Raiding the Khardung La

Prologue

John Keats had once commented “a thing of beauty is a joy forever.” The beauty of the brown mountains, lofty snowy peaks, blue lakes (“Tso”) and the breathtaking passes (“La”) had created an eternal aura of Mother Nature at her very best in Ladakh.

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Destination Khardung La

Khardung La is one among the mighty mountain passes in Ladakh lying about 40 Km from the city of Leh.  It stands tall and proud at a magnanimous height of 18380 ft above the sea level with snow clad peaks and glaciers surrounding it from all sides. The pass forms the most important connecting route to the famous Siachen Glacier, Nubra Valley and other important places lying to the North West of Leh.

Day 2 in Ladakh

The day one in Leh was spent entirely on acclimatizing our bodies and getting fuelled for the tough road-trip to Nubra Valley via Kahrdung La. We had collected almost everything possible in our ration piled up in the back of our SUV. And the planning of our tour guide Mr. Md. Hassan was absolutely flawless. His experience in collecting all the necessary items was meticulous. We had hired an oxygen cylinder, three sleeping bags, powerful torches, nylon ropes and had collected atleast four day’s ration of drinking water, chocolates, fruits, dry fruits, emergency medicines and first aid items for our three day road trip. Hassan Ji was quite sceptical that, “you can never ever predict the weather of Ladakh, particularly when it is going to be winter soon by the end of October.”

The Journey Begins

We had to start fairly early at 8 am in the morning keeping in view the probable contingencies on the way to Khardung La and Nubra. It was a wise decision for all of us to skip our showers with the morning temperature soaring at -4 Degree Celcius. It literally made us to shiver to the depth of our bones. Our breakfast was simple with bread toast and black tea. Skipping a heavy & oily breakfast menu with paranthas and omlets was perhaps an excellent choice considering the severe adverse conditions of our long road journey.

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Leh – Khardung La Route

It was 7.50 am when we found Mr. Hassan at our hotel lobby. He asked one of the hotel attenders to carry our luggage to the back of the SUV parked in front of the hotel. We observed that apart from the necessities collected for our trip, he too had brought his own camping kit, but what lay inside it was probably only known to him.

Hassan Ji put the SUV into action by a gentle press on the ignition key. The huge vehicle roared and smoothly paved its way up from the Old Leh Road towards the Leh – Khardung La Road.

Leaving Leh for Khardungla

Leaving Leh for Khardung La

The Leh – Khardungla Road

Our SUV joined the Sankar Road after crossing Ladakh House. We soon found the amazing architecture of the Leh palace to our right standing tall on a small hillock. Within a couple of minutes we reached the city limits. After taking a right side turn we soon joined the Leh – Khardung La Road.

Leh Khardungla Road

Joining the Khardung La Road from Leh…

The greenery of the Leh city soon became sparser and we soon had barren brown mountains all around us. The Leh – Khardungla Road was now on a stiff rise and we soon were climbing the serpentine mountain roads taking us higher and higher above the city limits. The fading view of Leh looked amazing from the SUV.

Leh City Limits

The Climb begins on the Khardung La Road

The serpentine yet meticulously maintained Khardung La Road climbed further in the North West direction and with each bend we were climbing higher and higher. The entire Leh valley view suddenly opened up guarded by the magnificent tall mountains guarding it on all sides.

Leh Valley

Leaving Leh for Khardung La

It was hard to describe beauty of these mountains. Each fold, wrinkle and slopes of these barren mountains had numerous shades of grey that was far beyond the scope of our appreciation. They truly looked out of the known world in the backdrop of the dark blue sky.  The floating autumn clouds created mystic dancing shadows on the mountain slopes that kept on moving and changing with the cold mountain breeze sweeping the Leh Valley.

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Leh Valley looked like a distant clearing with tinges of greenery far away and down the towering mountains

Suddenly after climbing for another 15 to 20 minutes we found that the Leh Valley looked like a distant clearing with tinges of greenery far away and down the towering mountains where we were now standing.

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The serpentine Leh-Khardungla Road

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Leh-Khardungla Road Unplugged

The road which we had already traversed from Leh looked like wonderful pieces of sculpture on the body of these wonderful mountains. Sometimes while looking at the zig zag patterns it looked that, perhaps a giant creature might have scratched its nails on the mountain walls to make way for the Khardung La Road.

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Leh looked like wonderful pieces of sculpture on the body of these wonderful mountains

We had to admit that inspite of so much adverse weather conditions and geographical challenges the roads of Ladakh were much well maintained as compared to those in any Metropolitan city of our country.

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The roads of Ladakh were much well maintained

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Way to South Pullu, Leh-Khardungla Road

Arrival at South Pullu

The climb was beginning to get flatter as our SUV entered a huge tableland or plateau. We were deeply engrossed by the change of the shape of our climb into the huge tableland.  As we crossed another two more bends Hassan Ji turned back and said that we had reached South Pullu.

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Amazing Leh-Khardungla Road

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On the way towards South Pullu

South Pullu is an important place on the Leh Khardung La Road. It is the first army check post for on-coming and outgoing vehicles moving in and out of Khardung La Pass.

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Reaching South Pullu

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South Pullu, Leh

We parked our SUV to the side of the road and had to quickly fill up a Tourist Information Form mentioning our personal details, purpose of visit, period of stay, vehicle number, model number, details of the driver and so on.

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A Much awaited break at South Pullu

This registration is a statutory compliance meant for all vehicles including tourists like us. Other than the check post quarters and a tea shop that were nothing worth watching at this place which could draw our attention.

Crossing the Snow Line

After climbing another 10 minutes from South Pullu, the scene around us had a complete change. There were tinges of fresh snow everywhere on the rocks of the huge grey mountain we were climbing. It would now be unfair to call the surrounding mountains to be barren and grey – they were rather all covered by a soft sheet of freshly laid snow indicating that we had now reached the snow-line.

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Crossing the snow-line…Khardung La

The morphology of the road changed drastically. We entered a bumpy, muddy and snow covered road that broke our heart. Yet in this hard weather there were atleast 1 to 20 men working tirelessly at every bend to make things better for on coming vehicles.

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The first view of Khardung La

Our climb was now beginning to become more and more uncomfortable and stressful. It was getting severely cold inspite of the heater working well inside the SUV. The air seemed to grow lighter and difficult to breathe. Hassan Ji reminded us that we were approaching a height of almost near to 18000ft. The discomfort was further aggravated by a queue of about 15 military trucks snarling their way up to Khardung La. It was really difficult to get a decent side for overtaking such huge vehicles in a gradually narrowing up-hill road.

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Khardung La Top…Highest Motorable Road of the World (18380ft)

Khardung La Atlast

We had to compliment and thank the almighty that there were no road blocks ahead due to avalanche mess in and around Khardung La. Although we had to compromise our speed behind the caravan of military trucks; finally with another mighty bend in the road, Khardung La lay ahead stark naked in its snowy exuberance. Dredgers and ice cutters were tirelessly removing piles of ice and muddy debris to make Khardung La navigable and comfortable for vehicle parking.

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Khardung La Unplugged

We promised Hassan Ji not to spend even a second more than 10 minutes for exploring here and there in and around Khardung La. He repeatedly warned us regarding the acclimatization health hazards that might affect us for a stay more than 10 minutes.

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Rinchen Cafe, Khardung La

A weather watch hung at the military camp indicated that at 10.30 am in the morning Khardung La was having a temperature of – 7 Degree Celcius. We had no other options to quickly complete a round of rapid fire camera shots below that famous Khardung La Billboard indicating “Khardung La, 18380 ft – Highest Motorable Road of the World.”

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Spell of sudden snow-fall at Khardungla…darkened skies out of no where

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Khardung La Road..looking amazing after the brief spell of snow fall

We soon had to run for cover into the Rinchen Cafe due to a sudden spell of snow fall and had to compromise the growing shivering and discomfort with cups of hot black tea and biscuits.

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Khardungla Museum & Lord Shiva Temple, Khardungla

The spell of snow fall disappeared as fast as it had come out of nowhere. We wasted hardly any time to return quickly back to our vehicle. We appreciated that even in this adverse weather conditions many people were obliging themselves for a prayer in a small temple of Lord Shiva adjoining the Khardung La Souvenir shop cum museum.

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The spell of snow fall disappeared as fast as it had come out of nowhere

The Descent to Khardung Village

The brief spell of snow fall led a fairly large cloud cover above Khardung La. We ignored the gloomy weather and slowly moved on, now descending to a snow covered valley lying on the opposite side of Khardung La. The shades of the distant grey valley and the snowy mountain slopes under the umbrella of the clouds created a magical world hard to describe.

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Our descent from the Khardung La Top towards Khardung Village

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The Khardung La Top view..amazing scene

We had descended almost 10 km. Khardung La top looked dark, snowy, mysteriously virgin and forbidden. Perhaps it was never ever meant for any human inhabitation. We kept on silently acknowledging its royal magnitude and magnificence, till it finally disappeared from our sight far above us amidst the kingdom of clouds.

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The return of the grey mountains

As we came further down we were once again surrounded by the grey mountains. The greyishness now visible harnessed a peculiar melancholy – it was dull, darker indicating our arrival into another part of Ladakh unique in its shades and colours.

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On the way to North Pullu

Crossing North Pullu

Thank God there was no more cloud cover beyond North Pullu. The mountains looked brighter and so were the skies. The clouds had gone for goodness. A deep blue sky greeted us into an amazing valley with the Khardung La road winding like a giant serpent further down towards its destiny.

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The shades of the clouds on the mountains

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Many shades of Grey…on the way towards Khardung Village

Approaching the village Khardung

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Our journey to village Khardung

The mountains in these parts of Ladakh remained typically barren and dry indicating that we were approaching closer and closer to the cold deserts of the Nubra Valley.

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Appraoching North Pullu

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The amazing mountainscape..after we crossed North Pullu

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Mountainscape…beauty past compare

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The amazing road view..our journey towards Khardung Village

We were descending smoothly into a wide valley. A gorge like deep cleft was running parallel to our road on the right and the very presence of it refreshed the cinematic memory of the typical “Wild Wild West” cut out from the valleys in and around the river Colorado.

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Mountainscape near Khardung village

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Mountainscapes unplugged

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The Khardung Road

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The amazing road trip to Khardung Village

Another 10 Km downhill ride led us into a small village bordered by arrays of colourful trees so typical of autumn in Ladakh. A green billboard indicated that we had reached Khardung.

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A gorge like deep cleft was running parallel to our road on the right

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On the way to Khardung Village

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Khardung Village atlast

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Picturesque Khardung

It was time for us to take a break for a much awaited lunch. We knew that we had many more miles to ride until we have reached the cold deserts of the mysterious Nubra Valley.


 

 
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