'Tis time I ended journalling this trip.
The trip to Nubra Valley had taken a day less than we had expected, so the previous night had been mostly wasted in bed. So we were up early on 28th morning and were ready before 8:15. And Janina, who'd taken the same jeep with us from Manali, joined us on this trip, along with another girl. She turned out to be scottish and was doing a thesis on attitude differences across the generations in ladakh. We headed towards likir, only pausing to visit Pathar Sahib and a couple of stops where the Zanskar meets Indus.
Likir proved to be a tiny village on the Indus valley, all green and gold with fields of Alfa-Alfa. The gonpa is on a hilltop, with a golden buddha statue. The statue is known as Buddha Coming or something like that, because the statue's feet touch the ground instead of being the usual cross-legged position.
Post Likir, we headed along the Indus river bank to Thingmosgang, passing through but not stopping at Bazgo. Thingmosgang is a small picturesque village, nestled in a valley protected by the elements and fed by meltwater from the glaciers above. The gonpa was deserted, but the view from the top was beyond words. You are struck speechless by beauty of the green fields and terraces, from the vantage point of the monastery.
After we passed out of Thingmosgang, passing through Saspol, we stopped over at Khalstse, which is where our driver was from. Except for the three kids running around, the lunch was completely uneventful. We reached Lamayuru, in the late evening. The monastery is very visibly alive, with kids playing cricket in their saffron robes of monkhood.
We all climbed to the top of the hill on which Lamayuru stands and decided to watch the sunset from the summit. A couple of officers on an evening walk approached us, while we were up there. The officer, of the Sikhla (?) regiment advised us to go back through the Kashmir valley instead of back via Leh. The sunsets so far have been hardly anything to write home about and this one was no different.
We headed back to our rooms before it got too dark and tried to find us some grub. But after a bit of wandering, we decided that the best option we had was to eat at the guesthouse we were in.
I woke up early, though not early enough to attend the morning puja. Since we had plans to visit Bazgo and Alchi on the way back, we hurried out of Lamayuru. But we were stopped mid-way by some blasting work that was going on. After nearly an hour of dilly-dallying, we were finally let through and we proceeded to Alchi gonpa.
Alchi is probably one of the oldest gonpas we visited, so far. Photography was generally discouraged, which was perfectly OK with me there. The road to Alchi, however was quite interesting, it was almost absolute ruler straight, with a nice fork in the road to the monastery. And there was green barley all around the place. We found a nice restaurant with a view and sat down to eat a late lunch.
After heading out of Alchi, we retraced our steps to Bazgo. Bazgo looks like a mud fort in ruins, but when you look closer you can see the solid blocks of stone over which centuries of plastering has created the appearance of soft mud. It is being restored and most of it was closed for us. But the structure did leave a sense of awe about people who'd build such a structure in such an inaccessible place.
After all our adventures in Kargil district, we headed back to Leh to civilization, warm beds and honey lemon ginger tea. But the trip back was no less enchanting in the fading evening light.
After some butter tea, darpu and a bit of shopping, headed back to the hotel for dinner. I'd had bought some Yak cheese to bring back to Bangalore, dried apricots and a jar of apricot jam. Our dinner was hot maggi noodles, with a lot of vegetables. We bid adieu to our fellow travellers and hit the sacks early.
And then we took the flight to Delhi. End of journey.--
What makes the universe so hard to comprehend is that there's nothing to compare it with.
We started off late with me waking up first, at 9 AM. But by ten O'clock we'd had breakfast and were ready to roll. The cab came to us after picking up everybody else. After leaving Leh at around 10:30, we spent the next two hours steadily climbing uphill to 18,380 feetto the highest motorable road in the world - Khardung La. Unfortunately, it has been converted into a touristy place with families and grandmothers climbing up melting snow or sliding down pulling down two sons, one holding each hand.
I did climb up to the top of the peak, nearby. The snow was slippery and I walked up by digging my heel in with each step into the snow. The way up was the easy part, as I would discover later. The view from the top wasn't that different, but I'm easy to please when mountains are concerned. I was feeling euphoric and was slowly making my way down when I realized that there was a faster path down than walking. I went down that hill sitting on my left foot and steering with my right heel. After all that excitement and a cup of cinnamon tea later, we headed downhill into Nubra valley.
The word Nubra means green and the valley was only slowly turning green under the bright summer sun. The glimpses of green in the valley was amazing after the dry desolation on the other side of the mountain range. We kept moving till we got to the village of Khalsar, which was our designated lunch spot.
In the village of Khalsar, I had the most amazing momos I have ever had. They were soya momos and with a simple chutney. I don't know if it was just because we were hungry, but we gobbled up as many momos as the lady could bake. After lunch, we headed out to the Shyok and Nubra confluence, which we would cross to reach Diskit. The bridge across the river is small, yet controlled by army personell.
Finally, we ended up in Diskit and dumped out bags and stuff at a slightly upmarket place called Olthang. While Vinayak & Co were visiting the gonpa nearby, I went walking along the streams which passed near our hotel. Rishi , on the other hand, was watching kids throw water at passing vehicles. One german lady who got wet, also got indignant. Probably needed a camera for the moment when she asked Rishi - are you a monk ?. After all this fun, we headed out for the dunes of Hundar before it became too dark.
Hundar is a stretch of sand dunes, with a stream (or river) flowing through the middle. After the standard shoes off operations, we had a few chases up the sheer slope of a dune. The sand was hard rock sand, quite unlike the beach sand I'm familiar with. Walking barefoot was probably a bad idea as I ended up hobbling across the thorny bushes on the way back. But more than compensated for that by just letting myself go into the warm (not cold) water. After a bit of splashing around, we headed back to the warm beds of the hotel.
27th June: At around 7 AM, I was woken up by the driver. He wasn't upto date with our plans and I was too sleepy to explain. Two hours later, all of us slowly started waking up. After a slush bowl of corn flakes with hot milk, we all pulled ourselves together and moved onto to the other side of the valley. We had to go halfway till Khalsar before we'd take the other fork in the road which would take us to Sumur and Pangmik.
After going down the Khalsar loops down to the valley floor, we passed through Sumur towards Panamik. Panamik is probably the northernmost point in Indian soil that I can put foot without a military permit and escort. The hot springs of Panamik, though were a disappointment. The springs were literally trickles down the hill with the smell of ammonia and algae covering the entire stream bed. But the top of the hill gave us an excellent view of the valley below.
After visiting the Sumur gonpa, we bid adieu to Nubra valley and began our return to Khardung La. We stopped over at Khalsar yet again to have lunch, but the momos had run out. As evening set in, the air was shimmering with the fading light of the summer day. We climbed up into the upper reaches of the mountain, racing against the clock. Since our plans had included a third day in Nubra valley intially, we were sort of cutting it close by shrinking it to a two day trip.
We went up Khardung la, just minutes before 5 'O clock. The entire snow cap was bright with the late evening light. As we watched the mountain grow bigger and bigger, we could see the thin line the hand of man had scratched on this mighty mountain - the scar line of a surfaced road. And up we went.
K-Top was nearly deserted when we arrived. There wasn't any of the swarms of tourists we had seen on the way up. After the customary cup of chai, we took our trip downwards and onto the warm comfy beds in Leh. Our trip to Nubra valley was a couple of hours short of completion. Not here the red and orange glows of the sea shore, but the the golden sun was turning the mountainside into a veritable feast for the eyes.
A dinner that went wrong, though the food was ok when it eventually arrived, and the day ended as it began - with me in a bed.--
If the grass is greener on the other side, there's obviously more shit there.