Thursday, December 10, 2009

Ladakh - Day 4 - Khardungla Pass

I had bought the bus ticket to Nubra the previous day. The bus that was supposed to leave at 6 in the morning, left only after 7:30 or so. So I grabbed some breakfast and got into this rickety old bus. Soon, the bus was filled with passengers, mostly the local people who commuted between villages. Did not really see tourists.
I had a window seat. The bus started and within a short time, it was packed and I thought it would burst.

We started. It was going to be one of the most memorable bus rides ever. Ladakh is magical. Truly.
No superlative can do justice to what the landscapes of Ladakh do to the human mind and heart as they fall on a pair of unbelieving eyes, greedy to behold the picture forever. And forever.

My camera went click, click, click, click and click almost all throughout the 5-6 hour bus ride. I resisted sleep so that I would not miss anything interesting that lay outside the window. The high altitude at which I was moving gave me a ‘top of the world’ feeling and it actually felt like flying. With every bend in the road and every turn that the bus took, a new world unfolded, in colours that I had never seen in nature.
Have you seen mauve coloured mountains? Next to purple hills? With snow on top? Immediately next to a huge pile of sculpted brown & beige sand? With red and chalk green stones strewn over it? A frozen sheet of white that was a lake, in between two brown hills? An eternity of space at the edge of which are many more mountains engraved with designs? Green fields in a desert? A village in the shade of poplars? And a small stream running about frivolously in the midst of complete solemnity?
Yes. I was flying on a magic carpet.

From the travel book…

“The ascent was dramatic offering breathtaking panoramic vista from the top.

The road to Nubra initially skirts the cultivated farmlands north of Leh, up a valley that extends for over 10km beyond the city, with the village of Ganglas at its head. A series of hairpin bends follow as the road ascends the rugged slopes beyond the verdant valley. There are great views back of the Stok range, with its snow peaks. After about 25 km, you reach the military encampment of South Pollu (15900 ft), where your permits are checked. The terrain gets more desolate now as the ascent continues up the grim mountains, over long switchbacks. Patches of snow appear on the upper slopes as you climb higher; down below, the road you have come up by, a black strip of asphalt twisting and turning as it snakes up seems like a giant dark sphagetti strand dropped from heaven over the rugged hills. By now you are on the slopes of the main ridge of the Ladakh range, and the roads head westward as it climbs.

Khardungla, the world’s highest motorable pass (18380 feet, disputed). Only one-way traffic is normally permitted on the pass - between 9 AM and 1 PM vehicles heading towards Nubra from Leh, other way round between 1 and 5 PM.

Khardungla pass, 39 km west from Leh overwhelms most 1st time visitors. It is 2608 feet higher than Mont Blanc, the highest Alpine summit and only 1942 feet lower than Mount McKinley, North America’s tallest peak. The top of the feeling is heightened by the panoramic view of the snowy Saser Muztagh (eastern Karakoram) Range away to the north, with the Argan Kangri seen on the right, being the tallest of the peaks in that range. There are a dozen odd military sheds on the pass from one of which tea is served free to visitors. Soldiers man the check-post, coordinate army traffic besides keeping the pass snow-free. Because of the strategic military importance of the Nubra road, the Indian army ensures that the pass stays open all year around. The road was built in 1976, before which it was a bridle path used by caravans on the central Asian trade route and open to civilian vehicular traffic 12 yrs later”

All I had to do to touch snow was to stretch my hand ouside the window. It started a few inches from a my arm and extended all the way up to the mountain top!

A few hundred meters before Khardungla, I got down(from the crowded bus, with great difficulty) where I took these pics. Within 2 minutes, I was frozen and my lungs were hurting.

Thats the view from Khardungla pass. The bus did not stop or I could have had tea from that only shop that serves tea for free...


kunta said...

Wonderful narration of u r trip and beauty of ladakh. Definitely a must go place in India. Good Blog and great style of writing.

College Girl said...

Wow the pictures are amazing! Looks like you had a wonderful journey :)

Anonymous said...

Your are lucky freak
Nice snaps..makes me wonder, will i ever travel to these places in my life time??