J&K complete logs here.
Up early with the excitement of reaching Leh, we moved ahead and soon after Kargil town, the landscape that was dominantly green gave way to shades of brown before we were completely engulfed with views of browns all around us. As we had a long journey to accomplish, the breaks were fewer and the travel fast paced with the drive mesmerizing on the windy roads that went uphill and downhill curving through those huge gigantic brown mountains.
The vistas and the views were so pleasing that you would feel like stopping at every turn to capture the beauty. Another point to note is that we were steadily gaining altitude and the town of Leh is located at an altitude of 13000ft. Driving to Leh helps one acclimatize as you just don’t land up at 13000ft but do it slowly and steadily allowing your body to cope with the change.
On the way, we stopped at Mulbek where the statue of Maitreya (supposedly the 5th incarnation of Buddha) is located right off the highway greeting and blessing travelers and tourists alike. This is the-to-be next incarnation of Buddha, whenever that happens. It’s a huge carving on the giant rock and is a good stop to have a look and for a break.
From the time you enter the Ladakh region in Kashmir, you start seeing the white colored ‘domes’ or ‘stupas’ or ‘chortens’ spread across till you exit the region even in remotest of places. I couldn’t figure out what they are or what they are called actually but they hold
some importance to the Buddhists.
We had very few stops for birding but still managed to see Hill Pigeons, Yellow-billed Choughs, Red-billed Choughs, Tibetan Snowfinch, Yellow-billed Magpie’s, Chukar Pheasants all along the way. Next we stopped at Moonland, Lamayuru to catch a glimpse of the moonlike crater landscapes carved into the Himalayas. It’s a visual treat owing to the flat lands that one would have seen all along. The moon shape like domes or craters only seen here are its claim to fame. To reach Lamayuru, one has to pass through ‘Fotu-la’ (la means pass in Ladakhi), the highest pass on the Srinagar Leh highway. The roads are pretty good and a pleasure to drive.
With time racing against us, after a brief stop at Lamayuru and to catch a glimpse of couple of Chukar partridge’s calling, we moved ahead towards Leh. Next stop on the list was at the Magnetic hill that is a small strip on the highway where it is said vehicles are pulled upwards automatically. White-boxes are clearly marked by the BRO for vehicles to stop and experience it. The extract from Wikipedia page states this demystifying the myth surrounding it – “The so called 'Magnetic Hill Effect' observed, is not gravity-defying as claimed but is in fact due to gravity coupled with minor influences from its geographical position and altitude.” We did experience the phenomenon and it’s worth the try if you are passing by.
Finally, at around 6pm after a long drive since morning, we reached Leh and we chose to visit the lake just at the entry of the town in search of some birds. Yes, we the birders are insane! Gadwalls, Garganeys, Coots, Mountain Chiffchaff, Citrine Wagtails welcomed us to Leh and soon after we called it a day and proceeded towards the town in search of Hotel Dorjee.
After searching for a while, we located the Dorjee guesthouse located in a small alley perpendicular to the main road. Initially, the guesthouse refused to acknowledge the booking and told he had no idea about the booking nor was he informed from the travel portal. Tiredness of the day long journey turned into anger and frustration; but after a small discussion he agreed to let out a room for us with additional beds for us to stay for the next couple of days (we booked through Agoda.com and faced no response when my friend contacted them).
Here, more than the issue what I would stress is that we need to be careful about where we do the bookings from and the validity of the sources (especially third party booking portals). Luckily, the accommodation was good and comfortable and we had no issues thereafter. The living room was a nice place to sit and have a chat or read a book. But the guesthouse doesn’t have parking space and it’s better to contact them directly for your booking. We chose to rest for the next complete day just roaming around Leh sightseeing (Thikse monastery) and relaxing as we had hectic days ahead. We also tried out the local cuisines like thukpa, momos, khambir, etc and also got ourselves t-shirts embroidered with the stitch of the critically endangered Black-necked Crane bird image hoping to wear it when we would go in search of it.
...to be continued!