Ladakh – A drive over high passes

I love this drive and have done it myriad times. Am doing it again this June with some friends – if there are others that would like to join us please call 9810184360 or mail :

I have copied below the descriptions I wrote years ago – this land stays the same and still touches the soul. This will be our itinerary:

22 June 2018: Arrive at Manali and stay with me at The Lama House.
23 June 2018: Day in Manali for acclimitization – a short hike through temple woods or a picnic and a relaxed day.
24 June 2018: We drive across the Rohtang Pass into Lahaul and stop for the night at Jispa on the banks of the Bhaga river.
25 June 2018: Drive on over the grand Baralacha la – and a wholly changing landscape to camp at Tsokar Lake.
26 June 2018: Tsokar to Tso Moriri – a lovely back trail through meadows filled with Yak herders to the beautiful lake. Both these lakes are breeding grounds for myriad birds and high mountain creatures.
27 June 2018: Tso Moriri to Leh. Hotels and hot baths and wander the shops.
28 June 2018: A day to visit some of the famous monastries, explore the town.
29 June 2018: We drive over one of the highest roads crossing into the Nubra Valley – where the terrain changes again and we see another aspect of these amazing mountains.
30 June 2018: In Nubra – exploring.
01 July 2018: Drive back to Leh.
02 July 2018: Fly out of Leh. ( If you are even thinking of coming book this flight – it can be cancelled but gets harder and more expensive as it gets closer)

No of persons on the trip 3 4 6
Costs per person 96870 89720 89780

I will send the details of what the costs include if you decide to come. Most of us don’t read so much in one go.


LEH MANALI DRIVE.
GRADE :MODERATELY DEMANDING

SEASON: JUNE THROUGH SEPTEMBER

This spectacular road through the highest mountains in the world is open for only 3 or 4 months in the year – from mid June through September – crossing the Pir Panjal, the Greater Himalaya and the Zanskar ranges, it reaches a maximum elevation of 5304m. Calling this a road, maybe conferring more than it’s due, that it is a drivable route: a grand testament of human endeavor is the truth. The 476 km journey over four high passes and some of the most awe inspiring terrain in the world starts from Manali, along the green valley of the Beas river, up the steep switchbacks of the Rohtang Pass at 3978m. The Rohtang forms the divide between the verdant Kullu valley and the stark expanse of rock and glacier, in the rain shadow of the Pir Panjal range.

From Rohtang, the road descends to the Chandra River and follows it to Tandi where the Chandra meets the Bhaga River, little villages with groves of poplar, willow, and potato fields irrigated by glacial streams dot the landscape. The road continues past Keylong (district headquarters of Lahaul) and the last town till Leh, 360 kms beyond. Following the Bhaga River through Darcha and past the pastures of Zingzingbar, starts the ascent to the Baralacha Pass (4892m). “The Pass with the crossroads on its summit” – this grand pass straddles the meeting point of gigantic ranges, offering passage down four different routes, along the valleys of the Chandra and Bhaga rivers and into Ladakh and Spiti.
A rough stretch of road descends to the pastures of Sarchu 107 kms from Keylong. Now begin the wide-open spaces, dotted with the amazing textures and colours of craggy mountain faces, the gash of the Tsarap river, with it’s mud sculpted sides. The awesome world of nature’s timelessness dwarfing Man.

Once across the Tsarap river starts the grueling ascent to LachulangLa Pass (5059m), 54 kms from Sarchu. The amazing shapes and colours as you reach the top compensate the hard drive, descend along a little stream to Pang. Beyond Pang, the road crosses the Sumskyal, a deep gash marking the edge of the great Kyangshuthang plains – a massive plateau at an altitude of 4500m. Across the vast expanses of this plain are chances to see the Kyang (Tibetan wild ass), the Nabu (Blue Sheep), lots of marmot, as well as the Pashmina sheep of the Shepherds of Rupshu.
We take an interesting diversion at this point, short of the Tanglangla Pass – at 5325m, the highest point on the highway. 136 kms short of Leh a dirt road east leads to the Tso Kar Lake. We camp at this lake and see the breeding Brahmini ducks, Grebes and Black necked cranes. From Tso Kar we take a little used dirt road past hot springs and meadows where yak herders and goat herds have their summer pastures and taking a circuit north meet the highway in the Indus valley, and onto Leh and the comforts of hotels and hot baths.

(Along the regular route, once across the plain, at Dibring, the road starts climbing across the snowy reaches of the Tanglangla and descends into more inhabited Ladakh, meeting the Indus river at Upshi. Passing the Monastries of Hemis, Thikse and Shey, The road reaches the Bazaar of Leh.)

Leh is located in the Indus river valley at a crossroads of the old trading routes from Kashgar, Tibet, and Kashmir. Its importance as a trading town slowed down with the partition of British India, and ended with the closure of the border in 1962 during the Sino-Indian war. Since the 1999 war with Pakistan, and the consequent development of the Manali-Leh highway, it has become a bustling tourist town, the sights to visit are the Palace and the monasteries, and a wander through the bazaar is essential.

We can do two trips out of Leh: to the Nubra Valley and the Pangong tso lake.

For Nubra we cross the highest motorable pass at Khardungla (elevation 5359 m or 17,582 feet). Khardong La is historically important as it lies on the major caravan route from Leh to Kashgar in Chinese Central Asia. About 10,000 horses and camels used to take the route annually, and a small population of Bactrian camels can still be seen at Hundar, in the area north of the pass. It is an area that has only recently opened to the world. Still only about 45 kms of the valley are accessible. It is a tiny bit of paradise, orchards and wild flowers, the bactrian camels, wide meandering river. A discovery, leading to the highest battleground of the world – the Siachin glacier.

Pangong tso lake: situated at a height of about 4,350 m (14,270 ft). It is 134 km (83 mi) long and extends from India to Tibet. Pangong Tso can be reached in a five-hour drive from Leh, most of it on a rough and dramatic mountain road. The road traverses the Changla pass, where army sentries and a small teahouse greet visitors. The lake is spectacular, we spend the night in a camp on the banks, you get to see breeding Bar-headed geese and Brahmini ducks. If you are lucky enough to be there on a moonlit night and brave enough to weather the cold, there is magic there too, as there is all over these mountains.
wind sculpted

 

 

 

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Trekking the meadows of Kashmir

Kashmir, always evocative of romance. The last time I drove through on my way to the Zanskar, I found the magic of the houseboats. This time was closer to the childhood Kashmir of cottages in Gulmarg – picnics in the meadows et al.

Dilshad said, ‘you have to come on this trek.’ There are no have to’s for me when you offer me a walk in the mountains – I would live my whole life out of a tent opening to incredible vistas every morning. That I manage to do it more often than not, is the greatest blessing.IMG_8250

The first time I ever flew into Kashmir, the airport was the beginning of the enchantment – there were fields of red poppies nodding in the jetstream of landing aircraft all along the runway. I don’t know if that still happens in summer, but there were certainly no poppies this October day. It was cold out and nice to anticipate the, brisk weather, walking. We had what was meant to be a quick car ride to our trek start point in Tangmarg – unfortunately – it was delayed by a traffic jam at road works blockaded by trucks. Just the usual fare. We started our trek from Tangmarg rather late, down to cross the river where the bridge has been swept away by the floods last year. The bridge still not fixed, but the large pipes that carry the water from the small power house were all in order. We scrambled over pipes and slippery boulders to the village of Drung. IMG_8138There IMG_8139was produce being dried in fields and on rooftops, corn and vegetables, getting set for the winter. We moved on through, being greeted by so very polite school children, all rosy cheeked and clean.
Our first stop was in a meadow surrounded by pine and fir, close to a now abandoned Gujjar hut. The family and buffaloes having moved down for the winter.

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IMG_8280IMG_8142We stopped to eat our lunch. The air was crisp and clean with the smells of pine and fir. There were remnants of daisies and buttercups reminiscent of the passing of summer. Our trek continued crossing burbling brooks and through forest and meadow – we passed an ancient Hindu temple, built by the Mughals apparently, now in ruin
s and shelter for cows it seemed. It was beautiful with fall colours on the few Chinar and wild Walnut trees. Carpet of green, gold and red. I was also imagining it in summer, the riot of wild flowers and colour that we could see remnants of would be in full bloom and make for an element completely different to the one we were experiencing. It never ceases to amaze – how well nature clads herself with impeccable style, colour and taste – perfectly suited to the seasons!!

IMG_8226IMG_8227We did a two day route in one and were rather hurriedly clambering up hills and down dale to get to camp before dark, which took away some of the enjoyment of stand and stare time, which is what I savour most when on a walk like this. However our guide Wali Mohammed would saunter off way ahead of us and then lie on a rock meditating, while we scrambled to catch up. He would look pityingly and ask if we were ‘ok’ or needing a rest? We did not dare need a rest so on we would trudge – him with his easy loping stride and us with our ‘Nepali shuffle’ slowly up the mountain. IMG_8146We did make it well in time, coming up below the high Gondola wires and through a large Gujjar and ‘Ghorha wala’ settlement to descend down into a charming meadow surrounded by firs and bordering a stream.IMG_8264IMG_8149Our camp was set and waiting and the fire was lit to warm our frozen selves. A new moon appeared in the twilight blue sky and all was oh so good with the world. IMG_8148It’s that moment that one breathes a sigh for the magic and gives thanks to whatever has led you to be here now.

To wake to the sun gilding the mountains and emerge into this brightening world out of a warm cocooned tent – it is one of those special joys of the trekker along with sweetly sore muscles. IMG_8224-1We were going up and over the ridge to the Frozen Lake. Crossing the tree line and up into the barrenness of browning meadow and giant scattered boulders, is not so exciting in biting cold. Then the clouds came and blocked out the light making for more ‘Drear’! Totally joyless walking when it’s meant for pleasure is no one’s idea of fun. We diverted through an enchanting forest of Bhojpatra, bone white tree trunks with flaking, paper thin bark.IMG_8239
Myriad coloured leaves that crunched underfoot, we stopped for our picnic lunch in this wonderland. Continued traversing the ridge and climbed down to the Cable car – which zoomed us up to the ridge we would have been walking across. Short cutting totally. IMG_8259By the time we reached the top it was hailing and raining and an absolute white out. The frozen lake would have to wait for another time, when perhaps the meadows would be a burst of interesting wild flowers to make that trudge more palatable.

That night as we lay snug in our marvellous tents it rained and rained and rained. I woke to the call of nature, which went unanswered because I kept waiting for the rain to abate. It didn’t at all and I finally put on my rain jacket and emerged into a breaking dawn – the toilet pit was flooded making for a natural water closet – no details here. The dining tent had stuff piled up on the table and water channels crisscrossing the floor. We had a makeshift breakfast and decided to abandon a further trek to Ningal nalla and just clamber down into Gulmarg. It turned into another enchanting walk through the rain with the mist enshrouded trees and the streams bursting their banks.
IMG_8282I must admit I could have walked some more – it was so beautiful. Unfortunately we very shortly reached the roadhead where a car and driver awaited us – he surreally appeared out of the mist holding a placard. IMG_8283We transfered to the posh Khyber hotel – where admittedly the bathrooms and the rain showers were a very acceptable luxury as was their spa. A steam and deep tissue massage were very welcome to cramping, cold muscles.

We then wandered into a lovely old village near Tangmarg to visit an old home where carpet weaving was taught. All handicrafts are essentially winter activities in most hill areas – the short summers being used to grow a crop or do outdoor work as required. The kashmiris along with having the most spectacular scenery to dwell amidst, also seem to have the most beautiful crafts and artisan work. From their fabulous carpets to the gossammer woven, intricately embroidered shawls. Beautifully carved and crafted wood work and furntiture. Papier mache art with it’s skilled painting – they truly are a talented people. Watching those spinnners and weavers sit in that old room with the misty daylight that barely penetrated the dusty windows was a fascination.IMG_8286 Their strips of pattern strung in the threads above, their nimble fingers didn’t seem to pause and obviously they made no mistake to the intricate pattern they wove. In turn we also seemed to fascinate the whole family who came to peek at the strangers peeking at them.IMG_8293IMG_8296

Our day ended with hot chocolate at the Highland Park bar, I needed to go check out an old haunt – it was much the same and it was nice to see that though Gulmarg is unrecognizable from when I knew, all the new structures have the same old architectural style – it is still the large meadow of memory and has not been high rised and built into oblivion.

This is what I would term the perfect short trek,  – it is utterly beautiful country, comfortable walking terrain, great campsites and ends with an option of opulent luxury.

The River

IMG_5738I drove across the bridge at Hardwar, and that first sight of the Ganga brightened my heart and set me smiling. It happens every time – the river, the mountains and that forest act like an elixir. The guard at the barrier to Rajaji Park, smiles and waves you through, the road winds through the forest and it feels like old friends welcoming you. Every vista, the trees and the grasses spell home. The old guard at the inner gate who has been there forever, recognises and waves. This time I took the road along the left bank all the way to the Garur Chatti bridge, by passing Rishikesh aswell. How I do love this part of the world and what a beautiful drive it makes with non of the traffic and noise, the perfect way to enter this home stretch after the maddening road conditions all the way from Delhi. Suddenly, it all washes away, the sunlight makes tree shadows dance, the road along the canal brings memories of elephant meetings and butterflies.

Three days at camp – blissful sunshine, the sparkling river with all her familiar nuances and time to stare despite being there to work. It is never work surrounded by that view. I found a new rock and spot to replace the one I lost. Sitting there and talking to the river as in the old days was a healing that has been a long time coming. She was my friend and confidante for so many years and washed away many a care and I thought I had lost the connection. Now as I sit and watch, the cliche of life flowing like a river resounds  – the turbulence, the obstacles, the depths and shallows and all through it, the constant flow. How many, many people before me have thought and said it, and how many more will say it, the point is how many have found wisdom, strength, succour on the banks of how many rivers? This one is just special to me – I think all rivers are special – but the Ganga truly is my friend and I am blessed to still be able to live on her banks whenever I choose.

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An encounter in the Dhauladhars

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Many years ago I did an amazing trek up across the Dhauladhar range, crossing the Indrahar pass above Dharamsala, down into the valley of the Chenab and the ancient temple town of Barhmour. But feeling intrepid, we had decided to keep going and cross the crazy Kugti Pass aswell bringing us into the Lahaul valley and on again across the Rohtang into Manali and roads, baths etc. That this was a fabulous trek with many adventures is true, but I tell this story because during that trek we were travelling with the Gaddis, (Shepherds of the Himalaya) who take their flocks to the high pastures perched below these passes. We met one family while crossing the Indrahar, and they introduced us to another that was going upto Kugti.

259bd908e21fcd0d842a3d606e4c0e63Now a few weeks back I was on a short walk in the very same mountains with an amazing group of people who had come all the way from Ecuador to visit the Himalaya and also touch base with the spirituality of these mountains. We were doing a comfortable trek from Macleodganj, via Baal village upto the meadows of Triund, up beyond to the Lahesh caves and back. The age group varied from 30 to 78, all wonderfully positive and full of vim and vigour.

We had lovely clear mornings, but after the first day every afternoon would bring the clouds and rain. Every evening we would sit around the fire and recount what were the pearls of our day. It was a lovely ritual, but I can’t tell you how many times I heard that the pearl of the day had been ‘walking in the rain.’ This was just how positive the mood in this group was.IMG_5399

On our third day, while climbing up to the Lahesh caves and or the temple at the top of the hill, one of the ladies felt under the weather and so I walked back to camp with her, while the others carried on. Back in camp after she was comfortable, I decided to go find a likely rock and write, gaze, medititate in this suddenly found free time. The mist was swirling, I went and sat comfortably in the embrace of a likely boulder and the dreaming came easy. Shortly I heard the familiar bells of goats and sheep and sure enough they were all around me in minutes, appearing out of the swirly clouds like ghostly shapes. Along with them came the shepheard. He perched himself on a rock when he saw me sitting there and we started chatting, I asked him when he would head down and where his home was. Somewhere during that chat I asked where their high grazing grounds were – he said below the Kugti. That is when I told him that I too had crossed that pass with the help of some shepheards many years ago. He said, ‘I know, I was a young man then and I remember taking you and your friends to the top. You have not recognized me, but I do you.’

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It was the most surreal moment – sitting on top of a mountain in this misty haze surrounded by the tinkle of sheep bells and meeting a stranger who was an old friend. What a perfect afternoon that added another touch of magic to my many magic moments in these mountains.

Of morality and pre owned cars!

I met a man. He looked at me with deep, intense eyes and looked and looked.  I smiled, I shifted, I perhaps even blushed, I squirmed, I shifted, smiled some more and moved away.

Uneasy! you bet. He looked some more, I squirmed some more. It’s the pursuer and the pursued, at some point you succumb, you chat, you laugh, you walk together you talk. There is an attraction – what is it? The fact that you enjoy the feeling of being wanted or the fact that it is actually an interesting man? Whatever, the actual fact in the forefront of the mind is that he is not free. Yet you are behaving like that puppy on the road, slowly being enticed toward that stroking hand – lord what a laugh, and you are watching yourself in glee waiting to see what you will do – it is an enjoyment of the forbidden and you don’t know the end. It’s like a drama unfolding all of your own making.

It is a taboo, a no no, for what reason? A sisterhood thing – you do not betray the sisterhood.  My best friend says ‘what nonsense, you are not betraying anyone, it’s not your business, why are you doing the thinking for someone else?’ Another says ‘ They don’t call them used or second hand any longer – the politically correct term is pre owned – that makes re owning better?

But it’s a rule I have – the whole damn thing makes for sleaze and hiding and the whole purpose of an attraction is to enjoy the damn thing – how do you do that if you are in hiding?

So, perhaps no. Then you spend more time and realise, hello, not just nice to be pursued, it’s a very interesting pursuer. So, you happily spend the time. You think; a flirtation, a jaunt, a moment in time.

Then you think some more – are you capable of loving many people, yes, so why is not another capable of the same. And then you think some more – you have not made a vow to love just one etc etc. You are not pre owned – so is it alright? At this point your brain starts to get fried and nothing destroys the equilibrium more than a fried brain. And nothing should destroy the equilibrium.

Quit out thinking – it is a moment in time. You meet a kindred spirit for a fraction of life, you enrich some portion of it for each other and keep the memory for rereading like a good book. Morality thy name is convenience in a used car lot!!

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Over the high passes – another Himalayan drive

 

Teddy and Hari

An age has passed since I drove with the man that taught me how to manage the brake and accelerator together while releasing the clutch. My Uncle Teddy or Teddy Sahib as he is rather universally called, is a bit of a legend on mountain roads and trekking routes in Lahaul & other parts of Himachal. Those, who rally, drive off road and live the good life salute him.

A man larger than life, who explored every new road through the mountains the moment it opened. He had many times trekked it before. He taught us how to camp and cook out, to fish, to hunt and to make pickle.

His son, my brother Hari, follows in his father’s footsteps and has been India’s rally champion – he now tests cars, organises rallies, leads off road trips, does driving stunts for movies too. Generally a chip off the old block with additives.

 

Add to the mix two old friends visiting from England, Dave and Myra – Dave has just retired from being a well loved teacher. He is planning a cycling trip through Europe as soon as he goes home from visiting with us. Dave & Myra came trekking with Teddy Sahib in the early 80’s – they have four children (now grown) all conceived in India. Also two young men a friend and a young accolite of Hari’s; Bantu and Samar.

We are on a recce of a much travelled route, just not recently, so needs must check what new it offers.

 

Cars & CyclesSo our day starts with fixing the radios in the cars, checking that we have all the gear that we need, tow chains, umbrellas, winches are working – those large red jacks that pull you out of ditches are serviceable. Two bicycles are loaded onto the bike carriers – who knows when we might need to cycle for help or just cycle out, and our journey begins.

We are going back to Spiti, via Narkanda, Sarahan, Sangla into Kaza and out over the Kunzom and Rohtang into Manali.

3 Aug 2014

Dave, Myra and I drove from Gurgaon to Chandigarh. 0900 from Gurgaon, 1300 in Chandigarh. Uneventful and fast.

4 Aug 2104

When you drive with Teddy Sahib and Hari, it’s all about the journey – so from Chandigarh to Thanedar we have come. 1000 hrs at Chandigarh – 1900 hrs at Thanedar (199 km). Coffee and stretch your legs, attend a ‘bhog’ in Simla, stop for lunch at a newly discovered dhaba, check out an orchard for sale enroute at Fagu, stop to see if an old hotel said to be renovated is actually so. It is, by the way, the Tethys hotel near Narkanda is much improved and stay able – with spectacular views.

Now we are sitting by a fire at the Banjara Orchard Resort in Thanedar, it is a place I recently discovered and very much like – so this is my introduction to the tour. We have met a couple cycling the route we are driving, and shall perhaps show them a new route tomorrow – a back orchard trail to Sarahan.

5 August 2014
Seetal van homestayWe discovered a lovely home stay this morning – 5 kms short of the Banjara Orchard retreat a little road goes steeply downhill and winds around, take a sharp left into a gate and like all worthwhile hill places to get to, drive steeply down through the orchard, take a few hairy hairpin bends and arrive at this charming little home stay – all local himachali architecture, beautiful interiors – wood and slate, 7 nicely appointed rooms and bathrooms and the views. A real find, they have a quaint cottage for families too, and a tiny little cottage all on it’s own in a corner for all on your ownsome chilling.

To Sarahan behind trucksWe drove that lovely route which takes off just after Rampur Via Gaura and Mashnoor to Sarahan. It is a village road, great in bits and nothing in bits, but the views are lovely and you drive through the forests and villages, get stuck behind trucks loading apples and generally take twice as long as normal. With Teddy Sahib’s commentary which ranges from pro or against depending on his state of well being – which deteriorates if he is still in the car when the whisky hour approaches.

Sarahan templeWe had lunch and visited the Bhimakali temple at Sarahan, it is huge and beautiful – the goddess is said to grant wishes – so I made them as usual, we need to figure what timeline they will appear in. That they do is quite a constant.

Then we drove the amazing Sutlej gorge, watching it get deeper and deeper, with the battlements of rock and the showering waterfalls, the road that cuts right into the sheer mountainside – a marvel of engineering. The dam works have ruined a beautiful river and it’s valley, but one just has to look a little higher and it is still a spectacle. The road is a ruin after a point and it is a challenging drive. The dam work has created a huge slide on the way to Sangla, so one

has to climb a 17 km detour up the mountain and down again to avoid a 3 km stretch.

Sutlej Gorge1

sutlej 1

It got us in after dark so we missed the splendour of this valley of the Bhaspa – but it is spreading out my window now – orchards, pink fields of something the locals call ‘Ogla’ and they make a roti called Chilta, with the flour. Flowering beans and potatoes, wild flowers spreading a rainbow on all sides and the river running by. There is really nothing in nature that dresses itself better than the high mountains, they change colours and acccoutrements, but are beautiful in all weathers.

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Sangla fields

6 August 2014

We decided we were not going to do another long haul today, with the condition of these roads it would take us forever, so instead of going all the way to Kaza we would stop at Nako. The well laid plans of mice and men – I shall get to that a little later.

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First we went up to Chitkul to see what the drive was like since we had last done it. It was beautiful, with these straight up mountains of sheer rock, stratiated in crazy patterns, in building block layers, and as you get closer to Chitkul, the Bhojpatra starts appearing and whole hillsides of thyme, scent the air. Chitkul itself was unrecognisable. It has developed hugely, there are only a few of the old wooden houses, still sprawling up the top of the village. The temple is completely new, the old Tibetan carved and painted gate that formed the entrance to Chitkul from the north is gone, in it’s place is a newly constructed cement gate, but they have put the guardians in on the sides in glass cases, even the overhead guardian is there, so the welcome and blessing is intact as is the beauty of the whole valley; flowers layered up and down every available space, the huge, steep, sheer rock mountains interspersed with trees clinging to unlikely crags.

Chitkul Temple

 

Dave, Teddy Sahib and Hari took turns cycling down to Sangla – the road conditions actually meant that they were most often faster than the cars.

Cycling from Chitkul

Cycling Sangla

 

 

 

 

 

Then started the hair raising drive up the second bit of the Sutlej gorge, there is a deal of dam work all along this beautiful river, they are of a certainty destroying it. The roads are absolutely non existent – 20 kms an hour, with sections that are still slipping and dropping rocks or have slid and you have to take massive detours like yesterday. In all this, as I said before – you look up or down and that raging river, and the sheer rock faces are the same – and so far, so is that poor river – a force to reckon with – till these dams turn him into a damn lake.

falling rocksSutlej 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

So we reach the check point at Aksa and discover or rather had forgotten, that foreigners need an inner line permit for that section upto Sumdo. How flummoxed were we and what a staunch guardian of the gate was the gentleman in the booth. We have had to retrace our steps through rock falls and mud slides all the way back to Recong Peo, where obviously the offices were already shut – so a drink to learning and the patience required on all great drives in the mountains!

The Inner line

7th August 2014

We spent the morning sitting under a tree in the carpark outside the office of the District Magistrate at Rekong Peo waiting for him to sign the permit. Then he went off for a meeting and the little man helping us followed him. There were a french group and three motor cyclists waiting – also two or three bicyclists. Teddy Sahib, who was convinced that under Hari’s organisation we will get no food and no drink anywhere, went off around the bazaar and found samosas. Complained all the time that with all these apples growing on the trees, there are no apples to be had for love or money. Just then the boys arrived with a bag full of apples and a charger for Dave’s camera which they have borrowed from a shopkeeper. He has given it them from a new camera, on condition that they return it in Chandigarh. This can only happen in a place like this. Dave, to complete the story has left his camera charger at home.

We finally got the permits at 1200 hrs, which is when we started off. First we had to find the petrol pump, to which the Teddy Sahib took umbrage again. ‘All you young people, no organisation, we have been sitting for so long, this is when we should have done all this. Now we will reach so late and no one will stop to eat. That is why I bought the samosas.’ He was fine once we got going – the road was a nightmare, but the scenery was so spectacular. Through the rest of the Sutlej gorge, watching it change from a raging river to a spreading high mountain river and then narrowing again into a narrow, narrow gorge as it came closer to it’s confluence with the Spiti. Confluence Spiti SutlejThe actual confluence is a spectacle of sheer rock, you cross the bridge over the Sutlej and suddenly the road becomes smooth and the gorge feels like you could touch the other side – and you are climbing up and up for a long time till you top out and the high mountains of Spiti spread before you in all their colour and majesty. Huge swirling rocks churned like cake mix by the forces of nature towering into a blue Spiti sky.textured mountains

precarious orchards

Green Spiti

 

We stopped at what used to be little Nako village around a pretty little lake, today it is an expanding Nako village with a thriving agricultural trade – currently in peas. I have forgotten to say that what used to be sere brown, now has large pockets of green – new apple orchards, fields of blossoming potato and peas suddenly appearing around bends, nestled under where a stream or snow run off provides irrigation. The Kinner Camps in Nako is prettily located and has comfortable tents, with very good food. Lunch, that we had at 1700 hrs.

Nako village

 

Then we decided we were heading to Kaza, it was beautiful watching the light on the mountains change, the moon came up and added a completely other magic. We drove up through dark villages meeting a few headlights en route. Hari shot ahead, not minding the bumpy road – his passengers only the boys. I on the other hand, with Teddy Sahib, Dave and Myra – went more paced. Myra was feeling the altitude – not enough water. But she held out bravely and we finally got to the Deyzor Hotel in Kaza at about 2100 hrs. Hari already had the bar open – it was a very welcome drink after a truly tremendous drive.

8th Aug 2014

spiti from my window

 

I woke this morning to a sight that lifts my very soul, the amazing mountains of Spiti skirted by green poplars framed in my window. The one thing I always do in my favourite places is sleep with open windows and curtains undrawn, so the dawn and the pictures outside my window come right in to start the day. And what a day it has been. We are staying in a charming little hotel called the Deyzor – who knows what it means, but the proprietor is a lovely young man, passionate about the life he is living and working very hard to provide a service. (Any and all who happen to go here, do not ask for discounts, it is value for money.)

So we were given a great breakfast – porridge, variety of eggs, pancakes and pressed coffee – which is such a bonus.Spiti river

 

Then started our wild adventure – we were to drive to Hikkim, the highest post office, Kaurik monastery and Langza village to check out home stays. However, half way up – Hari saw an opportunity to go off the road and climb straight up the mountain, so of course we did just that, got spectacular views, had Dave gripping his seat in an agony of uncertainty. That both Dave and Myra just took it in their stride is kudos to them. I of course had theTeddy Sahib to guide me, he is very conservative with his advice, whether it is trust in what he has already taught or a belief that he is no longer heard, I am not sure. However, if you ask, he will offer – and it is a stupid person who does not ask when you have the master beside you – so he offered, ‘miss the stones that will hurt your car, not too fast, the rubble will get kicked up – and 1st gear low, or second will do.’ Thus we reached the zenith, took amazing photographs and then dropped down like we would have a dune in the desert, except here there is no sand that acts as an automatic braking device – never the less, we made it.

Off roading Spiti

 

We then finally found Kaumik and visited the old, typically Spiti monastery. Entrance, long hall with rooms on either side for the monks and the main monastery directly ahead, up the stairs. It was lovely, lonely and serene. The old monastery does not allow women, so only Dave got to go see the preserved snow leopard in there.climbing offroad

Kauric monastry

 

 

 

Kauric 1

Next we descended to Hikkim and the post office – a beautiful village with traditional homes, the landmark fields of waving crops, homes with juniper edged roofs, washed white. The postmaster is delighted, but can’t find his stamps – so his wife offers tea, while he hunts up the stamps. Dave finally posts his cards and we move onto Langza village to a charming home stay run by an old lady and her grand daughters. She gives us a great lunch of dal, rice and homemade, delicious ‘dahi’, supported by Maggi noodles. A traditional home, the rooms have the low cots with the Tibetan carpets and nothing is changed from how their home would normally be. The same central room with its stove and low seating with tables in front for eating and relaxing. The outhouse of dry pit latrines traditional to these dry, high mountain areas still works.

Hikkim PO

Langza Homestay

 

 

 

 

 

There is a marvellous trek to be done on this route,staying in the traditional homes and it seems many foreigners have discovered this. We met a french group staying at Langza and others in Kaza planning to go up. It is nice to see the traditional being put to a good economically viable venture.

We came down to go play at some offroading in the river beside the bridge and so ended a day of much fun and enjoyment.river offroad

 

I have not mentioned that at every step what makes this purely magical is the amazing scenery around you. This valley is easily one that I rate the highest on my places to go back to and rejuvenate your soul.

Ki monastry

9th Aug 2014

Kaza to Manali, 199 kms on my gps – easy driving on rubbish roads. We got to the pass in record time, payed obeisance and Myra and I decided we were going to bicycle off the pass. We had no figured that these were big boy bikes. I tried riding it for a spell only to find that if I had to put my feet down in a hurry – I would probably split my body or seriously damage it. They were way to large, we could not get off the seat without hitting the bar, so caution prevailed and we let the men do the riding. It was a murderous road. I honestly don’t know when it was last fixed, we just bumped and ground our way over the boulders – through free flowing ‘nalas’ and on and on till we crossed the Rohtang and hit both the mist and a good road.

Kunzom passKunzom flags

 

 

 

 

 

 

The change in terrain from Spiti to Lahaul is instant, it is greener and you start to see the shepherds with their precariously perched herds – on incredible slopes. All seeming to be quite happy where they are.

Cycling off the pass

Before leaving Spiti we stopped at the Chomoling nunnery, where they recognised me as the person who came with the ‘Jehudi’ women. We had spent a day and night at the monastery, helping in whichever sphere absorbed them during the ‘Queen of the Desert’ tours.

For me entering and leaving Spiti is like a prayer – blessed to come back there and asking a blessing to come back again.

Chomoling little nunsat the top(offroad)

10 Aug 2014

MANALI: More family has arrived, Maya, my daughter, on a bus from Delhi. Girimere, my brother, and Karandeep, a family friend, arrived with their monster bikes that they are riding across to Leh. Lunch at Martin’s, a cafe in an apple orchard that only provides Sunday lunches and beautiful surroundings.

Manali

 

Teddy Sahib and I then went to inspect a camp site up the Raison road at Baira Gram, it was an hours walk up and down in this acute heat and humidity that the valley is facing. A lovely spot which would need some development.

After the hot walk, a much needed tea with Uncle Jimmy and Aunty Bala (the Johnsons) at their beautiful home. A building that I consider the most beautiful hill home of all.

We wound up with a dinner of delicious trout at Pia’s – Johnson’s Cafe.

This was to be the end of our tour, but; ‘ So, Pavane Bhen,’ says Hari, ‘ it’s a long weekend coming should we go to Dalhousie?’ ‘It’s a boring long drive,’ I say reluctant to stop at Dharamsala. ‘Over the Sach?’ Hari, with a very naughty twinkle. Obviously, how does one resist that.

 

11 & 12 Aug 2014

Over the Sach, has to be quite the most spectacular drive that I have ever done.

Road to Sach2

 

Obviously we had to climb over the Rohtang again – long delays because we were accompanying Girimere and Karandeep who are riding their monster bikes up to Leh. So their kit had to be packed properly, then some leak fixed and who knows what else – however – it was hugely worth it to see the big smile and pure joy that emanated from my brother Girimere once he got on his bike and was ready to go. This has been one of his dreams. So we saw another dream driving off and followed them over the Rohtang. The pass was totally empty for a change. No traffic jams, even the Rani Nala is not acting up. Smoothly over and we stopped at Koksar for meat curry and rice with Pandit ji. Then onto the petrol pump at Tandi where we all refuelled and parted ways. We went up into the Pangi valley and the boys continued to Ladakh.

Giri in glee

 

The Pangi valley – a place of greenery and huge agricultural development. Everywhere you look are fields cut out of the mountains growing potatoes, peas and currently being harvested cauliflower. There are streams and waterfalls everywhere, the road follows the river Chenab or Chandra Bhaga all the way and is really not as bad as the section from Kunzom to Rohtang – less murderous for sure. The mountains change in every valley – these are sheer rock with tree cover and not the erosion that we were seeing earlier – spectacular and beautiful – what was great to see almost all over is the prosperity of the people due to the agricultural push. There are water channels in all directions tapped off every bitty little stream.

Green Pangi

 

We drove and drove well into the dark to finally arrive at Cherry Bangla to find some hundred people had taken over our booking as well as all else including a forest of tents pitched on the lawn. It is a great comfort to be driving with Hari and Teddy Sahib on occasions such as these. Hari who was way ahead of us, obviously, drove on and found another little rest house in the village of Sach. We even got a dhaba opened up who cooked us great daal, rice and the inimitable pudina and chilli chutney. Our rest house required the spreading of all our clothes on the rather dodgy sheets, thankfully it was warm and we did not need the even more dodgy quilts. The breakfast was compensatory the next morning, great parathas and egg bhurji and we set off to climb this amazing pass.

Road to Sach 1Road to Sach 3

 

It was 15 km to Kilar and then a little beyond you get to see this narrow slit in the rock wall across the river – it is the way up to the Sach pass. You go down and down to cross the bridge across the Chandra Bhaga (Chenab) and then start climbing this steep road up the very narrow valley of the Sach nala. Sheer rock sides, with waterfalls washing down in sprays that acted as a car wash many times.

Road to Sach

Dhabas below SachGravity defying villages perched on pinnacles of rock, sheep on steep meadows and a death defying trail along the other side that would make for an amazing trek. As we got closer to the top, it starts to open and the meadows begin to spread below just before the glacier starts – then you can see the piles of bald moraine between the spreading snow fields. This is the only one of the passes we crossed that still has so much snow. We stopped for lunch at the usual dhabas, just short of the final climb to the pass. Walls of snow on either side, large water crossings, the most brilliant pass crossing in a long time. Sach PassA small temple at the top where we all went and offered a prayer for thanks and safe passage onward. And the climb down, once past the snow – it was a spread of meadows covered in all the hues of flowers that are found in the high Himalaya.Off SachFlowering meadows A smorgasbord of scent and colour that we just stopped and stared at. Then it was an uneventful and regular ride to Dalhousie, via Bairagarh where there is a nice rest house, past Tissa where we used to camp in the woods as kids and then past Chamba & Khajjiar back home on the hill of Bakrota above Dalhousie.

Blue poppyHome Dalhousie

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE ZANSKAR RIVER EXPEDITION

Zanskar: the name evokes magic! Just an amazing trip and so doable, I took an 82 year old lady and she loved it. The drive is a spectacle, the river is so beautiful, the camp spots, the little villages, majestic textured cliffs and gravity defying hanging bridges….Please my friends, don’t miss it, come with me.

The trip runs: 20 th to 31st August 2013.

Drong Durung Glacier

Day 01 : Fly Delhi – Leh (3466m ; 11,370ft). Transfer to hotel. Rest, hydrate and acclimatise. Overnight Leh hotel.
Day 02 : Leh. Acclimatise and sightseeing. For the more energetic a visit to a few monasteries such as Shey, Thikse and Hemis will be arranged. Or choose to realx and walk into Leh town, to its exciting market and outdoor restaurants. Overnight Leh hotel.
Day 03 : Drive Leh – Kargil (3201m ; 10500 ft ; 9-10 hrs). We drive from Leh to Mulbek – Kargil, through a spectacular moonscape. We drive over the Fotu La (14,000 ft), a high mountain pass and exit the Indus valley. Enroute, we do a photo stop above the Lamayuru monastery belonging to the ‘Red Hat’ sect. Overnight Kargil hotel.
Day 04 : Drive Kargil – Rangdum (12,000ft). A spectacular drive past Panikar and Parkachik,with magnificent views of the Nun and Kun massifs (7000 metres),hanging glaciers and large meadows.We drive till Rangdum Gompa (12,000 ft).Camp overnight.
Day 05 : Drive Rangdum – Remala (3635m ; 11,925ft ; 6 hrs). We drive to Remala, which is the starting point for the rafting trip on the Stod river, a tributary of the Zanskar river. We drive over the Pensi La (14,500 ft), which enables grand views of the Zanskar peaks at the bottom of which is the Drung Durung glacier that feeds the Zanskar river, 40 km below, into which we flow trip the next day. Overnight tented camp.
Day 06 : Rafting expedition begins at Remala. Raft till near Karsha Gompa, near Padum. (3496m ; 11,466ft ; 4 hrs) We raft 30 km in 4-5 hrs which includes a break for lunch and hot beverages. We are surrounded by 6000 metre high peaks. River section today includes a Class II section, a good introduction for first timers as well as to the river in general. Settle into camp by afternoon, we can take an optional hike to Karsha Gompa.
Day 07 : After a late morning start, we raft from Karsha up to Honyo / Pidmo (3361m ; 11,025 ft ; 3 hrs). This stretch is approximately 25 km with Class II and III rapids. Another easy day to get used to the river, the altitude and hone our paddling skills.
Day 08 : After packing camp, we raft 25 km to Nyerak (3286m ; 10,780ft ; 3 hrs) a Class III section. The gorge narrows in on the river – this indeed is a Grand Canyon in its own right. We stop for the day to pitch camp in a gorge below Nyerak village.
Day 09 : Rest day at Nyerak. Take a hike to Nyerak village or relax under the cool shade of the willows at our Campsite. Wash up at the campsite stream and enjoy the day off.
Day 10 : Todays 35 km rafting section takes us from Nyerak to Lamaguru (3190m ; 10,465ft ; 5-6 hrs including scout and lunch) through the core of the Zanskar A classic white water day with continuous Class III rapids, and a few Class IV rapid where the river squeezes between a gap of about 18ft. We stop for lunch near a huge waterfall and continue to camp at the confluence of Markha river with the Zanskar. Rock formations, spires and an amazing palette of colours add to the trip today. Camp.
Day 11 : We raft 40 kms of Class III/IV white water from Lamaguru to Nimu (3154m;10,345 ft ; 3-4 hrs) today. We raft past the village of Chilling and exciting rapids as the Zanskar plunges out of the canyon to meet with the Indus at Nimu. We end our trip at the confluence of the Zanskar with the Indus. Drive an hour back to Leh. Last minute retail therapy and a hot shower! Overnight hotel.
Day 12 : Transfer to Leh airport. Fly Leh – Delhi.

THE COST : Rs. 67000.00 per person. Which does not include airfares to and from Leh. But takes care of everything from arrival in Leh to departure.

Call or mail me for details: +91 9810184360 / pavane@mhe.co.in