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Motorcycle Diaries. Road to Ladakh…Leh – the land of monasteries…

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Part 4 of the Motorcycle Diaries. Road to Ladakh…

Day 9: July 1, 2012; Rest Day at Leh: Good Morning, Leh! Though it was a rest day and ideally the tired me should have slept till late, I woke up pretty early. Well, that’s what I got used to doing for last so many days now!

First thing first – True’s care! Our RE Team Leader Aakash had announced last evening that the bikes should get serviced, if needed, early on this day. True was cruising all fine and needed no service. However, eight days of grime, dirt and dips in water forced True to take a bath! So, I initiated the hunt for a bike/car wash center nearby. However, it being Sunday, Leh was largely shut and I had to drive 8kms on Manali Highway, all the way to the hamlet of Chogalmasar Jamba, where across the bridge exists an old acquaintance’s garage; a person whom was meeting after good six years! But, just like all other people from the hills, he was extremely warm and forthcoming. So, True was given special preference in queue.

Washed and shined, True and I got ready to see around. There were several things to see around. I had secretly wished to visit Pathar Sahib Gurudwara here, when I was leaving Delhi. So, as soon as I got ready, I rode off to this holy shrine, located about 25kms from Leh, on the NH1! Yes, my friends, NH1; the same NH1 that starts at Delhi and goes to Leh via Srinagar and Kargil! To see this signage at Leh is some feeling! Kahan se kahan aa gaye, road wahi rahi!  

Some details about Leh, as learnt duting my earlier trips and also with information and excerpts from the official Leh website – http://leh.nic.in:

Leh was the capital of the Himalayan kingdom of Ladakh; now the Leh District in the northernmost state of Jammu and Kashmir, India. Leh, with an area of 45110 square kms, is the second largest district in the country, after Kutch, Gujarat, in terms of area.

I would say Leh is extremely rich in cultural heritage and honesty. It is popularly known as land of monks and monasteries. Since the 8th century, people belonging to different religions, particularly Buddhism and Islam have been living in harmony here. Besides these two communities there are people living in the region who belong to other religions such as Christianity, Hinduism, and Sikhism, who too live in harmony and form a vital part of the society.

Mountains dominate the landscape around the Leh as it is at an altitude of 3500m AMSL. The whole of the district is mountainous with three parallel ranges of the Himalayas, the Zanskar, the Ladakh and the Karakoram. Between these ranges, the Shayok, Indus and Zanskar rivers flow and most of the population lives in valleys of these rivers.

Ladakh is called the Hermit Kingdom due to its remoteness and inaccessibility. The principal access roads include the 434km Srinagar-Leh highway which connects Leh with Srinagar and the 473km Manali-Leh highway which connects LEh with Manali. Both roads are open only on a seasonal basis, largely between months of June to October. All though our journey this time, I observed that the Border Road Organization (Project Himank) has been tirelessly contributing a lot to the overall development of Leh by constructing and maintaining a vast chunk of road network.

Leh’s Kushok Bakula Rimpochee Airport has daily flights to Delhi. Last year, Neha, my wife and I had flown down from Delhi and found the airport pretty functional, albeit extremely vigilant for security measures.

Since its opening for the tourists in 1974, Leh has registered an increasing number of tourists attracted towards it, because of its landscape, culture, tradition environment etc. and that it still has much potential for adventure tourism. Hemis, Alchi, Lamayuru, Shey and Thiksay are some of the most popular monasteries of Ladakh, which attract both domestic as well as foreign tourists. The Leh Palace overlooks the town of Leh and is worth a visit. Pangong Lake, which is 60% in China and world highest motorable road Khardung La are also major attractions for tourists. You’d recall the last few scenes of the Aamir Khan’s movie – 3 Idiots; it made Pangong Lake highly popular!

Let me come back to my day at Leh…The road from Leh to the Gurdwara Pathar Sahib is in pretty good condition. You’d take the NH1, which is also called the airport road. The panorama is spectacular – you’d drive on a road surrounded by mountains from all sides, and would gradually see River Sindhu, aka Indus on your left.

I reached the shrine at about 1pm. Gurudwara Pathar Sahib stands at the place where Shri Guru Nanak Dev Ji is believed to have vanquished a demon. Shri Guru Nanak Dev Ji, the founder of Sikh religion and the first guru, is well respected by Tibetans, who consider him a saint. Gurudwara Pathar Sahib is also worshipped and venerated by Buddhists. Tibetan Buddhists venerate Guru Nanak as Guru Gompka Maharaj and as Nanak Lama. The gurudwara is maintained today by the Indian Army. It is a tradition for vehicles to stop and pay obeisance at the temple.

Neha and I visited this shrine last year, and we had unfortunately missed the langar, as it is held only between 1pm to 2pm daily. However, this time, some very senior army officer and his team was visiting to offer their prayers and the langar was organized. So, lucky me! I had the honour of eating the langar here. Also, hungry me! I hadn’t had one proper square meal, that too such good tasting one, in days! So, as guru’s prasad, I ate and ate and ate!

I thanked Babaji for bringing all us riders safely to Leh and prayed for our safe trip back home. I was really happy that I could visit and offer my prayers here…

Once I came back to Leh from the Gurudwara, Aman and I visited the famous Hall of Fame Memorial, a place every Indian citizen must visit.

It is a glorious monument, which was set up by the Indian Army XIV Corps as a Museum cum Memorial to the War Heroes. 

It is also hailed as a ‘Museum of Ladakh’s Culture and Military Heritage’ and houses a War Memorial. It is open to public and is situated near the Leh Airport, about 7kms from the Fort Road.

You can see the memorabilia, distinguished defence personalities with biographies, images and several other details on Ladakh. There is a complete section devoted to the Kargil war, where the weapons used by the Pakistan Army and the other belongings of enemy soldiers found at war site.

Remember Capt. Vikram Batra, Param Vir Charka (posthumous), our Kargil war hero? ‘Ye Dil Maange More…’. See him in the picture to your left…

Another section of this building is entirely dedicated to Siachen, which is strategically the most critical war-sector for India; often referred to as the highest altitude battlefield in the world. On display are soldiers’ clothing, snow-shoes to keep their feet from frost bites, instruments of daily use; their day-to-day food, mainly frozen and packed, which is heated by lighting small balls of Hexamycin tablets, as it is difficult to ignite fire at a temperature going south of -30 degree centigrade!

The Museum also houses information related to Ladakhi culture, way of life, history, vegetation and animals found in this part of the world. It is interesting to read in detail about Zorawar Singh, the dogra ruler, his explorations into Ladakh, his battles with king of Ladakh and the advances his army made in China.

Visiting this place is certainly a thrilling and proud experience!

Aman and I came back to the main Fort Road for lunch – Leh offer very good food at reasonable prices, in several eateries on the Fort Road and around. Some of the good places to eat are the German Bakery and Summer Harvest restaurants.

Post our lunch, we visited the local market – you have hundreds of stores selling T-shirts with catching slogans – right from ‘Free Tibet‘ to ‘How I Get Leh’d‘ to the cheesy ones like ‘My Brother Went To Leh And All He Got For Me Is This Lousy T-Shirt‘, and many more cheesier ones! You can get them made as per your choice too at nominal rates. We bought a lot of them!

There is a huge Tibetan Market that sells very interesting stuff – mostly local – ornaments, coins, pots, the works. You can but some very strange-looking locks – very different ones than what you’d see anywhere – all made by hand! Must buy as a souvenir! This was the place where I met this sweet kid!

That evening, I experienced something really unexpected. Many of my fellow riders – strong men with considerable riding experience – young and old alike – expressed their longing to go back home. They were missing families! Their kids, even wives! Some of them even expressed a desire to book their bike through courier and take the next flight home! Strange, isn’t it?

No. I didn’t find it strange. I found it quite natural a feeling. Men can be labelled strong and aloof and what not, all of us miss our near and dear ones. It is completely sane to be soft at heart – who said riders don’t have heart?

However, as I went to bed, I knew I would find everyone back with a bang – energetic and raring – for the morning briefing next day. After all, we were about to ride towards arguably the highest motorable road of the world – the Khardung La…what a feeling it would be…

To be continued in the next blog

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‘Motorcycle Diaries. Road to Lodakh…’ was written in 8 parts. You can read all 8 parts of this travelog here.

Published during July-September 2012, this series of travelog – ‘Motorcycle Diaries. Road to Ladakh…’was recognized by Ghumakkar.com as their Featured Story of the Month, October 2012.

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