Sunday, May 27, 2012

9 July 2011 – Leh

[Part of my write up for the Leh Bike Trip]

The night was similar to our previous nights, incredibly cold but we had the warmth of some fantastic hosts again.

(the owner of our tent)

We again started 2 hours after the planned time. We were at the base of the TanglangLa climb and from here it was a hour long twisty climb. The scenery, goes without saying, was fantastic and changed every two minutes. In spite of being the highest pass on the route to Leh, the roads were better that expected, good solid tarmac at many places and no river crossings.

(View before TanglangLa)

The air was very thin but my bike was holding up surprisingly well. The snow patches got denser as we approached TanglangLa. The final ascent was quite innocuous, we turned a corner and there it was – at 5328 meters - we were at the same altitude that planes fly. This was also the highes me or my bike has ever been and the view was incredible.

(Da man posing at TanglangLa)

(Da machine posing at TanglangLa)

(View on the other side of TanglangLa)

We had an extended photo session on top and then, without warning, it started to snow. It was light at first, but the memory of the previous night's storm was on our minds and we decided to head down quickly. The roads were being laid out on the other side and were dusty at the patches where the old tarmac had been stripped off. The road that had been laid out was fantastic though and we cruised down till Rumtse. At Rumtse we stopped for some tea and met a rather odd looking dog.

(Cruisin' together)

(Landmark at Rumtse)

(Yes, I am talking to you)

Next up was Gya which has a monastery perched up on a hill overlooking the valley below. From here on till Leh there were chortens/stupas everywhere – some tiny, some huge, but all white in colour. Gya is the start of the red mountain zone. It was the predominant colour of the landscape with even the rivers taking on a pinkish hue.

(Gimme red)

(My friends waiting just ahead of Gya)

A while later, there were fields of green dotting the houses along the way and some trees too. Welcome change after five days in the desert. We have arrived in Leh - Julley!

(Welcome to Leh)

(Crossing the Indus river)

We crossed the Indus river and a check post after which the road ran parallel to the Indus till Leh. There were some amazing canals next to the river but at a height of 10 meters from the river bed. Here it started to rain. We took shelter at a petrol pump – again the first in 5 days.

(You can see a monastery perched on a hill towards the left.)

The rain didn't last for long and didn't trouble us for the rest of our stay in JnK. The most exciting part of our journey was behind us. There are a couple of monastery's on this road to Leh. We first saw the Thiksey monastery, a 12 storied complex, around 20 kms before we hit the main town. A while later we came across Shey palace, which used to be the summer residence of Ladakhi kings.

(Thiksey monastery)

(Shey monastery)

(Long straight roads to Leh)

(Just before Leh, the landscape changes with meadows and horses .. Kashmir?)

Leh is huge, at least when looked at in comparison to the other towns on our way here but it was very difficult to find a room here. We couldn't find anything available near the main market and a policeman told us to try the hotels on Changspa road. It looks like we had come in absolute peak season because we couldn't find anything on Changspa either. Everything was booked.

We met a Wangtuk, the extremely friendly owner of Rigzin Guest House (9622152606) who had a room for us the next day. His hotel was good and I am sure it will be the same with his hospitality.  At Changspa, we saw a place offering paintball in the woods – we made a note to come back the next day (but couldn't find the time for it later).

During our search we had also gone to Padmaling Hotel which comes highly recommended online and in guide books. They had one room which was meant for 3 but the owner didn't have any problem if the five of us squeezed ourselves in there. Not finding any other option, we went back there and settled there for the next two days. The three single-beds in our room were pushed together and it wasn't as uncomfortable as we had originally thought it to be. With accommodation out of the problem list, we went to explore the market. It is a vibrant place with lot of backpackers which means some great world cuisine. 

(Dinner at the main market)

(Leh market at night)

(Tshirt shop - I picked one that said How I got Leh'd)

There was a travel agency that took you up to KhardungLa in their jeep and then gave you a cycle, to be ridden downhill till Leh. At 900/- per person I thought it was a steal. 

I got online and informed my parents and friends that things were well – this was the first time I spoke to them after Rohtang. Dinner was a quiet affair and it was an early night for us but not before we all picked up a "How I got Leh'd" t-shirt in the market. After 5 days and all that excitement, we had finally been Leh'd and it felt great!

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