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Thread: Self-Drive Expedition Travel to Ladakh and cold desert Changthang in "off-season" October 2010

  1. #1

    Self-Drive Expedition Travel to Ladakh and cold desert Changthang in "off-season" October 2010

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    Self-drive Adventure Expedition to the Roof of the World, Ladakh, and cold desert, Changthang and also Chandrataal Lake, Lahaul district - October 1 to 31, 2010. [Kolkata-Ladakh/Leh-Changthang-Kolkata = 8000 km]

    Ladakh, the land of the high passes, the northern most state of India has always been part reality and part fantasy. And as we found out [wife, me and our 5-yr-old child], Ladakh landscape brings up true and raw nature as had been through the ages. And when we add Changthang to Ladakh we get the best of a travel that one can do in a lifetime. Changthang, is the high altitude plateau of Tibet and and which extends to Ladakh. Changthang throws up extremes, unrealistic colours to cold harsh weather to vastness of landscape rarely seen anywhere else.

    Now what happens when one travels in October? - the "off of off-season" period. There was absolutley no travel story on the net or print that I came across that said that this is month that one can travel by own vehicle and that too a 2wd. But with Durga Puja holidays starting in October, we had this month of October only and as such we again with our trust in Safari VTT 2wd.

    Safari Dicor LX [2wd] 2.2 VTT aka VTT-TMT [The Magnificent Tourer]
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    Each and every moment was cherished in this great off-season October travel to Ladakh and Changthang. It has been a very tough but greatly satisfying journey to say the least. As said the memories were varied and diverse but definitely pleasant.

    Let me put in the varied experiences and highlights of this journey.

    We [wife, me and our 5-year-old child] remember this journey for:

    1. The number of people who we met and the great support and openess that we saw in each and every place, whether it be the lonely dhaba we stopped somewhere in eastern UP at 1 am to each and every person we met out there in Ladakh and Changthang.

    2. For our interaction with the changpa [nomad] who took a lift towards to Leh and gave his "tent address" - next time we be there, I promised to track him down and move along walking on the more remote places where they graze!

    3. For the fantastic gentleman we met in remote Nubra side who personally showed a revolver he bought all the way from Kolkata [!] and then showed us the village Gompa, a beautiful gompa high above the mountains.

    4. For the personal invitation to a Ladakhi kitchen at ex-panchayat at Saboo. A day was spent there amongst them, and it was an experience we cherish forever.

    5. For the amazingly crude yet warm home stays [remember this is way offseason mid October] at Hanle and Fukche/Koyoul, the coldness and the remoteness has to be visted to be felt. At both places, the hostess and host respectively saw to our comfort in that cold in whatever way possible, even if it meant giving the new blankets to us they had just bought for the winters.

    6. For the invitation at Dah for a festival [the Bona-na triennial festival] that takes place once in 3 years and then welcomed to stay with one of village citizens in their house, though they had guests. Gestures and memories that still touch our heart.

    7. For the absolutely disciplined lone soldiers that we met at the frontier posts, surprised to see us with a child and vehicle out there roaming around places where no tourists go!

    8. For the personal letter by an Army Major so that we travel along Fukche to Demachok - the last of the border posts and we look to China a mere 30 feet away

    9. For some absolutely great memories and experiences with truck drivers we spent 2 days and 2 nights at Zojila top, pushing boulders with them to repairing trucks to sharing cigarettes and bidis and tea and biscuits. - yes we were stuck on the top of Zojila at 12,000 feet for 2 whole nights.

    10. For the Kashmiri toll collector of Sonmarg, who after hearing that we not eaten enough for 2 days and nights as we were stuck at Zojila, hastely arranged for some bread and tea at 5 am in the morning as we came down from Zojila to Sonmarg.

    11. For our vehicle, Safari LX 2wd VTT, for going through all that was thrown at it, from the non-stop 1600 km journey from Kolkata to Delhi and also return in 20-22 hours to the way it went through all the ice and slush at the most remote altitudes, and the best of all, idling for continuous 48 hours as we were stuck at Zoji la with heater on. If possible, definitely please do go through the other travelogues done with the Safari VTT-TMT from distant Arunachal to North Sikkim to interior Chhattisgarh to the tribal lands of Orissa, etc.

    12. A special mention also goes to our 5-yr-old son for enjoying the journey as much as we do, even while stuck at Zojila or the extreme coldness at Fukche/Koyoul or Hanle. It is his wonderful temperament that goes a long way in making the journey so much enjoyable.

    And quite a few members of different forums and of course from Sutripta -da who lend us his GPS and which we conked out Hanle, to Nandi with some important updates regarding weather, to Kaustabha who we met we were entering Kolkata after a 25-day gap. Same goes to vardhan harsh , tsk1970 and ramki for all those wonderful maps and of course their wonderful travel trips.
    Also this journey was significant in a way that all those debilitating car loan EMIs were ending. It was a 3-year loan, hoping to finish it off as quickly as possible, but then as it happens one just scrapes through a 3-year period.

    A natural extension of a traveller in most cases is photography, and it is landscape for me but then during our last decade 2 mp digital cameras were just coming on and film cameras were costly, so cameras just did not come into horizon and those days were the Enfield days!

    Last year though I had bought the Canon 450D with the kit lens 18-55 and a off market 55-250 mm, it was stuck mostly in auto and sometimes in AV mode [we all know that what a quicksand pit photography is] and as we finally got rid of all the EMIs over a 10-year period and that included a new Bullet to this Safari VTT, finally it was time for a new Tokina 11-16 lens as we headed off for Ladakh. At least hoped some better pictures should be coming out and it did not disappoint.

    This journey also does put up the fact that Ladakh and even Changthang is possible in the month of October with a bit of luck. Though cold and desolate, a great boon for off-season travellers like us.

    This will be a travelogue of minute detail of the varied experiences, and I will putting up the story in the days to come. However, let me put up some of the highlight pictures through some of the photographs taken of Ladakh and Changthang - and one just doesn't do justice. So some of the best pictures are down the next couple of posts and some more will be there within the travelogue.


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    ******Before starting the narration of this one of a lifetime trip, let us first all enjoy some of the highlight pictures in the first few of the posts*******

    All pictures were taken with Canon 450D with kit lens and Tokina 11-16 mm lens bought a few days before the travel. Most of the pictures were taken on the go or with a very short stop, so the quality will vary from one image to the other. Plus just started to learn minimum of photoshop, eg. how to make the s-curve, shadow, highlights. As all pics were taken in RAW mode, someone knowing PP can definitely do a better job with the raw images. I was forced to know at very basic of PP as Picasa "I am feeling lucky" mode was not doing a great job for the images of Ladakh, at least the way I saw them over there. Some images were converted through the batch process of the Canon software, as said PP takes too much time.

    So, for now, let the pictures roll. Not following any specific order or sequence.

    Barren Colour: Meandering north-flowing Yunam river cutting through the Sarchu plain, India. Wind-eroded gravel bed projects as pinnacles as the dramatic landscape unfolds along the high plains of Sarchu to Pang.

    Cold Desert, Changthang: At the tiny village of Koyoul, India, close to China border, leading his horse to camp through the rough weather of the cold desert of Changthang. On a late October cold night and with strong winds sweeping, wife and child roughed it out in a tin shed as I kept the car engine running to prevent diesel freezing. Early morning I see him leading the horse through inclement weather, their stances showing the wind strength. The burst of rising sunlight through clouds symbolized his mental strength. A nomad has to go out everyday with his livestock to graze, no days off whatever be the weather.

    Pangong Lake at dusk, the blue water leaves a mark in your mind forever.

    Tso moriri Lake glistens in wonderful blue colour, late evening.

    Ladakh is the place to experiment with black and white photography! Shey monastery glows as light filters through overcast clouds

    Dramatic landscape along the Fukche to Demchok track. Demchok is the ultimate border post, sector south of Aksai Chin, in the Ladakh district of India.

    Mineral mountains of all hues gives a spectacular site as we approach Nyoma on towards Hanle and Fukche

    Dah Festival - We were very much pleasantly surprised as we visited Dah village on the last week of October. A village festival was going on, a mela that takes place once in 3 years.
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    On hearing that Chandrataal Lake [Lahaul] may be possible, took a turn at Gramphoo and went towards the Lake. Wife and child as we trek 3 km from the "car park" along with a local. The road to Chandrataal Lake in October has been the toughest and most dangerous drive till date for me. Will be elaborating about it as I most more images

    A first hand experience and sight of an authentic Ladakhi kitchen. We were here on an personal invitation of n ex-panchayat and his wife at village Saboo. A day was spent there amongst them, and it was an experience we cherish forever.

    Our journey companion, Safari Dicor 2wd LX VTT at the wilderness of Changthang, along the very less travelled road along the banks of Pangong towards Tsaga La

    Very elusive and shy black-necked crane [Grus nigricollis]. The Black-necked Crane is evaluated as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species

    Changthang Kiangs [wild ***] dart across the desolate Loma to Hanle road.


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    Dramatic Landscape at Pang, on the Manali-Leh road

    Safari VTT idling for continous 2 days and nights as we were stuck in the Safari at Zojila top with frozen ice road with broken down axles and trucks.

    River Beas flows by our hotel at Manali

    Landscape rivets us at the absolutely no travel area of Fukche to Demchok, Indo-Tibet border of China

    Bambi, checks out a Tata truck from the Tata Safari, somewhere near Merak

    A landscape monochrome of the road towards Pangong

    Chandra Tal [Lake of the Moon] at an altitude of about 4,300 metres (14,100 ft) in the Himalayas.

    Brilliant colours of fall at various places in Ladakh - from around Wari la to around Nubra to around Jispa in Himachal along the Leh road.


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    Two oil tankers are absolutely dwarfed by the rough and high landscape of the Manali-Leh Road

    Grazing animals along the Man-Merak track and around Sarchu respectively.

    Monochrome of Hanle Monastery or Hanle or Analy Gompa is a 17th century Buddhist monastery of the "Red Hat" Tibetan Drukpa Kagyu branch of Tibetan Buddhism, located in the Hanle Valley. It is only 19 kilometres or 12 miles from the disputed frontier between India and Chinese-controlled Tibet.

    Indian Astronomical Observatory is also located at Hanle for its clear skies in most of the days of year. The telescope is remote controlled from Bangalore.

    Sandstorm hits us as we return from Demchok for Leh, somewhere before Loma

    And to other extreme - icy black roads as we finally inch our way after remaining stuck at 13,000 feet for continuous 2 days and nights on Zojila top

    Buddhist prayer stones somewhere along the Fukche-Demchok track

    A changpa nomad tent along the Loma-Fukche road, conditions are always harsh and as the cold winter season comes fast - it is impossible for most of us to fathom the adversity among which they live and stay all through the year.

    Bambi rides the double-hump camel, the most famous inhabitant of Hunder....

    as the small one takes a rest among the elders

    Along the Mahe-Nyoma road


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    Demchok is the first village the river Indus encounters on its entry into India from Tibet. The small village, which lies some 330 kilometres from the town of Leh, has the Line of Actual Control (LAC) passing through it. With the Chinese side christened Dmqog, the village was part of the old trade route from Tibet. It also has the honour of being the last inhabited area on the Line of Actual Control. Our national flag flies high at Demchok.

    as it continues to do at the Indo-Tibet border of China at Bumla, Arunachal. Read more about that fantastic self-drive expedition to Western Arunachal over here ->

    Pangong Tso (or Pangong Lake; Tso: Ladakhi for lake) is an endorheic lake in the Himalayas situated at a height of about 4,350 m (14,270 ft).

    Tsomoriri or Lake Moriri , in the Changthang (literal meaning, northern plains) area, is a High Altitude Lake (HAL) with an altitude of 4,595 m (15,075 ft) in Ladakh,

    Asmita and Anik[bambi] rough it out at just below zero temperature at a tin shed at the village of Koyoul as strong winds shook it all through the night. I had to stay in the Safari with engine idling from 3:30 am as diesel was freezing fast, there's not even a homestay in that village.

    Another view of Shey monastery on another day as we started our journey early morning for Koyoul

    Enroute to Pangong before Chang la

    Trucks make their way up at Gata loops. There are 21 loops across the highway that turn into sharp bends, one loop leading to another. Gata loops cover a distance of 7 km on road and traveling through it will take you to a height of 2000 feet! The angularly elevated roads facilitate passage by loaded trucks. There are shortcut tracks across the loops but only small vehicles can pass through them at times.

    Between Fukche and Demchok


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