Ladakh – Of mountain lakes and star filled skies

Continued from here

Day 2 and whether we were ready or not, we were off to the coldest place on our itinerary- the Tsomoriri lake. Like the Ganga accompanied us all through our trip in Uttarakhand, here it was the Indus. Since we’re a bit closer to the point of origin, however, the visible difference between the 2 rivers is quite vast. The Ganga is a no-nonsense powerhouse of potential destruction in no uncertain terms and quite intimidating while the gentle flow of the Indus makes you want to sit by it and have a picnic all day long.

The tame Indus providing us company amidst the arid landscape

Note: the restrooms were extremely bad on the way, so do give your driver advance notice to stop in smaller villages along the way for possibly better facilities.


Our first stop on the way was at Chumathang at the hot springs there. The plus is that it is a hot spring with very small areas of it bubbling and sputtering up to the surface, the negative is that it’s not the cleanest place around since the locals use the water for their daily needs. IMG_1110However, it is by the banks of the Indus so we sat a while and watched the mountains and the water gurgling by.


After lunch there, we were lucky enough to spot a herd of mountain goats calmly grazing and perched on the narrow cliffs like it was no-big-deal at all.


The journey is long and arduous especially for our spines- even in a comfortable SUV, we found ourselves with aching backs by the end of the day. However, the good news is that the roads are in a bad state only because they are making them wider, so maybe by the time you get to it, it’ll be a breeze. IMG_1164And there it was, our very first view of the perfect oasis amongst the arid mountains and the sands. IMG_1173Kyagar Tso, a saline water lake in the Rupshu valley,  much smaller than Tsomoriri but we instantly fell in love with it. Since we visited Ladakh at the fag end of the season, there was nobody else around. There were a few wild horses grazing nonchalantly, a cold wind, the golden grassland, the ubiquitous mountains, the perfect sky and us. IMG_1195Though small, possibly since it seemed like a reward at the end of a long journey or because of the isolated place that almost seemed like one we had discovered ourselves, this was my favourite among the lakes we’d see on this trip. We spent some time dancing completely out of step and soaking in the surroundings but just because of the cold were soon driven back to the relative comfort of our car.


We went on ahead to the point of our long journey-the Tsomoriri lake. We first checked in to our comfy tents It gets very cold as soon as the sun sets around here, so our driver, Skarma huddled us on to a viewpoint for a more clear view of the beautiful water.IMG_1273 The place is windy, very windy which means the cold is also amplified as much. However, it felt incredibly unspoilt because there were absolutely no other tourists.IMG_1301 We sat by a stacked pile of stones watching the unmoving water, a huge herd of furry goats with their shepherd, the cerulean blue skies with picture perfect clouds and the unchanging part of the scenery throughout- the rugged mountains.IMG_3442.jpg


After a while, we drove back to the safety of our tents only to come out into the biting cold on our way to dinner. Just a glance upward and there it was, a sky like no other, an incredible number of stars blinking down at us from the inky darkness. If not for the cold we’d have been content spending the night watching them.


But spend the night awake we did, with the low air density and the cold, despite our comfortable tents, all of us had trouble sleeping. Nevertheless, we were kept entertained by the sounds around- the howling mountain dogs, the braying donkeys and the wind howling like galloping horses just outside our tents all night- if we ever needed a soundtrack – there it was.IMG_1318


The next morning after a stroll around the area trying to absorb as much of the scene as we could, we headed back to Leh this time stopping at a scene we’d passed by- my first view of autumn colors in India- the flaming reds, the brilliant yellows and the unapologetic oranges bursting through the green color that was meekly receding to the background. IMG_1367More company of the gurgling Indus and we reached what now felt like home, the town of Leh.IMG_1355

Up next : Ladakh: Of unwavering focus and Bollywood in the mountains


Uttarakhand :Govind Ghat and Ghangaria

Delhi->Rishikesh -> Govind Ghat -> Ghangaria -> Valley of Flowers -> Hemkund -> Ghangaria -> Auli -> Ukhimath -> Tungnath -> Rudraprayag -> Rishikesh -> Haridwar -> Delhi

Continued from here

Day 3 :  Drive to Govind Ghat

We gathered at our meeting point at Lakshman Jhula and headed off in a Tempo traveller to Govind Ghat. We stopped at Kaudiyala for breakfast and stopped for a bit by the sangam at Devprayag where the Alaknanda and Bhagirathi rivers meet.


We by now had an increased respect for the perennial Ganga- her energy, intensity, and immensity had us more in awe at every turn. We drifted in and out of sleep, our eyes always welcomed by a pretty sight despite the warm and sultry weather. We stopped at a roadside shack for tea and cool drinks that felt like ambrosia in the heat. We’d have handsome, friendly canines for our company throughout our trip. The view from the stop was lovely with snaking paths by the side of the river in the distance.

We stopped for lunch at a place we simply decided to call – the good view place. We were surrounded by the hills, trees of all hues, terraced paddy fields in a flawless shade of vivid green and the valley below. A steady supply of rotis, paneer burji, chole, alu jeera later we left with content tummies and soothed minds.


Lunch views


More driving and a traffic buildup due to a landslide later, we got to Govind Ghat in the evening and just had time to relax, have our dinner and a briefing for the next day. We met our guides- Santosh, Deepak and Dinesh, all of who would provide us excellent support over the following days. A big part of the group was made of first-time trekkers but everyone seemed raring to go.


Day 4 :  Govind Ghat to Ghangaria

We woke up to the sight of misty mountains just outside our modest but comfortable room at Hotel Gokul. It promised to be a good day. While we were getting ready, Anand managed to walk up to a nearby temple for a few pictures. We hoped the hot puris for breakfast would sustain us well for the longest part of our trek , which was on this day. We chose to send one of our bags via mules and carry the other with essentials for the trek. This trek is rated “easy-moderate” simply because there are mules available for hire for all parts of the journey except for the valley of flowers itself.  The mules with their decorated headgear and lovely bells became a common sight here on. Though IMO both may have been extremely annoying to the mule itself.


Our trek started along the side of the faithful Alaknanda who cheered us on along our way. To get us acclimatised gradually, our guides forced stops on us every kilometre so it wasn’t a particularly hard trek. We had the best lemony chana chaat of our lives just before our lunch stop. Anand couldn’t help himself from having a second round of it. In a scene that would have made Kerala cry, the guy was even selling individual pieces of coconut for Rs.10 each! We stopped where we needed to and quickly learnt that sitting down for a break was a bad idea. There were water sources at random intervals, so that wasn’t a concern. We did sweat quickly and had to remember to stay hydrated.


Chaat and coconut


An old lady with a bright red scarf sold us some slightly tart, impossibly crunchy green apples that we enjoyed.Find her when you’re there!


That scarf!


They had also advised us to wear full sleeved tops and full-length trousers, despite which, I leant on a railing at a point and a particularly nasty plant stung my finger!


Beware of this innocent looking villain!


The trek was picturesque throughout if one could somehow ignore the pervasive stink of horse dung and simply look up. Devotees coming back from Hemkund Sahib distributing toffees, the river making occasional appearances and local women hauling huge mounds of fresh green fodder for their cattle while we were huffing and puffing with our relatively tiny rucksacks. Our longest stop was just after a creaking “bridge”  the gushing Alaknanda enveloping the boulders with her unbridled energy that made a delightful pit-stop. At one point we even saw a chopper shuttle multiple times in the distance.


We reached the tiny hamlet of Ghangaria by evening after the 14km trek and post a short nap realised we still had the energy and enthusiasm to amble along the place. Anand, to his delight, found the perfect gulab jamuns and we also managed to polish off plates of chaat with ease.


Ghangaria : First look


Tips for this trek from our experience (Your guide during your trip would be your best resource to confirm)

  • Sip water throughout to stay hydrated. Avoid gulping, or you’ll need to use the restrooms often and they are too few where available.
  • Don’t scrimp on trekking shoes. Your feet will be destroyed if your shoes are not thick enough or provide sufficient support.
  • Raincoat trousers are a great option to trousers if it’s going to rain all day but make sure they are actually waterproof. We found our ponchos quite useful.
  • At higher altitudes, breathe deeply and consciously and walk very slowly to avoid altitude sickness. Staying hydrated continues to apply everywhere.
  • When taking a break, try not to sit down if possible. Stand/lean somewhere and then continue at a slow pace.
  • Take high-energy, low weight foods- we carried dates, chocolate, dry apricots, ORS. Snacks/tea were available on some parts of this trek.
  • Bathing every day is not recommended at these altitudes/temperatures. Though I couldn’t resist it throughout, for the other days, baby wipes are marvellous to make you feel human again.
  • Water bags are a great alternative to bottles. You didn’t have to stop to have a sip. A lot of folks were putting off taking a sip because they had to follow several steps – take off bag cover, open bag, get the bottle, open it up and do the same to keep it back. This was easy-peasy.
  • I found a walking stick very useful. Anand didn’t. Worth a try, I’d say.
  • Everyone has a different pace they prefer. It’s not a race.
  • Smile at people passing by and help out where you can, but not by putting yourself in harm’s way.
  • A camera gets heavy after a while, and drizzles can deter you from actually using it. Take a call on whether it’s worth it or your phone camera would suffice.
  • Inform folks at home that you would not have mobile connectivity for quite a long time, and reach out to them when you can, to avoid them imagining worst-case scenarios. 🙂
  • A rucksack that also has a front opening is extremely useful to avoid emptying it all out each time you need something. Mine was 40 litres.
  • Good advice with mules/horses is to stay towards the side of the mountain to avoid being pushed by them over the edge of the cliff. They simply do not realise you aren’t as sure-footed as they are, or well, maybe they do.

Coming up next : The purpose of the whole trip – Valley of Flowers and Hemkund Sahib