Gone is the time when Ladakh was a hidden land travelled by just adventure junkies who got high on mountain fog. Tourism in Ladakh is at an all-time high and it is on every bucket list. Now, while mostly all the tourism is attracted to usual sites like Pangong Tso, Magnetic Hill, Khardungla (which are all jaw dropping beautiful) there is a part of Ladakh now many people know of. Apart that lies uncovered, tucked safely between the diaries of explorers and wanderers. Villages that are sparsely populated and lakes that are visual marvels, all hidden to the naked eye but as beautiful as can be.
Don’t just visit Ladakh, feel Ladakh through these five places:
View from Gompa in Tur-Tuk
After being disappointed with the overcrowded Hunder and people riding double humped camels, I thought there has to be more than this beautiful valley of Nubra. I hit a conversation with a localite and asked him more about the valley and the hidden, beaten, places I could go and visit. The first place he suggested? Tur-Tuk. He said the little village would leave me gawking at its beauty and how..
I hitched a hike to reach the tiny village which lays on the banks of river Shyok and after just an hour, I could feel the air getting thinner and harsher. Once occupied by Pakistan, Tur-Tuk was opened for general public in 2010 and hence, not many people have walked upon its sand. The atmosphere of the village is quite sensitive as just 10km away lies the LOC. What more? This village is the gateway for the Siachen Glacier, the coldest battlefield in the world.
With children in Tur-tuk
As you enter the periphery of the village, time seems to stand still and it all seems like a monotone documentary. Ash-grey sand and mountains, with the contrast of the Shyok river in the background. The remoteness of the place had a very firm grip on my heart and made me stay for two nights engrossed poetry by the day and stars by the night.
Are you lured enough to visit? I hope your answer is a yes and once you do, the village will make you want to linger around for a while longer and then, a bit longer. After all, don’t we all want to find the wonderland?
Tso Moriri Lake in Summers
One fine morning, while having breakfast at rendezvous café in Leh, I hit a conversation with a solo traveller from Bangalore and he shared his plans of going to Tsomoriri. Over the next few hours and a lot of friendly chat, he asked me if I could accompany him. My heart danced its best moves as I agreed.
The lake is around 250 km away from Leh which rounds up to a long journey and you might not consider it worthy enough to take up all that time and space in your tightly scheduled itinerary, trust me, for once, and go visit this scenic marvel. We left early in the morning on his rented enflield and made our way to Tsomoriri. After crossing high passes and purple mountains we suddenly hit a vast flatland and it was hard to believe that we were at such a high altitude. A few more kilometers and we were at the fabled lake.
This water body touches and moves you in ways only nature can. Tsomoriri is the largest high altitude lake in India and is situated at a towering height of 15,075 ft; yes, higher than Pangong Tso. To be frank, I would ditch Pangong for Tsomoriri any day and I would wholeheartedly suggest you do the same. While it may not be featured in numerous bollywood movies, and favorite lists, this lake will leave you gapping at its beauty. If your luck and the wind is at your side, the lake will act as a natural mirror and reflect its surroundings; if that happens my friend, you will dream about this lake for the next couple of days.
I have personally visited the lake during both summer and winter season so its fair to say that I have been in it and on it. While the lake is an emerald green during the summers, it freezes during the winters (isn’t that obvious?) and the ice is thick enough for you to walk, slide and glide over it.
Just visit this lake and decide for yourself. In its isolation, you might find your soul.
Ladakh in itself is a remote region and while the tourism may be on the boom, it is mostly magnified towards Leh, Pangong Tso, Magnetic hill and other such attractions. What people miss out on are the tiny scattered villages of Ladakh where the true beauty hides. One such little hamlet is Hanle and it has a specialty of its own. 255 kilometers away from Leh, this village situated at 14,764ft will surely leave your soul a lot happier than it was before it came here. The village with its alluring beauty resides 1000 people in almost 300 houses and though it does not have a lot of things to do, I couldn’t help but stay for 3 nights, finding my inner calm.
Now, Hanley is a place with low ambient temperature, low concentration of atmospheric aerosols, low humidity, low atmospheric water vapor and absolutely no pollution. In a nutshell, the sky is extremely clear. You know what that accounts for? A sky so brightly lit with billions of stars, you won’t imagine your eyes. You may have seen skies adorning a sheet of starts multiple times, but take my word for it, being a passionate star gazer that I am, that was the most beautiful crystal sky I had ever seen.
This is also the reason Hanley has the worlds second highest optical telescope in the world. Would you believe me now? I hope you do.
Hanley rarely makes it to itineraries, at times because of time crunch and the rest of the times due to lack of knowledge. I did my part here, I hope you do yours.
4. ZANSKAR VALLEY
Once upon a time, in a land far far away,
A wanderer found himself, turning his nights into days.
A land which was almost impenetrable, it looked like a fortress,
Those mountains shaped his soul, which was once formless.
The valley that lay buried in snow for the better half of the year,
The way it unfold after every turn,
As if exposing a secret bare.
The wanderer drove and rode and walked to reach,
And now, he has a journey he has to preach.
Chadar Trek, Zanskar Valley
After exploring Kargil to my heart’s content I wanted to do something not many people did. I wanted to get lost in the middle of nowhere and after sharing my fantasies with a localite, I learned that the Zanskar valley is a one-stop shop for everything I was asking for. The next morning, I woke up early, put out my thumb and began searching for a ride that would take me to Padum (headquarter of the Zanskar valley) which was 250 km away and at an altitude of 12,040 ft. A valley which just has one road connecting it to the entire world; A valley that is nestled so deep within the Himalayan foothills that to have travelled it is more like finding a hidden treasure; a valley even locals don’t dare to visit alone; that valley was calling me and I had to embark.
An oil truck driver picked me up, and I was off to experience the un-experienced. With every hour that passed, we were heading towards oblivion. Just naked brown mountains, and the blue skies, if the wind wasn’t blowing, the only thing moving in the valley would have been us. The journey after Rangdum was and will always be a deeply soul touching experience as after Rangdum, Marmots walking about was the only visible sign of life. We were way past the ‘middle of nowhere’ stage and my heart was getting heavy.
We reached Padum early in the morning, delivered the oil and were on our way back when I realized what remote actually means. It is not just in the middle of nowhere, it is way beyond that. It is a place where you find yourself and loose yourself in the same second.
Though I won’t suggest you to travel there alone, do give this valley a chance to kick you in your heart.
5. ARYAN VALLEY
I heard about this valley from a fellow traveller and he urged me to go pay a visit. A little detour from the Leh- Kargil highway and you find yourself in the valley. As a lot of people access the highway on a daily bases, chances of getting a ride proved to be pretty easy. After I was dropped off, I trekked for good 2 hours to reach the village of Dah.
From the many villages that lay in the laps of the Aryan valley, Da and Hanu are the only villages that are open for general public and I was elated to be one of the few people who come to this land in search of a totally unique culture. The name Aryan valley comes from the people who reside there. With a population of around 4000 people and being one of the smallest ethnic group, the Aryan inhabitants strive to keep their culture distinct and are also called the last Aryans. They have their own language, their own gods and are completely foreign to a non-Aryan gene pool and the outside world.
Do take out a few hours and visit the valley to witness this unique culture; and while you are there, do not miss out on the fresh and juicy apricots hanging from almost all the trees.
Are you a lover of offbeat places and dirt tracks? Have you been to the places mentioned above? If yes, do share your experiences below.