(479 km map)
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English is not our native language, so we apologize in advance for translation- spelling- and grammar errors
At 04.30 am we get up from our beds!!!!!!! We need to leave early in order to avoid traffic jams caused by domestic tourists. The first pass proves to be very popular with domestic tourists.
If we go down, the driver with Toyota 4WD is already there waiting for us.
So after a quick breakfast we hit the road. We are amazed. The journey begins no so idyllic. We drive up the mountain in a string of cars. So many tourists! The people of most parts of India usually never see snow. So now the enjoy a day in the snow! Like we would go to an attraction park, they rent a ski suit with shoes, gloves and sunglasses, in one of the hundreds numbered stalls. When they have the right outfit en look impressive enough, they drive up the mountain.
AIf someone sees something interesting they just stop and leave the car. Let them self photograph with the mountains in the background and go back to the car again not hampered by the fact that all the cars behind had to wait. There is no possibility to pass. The road it wet, muddy and unpaved. There are carts with men who sell coffee and chai (Indian tea). Another vendor sells roasted corn.
We drive over the Rohtang La pass (3,978m kaart) over. We enjoy a delicious ginger tea in a small tent on the mountain. Small groups of people, men and women, some very old and some very young, are working on the road. They pulverize with hammers big rocks into small pieces used as filler for the holes in the road.
We see many sheep, goats and donkeys. No guardrail.
Bumpy roads. You can see that the road has just been opened. We drive between snow walls and are overwhelmed by the beauty of the landscape. We have to stop for a herd of sheep crossing the road with two ancient shepherds. The old men seem to have no trouble descending the steep cliffs to the valley. These men are clearly experienced mountain conquerors.
It is impossible to describe how special it is to drive through the high mountains this way. Great that we have managed to travel overland to Leh. We can highly recommend this tour to anyone who wants to travel to Ladakh.
Around 1:30 p.m. we arrive in the village of Keylong ( map). We are kindly received in hotel Tashi Deleg. We get a room on the top floor of the hotel. Kreylong is not a very exciting town but the view on the snowy mountains is very beautiful.
In the winter, this region is cut off from the outside world for six months, as the passes are closed. We walk into the village and buy some homemade knitted socks! In winter, many people do handicraft, because they can hardly leave the house.
Our driver is from Nepal and drives very cautiously. The people of the hotel are very friendly. In the evening we eat in the hotel. It is noteworthy that many locals eat in the restaurant as well. The food is very tasty. It's chilly, but that is not so strange if you imagine that we have now increased to 3500 meters!
It is 09.00 a.m. when we leave the hotel. It promises to be a great sightseeing trip today!
The road is much better than the first day and very quiet. Not much oncoming traffic, perhaps only one every quarter of an hour . A lot of motorcyclists though, who make a tour of the passes. Many road workers again working with very simple equipment. Sometimes with only a little broom of twigs. Young and old pulverize the stones, and drag away heavy boulders. At the verge of the road tent camps for the workers are spread out. Very primitive. What a hard life this must be and what will it be cold at night!
We drive through canyons and the mountains are constantly changing from shape and composition. Smooth, spiked with ice caps , large chunks of rock, sand or fine gravel that appears red in color, white, gray or nearly black. Ever new vistas. Whole mountain walls of stone spread with sheets of snow. Rivers, large and small, and many waterfalls, sometimes frozen and sometimes violently rattling out of the rocks and under the snow. All equally impressive.
We drink some ginger tea again. This time in a tiny plastic tent at the verge of the road. We don't think these small roadside restaurants will have much turnover, but we are happy they are there.
Sometimes the road looks like a river. Sometimes the road winds between meters high walls of snow. A 4WD is no luxury. We see many stone monuments/graves on the hills. Praying flags, orange Hindu temples and white stupas. The chauffeur is looking along for great photo spots and it is never a problem to stop.
Beautiful ice lake! We pass at 4.892 meters altitude Baralacha La ( map)!
We are only the second guests of the season and the camp is not quite ready yet. That is no problem, but ..... oh it really has become freezing cold! We sit and shiver. A while ago the weather was gorgeous ! We were driving the car with windows open. Now intense cold. It proofs that the weather can change very quickly in the high mountains. We sit down with blankets around us.
After half an hour the sun is shining again, bright! We go outside and are surrounded by sheep that have descended to the camp. Jackets can be off again. If Ingrid walks a little bit too fast. She is warned not to do so because of the altitude. We see wild donkeys with full moons. We are privileged to experience the roof of the world in such a comfortable manner!
Our cheeks glow in the sun. We enjoy some drinks in front of the tent.
The water of the mountain stream is icy blue and the sunset colors the tops of the mountains orange. We are a little light-headed. The camp is 4253 meters altitude!
In the evening we eat in the big tent. We are the only two guests but they prepare a full meal for us.
We get extra blankets and .... a hot water sack. Very nice people here! Outside it is freezing but in our tent it is not cold. All night we hear dogs barking. Ingrid has a bad night. Severe headache, and her breathing is not under control. When she is drowsy, she scared wakes up longingly to air. Very scary! Because of the headache she can’t listen to music to give some distraction. Ingrid doesn’t sleep all night: Jan like a rose The morning broke up eventually, and Ingrid felt much better again. Clearly some symptoms of altitude sickness.
5.30 am we get up and at 6 o’clock we leave the camp after we used some tea and biscuits for breakfast.
It promises to by an exciting trip. Long, but very nice. The headache of Ingrid sinks away slowly. We hope everything goes well; we still have to travel to a much higher altitude. The weather is fine! Beautiful blue skies with white clouds. Ideal also for photographing and filming.
The landscape is constantly changing. Each description is short of reality, you have to experience it.
It's overwhelming and never boring. Each curve - and there are many - brings new surprises. A lot of snow, and then bare plains. Strange rock formations. Lining on the road is renewed by men at work. Large templates are put on the ground and painted. But: don't follow the lines they don’t walk straight in these mountains.
It is very quiet on the road. Our car gets a flat tire but that was quickly fixed. Through Lachalung La pass (5065 meters) we reach the Taglang La pass at 5360 meters altitude (kaart ). It is the second highest pass in the world open to motor vehicles. We remain a time on the summit and enjoy the view. The strong wind let the prayer flags fly at the top.
There is a small stoeppa with prayer flags and mantra stones established on all summits and special points in the mountains here. Fortunately we have no fear of heights. There are very deep gorges.
After our stop on the top we return to the car and drive across a vast plateau towards Leh. On the plateau, we see nomads of Tibetan descent (Changpa or Khampas). We stop at one family. They look at us as if we are coming from another planet, but they are very friendly and welcome us. The man and woman are busy for their tent shaving and fluffing the sheep and changra goats as they are called in Ladakhi.
We know the goats as cashmere or pashmina goat. The Pashmina goat produces annually 200 grams Pashm. Pashm is very fine wool known as pashmina or kasjmir wool.
Beautiful animals. We also see our first yaks in the wild.
Eventually we reach Leh ( kaart).
Still at 3500 meters altitude and in possession of the highest airport in the world. Thundup of our travel agent in Ladakh is waiting for us at a crossing.
He brings us to the hotel: Maryul Guest House. A simple hotel. The people are friendly and from our room we have a nice view on the monastery above Leh. This hotel is a perfect starting point for the various trips that we will make in Ladakh. We will come back here a few times.
In the evening we eat at the hotel. Henk Thoma of Vajradhara Travel Services joins us for diner. Henk is a Dutchman who lives in Ladakh. He managed to organize the ride for us from Manali to Leh. A very friendly man who talks with great passion and knowledge about Ladakh / India. Through his agentcy our next days in Ladakh will be organized. We have a lot of confidence in Henk and his staff and we can – now that we are at home - say with conviction that his agency is highly recommended if you are traveling in Ladakh.