India blog Travel – part3
Leh – Khardung la (World’s highest motorable road)
After the Leh local sightseeing, we were getting ready for the “the best part” of the experience road trip, Khardung la. We were supposed to leave by 6:30 am so got up early at 5 am just to be ready on time. Let me just give you an inside of what was happening at that time.
I was scared to death while getting ready for the khardung la trip which is claimed to be the highest motorable road in the world at 18380 feet. However, there were two reasons why I was scared, first I am a height-phobic especially when we are talking about in the excess of 18,000 feet and, second my experienced at Zoji la Pass.
I must share the real experience what exactly happened there? Now, Once we went past the green meadows of Sonmarg, raced past Thajiwas Glacier before making our upward trip adventure towards the Zoji La(Pass) at 11,575 feet (3,528 meters). This was the first altitude pass of our experience trip with this being the first trip to the Himalayan ranges ever. The road was muddy, gravely and non-existent at best. The valleys were deep and the path was taking us higher and higher along the precarious edges. The melted snow filled the potholes with water and tata sumo started plying in the opposite direction by the time we were on top of the pass.
If you are headed on this road, better to cross Zoji La before these crazy tata sump drivers. Those tata sumos were returning from Zero Point. To add to the horror, as I mentioned in first post, our SUV got punctured right in the middle at Zoji la pass and one shocking incident happened when we were came face to face with one of those crazy local taxi driver who refused to budge. Considering those narrow lanes there was no space for two cars to pass, there was no space on our side so we requested the other driver to reverse his car because he had some space to maneuver but he didn’t do it so our driver started to reverse the car and due to wet road, he couldn’t get the grip for a few seconds and we started to roll over. I swear, I thought for a second, that’s it. This is how it all ends, but driver stopped the car just in time, few seconds late and we all could have been vanished in that valley. I got the glimpse of deepness of the valley and couldn’t shake that feeling entire day. Therefore, those 2-3 hours were the scariest part of the road trip.
Funny thing, I was scared to death but my 9 years old nephew was enjoying like it’s nothing. So What I felt was not the feeling of our entire group. However, the journey after Zoji la pass was quite a fun and decent to very good road conditions as I described in second post. Once we reached Leh, I said to the group, “Forget about what I said earlier about doing a road trip, I am going to take the flight while returning to Srinagar, I can’t go through the same treacherous experience again.”
More about this later, back to the Khardung la journey, my earlier experience at Zoji la was making me nervous as the Khardung la is almost 7,000 feet higher than Zoji la pass. Therefore, I was palpitating since morning. However, our driver Yamling seemed quite confident and told me, this is not as scary pass as you think, so relax and enjoy the experience. His confidence made me venture out the journey again. When you are unsure, embrace the unknown. We must have travelled about 15 kilometres towards the pass and then, it started to snow which stopped our journey as there was a long queue of traffic. We got stuck there for almost 6 hours (You will find this usual once you travel on Himalayan ranges) but turned out those 6 hours were the best part of the journey. Experiencing the snow at 17000 feet, in not so extreme cold (generally temp go up while snowing), walking in the valley was the experience of a life time. Check out the pictures, It will describe the whole experience of the trip.
Khardung la is the gateway to the Nubra valley and Siachen glacier. It was opened to vehicles in only 1988 and maintained by the BRO. It is 39km away from the capital city, Leh.The road to khardung la is open from June to September and remains close due to heavy snowfall.
The scenery got better and better as we crossed Khardung la. However, due to heavy snow, we were allowed to travel only if the taxi’s tyre were chained as it gives better grips on those icy roads so our driver Yamling (used to call him Yam, the god of death) chained it quickly. Every minute was crucial as we had to reach Hunder – Nubra valley, another 120 km in rocky mountains.
How to travel?
An early start should ensure that one reaches Khardung La without encountering a lot of traffic. There are three ways, you can travel there.
Bus: J&K SRTC along with several other travel companies run regular bus service from Leh to Diskit and other parts of Nubra Valley via Khardung la pass. While some are one-way local transport buses, others are part of packaged tours.
Taxis: Taxis are the prefer mode of transport for locals as well as tourists, due to the fact it is faster and more comfortable than a bus. You can get a seat in a local taxi which is normally run in the same manner as a local bus or you can hire one yourself.
Hiring Motorcycles: Motorcycle enthusiasts who are unable to take their motorcycles to Leh can get one for rent for local sightseeing and to go to places such as Nubra Valley. One can find numerous bike rental shops near the old post office road Leh town or you can ask your hotel to arrange one for you. For more information, please read Renting Motorcycles in India.
What to eat?
For this journey, make sure you buy something from the Leh town as you are not going to find much options up at 18500 feet summit . Near the check post (where one needs to submit the permits. If you have a driver, he will probably take care of it else you have to manage it yourself), there is a café at the summit, where one can have a much needed cup of tea/coffee along with some snacks. There is also a souvenir shop selling Khardung La memorabilia.
Where to stay?
If you are just going to Khardunga la then there is no need but if you prefer to visit Nubra valley then you will need at least one night halt. you can stay at Diskit, Hunder or Panamik.
See, there are various ways to do this trip, people short on time prefer to only drive/ride till Khardung La, spend some time there and come back to Leh, a trip of this sort should come out to be 80 km and will be completed in a day. However, we preferred to travel to Nubra valley straight from there which is a thrilling experience to visit the highest white sand dunes deserts in the world (highly recommended).
Despite all the concerns and hype surrounding Khardung La, I found our drive to the summit was relatively easy and amazingly beautiful. I didn’t feel scared for a second. Why I don’t know? Maybe because by then, I was used to the altitude or the driver was funny and fantastic or the journey was so mesmerising where I forgot everything else.
If Kashmir is the heaven on Earth then Leh Ladakh is the Vaikuntha (God’s paradise as per mythology).
Check out the photography of the entire journey in below posts, it’s truly heaven on Earth.
- Post-1: Delhi to Srinagar, Kashmir
- Post-2: Srinagar-Kargil-Lamayuru-Leh Ladakh
- Post-4: Nubra Valley (a part of the ancient Silk Route)
- Post-5 : Nubra valley to Pangong Tso Lake through Shyok river (the river of death)
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Please keep in mind:
- You are travelling to highest motorable road in the world, so don’t be careless, keep drinking water and keep deep breathing.
- Weather can be uncertain at khardung la so Don’t try to be a hero. Please cover your entire body with layers (Thermals) and keep the winter clothes ready for sudden dips in temperature. Also, remember to carry waterproof clothing.
- Mobile phone networks – Only postpaid connections work in Jammu & Kashmir and BSNL and Airtel are your best bets. These have decent network coverage in Sonamarg, Kargil, Lamayuru and all the other major towns en route.
- If you are travelling at the high altitude especially via flight directly, take complete rest on the first day so that your body gets acclimatised to the surroundings. Avoid too oily or too heavy food and alcohol. Avoid sleeping during daytime.
- If you get any health issue, please visit the doctor asap. Keep the Diamox pills for Acute Mountain Sickness. we took one pill everyday regularly and we didn’t face any problem at all.