Ladakh travel has become like a rite of passage. Lately with the boom in disposable income with the youngsters and the era of social media influenced lifestyle at its peak; adventure travel has become more fashionable than ever before. Bollywood to youtube to snapchat, facebook and twitter, come June to August every year its impossible not to come across someone you know who has been to Ladakh and doesn’t blow its trumpet.
Ladakh travel also is like an initiation ceremony to the famed ‘Bikers club’. More so if you’ve become a proud owner of cruisers like Royal Enfield, Harleys, Triumphs and BMWs. You’ll have to face being the kiddo of the lot until you have a thumbs up picture decked up in pro gear besides your motor bike at Khardung-la, or a picture of the bike with prayer flags tied across the handle bars.
For me, I had realized early on that my main interest in traveling to Ladakh was to absorb as much of the landscapes as I could. These days there is hardly any corner of the mountains that has not been photographed and published. Saturated blue skies, fluffy white clouds, brown mountains have become almost synonymous with the vistas that Ladakh has to offer between June to August. Riding thousands of kilometers on barely existent roads was not my idea of inner peace ( though, if the road is good, its a very rewarding experience I must add). So I decided to give it a shot anyways and complete the right of passage.
Me and my friends decided to take a road trip starting from Delhi and leave the rest of the itenary open to last minute changes. So it was Delhi-Ambala-Manali-Jispa-Leh and come back by same route adding Kasol if time permitted, which it did.
Humbled by The Himalayas :
I was tired of hearing people exclaim about emotionally moving Himalayas can be. Everyone ranted about inner peace and a sense of calm. Many would explain realizing the insignificance of ourselves in the world, in the bigger scheme of life. I initially bought into it, but later dismissed it as another cliche being circulated without any weight.
I am glad I was wrong and in for a surprise.
The Himalayas do cast a magical spell on you. No amount of writing, photography or video making can explain it. I can feel it as I write but unfortunately if you haven’t been amidst mighty mountains you will never understand it.
I’ll try my best here.
So, as a city dweller we are used to having created a world around us as per our wishes and needs. We take pride in building the tallest of structures. We have learned to change the course of rivers and clouds to suit our needs. We can grow our food, can travel with lightning speed, can regulate the weather around us. We feel safe and carry on about our lives taking these creations for granted.
In the land of the mountains, you are just another creature on the face of the earth. Meak, vulnerable, helpless, tiny, insignificant. I say so because in the mountain land these unmovable, infinitely massive, towering giant creations of nature run the law. Roads are built around them. Lives are spent around making friends with them. You farm on their slopes. Build houses out of their earth. Sleep under the mercy of their shadows.
If these mountains could speak, they would say nothing, I imagine. They will just stare at you. Like an angry parent stares at its offspring. Hands folded across the chest, eyes unblinking, nostrils flared. Closely looking your each move, judging you.
These mountains not only dominate you by their gigantic stature. They also crush your ego. Yes, ego. As the self proclaimed smartest being on earth, we are used to having things our way. To dominate every other creature at our will.But here, you’re helpless. The mountains don’t forgive. They rarely give you a second chance. They can bury you in rocks or snow. Drown you in sand or river. Wither you with the heat. Starve you with infertility of soil.
You have no choice but to bow in prayer at these gentle giants and feel humbled, for a test of your humility could only be a landslide away.
We all have seen, and many posses the colorful and trendy Tibetian prayer flags. They’re mostly used as car or bike decorations more as a swag of being ‘Ladakh return’ than with the intention of riding on the enlightened path. I too had these flags for a long time. It’s only here that quenched my curiosity for finding the true meaning of the prayers written on them. Of course, all this information can be easily googled.
The six syllable mantra has vast meaning, as explained by the famous 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso. Om– genoristiy. Ma-ethics. Ni– patience. Pad– diligence. Me– Renunciation. and Hum – wisdom. The idea of the prayer flags is that as the wind blows through them, it carries these prayers to the Gods. Very conveniently by a lazy priest I guess. The color and order of these flags is specific and necessary for the sadhna while praying. they are, from left to right, blue, white, red, green, and yellow. Each color stands for each element of earth, vise Blue for sky and space, white for air and wind, red for fire, green for water, and yellow for earth.
The idea of the prayer wheel is also the same, just that it has to be rotated only clockwise.
Another thing unique to the strong Buddhist influence here, and found commonly is the Mandala. Its a representation of the universe. it looks like a circular diagram with four openings, opposite to each-other. In the paintings they generally incorporate teachings of lord Buddha too into the circle.It is a good and unique buy, unlike the common prayer flags.
Love at first sight:
Generally places to visit in everyone’s bucket list, more so of a lensman’s are known for their scenic beauty. Himalayas have mountains, coasts have beautiful beaches, forests have lush greenery. Ladakh is also scenic but in a very different way. It is combination of pristine blue skies, brown towering mountains and white fluffy clouds. This is only its summer description. What is striking is that the mountains are completely arid. Ladakh is like a desert of mountains instead of sand dunes. Still relatively less industrialized it has managed to keep its natural charm intact.
But its a shame to see tourist, mostly Indian littering everywhere.Even Pangong tso lake in not spared of chips packets and coke cans. Of gutka wrappers and chewing gum covers.
The Pangong tso lake is a jewel in itself. Its a kind of place where one comes to introspect, think about life and do some soul searching. Its a must to detach from the crowd and spend some time sitting by the lake in complete silence and let your thoughts wander till you have a calm within. You could set up a time-lapse in the meanwhile. Ha ha.
Love at first sound:
Though we had gone in our own four wheeler vehicle, but the trip would have been incomplete without a healthy dose of bike riding in the mountains. The rent rates over here are fixed by the union and adhered to unanimously. At most you can bargain up to 10%, not much. It so happened that I was checking out bikes to hire at a local shop. I had made my mind for an Enfield 350cc with electric start. I have near zero experience with Enfields hence decided to take it easy with the smallest one of the stable. While showing me around he revved up a classic 500cc. And boy I was sold..! I could feel the massive machine breathing from a couple of feet afar. I held the motorcycle in my hand and the raw power was an instant turn on.
I decided hands down that I need to spend some time knowing this creature. Since then I have developed a special place in my heart for cruiser bike and will try to explore more.
Biking in Ladakh is not just a fad. Its a culture. Royal enfield are their staple horses in the mountainous terrain.
The ride from Leh to Lamayuru is a must, more so if you are a rookie like me. Excellent roads and brilliant scenery.
Besides, I realized bikers in this region automatically command respect. People wave you thumbs up. Random bikers meet and talk to each other. Heavy vehicles give you way. People want to hear your stories. I had an awesome time riding around.
Julley is the Ladakhi equivalent of Hello. Ladakh is caught up in between of an urban makeover. The food is continental and north Indian. The bakeries are German. The cafe’s are American. But tourists from all over come to see the Ladakhi way of life, which is fast diminishing. Ladakh as a place is on the lines of other traditional scenic gems that lost their shine like Manali or Goa. Soon you’ll find it way too commercialized for its own good.
I had a hard time finding Ladakhi food to eat and people to meet. I must add that I was also running short on time and resources to explore more leisurely.
The markets are being developed to lure more shopping. One can buy antiques and paintings . Books and prayer flags.
The Ladakhi people are a simple lot. Not cunning. Not greedy. Not smeared with fake happiness and smile. They’re happy with way things are. I was told that even the poorest of the lot are well to do financially here. I did not come across any beggar or slums. No signboards saying stay alert of pick pockets. No stories of assault and burglary.
What I missed but you shouldn’t :
- Exploring the countryside. I fell short on time. Connectivity with Shrinagar or Manali is not very good and expensive. Plan accordingly.
- Monasteries.There are many monasteries. be sure to spend some time learning the monk way of life.
- Tso moriri lake and Nubra valley. I had missed them but have heard they are really good places to visit. Perhaps some time soon.
- Try planning the trip to coincide with one of their traditional festivals
Must do things:
- Bike ride from Leh To Lamayuru.
- If possible plan a road trip from Delhi to Leh. Either from Srinagar or Manali, its very scenic.
- Pangong tso lake.
- Khardungla paas.
- Local sight seeing is also very good, especially the view from Shanti stupa.
- Yak cheese, Thupka and Kawa of the few Ladakh specific things to eat.
Pro tips :
- Carrying sun glasses is an absolute must. Similarly, neutral density filter for camera.
- Don’t run/jog. Oxygen is thin at this altitude.
- You get all the necessary biking gear viz helmets, pads, gloves etc on rent, need not carry.
- Don’t eat heavy meals. Small and frequent meals. Drink lots of water.
- Carry enough cash, don’t depend on ATMs
- Arrange a post paid BSNL card. The only network that works.
- Avoid taking your own vehicle if its automatic transmission.
- Arrange for Rohtang permit a day in advance. website : http://admis.hp.nic.in/ngtkullu
Helpful links :