Ever since I was a child, I would always claim that I was more of a beach than a mountain person. All that changed when I got this fantastic opportunity to visit beautiful Ladakh. I am now in the tenth grade at Lincoln School, Kathmandu.
It all started when my Dad, Santoo Shrestha, and I made the spontaneous decision to travel and bond during my short spring break. Thankfully as our travel plans revolved around March and April, it was the perfect time to visit Ladakh. The months recommended to visit are from Mid-April to Mid-December as beyond December, it tends to get very cold with heavy snowfall, which leads to difficulty in traveling and enjoying the experience. Ladakh is one of India’s most popular and loved travel destinations.
When my father and I took our early morning flight from Delhi to Leh in Ladakh, I had a genuine combination of nervousness and excitement. We flew by Vistara Airlines for the first time and had an excellent experience with them. As I had rarely visited mountainous areas, I was unsure how much I would enjoy our journey. However, having my optimistic and organized dad beside me, gave me enough confidence and encouragement that I would be able to face whatever stood in front of me.
The pristine beauty of Ladakh is something to behold.
Centuries old monasteries still retain their charm.
The views we got of the snowy mountains were beyond beautiful. When we arrived in Leh, my father and I could easily pass through as our Nepali Passport held the same value as an Indian Passport and not of a foreigner. Outside, we were greeted immediately by our bright and cheery tour guide and taken to our hotel, The Zen Ladakh. We took off to the hotel from the airport, and on the way, I was astonished by how culturally enhanced Leh is. Every corner of the street was interesting. Once we reached the hotel, the staff was kind and gentle and gave us a brief overview of how our trip would go. My chest felt heavy, as though I could not breathe. However, we were given an altitude medicine called Diamox, which helped my dad and me instantly breathe better. As the day ended, I was excited to embark on the journey ahead of us.
After a filling breakfast, my dad, the tour guide, and I left for Nubra Valley. On the way, I never got tired of the scenery. Although the mountainous zone was repetitive, all the spectacular beauty made up for it. At this point, it started hitting me that Mobile Data and WiFi would be found only very rarely. I was scared about how much of No Social Media I could take. However, on the ride, our lovely tour guide gave us a lot of information about Ladakh as a whole: the history, the culture surrounding it, the people, and most importantly, the food! My dad and I bonded over songs the entire car ride as we passed by various funny speed signs. We stopped multiple times to take pictures. Then, the moment I was not ready for had come. To reach Nubra Valley, we had to pass the highest motorable mountain pass in the world known as the Mighty Khardungla Pass, which is at 17,982 ft above sea level. Once we went there, my dad insisted that we get off the car to take pictures. I was shocked as I figured out that not everyone can come up this high and that it was a once in a lifetime opportunity. One thing I regret is not taking a proper jacket that could shield my chest from the cold. Throughout the journey I had a tough time breathing, which was cut down with the help of more layers of clothes and Diamox. During our trip, we stopped by to hop on ATV rides in the cold desert in Nubra Valley. My dad and I went at full speed on the same ATV as though speed limits did not exist.
We also visited the Diskit Monastery in Diskit Town, the oldest monastery in the world, built sometime in the 14th century. I did not want to leave after checking into our luxurious hotel, Stone Hedge Resort. Our room was beautiful and had a fantastic view of the mountains that I could not get tired of watching. My father and I decided to go ride camels and rushed to the Hunder Sand Dunes. The camels we rode on are known to have two humps and were used as transport to travel to the Silk Route, which went through Ladakh. I took photos with my dad as we enjoyed our camel ride. When we headed back for dinner, both of us were shocked when we discovered how good the food was. We enjoyed our meal and got a good night's sleep.
When it was time to leave early the next morning for Pangong Tso Lake, I was sad that I could not have spent more time in the resort. It was peaceful and very aesthetically pleasing and encouraged eco-tourism. The estimated time taken to reach Pangong was around 6 hours. I enjoy road trips, so it was not much of a hassle for me or my dad. So far, we had had no internet except in the hotel. I mostly felt disconnected from social media excellently and healthily. I took this as an opportunity to communicate and bond with my dad, even over minor things. One thing I vividly remember is all the views. I could not get enough of mountains, sand, and rivers as everything looked so visually appealing.
Joys of Ladakh
We met a Nepali woman working for the Ladakhi Army Labor on one of our pitstops at a tiny restaurant. We had a nice cup of tea and conversation with her about her life growing up in Ladakh as a Nepali, which I found very emotional and sweet. Entering Pangong Tso Lake was exciting. I was not mentally prepared to breathe the same air that Aamir Khan and Karina Kapoor had breathed. One of the scenes from the famous Bollywood movie “3 Idiots” was shot in Pangong Tso Lake. The lake was huge, and looked almost like an ocean. It was covered in ice but slowly melting off at the edges. Pangong Tso Lake is the world’s highest saltwater lake at 14,272 ft and is known to change colors that appear blue, green, and red at different times of the day. I hurriedly went to the freezing water to collect a few rocks for myself and my friend Raabiya. The water was so cold that it almost froze my hands. My dad and I took walks along the lake while taking tons of pictures to capture every moment. It felt very nice to be by his side while looking at the beautiful lake in front of us.
The hotel was unexpectedly small. I was not prepared for the bathrooms that did not work. However, I tried my best to cooperate with the space given to me and was grateful to be under a roof in such cold weather. What shocked me the most was that my father had not told me that the weather was below -15 degrees celsius as he thought I would go ballistic, which I found very funny. Wrapped up in 3 layers of blankets, my dad and I rested for a bit as we both felt stuffy because of the altitude. We had delicious local butter tea, which my dad adored. With no internet, we cozied up to watch one of our favorite Bollywood movies, Chennai Express, together that we had downloaded. It was a fun watch, and we shared many laughs. I’ll remember the people we met in this tiny lodge, Pangong House Hotel. At dinner, we met two families and a small group of friends with whom we had lovely, humorous conversations for the rest of the night.
In the morning, we headed back to Leh. Although the resources were minimal at Pangong, I still enjoyed my time with my dad, the scenery, and the various people we met. Therefore, I was a bit sad to leave. At this time, I did not even miss the internet as much as I did the first day. To reach Leh, we drove through Chang-La Pass, which lies at 17,688 ft, and the Indus River. The drive back was fun as we stopped by the Indus River and various palaces and monasteries. We also spotted where Jab Tak Hei Jaan, the famous Bollywood movie was shot. We walked around buying souvenirs and ended up drinking the same Butter Tea and Masala Tea which was as delicious as before. Arriving back at Leh early evening, we strolled around the Leh Market for a couple of hours.
To end the day, we had a lovely meal at a famous Ladakhi Restaraunt which served delicious food. Sadly, the trip had come to an end. What I regret most is not having more days to spare so that the trip would have lasted much longer. I would recommend people to book through an excellent and trusted travel agent to travel in high security. As many people are prone to altitude sickness, a local tour guide can be of help and assist you in times of need and you can plan your days accordingly. Packing clothes for extreme cold is essential to survive the weather in Ladakh. Everyone in Ladakh is warm and friendly, so anyone would be willing to help you in times of need.
I thoroughly enjoyed my trip to Ladakh. Although I did not know it before, it was a bucket list trip. It’s a place where you have to go with a good thought process as it is not a place you can just visit any time you want. I was lucky enough to go with my dad, and I am grateful for the experience of a lifetime.