A Journey into the heaven! – Part 1

“Agar duniya main kahin Jannat hai to woh yahin hain, yahin hai”! One of my colleagues sent this famous saying on Kashmir to me when he got to know I am traveling to Kashmir and after reaching there did I realize what it means!

I and my ever energetic husband were wanting to do a biking trip to Leh-Ladakh from more than two years but were little skeptical since that is not an easy one to do. It requires a strong mindset and good preparation, otherwise, it can rather turn out be an unpleasant tour. We keep going on trips with different travel groups run by young travel enthusiasts and one such group is ‘crazyyatra’. We had been with them to few small trekking trips within Karnataka before and for the first time, they were organizing a trip to Leh-Ladakh. After thinking for some time (since it was their first one), we thought it is always safe to go in a group than going on our own and finally decided to explore this beautiful place with crazyyatra in June 2017 (Note: June-September is the peak season to visit the place). After completing the trip, we realized that going with the group comes with both advantages and disadvantages. I have described my take on the same at the end of this write-up.

So the first thing that happens when you confirm the trip is that you get all excited and start gearing up by reading the blogs, shopping for the trip etc! More than you, probably the people around you (friends and colleagues) are more excited and interested in the trip and believe me, it’s totally normal! 🙂 Such is the aura of the place!

I am going to keep this post limited to how we prepared for the trip with some tips and facts for the people who are planning to do this. I will further be writing more posts narrating the wonderful experience we had visiting the places. But before I do that, let me briefly describe why Leh-Ladakh!

So, why Leh-Ladakh ? If I have to answer in one statement, I can say that it is a journey into the heaven! Nobody has seen the paradise but I guess if there is one for real, it should be like Kashmir! You are going to witness the wonders of the mother nature all through out the trip! Nature is going to leave you dumbstruck with every view that you see during the journey. Below pictures just give a glimpse of what Leh-Ladakh is got to offer!

The places are so breath taking that we sometimes felt are we really still on earth? and that’s no exaggeration!

Now, being all excited is good, but it is also important to be very diligent and well prepared at the same time. I suggest doing good research on the risks that the trip can bring in and be very well prepared for it. So, why do I say this often! Let me explain.

The tour circuit would normally be Leh-Manali or Manali-Leh and some also go up til Srinagar or however long you want to do it :). Now, you can either go on the bike or can hire a local vehicle for the same. Irrespective of the mode of travel, few things are to be noted:                                                                                                                                            First thing, it is going to be totally exhaustive journey because if you are going to do Leh-Manali/vice-versa, you are going to travel for approximately 470 kms in just 3 days.

Next thing to note, the roads are not the smooth ones. Most of the time you are doing an uphill or downhill ride on extremely bad/rugged roads sometimes filled with water or covered in snow/black ice, plus the cold breeze, rain and the mist will become your closest friends throughout the journey!

The last and the most important thing, you are going to be at a higher altitude of about 14,000 ft above sea level in Leh and 17,480 ft at Tanglang La pass (that comes on the way from Leh-Sarchu). And if you plan to go through the Kardungla pass (on the route from Leh-Nubra Valley), then you are going to ride through the world’s highest motorable pass at 18,000 ft. So, what does it mean? For those of you who do not know, higher altitude can cause altitude sickness. The reduced oxygen levels/air pressure can cause Dizziness, nausea, headaches and shortness of breath and of course, the criticality of the condition varies from person to person and various other factors.

So, after knowing all this, is it really worth traveling there with all these concerns? UNDOUBTEDLY YES! The place is so beautiful to make you forget all these. With good preparation and by being diligent, it will all go fine. Even if you face some glitches here and there, after all, at the end of the trip, those are nothing but wonderful and adventurous stories to narrate to your family and friends! 🙂

With this basic Gyan :), I will move to our trip itinerary and talk about the preparations we did for this adventurous journey. We directly flew to Srinagar and Srinagar to Manali was our complete route. We reached Leh from Srinagar in TT and biked from Leh to Manali. Below is our Itinerary:

Day 1 – Srinagar Arrival. Visit Shankaracharya Temple, Mughal Gardens(Nishat Bagh and Shalimar Bagh) & Dal lake
Day 2 – Srinagar – Kargil via Sonmarg
Day 3 – Kargil To Leh Via Lamayuru – Alchi – Magnetic Hill – Gurudwara Pathar Sahib
Day 4 – Leh Local . Visit Thiksey Monastery – Shey Palace – Hall of Fame, Spituk Monastery – Leh Palace – Kali Mata Temple and Shanti Stupa
Day 5 – Leh To Nubra via Khardunla Pass (5600 m)
Day 6 – Nubra To Pangong via Warila Pass
Day 7 – Pangong To Leh via Hemis – 3 Idiot School
Day 8 – Leh To Sarchu via Lachang La (5065 m) and Tanglang La (5360 m)
Day 9 – Sarchu To Jispa via Baralacha La (4800 m)
Day 10 – Jispa To Manali via Rohtang Pass

So, how did we prepare for the trip and how it helped.                                                              First thing, It is always good to be fit when you are planning for such adventurous trips. I and my husband made sure to do regular physical activity for at least 2 months before the tour and that probably helped us. We only felt mild head ache in the first day at Leh and we were just fine after an hour or so. Few others had prolonged head ache, nausea and few even had a bleeding nose. But again, being fit is one part of it, but that’s not the only thing to it. None of us could exactly figure out what really helps/not.

So, the next thing to be prepared is buying and keeping medicines for basic health issues like headache, cold, diarrhea, motion sickness and most importantly altitude sickness (Diamox).  Make sure to keep these tablets handy all the time. Throughout the journey, you are going to use washrooms that may not be very clean, you are going to eat whatever is available (mostly Maggi, Momos and Dal/rice is what you get during travel) and there will be constant weather changes when moving from one place to another. So, it is extremely important to carry the medicines.

Next thing is, the place is going to be very cold and if you are biking, you also have to be prepared for rain and snow falls, so pack your clothes accordingly. Thermals and rain wears are a must. We bought gum boots in Leh for 350 rupees and that proved to be the best investment for the trip since rain/snow fall/water logged roads when combined with the cold weather and cause your feet to freeze. Of course, carry woolen gloves, socks, and jackets to protect yourself from cold weather.

And the most important thing of all, preparing our mind for an upcoming adventurous and exhaustive journey is extremely important because most often, during the hard times, when the body gives up, the mind is what keeps us going. Going in a group has an advantage here. You feel relatively safer and morally up with all the people with you. we experienced the most adventurous day of our lives at Kardungla pass, the world’s highest motorable pass. Place where people can hardly stay for 20 minutes or so, we got stuck for hours and if not for the group being together, it would become extremely scary. I am going to write the entire experience in my upcoming posts.

So with the above-mentioned preparations and with the wonderful group we went along, we had our life’s most adventurous, beautiful and memorable trip to Leh-Ladakh. In my upcoming post, I am going to describe our wonderful experience of making a journey through the heaven on Earth, Kashmir!

Some suggestions from what I experienced and observed during the trip:

  • In my opinion, if you are not a very adventurous kind but still want to explore Ladakh, you can opt for hiring local vehicle, local drivers are pretty good with their roads. Bikers need to be extra careful riding on those roads and biking is definitely more exhaustive and uncomfortable in comparison. And if you are a pillion rider on the ‘Royal Enfield’ (most common bike chosen for the ride), you have the bonus of an extremely uncomfortable seating which your back and bum are never gonna forgive you for 🙂 (I feel for all the pillion riders like me :P). Having said that, biking is a totally different experience altogether, being able to see the 360 degrees view, feeling that cold breeze, riding through the rugged roads could be really interesting for few like us.
  • Whether to go with travel organizer or all on your own? – A personal choice                 Going on a biking trip on your own is definitely more adventurous and slightly risky in my opinion because you have to take care of literally everything, starting from bike’s rental, fuel and repair stuff. Also, the luggage has to be carried along throughout which makes it heavier and lot difficult to balance on the bad roads. If you are going through the organizer, you have all these taken care of. We had a caravan always following the bikers to take care of bike repairs if required and we had also dumped our luggage in the same. But it comes at a cost of not having the complete freedom of stopping anywhere you want to. You have to always stick with the group, even if you feel like stopping at some place to relish the beauty or to click pictures, you may not be able to do so. Also, riding speed could be an issue for few since few people love to ride fast and few are very diligent/slow riders but both are expected to maintain some agreed upon speed range.
  • If you feel uncomfortable at higher altitude, take deep breaths, breathe from the mouth and keep sipping water. Avoid alcohol and caffeine and eat less. These tips helped us. Also smelling the camphor helped few in our group. For emergency, carry lung inhalers/oxygen cylinder if going in the group. Read more about Acute Mountain sickness and prepare well.

I have done my bit by writing this post hoping to help all you guys who are planning for the tour to Leh-Ladakh. In my next post, I am going to narrate our experience over this 10 days long trip. Stay Tuned!! 🙂

 

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Don’t Worry Be HAMPI!!

‘Don’t worry, be Hampi’, an offbeat way of exploring Hampi!

“Every rock in Hampi has a story to tell!” said somebody. I, who loves stories, had Hampi on my travel checklist for a while now. Unlike me, my better half gets easily bored with stories. So, we came up with an idea of visiting Hampi with a travel group which could bring in some fun element to the trip as well and identified ‘Plan the Unplanned‘ group. They had arranged a day and a half’s tour to Hampi with an itinerary of exploring the Hippie side of Hampi on the first day and the temples on the second (half day). Half a day looked less time for me to explore the temples but since the trip was nominally priced and the first day’s activities seemed interesting, we gave it a try.

Disclaimer: This is going to be a long read since just giving the tips to plan the trip without narrating the wonderful experience I had there, would be an injustice made to the place. If you are here only for the tips and quick info on how to plan the trip, jump to my “Summary and Tips” section at the end.

So, we started off to Hampi on Friday night and reached the next morning. First day’s itinerary was to explore the hippie side of Hampi that included Bouldering, waterfall visit, coracle ride, sunset trek and campfire. Basically, there is a small river flowing near the famous Virupaksha temple, the other side of which is known for the Hippie culture. Many tourists from different parts of the world come and stay in this place for months together to enjoy the beauty of nature and the warm weather. I always thought Hampi is known for its rich heritage and that is what I was interested in. But then, surprisingly the first day turned out to be an extremely delightful day. We started off with Bouldering, a unique experience of climbing the small rocks all on our own, without any props, just by using some techniques. It is done wearing good gripping shoes (provided by the organizers there), under the guidance of the professionals, so nothing to worry about. I would recommend everyone to try this, you may feel a little scared to start with but then you sure are going to love the experience. Then came the moped ride which was the real fun part. A group of fifteen people, roaming around for the entire day on the mopeds, singing, screaming and clicking pictures was a lot of fun. We went on for the coracle ride next, the experience is very similar to any other boat ride, you can choose to skip it if you are not keen on boat rides. I personally enjoy boat rides only during the sunset with a cup of tea. Then we went to a waterfall (its name is not so well known; so you can check with the locals there to identify the place) since few of them in our group wanted to do natural water swimming. I did not go for it, hence can’t comment on that much, but just want to mention that this is another good place to visit. Even if you are not for the swimming, the place is still a good one to visit to see the unique rock formation there created by the water currents.  We were supposed to do some trekking to reach the peak of Bala Hanuman hill (as called by the ‘Plan the unplanned’ team) to witness the beautiful sunset but we got late and could only catch it up for a minute or two and still managed to get some good pictures. If you are a photography enthusiast, make sure to reach this place in time for the breathtaking pictures of the sunset and flocking birds. We also had a campfire planned for the night in some random ground near the hippie region and it was a beautiful experience of being one with nature. Each one of these activities brought in their unique fun element into the trip; riding mopeds inside the village with nature all around, seeing so many stars in the sky during the campfire, going out of network for two days, meeting new people and enjoying the awe of nature is something every Bangalorean in a 9-5 job would love to do.

For the second day, we had the option of exploring the heritage of Hampi on our own. We, a group of 7 people went on local autos to explore the rich heritage of the place with the help of the local guides. Autos are available near the Virupaksha temple and charge you somewhat around 900 rupees per day to take you through the main attractions of Hampi (we hired them for 500 rupees for half a day). They will promise you to be your guide too (though they won’t come inside the places, just give you a background and overview of the place and let yourself explore the rest), but can’t trust them on this as they will switch if they find a better offer and give you another autowala who may not know much about the history of the place (happened to us, so talk this out before starting off the ride).

We started off with the Vijaya Vittala temple. This is an architectural masterpiece but now remains as ruins only after being destroyed by the Sulthantaes. It was built by the great Sri Krishnadevaraya (in the 16th century) whose rule is called the golden era in Hampi’s history. We hired a guide here since this has a lot to be explored and with the limited time we had, it made sense not to try doing it on our own. But if you have enough time, I would recommend to buy a book (many people will be selling books outside the temple) and explore it on your own which will be much more fun. The guide charged us rupees 150 for a quick tour and did a great job for the money we paid. The major attractions of the place are a stone chariot and musical pillars. Stone chariot is a replica of the one in Sun temple, Konark and was built as a symbol of victory when Sri Krishnadevaraya won a battle. There are 56 Musical Pillars which produce musical tones when struck with a thumb. It sounds like bells ringing. Most of them are already ruined and thus the tourists are not allowed to try playing them anymore. But it is really astonishing to see how good our ancestors were with the technicalities way back then.

Apart from these two, there are many meaningful carvings throughout the temple. One of them that really impressed me is a bull and an elephant combined into one sculpture depicting how the King, symbolized by the elephant looking down onto the bull, should consistently look after his people for their betterment and people looking up to the king , symbolized by the bull looking up onto the elephant, shows respect for the king.  So thoughtful! Also, there is a pillar depicting different avatars of Lord Vishnu, one depicting the different scenes from Ramayana and much more. So, make sure to explore as many pillars as you can, till you get bored! 🙂

Another place to visit is Mahanavami Dibba, built in memory of King’s conquest of Orissa. You can see many carvings on the walls of this place displaying queen’s hunting and sword fighting styles, which depicts women empowerment in those days. We, women, were always powerful; just that it takes a real man to acknowledge it and looks like Sri Krishnadevaraya was one such man! 🙂 In the close proximity of this place is a big pond called ‘Pushkarani’ from where the water was used for the nearby Ranganatha temple. This is a good place for clicking pictures, a deep pond with beautifully built steps all around. There are a couple of things close by to this like Lotus Mahal, Elephant stable and a museum. Lotus Mahal and Elephant stable have a combined architecture representing Hindus and Muslims cultural aspects, which is why these two monuments were left undamaged. I would say it is very contemplative of the King to have built such monuments to encourage cordial co-existence of the two religions.

Apart from these, we visited some more temples which have the idols of Lord Ganesha (mustard Ganesha, Big Ganesha), Ugra Narasimha and Linga. These are like quick visit places you can cover in 10- 15 minutes each. Finally, autowala dropped us back to Virupaksha temple (from where we had boarded the auto), another beautiful temple. Unlike in other temples, you can get Pooja done here. We got the pooja done here and ended our beautiful journey of exploring the Hampi by having a delicious lunch at Mango Tree restaurant, which is very close by to the Virupaksha temple.

We could cover only major places mentioned above in the limited time we had but there are many more places to explore here like the Krishna temple, Queen’s bath, Jain temple, Hemakunta etc. I would strongly recommend having at least 2 days if you want to explore all the places. If you have enough time, you could also cover Tungabhadra dam which is  3 miles from Hospet. It is 2 miles long bridge which looks magnificent.

All in all, Hampi is a beautiful place to plan for, considering a blend of Hippie culture and rich heritage it holds and I urge everyone to visit the place at least once in a lifetime.

Now, the quick tips part, as promised earlier in this article.

Summary and Tips:

– Weather is too hot. Better to visit during the winter season. Of course, carry sunscreen, hat, sunglasses and water since the weather is harsh (even during winter).

– If you want to explore every bit of Hampi (Hippie + Heritage), you require a minimum of 3 days. Activities to try on the Hippie side (apart from chilling in some good restaurants) are Bouldering, Moped rides, sunrise trek at Hanuman temple, Sunset trek and coracle ride. Make sure to wear comfortable clothing with which you can stretch your legs if going for bouldering.

– You can explore the Heritage part in local autos (to cover main attractions) or all by yourself. Local autowalas charge somewhat around rupees 900 per day.

– Plan to visit magnificent Tungabhadra dam which is 3 miles from Hospet.