Delhi to Leh Ladakh: Extreme and Unplanned Adventure

How my Delhi to Leh Ladakh trip turned into an extreme and unplanned adventure in the remotest part of the world – Changthang

Chumathang to Nyoma, Changthang

Chumathang to Nyoma, Changthang

The downside of an expat life is homesickness that hits you like a ton of bricks. I have a good job and a balanced life. But I still feel homesick, not so much for my family or the food but for the Himalayas. The urge to return was so strong at the beginning of the year that I brushed aside a serious threat of losing my job. I didn’t know which home was calling but I was hearing a call – O nadaan parinde ghar aa ja! But as the cliché goes, “When mountains call, you must listen to them.” I did exactly that.

The calling this time was different. There was a different tune to it. I sensed a deeper meaning, probably more than just the travel. Too often, traveling becomes just an itinerary on paper to squeeze as much in as possible. Rushing from place to place to get the boxes ticked, to snap the picture-perfect sunset and to hit the next scenic spot. Sometimes it feels like we are acquiring experiences rather than experiencing them. I had a super crammed itinerary but this time I was determined to travel slow and relish the experiences and not just gather them. As they say, the best dishes are cooked on slow and low flames. I wanted to do something different, go offbeat and live the unique experiences, for they are not found on the beaten track. And guess what, I discovered happiness in the remotest part of the world – Changthang.

Unlike my last three trips From Delhi to Leh Ladakh, this was completely impulsive. And the credit goes to nostalgia. I was going through my picture gallery on phone (not on Facebook) when suddenly a  picture clicked in the Changthang plateau in 2014 arrested my attention. Eureka! My eyes glittered with excitement. I called my Ladakhi friend right in the middle of the night. After a brief conversation, I discovered that he was posted in the very place that I wanted to be at. Looks like destiny was working super hard for me!. The up-in-the-air-plan was made. But there are many slips between the making of a plan and its finalization. The plan got finalized only a day before I was to fly and I ended up paying a bomb for the flight tickets. The heart doesn’t understand the pain of a wallet. If it decides to go, it decides to go 🙂

The nostalgia invoking picture of Changthang Ladakh

My plan was limited to fly from Delhi to Leh Ladakh. I decided to leave the rest to serendipity and the local conditions. All I knew was, I was going to visit the unexplored Ladakh – the Changthang plateau. I had no clue beyond that. Locals are the unsung heroes who turn your good trip into a great one. My case was no different. The credit for an unforgettable trip goes to them – some I knew beforehand and some I made friends on the trip.

Time to buckle up folks! Hope you have your seat belts locked and have your munchies ready because this will take you through the stories of a lifetime.

From a sweltering 35 degrees to -8 degrees, Leh was a welcome change. The change in temperature had already triggered my “happiness” hormones. Before getting into my cab, I longingly gazed at the beautiful Himalayas, in the same way as long parted lovers look at each other when they meet after ages. Happiness doesn’t require words. It can only be felt by the heart and the eyes. I was relishing my share of happiness. The mountains were mountains, smiling at me and waving at me through gestures that only I could understand 🙂

Touchdown ad Leh Airport, Ladakh

Touchdown at my favourite Airport, Leh, Ladakh

The first view of Leh, Ladakh

The first view of Leh, Ladakh

I had booked myself at the Zaltak guesthouse, a place where I’ve lived in the past. The Didi who runs the place is one amazing person. She was preparing for my homecoming. After a lovely hug and exchange of heartfelt pleasantries, I was treated to my favorite Jasmine Kehwa and Ladakhi Roti. Memories of my previous trips hit me hard and off I went dreaming.

My mom cum sister - Didi of Zaltak Guesthouse, Leh

My mom cum sister – Didi of Zaltak Guesthouse, Leh

As a part of acclimatization, I wasn’t supposed to go out on the first day but I had no option. I had to secure my inner line permit from the DM’s office to visit the restricted areas of Ladakh. James, one of my good Ladakhi friends had done all the hard work in securing the necessary permissions, while I just signed the document.

And like clockwork, I fell sick. I was continuously throwing up, had a terrible headache and fever. When Didi saw my condition, she went out to get Diamox, a tablet that helps in acclamistisation. All shops were already closed. But she still managed to get the medicines. She made khichdi and asked me to drink a lot of green tea. She checked on me several times during the night. And voila by morning I was back to my cheerful self 🙂

Next day early morning, I was on my way to Changthang. Around 3 pm, after a long and bumpy ride through the beautiful sights and sounds of frozen Ladakh, I arrived at Chumathang. A small village that is at the junction of many routes.

Leh to Changthang

On my way to Changthang from Leh, Ladakh

Leh to Changthang Highway, Ladakh

Driving is so much fun when you have such a view for a company

Leh-Changthang highway, Ladakh

Couldn’t stop me from getting down from the car to absorb the view, Ladakh

1962 Ino-China war memorial graves, changthang

1962 Indo-China war memorial graves, Leh-Nyoma highway, Changthang

My last minute call to an Army friend, who was posted at Leh, got me a comfortable stay at the Army Guesthouse at Chumathang. From a bathtub to comfortable cozy bed to room heater to cable TV to hot meals and packed lunch, I had all luxuries of life in a place where even getting potable water was difficult. That’s the perk of being associated with Indian Army. The impossible word doesn’t exist in its dictionary.

Army camp, Chumathang, Changthang

Army camp – My home during my stay at Chumathang, Changthang

Chumathang Army guesthouse, Changthang

My room at Chumathang Army guesthouse, Changthang

The Guest House in-charge introduced me to the village Sarpanch – Skarma. He was the most respected man in a village of 50 houses and ran Lamying Hotsprings Restaurant on the banks of the mighty Indus river on the Leh-Hanle highway. The all glass restaurant gave a greenhouse effect, amazingly warm in a cold barren land where temperatures plummet to -40 degree in winters. Almost everyone traveling on this highway stopped at his restaurant.

Chumathang Hotsprings Restaurant, Changthang

Lamying Hotsprings Restaurant, Chumathang, Changthang, Ladakh

Chumathang Hotsprings Restaurant, Changthang, Ladakh

Ladakh battalion soldiers posted at Demchok, taking a break at Sarpanch’s restaurant

Lamying Restaurant, Chumathang, Changthang, Ladakh

The kitchen that feeds at least 100 people daily on Leh-Nyoma highway

In case you didn’t know, Chumathang is a place famous for Hotsprings. There is one particular hot spring that hardly anyone knows about – it stays in the riverbed for ten minutes, the water looks very calm and suddenly it oozes out with full force. And the same loop continues. I would have been contended by seeing the usual hot spring site and would have never known something like this exists had Sarpanch not showed it to me.

Chumathang Hotsprings, Changthang

The water vapour steam that you see in the middle is caused by Hotsprings at Chumathang

Chumathang Hot springs, Changthang, Ladakh

The Chumathang Hot Springs, Changthang, Ladakh

Chumathang, Changthang

They say mountain life is not easy. I experienced that first hand. Though the water is so hot here that you can boil eggs in 5 minutes, it leaves a pungent smell and taste to the food. That’s why the Sarpanch’s staff walks for four km uphill to the Chumathang village to fetch water for cooking, every single day. And it’s not a few liters. He gets water to cook for at least 100 people every day.

I spent a lot of time talking to villagers, army personnel, Ladakhi Scouts, and locals taking a break at Sarpanch’s restaurant. I was listening to all kind of unheard of stories, like a child glued to her grandparent’s bedtime stories. One of them I spoke to was the headmaster at the Puga Nomadic School. His stories about the school and the difficult life lived by the pastoral nomads inspired me to visit the place, which had nearby not-to-miss-at-any-cost attractions like Tso Morori Lake, Sumdo and Karzok Tibetan nomadic villages, Puga hot springs, and Chumur.

The only problem at hand was finding a cab. There were only two personal cars – one of a government servant working in Nyoma and other of the Sarpanch. Both were busy with their own schedules. Despite being out of bounds, I had to try! Nobody was ready to accompany me on this daredevil stunt. Even money failed to lure them. Reason – the area was completely frozen and cars would often skid. No connectivity. No help. But where there is a will there’s a way.

Curiosity takes you to places where no map or app can take. Are you curious enough to find out what happened next? How did I manage to witness the frozen wonders of Tso Moriri and the beautiful villages?

All of this and more in the upcoming posts – Delhi to Leh Ladakh: Extreme and Unplanned Adventure Part II, Part III & Part IV 🙂

Stay curious and stay happy.

TRAVEL TIPS FOR DELHI TO LEH LADAKH TRAVEL

  1. Delhi to Leh Ladakh Air tickets

    Don’t be foolhardy like me. Book your flights early. Money saved is money earned. Last minute flight are very expensive in March-April because it is the time when outside workers and locals return to Ladakh to prepare for the upcoming tourist season

  2. Acclimatization

    Give yourself ample time to acclimatize – at least two days. Changthang is at a greater height than Leh, therefore, it poses serious health issues. Carry Diamox for sure and if you encounter any health problem, visit the hospital at Nyoma

  3. Eat and drink well

    Don’t skip your meals even if you don’t feel like eating. Drink lots of green tea/butter tea and water

  4. Wildlife

    Changtang Wildlife Sanctuary is home to many rare species of flora and fauna. Even when on road, keep an eye on the mountains and plains. I saw a Tibetan wolf hunting cows, Kaing (Tibetan Wild Ass), wild dogs, wild Yak and Ibex

  5. Permits

    Secure your inner line permits before visiting places like Hanle, Chusul or Chumur. No permit no access

  6. Start early

    Leave Leh early so that you can reach well in time and look for accommodation, in case you have not booked in advance

  7. Stay

    If you plan to visit Hanle, Tso Moriri and Puga then you can either stay at Chumathang or at Nyoma. At Chumathang, Sarpanch has a good guesthouse that accommodates 4-6 people and comes with all basic facilities like hot water, heater, cozy bed etc. There is a PWD Guesthouse too. Nyoma has a PWD Guesthouse and many homestays

  8. Transportation

    You have to hire your own cab as there is only once a week bus (leaves at 12 PM every alternate Sunday). And don’t forget to tank up and carry extra fuel for your return journey. There’s no petrol pump in the region. 

 

31 Comments

  • Harish says:

    I have lost my mood to work after reading this. Need a break again.

    Did you travel here this month Archana?

    • Hi Harish,

      Extremely sorry for the delayed response.

      I went to Changthang in March.

      Changthang is a great place to take a break 😛

      Do let me know if you need any help to plan your trip.

      Cheers!

  • pradhan says:

    Nicely written 🙂
    “Air tickets: Don’t be a foolhardy like me. Book your flights early. Money saved is money earned. Last minute flight are very expensive in March-April because it is the time when outside workers and locals return to Ladakh to prepare for the upcoming tourist season”

    As you have written the above line, I would like to say you can check (http://deal4flight.com) this site for all available offers In India for air travel. I think this may help you and others.

    Happy Traveling, Happy Seeing and Happy Writing…………..

  • Sourjya Das says:

    How to get these permits? Can I get them in Leh?
    I will be covering Turtuk, Dah Hanu and Chanthag. Please tell me the permit details. Thanks in advance.

    • Hi Sourjya,

      You can get the permit at DC’s office in Leh. Won’t take much time. You just have to fill a form and submit your id proof.

      Hope that helps!

      Cheers!

  • David says:

    Astounding photos! Thank you for the honest tips!

  • Really enjoyed reading the post Archana!

  • Shobhitha says:

    Added to bucket it! you are awesome 🙂

  • Kyenna says:

    Wow! What a cool story! I absolutely love the bulleted list at the end of the post. Can’t wait to read the rest of the memoirs

  • Ivy says:

    “the best dishes are cooked on slow and low flames”… except for deep fried foods, haha! Thank you for sharing this amazing journey! I’ve never even heard of Chumathang, but reading this felt like I was right there with you. What a fascinating place!

  • I can see how that picture infused nostalgia and successfully convinced you to go back to Ladakh! It’s a region I would like to visit one day but I admit I’m not a fan of the cold so I would have to go when it’s warmer (or was this time considered warmer?).

  • Hallie says:

    That looks so stunning. It’s so great that you were able to go back and even meet someone you’d met before. We don’t realize how much traveling can affect us bus it also has effects on those we visit, doesn’t it? Love this very different trip that few probably try.

  • Suma Jain says:

    I don’t know about Changthang being the remotest part of Earth, but it has to be one of the most beautiful places on Earth! It’s crazy how least planned trips turn out to be the best ones you ever had. Beautiful captures of the valleys and yes, I never knew there are hot springs in these regions. Very nicely written post, thoroughly enjoyed reading it :).

    • Thanks a lot Suma for the lovely words. I too hardly knew anything about Changthang before I went there. It’s a beautiful place and thank god it’s hard to reach there else it would have been destroyed like many other places.

  • Best Hotel in Ranchi says:

    Wow, what a beautiful place. Nice blog with all information needed! Thank you I

    read your full blog and it was very informative, and helped me a lot.

  • website design Ranchi says:

    Amazing Photography. Fun reading article. Thank you for sharing it.

  • It’s always good to read stories of true spontaneous travelling! I feel so jealous and wish we could do that too. Absolutely love the photography throughout this post, beautiful pictures. Thanks for sharing your adventures.

  • Sonali says:

    Photographs! Just in love with these photographs. Travelling and photography is a great combination. I loved that you had both. Glad to know about your amazing experience.

  • finja says:

    Wow, this must have been amazing!!! Thanks for sharing your experience with us, the pictures!!!! 🙂
    xx finja | http://www.effcaa.com

  • Gareth says:

    This was one of the best travel blog posts I have read in a while and from such a spectacular part of the world. Certainly, ou have done a great job capturing the spirit of the place not only with your words but your photos, I really do envy your ability. It was also a really informative and thorough piece and I’m sure it will be invaluable for anyone thinking of following in your foorsteps

  • Emily says:

    What stunning photos – I’m not surprised the mountains were calling you! There’s something awe-inspiring about being surrounded by them. I would love to visit the Himalayas one day – and I’ll add Chumathang and its hot springs to my list.

  • Fantastic post! love the idea of going somewhere so different and remote. It looks so relaxing and peaceful. Your photos are great 🙂 thanks for sharing 🙂

  • Neni says:

    Such an interesting area. The nature or the landscape in general looks so rough, very intriguing.

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