Silver coloured sand dunes of Hunder in Nubra valley of Ladakh have gradually become a part of the must-see itinerary for tourists to Ladakh. Its a very unusual landscape, no doubt about it. In a single frame, you can see sand dunes, river, forest as well as snow clad peaks. You even have camels for desert safari, albeit double humped ones. Its a rugged landscape all around, but Hunder seems like out of world for this region. It has got so many colours and textures in one place, that you can’t stop admiring.
Most tourists will come on a day trip here. They will Leh early in the morning and then reach here before lunch. They will leave back by early evening to each back to Leh. But since this place is best enjoyed during sunset, hence it is better to plan a night halt at Hunder. A less than two day’s trip to Nubra can’t do justice to this place. If you keep two days in hand, than besides Hunder sand dunes, you can have sufficient time to see Diskit monastery on the first day and you can even go Turtuk, the next morning. Although, personally I would like to stay a night at Turtuk as well.
You won’t find much of a difference on either sides of Khardungla Pass, until you reach Khalsar. Here the valley widens. But still, it is only until we reach Diskit, that we get to notice the mixed landscape of sand dunes, Shyok river, mountain ranges as well as Karakoram wildlife sanctuary. Since 2010, Diskit pronounces its existence from a fair distance through the large statue of Maitreya Buddha, which is visible from a distance string on a top of a hill. Due to lower elevation and milder climate, this valley has lush vegetation and Diskit has its own healthy share of apricot and apple orchards in this oasis.
Diskit is administrative headquarter of Nubra valley. Diskit monastery is also the biggest in valley on this side of Khardungla. Diskit indeed has a very strategic location. It is on edge of a mountain, so it has a mountain on its back as a wall to protect itself. It is just around 20 kms from Khalsar from where road goes towards Shyok and further to Pangong Tso, i.e. very close to China. Other road from Khalsar goes deep into Nubra valley to Sumur and Panamik. Another 20-23 kms from Khalsar is Khardung from where climb to Khardungla starts, pass which shields Leh valley. Diskit is also at the edge of the desert. Diskit monastery can be reached via Diskit village through a dusty road that crosses a stream in the middle of the village. We can drive upto the base of the monastery, but then you have to walk up the stairs to the temples. Since the whole monastery is built on a hill it is a a bit of climb till the top.
Right in front of the Diskit monastery is the vast expanse or you may call flood plains of the Nubra valley. Right there in this plains Nubra river merges with Shyok river. Both these rivers are said to be originating from different tongues of Siachen glacier. Also famously known as the highest battleground in the world, Siachen glacier is right behind the Karakoram ranges seen from Diskit. Thus, Diskit also keeps an eye on all the travellers coming to Leh from the China or the Pakistan side, i.e. the old trading route of the Silk road.
Therefore the importance of Diskit monastery, located at altitude of 3142 metres, couldn’t have been greater historically. But at the same time, it would also have to face the brunt of all the unwelcoming visitors. Gonkhang or the protector temple at the monastery is testimony to that. Severed head and a hand of a medieval Mongol invader are still said to be kept here, as if the protector deity (Kali) is holding them. It is said that the Mongol resurrected himself, every time he was killed. It stopped only when his severed hand and head were brought to the temple.
There is a large 32 metre (106 foot) statue of Maitreya Buddha at the foothill of the main monastery. This statue is a recent addition to this place and was consecrated in 2010 by Dalai Lama. This statue itself sits on top of a small hillock. There is a temple at the base of this statue. Official residence of the Chief Lama of Nubra, the photong is also said to be located here.
This monastery belongs to different sect than the one which runs the Hemis monastery. This 14th century gompa was actually founded by Changzem Tserab Zangpo, a disciple of Tsong Khapa who founded the Gelugpa (yellow hat) order of Tibetan Buddhism. The cupola of the monastery is said to be similar to Tashi Lhunpo monastery of Tibet. There is also a fresco of the same monastery here. The historic and culturally important Tashi Lhunpo is said to have been founded in 1447 by the first Dalai Lama near Shigatse in Tibet. Monastery has a statue of Cho Rinpoche in the prayer hall. There is a huge drum and several images of fierce guardian deities. Well, Diskit monastery is said to have seen a lot of upheaval in four centuries. Lachung temple is above the Diskit monastery, but not very far. This is one of the oldest temples in Nubra valley. There is a large idol of Tsong Khapa in this temple and a Gelugpa yellow hat crowns the idol.
Finally, in mid 18th century this monastery was given to Rimpoche of Thiksey monastery and hence, since then Diskit is considered as a sub-gompa of Thiksey monastery. Monastery houses almost 100 monks. Diskit Gompa celebrated its annual gustor festival on 7th and 8th October this year. This monastery will again celebrate Dosmoche festival on 2-3 February 2019. Many lamas gather here for the festival which is marked by mask dances depicting victory of good over evil.
Tip: Time your visit to the monastery carefully as some of the temples of the monastery remain closed in the afternoon. To my surprise, while there were a large number of tourists at the Maitreya Buddha statue, which is right on the road, but only a handful of them go up towards the main monastery, as it needs a bit of climb and walk. Whereas, it is worth seeing and devoting some time to understand the culture and the history of the region.
Have you been to the Diskit monastery in Nubra valley of Ladakh? Please share your experiences with us in the comments section below.
Turtuk is a village like no other. Long before we reached the village, occasional villagers coming our way—while working in the fields or returning from nearby villages or grazing their cattle—gave us the clear signs that we have moved miles away from traditional region of Ladakh. The body features were quite distinct and sharp similar to those of people of Gilgit-Baltistan region.
It wasn’t unusual though. Turtuk is said to be the India’s Gilgit-Baltistan. Besides it is quite far from last large habitat of Ladakh in Nubra valley. Hunder is more than 90 kilometres away. Hunder itself does not have any historic habitat before 17th century, when it was said to be the capital of erstwhile Nubra kingdom. Now it is more of a tourist resort meant to serve the tourists coming to experience sand dunes and a ride on double humped Mongolian camels. In that sense Diskit Gompa further seven kilometres towards Leh is the last historic village of Ladakh before Turtuk.
The farther end
There are a few tiny hamlets on the way though. After leaving from Hunder, we pass through Thoise airfield and small villages of Kharu block, Skuru and Yagulung. Before Yagulung is an on-road guest house at Thachung. At Yagulung there is another road that goes to Bikudo, Sunido and Waris across the Shyok river. The whole route from Hunder onwards goes along Shyok river. Shyok river originates from Rimo glacier, which is one of the tongues of Siachen Glacier. In the expanses of Nubra valley right opposite the Diskit village, Nubra river (also known as Siachen river) meets Shyok river. Shyok river than flows through the Gilgit-Baltistan region and meets Indus river at Keris in Pakistan Occupies Kashmir (POK). Road to Turtuk snakes through narrow gorges with turquoise waters of the Shyok River (literally Death River in Uyghur, named so perhaps in the Silk Road-era).
Well, further ahead of Yaglung there are few more tiny hamlets of Chulungkha, Bogdang and Guneshthang. Then we reach Chalunka which is 13 kms before Turtuk. Ahead of Turtuk is Tyakshi almost six kilometres from Turtuk and than Thang another just about six kilometres from Tyakshi. A mountain trail leads up from the main road to Tyakshi village. In between Tyakshi and Thang is also a village named Puchathang. Just two kilometres from Thang is the border to POK. That makes Thang the northernmost village of India.
But, that’s not the story. Had it been just a story of landscapes than, perhaps it wouldn’t have made it that unique. What makes it outstanding is the story of overnight change of nationalities. It is also a human story of catastrophic nature. A cluster of seven villages around Turtuk were captured by India from Pakistan after the 1971 Indo-Pak War. Until December 1971, Turtuk was a part of Gilgit Baltistan area of Pakistan occupied Kashmir but following the 1971 India-Pakistan War, India captured seven villages of Thang, Tyakshi Groung, Tyakshi Pachathang, Turtuk Youl, Turtuk Farool, Garrri, Choulungkha. The people of the captured villages went to sleep in Pakistan but woke up in Indian control next morning.
In some families here, fathers are living on this side and mothers on the other side, children are here and parents on the other side and more than a half of the families of Turtuk are divided across the LoC. Villagers studying or working in Pakistan before 1971 remained stuck there after Turtuk became part of India. While their relatives became Indians, they remained Pakistanis. The Indian government has now made it possible for villagers to visit from Pakistan, but only with a lot of expense and paperwork. Turtuk and all the other villages remained closed to outsiders– even other Indians–until locals, weary of their long isolation, petitioned for the remote, scenic valley to open up. Hence in 2010, tourists were allowed to visit Turtuk but only after obtaining an Inner Line Permit (ILP) from Leh. In 2014, even this requirement of ILP was waived off. Now, after better roads and increased facilities, more and more tourists are reaching Turtuk.
At Chalunka, just before the village is a bridge on the Shyok river. Earlier area across the bridge was under Pakistan. There is still an army check post at the bridge. It will check the identities of everybody travelling further towards Turtuk. Then, there is another check post at Tyakshi, where an army unit is stationed.
So, located on banks of Shyok River, Turtuk is 205 kms from Leh. With population of over 3,500, it is also said to be the most populated village of Ladakh. It is a predominantly Muslim area in the Buddhist-dominated cold desert region of Leh, where residents speak Balti, Urdu and Ladakhi.
Turtuk once served as an important gateway to the Silk Road, the ancient trading route that connected India with China, Persia and Rome. Once a part of the Yabgo dynasty that ruled Baltistan, Turtuk served an active trade route to Ladakh connecting it to Yarkand and Kashgar in present day China and up till Samarkand in present day Uzbekistan on the Silk Route. To the north lies the path to China and Tibet. In the south, we can get to Kargil and then to Kashmir, and to the west, there was a road to modern Pakistan and on to Afghanistan and Iran. But if we try to locate, all we see is tall mountains everywhere around. Before modern borders, Baltistan was a separate kingdom. Until the 16th Century, monarchs from Turkistan ruled over the united province under the Yagbo dynasty, a Central Asian empire whose reign, lasting from 800 to 1800, saw a flourishing of poetry and arts. Their former summer home now serves as Turtuk’s only museum
“Turtuk is home to a population of Nurkbakhshis, a Sufi order with similarities to both Shias and Sunnis, as well as Sunnis and Twelver Shias. The historian Mohibbul Hasan writes in his book Kashmir Under the Sultans that one of Nurbakhsh’s disciples, Shamsuddin, was responsible for spreading the Nurbakhshiya creed in Kashmir and Baltistan. In the 16th century, the Nurbakhshi Sufis spread out from Iran to Baltistan and Ladakh. The influence of the cult reduced gradually as the Safavid dynasty of Persia adopted mainstream Shia Islam as the state religion and the Sunni Mughals conquered Kashmir, leaving only Baltistan as the bastion of the Nurbakhshis. The Nurbhakshis also freely acknowledge their pre-Islamic Buddhist heritage. They celebrate the Nauroz, or Iranian New Year, in March every year. When Turtuk became a part of India, the Nurbakhshiya creed got added to the country’s multitude of beliefs but left the residents alienated from their theological schools and leaders.”
An oasis in cold desert
Turtuk is located at a much more comfortable height than the rest of Ladakh, most of which is a cold desert plateau. Turtuk is instead a little green oasis unlike rest of the region. The tedious journey to reach here becomes rewarding upon seeing the picture postcard beauty of Turtuk. Its green all around with numerous glacial streams gushing down to meet Shyok river. It might at some points remind you the beauty of Pahalgam in Kashmir.
Famous for its apricots, tomatoes and walnuts, Turtuk is divided into two parts – Youl and Pharol, separated by a hump-shaped bridge. Phudinichu, a nourishing stew made with region’s famed apricots, is the local food. Electricity runs only for a few hours a day while cell phone reception is limited to BSNL. People are fair and rosy-cheeked with aquiline features and claim to be Aryans having Central Asian and Tibetan roots. Locals are very friendly and hospitable.
What to do? How to reach?
There are a few places to see around Turtuk which reflect the collective heritage of this place. There are some natural wonders as well such as natural freezers (used mostly to preserve food items like cheese), a water mill and a waterfall. There is a historic polo ground. Yes, the younger generation loves its Polo too much, they even get horses from Zanskar for this. There are ruins of Brokpa’s fort, Balti Heritage house & museum and royal house and museum belonging to the Yagbo dynasty clan. You can also see the historic mosque and a Buddhist monastery.
Taxis or private vehicles are the only means to reach Turtuk from Leh. It may take anything between seven to ten hours to reach Turtuk from Leh. It all depends on weather as well as road conditions. Most crucial in this respect is the time taken on both sides of Khardungla pass. The Jammu and Kashmir State Road Transport Corporation (JKSRTC) runs a weekly bus service from Turtuk to Leh. A daily bus runs until Diskit, which is 90 km away and is the main town of Diskit tehsil. While there is a primary health centre and a school in Turtuk, the closest hospital and college are in Leh. There are more than 10 guest houses in Turtuk now. As of now the number of tourists coming here is not that thick. Hence staying is not of a problem. You can also look for a stay with some family to know them closer.
Turtuk region has over 75 percent literacy rate. Don’t get surprised! Locals are very keen to get their kids to school. Ahmad Shah, a resident of Bogdang village, 25 km from LoC encouraged his daughter, Fatima Balti to take singing as a profession. She is said to be the first female Balti singer from this side and her Balti songs have become viral on social media after a fan put them on YouTube. Even a Pakistani newspaper carried a news story on Fatima referring to her as Balti Bulbul (see one of her recent videos on YouTube below).
Have you ever been to Turtuk? Share your experiences with us in the comments section below.
It was 19th September. I was supposed to leave Leh for Manali on my bike next morning. My plan was to go to Pangong Tso and then continue on my return journey. Target was to reach Delhi on 22nd late evening. But my friend and host in Leh insisted me to drop the idea of going to Pangong and instead witness the opening parade of the Ladakh Festival. His argument was that Pangong would always be there to visit the next time I am in Ladakh, but to be here on exact date of opening of Ladakh festival will need meticulous planning anytime next. So, if by chance when I am already in Leh on the day, I shouldn’t miss this event. His argument was strong and I changed my plan. I decided to see the opening ceremony and than move to either Pang or Sarchu for the night halt. Well, visiting Pangong has so far not been materialised but still I don’t regret change of my plans that day. Ladakh Festival is indeed something not to be missed.
The Ladakh Festival is a cultural extravaganza and showcase event for the region, held every year. The main aim of organising this festival in the month of September is to extend the lean tourist season in the region and also to represent and propagate the rich cultural heritage of the area. The grand success of the festival and the tremendous response from both foreign and home tourists is due to the rich cultural heritage and variety of other attractive programmes like traditional Polo match and Village archery. The famous monastic dance in the monasteries including exhibitions of invaluable Thankas and other Ritual instruments of the monasteries. The tourists have the opportunities to see the entire traditional cultural programme of the region like traditional folk dances and songs of different parts of Ladakh.
The grand achievements of the Ladakh Festival are noticeable of the significant increase in the arrivals of tourists during the lean tourist season of the year. Ladakh festival has seen considerable change over the years. Earlier it used to be celebrated for 15 days from 1st to 15th September. Than it was curtailed to a week and dates were shifted to 20th to 26th September, every year in Leh and its surrounding villages. This year this festival is being organised as Leh Tourism Festival from 22nd to 25th September, i.e. for four days. Even last year there was a four day festival.
The inauguration ceremony of the festival takes place in Leh on a large scale with a procession of several cultural troupes from different part of the region which traverses through Leh market. There is dancing, singing, traditional music, people wearing colourful traditional Ladakhi dresses. It comes to end at the Polo ground. The festival days have regular celebration in various villages including archery, polo, and masked dances from the monasteries and dances by cultural troupes from the villages. There are musical concerts too. Best part is, that this is one of the best time to go to Ladakh region, just before the onset of winter.
Ladakh in September
September is often considered to be the one of the best time to travel to Ladakh, especially for those who prefer to ride or drive to Leh from either Manali or Srinagar. Weather is clearer, roads are in good condition and water crossings will have less water. Region would be more green after monsoons, skies will be more blue and since it would already be nearing the end of the season, hence tourist traffic would be certainly less. Since all the hotels in region and enroute Leh operate till the Puja holidays, there would be no risk of not being able to get room or food. And, then witnessing Ladakh festival can be reason good enough to add to all this.
Have you ever been to Ladakh Festival? How was your experience? Share with us in the comments section below.
It is that time of the year again when one of the most revered monastery in the Himalayan region Hemis of Ladakh will celebrate its annual festival, the Hemis Tsechu. It is considered to be the most important monastic festival of Ladakh. This monastery is drawing in more and more tourists- both domestic as well as international. It is becoming very popular for tourists to enjoy and immerse in local culture. Once you are in Ladakh, you will certainly like to enjoy the monastic festivals as well. Hemis festival will be celebrated this tomorrow and day after, i.e. 23rd and 24th June 2018. So, here we are on a photo tour of this famed monastery in this post.
Hemis is also considered to be the largest monastic institution in Ladakh. This two-day festival falls on the 10th and 11th day of the 5th month of the Tibetan lunar month and commemorates the birth of Padmasambhava, the founder of Tibetan Buddhism, also known as Guru Rinpoche. He is believed to be the second Buddha and brought Vajrayana Buddhism to Bhutan and Tibet. A major highlight of the celebrations is the resident Lamas donning colourful silk costumes performing sacred masked dances (or a ‘chaam’) accompanied by music from drums, cymbals and long horns in the monastery courtyard. These dances mark the victory of good over evil. As the Hemis festival is held during the peak summer season, it attracts the largest number of people from within and outside Ladakh. The festival is a good opportunity for all the villagers and families to get together and socialise and also a good chance for travellers to interact with the local people.
The whole of the 10th day of the Tibetan lunar calendar is considered to be a holy day. Many people come early in the morning and worship. Some of them also visit at night or late evening. Although there is no ceremony in the evening, they worship and take the blessings on this day. The festival is known globally for its rituals of sacred tantric dances that are believed to bring blessings of the Gods for the well being of sentient beings as well as peace and prosperity in the world.
Hemis monastery belongs to the Drukpa lineage, also known as Dragon Order of the Mahayana Buddhism. Gyalwang Drukpa is its current spiritual head who presided over the Naropa ceremonies in 2016. Buddhism in Ladakh has a very rich history. Hemis monastery also reflects the close bond between Kings of Ladakh and their patronage to Buddhism in this Himalayan territory. It is said that Gyalwa Gotsangpa Gonpo Dorje (1189-1258) came to Ladakh in 13th century and established the Drupka lineage here. He is also considered to be one of the most celebrated yogis of Himalayas. He was disciple of the 1st Gyalwang Drukpa Tsangpa Gyare Yeshe Dorje (1161-1211). Gyalwa Gotsangpa is said to have meditated in a cave on the edge of the mountain right above the existing Hemis monastery. The monastery now has a meditation centre in his name.
Centuries later, another master from Drukpa lineage the 1st Taktsang Repa Ngawang Gyasto (1573-1651) became the royal preceptor of Kingdom of Ladakh. He was also popularly known as Staktsang Shambunath. With the support of King Sengee Namgyal (1616-1645) he founded the Hemis monastery. Taktsang Repa had also come to this region to spread the teachings of Buddha. He reached here in 1624 and first founded the Hanley monastery which was the first monastic institution of Drukpa lineage. Two years later he arrived at Hemis and was received by King Sengee Namgyal and other members of his royal court. His arrival resulted in the flourishing of Drukpa lineage in Ladakh and adjoining Himalayan regions. He and his successors became the spiritual gurus of the Ladakhi Kings. Annual Hemis festival is said to have been introduced by Gyalsey Rinpoche.
Hemis has more than 200 branch monasteries in the Himalayas and more than 1,000 monks are under its care. Hence it is considered to be a living monument and heritage of Himalayas and its people.
Not so long ago everybody reaching here would be showcasing the photograph of testimonial to the visit as a badge of honour to have reached the highest motorable road in the world. Such was the glamour of being to Khardung La pass, also known as gateway to Nubra valley. It was one of the must-see destinations for visits to Leh-Ladakh.
Off late owing to firstly, constantly opening of many other high roads around in Ladakh and other places of world and secondly, because of many challenges to its claim of altitude with better and actual GPS measurements–Khardungla has suddenly become from highest motorable road in the world to one of the top 10 highest motorable passes in the world. And few other claim that it is not even in top 10. Challenges to Khardung La’s status have surfaced years back from Marsimik La. And now we have many higher passes in Ladakh itself than Khardung La.
That might be the different story altogether about altitudes and the motorable roads. But still Khardungla has not lost its sheen. It still retains all the sign boards claiming its altitude to be 18,380 feet (against 17,582 feet what is claimed now) and also the glamour among all first-timers to Leh. It still is thrill to drive to Khardung La and beyond to Nubra. Bikers or other returning adventurers will seek to look for other passes far and beyond in Ladakh, even the Urming La which is now called as highest road in the world after its access last year was thrown open. But leisure travellers have different thoughts.
Actually, most of the layman travellers still come here with the impression that Khardung La is the highest motor able pass in the world. For them, Khardung La is still and achievement. And mind it, even crossing a 17 thousand feet altitude is no mean task. Then, all those who plan to go to Nubra valley from Leh have to do it by crossing Khardungla Pass. Interestingly Nubra valley is bit lower in altitude than Leh. Hence tourists will feel more comfortable in Nubra, but than they have to cross 17,500 feet to reach there.
Another notable point is that Khardung La is very close to city of Leh, it is just over 40 kilometres. There are many travellers who come to Leh with a very limited time. Those who reach here by flight have to already sacrifice their first day of trip in resting and acclimatising. So those who have limited time, they keep local Leh sightseeing, monasteries like Hemis and Thiksey, magnetic hill in their itinerary.
To all such tourists, trip to Khardung La adds the adventure quotient in journey. Going to such an altitude will always be adventurous. Journey from Leh to Khardungla takes roughly about an hour and half depending in the traffic and road conditions. By traffic I mean the army convoys blocking your speed. This is strategically a very important mountain pass for Indian forces as this gives them access to Nubra valley and areas close to POK. Hence it is kept in motor able condition almost all the year round, even in heavy snowfall.
Best time to go to Khardungla is early in the morning. Roads would be free of slush and vehicular movement will be less. Even the weather is generally favourable in the first half of day at such places. Those who cross in the morning towards Nubra, should try to cross Khardungla pass before it gets dark in their return journey in the evening.
You can easily find taxis in Leh to take you to Khardungla. Hotels, where you stay will arrange for this. If you don’t intent to go further to Nubra, than Khardungla can be at the most a half day itinerary from Leh.
Lets watch a video of the proverbial last mile drive to Khardungla from South Pullu on my YouTube channel by clicking on the thumbnail below-
Have you been to Khardungla Pass? How was your experience? Please share with us in the comments section below!
To sum up the rides before and after Pang, I can just say that while it was all thrill before Pang, it was sheer joy after that. In a hindsight, one can say that all troubles are marked just to reach Pang, Leh is a cakewalk after that. But having said that, Pang to Leh is also about the climax of a astonishing journey and crossing milestones, one after another.
After the restaurants and dhabas at Pang, as you move ahead, we leave the army transit camp on one side (Read:Thrill of being at highest transit camp in the world). Although Pang itself is over 15000 feet in altitude, we immediately gain height further for around five kilometres. That’s when we reach More plains, a plateau of enormous proportion at this altitude. Criss-crossing this plateau is a road unthinkable at this altitude and better than many of our city roads.
It is an expressway at altitude of 4800 metres, more than half the altitude of Mount Everest. This is almost 50 kms of flatlands between Pang and Tanglang La pass. Flanked by mountain ranges on both sides, this plateau is good enough for dozens of football fields. Amazing, breathtaking and serene, this is a place like no other on this planet, and perhaps one of the most beautiful road journeys in India.
Have a look at the video of this ride on More Plains on my YouTube channel by clicking on the link below-
This is a long and at times, monotonous drive. You will find no village or habitation on the way. Only persons you meet will be fellow travellers going to or returning from Ladakh. Except for some riders stopping here and there for the photo-ops you will find everybody enjoying the speed.
I had an interesting experience while on this stretch. I had just crossed roughly about ten kilometres, when I found a group of bikers coming from the lake stranded on the road. One of the bike had a flat tyre. They were trying to get it repaired, but were somehow not able to do. I stopped to enquire. I was carrying a new spare tube with me. I handed over my tube to them. Although they were a bit reluctant as I was travelling solo and was still on my onward journey. But I told them that my bike had puncture resistant seal in both tyres and I expected that to work fine for me, as it had so far. Moreover the route ahead till Leh was supposed to be perfect. They even offered me the cost of the tube, but I laughed them off and after a few handshakes moved on. That was one of the satisfying moments of the trip, nature makes you more and more humble in its lap.
Continue this journey further, enjoying the vista until we reach Debring towards the fag end of the More plains. Debring is a BRO depot and now also has a well-developed dhabas and campsites for travellers to have food and stay on the way. There is also a diversion just before Debring for Leh via Tso Kar and Mahe. Tso Kar is a high altitude lake famous for its wild ass and white sand. Many travellers will take this route to cover Two Kar and Two Moriri lakes in either their onward or return journey, instead of making a trip to and fro Leh.
After crossing 50 kms of More plains, we again start to climb and this for the last time before reaching Leh. Still ten kilometres are left befor Tanglang La- the highest point on this Manali-Leh route.
I was travelling in September and at that time of the year roads were generally in very good condition as most of the snow around had already melted. But it can be tricky around July-August as snow is still there and melting, so it will not only worsen the road condition but will also make pools of water on road at different places.
Reaching Tanglang La is a huge achievement as well as relief. We know it is just downhill from here onwards until Leh on good roads. The goal seems to be nearer now. Besides there is always a feeling of accomplishment after reaching to this height.
It is often termed as Gateway to Leh. Tanglang La is at an altitude of 5328 metres (17,480 feet) and is also among the world’s top 12 highest passes. Here is the video of last five kilometres ride to Tanglang La while coming from More Plains. It’s amazing. You almost feel like on top of the world. Enjoy the fascinating views on both sides of Tanglang La.
Once we move to the other side, it is a very straightforward road. We have to go down by atleast seven thousand feet until Leh in about 110 kilometres. It is almost like going down a gorge. Roads are good and after 20-25 kilometres you feel like getting close to habitation again.
You can see villages and also electricity but will have to wait till Upshi to get mobile signals. Upshi is where we meet Indus river, cross the river through bridge and move in the Indus valley.
As soon as you reach Upshi, everything changes- landscape, topography, weather, altitude and the mood. Mobile signals are back and calls are being made. You are still more than 40 kms from Leh but mind has already started working on where are you going to stay in Leh. Body seems to be demanding rest already.
Have you ever travelled on this route? How was your experience? Please do share it in the comments section below.
Pang is a magical place. It brings you to an entirely different world, like the one never seen before. At an altitude of over 15,300 feet this is also claimed to be the highest army transit camp in the world. Army claims the altitude as 15, 640 feet. For a traveller- a biker or a driver, Pang is in midst of two entirely different terrains. While coming from Sarchu is the rough routes of Kangla Jal while on the Leh side is the super-highway of More Plains. Both worth a journey of lifetime.
Establishment at Pang would have been come up as a place for stoppage for armed forces moving to and fro to areas bordering Pakistan and China. Being an open valley close to stream and less windy in comparison to Sarchu would have made it ideal place for transit. When adventurers started taking this road journey, they also found place good for camping, as they will always feel assured because of close proximity of the transit camp, if in case of any emergency. Later on locals came up with restaurants here to provide food to travellers. Slowly camping facilities kept growing and now most of the dhabas have rooms and beds for bikers, trekkers, to stay overnight. Transit camp is still very helpful for locals and travellers in providing medical and communication facilities. I have often used paid satellite phone facilities at these transit camps on the way to inform about my well-being to my family.
But staying at Pang isn’t a mean task physically. It is quite challenging to stay at an altitude of over 15,000 feet. More so, when you are tired because of tough ride from Manali to Pang. Many travellers will feel acute AMS here. Still many locals will suggest to stay at Pang instead of Sarchu, despite its higher altitude because it is less windy.
Have a look at a video below of way to Pang and places around camp.
Another video below of route from Bharatpur to Pang, a magical view of mountains turning into gold when struck by first lights of sun!
Manali-Leh route is also known for its five high mountain passes. Have a look at a video below of all the five from Rohtang to Tanglang La
As I said Pang has some of the most fascinating terrains on its both sides and amazing roads constructed in them- sheer engineering marvel. Among them is the Kangla Jal. Flowing over a rocky bed at an altitude of 4878 metres, Kangla Jal makes for an amazing landscape. Kangla Jal is in a valley and there are towering mountains on both the sides. It is located where Miyar connects to Zanskar valley. A beautiful road has been carved into rocky sandstone formations making it a spectacular sight. But than it is also one of the toughest (often people say ‘the toughest’) water stream (Miyar river) to cross on Manali-Leh route. Water flows from the top and falls into the deep gorge overlooking Pang. Still, you won’t always find water here, as in the video below, it is completely dry (it was in late September). That is what makes it unpredictably beautiful. When there is water in the stream (mostly early in the season upto August) the flow of water changes as the day progresses and recedes towards evening. Old-timers will say that the best time to cross it is early morning when the sun if soft and the snow hasn’t started melting. Middle of the day will account for the most severe flows. Even for vehicles, life is tougher for bikes as they might have to cross kneedeep freezing cold water in great flow. A bit of challenge! However a newly laid bridge has made the life somewhat easy for bikers.
For those who love haunted stories, Gata Loops offers a couple. Very interesting that a road of 21 hairpin bends taking up the mountain is also related to such stories. Gata Loops are in between Sarchu and Pang. Travel to these loops in the video below-
Pang is also the place where we see the unique soil formations on the mountains, and some very unusual structures. Vistas here are quite different, special colours of the sand & rocks as well as few images which have become iconic in this Manali-Leh journey for decades now.
Factsheet: At an altitude of almost 4600 metres, Pang is 80 kms ahead of Sarchu. Tanglang La is further 70 kms from Pang and Upshi is another 60 kms from Tanglang La. It normally takes no less than three hours of biking to reach from Sarchu to Pang, depending upon the number of photo stops you are willing to take.
Have you ever stayed overnight at Pang? How was the experience? Please share your views in the comments section below.
Spring is early this year, not just because Basant Panchami was celebrated in January itself, but also because winter too seems to be giving way to the spring already. Time of romance and enjoyment. Carnival time at places around the world. But the shortest month of the year is also one of the richest in terms of cultural output that we get out of it.
Well, we are already done with the first quarter of the month and many events have already rounded up, like the Rural Olympics at Kila Raipur in Punjab (2-4 February 2018) and the Sula Fest at Nasik (3-4 February). Even the Kala Ghoda Arts festival at Mumbai has started from 3rd February, but there is still time to catch up few events in remaining days. But surely gem of the month is the once in 12 years Mahamasthakabhisheka of the ‘original’ Bahubali at Shravanbelagola in Karnataka. But we also have some lesser known festivals in monasteries of Ladakh, if you are daring to venture there in the winters. Also in my (remaining) list for the month is another recent addition to Rajasthan’s ever growing music sphere- a festival at Udaipur. Then there are always the regular ones with their evergreen charm.
Mahamasthakabhisheka of Bahubali
Mahamasthakabhisheka, the head anointing ceremony is performed once in 12 years to the 57 feet tall monolithic statue of Lord Bahubali at Shravanabelagola. The event is being be held under the leadership of Swasti Sri Charukeerthi Bhattarakha Swamiji of Shravanabelagola from 17th-25th February 2018. Shravanabelagola/Sravanabelagola is one of the most important Jain tirth (a sacred place) of the Jains in South India. It is a place of great importance from the point of pilgrimage and also archeological and religious heritage. About eight hundred odd inscriptions which the Karnataka Archeological Department has collected at the place are mostly Jaina and cover a very extended period from 600 to 1830 A.D. Some refer even to the remote time of Chandragupta Maurya and also relate the story of the first settlement of Jains at Shravanabelagola. That this village was an acknowledged seat of learning is proved from the fact that a priest from here named Akalanka was in 788 A.D. summoned to the court of Himasitala at Kanchi where having confuted the Buddhists in public disputation, he was instrumental in gaining their expulsion from the South of India to Ceylon. The place derives its name from the point that Shravana or Shramana means a Jain ascetic and Belagola or Biliya Kola means white pond. Usually Mahamasthakabhisheka to Bahubali idols at Shravanabelagola, Karkala, Venur and Dharmasthala are conducted once in 12 years. There are various interesting stories/interpretations around this.
When:17-25 February 2018
Where:Shravanabelagola is at a distance of 51 KM south-east of Hassan, the district centre. It is situated at a distance of 12 Km to the south from the Bangalore-Mangalore road (NH-48), 78 Kms from Halebidu, 89 Kms from Belur, 83 Kms from Mysore, 233 Kms from Mangalore and 157 Kms from Bangalore, the capital of Karnataka. It is well connected with State Highways and District roads. Bangalore and Mangalore are the two nearest destinations connected by Air. There are trains connecting Shravanabelagola with the state capital Bengaluru (Bangalore), its district head quarter Hassan, the cultural capital of Karnataka Mysuru and the state’s chief port city Mangaluru (Mangalore).
Kala Ghoda goes Green this year
Hindustan Times Kala Ghoda Arts Festival is the country’s largest multicultural festival, taking place in February each year. Kala Ghoda Association, was formed on 30th October 1998 with the object of maintaining and preserving the heritage and art district of South Mumbai. Mission was to preserve and refurbish the heritage arts district of Mumbai with the co-operation of local authorities and to create and spread multi-cultural awareness through platforms like festivals and events especially amongst those who have little opportunity to access or be exposed to culture. Hence the festival is free for everybody across all he sections. The Festival draws visitors in large numbers, not just from the city but from all over the country, and the world. Hara Ghoda The Kala Ghoda Arts Festival brings to the stage the wonders of nature shown through performance and art. The raging flames of the Fire of victory (agni), the liquid blue of Aqua (jal), the indefinable Air (vayu), the indestructible Earth (prithvi) and the realms of Space (akash), finds its place and artistic representation at the Kala Ghoda Arts Festival 2018. The HTKGAF calendar features dance, theatre, music and literature events, in addition to art installations, workshops, heritage walks and film screenings. For those looking forward to the diverse calendar of events, this festival hasn’t been soon enough. The festival is quirky and fresh, bringing to us the best of art and culture. The art installations are amazing; the literature events enriching. The nine-day festival adds to the beauty of the city, with its rich programmes. Kala Ghoda is a festival so rich and diverse, yet binding us together. Music performances are exemplary, with elite artists performing for the whole city. It captures the city’s culture and gives the new generation a chance to connect with it.
When:3-11 February, 2018
Where:Different venues for different arts across Mumbai, although there is a pending court case related to use of Cross Maidan this year.
Destruction of evil with fanfare at Dosmochey Festival in Ladakh!
This is a festival from the rooftop of the world. Likir Festival and Leh Dosmochey normally falls around February. Dosmochey is a monastic festival celebrated in the month of February each year. This festival was said to be started by the rulers of Ladakh on the pattern of the popular Mon-Lam meaning ‘Great Prayer’ ceremony of Lhasa. It is celebrated at Leh, Likir (lower Ladakh) and Diskit (in Nubra valley) monasteries. It is the last event of the New Year celebrations, and is held on the 28th and 29th day of the 12th Tibetan month. This two day festival is celebrated with great enthusiasm. Hundreds of Ladakhi people and winter tourists actively take part in this festival. In Leh, there is a courtyard below Leh Palace, where festival is held. Monks from various monasteries perform mask dance and ritual prayers. Mask dance is accompanied with the sound of large drums, cymbals and trumpet. Monks of Takthok monastery (the only remaining Nyingmapa school monastery and who are considered as masters in Tantric practice and astrology) prepare the complex thread crosses to trap evil and demonic forces. On the second day, crowds of masked dancers and people march through streets spreading positive energy. Besides, offerings of storma, ritual figures moulded out of dough, are brought out and ceremonially cast away into the desert, or burnt. These scapegoats believed to carry away with them the evil spirits of the year just passed and thus the town is cleaned and made ready to welcome the New Year.
When:13-14 February, 2018
Where:Leh Palace, Likir and Diskit Gompa
Cham dances of Yargon Tungshak
Stay for some more days after Dosmochey festival and you can enjoy another one in Nubra valley this time. Even though winter is not the most ideal time to plan a Leh Ladakh tour, those who want to witness the livelier side of Ladakh must plan a visit to Nubra Valley during the late months of winter. During the late winters, the calm and placid Nubra valley of Ladakh comes to life with the vibrant Yargon Tungshak Festival. A flamboyant exhibition of culture, tradition, folk music, and the much acclaimed Cham Dance (Mask Dance), the Yargon Tungshak Festival brings in a new and the livelier vibes back to the entire valley. Decked up in traditional costumes, the dance is performed on the beats of drums and low-level syllables which are uttered with a strange melody. Dances which are performed in this festival are Lion, Yak and Tashipa dances. Ladakhi festiveals like Yargon Tungshak are synodnymous with delicious food that is peculiar only to that region. Locals, during the Yargon Tungshak Festival, feast on delicious local foods; mostly skyu, gurgur cha and thukpa, and the monasteries also holds social feast for the locals. Also, a grand religious prayer takes place in a monastery. Along with the traditional Tibetian chants, Sanskrit chants are also uttered by monks.
When:19-20 February, 2018
Where:Nubra Yama, Nubra, Ladakh
The oracles at Stok Guru Tsechu
Dare I say that come back from Nubra to the Stok village and in few days you will witness another great monastic festival and a rare one. The Stok Guru Tsechu Festival is held in the first month of the Tibetan lunar calendar, the holy prayer month. It is celebrated in accordance with Guru Rinpoche’s (Padmasambhava) birthday which falls on the 9th and 10th day of the first Tibetan month. Stok Guru Tsechu is a very unique monastic festival. Apart from the famous mask dance, its highlight is the awaited oracles’ prediction for the coming year. Stok village, where the festival takes place, offers the great view down the valley on the mighty Indus river and the majestic snow-capped Stok Kangri Mountain (6,153m above sea level). Every now and then one gets easily delighted by the festive vibes that the locals emanate in their colourful attire. The festival is a platform where villagers take the opportunity to serve their spiritual masters and the monastery in its turn entertains its long-bearing benefactors through a colourful Cham or mask dance. The villagers are introduced to different manifestations of Tantric Buddhas through the means of religious dance performed by the monks who are in turn disguised in sacred costumes, ornaments and huge masks resembling different Buddhas. As the sun sets down above the high rocky mountains of Stok range, the two oracles appear in the monastery courtyard. Fully possessed and in trance, they are escorted to the main temple by monks, lay people and two Deer mask dance performers. They are being glorified with the high baritone trumpets blown by the monks along with cymbals, drums and a group of lay musicians playing traditional drums and pipes. It is believed that there are seven oracles residing in Ladakh. Two of them are in Stok village, two in Matho village, other two in Gya village and one in Skurbuchan village. The story tells that their origin dates back to the pre-Buddhist era where Shamanism or Bon was prevailing in Tibet. As Guru Rinpoche subdued all the shamanic energy and converted them into Buddhism in the 8th century AD, they took pledge to protect the Buddha Dharma since then.
When: 24-25 February, 2018
Where:Stok village, Ladakh
World of music at the City of Lakes
The City of Lakes sings a different tune come February. Udaipur plays host to the third edition of the Udaipur World Music Festival. Organised by SEHER, this festival brings together global artists and ensembles from over 20 countries. More than 100 artists will collaborate to give an eclectic variety of performances. The festival which witnessed a footfall of more than 50,000 people visiting from different parts of the world during its last two editions, assures an interesting itinerary with artistes from France, US, Nepal, Spain, Italy, Thailand and India giving music lovers a taste of jazz, classical, rock and pop music this edition. Music enthusiasts will be privy to live performances by famous bands like Txarango from Spain and Brazilian singer Flavia Coelho and many other artistes who will be performing for the first time in the country. Music connoisseurs will also get to enjoy soulful renditions by the lauded musical trio Shankar, Ehsaan and Loy from India and The Ransom Collective from Philippines. Celebrating cultural diversity at its best, the festival will also provide a platform to local Rajasthani artistes along with an insightful exposure to the local communities.The event is designed to cater to the music sensibilities of people across different ages and from all walks of life. An absolute once-in-a-lifetime experience, this one is a sheer treat for lovers of good music. The event will host some of the most renowned music artistes including Italian musician Oi Dipnoi, Himalyan folk singer-songwriter Bipul Chettri, New York-based Indian guitarist and composer Shubh Saran, French musical artist Maya Kamaty, amongst others. “It has been a fantastic experience to see tremendous response from music lovers in the past two editions. This year we have planned to take the festival to new levels with an eclectic line up of world musicians who will be performing during the festival. The festival is a celebration of myriad cultures, ethnicities and colorful traditions through music,” Festival Director Sanjeev Bhargava said.
When:9-11 February 2018
Where:Fateh Sagar Paal and Gandhi ground, Udaipur
Showcasing art and handicraft at Surajkund
One of the most awaited fairs of north India happens to be very close to Delhi. Comes right at the nick of spring. Dates have been slightly altered this year. A marvellous mix of handicrafts, folk arts and folk dances makes it a crowd puller. With lots of food stalls representing different states, it has lot more to offer. Hosted by Haryana Tourism, this fair also has a large entertainment value. With Valentine Day coming towards the end of the festival, young ones from NCR find it tempting to have some funtime at Surajkund. This year visitors at the upcoming Surajkund Mela will be able to take a joy ride in a helicopter and enjoy an aerial view of the fair and surrounding areas. Every year, a country is chosen to be the Partner Nation that showcases the best of its art, culture, traditions and heritage during the Mela fortnight. Artists from many other states also actively participate. Every year, a theme state is chosen for the Mela, which highlights the state in totality from its architecture to fine arts and crafts. This year Kyrgyzstan is the partner nation and Uttar Pradesh has been chosen as the theme State for the 32nd Surajkund International Crafts Mela-2018.
When:2-18 February, 2018
Where:Surajkund, Faridabad, Haryana
A music fest for world peace
8th edition of Sur Jahan (previous name Sufi Sutra) will be held at Mohar Kunj, Kolkata on February 2 to 4, 2017. Like previous years, it remains non ticketed festival and open to music lovers. Held in the first weekend of February every year with the motto of ‘Music for Peace, Music for All’, the event showcases international and national music teams, with cultural exchange workshops during the day and concerts in the evenings. The celebrations create the atmosphere of a carnival, with stalls by rural handicraft artists and folk performances. It is being held since 2011 and is now a permanent and much-awaited fixture in the city’s cultural calendar. Since its inception, teams from 22 countries and 12 states of India have participated in this annual musical extravaganza. Among the major attractions this year are the Ale Möller Quartet and Ellika Solo Rafael, both from Sweden, BraAgas of Czech republic, Virelai of Denmark and Otava Yo from Russia. Indian part will be represented by Punjab Qawwali, Bauls of Bengal and Folks of Bengal – an initiative of banglanatak dot com MusiCal supporting urban folk artists. The festival will also showcase Rural Craft & Cultural Hubs of West Bengal, an initiative of West Bengal government’s Department of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises and Textiles (MSME&T) in association with UNESCO. Alike last year Sur Jahan is again traveling to Goa this year Feb 7-9.
When:2-4 February, 2018.
Where:Kolkata & Goa
Carnival times in Goa
India’s answer to carnivals of Brazil, Caribbean and Europe. Carnival came to Goa with the Portuguese in 1510. This is the local version of the carnival celebrated worldwide before Mardi Gas. In the localised version parade is lead by local King Momo. This three day event is the place where all the colours of Goa come out in a glorious swagger and sweeps away the local as well foreign folks with its charm and charisma. Goa is almost synonymous with fun, music, food, entertainment and merry making and without any real doubt the only place in India that breaks away from the general image of the country as a conservative nation. It can be attributed to the historical fact that Goa was under Portuguese rule in the past and is still in its hang over. The Goa Carnival was started by the Portuguese rulers and since then it it has become an integral part of Goa. During the Carnival days Goa enters into a different zone of its own and become very crowded place. from every part of the world travellers come to enjoy the Goa Carnival. There is celebrations everywhere. Food and drinks are in plenty in accordance with live performances and multi-coloured processions. The scene of Goa Carnival resembles some fairy tale descriptions where people hop around in jovial mood with masks on, fireworks, fortune tellers, group of dancers and and above all happy people all around. Music swings into Goa Carnival quite naturally. The myriad facets of the Goan music compels any onlooker to jig with it. The stylish Spanish guitar, the casual drum beats and the soulful voice are enough to make you move your feet. It is a perfect gateway for everyone who is on the verge of a virtual breakdown in today’s dull, dreary and mundane world.
When:10-13 February, 2018
Where: Panaji, Vasco, Mapusa
Best of classical dance at Khajuraho
Every ancient monument has a fascinating story to tell. But few match the mystery wrapped around the temples of Khajuraho in central India. Once the capital of the great Chandela Kings, Khajuraho today is a quiet village of a few thousand people. It is also the setting of the Khajuraho Festival of Dances which draws the best classical dancers in the country every year, who perform against the spectacular backdrop of the floodlit temples. The seven-day extravaganza is a unique treat for connoisseurs from all over the world. This year it will be 44th edition of this festival. The Khajuraho Festival of Dances draws the best classical dancers in the country who perform against the spectacular backdrop of the floodlit temples every year in February/March. The past and the present silhouetted against the glowing sun as the backdrop becomes an exquisite backdrop for the performers. In a setting where the earthly and the divine create perfect harmony – an event that celebrates the pure magic of the rich classical dance traditions of India. As dusk falls, the temples are lit up in a soft, dream-like ethereal stage. The finest exponents of different classical Indian styles are represented – Kathak, Bharatnatyam, Kuchipudi, Odissi, Manipuri, and many more.
When:20-26 February 2018
Where:Western group of temples, Khajuraho, Madhya Pradesh
An Olympics for Theatre in Delhi this time
India’s biggest theatre festival hosted by National School of Drama will this year turn into 8th Theatre Olympics. India will be hosting this event for the first time. It will be a grand showcase of the international theatre. Theate Olympics is going to feature work by playrights, directors, actors, designers, theatre groups and drama institutions from India and abroad. It will showcase outstanding productions that have been performed for the public on or before 31st August 2017. The theme of the Olympics is Flag of Friendship. The Theatre Olympics was established in 1993 in Delphi, Greece, on the initiative of the famous Greek theatre director, Theodoros Terzopoulos. It is a platform for theatrical exchange, a gathering place for students and masters, where a dialogue despite ideological, culture and language differences is encouraged. Moreover, as its subtitle suggests, Crossing Millennia, it is an initiative that emphasizes the importance of connecting the past, present, and future together. The founding committee was a group of eight internationally renowned theatre directors: Theodoros Terzopoulos, Nuria Espert, Antunes Filho, Tony Harrison, Yuri Lyubimov, Heiner Müller, Tadashi Suzuki and Robert Wilson. It is a non-profit organization. Its administrative headquarters are located in Athens, Greece (European office) and in Togamura, Japan (Asian office).
When:17 February-8 April 2018
Where:National School of Drama, New Delhi, but plays across the country at various locations including Agartala, Ahmedabad, Bangalore, Bhopal, Bhubaneswar, Chandigarh, Chennai, Guwahati, Imphal, Jaipur, Jammu, Kolkata, Mumbai, Patna, Thiruvanathapuram and Varanasi.
Enjoying contemporary art at India Art Summit
India Art Fair, previously known as India Art Summit, is an annual summit of modern and contemporary art. India Art Fair is South Asia’s leading platform for modern and contemporary art and portal to the region’s cultural landscape. Founded in 2008, India Art Fair has become the bedrock of a now booming cultural community with connections to every level of the market. This is the 10th year of this Art summit. Building on these foundations, India Art Fair is expanding its programming to reflect South Asia’s immense diversity in the visual arts and to provide a platform for innovation across disciplines and exchange, throughout the region and the world. There is strong representation of leading Indian and international galleries to complement the fair’s regional perspective and enable a deeper engagement with art. A curated showcase of interactive, large-scale installations revealing the most stimulating cross section of artists, mediums and processes from the subcontinent. With a shared ambition to promote cultural discourse in South Asia, and provide a platform for these discussions, India Art Fair has developed platforms such as the Speakers’ Forum and Film Programme. This broad and exciting programme of lectures, screenings and conversations will engage a diverse range of stakeholders in the visual arts as well as cover a wide spectrum of artistic practices.
When:9-12 February, 2018
Where:NSIC Exhibition Grounds, Okhla Industrial Estate, New Delhi.
This is more of a vlog post. For the ordinary, the road from Manali to Rohtang Pass is quite thrilling, but for all those who seek the heights it is just a prelude of things to come. After all, at an altitude of 13,050 feet, it is quite less (more than 4500 ft) than what one achieves in this jaw-dropping journey from Manali to Leh.
Rohtang is more fun, a sort of picnic spot. But it gives a fair idea of what to expect next while moving to greater heights.
One of the most dangerous but still one of the most beautiful road journeys on the planet takes you through five high altitude mountain passes- Rohtang La (13,050 ft), Baralacha La (16,040 ft), NakeeLa (15,547 ft), Lachung La (16,616 ft) and the highest one of the route Tanglang La (17,582 ft).
Its a challenging but thoroughly entertaining route of around 450 kms undertaken on my favourite Royal Enfield Thunderbird, which you will be able to see at all the passes. Inspiring! Is it!!