Thursday, 15 October 2015

Ladakh... Revisited (Read: Mind.. Rejuvenated) Part-1

Once again I ended up visiting the land of souls... Ladakh.
Many people ask me why I revisit the same place again. I have no explanation except that I go to the place I feel drawn towards. Its not some kind of calculation to cover maximum number of places. It's just that I sometimes love to relive the best moments from the past. Like watching my favorite movie again or reading a great book twice.

March 23- A friend of mine told me about the scheme of economical tickets by Go Air. I checked at cleartrip and got dirt cheap return tickets to Leh (from Delhi) at Rs. 4507. I couldn't stop myself from planning my September vacation in March. Quite early but totally worth it.
Lat year was tough journey. But this time we kept it easy. We reached Leh on 26 August by air. Its a 1 hour journey from Delhi to Leh by flight. We had per-booked bike for 7 days but due to health issue of a group member, dropped the plan of riding. Instead we kept bike for 2 days ( For Nubra visit) and then returned them for a 50% return.
Then we got a cab booked for the rest of the days. It made our trip easy but the thrill and fun of moving on bike was missing. However, I must say that the routes to Pangong and Tso MoRiri are pretty bad. So, anyone not ready for a really tough journey should avoid biking even if you are pillion rider.

That was the gist of our journey. Now allow me take you to the enchanting tour of Ladakh.

Day 1:
This day actually started on 25 August, though 25 was not the date of journey theoretically, but practically it was. On 25th, we started getting prepared for altitude sickness, that we could face once we reach Leh. In the Morning and evening, we took half diamox. We packed everything that we took on our last trip. We had a flight at 5 in the morning which required us to reach at airport at 4a.m. We had to get up at 3 a.m. But the excitement kept us awake till midnight. We hardly got a sleep for 2 hrs. Bad start. We reached Leh at 6 and everybody in the group was hit by headache. It was hard to understand whether this was due to AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness) or due to our hectic journey.
Reeyork House
Apple and Apricot trees
We had booked our rooms at Reeyork House, Leh. Its a nice guest house, not very luxurious but pretty good for 900 bucks. We got delicious organic veggies grown and cooked in house.

Reeyork's own organic garden

Staff at Reeyork House brought nice lemon tea at our arrival. we had some Pooris and Aalu Bhaji for breakfast and then we slept through the morning. It helped in acclimatization also. We had our lunch at Dreamland Restaurant and then we returned to the guest house. The way from Reeyork House to Leh market is through a narrow lane which is full of local bakeries. We had really good breads from there.
We kept our first day for rest mostly and had evening tea and dinner at guest house itself. Only we went for taking bikes for next day's journey to Nubra Valley. We took two Royal Enfield Classic (Petrol capacity: 12 litres.) and one Thunderbird (Petrol capacity: 16 litres.)

Day 2:
Breakfast time
We were scheduled to start early in the morning but after having fresh breads, donuts and coffee for breakfast at nearby German Bakery, we actually left at 8:30 am.

Fresh breads baked in wood oven
 As there is no Petrol pump in the route or in Nubra Valley, we carried around 12 litres of petrol for 3 bikes. We went only to Nubra and returned. If you plan to visit nearby villages, then you must carry more petrol.(Check the distances via google and plan accordingly).We went through a fine stretch of 24 kms till Southpullu and then the road was nowhere.

 Next 15 kms upto Khardung la were quite tough. As it was our first day, we were not accustomed to the bikes and environment, it took us nearly 4 hours to reach Khardung La top. But reaching there filled us with a sense of achievement.

Khardung La top
Then someone reminded us of our remaining journey and we moved ahead and only to face worst roads. Actually, the GoI or BRO have nothing to do with the road conditions. They, in fact, work day and night to maintain these roads but the high altitude, melting snow and frequent landslides make it impossible to maintain proper roads near passes. But once we crossed around 15 km on both sides of the passes, roads became much better. After Khardung La top, around 12 km stretch caused us pain. But as soon as we approached Northpullu, we were on nice roads. After that we covered distances quickly. From there we had to cover around 75 km.

Khalsar Village
The roads were great and we took a halt at Khalsar for lunch. Khalsar is a villlage from where Nubra valley region starts. Also. a no smoking zone starts there but tourists still do not follow any rules and can be seen smoking there.
This village got completely destroyed in rains during July 2015. Only one or two hotels were open.
After lunch at around 4 in the evening, we did not take any halt and reached Hunder at around 6 in the evening. 

Guest house at Hunder
Guest house at Hunder
We got rooms at Sand dunes view resort at 600 bucks per room. It was a decent guest house but was quite far from sand dunes or camel ride site. 
Earlier people at Hunder used to have camels in their houses but now they leave camels in the forest area at night and bring them back in morning for camel ride.

Evening at Nubra Valley

Night at Nubra Valley
It was the loveliest morning I had woken up to... You don't agree? See for your self in the images taken by Ankush..

Sunrise@ Nubra Valley
  In the morning, we went for camel ride. The beauty of this place engulfed our minds and we were so lost in it that we lost count of time. We had to leave at 8:00. 
But were enjoying it so much that we waited happily for the camel ride which had to start at 9:00. But it actually started at around 9:30. It costed us INR 200 for a 15 minute ride. Although I went for the ride but I felt bad for the way camels were treated by locals. But in this extreme corner of the country, people do whatever they have to do for their survival. This was negligible as compared to the tough life in the cold desert of Ladakh.

Lost in the sand..

 Difficult to reach distances, tough climatic conditions, proximity to Indo-China border, scarcity of modern resources like electricity, communication, transport, petrol etc. make life quite tough here. The only relief comes from army set ups at every few kilometers.

River turned into mirror.. Never seen such clear water before!

After having breakfast from Army canteen, we left for Leh. This time, we gained momentum and reached Leh at 5 in the evening. 

Usually we are disturbed by lack of cleanliness and sanitation at tourist places but in Ladakh, we usually find clean areas. But tourists now a days are increasing filth at such delicate ecosystems. People can be seen dropping polybags, bottles etc. When we love to visit clean places, we should consider it our responsibility to maintain the sanctity of the place.
While returning back we rested at a beautiful place .This is one of cleanest places I have seen. I actually sat on road without getting myself dirty. We clicked some quick pics. Here are a few:

Serene Ladakh
My favourite

I got paid for this one ;-)
Most of us had previously been to Ladakh on motorbikes. But one member in our group was new and she succumbed to the conditions and we changed our plan from bikes to Cab. In the evening, we returned our bikes and got 50% refund (And lost 50% :-(((  ). We booked our cab with Mr. Norba, an ex serviceman. We got a decent deal at 15000 INR for Leh to Pangong and Tso MoRiRi. Mr. Norba was a delight to have on our tour. He shared so many stories that we could never be aware of had we continued with bikes. (Everything happens for a reason, I guess :-)  ). We stayed back at Reeyork for the night and dined at Leh market. Leh market can offer great things to buy. I was really confused as I literally wanted to buy everything.
We found one organic store in the main market area and the moisturizers they sale seem to be the only saviours from dry air of Ladakh. The air is so dry that even after applying moisturizers and lip balms after every hour, skin became dry and lips chapped. But that seems to be a small price for being at such a wonderful place..

Goa.. Once Again.. In the Rain..

Last  time I visited Goa, I promised myself to return. And I kept my promise.I had to keep it...

After a long year without any vacations, we were dying to travel. With rains all over the mountains, we had few options to consider. We were confused about my vacation and with a sudden impulse, it was decided to go to Goa.
Everybody discouraged us as it was raining cats and dogs in Goa. Beaches would be closed and no one can imagine Goa minus beaches. But I was adamant. And I have no regrets.
I am not much of a water baby. So, even if beaches are open, I don't swim. So, that was not to be regretted (However, beaches were very much open, with some restrictions). Though, I regret one thing.. Not taking pictures on this trip. We hardly indulged ourselves in photography. Only a few pics with our Sony Experia. So this post is going to disappoint those who loved our pics earlier. But trust me, it is much more enjoyable to have a vacation, without having to worry about pics.

Day 1, Delhi to Goa:
We left for Goa on 27 July, Saturday. Reached there by evening. We were getting Taxis at airport but seeing their fare, we decided to board local bus. We had a great experience with buses in Goa on our last trip, so we were happy saving a few bucks. As we came out of the airport, it started drizzling but was okay. Soon, a taxi driver spotted us. He came to drop a passenger and was looking for someone needing a ride. Fortunately, he was going towards Palolem. We bargained for Rs. 300 (as against Rs.900). Monsoon has its own advantages in Goa. You just need to check for them.
We had booked the same hotel as our last visit- Angels Resort. Its a nice place to stay. Great in fact. We tried to get an Avenger but ended up getting a Deo for 300/day. Neither Aashish nor I liked it but we had no other option.
I was excited about going to Saturday night market at Arpora but to my disappointment, it was closed due to monsoon. We anyhow searched for another market at Mhapusa. It is not like a flea market but you can get things at really low prices. We got a dozen small Goan bananas for Rs. 10. :-)... Carry bags could be purchased at Rs. 100, the same bags were being sold at Rs. 350 near beaches.We were roaming around the market and suddenly it started to rain. We waited for some time and as soon as rain stopped, we left for our resort.
But it started to rain again and by the time we reached, we were completely drenched. As we entered the hotel, the guard asked how we didn't get an Avenger and promised to arrange one next day. We were finally going to have a nice ride. We thanked him and went to sleep. That ended our day 1 at Goa.

Day 2, Sunny Day:
Daily I get up at 6 in the morning. But here, I was in having the luxury of getting up late and I was in no hurry. We had our breakfast at the Hotel and then we moved out to rent a bike. The guard arranged it at Rs. 350/day. We had already visited Goa and were not crazy to visit typical tourist spots. However, I do miss visiting Chapora fort.
We simply went out riding in a blissful climate. Sometimes it rains cats and dogs in Goa keeping you indoors and sometimes its just a drizzle to cool down the heat. It was mostly cloudy and we enjoyed biking and eating vada pavs and drinking Nariyal Pani.
As any vacation is incomplete without shopping, I dragged Aashish to go shopping with me. Though uninterested, he agreed and even pretended to enjoy.;-)))
With lots of bargain and some nice things, we returned back to our hotel at 10.29. I can exactly recall the time as Hotel Navtara closes at 10:30 and they refused to get us in  ;-(((((.
The restaurant in the hotel takes orders till 11:30p.m.. That's where we saved ourselves.
A delicious dinner marked the end of our second day. OMG! only two days to go. I have to enjoy as much as I can and relax as much as possible. That's like having your cake and eat it too. ;-p
Neways, I was enjoying every bit of my stay and wished to live like that forever. In my mind, I also planned my retirement in Goa. That's the magic of this place.

Day 3 : 
This time we didn't plan to visit any places in particular, so we were short of ideas. We spent the morning roaming inside our resort. It is a great place to hang aroud with all kinds of trees and fruits and beautiful private villas. After breakfast, we left for Charao Island.
Its a quiet little island in Mandovi river. We went to Panjim and then Old Goa. From there we took a ferry to the island. For shoppers, its a gloomy place. But a paradise for nature lovers.
You can find a beautiful lake there.
A nice boating trip didn't do us any harm. A nice place to come if you have visited most of the tourist attractions. You can also visit Salim Ali bird sanctuary. But for that you have to reach early morning and best time is in winters as during Monsoon, mosquitoes in the sanctuaries can be a bit dangerous.

We returned by the evening and after some rest, we pulled ourselves and went to Baga beach in the night.The atmosphere there was unlike regular gloomy  monsoon type. People were partying. Althogh crowd was much less as compared to December.

Day 4:
Our last day at Goa. we had a flight back to Delhi the next day. Even the thought of this depressed us and so we decided to make full use of this day.
We roamed around the streets, shopped for everybody at home. went to Panjim, Calangute, Baga, Anjuna, Candolim and exhausted ourselves by the evening.
Although, the monsoon season has lesser tourists, it still can be a great season to sea Green, clean, tranquil Goa. Even simply biking around in pollution free air is fun.
After a hectic day, we went for a Abhyangam and Shirodhara at nearby ANHC (Ayurvedic Natural Health Centre). Due to off season, we got heavy discount. Great deal wrapping our vacation!
It was our last day and I thought about a friend suggesting about drinking in Goa. Both me and Aashish had never tried alcohol before and we proudly boasted of being teetotalers. A bottle of cranberry breezer broke our abstention from alcohol.;-p
Although, very mild (only 4% alcohol), it is an alcoholic drink. I still do not appreciate drinking. But then a breezer won't rot your lever;-)).

How I hate my holidays to end. But they have to end. And so, we left for  Delhi with more memories and less photographs..