Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Journey through the world’s highest motorable road

It was around 6:30 AM when we started for Nubra valley from Leh. Before coming to Ladakh I did a thorough study of each area and the world’s highest motorable road which goes to Nubra valley from Leh via the highest motorable pass ‘Khardung la’ was biggest my biggest attraction. Not only as a photographer, but as an adventure driving enthusiast, I wanted to drive on this road. Lucky enough, we got a Scorpio which was in mint condition.

First half of the drive was not much difficult barring the sharp hairpin turns on that narrow lane. Driving experience in different ghats of Maharashtra did a little help, but the steepness was not comparable at all. It was end of April and tourist season was not started in full swing as the temperature at night was going to freezing point often. We wanted to keep the windows of the vehicle open to enjoy the surrounding natural beauty, but the biting chilling wind was just not tolerable to our Mumbai-temperature habituated skin. We had to use moisturizing creams heavily each hour. I really don’t think I’ve these much creams in life that I used in a week’s time at Ladakh.

South Pullu (around 15000 ft.) – our first stop on the road for breakfast and official check for valid permits. There were few companies of army and a senior officer told us they have been sent here for acclimatization for Siachen. Shortly, they will be on their routine 90 days posting at the worlds’ highest battlefield – Siachen glacier. Our breakfast was simple; Maggi (that’s the most widely available food in entire Ladakh) cooked in five times more water than needed. As soon as we finished the watery Maggi, there was hot tea which getting cold in few seconds in that temperature of around 7OC.

The next phase of the drive was really nerve-ratting. Snow was cleared by the BRO team on early in the morning, and there were fresh snowing after that. And with the wind, powder-like snows were everywhere and we had to start the wiper on to get a clear vision of the narrow road. Driving at less than 10/hr speed, we were merely crawling. At times, when the vehicle was skidding on the snow-filled road, I was actually thinking to put the iron chain on the wheel. And finally, just before 2 kilometers from Khardung la pass, we had to stop. There was one small bus before us which couldn’t cross one snow and water filled area. We came down from our car and the road was slippery like anything. We were taking support of the vehicle to keep us straight for taking photographs. By the time the bus was able to cross that stretch, we couldn’t do anything but sitting idle inside the car and taking some images here and there.

Then finally we reached Khardung la top, local people call it K-top or just ‘top’. It was a sheer sensation to be at the top of the world’s highest motorable road at 18,380 ft. We got down from the car and started taking photos as quickly as possible. I knew that spending longer time in this less-oxygen area means falling ill. We couldn’t even spend more than 10 minutes on the top it started snowing along with a biting wind. Amazingly, we found there are couples of families who stay over there, probably paid by BRO to look after their jawans & officers. It’s all about habit; where we can barely stay for 10 minutes, habit made them stay for life!

Then it was a steep descend till North Pullu. South Pullu – Khardung la – North Pullu these three point make a bell curve on this terrain. Due to lack of oxygen at the top, most of us were having some problem of breathlessness which were making us little drowsy. To break the dizziness and to celebrate crossing the K-top, we stopped at South Pullu. It’s the acclimatization base camp for Indian army who’ll be posted at Siachen glacier for 90 days. There was only one restaurant (if you can call it!) open and they were serving hot mutton thukpa. The morning watery Maggi was digested by then and this thukpa did the magic of bringing us back in form. And then our driver brought our attention to an black animal which was coming down from the snow-clad mountain – a Yak. Our lenses were ready in seconds people who had bigger lenses in their kit, opened them up and fixed the biggest possible lens to get the Yak as big as possible in their images. I don’t think that yak ever experienced this kind of attention and therefore, became little shy. It just looked at us for some time trying to understand what exactly happening and then slowly turned away.

Drive from North Pullu till Diskit was piece of cake comparing to what we had crossed some time back. River Shey was our companion throughout this road. In this route we crossed the Indian Army’s supply point where we came to know Lt. Col. P. K. Chowdhury – who’s heading that point. A great gentleman, who treated us like his family members, told us how Indian army is defending the enemies from both Pakistan & China. The feel of desert soon started surrounding us as soon as we entered Diskit at Nubra valley. And the beauty of the desert area with a water body within it came to the forefront when we reached Hunder village after crossing Diskit. The Diskit monastery is one of the oldest one in Ladakh area and its surely worth a visit. Just beside that, they are now constructing a huge size statue of Lord Buddha which should be finished soon.

The Yak

When we reached Diskit monastery, a sandstorm started and we had to take some time to come out of the monastery. In this mean time, we the priest told us about the monastery, it’s culture and history. We got some exceptional shots from the monastery and then headed towards Hunder village. Our drive to Nubra valley through the world’s highest motorable road proved to be an unforgettable experience!

Monk at Diskit Monastery

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