Monday, June 11, 2012

Our Leh-Days

Leh jayenge!

It looked like it was going to happen after all - the four of us taking off for a family holiday to Ladakh!

This might seem like a simple enough task to some families - but for us, it was not. Let me explain. Honestly, in the past 5 years or so, it might have been easier to get Shahrukh, Salman and Amir in the same room rather than the 4 of us!! Our schedules were definitely mismatched - maybe even our preferences. Sudarshan only took time off from his work and tours to visit home once in a while. Amartya's attitude towards home was that  'it's a decent place for getting a bed, a clean loo, and breakfast - FREE!'. And as for me, people had started commenting that my laptop and I would make a great Fevicol ad.

So, you see, it was no mean feat to get our act together and actually take off for this holiday as a team.. 

'Don't be a Gama in the Land of Lama'

View of Leh
Landing at Leh airport, we were met by our college-time-ka-yaar Amit, now Colonel Amit Srivastava - and promptly given (in true military style) a talking to about the do's and don'ts of being in a high altitude cold desert. This was summarised best in the one-liner posted on the walls of the guest house at the army camp : "Don't be a Gama in the Land of Lama". Simply put - I think this translates into 'Leave your ego behind and don't try to prove your physical prowess when you come to Ladakh.' :)

We soon realised that when they say Ladakh is a place of 'breathtaking beauty', it is quite literally so!! The awe-inspiring visuals hit you even as you land at Leh, but so does the lack of oxygen. We wheezed and panted at the smallest hint of physical activity..

First day at Leh: Much puffing, panting and TT
So, for the next 1.5 days we cooled our heels (or should I say warmed them?) in our cosy beds with the TV, and Asterix & Obelix for company. When tired of resting, we would all troop off to the sports room - where 2 of the adults would take turns to play TT, while the third tried to restrain Ananya from decimating the pool table with the cue...

On the third day, just when we were starting to feel  rather settled in our warm rooms, we had to leave for a day-trip to Pangong Lake - which many now refer to as the '3 Idiots Lake'. On the way, we had to cross Chang-La pass, the third highest motorable road in the world, at a height of 17586 ft. While driving up to the pass, we came across our first snow on the hillside - some old, sad looking, mud splattered snow. Since the kids had never seen snow before, we asked the driver if we could get down and touch it, because we might not find any later. He gave us a look that was 75% amusement and 25% disdain, and said, "Aage snow hi snow hai, aur kuch nahi dikhega." 

And so there was! Soon we were amidst the real thing - deep, pristine white snow all around! It was absolutely fantafabulous! But as luck would have it, we got stuck in a bad traffic jam near the pass. Now, the menfolk - namely Sudarshan, Amartya and an army jawan who had accompanied us, had not paid heed to the warning of the first day. So, trying to be Gamas in the land of Lama, they had come without adequate warm clothing. And at 17586 ft that is not a joke! Well, they had to pay the price for their indiscretions... To cut a long story short - by the end of the trip, the only ones who had not revealed (in grisly detail) the contents of their breakfast, mid-morning snack and lunch, were Ananya and I... :)

Pangong Tso - Serenity unlimited...
But the one hour we spent at the Pangong lake made it all worth the while. As I keep saying, you can't get much closer to heaven on earth than this place...

Over the next 4-5 days, we saw the magnificent Indus (Sindhu) river winding its way through the mountains; sighted marmots, kiangs, and yaks;  travelled over the world's highest motorable road at Khardung-la to cross over into the mesmerizing Nubra valley; saw the sand dunes at Hundar and got a taste of the Silk Road experience on the two-humped bactrian camels ...

(Here, Amartya and Ananya remind me that I have forgotten to mention the most remarkable thing we experienced during the trip - the butter chicken served at the army guest house at Pratap Pur, where we spent the night at Nubra... :) )

We even experienced a fresh snowfall (near Khardungla) and a sandstorm (at Nubra) - within a span of 24 hours...!!!

Seriously, how much more can you live life in one week? :)

'Test your Nerves on My Curves'

Wondering what that is? Well it's only one of the many quirky road signs you see while driving in and around Ladakh. While some of them make you grin ('Lower Your Gear, Curve is Near'), others make you wonder ('Darling I like you, but not so fast')... and still others are pretty bizarre ('If You Are Married, Divorce Speed'). What about bachelors, divorcees, widowers et al, you ask!

Well, if nothing else, at least some people slow down near the signs just to read them for their entertainment value!

Jule, Ladakh!

A word about the Ladakhi people. Initially, we felt quite shocked hearing the taxi fares etc. in Leh - and were just starting to feel that rank commercialization is taking over the place. But once we got talking to the taxi drivers etc, we understood exactly how tough life is for the locals - for most of them, it's severe weather and no income in the six months of winter. But still, they are always courteous and cheerful. The cheery 'Ji ji ji' with which they pepper all their talk stays in your mind and makes you smile long after you have parted...

Mesmerizing visuals. A surprise waiting almost at every turn of the road as the visuals change dramatically. Exotic animals. Amazing serenity. Charming people. Ladakh is a magnificent place indeed, but one of the main reasons for this trip being really special for us was the special people there - our old friends. There was Amit and his family, with whom we shared a few quiet evenings over cocktails or kawa chai in the strategically located gazebo at the army camp - surrounded by the mountains and howling evening winds.

And then there was Colonel Sonam Wangchuk and his lovely extended family - Sudarshan's friends and neighbours from his childhood days in Delhi. What a great yakking session we all had... transported back to those old days in R. K. Puram - those days when we would play outdoors till late in the evening, sleep in charpais out in the open, bunk school to go and catch the latest Amitabh Bachchan flick, and so so much more! All this over steaming bowls of thukpa and some enchanting live music provided by the two boys, Amartya and Riggyal (Col Sonam's son)...

(Incidentally, Colonel Wangchuk is a Kargil war hero, and a Mahavir Chakra awardee. There is even a scene in the film 'Lakshya' that is based on his feat at Kargil - but we really couldn't remember when we last met such a down-to-earth, and totally chilled out person! We felt so proud knowing him!)

We left Ladakh wishing to return someday, with much time on hand. And yes, we felt much closer as a family than we had felt for a long time. So, "Jule, Ladakh!" it is! Jule - that priceless word in the local lingo which means everything from 'hello', to 'thank you'...

Jule, indeed.

Leh Gate
The kids fooling around on the banks of Indus
The silk route experience on Bactrian camels at Nubra valley

Falling snowflakes - at South Pullu
 on way to Khardungla pass

No escape from traffic jams - even at 17000 ft
(near Khardungla pass, the world's highest motorable road)


  1. And I might consider writing poetry to your pictures!

    If you pay me enough, that is!!

  2. @ Gautami.. one BADA hug per poem.... chalega?? :D

  3. Naah, I need REAL money! I am a mercenary!

  4. What wonderful lay days these were. Absolutely god sent. Know what I liked best about the week - it was as you say us 4 being together within and without all else. Absolutely an amazing experience. Whatever preconcieved notions we went with were trashed, and the only way to get a perspective on Ladakh is to go and be there. My only wish was why could not we be around for another 15 days least. The people were amazing - their resilience; their contentment; and their positivity -that is meditation for me for real.
    Of course must mention - Suchi - you coped the best amongst us - surprising :)
    Also the way we experience things when we are together is so different than when each of us on our own. Felt very complete and content.
    I am in love with Ladakha, Ladakhi's and with the Jee Jee. Wish to go back one day and explore further - again with you. btw forgot to mention meeting Jigmet or Jiggy!

  5. Lovely piece of writing 😊
    Been there done that twice. 1 road trip via manali and back via srinagar in bikes and jeep and tents with friends then last year with family by road from srinagar and flying back from leh