My job is to recommend great travel ideas but not necessarily insist you experience these. But I will make an exception here: you must visit Ladakh, by road. And ideally, drive yourself. Take four wheels or two, but make sure you go. Sooner than later. You will not regret putting off other stuff for this.
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The best part of the drive starts from Manali – every passing mile will tell you more of what heaven might be like. You will literally be at the top of the motorable world – and never want to come back down. Pack your car, and be off without much thought.
The detailed distance / time route can be read at http://kunzum.com/2011/06/19/kunzum-route-k12-driving-in-ladakh-updated-guide. Given here are some attractions you will find on the way.
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A little after Jispa, you come to a small lake called the Deepak Tal. Hozer and his wife run a shack here – you will see more like these run by entrepreneurs who set up shop during summers to cater to travellers. They also offer a small yellow boat for a ride should you want one. You can also sleep in many of these shacks for the night for as low as Rs. 50 – 100.
Go beyond Deepak Tal and you come across another lake – the Suraj Tal. You know you are in very high altitude country – the same lake has been seen with clear waters and frozen over in the summer month of June over successive seasons.
The Baralachla Pass
The Baralachla (La means Pass) is the first very high altitude pass you will cross on this route – it is 5,029 m (16500 feet) high. Like all high passes, be careful lest you be hit by altitude sickness – stop for a few minutes and move on. Traffic jams are not uncommon here. Again, this pass can be clear or snow bound even in the summers.
Sarchu is an option for a night halt between Jispa and Leh. It has a beautiful landscape, but it is at a high altitude, and it’s always very cold and windy here – many a traveller is known to be hit by altitude sickness at this point. Recommended one starts early from Jispa to reach Leh in good time on the same day. This is also where you cross into Ladakh from Himachal Pradesh.
They are popularly called the Jalebi bends, but officially called the Gata Loops. They take you for a spin, curving sharply 21 times as you gain altitude from from 4,200 m (13,780 feet) to 4,666 m (15,308 feet) over 10 kms (6 miles). Enjoy the joyride.
When Jack climbed his beanstalk, did he meet the giant in Pang? Pang’s landscape is dotted with these gigantic needles, things the giant’s wife would stitch with. These conical rock structures could well be colossal anthills, if only ants could survive the harsh climate. Geologists are not quite sure of the origins of these odd obelisks. Pang is the last place where you can get some food before you are close to Leh. And if you are hit by altitude sickness, the Army doctors will willingly administer First-Aid.
The More Plains
The More (pronounced ‘mo-ray’) Plains after Pang are a plateau to be seen to be believed. They are endless. Well, 50 km of flatlands at an elevation of 15,000 feet deserves that epithet. And they are flat, for miles after miles, till they run into the surrounding mountains. What was the creator thinking when He made all this? Did He expect Yetis to play football here? For company, you can rely on hundreds of goats, sheep and yaks grazing on the little tufts of grass; they belong to the nomadic Changpa clan. Just be careful your car doesn’t get stuck; the sand track is suspect.
The Taglangla Pass
The Taglangla Pass between Pang and Leh is proud to be the world’s second highest motorable road at 5,359 m (17,582 feet), after Khardung La at 5,602 m (18,380 feet). Feels good to be standing at almost the top of the world. After this the road goes all the way downhill, with the landscape getting greener as you approach Leh.
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