Flying to Leh? 15 Awesome Reasons Why You Shouldn’t!
Nothing quite kills a road trip like, for instance, a flight. Especially if said road trip is expected to unravel breathtaking vistas of high altitude desolation, hitherto unseen and un-experienced. I refer, naturally, to the jaw-dropping scenes that unfold as you make your way to Leh via Srinagar and Kargil; as also to those on the Leh-Manali highway via Sarchu. Pastures galore, dizzy turns, bumpy surfaces, lofty passes, rivers both gentle and otherwise, wide valleys and narrow gorges; all combine to present before you the awesomeness of Mother Nature.
The drive to Srinagar is quite unremarkable and offers little by way of road trip highs. It is perhaps this pleasing sight of the valley after Banihal that makes the journey from Udhampur somewhat worth your while. The road trip could just as well begin at Srinagar…
The celebrated beauty of Kashmir begins to work it’s magic on you as soon as you hit alpine Sonamarg. Never mind that you lose time to road sanitizing for army convoys. Hot tea and the surroundings keep you busy enough. This image has been taken after crossing over the Zoji La (about 9kms from Sonamarg) at 11578 feet.
Considered the second coldest inhabited place in the world, this image was taken at Drass, the scene of heavy combat during the Kargil war. This village was abandoned during the period, its residents moved to safety.
Kargil, as viewed from a plateau manned by the Indian Army, a heartwarming presence amongst a warm, welcoming local populace. A windfall visit, to the last but one post to the LOC, served as yet another reason to salute the soldier and his family. From where I was looking, you really wouldn’t want to trade places with him…
This moonscape makes its presence felt around the Fotu La, the highest point at 13,478 feet, on the Srinagar-Leh highway, and continues through Ladakh. In spite of a great reduction in colour in nature’s palette, the terrain lends itself to much drama. Usually played out by azure skies, snowy clouds and barren wastelands.
First sight of Leh. A green oasis offering plenty succour to hue-deprived eyes! God knows, you will begin to miss colour even as you take in the endless desolation around you.
Even loftier passes await you on the Leh-Manali highway. The first one being the Tanglang La at 17,582 feet. This image is that of the Zanskar range, taken midway, with the pass lost somewhere in the snowy peaks.
Still ascending! Almost two weeks into the road trip, we continued to be awestruck by the glory of nature. Almost at Tanglang La, I glanced back to capture this view.
Hearing or reading about the Morey plains of Pang does not quite prepare you for their actual character, leaving you quite speechless at their vastness. They are home mainly to shepherds and Kiang, the Tibetan wild ass.
This canyon suddenly looms up as you take a turn to descend to Pang, an army transit camp. Stop-gap dhabas in tents double over as havens for the stranded. Night stops at this height, I heard, can be very very uncomfortable.
Fortunately, our road trip that day ended safely at this camp in Sarchu, at an acceptable height of roughly 14500 feet! While breathing is easy, the howling winds can be a tad overwhelming.
The ascent to the oh-so-unpredictable Baralacha La snakes gently along the Bhaga river, seen here, soon after crossing Bharatpur City: roughly four colourful tents offering food, shelter and souvenirs!
The Bhaga river as it appears closer to the Baralacha Top. A gentle drizzle, wafting mist and angry clouds. It doesn’t get better than this…
Or so we thought! Descending from the pass, you soon recognize tarred surfaces, almost forgotten in the past weeks. The road loops downwards to the Suraj-Vishal Lake nestled snugly between you and the mountainside. It is named after the pilots who perished in a crash at the site. Ironically it is one of the most beautiful spots on this stretch.
Soon after you go past Darcha, the northernmost permanent settlement in Lahaul, Himachal Pradesh, the landscape turns verdant almost instantly. Terraced fields, waterfalls and meadows covered in wild flowers were, once again, par for the course. This image was taken at Koksar, short of Rohtang Pass, the last hurdle in what could otherwise be a dream road trip for all.