Here is the full version of my 'Quiet Flows the Indus' story that got published in the June Issue of Rail Bandhu
A beautiful destination often results in a hangover but a trip to Ladakh leaves you with a permanent hangover! Rather, it mystically changes you from within, for the real, raw and unadulterated beauty of Ladakh and its people touches the very core of your being. Ladakh is one of those places that never leaves you, telling stories of valor and unity.
My Ladakh love has resulted in various spiritual, cultural, heritage and adventure tours. However, this time I decided to follow a journey - the Indus trail right from where it starts. Come on board to enjoy the mystic trail of the mighty Indus River through Leh-Ladakh and enjoy the gushing waters and its natural beauty along!
But before you join me in this glorious journey let me introduce you to the Indus Trail. The Indus River originates from the North of the highly revered Mt. Kailash, entering India at Demchok in Changthang valley, flowing through the remotest part of the Changthang valley for 670 km and then reaches Nimu, where it merges with Zanskar River, creating a beautiful sangam, while continuing onwards to Pakistan.
I arrived at Leh on a cold March morning. As soon as I touched down, I filled my eyes and heart with all of Himalayas, like meeting a parted lover. I had booked myself at the Zaltak guesthouse, where my mom like caretaker welcomed me. She treated me to my favourite Jasmine Kehwa, Ladakhi Roti and the routine lunch.
In the afternoon, with the help of my Ladakhi friend and an Army officer, I was able to secure the innerline permit to travel to Changthang. Acclimatization was necessary as Changthang was higher than Leh. I used the remaining time to acclimatize and revisit my favourite spots in and around Leh - Leh Palace, Hemis, Spituk, Lamayru and Alchi. These spots are also located on the banks of the majestic Indus River.
Monasteries are a constant in Leh. Visiting a monastery is a divine experience. In their tranquil and calm environments stay the most compassionate and knowledgeable people – the monks. They go out of their way to make you feel at home and are very knowledgeable. At Hemis Gompa, I ended up having a conversation with a Lama for hours on the importance of education and how technology can be used to fight global warming!
Post my monastery visit, I hitchhiked to Nimu, the spot where I fell in love with Indus. I was lost in the sight of the blue Zanskar flowing into emerald green Indus. I recalled my earlier experience of taming the wild rapids of Indus, while soaking the breathtaking views of the Ladakh and Zanskar ranges.
En-route to Leh, I decided to visit the Hall of Fame Museum, which houses many a stories about our brave soldiers. I still get goosebumps when I remember Captain Vijayant Thapar last letter to his parents’ days before he made the ultimate sacrifice. The sunset at the next pitstop on my way back was the magnificent Shanti Stupa, where the sunset carried a special message - stay majestic and gracious even in a slump.
I left for Chumangthang, a major junction in the Changthang region early morning the next day. For the entire 139 kms journey, Indus accompanied me. Somewhere frozen somewhere gushing though the canyons. I arrived at Chumathang at 3 pm, crossing several beautiful sights and sounds of Indus. Chumangthang is a small village that is at the junction of many routes and is famous for Hotsprings. My last minute call to an Army friend got me a comfortable stay at the Army Guesthouse. I was introduced to the village Sarpanch, the most respected man in a village of 50 houses and also the owner of the Lamying Hotsprings Restaurant on the banks of the mighty Indus River.
Locals are the unsung heroes who turn good trips into great ones. It was the Sarpanch and unknown locals who helped me reach the interiors of Changthang in a season when even locals fear to go. The Next two days were dedicated to visiting the most beautiful part of Changthang – The Changthang Wildlife Sanctuary. There was just one problem though – the lack of transport. It took a lot of persistence to make the Sarpanch agree!
We left early morning next day to Chumur, the disputed village on Indo-China Line of Actual Control (LAC). The Sarpanch kept me entertained with his stories. According to him, there are 18 lakes in the region, all undiscovered. The famous three are Pangong Tso, Tso Moriri and Tso Kar. We followed the following course for two days:
Chumathang – Mahe Bridge – Sumdo – Namshang La – Kiagar Tso – Korzok – Chumur – Puga – Tso Moriri – Chumathang
This journey was exhausting, dangerous but extremely beautiful and rewarding. Most of the area was deeply buried under the snow blanket. Visiting Chumur was an experience for life. Standing on the actual LAC, it was difficult to decipher where India was and where China was. Why are we humans hell bent on creating borders where none exist!
With a lot of questions in my mind I returned to Puga. Rebo Tent was my home for the night. In spite of multiple barriers, my 66 years old host treated me with utmost love and care. In a harsh barren land where nothing grows, I was offered Ladakhi Roti, Satthu, yak soup and raw yak meat, embodying the true spirit of “athitihi devo bhava”. I had a long conversation with her, thanks to Sarpanch, who was now my interpreter too. She had migrated from Tibet when she was just few months old and she hopes to return to Tibet before she dies.
After bidding goodbye to my lovely host, I went exploring the Puga Nomadic School, Puga Hotsprings and Tso Moriri.
Tso Moriri is the largest of the high altitude lakes in India. During summers you can see incredulous variety of flora and fauna. However, what I witnessed now was something else. The completely frozen white lake flanked by lofty mountains landscape looked surreal. It was difficult to believe that this snow blanket transforms itself into a mystical lake which changes six to seven colours in a day. Mother Nature’s magic knows no end!
Late at night I returned to Chumathang and next day I was ready to start my onward journey to Demchok. I followed the following route during my two day journey:
Chumathang - Nyoma – Koyul – Demchok – Chumathang
The drive from Chumathang to Demchok took me through some of the best sights I have ever seen. The paradisiacal views of the meandering semi frozen Indus River surrounded by the mighty Himalayas were a sight to behold. The last destination on my trip was Demchok, the starting point of the river Indus. Driving up to Demchok was not an easy task! It was slippery and slushy, allowing our vehicle very little grip but where there is a will, there is a way. We managed to reach the exact spot. It wasn’t the joy of reaching the destination that I was relishing but it was the joy of experiencing such an astounding journey that I had only dreamt!
The Indus River was a tiny stream here. It then mystically transforms into a mighty river that has been the bed of mighty civilizations.
Hope you enjoyed this Indus Trail with me as much as I had fun exploring it.
So when are you going to explore it?
The only way to experience heaven without dying is to visit Leh-Ladakh. However, you need a bit of planning to experience the Julley Land.
WHAT TO SEE
5 OFFBEAT PLACES NEAR LEH
- Sham Valley to evoke your spiritual and adventure side,
- Uleytokpo for enchanting hidden beauty of nature,
- Zanskar for one of the best white water rafting experiences in India,
- Turtuk to see the once LOC battleground, now a tourist ground
- Dha Hanu to share a roof with the direct descendants of Alexander.
5 MONASTERIES ONE SHOULD NOT MISS
Ladakh is predominantly a land of Buddhism. You can find Monasteries, Gompas, Chortens and Stupas everywhere. Hemis, Thikshey, Lamayaru, Diskit and Alchi are the most renowned monasteries of Leh-Ladakh. The best time to visit them is during the annual festivals when the mythology of Tibetan Buddhism is depicted through masked dances.
5 MUST VISIT ATTRACTIONS IN LEH
Get a peek into the history, architecture, royalty and spiritual side of Leh. Visit Royal Palace, Shey Palace Museum, Hall of Fame, Shanti Stupa and Bagso
WHAT TO EAT
The fresh air and beautiful landscapes coupled with adventurous activities make you very hungry in Ladakh. 5 local Ladakhi cuisine items you must try are Shapale, Thukpa, Skyu, Khambir and Butter tea. And you must try apricot in every form – freshly plucked, dried apricot and apricot jams and candies. 5 Good places to eat in Leh are Gesmo Restaurant and Tibetan Kitchen for Himalayan food, Bon Appetite for great food with a great view, La Piazzeta for Italian, Neha Snacks for Indian food, specially Punjabi.
WHAT TO SHOP
Leh is a mecca for bargain hunters. Best things to buy are the locally handmade woolen items and Tibetan handicrafts like prayer wheels, Buddhist masks and Thangka paintings. I pack my bags with prayer flags, traditional Ladakhi jewelry, apricots, green tea and traditional porcelain items for gifting. The places to shop are Tibetan Market, Moti Market, Ladakh Art Palace, Women's Alliance and Tibetan Handicraft Community Showroom.
WHERE TO STAY
Staying in Leh is like staying at home. You can choose from a wide variety of hotels to guest houses to homestays. I have stayed in all kinds of places. My favourite place is Zaltak Guest House because it is conveniently located in the heart of the city – Changspa, doesn’t hurt your pocket too much, is neat and clean with all basic facilities and the best part is the host, who goes out of her way to make you feel at home.
WHEN TO VISIT
The best time to visit Leh-ladakh is from June to September. During this time the valleys are lush green, weather is nice, and abuzz with the colorful and vibrant festivals. However, for me Ladakh is beautiful throughout the year. There is a unique charm of seeing Ladakh fully covered in snow during winters.
HOW TO REACH
Srinagar to Leh - from early June to November
Manali to Leh - from mid-June to early October
Only J&K registered vehicles are allowed in Ladakh. You can easily hire cabs or motorbikes for day tours or long tours.
Public buses are the cheapest way to travel but their services can be infrequent
Air India, Go Air and Jet Airways Direct flights from Delhi, Srinagar and Jammu
India got its name and identity from the River Indus. The name Indus or Sindhu is linked with one of the oldest civilizations of the world – Indus civilization. To revive the charm of Indian heritage and celebrate the diversity of cultural identities , LK Advani organized the Sindhu Abhiyan in 1997, followed by the first Sindhu Darshan festival organized on June 7, 2000 on the banks of the River Sindhu, at Shey Manla in Leh. Since then it has become an annual affair. This three-day long festival celebrated on the full moon night of Guru Poornima in the month of June
10 LESSER KNOWN FACTS ABOUT LADAKH
Much has been written and showcased about the mystic Ladakh still it remains one of the most elusive land in India. Here are some lesser known facts about the Julley land
- The sweetest apricots come from Turtuk
- The best quality of Viagra (shilajit) can be found in the rocks of Ladakh
- Chumur Monastery has an alive mummy of a Lama
- Hanle has one of the world’s largest observatory
- Ladakh is the only place In India where twin humped camels can be found
- There is a donkey sanctuary in Leh catering to the old and sick donkeys
- Kids in schools are taught Ladakhi, Hindi, Urdu and English
- 18 people lost their lives while building the highest motorable road at Khardung La
- Mongolian invaders were entombed in the foundation of Leh Palace
- Ladakh is not just for the young and adventure seekers. PAGIR runs ‘Hamalaya on Wheels’ tourism service for people on wheel chair and senior citizens
MY TRAVEL MAP