Thursday, 27 June 2013

Destination ladakh

Ladakh had been one of my dream destinations for as long as I can remember. Among the many emotions it offered me,  the long drives along the ever changing landscape captured my attention. No wonder it is a favorite destination among the bikers. Nothing like winding through nature and being part of it. The morning sun peeping through the mountain tops makes you want to jump off you bed irrespective of the sickness and start the day all colorful.

Believe that the  road had been laid just for me!  It is the path to get me closer to my destination after a bright start to my morning and all I have to do is take off from there. Me , myself and the road, teasing with glimpses of far away lands and dreams. The meandering melting snow , the green pastures , the yellow mustard field in middle of nowhere only heightens the experience. May this drive never end!

The expanse of the blue sky only leads you closer to heaven. What is it about ladakh that makes the sky so blue and pristine. Is it because we are closer to it or is it because man has not yet ruined it. Wish each and every location on this earth brought in calm to ones eyes as this one did.

The only thing that could beat the mightiness of the nature is the inhabitants of ladakh. It was an humbling experience to understand their struggle against the harsh weather and still be sustainable in their efforts. Who said keeping the carbon footprint low is easy. But one can learn from the ladakhis. Something even more beautiful than the landscape was the goncha and perak! They are the traditional robe and headgear of ladakhi women.  Amazing land Amazing people! Can't get better than this!

 Date : June 2013
Place : Ladakh, Jammu and Kashmir

Tip : Just do it!
First : Ladakhi culture!
The travel connection :  Complete a bucket wish!

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Destination Thiksey

Om mani padme hum - Though i have heard this chant many a times at home , I had to Google the meaning as i sat down to write this blog. Why are some of us restricted by money and time that we don't sit down and reflect the memorable moments during the journey. Maybe recollecting it later and writing about it is a good way to relive the emotions and the moments. So i guess i am doing the right thing.

In between the different pit stop , we spent a tranquil dawn at Thiksey monastery which is about 19kms from leh. The pre dawn wake up call was to be part of monastery's morning prayers . The drive through the Indus valley plains as the sun was peeping out was enough to drive the slumberness away. As we approached the monastery the size became apparent. The architecture with its vibrant colors became one with its surroundings. Why don't the modern buildings give us the same feeling. The stepped architecture came hand in hand with steps, lots of steps. You think you reached the destination and behold in front of you there are more steps. The thin mountain air only made it better. Maybe I criticized modern architecture in haste. I certainly don't mind the escalators and the super fast lift that takes you high up into the sky.

I wish i could say the huffing and puffing disappeared as we approached the assembly hall and fell upon monks aged 3-12 chant prayers before entering the hall. That certainly was not the case. Though the monks were adorable in their attire ,  heavenly in their rendition of chant, it took me more than a few minutes to get back my senses as we settled down in the assembly hall. Rows of monk aged from 3/4 to maybe 80/85 years old chanting and performing their rituals was an amazing sight to my sleepy eyes. I wish somebody explained what was happening. The monk were served some kind of concoction as they were chanting. What was the significance of this ritual or was it their breakfast? Back to Google! Google Baba's first page didn't give me any answer. But one of the images made me recall that we climbed up all the way to the roof of the hall before the prayers started to be part of ritual wherein monks invoked good energy and announced the start of prayer with their conch facing the four directions. Again Google baba did not give me the name of the instrument. Is baba having a bad day? Or maybe I was a lazy indifferent tourist who was'nt eager for more information the day I visited Thiksey. I guess it is the later.

One of the thoughts that ran through my mind as we went through the monastery was about the very young monks. Wonder how they leave behind their family at such a young age. What drives them to lead a life of austerity. Where does this kind of intense devotion take them as they grow older. As these thought were running in my mind while climbing down, i spotted magpies. The shallow me pushed aside these thoughts and the need to capture these birds overtook everything else. Yeah the shallow shallow me!

Praise to the jewel in lotus!

Date : June 2013
Place : Thiksey Monastery, ladakh

Tip : Stay in the monastery!
First : Buddhist morning prayer!
The travel connection :  Spiritual connection!

Sunday, 9 June 2013

Destination Zanskar River

Though ladakh had been my dream destination, the fact that I would be white water rafting on zanskar made it even better. Now I had  tried my hand in rafting along the kali river and it only made hunger for a higher grade. The guide proclaimed that at a few stretches we would hit grade 3 and the mermaid in me was jumping with joy.  Unlike Kali river where the dress code included sarees, we were given body suits. The temperature on the day we went rafting was about 6 degrees and it was considered a good day to be rafting! After changing into our suit , we were taken along the Zanskar river for 14 kms drive to somewhere on the road to Chilling. I wonder why Zanskar is so brown. Is it because the brown minerals are bleeding into the river? Surrounded by mountains in multiple shades of brown, it all became one only to be framed by the vibrant blue of the sky. We had embarked on a brown water rafting and I couldn't wait!

The drive seemed too long as I wanted to be part of this mighty brown. After a quick round of instructions, we embarked on the journey like no other .  The excitement, the fear, the amazement , the calm , the physical exertion, the gratitude, the fun, the adventure, the triumph, what more can one want in a two hour journey through the rapids. The emotionally stirring part was being in midst of  the dramatic  Zanskar gorge surrounded by walls  thousands of  feet high  and  the knowledge that the river is hundreds of feet deep. The triumphant end at Nimmu village where the brown Zanskar meets the emerald  Indus brings you back to reality. Isn't Mother Nature the most happening place !

Date : June 2013
Place : Zanskar river, ladakh

Tip ; If your right handed, take the right side of the raft
First : Jump into freezing water hundreds of feet deep protected by a bodysuit!
The travel connection :  Different modes of transport!

Saturday, 8 June 2013

Destination Nubra valley

After the heavenly pilgrimage to Pangong lake,  other locations  in Ladakh have to fight for their place. Nubra valley comes close to giving it a good fight for two reasons. The first reason being that one has to cross khardung La pass at 18,379ft to get to nubra valley. The claim of highest motor able road has been disputed but hey that didn't stop us from taking pictures next to a board proclaiming the same. 

The second reason is a personal one and most might not agree with it. Well it is the bird life of nubra valley. The first is a well known fact but the second came as a surprise. I wish I had known before. I would have skipped the sand dunes and the double hump camel ride and spent more time walking around this oasis.

The place we called home for the night was Nubra organic retreat. A quaint little place surrounded by  vegetable and fruit garden and soothing sound of flowing streams all across the property. The tented accommodation was certainly better than the one in pangong lake and food even better! It was their that I first tried the ladhaki bread and apricot jam. Considering this camp is supposed to be organic and to large extent self sufficient for their food needs , it reflected in the taste. I could not recreate the tingly taste buds at any other locale  after the camp's  apricot jam and ladhaki bread.

As mentioned earlier the thing to do in Nubra valley is be bumped between two humps of a camel and  of course pay your respects at the monastery.  The  pit stop at the monastery greets you with a  looming 32 meter high Maitreya Buddha  surrounded by cold desert dunes, green oasis and harsh brown mountains and the multi level Diskit monastery .

 As I had already visited few monasteries , I decided to pay my respect from a distance with this particular monastery. It was the sound of gushing water that took us to the rear of monastery and we discovered a hidden water fall. We later got to know the monk would carry the water all the way from the valley up to the monastery during construction. The monks have my respect. I wish all of us get inspired by their dedication to their life of simplicity.  Why don't we make an effort to know more about them and their religion as we take in their monastery? Yes, traveling is not just about sight seeing but it also about inspiration. The degree of the inspiration can vary person to person but most seasoned travelers  would agree there is more to holidaying than just holidaying !

Date of travel : June, 2013
Place: Nubra valley , ladakh

Tip: Walk the oasis
First : Oasis in valley of cold desert sand dunes
The travel connection : Epiphany of inspiration.

Thursday, 6 June 2013

Destination Pangong

They say it is the journey and not the destination. I ask why can't it be both the journey and destination.  So did I find the real me on this journey? Did I have a conversation with God?  Did I have life changing moment? What if I say all I added was  unforgettable one to repertoire of memories to look back on. Is that good enough?

Blue - Wonder why it is associated with everything cold and men! One needs to spend a day along Pangong lake to understand the versatility of blue. Just to make it interesting, the creator has surrounded the blue with stark brown mountains and sprinkling of brown headed gulls. Can a place be more alive!

The short drive along the lake is not enough to take in the sights. If you have the energy at 14,270 ft, then I would suggest one repeat a few more trips along the shore. Though the shore is 130 kms long and I would not suggest venturing the entire length unless you and chini are bhai bhai or bhai behen as the case maybe.

One needs to experience the pleasure or the pain to truly appreciate this place. After reaching heights of upto 17,590 ft at Chang la pass, it is like coming back down to earth. And being down to earth is not always easy. It gifted me with a throbbing headache of an intensity that cannot be described .The cold was bearable on the day we reached this heaven. But I have heard instances when the cold  played the role of icing on the cake.

Camp Whispering Waves is about 15 minutes walk from the world's highest salt water lake. It affords views of this brackish lake if you stand on your toes or  you peep and squint through the ever developing shore of the lake. The saving grace is the sight of changchenmo range. The camp is basic and toilets unusable because of the freezing gales. One has to beg borrow steal extra blankets and hot water bottles. No one said the best things in life are easy to get.

A trip like this one reinforces why it is so important to journey beyond the confines of your comfort well. The frog has to jump out to stop just breathing life and start living it.

Location: Pangong , Ladakh, India
Date of travel: June 2013

Tip: Take a moment and let go of the camera.
Must do: Walk along the shore
First: Altitude sickness
The travel connection: Spread your wings

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