that light and shadow were playing among the mountains and the valley. It was an amazing site and I thanked God for the trouble. The cold wind along with the golden lights of the setting sun, made that moment “Out of the World” for me.

The place became dark within minutes as we waited for the car. It was almost four hours and we were now running out of patience and decided to carry on with the faulty wheels at a slow speed. We had ridden for an hour when we saw a car coming our way. We hopped onto it and made our way towards Nubra and reached the hotel around 9 pm. I was happy that all our worries were taken care and we could have a good night’s sleep. But god had other plans for us. On reaching the hotel, we found out that our rooms were given to others as the manager thought that we would not be making it after 8:30. I got furious and started blasting the manager. He then arranged for our accommodation in another hotel where food was not available. After lots of request and arguments we had our food just half an hour back. Every body is tired. Our Nubra trip was not as we had expected. Tomorrow we are heading back to Leh. Let’s see what instore is for us in our next trip.

26th August, 2008 10:00 PM

Leh

Amit’s condition did not improve and we left Nubra today morning at 9. The morning was lovely although we didn’t get time to spend in Nubra so I was shooting some birds around our hotel campus in Nubra. While I was shooting some Redstarts suddenly I noticed some movement nearby and I was amazed to see that a Fire-Fronted Serin perched there. I did not want to miss this opportunity and so didn’t take more than few seconds to change the camera settings and start clicking the birdie. It gave me the opportunity to shoot 5 images and then it flew away giving me the joy of the world. I’ll be going to bed tonight with peace and joy that I am an owner of a beautiful image of the beautiful bird “Fire Fronted Serin”.

We reached Leh around 3 PM and spent the rest of the day lazing around. Tomorrow morning we are going to Hemmis National Park trekking.

27th August, 2008 5:30PM

Jingchan Camping Site

We are now at Jingchen Camping Site, a small camping site from where the Hemmis NP trek starts. It’s a beautiful place surrounded by the mountains and a small stream. There are around15 tents and lots of horses and donkeys to carry the luggage of the tourists. We started quite late today morning due to non availability of permission to shoot wildlife inside Hemmis National Park. We met Mr. Jigmet Takpa, Conservators of Forest, J&K and we must say he is one of the finest people we have ever met. After discussing with us about our interest in wildlife not only he arranged the required permission, he also provided us with a guide. Secondly, we were not very interested in the trek as Amit’s condition was not improving but Amit was determined to take the plunge inspite of all his pains. As we were already late we decided only to visit Jingchan today and will start trekking from tomorrow. We have to have our food as early as possible as there is no electricity here and be inside our tent before the light completely goes off. Our guides and cook are now preparing food inside their tent. The outside is cold and light is slowly fading away. The dusk, mountains, tent and over all the sounds coming from the bell of the horses made this place something different.

28th August, 2008 6:00 PM

On the way to Rumbak

We couldn’t reach Rumbak village today due to Amit’s bad health. Rumbak was our first destination in the Hemmis NP trek route. I woke up early morning and was preparing for the long trek but when I saw Amit I was scared. He is still suffering from bad headache and he didn’t have any energy to walk. I discussed with him and tried to explain how difficult this trek would be. But he thought otherwise. The trekking route was quite strenuous. We started by 8 am after having breakfast at camping site with packed lunch. We were carrying only our hand baggage. The rest of all bags were carried by the horses. After walking few kilometres we were exhausted. The road was very narrow and steep. Some times it is inside high mountain pass. One side the mountain is standing tall and another side more than 200 meters steep falls.

Although it was strenuous we were enjoying our trek. But Amit was very tired and he was not able to carry further. Later we decided we cannot reach Rumbak today. So we camped on the way. We found a beautiful place, a small patch of green surrounded by rough mountains and a healthy stream. Amit badly needed some rest.

As I started penning the day’s experience, we decided that he is going back to Leh tomorrow with the help of one of our guides and will consult a doctor. We will proceed towards Rumbak and will come back to Leh on 30th. We have to sacrifice two other places Mankarmo and Rumchung from our trekking route.

29th August, 2008 7:00 PM

Rumbak Village

Amit went back to Leh today morning and we were quite fast today in our trekking route. The path was same as yesterday, strenuous but beautiful. A stream was always with us and we were crossing it again and again.

On our way I found again a group of “Chukar Partridge”. When we saw the group I let my team go ahead and waited for half an hour. At last I could manage a decent shot of this beautiful bird. I got a beautiful image of this bird at Khardungla with chicks and this time the full profile shot.




On our way we also saw the Blue Sheep – a wild species of sheep who stay in high altitude. To get a decent snap I had to climb another mountain in the opposite side as they were far. But all my efforts went in vein as I could manage only some record shots due to bad light. The whole day we traveled through the rough mountain passes. The landscape of Ladakh is totally differe

nt from all other Himalayan part where I had traveled earlier. Don’t know whether I can sleep tonight. The sky-touching mountains, the serine valleys, the flowing rivers are still fresh in my mind.

We reached Rumbak village at around 3 pm fully exhausted. The village is just like a picture, not more than 20 households in the lap of the mountains. J&K Tourism Dept has started “Homestay” here which is a part of Echo-Tourism. Every house has one room for tourists which is an income of the poor villagers.

Most of the people here are Buddhist, very calm, honest and helpful. They always greeted us with a smile. We were welcomed with hot tea, warm water and good food where we are staying tonight. The temperature out side started dripping. We will explore the village tomorrow morning and will start for Leh. We don’t know how my friend is as there is no way of communicating from this remote village.

30th August, 2008 10:00 PM

Leh

My morning started very early. I spent almost 2 hours outside of the Rumbak village to get some images of Rosefinches. I saw a large group of Common Rosefinch yesterday outside the village. After spending almost 2 hours behind these hyper-active birds I could manage some images. After breakfast at the village we again started for Leh. Actually we were all set to go further trekking, but due to Amit’s bad health we had to return. Hope we will visit this wonderful place once again. Coming down was not as strenuous as the day before. We came down pretty fast and reached at Jinghchan by 2 PM and our car was waiting there. We reached Leh by 3 PM. We were happy to see that Amit was fine; he consulted the doctor and was on medication. As we sacrificed our trek route tomorr

ow is a spare day. We are going to take rest tomorrow. Hope Amit would be completely okay by then.

31st August, 2008 10:00 PM

Leh

Today I don’t have much to write. The entire day we spent in leisure exploring the city. We visited the colourful shops in the market, had lunch outside in a good restaurant.

Rima did some shopping too. Amit is fine today and we are all set to visit two high altitude lakes Tso-Moriri and Tso-kar tomorrow. We will be starting tomo

rrow morning and will be spending 3 days in a camp at Tso-Moriri and Tso-kar.

1st September, 2008 7:00 PM

Tso-Moriri Camp Site

Today again we travelled a long way in the beautiful Himalayas. We started from Leh quite late as our car was stuck behind a possession at Leh. The road was good and scenic. Indus River was flowing with us. The mind-blowing landscape, the river, the sharp road terns and cold wind made us silent. We all were just watching the wonder of nature. Thickshey Monestry came on our way. We stopped there for 15 minutes. Thickshey Monestry is situated at a distance of approximately 18 km from the town of Leh. One of the most beautiful monasteries of Ladakh, it belongs to the Gelukpa Order of Buddhism. Sherab Zangpo of Stod got the Thikse Monastery built for the first time, at Stakmo. However, later Spon Paldan Sherab, the nephew of Sherab Zangpo, reconstructed the monastery in the year 1430 AD. The new monastery was sited on a hilltop, to the north of Indus River. The monestry was huge and just beautiful. After clicking photographs we resumed our journey.

We had our lunch on the way. The journey was long. After crossing many mountains we were gaining altitude. Atlast we reached one plateau and driver told us this is the Tso-Moriri lake area, but the lake was quite far from there. The road became bad. The sun set and temperature started falling. We couldn’t see anything outside as it was quite dark. We could see some hares in our car’s headlight. After crossing couple of kilometres we reached at the camp site. The site was big and almost empty. Electricity is available here from a generator. Amit and our cook are making food for us. Amit has decided today to cook something for us and it would be a record that he cooked in high altitude. We all are inside the tent as out side is bone freezing cold. It feels like we are at some place out of the world, far from civilization. If we stop gossiping we can hear only the sound of freezing wind, blowing from the lake. I think, food is ready and Amit is calling us. We have to go to another tent which is bigger and is used for dining. Lets see how cold it is in outside and how Amit servers hot food in this cold.

2nd September, 2008 9:00 PM

Tso-Kar Camp Side

Last night was horrible for us. After having delicious noodles made by Amit we went to our own tent by 8:30 and went to bed by 9. Electricity was available till 9:30 pm only. Temperature was falling very rapidly outside and we could feel the pinch inside the tent too. We were trying to sleep but couldn’t. Bed, blanket every thing was like ice and I was shivering under the blankets. The entire night I shivered and was waiting for the morning. It was a painful long night and in every half an hour I was looking outside waiting for dawn. As soon as the sun came out I ran outside my tent and stood under the sun. It took some time to get warm. Amit was also ready; we didn’t waste our time. Immediately we freshened up and started towards the lake with all our camera equipments. The first sight of the lake was amazing. The lake was huge surrounded by high mountains. It was at an altitude of around 4500 meters. The water of the lake was crystal blue. We could see lots of bird life around the lake. Among them we could find “Bar Headed Geese”. We spent more than 2 hours capturing these beautiful birds to get some decent shots.



After getting the images of the geese I sat on the bank of the beautiful lake. It was serene. I was there for more than 40 minutes. I cannot express in words how I was feeling then.

We started towards our camp after spending almost four hours near the lake. After returning to the camp site we got ready to head for another beautiful lake Tso-Kar which is a 6 hour journeyfrom here. After having

our lunch we visited the lake again before leaving for the other lake. To our amazement the beautiful blue colors of the water in the morning had totally changed. Now the water was crystal clear and the reflection of the mountains made it look as if we were at a different place altogether.




After spending 30 minutes we finally set for Tso-Kar. On our way we stopped at many places to shoot marmots and pika. Marmots are mouse type mammals found in these areas. They are the longest hibernating animals. They spend the long winter in the hole for seven months and when they come out in winters most of their time is spend in feeding.





Pika is another amazing animal in these regions. They are small hare, very small and very cute. After having enough pictures we started towards Tso-Kar. On our way the Sun set down. As soon the sun touched the horizon the temperature started falling steeply. Suddenly our car stopped and yes it was the 2nd time our car broke down again in a barren land. We came outside to see what happened. Our driver and cook started repairing the car and we were told that it could be repaired but it might take some time. The “some time” became two long hours. We were not able to stand outside and very soon got into the car. After fixing the problem we started but in slower speed. It was dark and cold outside. We reached the camp site quite late. The camp site was big and full of tourists. The tourists were all from Israel whom we met during dinner. These tents are much bigger and better than the Tso-Moriri one. Just 10 minutes back the tent manager provided us a couple of hot water bag which gives immense pleasure in this cold. The bed, blankets are also of good quality. Hope this night we would have fewer problems as we have good bedding arrangements coupled with hot water bags.

3rd September, 2008 9:00 PM

Tso-Kar Camp Site

Today was an amazing day. The night was comfortable inside the tent and we had a good sleep. I started my day very early as the lake is quite far from the camp site. Tso-Kar is a salt water lake which covers an area of about ten square kilometers. Tsokar Lake is rich in huge deposits of impure salt, mostly found on its northern shore. The altitude is 4268 meters. While Amit and I were moving towards the lake we found some bird activity in a plateau area far from the lake. Being near we found them to be “Tibetan Sandgrouse”. Our heart jumped in excitement as these are some rare beauties. There were two big groups but very shy and were not allowing us to be in a good photographic distance. And the area was plane without any trees or rock. So we couldn’t hide ourselves also. We started waiting sitting on the rocky surface. We planned to crawl to get closer to the birds but as the place was rocky we couldn’t so. After waiting more than one hour a group started moving near us. Though they are still quite far from our lens distance but we didn’t want to miss this chance. We started to crawl and some how managed to get some decent photographs of these beauties.

After being with these Sandgrouse for more than an hour we started moving towards the lake again. We already crossed more than a kilometre but still the lake was quite far. We were exhausted under the scorching sun. We decided to come back to the camping side to have our breakfast. After having breakfast we again went to the lake by car. We even took a third trip after lunch, but were unable to click any wildlife photos due to bad weather. I just managed to take some landscape shots. We moved another side of the lake and found a group of “Kyang” – Tibetan Wild Ass. They are such a beauty. After spending few hours behind them we could manage to take some decent shots.


Then we planned to visit a gompha near by. While travelling; Amit pointed some moving object in far. Immediately I could recognise them – the rarest beauty of Ladakh, Black Neck Crane. There were two. It was then late afternoon. Those birds were about 3/4 kilometers away in a marsh land. We started our move behind them. We had to travel approximately a couple of kilometres in the marshes. The bone chilling wind started again and we were travelling in an open marshland. The birds were moving too. We couldn’t reach them after struggling for two hours. We could just manage some record shot of these rarest beauties. As the sun was setting and the temperature was falling steeply we decided to go back to the car. When we reached our car we were exhausted, cold and sad.

Tomorrow is our last day in this beautiful land. We are starting for Manali early morning by car.

4th September, 2008 10:30 PM

Manali

We had an amazing car drive from Tso-Kar to Manali. The road was long, scenic, and rough.

We are extremely lucky that we experienced heavy snow fall while travelling through Bar-Lacha-La, the third highest motorable path in the world.

It took almost 12 hours to reach Manali from Tso-Kar.












It was an amazing trip overall. We will come back again in this beautiful place. JULEY Ladakh.

Our Team was –

  1. Amit Mitra – Support Analyst, Logica
  2. Rumi Mitra – IT Analyst, TCS
  3. Rima Banerjee – Analyst, Target
  4. Neloy Banerjee – Sr. Security Analyst, Accenture


Also I would like to mention we tried to make a documentary film on "Human Wildlife conflict in Ladakh" during our Ladakh stays. It was a humble beginning......


Special Thanks To -

1. Mr. David Sonam - Owner of Hotel Snow View and an amazing person whom we met at Leh. He helped us in every steps during our Ladakh stay and making the documentary.

2. Mr. Jigmet Takpa - Conservator of Forest, J&K. He helped us a lot with his knowledge, experience, thought and time to make our documentary film.

3. Mr. Tapo Lawang - He was our tour conductor. Owner of http://www.ladakh-guide.com

4. Khenrup - Our guide during Hemmis Trek. He was a person with supreme knowledge of the wildlife in Ladakh. He works as an official guide with J&K wildlife department.

13 comments:

Shivakumar said...

Hi Neloy,
Fantastic writeup and also beautiful collection of image. I got to see more than what you have posted on INW. The images speaks for themselves about the beauty of the place. Very nice narration.
Thanks for sharing this with everyone.
Cheers,
Shivakumar (www.shivakumar.net)

kartik said...

Great report Neloy. Great to see another IS pro. being interested in Wildlife and Photography :-)

Cheers,
Kartik

Neloy said...

Shivakumar, Kartik - Thank you guys for stopping and looking this. I appreciate.

nsac29 said...

Awesome writeup backed with some unbelievable images. I must say I REALLY enjoyed the narration, almost felt like being there. We had hoped to visit Leh/Ladakh this August but it did not materialize, am already waiting for the next season. Your blog is making me wanna get there right away. Thanks.

Sachin Nayak
http://thoughtsinflight.wordpress.com

Vamsee said...

Great trip report and very beautiful pictures. Did the rest of you take any pills to combat altitude sickness?
Thanks for sharing this.

mukesh said...

dear neloy,

having served two years in the line of duty in ladakh,it was a journey back to time reading your blog.lovely write up and awesome photos,i have some more photos of ladakh fauna,which i will be uploading.ladakh as you will agree is the out of the wold experience.

mukesh

Neloy said...

Vamsee - Thanks for writing and looking this. Fortunately my attack was not so serious. Also we took Diamox every night after dinner. Also we carried mixture of camphour and salt and took the smell to get smooth breathing.

Neloy said...

Mukesh - Thank you very much for your writing. Waiting for your pictures. Yes Ladakh is something different.

satchmo said...

neloy...brilliant write up with fabulous pics.
enjoyed it thoroughly!!!

pushpinder

Neloy said...

Pushpinder Boss thank you very much.

gopal shroti, (chandra) said...

amazingly extraordinary step to step write up and the pix supporting to ur pen.....normally the hills around us are exciting and when talk of Himalayas, it is hair-raising....kudos to both of u couples for enlightening us with this great thread, particularly with ur hand and cameras......gshroti@gmail.com

S K G Rao, C Text. ATI. said...

Dear Neloy Babu,
How do you use the camera attachments can I came and see your camera and the accessories,I am in Bangalore my phone # 23306751,my blogs:
http://engineeringtextilesforindia.blogspot.com
http://ganapathi-rao.blogspot.com
I do all my photography with just a Canon PoweShotA620.

Rajasthantraveling said...

Ladakh tour packages. Agise Tours and Travels offers affordable yet comfortable Ladakh tour packages that includes all amenities of accommodation.

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