Ladakh in winter

8 Am in the morning, flight took a right turn, pilot announced that we will be landing in 10 minutes, cabin crew to be seated. I was holding my seat tight, not for the fear of another landing, I have flown all across the world, had no fear of take off and landing.

 

But this is something different, no, not because this is Leh, this is heaven in winter. My eyes were glued to window and I didn’t blinked for a second. Peaks after peaks were passing through my window, so close as if I can jump and touch one of those.

 

Day 1 – 24 Jan 2015  : Delhi to Leh

8:15 Am, I was out on the runway, pilot already informed us about the outside temperature, which was -15 degree Celsius. It felt more than that as I was waiting for the airport shuttle to arrive. While everybody was busy searching for caps and gloves, I wanted to feel the cold, It was like coming back home.

 

Luggage collection area was buzzing with people, happy faces of local, happiness of coming back home, no matter how cold it is. Exciting travellers and trekkers. It was a happy feeling all around. I never felt that kind of happiness at Vienna, Washington DC, Narita, Jackson, Heathrow, Schipol, Changi, Dallas, Munich and many more I have passed through.

 

Collected my very visual and weird bag strapped with colorful belts and walked out of the airport. Called Rigzin and he said he is on his way and will take 5-10 mins with a sorry, while I said no problem, let me soak in. I wanted to just gel in to the cold and white. It was much less snow this time, while it was all covered with snow last time in 2012.

 

Out side of the Kushok Bakula Rimpochee Airport was filled with alot of army personnel movement, Jawans eager to leave for their homes, watching me in surprise. I guess they were amused at me standing in cold while everybody was looking for cover.

 

Rigzin arrived in sharp 10 mins, my luggage loaded at back, while I was hugging to my camera bag like a child not letting go her teddy. We had to ferry few other travellers, clients of Rigzin.

During our drive towards hotel, it was all silent inside the car, nobody was speaking anything. My heart beat was little fast, I guess it was happiness and excitement. Right then Rigzin broke the silence,

“RKBHARAT sir, what is the plan this time”.

Before I could even answer his question, somebody from back had a question.

“Are you RKBHARAT?”

“Yes sir, I am”

And the silence was kicked out of the car, with loud cheers and discussions taking over. World is so small, and it gets smaller when you are in Leh, and it further gets tiny in winter.

 

Checked-in to Panorama hotel at Changspa Road, I was much more eager to leave Leh and explore the unseen and cold Ladakh. But it was important to acclimatise well and get friendly with cold. Had couple of rounds of hot tea and rested for some time in hotel room. Hotel owner payed a visit to my room to say hello and we had a long conversation on many different things.

 

While “who will drive” for rest of next 8 days was still a mystery, Rigzin came back to hotel with a proposal. He proposed Sonam as the pilot for trip.

 

Now let me tell you, Rigzin knows me very well on how painful I can be when it comes to photography. I will ask to stop at any places no matter how bad it is, and can take even an hour or more at same place. Hence he did a lot of thinking and suggested Sonam. I was little worried and unsure, only to be delighted in next 8 days and having another great friend in the form of Sonam in Ladakh.

 

Though Day 1 was a rest day, I deiced to call Sonam to meet him in person and see the vehicle my self. I wanted the vehicle to be in the best condition, with new tyres and snow chains.

 

For the next 2 hours I sat outside lawn, had a wonderful breakfast and played with cute puppies inside the hotel. It was a sunny day, a good sign for me for next few days, but that’s not a guarantee for good wather in coming days.

 

Sonam arrived at hotel around 3 Pm, we deiced to have a cup of tea togather and I tried to talk with him on different topics. In my first 10 mins of dicussion, I knew I have the right guy for the tough trip ahead, specially when I am all alone.

 

We drove straight to market, which was still in shamble and under construction. My favorite point in Leh market is Neha sweets, and their Cholle Bhaturas are awesome. My order for the day was, Cholle Bhature, Smosa and Jalabi, along with a Lassi.

 

I think I caused a shock wave amongst few travellers already sitting their, they all looked at me and I just blinked at them. They looked back at thali they ordered, and few minute later I heared an order from that group “ Bhaia, doo plate smose and doo plate jalabi bhee” (Two plates of samosa and two plates of Jalabi (Jalabi : A little twisted, dripping, sugar-filled, hot, indian delicacy)) .

 

After that light, soft to stomach meal, I decided to take a walk across the market, forcing myself to find something interesting, but I failed myself. Back at hotel, we decided to drive to Thiksey and a local village near Leh tomorrow. But not before a must have evening visit to Shanti Stupa where I spent an hour before coming back to Panaroma for dinner and sleep.

Night was cold, very cold. I could not sleep for very long, hence I started writing for my blog and don’t even remember what time I slept.

 

Ladakh in Winter_1_Day 1

Lovely view from flight to Leh

 

Ladakh in Winter_3_Day 1

That line in the center is road going through moore plains

 

Ladakh in Winter_2_Day 1

Lovely view from flight to Leh, Can you find the Pang Camp area in this picture?

 

Ladakh in Winter_6_Day 1

Leh city in cold evening of winter

 

Ladakh in Winter_5_Day 1

Majestic Shanti Stupa

 

Ladakh in Winter_4_Day 1

View from my room


Day 2 : Around Leh

Woke up lazily, with a little heavy head which was quite normal. I knew it will taken care of with a hot black tea. I was feeling hungry so I ordered some light breakfast of Aaloo Parantha with a layer of butter followed by scrambled eggs, with 3 cups of hot tea. I guessed that should be light enough of the morning 😀 .

 

We started for Thiskey monastery little late at around 12 pm, with plan to come back by 5 pm. While we just crossed Choglamsar and were around Shey, we received a call from Rigzin, inquiring about how are we planning to get the permits. I said tomorrow morning before we leave for Chumathang.

 

Right then he dropped the Atom bomb, tomorrow was Sunday and day after was 26-Jan. So we had no choice but to get the permit today, that too before 3 PM, as they close permit process early on Saturday.

 

We took a U-turn and drove straight to DC office, only to find ADC left for the day. It was a panic situation for me. If we do not get the permit today, I will have to wait for two days in Leh which was absolutely unacceptable to me. And all places I was planning to cover needed permits.

 

I requested the staff there to do something and they started thinking on a solution. A lady at reception suggsted me to talk to ADC over phone, which I did immediately did, 60 second post our telephonic discussion, I heard those sweet words from her.

“Stay there at office, I am sending somebody with authority to sign on my behalf”

Yipee. I wanted to jump in joy, but kept my happiness for later. Thanking ADC multiple times, I disconnected the call and waited at the reception.

 

15 minutes later, A young chap entered the reception and I could see everybody in attention and active seeing him. I could feel he is somebody important. As he walked in, he asked “ Who is Rajiv?” Though I was the only non-ladakhi in the room.

 

I raised my hand like a school kid raising hand for the roll call. We shook hands and he quickly started the permit process. While he was working on the documents we discussed about many new things DC office is working on and he diligently explained on why is he charging 20 Rs per day for environment. The moment I told him that I am in this office for the 8th time today, he was amused and got interested. We exchange our phone numbers and decided to meet at the end of my trip to discuss more things.

 

Relaxed with permit process, Sonam got the photocopies done for the permit and the self declaration form.

 

It was already 5 Pm, by the time we were done with this whole circus. Sun was down and cold was up. It must be around -10 degree at 6pm. Time to get inside the hotel and have some food.

 

Food was tasteless and boring, but hotel was full with people. Poor trekkers who came all the way from different part of India and World for the Chadar trek, which was cancelled due to an artificial lake built by a landslide. People were busy discussing al alternate plan.

 

Ladakh in Winter_7_Day 2

What a lovely morning

 

Ladakh in Winter_8_Day 2

What a lovely morning

 

Ladakh in Winter_9_Day 2

What a lovely morning

 

 

Day 3 : Leh – Upshi – Chumathang

Start of the trip, finally I will be moving out of Leh and exploring something I came here for. We started quite early around 8 Am and drove to petrol pump for fuel. Leh now has 4 petrol pumps , compared to two it had few years back.

 

It was a pretty straight drive upto Upshi and a left to Chumathang. But wait,  last time when I was at Upshi, we took a 15 minute break for tea and that was enough to freeze the fuel filters and fuel line. It took us 2 hours and few fires to melt all that unwanted frozen fuel.

 

Ladakh in winter is not about good or bad roads, its also not about high and low altitude, Its all about cold and very cold.

 

While thought of having a hot spring water gives a very comforting feel, sleeping in the night, far from from world was still bugging my mind.

 

Unfortunately due to road widening process, road condition was bad all the way to Chumathang, and at few places it was completely snowed out. I felt the need of snow chain on those sections, but Sonam was confident about doing it without snow chains.

 

Reached Chumathang around 3 Pm, after multiple stop and click sessions, we checked in straight to Padma Guest House, run by ofcourse Padma ji. A very hard working lady who works non stop for the guest house.

 

Padma guest house have three decent rooms, with hot water straight from sulphur springs.

 

It was just late afternoon and evening was still far. I decided to do a walk and explore the area on foot. It was cold, very cold. Indus around chumathang was completely frozen and I could see just a trickle of water at few places. I kept walking passing through couple of villages and clicking the beautiful views around me.

 

At one one point I saw few young guys, looked more like travellers, walking behind me. They were walking towards their hotel near monastery. Within few minutes of discussion, I had the same question.

“Are you RKBHARAT?”

“Yes sir, I am”

That was followed by long discussion on their plans, my plans and few past trips. I walked with them upto their hotel where they were camping. Had a cup of tea with them. It was 8 pm, completely dark and extreme cold,  by the time I was about to leave. I thought it’s a bad idea to walk 2 km back, checked my phone and it had signals, I called Sonam to check if he hasn’t packed the car for night and if he can come to ferry me back. With a loud YES and 15 minutes later, he was there to ferry me back to guest house.

 

Fortunately my headache was gone and my appetite was still intact. I felt hungry so we ordered couple different stuff to eat. I ate thukpa, momos and finally noodles, followed by a big mug of tea.

 

It very important to eat and drink as much as you can during winter, as your body needs more energy to keep it warm.

 

I met one of the local contractor who was working on road widening project and we talked about tourism, some hidden treks and economy of Ladakh till 10 Pm. Discussion was so intense , to the extent that we could have drafted the financial budget for J&K that night.

 

Padama Guest house has central room heating using the natural heat from the hot sulphur spring water, which runs till 11 PM, good enough to keep it warm for next hour or so. By that time either you are fast asleep or walking in the room with heavy head.

 

Ladakh in Winter_10_Day 3

Yalks surviving on very limited supply of food in winter

 

Ladakh in Winter_11_Day 3

My favorite spot in Chumathang region, I was standing in front of it for the 5th times

 

 

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This is how the above spot looked in winter, this was taken in the month of June

 

Ladakh in Winter_12_Day 3

Our steed for the trip

 

Ladakh in Winter_13_Day 3

Boiling water of Chumathang sulphur springs

 

Ladakh in Winter_14_Day 3

Not a hint of water in Indus river, its frozen solid

 

Ladakh in Winter_15_Day 3

Not a hint of water in Indus river, its frozen solid

 

 

Day 4: 26 Jan 2015 : Chumathang – Mahe – Nyoma – Loma – Rhongo – Hanle

A very important day for India, our Republic Day, I was at Hanle on this day during 2012 and we hosted India’s flag at the observatory. I missed it by a day this time.

 

But at least lets have a hot bath and new cloths for this important day. With hot water running all around, you don’t want to miss the bathing opportunity. Specially knowing that you are not going to get bath for next few days, 5 days to be exact.

 

With wishes and vows to come back, we left Chumathang around 10:30 AM as the target was pretty easy, Hanle. Though how wrong I was on the EASY part. While drive to Hanle can be a piece of cake in summers, winter turned out to be a different game. It snowed two days back in Chumathang region and roads were all covered with thick snow, all the way up to Nyoma. The only good part was the clear sunny days, that means better roads but lower temperature. This is for the first time I was watching Chumathang region all covered in snow.

 

Post Nyoma, snow disappeared from the roads and all I could see was black tar, no human around, few Kiangs laughing at us and couple of Yalks least bothered about us. Every now and then we met few bunch of sheep, all watching straight at us in surprise.

 

Reached Loma check-post in jiffy and crossed Rhongo quickly, Hanle river was all frozen, nothing liquid on surface. There might be some underground, but on the top it was all solid ice, with yalks walking over it for shortcuts.

 

Drove straight to Padma Guest house at Hanle, yet another Padma, but owned by Sonam Dorje, a cheerful and ever helping man. We were meeting for the third time, last two times we met at Observatory as that was the only place to stay. But now there are couple of other options to stay besides the property owned by Sonam.

 

BTW names like Sonam, Padma, Dorjee, Tsering etc reminds me of names like Lucky, Goldy, Platy, Happy etc from Punjab. People are so similar on naming conventions 😀

 

Sonam gave me a three bedded room all for me, with a cow/sheep dung bokhari. Trust me, these bokharis are super fast heaters for room. Within few seconds of burning the bokhari, you can feel the whole room as comfortable as a normal summer day in Ladakh. Another benefit of these bokharis over kerosene one is that it does create much nauseating fumes.

 

After a quick round of tea and some food, I headed out to explore Hanle Monastery which I missed in my last two visits to Hanle. View from the roof of the monastery was amazing and I was wondering how did I missed it  during my previous trips. With sun playing hide and seek through the clouds, tributaries from hanle river were shining like silver jewelry of mother nature.

 

I spent almost an hour on the roof, before heading back to the guest house as it was getting windy and cold.

 

Food was served in the kitchen of guest house, which was super warm typical Ladakhi kitchen and a functional TV. Though I had to settle with cartoons watched by Sonam’s son.

 

I tried taking some star trails during night but it was just too cold to stand outside, I guess it was around -20 degree that night and almost full moon. I gave up to both these factors and cuddled inside my warmed up room. For a change I slept quite peacefully in this night of my stay at Hanle. For the record, all my night stays during my previous trips to Hanle were painful and restless and last one was horrible.

 

Guess I was getting better and ready for more extreme stuff on this trip, not knowing that I am about to get exactly the same.

Ladakh in Winter_16_Day 4

What lovely roads to drive

 

Ladakh in Winter_17_Day 4

Master of Roads

 

Ladakh in Winter_18_Day 4

Those Kiangs, Laughing at us

 

Ladakh in Winter_19_Day 4

Almost at Nyoma

 

Ladakh in Winter_20_Day 4

Victim of Nature’s fury

 

Ladakh in Winter_21_Day 4

Snow almost disappear beyond Nyoma

 

Ladakh in Winter_22_Day 4

Frozen Indus, and Yalks walking over it, a very rare view

 

Ladakh in Winter_23_Day 4

Giggling sheeps

 

Ladakh in Winter_24_Day 4

Coming out of no where

 

Ladakh in Winter_25_Day 4

Lovely Hanle Monastery

 

Ladakh in Winter_26_Day 4

Lovely Hanle Monastery

 

Ladakh in Winter_27_Day 4

View from Hanle Monastery

 

Ladakh in Winter_28_Day 4

Hanle Monastery

 

Ladakh in Winter_29_Day 4

View from Hanle Monastery

 

Ladakh in Winter_30_Day 4

Inside Hanle Monastery

 

Ladakh in Winter_31_Day 4

Inside Hanle Monastery

 

Ladakh in Winter_32_Day 4

Parting shot of Hanle Monastery

 

 

 Day 5 : 27 Jan 2015 : Hanle – Loma – Chagga village – Loma – Dungti – Fukche – Koyule – Dumchok – Dungti – Loma – Nyoma – Chumathang

A very long and adventurous day

It was almost 150 km of drive for today, but through some tough and uncertain terrains. There were multiple reasons for us getting stuck, delayed or grounded. But then its not the first time I will be going through it, and we have to do it. Sonam was little worried as he didn’t met any driver who came from Chusul side yesterday or today, that could eventually mean the road is blocked. But we will worry about it when we will get it, for now it was a beautiful and cold morning.

 

Morning photography was absolutely impossible due to super cold weather. My hands were freezing despite the double layer of gloves. In the morning I met a photographer couple also staying with Sonam. We had an early morning quick conversation where I got to know that he is from Mumbai, a very well know wild life photographer Kedar Bhide, and later we met again on our return journey at Chumathang.

 

After a quick breakfast and an emotional hug from Sonam, we left for our journey which turned out to be a life time experience for me. Rhongo and Loma passed by quickly, took right towards Chaga La and our first  break post Loma . Indus was completely frozen, though not as interesting as it was during Jan 2012. But a frozen Indus itself is a prized view that you don’t get to see very often. It was so beautiful that I just jumped out with my cameras, right in the middle of strong wind. Sonam followed me with my jacket and suggested to wear it as it was around -20 degree celcius and very windy, not a very friendly weather for poor Delhi people.

 

By the time we reached Chagga Village check-post, winds converted into a snow storm. At the check-post, we were told that we can not cross chagga La as its all covered under tons of snow. Infact even the ITBP supplies for 26th January celebrations couldn’t reach because of that. Though we were free to go ahead and check it out our-self, which we agreed for.

 

Just 10 mins of drive post the checkpoint, and we were surrounded by a heavy snow storm, and just as we passed through the chagga village, roads disappeared and it was all white. Sonam took a walk ahead to check the possibility of driving with snow chains, while I was very very unsure. Together we took the call of returning back and plan something else. I was little sad inside but never reflected the same to Sonam as he did more than what he could and we turned back only to return some other time again. We never wanted to be part of that terrain forever, buried under snow.

 

While we were returning back, I saw few local vehicles on the other side of the Indus, which Sonam confirmed was the road towards Dungti, Fukche and then for Dumchok. My eyes were all open with immediate effect and my mind was in absolute crazy state. I was turned down for Dumchok twice at Dungti, despite having a permit, and today I don’t even have the permit, I am alone and its peak winter. It was absolutely crazy to even think about Dumchok right now.

 

But you know, YAE DIL HAE KEE MANTA NAHI (this heart doesn’t just settle down) , With absolutely no hope, I asked Sonam.

Me : “Can we do it?”

Sonam : “ Why not”

Me (with eye balls all out) : “Are you sure, I don’t have permits”

Sonam : “ Lets try at checkpost”

 

OK, I was puzzled and excited at the same time, I had no idea what am I going to say at check-post.

 

At Loma checkpost, we asked for Dumchok, they said they can let us go for Hanle as we had permits but they have no control on Dumchok, Dungti check-post will return us back in all probability.

 

Hmm, I looked at Sonam, and his eyes said lets go sir, we will try at Dungti. With in split seconds me and Sonam hopped into Xylo and didn’t even cared to say bye, not to risk the change in mind with the check-post guy.

 

Though I waved at him with a smile and he was literally laughing at what we were about to attempt. No worries, we will laugh, at our return journey when we meet again.

 

With my heart pumping at full speed, we reached Dungti check-post quickly, only to be stopped and asked to park the vehicle at side. Sonam told the guy that I wanted to visit Dumchok and he was confused on why would I do that.

 

I tried to talk to him that we lost the opportunity to cross Chagga La hence I was little sad and thought of doing Dumchok. This guy offered tea to us while he was thinking over it, asking me multiple questions, and checking my identity, walking back to his cabin, may be talking to his superiors. Then he came to me and asked:

 

Checkpost Guy : “Where will you stay?”

Me : “May be at Koyule, or will try my luck at Fukche ITBP unit”

Checkpost Guy : “very difficult to find anything at those place”

Me : “ then we will come back and stay with you”

Checkpost Guy with a big smile : “Ok sir, be careful and have a good trip, enjoy”

 

WHAT? Did he just allowed us to go to Dumchok, while I was trying to get into the reality, Sonam had started the vehicle and was already moving. Both me and Sonam looked at each other and smiled. Meanwhile we gave lift to a local guy who was shepherd and was going to his base, he gave us some wonderful inputs on the place, history etc.

 

There is absolutely no road post Dungti, not even a track, its multiple rough tracks going in same direction, you just take any one of them. But fortunately this whole drive is through valley and no big drops on sides.

 

We reached Fukche in an hour and took right towards Koyule to check for any stay options. We tried many doors but unfortunately could not find anything worth staying. Most of locals leave Koyule in winter and move to Leh or better places.

 

We were loosing precious time and our chances or visiting Dumchok was fading away. Right then we took the call of doing something for which we took all this risk. Lets visit Dumchok first and worry about stay later.

 

We again came back to Fukche and took an off-road right towards Dumchok which was another 30 km and 3 hour return drive passing through some amazing views, wide valley and frozen Indus. As we reached Dumchok, I was really hyper and excited. We drove all the way upto Dumchok village which was completely abandoned due to the tussle between the two neighbors. I could clearly see Chinese check-post stone throw away from me. After having couple of minutes of break, we decided its wise to move back as it a very sensitive area and might upset both sides. While returning I unlocked my phone to check the time and I was shocked to see full Airtel signals. That must a bug or mistake, Airtel signals here?, impossible.

 

But it was true, I called Priyanka(my wife) in joy and I was talking and talking non stop. Then I called couple of other friends in excitement.

 

But now we had to handle the biggest problem of night stay. Sonam confirmed that we have no choice but to go all the way back up to Loma. I asked him multiple times if he is confident of doing it and I am with him if he is. At 6:30 Pm we were at Fuckhe and decided to drive up-to Nyoma and find something to stay there. We stopped at Dungti checkpost again as I wanted to give a big hug to the guy who finally allowed us to see the heaven, but he was gone with his shift over.

 

We reached Nyoma around 8:30 Pm and it was time to take another call, Sonam was of the opinion to drive further and reach Chumathang, that way we will have a much comfortable night stay, and tomorrow we can start little late for Tangste and Pangong Tso. I agreed though I was little scared as the road from Nyoma to Chumathang was the toughest and all covered with snow.

 

We were hungry, very hungry as we had no proper food since morning, luckily I was carrying few cup noodles with me and we packed boiling water in one of the thermal bottles I always carry during winter. It was one of the best cup noodles I ever had under billion stars, at lovely Nyoma, with -20 degree temperature.

 

That 15 minute breaks was a very rejuvenating one for us, with tummy full, we were confident to reach Chumathang in time and we did. Reached Chumathang by 10:00 Pm and luckily found the room available as well. Warm room, fresh food and tea, what else do you need after such an amazing experience of life.

 

All night I was dreaming about me wandering and camping around Fukche and Koyule, I guess I left piece of my heart there. Will definitely go back to collect it.

 

Ladakh in Winter_33_Day 5

Owner of Padma Guest House at Hanle, absolutely fantastic guy

 

Ladakh in Winter_34_Day 5

Frozen Indus at Loma

 

Ladakh in Winter_35_Day 5

Frozen Indus at Loma and yours truly

 

Ladakh in Winter_36_Day 5

Heading straight to a snow storm at Chagga Village

 

Ladakh in Winter_37_Day 5

This is where we turned back, abondoning our attempt to cross Chaga La and reach Chusul

 

Ladakh in Winter_38_Day 5

Sonam walking ahead to check the road

 

Ladakh in Winter_39_Day 5

Turned back at right time as we could a heavy storm at our back

 

Ladakh in Winter_40_Day 5

And as we headed towards Dungti

 

Ladakh in Winter_41_Day 5

And as we headed towards Dungti

 

Ladakh in Winter_42_Day 5

Lovely unseen views of Fuckhe region

 

Ladakh in Winter_43_Day 5

Lovely unseen views of Fuckhe region

 

Ladakh in Winter_44_Day 5

Lovely unseen views of Fuckhe region

 

Ladakh in Winter_45_Day 5

Super solid Indus

 

Ladakh in Winter_46_Day 5

And they call it Chandigarh Highway

 

Ladakh in Winter_47_Day 5

If you have seen Moore plains, this is 4 times the size of moore plains

 

Day 6: Chumathang – Karu – Chang La – Pangong Tso – Spangmik – Tangste

Another lovely morning at Chumathang, warm water for quick bath and tummy full of breakfast. A wonderful start of the day, with morning temperature recorded as -15 degrees celcius.

 

Plan was to go straight to Pangong Tso without touching Leh, but I had a pressing office issue to take care of, for which I was carrying my office laptop. We took a longer break at Karu where I could get a better signal for that pressing issue, which was taken care of in 30 mins.

 

It was time to head straight to the mighty Chang la, my 8th time, 3rd time in winter and 3rd time in last six months (we were here in June 2014). Chang La was snowed out as usual, there was a need of snow chains in some sections but Sonam was confident driving over it without chains. Pass was snowed out as expected and there was absolutely no body except us and Chang La baba and few army guys.

 

As we crossed Tso Tak roads started getting better with no snow but the hills were all snowed out. We stopped at Durbuk for fuel and headed straight to Pangong Tso lake. Once again absolutely nobody on the road except us as we headed towards “Lake the Grande”.

 

On the way we took a diversion to Tangste to ensure our stay for the night at Chang La guest house, which was confirmed quickly. This was the second time I was staying here, so it felt so familiar.

 

I was praying hard for the frozen lake without snow over it, something that we saw in 2012. And my prayers went straight to weather god. Lake was completely frozen at Lukung, so much so that we drove over it for few rounds and took some exciting pics. But still it was not something I was looking for.

 

We drove further towards Spangmik and found it completely abandoned, not a single soul there. We took a break at the shore and I took a long walk over the frozen lake, quite inside when I found what I was exactly looking for, those lovely formations under the frozen layer of lakes. I showed it to Sonam and he was also surprised to see it, infact he was watching it for the first time. It was beautiful bubble formation trying to come out of the frozen layers.

 

I was once again jumping like a small kid, running all over it, lying and rolling over it, we waited there till sunset and then temperature started falling very fast, I could record -21 degree celcius before we decided to head back to Tangste, with a promise to come back again soon.

 

Tomorrow morning 5 AM to be exact 😀

 

Aunty at guest house cooked a wonderful meal for us, and most importantly roti after 5 days. I was fed up eating rice everyday.

 

Post dinner I explained my plans to Sonam and he was confused, nobody goes to lake in winter at 5AM, absolutely nobody, even Sonam had never been to Pangong Tso at 5AM in winter. But true to his spirits, he was all game for it and assured that he will be ready in morning with 2 beautiful tea cups and tea.

 

Ladakh in Winter_48_Day 6

While returning back from Chumathang, towards Upshi

 

Ladakh in Winter_49_Day 6

Cute kids walking without a hint of cold fear

 

Ladakh in Winter_50_Day 6

Chemery Monastery

 

Ladakh in Winter_51_Day 6

And the famous Zingral Z, completely snowed, we drove over that road

 

Ladakh in Winter_52_Day 6

White Changla

 

Ladakh in Winter_53_Day 6

Sonam, my pilot for the trip

 

Ladakh in Winter_54_Day 6

All dried up, see below on how the same spot looked in summer

 

 

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Above spot in June 2014

 

Ladakh in Winter_55_Day 6

Thoda Yoga

 

Ladakh in Winter_56_Day 6

yeah, lets celebrate

 

Ladakh in Winter_57_Day 6

Frozen Pangong tso at Lukung

 

Ladakh in Winter_58_Day 6

Nirvana at Spangmik

 

 

Ladakh in Winter_59_Day 6

Nirvana at Spangmik

 

Ladakh in Winter_60_Day 6

ek profile foto ho jaaye

 

Ladakh in Winter_61_Day 6

Lines you should follow

 

 

Day 7 : Tangste – Pangong Tso – Spangmik – Chang La – Leh

 

Plan was to visit Pangong Tso in morning, come back to guest house, breakfast and then head back to Leh. Sounds so straight in simple, but didn’t I told you that there is nothing simple and straight in Ladakh during winter. Anyways first it was time to complete the tough part, or atleast we thought it was the toughest task of the day, I packed cameras, batteries, tripods and left everything else at hotel. Sonam carried two mugs and tea, assuming it was for us to enjoy at lake, ofcourse it was, but not before we do something else with it.

 

As we reached the same spot I found at Spangmik yesterday evening, I started offloading cameras and my hands froze with in seconds of me getting out. My eye lashes were getting stiff and it was getting difficult to keep eyes open. It was 5:30 Am in the morning and sun was yet under the horizon. I positioned my tripods and cameras and clicked few random exposures, but the cold was getting unbearable and wind was adding to our pain. My Casio pro-trek recorded -25 degree Celsius and it crashed. Right then I asked Sonam to bring the tea and mugs as I wanted to click some pics of the tea mug over frozen lake. I am sure he was confused and amused but I didn’t took much time to click pics before we could enjoy the hot tea on frozen lake, an experience very rare to get.

 

By 7 Am we headed back to Tangste as it was impossible to stand there in that cold any more. Moreover car had started missing despite of keeping it running all that time and feared of frozen fuel lines.

 

Overall it was semi clear day with some patches of clouds passing through. On return we visited beautiful Tangste monastery which was recently re-innovated.

 

By 9:30 AM we were ready to roll back to Leh, crossed Durbuk quickly, as we reach Tso Tak, it started snowing and some heavy snow. Everything was ultra white and covered with snow. Sonam managed to complete some of the U bends towards Changla, but at one pin bend Xylo just refused to climb even after multiple tries. There was too much snow and it was getting accumulating with every minute of delay.

 

This time I insisted that we should use chains which Sonam agreed quickly, together we applied chains on both the rear tires, each of us doing it on one side. We were ready with chains in flat 15 minutes, while Sonam did the final tightening of the chains and we starting rolling up without any slips from thereon. We didn’t stopped at Changla only to be stopped few meters ahead because of an army convoy struggling to climb the heavy snow. One of the bus had no chains while rest all army vehicles had chains.

 

As we reached Zingral, roads started getting better with no snow, hence we removed chains and headed straight to Leh.

 

This time I decided to go straight to Shanti Guest house, my well tested guest house, where I had stayed in all my past trips. Dolkar recognized me quickly and offered me a wonderful deal for two nights. I checked in and rested for some time before I headed out for a walk with my camera.

 

Ladakh in Winter_62_Day 7

Extreme Weather Photography

 

Ladakh in Winter_63_Day 7

DP

 

Ladakh in Winter_64_Day 7

Solid gears, absolute must for such extreme weather

 

Ladakh in Winter_65_Day 7

Aiming for the right shot

 

Ladakh in Winter_66_Day 7

Tangste Monastery

 

Ladakh in Winter_67_Day 7

Tangste villahe as ween from Tangste Monastery

 

Ladakh in Winter_68_Day 7

While Returning, Tso Tak was all white

 

 

DSCF2921

And this is how it looked in June 2014

 

Ladakh in Winter_70_Day 7

Chain time

 

Ladakh in Winter_69_Day 7

Tightening the chain, while waiting for world’s highest traffic jam to clear

 

 

Day 8 : Leh – Nimmu – Lamayuru – Leh

It was a backup day for the trip, to be planned if not used. And I used it for a quick visit to Lamayuru. We started around 11 Pm, passing through Gurudwara Pathar sahib ji, Magnetic hill point and then to a frozen water fall. Took a quick visit around Lamayuru Monastery instead of going inside, and then returned back to Leh.

 

I offered Sonam a dinner together at some good restaurant in Leh market and we recalled good times together during the trip over the dinner table. I settled my bills with Sonam and suggested him to drop me at airport tomorrow morning at 7 Am.

 

Ladakh in Winter_71_Day 8

Ice formations near Lamayuru

 

Ladakh in Winter_72_Day 8

Frozen waterfall right on the road

 

Ladakh in Winter_73_Day 8

Moonscapes waali shadow selfie

 

 

Ladakh in Winter_76_Day 8

Natural formations

 

Ladakh in Winter_74_Day 8

This naughty gang at one of the house near Lamayuru was quite excited to see me human with some big large black stuff in hand

 

Ladakh in Winter_75_Day 8

Lamayuru Monastery

 

 

Day 9 : Fly back to Delhi

With a very sad heart, I packed all my stuff back and was ready to leave by 6:30 Am. Didn’t felt like eating anything but had a cup of tea at Shanti, while Sonam arrived sharp at 7 AM.

 

Post a quick drive to airport I thanked Sonam for his wonderful support and all the hard work he did for me. Check-in was smooth and the flight was on time. Landed at Delhi and I realized I left something at Leh, I am sure you can very well guess what?

 

Will be heading back soon to collect it, or rather leave more of it there. More on that soon, keep watching.

 

For now I am Rajiv Kumar, signing off from this wonderful journey, hoping you liked the travelogue.

 

Ladakh in Winter_77_Day 9

Final shot

 


Check out the updated album

 

Ladakh in Winter – in 3 minutes

Copyright © 2015 Yellow Peaks. All Rights Reserved. All images are copyright of Rajiv Kumar & Yellow Peaks, and can not be reproduced in any form

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47 comments

  • DSDHILLON July 6, 2015  

    Rajiv, Very beautiful pics and crisp log!!!

  • Atul P July 6, 2015  

    Absolute delight, RKB. Brilliant photography and respect your skills, stamina and mother nature!

  • Jaan Baaz Singh July 6, 2015  

    Difficult to put the reaction/emotions/feelings in words…..BUT, Keep it up and all the best for all future trips

  • sumit July 6, 2015  

    awesum sir … simply put …awesum

  • Sreenath Gk July 6, 2015  

    Hi Sirji.. It was an absolute log that u made.. May be one day i too will be able to go to Leh in winters.. I have been to Leh thrice. By the by if you dont mind could you tell me how you paid fr the taxi for the whole trip.

    Wishing you gud luck and tkhs again to make me see the unseen

  • Nikhil Kapil July 6, 2015  

    Simply superb and mind boggling photographs. Which boots are you wearing? Planning to buy one and I like yours.

  • Teresa Gouveia July 7, 2015  

    Wow…Fabulous…it is like being travelling in these dreamy landscapes… through your words…and photos…
    Art and Excellence … Thanks, Rajiv Kumar

  • Rajiv July 8, 2015  

    Thanks sir ji

  • Rajiv July 8, 2015  

    Thanks Atul, I am glad you enjoyed it

  • Rajiv July 8, 2015  

    Thanks 🙂

  • Rajiv July 8, 2015  

    Thanks Sumit

  • Rajiv July 8, 2015  

    Thanks Sreenath, replied to your query on FB

  • Rajiv July 8, 2015  

    Thanks Nikhil, I use soloman 4D gtx quest

  • Rajiv July 8, 2015  

    Thanks Teresa 🙂

  • abhishek July 8, 2015  

    Short of Words ! Pics speaks a lot ! Looking forward to see many more blogs from you.

  • James George July 8, 2015  

    Absolutely brilliant… Photography at its best… You must be one of the lucky few in the world to enjoy such luxuries of life over n over again…. Though we always wanted to make this trip, it has never happened till date but your photos and descriptions has made me all envy and a desire to make this one hell of a trip atleast once… 🙂 God bless… Thank you the travelogue…

  • Rajiv July 8, 2015  

    Thanks Abhishek

  • Rajiv July 8, 2015  

    Thanks James.

    Though to be honest, there is hidden pain behind what you call as luxuries of life. I don’t even see any luxury during such trips, except extreme weather, harsh conditions, limited food, and an obvious little risk of life.

    But for me, pure nature is bigger than any luxury 🙂

  • Pancham July 8, 2015  

    This is by far the most stunning blog I have seen/read about Ladakh. Thanks Rajiv for this wonderful tour……..the presence is felt from the heart.

  • Jignesh July 8, 2015  

    Hi Rajiv,

    Before reading your post, i had an impression that Leh is not accessible in Winter but frankly speaking, i just love reading your travelogue gave feeling like i was traveling with you.

    Soon i will be visiting Leh and will really appreciate if you can suggest some must visit places to include in my itinerary.

    Thank you in advance,

    Jignesh

  • Shobhan dash July 8, 2015  

    Looks like a great adventure, amazing pics and a very nicely put travelogue. Thanks for sharing this.

  • Rajiv July 8, 2015  

    Thanks Pancham 🙂

  • Ajay Shokeen July 9, 2015  

    Fab work Rajiv Bhaiya, wonderful it was…….I virtually was in ladakh while going through the pics and reading your log.. All pics are just mind blowing. Keep it up.

  • Fathima Cherat July 9, 2015  

    Hi Rajiv,

    I absolutely loved this and i wanna hit Ladakh ASAP.

    Your pictures are truly awesome and awe inspiring.

    A lovely read and just makes me more passionate about travelling 🙂

  • Rajiv July 9, 2015  

    Thanks Jignesh, let me know if you need any help on Ladakh trip planning.

  • Rajiv July 9, 2015  

    Thanks 🙂

  • Rajiv July 9, 2015  

    Thanks Ajay 🙂

  • Rajiv July 9, 2015  

    Thanks Fathima, I am glad you liked it and I could motivate you more to hit Ladakh 🙂

  • Rajeev Balakrishnan July 9, 2015  

    Fantastic travelogue and fotos.. amazing..

  • Rajiv July 10, 2015  

    Thanks Rajeev

  • asim debnath September 3, 2015  

    every thing is good but problem is because of that slide show on the top of this page … its going downward and upwards within seconds so i cant read actually … look into this please.

  • Rajiv September 12, 2015  

    can you please tell me which device you are using, as I have tested it in many devices and its working fine

  • Soumyadip Guha September 16, 2015  

    Hello Rajiv,

    I will reach Ladakh on 4th April,2016 by flight & return 8th April,2016. Following is our tour program

    Day 1 : Delhi Leh – full day at rest
    Day 2 : Leh –Alchi-Leh (Likir monastery, Sangam of Indus & Zanskar rivers, Magnetic Hill and military Hall of Fame)
    Day 3 : Leh –Khardungla Pass-Leh (with Thiksey Monastery)
    Day 4 : Leh –Pangong -Leh
    Day 5 : Leh – Delhi

    Please advise me is it possible to go Khardungla pass & Pangong lake in April 1st week?

    Thanks,
    Soumyadip

  • Rajiv September 25, 2015  

    Hi Soumyadip, yes its possible to do Pangong Tso and Nubra in April

  • Sharadh Srivastava October 11, 2015  

    Lovely pics n write up Rajiv. You have inspired me to make a winter trip to Ladakh! Been there once in May and recently in Sep.
    Some brilliant pictures…thanks for “exposing” us.

  • Rajiv October 12, 2015  

    Thanks Sharadh

  • Rahul Bhatnagar November 20, 2015  

    Hello Rajiv. This is an outstanding trip blog that i can simply dream of. I have been rearing to go to Ladakh in super cold weather all my life since I moved to Delhi, but never could plan to the point. Your trip pics & experience is too extensive and I totally love the experience you shared. I am not sure if I would do such an extensive trip though even if I land in Leh, in Jan i’d consider half task done. Now is the time for me to convince the boss of my house (aka wife) to go with me for a lifetime experience. Cheers to your good work!!

  • Rajiv November 21, 2015  

    Hi Rahul, Thanks for liking it

    Trust me its not that difficult to do it in Jan, with a good planning and preparation, it can be your any other vacation at other places, plus the beauty of frozen Ladakh. So just plan and go ahead, you will love it.

    Ladakh is no more a remote corner of Himalayas disconnected from the world. You will find everything you need in Leh during winter.

  • Sundaram V December 2, 2015  

    Rajiv, Can you please give me the total expenditure we are two friends planning in Feb I hope it is doable and I have a Canon SX30IS.

    Thank you

  • Rajiv December 18, 2015  

    How many days?

  • alice January 15, 2016  

    Hi Rajiv, I would like to visit Ladakh in winter too. May I have the contact of the taxi driver? Cause I need to know am I able to see the frozen lake during December. Thank you!!

  • Rajiv February 20, 2016  

    Please drop me an email at rajiv@yellowpeaks.com, I will reply with all details

  • Thahira Banu August 5, 2016  

    Hi Rajiv,

    Such a beautiful trip! Gorgeous pictures!! I am intending to travel to Ladakh in Mid December 2016.. May I know the contact number of your driver, Sonam or Rizgin? Thank you so much!

  • Vivek September 15, 2016  

    Do you know anyone who conduct Winter Tours to the above mentioned places especially the frozen Pangong ?

  • Rajiv September 19, 2016  

    you can join us, we are planning a trip

  • Rajiv September 19, 2016  

    Sure, will send on your email. You can also join us for a winter trip we are planning