It was gonna be a day filled with mixed emotions. Leh had been an fantastic experience of a lifetime. We visited so many amazing places all of which were once part of my wish list. I could only wish that the trip had extended for a few more weeks. We settled our bills at Chospa.. paid bout 10k for 5 nights (including all meals at the hotel and also the accommodation at Pangong Camp Redstart and also the 1k towards the permits and tip) . Stanzin and the staff at Chospa were a big help and ensured we had a wonderful time during our stay. We left for Manali around 8 am after breakfast.
Enroute we first stopped at Shey Monastery and Palace. Both these are structures located on a hillock in Shey,15 kilometres (9.3 mi) to the south of Leh in Ladakh, northern India on the Leh-Manali road. Shey was the summer capital of Ladakh in the past. The palace, mostly in ruins now, was built first in 1655, near Shey village, by the king of Ladakh, Deldan Namgyal, also known as Lhachen Palgyigon. The monastery is noted for its giant copper with gilded gold statue of a seated Shakyamuni Buddha. The main Shakyamuni Buddha statue in the monastery is a 12 meters (39 ft) icon covering three floors of the monastery. We also found some amount of renovation work being carried out at the palace.
A few kilometers further ahead on the highway was the Thikse Monastery. It is noted for its resemblance to the Potala Palace in Lhasa, Tibet and is the largest gompa in central Ladakh. It is a 12-storey complex and houses many items of Buddhist art such as stupas, statues, thangkas, wall paintings and swords. One of the main points of interest is the Maitreya (future Buddha) Temple which is installed to commemorate the visit of the 14th Dalai Lama to this monastery in 1970. A 15 metres (49 ft) high statue of Maitreya, the largest such statue in Ladakh, covering two storeys of the building is deified in the monastery. We also visited the Tara temple and saw the gold and silver stupas. On the top floor was the old library which housed centuries old scrolls and scriptures. A floor below was the Temple of Protectors.. This temple was poorly lit and started giving us the creeps. We spent a few about an hour at the monastery and proceeded towards Manali.
We crossed Karu in the next few minutes and reached Upshi. Since this was probably the last place where we could grab a decent bite, we decided to stop for a lil while. Paljor took us to a shack on the side of the road. The place Tsomo restaurant was run by a Ladakhi woman. While the rest decided to stick to the Paranthas, i decided to have the Thukpa. After what could be the last meal of our journey for the day, we headed towards Tanglang La Pass at an elevation of 5,328 metres (17,480 ft). The roads to the pass were very good except for ocassional patches where road widening work was in progress. One of the sorry details of this trip was we saw several contruction workers waving at us and trying to stop us. We later realised that they were asking if we had some food on us which we could share. At Tanglang La, we distributed some chocolates we carried from home. The condition of the folks working there was pitiful. The air is very thin and the dust due to the construction made the situation even worse. One can not imagine the plight of these workers who are battling extreme weather conditions to keep our roads motorable. We were hoping to find atleast a Chai shack at Tanglang La but couldnt find any. We clicked some pictures and headed forward.
We had just started descending from Tanglang La and we started seeing some flakes falling on the windscreen of the cab. We stopped only to realize it had started snowing. How cool was that.. The first snow fall of the season and we were there 🙂 . Though it wasnt too heavy, we had a good time. We then headed towards Moore Plains. The first 5-6 kms of the journey, the roads were in a horrible condition and we had to go off-roading in the sandy paths along side the road. Most part of this was blocked due to the tarmac they were still laying. We stopped for a cup of chai at a tented dhaba and started towards Pang. The roads until Pang were an absolute delight to drive on. This road has an average elevation of 4000 metres and is flanked by mountain ranges on both sides. At some places the road runs along the Sumkhel Lungpa river featuring some stunning sand and rock natural formations.
Within roughly about an hour we reached Pang, an army transit camp. The rock formations in the area were mind blowing. The whole area gave us a feel as if were driving in Colorado. We still had about a a couple of hours of journey left before reaching Sarchu which would be our pit stop for the night. We drove through some wild rocky and curvy roads with amazing rock formations on the left side of the road and reached Lachlung La pass. It is at an elevation of 5,059 m or 16,600 ft. It is located some 54 km (34 mi) before Sarchu and 24 km (15 mi) from Pang. The roads are rocky but can easily be driven on.
We descended from Lachulung la and started ascending towards Nakeela pass. It is at an elevation of 4943 m or 16217 ft. The road from Nakeela would further take us towards the famous Gata Loops. The 21 hairpin bends will take you from an elevation of 4630m to 4190 m. While we were driving down the loops, we found a group of Bharals or Himalayan Blue Sheep grazing on the slopes. We made a quick stop to take a few pictures before they could run away.
Another 24 kilometers and we were finally going to end our days journey at Sarchu. The roads from Gata Loops to Sarchu are pretty levelled and one can cover the distance in less than an hour. The views on the right side of the road are magnificent with the river Tsarap Chu flowing. Sarchu lies on the boundary between Himachal Pradesh and Ladakh (Jammu and Kashmir). It is situated between Baralacha La to the south and Lachulung La to the north, at an altitude of 4,290 m. An Indian army camp is sited nearby on the banks of the Tsarap Chu river.
We reached Sarchu around 6 pm. And we got stopped at the Himachal Pradesh Check Post. The officer there demanded a bribe of Rs.200 to let us into the state even though we had all the relevant papers to drive throughout India. We didnt want to argue much with the officer incharge and just decided to pay. Exhaustion had started kicking in and we really wanted to finalize on a place to stay for the night. I had researched a few tented accommodation before the journey and finally shortlisted Mulkila Adventure Camps. Too bad i couldnt find reviews for them on Trip Advisor and i would have rated them highly. The care taker at the camp told us we could have a delux tent for Rs.2000 a night including all meals. We negotiated and got the price to Rs.1800. The staff at the camp were very polite and courteous. The camp was a lil smaller than the one we had stayed at Pangong but we didnt complain. Also the loo was something which wasnt too great but if you are just looking for a good nights sleep after a tiring journey, am sure you wouldnt be disappointed. We decided to have an early dinner and retire for the night. We invited Paljor to join us for dinner and we spoke for a long time.. We had the King of Good Times 😉 to keep us company. We had an amazing time listening to Paljor’s stories. During dinner, i jokingly asked the staff for some sweet dish and the good chap actually prepared hot Kheer for us. It was the yummiest kheer i had in a long time. We were very happy with the way these guys went the extra mile to make us happy. About time when we hit the sack, we got a flask of hot water and additional blankets to keep us warm.
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