As Chartered Accountancy students, fun is inherently elusive. It doesn’t present itself easily and needs to be sought. Thus four extremely frustrated students sought to head out after the exams. Clichéd much? But true. We’d narrowed down to Madhya Pradesh and were about to book the tickets, when fortunately for us, one of our friends chanced upon The Land Out There’s budget friendly backpacking Ladakh Trip. One glimpse at the itinerary and we knew this was it.
The journey to Delhi was certainly not uneventful. From lousy trains, inconsiderate co-passengers, wailing babies to farting and wheezing oldies, we had it all. To add to it arrived, Divya’s message that HRTC buses weren’t operating in Leh. So with the tempers and temperatures soaring up, we reached ISBT and met our fellow travellers. Walking down to the bus platform we caught sight of a dingy looking bus, which was going to be our ride for the next 14 hours to Manali. It only got better, when midway it started pouring heavily and the water seeped right in to wet us and our seats or when we halted at the most unhygienic and shady dhabha for dinner. Angry calls were made to Divya and Sherwin (The owners and organisers of TLOT and our trip). In their defense, we were warned about the buses being state run and non-ac.
Reaching Manali, came the long trudge uphill to reach our guest house, which was splendid. This was actually our first encounter with exertion and Divya and Sherwin’s ‘small walk’ and also of the fun that lay ahead. Now, I’m not penning down the ‘special brownie’ incident, but whoever’s reading this should ask Divya and Shewin about it. It’s such a fabulous tale and deserves a live telling. We left for Leh at 1.00 am the following morning. Groggy eyed and sick from the previous day, a 19 hour journey lay ahead of us. And oh boy, what a ride that was. Hardly an hour into the tedious journey and the puke fest began. Sherwin was actually counting one down every time one of us threw up. The puke fest and poop scare gripped us all till we finally reached Leh at 7.00 pm. So uptil now it might seem that it was lot of hardships, but from now on it only got better. Divya and Sherwin are marvelous improvisers and organizers, you’ll see.
The following day was a light one, we woke up leisurely and visited the Shey Palace and the Hemis, Thiksey, Stok Monasteries. These monasteries have a certain calm that fill you with sublime serenity. They are adorned with ornate prayer wheels, colourful prayer flags and wishing stones. The lamas, their faith in the wind gods and the vibrant use of colours, are all enticing. The evening was spent strolling in the markets in search of souvenirs and general chilling.
The next day we visited the ‘Pangong Lake’ of the 3 Idiots film fame. A hell lot of other tourists aside (yes, very hypocritical of me), it’s a breathtaking, high altitude lake with so many shades of blue that it feels surreal. One interesting thing about the mountains is that the the sun sets at about 8.00-8.30 pm and rises really early so our understanding of time using sunlight goes for a toss.
Early next morning we left for the village of Tur-tuk. Now Tur-tuk isn’t on the original itinerary but Divya and Sherwin always suggest that we go there. Listen to them. I can definitely say this on behalf of all of us that it was the highlight of the trip. Tur-tuk, is the last village of India nestled in the Nubra Valley on the Indo-Pakistan border with the LOC (Line of Control) just 9 kms away. On the banks of River Shyok, is a virgin, undefiled village, self-sufficient and extremely fertile. Upto 1971, it was a part of Pakistan.
The Kargil War closely affected the village. In fact, the owner of our guest house, Kareem Bhai was a sniper in the Indian Army and had so many amazing tales to tell while we walked around the village, alongside water streams, nibbling on freshly plucked mulberries, cherries and apricots. We star gazed in the night and saw the moon rise. It was ethereal. Fortunately, the skies were clear and we could glimpse the tiny tip of Mt K-2 playing peek-a-boo with the clouds. We had a mini adventure of our own at the guest house which made our trip to Tur-tuk the most mind blowing experience ever. We had to depart the next day with heavy hearts. On the way back we stopped at Disket Monastery and Hunder, a cold desert that is home to the beautiful double humped camels.
The last day in Leh we decided to go river rafting in Zanskar. This again wasn’t a part of the original itinerary but is a must-do. The 32kms in Zanskar river right upto its confluence with the Indus River took us about 2.5 hours. From the voluntary cold dipping in Zanskar or the involuntary topple in the water during a rapid, rapids so high that they engulf the entire raft or the rhythmic rowing of paddles, (sometimes in air if there was a gigantic rapid), the adrenaline rush that you get is something you must experience in person.
So that ended our trip for all intents and purposes and only the return journey remained. The journey that started with three different groups had now culminated into one big TLOT family not wanting to go back. The departure from Delhi to our respective hometowns was a sad moment. Though sighting Burger King and spotless bathrooms with sprouts cheered us considerably (separately, of course) the sudden realisation dawned upon all of us that these 11 days of solitude and bliss had come to an end. But we were taking back loads of memories and great friends to cherish for a lifetime. TLOT managed to win our hearts through and through.
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(Traveller No – 592)
P.S- Travelling with the Himachal bus drivers is a highly recommended experience.