Ladakh: Conquering Khardungla at the age of 78

Ladakh: Conquering Khardungla at the age of 78

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Ladakh: Conquering Khardungla at the age of 78

My journey with Phurr , Feb 11, 2021

I've been to Ladakh from 3rd to10th of September 2019 with my favourite Buddy Gaurav Kumar of Phurr Travel- Group Tours for 45+ age/Senior Citizen. This was my second tour with Phurr. The first one was the Meghalaya tour. An experience par excellent. This tour had taught us how to bond with absolute strangers. This was possible only because of one Gentleman named Gaurav Kumar of Phurr Travel. A man of high quality decency, a purest of heart and one mission......travel, travel, Travel and take people of different caste, creed and mentality and show them places, cultures and styles of different people of Different States.

This trip to Leh- Ladakh was an experience of a life time. The landing of the Vistara Aircraft at Leh was out of the Mundane landings. The Mountains, silently watching the Big bird in flight and preparing to land in the land of their own. Once we landed and walked out of the cocooned space, did we realise that breathing was a bit of a problem. We were told to halt for a while, breathe in the Air slow and steady and then take steps at a slow pace. We got the rhythm and driven out to our place of stay.

The Hotel at Leh, stood majestically with its head high, a true Ladakhi style architecture in full view. The Lobby was spacious, the manager and staff extremely courteous as we were allocated living space of high quality, very spacious, a small balcony which held a couple of chairs and table and a flowery view of the neat garden space. 

Instructions followed ....."rest for the day, acclimatise oneself, No alcoholic drinks for the next 3 days and take a 250 mg pill of Diamox to take care of High Altitude Sickness”. Like a bunch of small children obeying their Mother, we followed our Travel buddy’s Instructions. These helped us. Most of us stopped having Diamox From the next day. The day we arrived, we rested the whole morning and treated to a sumptuous well cooked lunch spread. Rested again and did have an excellent dinner too. I was taken aback, when our Buddy, Gaurav planning the meals for us in consultation with the Manager and the Chef. He took the views of the Group in every matter, from the minutest to the larger ones. He would patiently listen to each of us, and explain in detail as to why certain decisions made by him were truly for our own benefits. Wise decisions at the end of it all. The sudden changes in climate did affect some. Not that they were serious in nature, yet he attended to each as a Para Medic would do to their utmost satisfaction.

The second day. I.e. the 4th of September, 2019. He took us on a local sight seeing trip of a few Monasteries in and around Leh. He paid serious attention to the kind of lunch served and ensured that it was at the best eatery in the precinct. The trip was once again planned as a rehearsal for the harsher trips ahead. On our way back, we stopped at the "Hall of Fame", a Military Museum which exhibited many things related to the KARGIL war. A tribute to all of those who were the KARGIL WAR HEROES. Back at the hotel, a brief period of rest and at 1830 the Innova’s arrived and we were taken to the Hall of Fame where we were in for a Light n Sound Show depicting a live performance of the KARGIL encounter. It began with the Beating of Retreat. Un-Hoisting of the National Flag.A speech by an Officer on the happenings at KARGIL. Once his part was over flashes of different colours of LED display began. While a detailed commentary on the beginning of the KARGIL episode was on .....A live display of Actions that took place in recapturing the areas under PAKISTANI occupation was being depicted to perfection by the Army Personnel. Gun Fire, Bursting of Grenades, Rocket Firing by our Air Force Fighters in Different hues from various locations erupted. In short we were mesmerised by the entire act. Everyone had goosebumps. All this action came to an end to a thunderous ovation and everyone in the stadium were standing and clapping even well after the display was over. It instilled an unshaken confidence in our Armed Forces.

IT GAVE A MESSAGE......."HUM HAINA”. 3rd Day was also leisurely paced to help us acclimatise further.

On the 4th day i.e. the 6th September 2019, the real exploration of Ladakh commenced. The previous days were all rehearsals preparing us for "Ladakh - Ek Khoj”. We were informed of an early breakfast and departure to the NUBRA VALLEY. Breakfast consisted of the Standard Bread/Butter/am n eggs of one's choice. Aloo Parathas, Sabzi n Pickle, two types of juices, corn Flakes, Tea n Coffee. Sumptuous as it was...we left the Hotel in our appointed Innovas. Mind you it was never a Tempo Traveller......always INNOVAS 4 + 1. The drivers skilful, competent and courteous. Always ready to help. We left the Hotel heading the NUBRA VALLEY way in a sort of convoy. The NH 1, laid and maintained by BRO, Border Roads Organisation, was smooth.. As silk. There were a few bad patches, due to frequent falling off rocks and Land and snow slides. Overall, well maintained at those steep terrains. At some spots, I said loudly "do we need a PWD" at all? 

Now, the previous evening, Gaurav had a serious problem at hand. The road, to NUBRA Valley was to be shut to accommodate a Marathon run. This put Gaurav in a spot. No previous announcements on the shifting of dates was pronounced by the Administration. The evening before, Gaurav had this problem weighing heavy on his mind. Being, Gaurav, he did not lose heart. He met people of merit. Met the taxi Union bosses. Found an alternate route, a bit rugged, approximately 40 odd Kilometres more. There is that famous saying… "When the going gets tough. The tough gets going ". Gaurav falls in that category. We left for the destination. The route had amazing sights of Mountainous. Mountains of various shapes and shades. We stopped at picturesque spots with the Indus River flowing in full, greyish in colour and at a point Indus merged with another and the place was aptly called "Sangam". Stopped at a wayside eatery for a quick lunch. Proceeded to NUBRA Valley. NUBRA Valley had a channelled icy water canal. The chill water cooled our heels and refreshed our faces. A distance away, the two-humped camels were being getting readied for Camel Rides. Cute animals, friendly and unusually clean without any untoward smell. Many of us took a ride in groups of five each. It was like taking a large boat ride in choppy waters. The going got smoother after a while when we got accustomed to the Rythm. There were dune buggies for use. No one ventured for this adventure. The Steep fees, a thousand per ride put us off. We all sat on the banks of the channelled cool waters for a long time, cooling our Heels, playing in the waters, photography was abundant. As the Sun was setting, we called it a day etching those wonderful moments in our minds.

We walked towards our Innova’s to proceed further towards our night halt. The happenings of the day deeply etched in our minds, the Innova’s were taking us towards another surprise which was in store for us. They took us along unfamiliar stretches winding through many a Hotels, homestays which did keep us wondering now which was going to be ours. The vehicles reached a wide gate, where it had, in bold letters Pronounced name of your stay. The cars entered the gates one after another and came to a halt at a spacious parking place. A group of youngsters, employees of the said property, came running towards our vehicles. The baggage was taken out and carried to a central Place. Soon, Gaurav led us through greenery along a concrete path and what we saw made us even more curious. Rows of white Swiss tents on raised cemented platforms. There were flowers of different hues in abundance. In between were patches of vegetables grown organically. Apple and peach trees were laden with fruits. A sight never to go away from our minds. The tents had numbers. Everyone was allotted a tent and were asked to Identify their bags which were soon carried and placed in the respective tents. In a central place was the kitchen and the Mess. On entering the tent, the first layer, there were two chairs and a small table placed neatly ....the second inner was secured tightly with a large Zip. Opened the Zip, the flap set aside, stepped inside a carpeted area with a large king-size bed in the centre made up neatly and lots of cushions propped up. Two bedside tables with night lamps. Then the more than spacious washroom. Satisfied to the core, tea was announced to be had in the Mess. All of us assembled in the Mess for tea. After tea we walked the area. No restrictions on plucking fruits. Plucking of flowers not permitted. The property belonged to a Ladakhi family. Sort of a Farm House. The extra space was filled with neat rows of Tents. An experience of a lifetime. The food was delicious. Evening, we sat around a Camp Fire, singing, clapping, dancing. Antakshri was the favourite. No restrictions on consumption of liquor. A great place, a great time and went to bed and sleep.....peaceful nidhra.

A joyous and wonderful experience was coming to an end at NUBRA. AFTER a grand breakfast, we left NUBRA with lots of JULLAYs ( greetings). On the way, we met of school going children who kept on saying JULLAY and waving at us. Chubby rosy-cheeked kids, in colourful uniforms.....a sight not to be easily erased from our minds. We left NUBRA Valley at 0830 AM heading towards our Base Hotel. The Base which treated as its own and we considered as our second home. On our way, we took in many a remarkable worthy sites, stopped to click photographs...tea breaks......fill our eyes with the glory of Ladakh. The bonding with the group was getting stronger. Interactions many and worthwhile. As usual, Gaurav had already decided on the venue of our lunch. He decided on our Hotel and was trying to pass on the message. The mobile connectivity being poor, everyone had problems. Only BSNL post paid connections was the only alternative. Gaurav was seen using the Cell Phones of the drivers on emergent situations. We too were asked to do the same in an emergency. There were T.V. sets in every room. No one seemed to care much about this facility.

 

While NUBRA was still lingering in all our Minds, our Innovas took us through breathtaking views through the winding roads through Mountains and Valleys. The next stopover was our Leh hotel for Lunch and rest. All along the route, we did stop for tea and photo Sessions. We reached the hotel well after lunchtime. The buffet lunch was ready and we all had belly full. We sat in the lobby for a while and waited for the next course of Instructions. And it came soon enough, rest and be ready by 8.00 P.M and assemble in the courtyard. We did so and sat in comfortable chairs, with the Hotel and its surroundings amply illuminated. At 8,30 PM, a group of local artists dressed in occasion needed finery presented traditional dance and other Art forms. A group of three sat in a Corner playing musical Instruments supporting the troupe. At brief intervals for change over, they played patriotic tunes and entertained us. A 9.30 PM the programmed came to an end. All the while we were served with hot Tea n snacks. The evening was turning cold. At the end of the programme, most in the group got up and joined the troupe in a flurry of filmy style dancing. A Climax to our visit to the NUBRA Valley. We proceeded to the Mess for a late dinner. The next orders were be ready for another adventure tour. To leave by 1000 AM.

My visit to this destination was a dream come true. An experience of A life time. It took me, my wife and the entire group on our toes. Breathing in, breathing out at that great heights. The tour took us to Changla Pass at a height of 17688 ft and Khardungla Pass the World's height peak at 18300 ft. It was an achievement of great. Importance to everyone in our group. We all left short of thumping our Chests ......"kreeegha " Tarzan style.

 

The moment we got out of our vehicles, the chill breeze caught us a bit unawares. Took a while to regain our Rookhi, rookhie swas. We were asked to get it into our vehicles as soon as possible because inclement weather can hit the region any time. We left and were on our way towards Pangong the bluish lake. 36% on the Indian Side and 64% on the Chinese side. To more be more specific.....this was the climax scene shot for the Movie 3 Idiots of the Aamir Khan film. Although, the site was impeccable, the stay for the night was neither good or comfortable. One had no other choice, but to accept what was the best of the all available options. It was getting very cold, the wind was a bit harsh on all of us. The tent flaps was indeed Flapping away to glory. In spite of all this, we all met in the mess had a few drinks, did play Tombola and had our dinner and rush towards our tents......shivering all the way. Now, I have something very interesting to share with everyone who are keen followers of my writings. When we left Changla Pass, a lady had a severe breathing condition. Breathing, in these areas when measured should be above 70 points. Less than this is, to my knowledge is vulnerable. Our Buddy, the Inevitable Gaurav Kumar is a Man of Action to handle Every situation. He was carrying a couple of cylinders of Oxygen in 10 kg cylinders. The Lady in question was administered oxygen. We reached Pangong.....Bang On.

At Pangong, the lady who was under Oxygen care needed more Oxygen around midnight, as the Cylinder was getting emptied. The weather was absolutely cold and the wind was blowing making the tent flaps Flapping away to glory. A sort of freezing Night. Gaurav had knowingly taken up a tent next to the Lady who was on Oxygen. At midnight he runs in with a fresh oxygen cylinder and replaces the one that is getting emptied. After a while the Lady becomes stable. Now all this was happening while the rest of us were blissfully asleep. Before going to bed, it was decided that the Lady her husband Gaurav and me will leave first thing in the morning for seeking medical aid for the Lady. After a cup of tea we left in one of the Innovas. Gaurav left instructions for the rest to leave after breakfast and head straight to our hotel at Leh and have their lunch there. We stopped at the first Army Medical Post. The Medical Assistant on duty, attended to the Lady professionally. While she was under Oxygen mask, the Medical Assistant was courteous he arranged tea for us. Knowing that we had not eaten anything in the morning, he arranged for some biscuits with our Tea.

After an hour or so, when the Lady was stable we thanked him and were about to leave when he offered to refill our empty oxygen cylinders. Due to a mismatch of the Nozzles, this could not be done he advised us to stop at a Medical Post on an hours drive and to consult the Medical Officer on duty. We did so and the Army Medical Officer, a Captain by rank took the lady under his care, put her under Oxygen and attended to her with lots of care. He queried if we had anything to eat since morning, to which Gaurav replied that we shall stop at an eatery on our way. The Captain, admonished him in a friendly manner and said, No. I am arranging some food for you in the Officers MESS. You will have your meals and leave. He offered to fill oxygen into our Oxygen Cylinders, but, again due to mismatch of Nozzles, this was not To be. He then ordered his staff to loan us a cylinder and asked us to leave the Cylinder at the Next Medical Post at a 2 hour drive. We thanked him profusely, did as ordered. Knowing that the lady was the wife of a Retd. Colonel and that I was from the IAF we saluted and smartly turned around and left. In the Mess, we were treated well. We had the best ever food ....Delicious Parathas and brinjal aloo Sabzi. We loved the food. Thanked the Mess guys and left with our belly full.

When we reached the Hotel, the rest of the group had arrived and after lunch were resting. We too went In to our rooms had a good rest. In evening, everyone of us gathered in the garden area. Each of us got our liquor bottles....there was Chivas Regal, and other brands. Gaurav brought in some Wine. Men in a group and ladies at arms distance. The. Guest of honour in the men's table was Mr. TASHI, the owner of the Hotel and Mrs. TASHI at the Women's table. An evening to remember. We all had fun and Drinks. I asked the Colonel to do the honours to say a few words on the overall experience. He gave Ten out of Ten for Phurr Travel- Group Tours for 45+ age/Senior Citizen and Gaurav Kumar, and praised. The way the tour was conducted and the very personal touch of Gaurav Kumar at everything he did. We had a late dinner and bid goodbye to each other in our own personal ways. An embrace, a handshake, a hug .....it did all amount to a wonderful experience, togetherness, camaraderie.

EVERYONE had a word of appreciation for Gaurav and Phurr Travel- Group Tours for 45+ age/Senior Citizen while expressing gratitude. I cannot conclude, without praising the Army Personnel in such Altitudes, in freezing conditions guarding our borders, helping, Everyone at times of need. They do not care for Caste, Creed or Religion. THEIR ONLY MOTTO IS TO SERVE , DEFEND AND HELP SOCIETY AT TIMES OF DISTRESS. A GRAND SALUTE TO THEM! Jai Hind!

- Jayakumar Vasudev (Ex- IAF, Kerala)

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