I started my 10 days trip to Ladakh from Srinagar as a tour leader of a group of 10 including 2 senior citizens. Crossing deadly Zojila pass, we entered into Ladakh (land of passes). Huge mountains, snow-capped peaks and vast barren land, looked like a painting. On visiting Kargil war memorial on the way, tears shed from everyone’s eyes. A wow moment for everyone was to see the rock carved statue which dates back to 7th century and the paintings of Alchi monestry (oldest in ladakh) from the 11 century. After visiting Lamayuru monastery, indus -zanskar rivers confluence and magnetic hill, we reached Leh on evening of 2nd August.
2nd Aug 2015
Following the itinerary we packed our luggage for Nubra valley across khardung la pass, 150 km from leh and 100 km away from siachen glacier. An early start made us encounter traffic at Khardungla pass (World’s highest motorable road) at 18380 ft. Even in the peak summer the pass remains covered with snow and experiences frequent avalanches and landslides. While heading towards the Khardung pass we could see cascades of bikes, army trucks, tourist’s cabs. Here the roads are maintained by BRO but still we could hardly see any metalled road because it gets washed away by snow and avalanches. We were just a mile away from the summit when I heard the road was blocked ahead due to landslides. When I got down, seeing the landslide I predicted that it would take no less than 2 hours to remove the rocks, some of them big as our cab. Being at such a height, one must be fully acclimatised to avoid mountain sickness and even like that it is not advised to stay longer than half an hour. Three of my members started showing mountain sickness symptoms and were out of breath. I am always aware of this possibility and always carry an oxygen cylinder which works well in these cases. After a while, somehow BRO managed to haul the blocks and we reached the top. We enjoyed a well-deserved tea, before heading towards the other side of Khardong la pass, which was bumpier and more avalanche prone area, but finally we entered unique Nubra valley. Before reaching our camp in Hundar we had lunch at khardong village and puked it out at ‘jalebi mord ‘ which is locally famous for its continuous sharp turns along the mountains. Suddenly, the vibrant view of Shayok River flowing towards Pakistan showed in front of us. Travelling along it, we could see the villages that looked tiny between the Himalayas. Crossing through Khalsar village where the army camps are located, we reached T- mord where the road bifurcates into two: camps in Hundar via Disket to the left and Siachen via tirid panamik and some other villages to the right. Panamik (hot spring) was planned to cover the next day. After turning right at T-mord, the valley opens into a large expanse of desert and oasis where ‘Bhaag milkha bhaag’ was shot. Running, against the time, we quickly rushed to Disket monastery atop of the hill to enjoy a majestic view. Day could have not been complete without the famous double humped camel ride that we enjoyed shortly after. The perfect ambience provided at the beautiful camp made our day end with relax. That night I went to sleep after briefing but the heavy rainfall woke me up midnight, but I pushed myself hard to go back to sleep because the next day we had to cover Panamik and reach Leh by evening.
3rd Aug 2015 As soon as I stepped out from my tent, I heard the bad news about the only way to Leh and Panamik was blocked due to the heavy rain. To soothe the matter, I enquired to other group leaders and local people. I tried to contact office in Leh to get more information but unfortunately we were completely cut -off from the rest of the world. Rumours had started to spread ” ab toh road khulnay me ek mahina lag jayega “. I waited all day for good news about the clearance but there were no sign of it so I finally took the decision to stay back at the camp and cancel Panamik. Late evening we heard news from the BRO about the possibility of clearance of the road by next day.
4th Aug 2015 We left our camps in the morning in a hope that we could reach Leh by evening, but all our hopes went in vain when we saw huge parts of collapsed mountain on the road, which took more than 6 hours to be cleared. We could hardly see proper road, it was completely washed away. Crossing through pathetic ways we finally reached T-mord where we saw dozens of tourist’s cabs and army trucks who were also stuck. They almost emptied the only food shop there. But the bad news, didn’t stop there, the 17 kms to Khalsar were completely blocked due to landslides. We couldn’t head towards Leh anymore and we still disconnected from the rest of the world. The only medium available for us to get information was the radio; I tuned into local news and was deeply upset to hear Khalsar village was totally washed away by the flood. They also announced about our situation and how the government officials have promised to clear the road as soon as possible and provide bus service from the other side of Khalsar to Leh. I quickly planned to reach the nearest and safest camp in Tirid village, a geographical location considered safe in terms of flood and landslides. Crossing Shayok bridge , watching how the river water was almost touching the bridge , and driving through messy roads we reached the scenic camp. Although, we were between apricot trees, flowers and the stunning view of a 106 foot Maitreya Buddha statue, was not relax for me and our driver Stanzin. Both of us walked all the way back till T-mord to enquire about the road updates, we decided to walk because saving fuel was also important knowing that the single fuel pump in Nubra mostly remains empty. At T-mord I came to know that tourists could cross the landslided and flooded Khalsar by trekking to reach the other side where they will be provided bus service to Leh. After reaching the camp, I discussed this possibility with the group back and all of them were courageous to trek, except the two senior citizens who had problem in knees. With heavy heart I told them about separating the group into two, allowing me to take most of them out to safety as soon as possible so they could finally contact home. I planned to reach back to camp after leaving 9 of 10 members safe to the other side of Khalsar where they will board the bus to leh.
5th Aug 2015 Early morning we started our trek of 17 kms from T-mord with the entire luggage .Stanzin also accompanied us. We start our new challenge with the Himalayas on one side and Shayok river following its course on the other side. When walking through mud, pebbles and huge rocks every step has to be taken carefully and some of my group members almost lost their hopes and filled eyes with tears. Somehow I managed to encourage them to reach the last point which was the toughest part, because of the need to cross streams through temporary narrow wooden bridges. The army provided us ‘puri halwa’ yet it wasn’t a celebrating moment for us ,dozens of tourists ready to pay anything to take them to Leh waiting for the bus were in front of us. Finally a bus and a truck arrived with seats reserved for women and men allowed to sit on top of the bus. After seeing they went off, me and Stanzin turned back to the camp with the hope of better chances of opening of the road by next day if rain doesn’t obstructs the efforts of BRO. Our predicted news gave relax to senior citizens and we decided to leave the next morning.
6th Aug 2015 Thank God! the road was finally unblocked till the last point where we had to cross a stream but Stanzin’s very much experienced driving and villagers took us out to the other side. By the time we reached Leh the itinerary was changed completely and the same day we headed to Tsomoriri lake instead of Pangong lake, so that the members could reach the destination and board their flights and still not miss an overnight by the lakeside.
Leading a group at Leh, getting stuck at places where you never thought of, encouraging the members when you are less hopeful in the insides, this had been alifetimetrip for me….. But “still I want to travel again”- as that is what I was born for!