Day 14: Taking the high road to Leh, Ladakh

Day 14: Taking the high road to Leh, Ladakh

“It doesn’t matter for how long we are stuck in a sense of our limitations.
The moment you decide to break free, nothing will stop you.”

It was early morning at 1:30 when I woke up. The Diamox tablets that I bought yesterday was on my table. If it has to give me any effect, it had to be taken now. The tablets are to help me cope with the Acute Mountain Sickness or AMS in short. The AMS is a kind of sickness that can strike you when your body doesn’t adjust when you get yourself to very high altitudes. The trip to Ladakh always makes the road users sick. Finally, I decided not to take the tablets so as to get a full feel of the mountain sickness. I decided to take the AMS head on.

The tempo traveller I booked for my journey to Ladakh came to pick me up from the hotel. The mercury read 14°c on my thermometer. I was all set in my full winter suit with thermals and my jacket. At the bus stand, I could see many more such vehicles tying up the lugguage and getting ready for the long journey to Ladakh. It is indeed the ultimate road trip in the world with many high altitude passes to cross across the rugged terrain. Our vehicle was full of foriegners, with I being the lone Indian apart from the driver. That means, we will be pulled up at all the checkposts. But anyways it will be a wonderful experience, I thought. The first pass enroute was the Rohtang. I was now on those snow covered mountains that I saw yesterday. There were patches of snow on the side of the road. I somehow managed to stick out the thermometer. It showed 8°c. Further up, more snow, 4°c. 5:00am, 0°c, top of the Rohtang pass, over 3900m above MSL, I got what I was praying for. Its a traffic block! I jumped out of my vehicle, clenched the snow in my fist. Wow. Natural snow in my hand for the first time. I quickly took some photos. The pass looked fantastic with snow completely covering the entire area. The block got cleared very soon and we were on our way.

As the sun showed over the mountains, it was a very beautiful sight with the mountains bathed in golden colour. The vehicle was swaying from side to side around the corner and I found it extremely difficult to get a good shot. I understood that with the time and effort that I need to take just a single photo here, I could register a thousand in my mind. After all, there is no camera as good as the human eye. What a breath taking sight it was! We moved down and soon we reached a small village, Koksar, where we had our breakfast. Again, we moved on and now we were now passing through exceptionally beautiful places. Took a lot of photos. By 10am, we had our second stop for food and snacks. I got to know my co passengers. There were 7 tourists from Israel and 1 each from Belgium, Sweden and Germany. But unlike the Israelis, the Europeans were a lot friendlier. The one from Belgium was Aude, who is here in India from January for social work. The one from Sweden was Peter and he was not here for long and the one from Germany was Feli. Together, we made quite a gang here sharing our food and our experiences here in the country. Since they knew quite a bit about India, they were astonished to hear the places I have been in the last two weeks. I could see that were more of foriegn tourists than domestic ones who were taking this route. There is so much to see with an Indian passport and yet my countrymen use it only to travel out of India and not to see the beautiful country they were in, I wondered.

We then moved on. The next high altitude pass was the Barlacha la. It was over 4800m above MSL. As we were climbing, I got my first symptoms of altitude sickness with a mild headache. Most of the other passengers were already on Diamox tablets and those who didn’t take it till now, were taking it. But I was still stubborn to test my body limits. The Israelis on board were taking turns to lie down on the floor. And to make matters worse, there was a lorry breakdown at the highest point of the pass which created a roadblock. We had to cut ice to make a route through its side. Because of the low oxygen content in the atmosphere at these altitudes, I had to take an occasional deep breath. But till now, I was adjusting quite well to the tough conditions here.

As we moved down the pass, things got better as we lost altitude. We stopped for our lunch at Sarchu. From here on, it was Jammu & Kashmir. It was an ordinary meals with just rice, dal and a potato curry but I was quite happy to have it. We then moved on. It is from here that the most difficult part of the journey starts. The feature of the other two passes that I have crossed till now is that, once we cross the pass, the road gets to quite manageable altitudes. So the hard points are only near the highest point. But from now on, the road goes through a plain that is already at an altitude of around 4000m – 4500m. That means, it will be around 3hrs drive in these altitudes. It is this stretch that takes the strength out of you. Since it was my first time on these roads, I did not know what was coming. I was tired. So I had a short nap. By the time I woke up, I was already in the high altitude plains. I was feeling extremely tired as if there was no more energy in me. Even taking out the water bottle from my bag became a task. Since I was sleeping, I could not understand that my body was loosing energy because of the low oxygen content in the air. After taking repeated doses of glucose and water along with some deep breaths, I got back my energy. But I had to continue the glucose intake atleast once in an hour. With chocolates requiring a lot of oxygen to breakdown, better rely on glucose.

The next pass was the highest in the route, Tanglang La. It was a 5300m pass. Though it was very much higher than the Rohtang, the temperature was above zero probably because of the daytime unlike in Rohtang. The mild headache continued. To be honest I was really tired. It was a 485km route through a road which you can hardly make out. As this route has been opened just 2weeks back, the surfacing of the roads had only started. The 3 high altitude passes and the high altitude plain. The low temperature and low oxygen atmosphere. All these are reason enough to make you tired. Also, my sincere advice, do not go in this route with your friends/spouses who have this habit of getting frustuated or start complaining enroute. Because once you start it, you have to complete it. There is no going back. I will compare this to a roller coaster ride. When you do the first couple of loops in a coaster, you will feel like asking the operator to stop it. But that is just for a few minutes. This takes hours. Also, make sure that you take Diamox tablets. That should atleast keep out the headache. However, if you want to try it the hard way like me, go ahead.

After a 19hr gruelling road journey, I reached Ladakh at around 9:15 in the night. Ladakh is a safe town but the shops get closed very soon. I got to my room that I had already booked here and for 150rs, it was a very comfortable home stay. Though late, they also prepared food for me. I was very tired and quickly settled to my bed.
Regarding the coverage, I think BSNL and airtel provides the coverage here. Make your that your airtel connection is postpaid, otherwise, you don’t get roaming. And even if you have a postpaid connection like I had, you will have difficulties in getting the call connected. Also there are no gprs/edge networks available. So I have to use the cafe to send and receive mails which is slow and expensive. So do not expect my mails till I get back to civilization. Will be drafting all the details in my mobile though and will send them together.



Location: Ladakh


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