Ladakh, the land of lamas, prayer flags, stupas and adventure. There is so much to do, see and experience here that no number of visits seem enough. When I travelled to Ladakh for the very first time, it was a barren undiscovered land. One that I had heard of in stories my father told me. So, of course, the excitement was palpable when we planned the trip in the summer of 2000 which was one of the first years these roads were open to the public for tourism.
Today, the good roads, highway stops, accommodation and conveniences make this journey almost unrecognisable for me. However, still enchanting and still exhilarating and each journey still as fulfilling.
But I’d like to take you back in time, back when the Manali-Leh highway never had traffic jams and you didn’t come across a soul for miles 🙂
In 2000, beyond Rohtang pass (which was still as busy as it is these days) there was 1 campsite for non military/non government folks you could stay at in Sarchu and that was pretty much it!
We bunked our first night in the Snow and Avalanche Study Establishment’s field lab in Patsio which was an experience I’ll never forget thanks to the very elaborate non flush, gas lavatory they used and mountain dogs which would rip you apart if you stepped out of the building unaccompanied. We took a little walk to the lake and awed at the beauty of this land.
On Day 2 , we made our way up the 21 gata loops with the hope to reach Karu the same day, only to find ourselves at the Pang Transit Camp with mild altitude sickness. We stayed the night there before arriving at Karu which was our base for the entire 10 days we spent in and around Leh.
It was a different world altogether. The entire journey we didn’t come across another soul except for the military convoy we passed everyday like clockwork.
Leh town had a few cafe’s and a couple trinket and souvenir stores on a single street and shanti stupa overlooked the city in true peace.
It was a time when we spent hours (not minutes, not an hour, hourS) at the Thiksey Monastery, speaking to monks, exploring it’s parts, learning ancient traditions and arts and just soaking in all the positivity. We taught little kids how to sing songs while they taught us the proper military salute (my father was in the army but clearly they knew better)
I remember when we hit ChangLa enroute PangongTso, it started to snow and we were the only ones atop the pass. PangongTso was a different story too, pure barren beautiful. There wasn’t a single tea stall, dhaba or camp miles around it and again (pardon the repetition) we were the only ones there, albeit 2 very cute puppies who followed us around the 2 hours we spent on the lake.
PS: Did I tell you we did the entire journey in an old Maruti Esteem. Remember those? Remember their phenomenal “ground clearance”? Yup, I don’t either. It’s commendable we made it back despite going over boulders and I can only credit my father’s driving skills for that.
Penned by Simran, Co-Founder OneLatitude, all pictures are her own taken by a rustic camera, please excuse the phenomenal quality.
She has travelled the world in her quest to discover new cultures and her thirst started young thanks to her family adventures.