Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Delightful detour

Taking a rocky road to the Shangri-La of India

  • Print

LEH, INDIA -- Even the most adventurous traveller might be intimidated by the rocky road to the ancient kingdom of Ladakh, India's Himalayan Shangri-La.

We planned to take an easy 18-hour drive from the honeymoon hill station of Manali in the northern state of Himachal Pradesh, to the Ladakhi capital of Leh. But due to major snow blockages, we were compelled to take another route -- a four-day, hand-on-horn detour through the heart of Kashmir, where we encountered separatists and roaming nomads and experienced all four seasons within a 24-hour time span.

But neither the arduous landscape -- this road less-travelled has more than its share of cliffhanger moments -- nor the political instability of the region could keep us and fellow adventure seekers from our goal.

Ladakh, a region of Jammu and Kashmir also known as Little Tibet because of its many Buddhist monasteries dating back to the 10th century, is situated in the most northern part of India and is only accessible in this way during the summer months. Heavy snowfalls block the mountain passage for the rest of the year, making it one of the most difficult places to reach by road in all of India.

The winter chill was felt throughout the journey, especially when we passed by Dras, the second-coldest inhabited place on Earth after Oymyakm in Siberia. My friends and family never thought we'd wear long johns in the middle of June. But they were handy while we spent a night in Kargil, a military town where fighting took place between India and Pakistan in 1999. There was no reason to linger the next morning.

Though flights are available to Leh, the long drive helps travellers acclimate to altitudes that reach almost 4,500 metres. The overland route also provides spectacular views of the snow-capped mountains and Indus River streaming below.

Our Tata Scorpio 4x4 vehicle took us 984 kilometres across the Himalayas along a rugged and rocky single-lane road. Leh, our destination, was once a base for travellers who made it through the glacier-packed passage from Himachal Pradesh. The town's historic Buddhist roots are still evident in the hundreds of maroon-robed monks making their way down the streets and the ancient monasteries that line the mountainside.

But the real adventure started when we left Leh to trek the Himalayan plains beyond the city's outskirts. Trailing along with us were motorcycle enthusiasts in their antique Royal Enfields living out their Che Guevara dreams and Bollywood fans who were on the edge of their car seats preparing to set foot on the banks of Pangong Tso Lake, sometimes referred to as "Aamir Khan Lake," after the Indian movie star.

Pangong Tso, a saltwater body 4,350 m above sea level, has served as a scenic backdrop for several Bollywood blockbusters. It's a permit-only area, as is Tso Moriri Lake, a stunning body of water surrounded by peaks at the base of the Rupsu Valley, 240 km southeast of Leh. Both are shared with Tibet and due to frayed political relations with China access is limited.

Tso Moriri, with its pristine landscape and nomadic people, was a highlight of our journey. We encountered the Khampa nomads, whose origins trace back to Tibet. They made their way across the Himalayan plains during the Chinese invasion in the 1950s and have called Ladakh home ever since. The mountain lake is their summer retreat where they spend their days combing their prized goats' hair, which is later sold to merchants who weave it into pashmina scarves in the Kashmiri capital of Srinagar.

Entering one of the nomads' yak wool tents, we felt like we had stepped back in time. A middle-aged woman named Tenzin Paldol eyed us closely; her family, taking a break from their combing, looked up from their steaming bowls of buttermilk tea and pointed at our cameras in amusement.

Tenzin greeted us and motioned us to sit down next to her newborn grandson. Our driver exchanged words with her in Ladakhi and after several nods, she quickly tossed slabs of yak dung patties into her wooden fire stove to brew us a fresh pot of soupy buttermilk tea.

"Are you a Chinese spy?" asked Tenzin's nephew, a college student from Mangalore, who was visiting his family during summer vacation. His serious tone and worried expression rippled across the room.

"No, we're just tourists," I assured him. He sighed in relief and explained how his family still worries they will be sent back to China.

After several cups of tea and some shared laughs, we continued along the single-lane road, already dreaming about a return journey -- next time by Royal Enfield.

-- Postmedia News

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 1, 2012 D2

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes

    No

  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.

letters

Make text: Larger | Smaller

LATEST VIDEO

Free Press Editorial Board: Brian Pallister

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • Bright sunflowers lift their heads toward the south east skies in a  large sunflower field on Hwy 206 and #1 Thursday Standup photo. July 31,  2012 (Ruth Bonneville/Winnipeg Free Press)
  • JOE BRYKSA/WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Local- A large osprey lands in it's nest in a hydro pole on Hyw 59  near the Hillside Beach turnoff turn off. Osprey a large narrow winged hawk which can have a wingspan of over 54 inches are making a incredible recovery since pesticide use of the 1950's and  1960's- For the last two decades these fish hawks have been reappearing in the Lake Winnipeg area- Aug 03, 2005

View More Gallery Photos

Poll

Are you in favour of the Harper government's new 'family tax cut'?

View Results

View Related Story

Ads by Google