Date: 9th October 2011 to 18th October 2011
Places: To keep it short, listing the names of the famous places I have been on this trip, Shimla, Manali, Rohtang Pass, Jispa, Gramphu, Barlachla Pass, Sarchu, Pang, Moore Plains, Tanglang La Pass, Leh/Ladakh, Kargil, Zanskar Valley, Rangdum, Drass, Zozilla Pass and Srinagar. 😀
Most people wish to visit Leh/Ladakh and areas around to witness the serene beauty of the area; likewise I had always thought of going on a vacation to this place but never imagined I would get the chance of actually visiting it one day. The opportunity came to me when I was asked to join the Raid De Himalaya 2011 as a photographer, and the experience that I had in these 10 days was that of a lifetime.
Memoirs of my journey…
On this trip my first priority was to capture the Raid event because this is something for which I was there while next was to capture the beauty of the places.
It all started with Kalka, I was required to be present in Shimla to capture the scrutiny of the mean machines of the Raid riders. But that day we were running late and thus to reach there I had someone accompanying me (the person riding me there was a racer himself). Thus you can imagine how the ride would have been. The ride to Shimla was full of drifts, turns full of sharp and screeching sound. This made me realize how the next 9 days of my life are going to be. 🙂
We (which included me and some of my photographer friends) had a great chance of shooting Indian Army in their Shimla base camps and Team Austria which were there for the RAID. Here by the term shooting, I mean a proper photo shoot with lighting and all which is also being my first experience of this kind. From Shimla we travelled to Manali where we had a good bathroom to bathe and feel cosy after 2 days 😀
After reaching Manali, we left for Sarchu via Rohtang Pass. This was the first time I had seen Rohtang and believe me the view was just amazing. We crossed it in dark when the moon was lighting the snow clad mountains with its brilliance and this made me forget the sad condition of the road we were travelling till now.
On our way to Sarchu, we had a stop (in Jispa) in the morning and the Rohtang looked as beautiful with sunlight as it was with the moon light. Now this is when I had my first encounter with the seriously low temperature. Despite wearing all the warm clothes and gloves, my hand and foot fingers started freezing with a severe pain such that I had no option but to run away to some sun warm area.
I felt this was just the bad start of the day, nothing more, but this thought of mine gradually vanished. After that we stopped in Gramphu to have something to eat but all we can manage were a Maggi full of water and a tasteless omelette (better not be termed as Breakfast but we were sure of one thing, we will even miss this in the coming days lol). The day was worsened by a tyre puncture (luckily we have a spare tyre in the car) and a landslide that wasted our precious time. The only satisfaction being the views we had seen till now and the shots we have had.
We crossed the Barlachla Pass sometime later and the snow peaks which appeared too high till now were on the same road now, on which we were travelling. I even remember one of my friends asking me “can you see that highest mountain with snow, we will be travelling via that in a short while” and it were the expressions on my face that replied for me.
Well the surprise rather shock was still in store for us. We soon had a second tyre puncture with no fine spare tyre this time, sob sob! At this time we were 17 kms away from Sarchu (yeah stopped right in front of the milestone lol) and to our shock there was no puncture guy nearby. We stopped a lorry passing us and sent the driver with a tyre to Sarchu. Now the task for rest of us was to keep ourselves warm until our driver returns as we knew that, it would be even harder for us after the sunset. So we sat in the car wearing most of the warm clothes that we had.
Thankfully the driver returned back but since there was no puncture repairing guy there, he managed to get some air in the tyre which was inflated enough for us to drive 17 kms and spend our night in this less oxygen place.
At night, thanks to the ladies that had their tents in Sarchu, we had “boiling” tomato soup but it was so cold in the night that all of us even drank that in seconds. We slept in the tents after having bon fire outside as I was busy clicking star trails in the clear sky. It was -5 C temperature that night and that too with less oxygen to breathe but thankfully I had no issues in spending the night. The low oxygen had its toll on me when I was helping others in changing tyres (same feeling when you get after jogging for around 10 minutes).
It was so cold there that I never wanted to wash hands to avoid touching the freezing water or even brushing teeth (thank God we had hand sanitizers and mouth wash for this purpose). Next morning we again sent the driver with one of the interesting people that we met there; in their car to Pang which was 80 kms away from Sarchu (we knew that Pang had a car mechanic). The driver returned with a fixed tyre after 10 hrs (wasted our half of the day) in a lorry and we decided to move on.
Our next stop was Leh but to reach there we had to cross Moore Plains and the straight uphill on broken road (I should rather say, on no road) to Tanglang la Pass. We first came across Moore Plains and as the name suggests, it is a plane area between 2 mountains on each side of the road with a desert region in between. How would you feel when the road on which you are travelling suddenly disappears and turns into a desert? Well this is how it was.
Now you have to make your own way in this desert if you want to reach Leh. Now imagine travelling through Moore in night lol (all we could see outside was pure darkness). We followed the prominent impressions of the tyres on the desert and managed to find our way to Tanglang la.
The bumpy narrow roads we were travelling till now suddenly became rougher and that too with a steep elevation. We drove very slowly (as we were worrying that we should not come across another puncture else we all would be finished in that freezing cold) and managed to reach the top. The top was extremely freezing and we were unable to stand outside the car for even 2 mins (the reason why I don’t have any pic of Tanglang la 🙁 ). The view from the top was really fascinating and we just realized that we were standing on the tallest mountain of the region. Hell yeaah!!
We reached Leh, had Paranthes for breakfast and after resting for some time left for Kargil. On my way to Kargil, we came across Magnetic Hill, Zanskar Valley and some beautiful places that I managed to capture. We were at the Fotula top, on the way to Kargil, when I realized that the wind speed was so enormous that we were even unable to close the door of the car. The wind even blew away our 1 litre bottle filled with water (now you can imagine how much the speed it would have been).
We reached Rangdum, spent the night in the car as we were advised by the official people to run the car engine every hour, to prevent the diesel from freezing :O. It was at 6 AM in the morning when I was required to shoot the riders but this was extremely hard for us to stand outside as it was -15 C temp there. The pain in the hand and feet was severe and I waited for the Sun to show up asap. I must say I had never waited for the sunlight to appear ever in my life as I did on that day. Sun light is usually too harsh in these areas as these are at great heights (despite having Sunscreens, I had severe tanning and dead skin 🙁 ). The tiring day ended with a bon fire party with the troop playing drums and interacting with each other (now this was the cool part 😉 ).
Next morning we left for Srinagar via Drass/Kargil and Zozilla pass. We all passed by the famous Tiger Hill where the battle of Kargil took place in 1999, and some warnings on the road side (yeah warnings even in India).
We reached Srinagar, and I was really fascinated by the beauty of the place. Right from Gulmarg, Sonmarg to Dal, it was the surreal view outside. Spent the night in the House boat at the Dal Lake and I must say it was no less than a palace from inside (I am definitely visiting it again).
The event completed with prize distributions the next day and a nice in-house dine and wine party to end the night.
Necessary items for the trip:
• Medicines like Disprin, Crocin, Diamox etc
• Lip balm
• Hand sanitizer (i dont think you would like to wash hands in that freezing cold, would you? 😀)
• Toilet paper (you will regret if you forget this, since you would not like to wash in that freezing cold lol)
• Paper soap
• Extra camera battery or battery for other devices (as batteries dry out fast in cold areas like these)
• Warm clothes
• Packed eatables, chocolates etc
• Mouth wash like Listerine or mint gums
• And the most important thing, willingness to survive (ok ok, no dialogues here 🙂 )
For me, this was more than a trip and something that I will remember always. I call it “The experience of a lifetime”.
There are many more pics that you would like to see, find them here http://www.rajat-gupta.com/