Thursday, May 21, 2009

Return from Leh!

Huge mountains, breathtaking scenery , ice cold rivers, deep blue lakes and beautiful women … after staying there for almost a month and a half, we started feeling at home in Ladakh. The steep climbs became easier, and the body had easily acclimatised to the sub zero temperatures and below normal levels of oxygen. Towards the end we began feeling nostalgic without even leaving Leh. Our last few days were spent in a hectic manner composing and finishing the reports for the NGO ending with a presentation about the work done by us.

One day before we left, we made a dash for the Famous Pangong lake, and thankfully as Changla was merciful, we came back the same day.

Ladakh seemed like a place on a different planet. The mountains are immensely huge and the terrain extremely barren. We were craving to see some shade of green after some time. However it is extremely beautiful and they say it blooms in the summer months of June, July and August. As the Zorjila pass connecting Leh to Srinagar was closed even as we left, we came back after coming within kissing distance of Kashmir.

Though the living conditions are tough, people are always cheerful, and never complaining. There is no electricity and even running water in most of Ladakh. The only water source in few villages was the Village handpump. Still they are simple people with no greed for money. In fact few villagers responded to one of our questions saying “Kya karenge utna paisa ka, Hum aise hi khush hain”.

It is a must for everyone to visit Ladakh atleast once, and im quite sure it is more beautiful than the famed Alps of Europe( though I have only seen it in pictures).

We clicked an astounding number of pictures with an average of 1500 per person( Every locale was so beautiful, we wanted to capture it all, but as in Desi’s words “ Hum uski Mahaanta capture nahi kar paaye”) . The total folder size reached 20 GB. It was tough to decide which to put up in this blog, though I selected few which are in the posts below. Writing about Ladakh has severely tested my knowledge, of Superlatives however some of the scenery is indescribable in words..

PS: The pics in the blog are thumbnails, can be expanded with a click.

Ill update the flick r links of Ankit, Satya and Harsh when those lazy blokes manage to upload on net.

Till then signing off ….

Never ending ranges of Karakoram

Kahwa at Khardungla

Alchi Monastery - one of the oldest in Ladakh

(L to R : Satya, Hanish, Ankit, Harsh, Sunil, Kishore)

Due to the useless design of the Delhi Airport by the useless company of L&T, I had to wait for my flight to Hyderabd alone, away from my friends. In the idyllic moments I clicked this:

Mom won't let me play!

Pangong Lake

Pangong is the most famous lake of Ladakh region. It runs to a length of 135 Kilometers! Almost half o f the lake lies in China and the other half remains with us. It is set in a location rivalling the paradise. It is said that if one patiently waits for bright sunshine one can see the entire Vibgyor in the waters of the lake. Since it was partly cloudy, we could only see few shades of Blue. The water was crystal clear and one can see the bottom at the point he stands.

This lake apart from millions of tourists, caught the imagination of Mani Ratnam sir, he shot the ‘Satrangi Re’ song entirely in Ladakh. One can see glipses of the Shey palace in the ruins in the background , however most of the song is shot at the Pangong lake. Btw the MTV roadies where the Karizma is burning in the background of a lake and mountains was also shot here.

As mentioned in the Changla story in the blog, we had failed in an earlier attempt to reach Pangong lake. Hence it had boiled down to the last day before we left from Ladakh, as none of us wanted to miss it at any cost. It was worth the wait and the struggle over Changla.

Apparently the chinese and Indian soldiers near this border are very friendly unlike the other border with Pakistan. They meet on few occasions of the year and exchange gifts and other cultural artefacts. There are also events when Indian soldiers are invited over and vice versa. Since it is J & K, non locals are not allowed to visit the villages on the border.

Tso Moriri & Tsokar Lake

In the span of 40 days, 40 nights we managed to visit every nook and cranny corner of Ladakh, except Zanskar valley, which is called one of the remotest places on earth. It is closed by road for around 7-8 months in a year, having access only in peak summer or peak winter.
How in peak winter?? Well the river is frozen so hard that people drive vehicles over the river!
We also managed to build a social circle in Leh. Almost the entire market knows us. Either they know us so well that they even lend the books form their shop without asking for a penny, or they are terrified of us because of our bargaining down to the penny! We used to play the ‘Student ‘Card everywhere, a certain shopkeeper was in particular scared of Hanish because he managed to bargain heavily for an artefact for which she quoted 150 Rs, he finally bought it for 15 Rs!
We made friends with a guy named ‘Namgial’ ( the most common name in Ladakh). He originally owns a business, but is temporarily driving the vehicles they own. He is a stud of his own accord. His dressing, demeanour and refined taste in music used to make us feel like rustic bumpkins in comparison. We planned to go to Tso Moriri Tsokar with him in a Scorpio with an amazing audio system. The only problem was that he loved his car more than his would be wife … this meant that whenver we came across a rough patch on road , he would inevitably slow down to speed of a caterpillar driving us impatient.
Night in the School at Sumdho:
Namgial had promised us a free stay at a Tibetan school as his cousing sister was the Principal there. Bad news was that since we arrived quite late in the evening, they had given the guest rooms to some angrez family. This meant that we were spending a night in a classroom.
It was the coldest night we spent in Ladakh, with temperature dipping certainly below – 15 or 20. The worst part was that the room was not airtight. The harder we curled in the mattress, the harder we shivered.
It was a school for kids of nomadic Tibetans. Do nomads still exist outside our social textbooks? Yes they do. They keep shifting with their cattle, their only possessions, to wherever they can find grazing grounds for their cattle. We clicked few pics with the kids. If -20 is the temperature in summer months, we can only imagine what the condition is in peak winter. They told us that if we touch any metal part with bare hands… it sticks instantly to it!!!
We decided to send our shaitan kids, in future, to this school for a month to face some realities of life! But only in peak summer if we want to see them alive.

Location of the Tibetan School

Discipline !

Cheers :)

Tso Kar:
Snow capped mountains around, vast grasslands extending till as far as your sight can go .. Wild horses grazing around lazily .. and a beautiful lake in the middle of it. It certainly looks like a hollywood set or like a scene out of Switzerland. The slight disappointment was that major portion of the lake was frozen at the time we went. It clearly wasn’t summer in this part of India, while it was a scorching 44 degrees back home in Hyderabad. Talk about geographical diversity!

Tso kar Lake
Wild white stallion

Tso Moriri Lake:
This was arguably the best thing we saw in Ladakh after the Khardungla. Deep shades of blue all around. The lake seemed to extend til miles ahead with no end in sight. It was like a sea with the ripples made by the strong gushes of wind create a feeling of waves.
It is set in a picturesque location with mountains all around it in varied shades of brown and black. Half the lake was frozen, but it was too vast to be entirely frozen at this time in the year. There a lot of camping sites around the place and as was usual with al our trips; we were the only tourists in the place.

Nubra - Valley of flowers!

Though it is famous as the valley, we could not see as much as a blade of grass over there. This was thanks to the timing of our DOCC project. We can reach Nubra valley after negotiating the Highest Motorable road in the world which passes over the mighty ‘ Khardungla Pass’. The pass is over 18000 feet and is tough to cross. Normally vehicles keep waiting for the weather to clear, which can take from few hours to few days, as it later happened in our case.
Soldiers to Siachen:
We were successful in crossing the pass on our first attempt. At the K Top we met few soldiers who were heading towards the Siachen Glacier. We all felt proud of our army again. They were dressed like Astronauts in their distinctive head gear and long boots. We had a small chat with them and learnt that the base camp of Siachen is at 16000 feet and they have to trek upto 24000 feet to reach the highest camp. The temperature is around - 40 degrees. They told us about a soldier who had removed his goggles for about 20 seconds in a hurry to read a mail from home. He was rendered partially blind for 4 days! We failed to understand the logic behind occupying such extreme terrain. Indian government apparently spends 10 crores per day to maintain the Siachen posts ! ! !
They told us that since it is not an international border, the land belongs to you if you are present there, else tomorrow some one might claim it. We are not willing to part with even an inch of our Indian soil they said. Jai Hind we replied!

Ki Ki so so Ladgyalo!

One more 'I was There' pic

We visited the villages of Pinchimik and Chemshen for our field visits. We also had a dip in the hot water springs at Pinamik which are reported to have some medicinal properties which unfortunately we could not discover.
On the ways we saw an amazing lake in the middle of a crater of a hillock. One has to climb over the hillock to reach the lake. The legend has it that on a full moon night, they can see Tibet , Potala palace and the forbidden capital of Lhasa. Needless to say, the locals throng the place and worship the lake.

In the middle of a mountain...

Udmaroo: This is definitely the most beautiful village we have seen in Ladakh. IT has to be reached after a trek of some 2 kms and crossing the river and again an uphill climb of considerable effort.

Udmaroo village

Paradise lost ... found !

Apricot blossom

Diskit Monastery:
Due to a snow storm on the Khardungla Pass, we were stuck in Diskit for about two days. We spent most of the time at the Dragon restaurant in Diskit as it had a T V and we could catch some IPL action sitting in Ladakh ! We were informed that in the monastery there is an idol of the mahakala. Some 600 years back there was an invasion of the Mongols onto Ladakh and Tibet region. The Locals won the war, and the Ladakhi king cut the head and right hand of the Mongol chieftain and placed in the hands of Mahakala. They can be seen in the pic below.

Diskit Monastery

Mahakala - The terrible god !

Cricket at 16000 feet:
Finally one day we decided to return to Leh at any cost. We proceeded towards Khardungla pass. We were stopped at the army checkpost at South Pullu. We waited long getting bored. Then we noticed the army people gathering for cricket. On requesting to join, we were told that it was part of their acclimatisation routine before they proceeded to Siachen. However they allowed us to join them. It was some experience playing cricket at 16000 feet and around -5 degrees at the least.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

DOCC concept

This blog will be totally incomplete without the mention of the reason why we visited Ladakh in first place. Every year the entire batch of SPJIMR, Mumbai goes on a social project for 6 weeks. We work with NGO s all over the country providing them with the key managerial inputs. It is the vision of our honorable dean that such thing would amount to an year of service in Social sector considering the man hours. This has a potential to cause a major difference.

Being a little enthusiastic, we decided to do our projects with LEDeG ( Ladakh Ecological Development Group). We were a group of six members :
  • Sunil V N
  • Ankit Varshneya
  • Harsh Mehta
  • Hanish Shah
  • Satyendra Singh and
  • I

We split into groups of two each. Me and Sunil worked together. The topics of our project were:

1. Creation of a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for Pre-feasibility, Detailed Project Report, Installation, Testing and Commissioning, Maintenance and Sustenance of Hyd-ram Technology in rural Ladakh.

2. Integration of 200 Women Self Help Groups in Ladakh region into a co-operative and proposal for Product development, Distribution and Marketing of Handicraft products of these SHGs.

With the entire team of LEDeG on day of farewell

( L to R : Me, Sunil, Pranai Thapa,Ankit, Hanish)