(September 28)-> A very uncomfortable overnight bus journey dropped us in Manali via Kullu. Kullu and Manali are great hill stations in their own and given a choice we would have spent at least a day there. But limited office leaves made sure we dint rest till we reach Leh. So we took couple of rooms in Manali, just for freshening up. We set out for fixing up a taxi to Leh and eventually settled for a Tata Sumo (not that we had many choices; 8 of us and the tough terrain till Leh). We were introduced to our driver “Sanju”. One look at him and I got a feeling that this is going to be an interesting journey ;-) Dressed in a rugged jeans and t-shirt with an ear-piercing and a thin plait amongst the otherwise short hair, Sanju promised to make us reach Leh by 29 evening despite of starting a little late. So around 11.30 in morning we started from Manali to Leh. Manali-Leh is a distance of 475 KM. Though not much, the journey is completed in 2 days, with an overnight halt. From our research we knew that the road was in bad condition at most places but the scenic beauty along the route is what makes it worth the pain. Still nothing could prepare us for the Manali-Leh highway with Sanju on the driving seat. Our first obscure was when we were blocked for about an hour due to road-cutting before Rohtang; our first pass of the journey. The Manali-Leh-Shrinagar highway is maintained by Border Road Organization, which is an Indian army undertaking. It was around 3 in the afternoon when we reached Rohtang Pass and experienced the first chill. At most times the road was non-existing and we found ourselves travelling trough highest mountains, with our car being on the edge every now and then. Sanju knew many shortcuts through the road and that made our journey more adventures and bumpier at the same time. It’s not allowed to travel on the highway in night so we made our halt at the last village in Himachal Pradesh called Jespa. Jespa was beautiful like a dream, surrounded with mountains on the bank of Bhaga river. The temperature was chilling cold and we had to fight for a couple of rooms in the only guest house in the village. Anyway, after a hot-water bath and some comforting food, falling asleep was not very tough.P.S -> Night halt on Manai-Leh highway is usually done at Sarchu or Pang. Since we started late, we had to halt before Sarchu at Jespa. If you are likely to hit similar situation, make sure to get the rooms booked in advance as there are only 2 guest houses at Jespa.
(September 27) -> after crossing almost 7 states, we got down at Chandigarh around 5 in evening. From here we had a bus to Manali at 8.40 in night. One of our members had some relatives in Chandigarh and the Kukreja family was gracious enough to allow us spend a few hours at their place. Chandigarh is one of India’s very few planned cities and just traveling through its roads was a pleasure. I don’t remember how many sectors we crossed from Railway station to the Kukreja house (all crosses looked just the same to me). We dumped our luggage there and headed for prime attraction of Chandigrah “The Rock Garden”. Established in 1957, Rock Garden is actually a made of rubbish and junk. Created solely by a government employee Nek Chand, Rock Garden is a great model of modern art. Statues adorned with ceramic pieces, drums, iron wastage etc is disguised in a beautiful and interesting way over more than 43 acres of space. After spending just over an hour there, we headed back to the Kukreja’s where we were to have our dinner before catching our bus to Manali. Nice fellows let us wash our dirt, fed and even dropped us to the bus station. God bless them ;-)
Day 1 (September 26)-> The first part of our journey to Leh was the train from Mumbai to Chandigarh. Paschim express had a depart time of 11 Am from Andheri station. We all huddled up on the platform quite before the train was to arrive. Standing where our coach was scheduled to halt, we realized that Chandigarh was on slip route. Slkip route means not all coaches of the train go to Chandigarh but only a few.This meant that our coach will actually be last in the train, but before we could realize this our train came. It had only 2 minutes halt at Andheri and with the entire luggage(13 bags for 8 of us, quite reasonable I had thought ;-)) we had a really tough time making it to our seats. A clear indication of how rest of the journey is going to be ;-)In India people love their travel and since we were a large group, our seats were scattered in various compartments. So the next task was to make some insternal adjustments with other passangers so that we all could be together in one compartment. More that 50% passengers in Paschim express were senior citizens. If it was a coincidence, I dint understand. However that made our task tougher as the oldies were not very flexible for the shuffling we were trying to impose on them. Anyway our destination Chandigarh was not due in next 28 hours so we had plenty of time shifting others, making room for ourselves, playing cards and laughing at the drop of a hat. To be frank we were making so much noise that almost all others knew where we were going and some were even watching the movie guessing game we were playing.
Everything is easier said than done, and our idea of a trip to Ladakh was no exception.I was still under kind of a shock as to what made all these people ready for Ladakh and just a little bit of initial research was enough to make us realize that Ladakh is no cakewalk. However, it being a childhood dream and the tough adventure associated, made Ladakh so inviting for us that for the next 2 months we (me and Pre) pour our blood and soul in preparing ourselves. We went thorough every single URL on the Internet that had Ladakh written on it, joined various forums and read experience of those who’ve been there.Some of us had a really hard time getting their leaves sanctioned but nothing could let our spirits down. Thousand emails were exchanged; various things like eatables, medicines and what not were bought, tickets were booked and all we wanted was the departure day to come.
For many times in our lives we think of travelling to our dream destination, and then comes some important work assignment, some domestic emergency or some other problem out of the blue and our dream destination just remains a dream, yet to be fulfilled.So when one lazy afternoon, a common friend of mine and my roommate’s (referred as Pre hereafter) proposed the idea of a vacation and I blurted out “Ladakh” just like that, I had no anticipation of it being ever fulfilled. But then, you never know what the destiny has in store for you and so we had 8 people ready for the idea of a trip to Leh-Ladakh.What follows next is my first travelogue containing every single detail of how we planned this dream trip of ours, what hardship we faced before and during the trip and how we had the most joyous moments of our lives.