Kargil to Leh (A Different Route)

Important Notice: While on the trip out of goodwill I had shared my pics with some of fellow travelers. It might well be possible that you might see my pictures that are shown here, posted somewhere else on the web too. It was not very wise of me to share my pics without proper attribution (watermarks) done, but if you do see such pictures please report it to me.

Day 6, 9th July: Kargil to Leh (A different route)

So a new day a new destination and I am loving it. Got up early packed up things, spoke to the guest house owner so that I can pay him and start my journey. I casually asked him whether the roads till Leh are good or bad. He said there are construction works going on the route before Lamayuru. New road was being laid and they were using explosives to clear out the way which meant if I reach the place at a wrong time I could get stuck for hours there.
The guest house owner suggested me to take the route from Batalik. He told the road through that place is really good and only one high pass to cross plus he strongly suggested me to visit Batalik telling me that the Batalik has a different culture and visiting there I would feel good. I took his advice, got directions of the route.

Looking back at the trip I had until now, things not going as planned (stayed in Udhampur instead of Patnitop, couldn't stay in Srinagar, etc), I had made up my mind that I would rather go with the flow and care little for the route that I had planned. The trip that I had planned was planned keeping in mind that my brother will be on his first long trip in the mountains and it shouldn't be a tough one for him. Now that he couldn't join I thought why not be a little more adventurous and take an impromptu route plan. And from then on I sure did an impromptu trip :D, details will come in due time.
I wanted to get my bike washed before starting but I came to know that the garages open only after 9.30-10.00am hence I started just like that. One thing I noticed that there are a lot of guys from other states (specially UP and Bihar) working there. The garage where I got my bike's fork tightened was from UP and out of curiosity I just asked him how come he has come to work so far away from his home. But he didn't answer my question and just smiled. I also left it there and started my journey. Filled up petrol and took the left on the diversion after the petrol bunk that said Lamayuru to the right and Akchamal/Batalik to the left. It isn't a proper sign board telling the directions and one might have to keep a look out for it to spot it.
After climbing a little bit I looked back towards the kargil city and it was a fabulous view:

After taking the detour I looked back in my view mirror and the view was just awesome. Stopped right there and captured it :D

"Chhod aaye hum wo galiyan"

Soon I came up to this beautiful house and a superb view. 
The Kind of house one would love to own

I was passing through the village named "Akchamal" and I started hearing some noise out of my rear tire. I thought it is just dirt kicking out of the tire and continued. After around one kilometer I thought of taking a drinks break. I got down from my bike and to my horror I noticed my rucksack which I kept on top of my rear has almost fallen off and almost getting dragged along the road :(
I immediately checked if anything had fallen off and fortunately everything was intact. I removed all the bags from the bike and started putting them back again. I was tightening the bungee chords around the bags and suddenly there was a bunch of school going kids surrounded me looking at my things anxiously.
One kid was so enthusiastic that he wore my riding gloves and put on the helmet right away. 
They were very inquisitive asking me where am I coming from and where would I be going next etc.
I was happy answering their questions, they all agreed me to take their pictures but only on condition. And the condition was that I would send them their pictures when I reach back home. They even gave me their village address so that I can send it to them. Here are the pictures that I took. I still have to send it to the kids' addresses, don't know if it will reach them or not but still I will send it soon keeping my fingers crossed :)

As I continued from there on I started climbing up up and up and generally that means one is crossing another high pass. And indeed it was a pass named Homboting La having an altitude of  13,202 ft above MSL. This pass had pretty decent roads despite being high. Probably because there was not much commercial traffic in this part of the Kashmir.
Nicely laid roads on Hamboting La, no pot holes, etc

I reached the top and had a drinks break. It was very sunny and hence felt thirsty frequently. Not many people were around except for some army soldiers trying to search for mobile signals so that they can make calls.
Took pictures and continued ahead

Superb vistas from the top. Tried my best to capture it.

Came down the pass and continued towards Batalik. En-route I passed a lot of small villages stopping almost every place to take a picture or two. I guess the village name was "Silmo"

I was stopped by a army soldier passing through the check post asking regular questions like where am I going and where am I coming from. This was not the usual tourist route as it is a high security area. Apparently the LOC (Line Of Control) was only 10 kms away from the village and hence army guys are extra cautious. I spoke to the guy for some time. He asked me why am I roaming in such a place solo. I just said I wanted to experience a different route than usual and also the village "Batalik" is place of historic importance for India hence wanted to visit the place especially when coming to Kargil. 
Usually people will visit Kargil and straight away head towards Leh taking the usual route through Lamayuru, Nimmu, etc.
He also told me that in winter season it is very difficult to stay in that place as temperatures go negative and there would be 4-5 feet of ice/snow. He offered me tea/coffee but I chose to continue towards Batalik. 
I took so many breaks on the way that it was 12.30pm reaching Batalik which was only 58kms from Kargil. I reached the check post of Batalik and yet again I was stopped by an army guy. 
I stopped the bike and started talking to him. He asked me the usual questions and then told me about the war that happened with our neighboring country in the year 1999. How the peaks behind the village were captured by the enemy and they used to bombard the villages Batalik and the next village "Darchik". He pointed out to a specific peak and told that, that was the peak they had won back from the enemy. I asked if I can take a picture of it and he said go ahead.

Soon I was joined by couple of other army guys and a local police person. They also told a lot of stories from the war as how they used to see missiles flying away in the air through those peaks and all they used to hear was explosions everywhere. Both the villages were destroyed. 
They told that before winters the soldiers will start taking the essential things like food, warm clothes, etc, to the bunkers situated on the peaks using horses, donkeys and they won't come down till the winter season is over. And one can imagine how cold it will be at the peaks.
Hearing all these made me realize once more that there is no glory in wars and nobody wins a war even after achieving victory.
There was such overwhelming feeling hearing the stories, talking to the very people who guard our borders going through such hardships and yet they were so friendly and polite.

They asked me which I am coming from. I told them that I stay in Bangalore. Out of the guys two were from a place near Bangalore only and they asked if I knew the local language of Bangalore i.e. Kannada. I said no and to that they were making fun of me that being in a place for such a long I didn't pick up the local language, etc...
I asked them if I can take their pictures, they agreed.
 The mountain ranges...
 That these brave soldier guard...
So that we civilians can live peacefully

The guys asked me if I had lunch and if not I can have it in the village. But they warned me not to go too much further into the village as it is very close to the LOC border and higher officials won't like a civilian from outside roaming there. I took their advice and went in the village till the point I was allowed to.
I stopped in front of a tea stall and was welcomed inside by the guys inside. I asked if I can have lunch and all they had was the usual maggi noodles. I asked them to prepare it. Meanwhile again talking to the locals about their day to day jobs in the place.
One thing I noticed in kargil was the same and that was the fact that there were a lot of people working there coming from very far off places for e.g. UP, Bihar, etc. I again asked the same question that why do they come so far from their places and work. This time I did get an answer from the guys and that was the fact they get paid better working there in that remote village than other places. And they could save more money and send it to their families.
Had lunch while talking to the guys and they made me promise that I would come back next year or so and meet them again. It was so nice interacting with them.
One thing I realized which I might have expressed earlier too is that when I am touring solo I tend to interact more with the places that I am visiting. I talk to locals, mingle with them, get to know them better. These things I won't do if I am touring with a group like I did my previous trip in 2008. May be because I don't have someone with whom I can share the experience and instead I approach the locals to talk to and may be share a laugh with them.
There are pros and cons in touring solo and this thing sure came out as an advantage.

I bought some chocolates so that I can give it to the kids that I meet on the way. I came back to the same place where I met the army guys and asked them how was the road till leh and they told it is very good all the way. Leh was still 175kms from there and I had around 5-6 hours left with me for the day.
They told me I'll be able to cover the distance very easily.

As the army guys said, the roads pretty good ranging from tree covered roads...
To empty roads like this...
To roads like this...

Passed through a lot of small villages. This one was Darchik Village

Just after Darchik

Roads were pretty good all the way

Weird patterns on the mountains
Continuing my journey through the twisty but smooth road. Passing through villages enjoying the vistas around. Stopped beside a huge prayer wheel. Had biscuit, rested for sometime.

Reached a junction and a big board that said "take right for Lamayuru" and "straight for Leh". This is where the usual route for Leh from Kargil and the route I took from Batalik join. This place is just before the town "Khaltse". From that point on the roads became super smooth and super wide :) like the ones present in express ways.

But then soon enough I was stopped by this construction work going on which consumed a lot of time.

After this road block the road continued to be mix of good and bad roads till Khaltse. I stopped at a restaurant at Khaltse and had evening snacks. 
Continued ahead and was eagerly waiting to ride on the famous arrow-straight-runway-like road. And indeed it was a pleasure on that road. On top of everything the road is a downhill. Here are the pics:

Bit overly processed. But fantastic variation in colors of mountains
On the way I didn't stop at couple of places which were of tourists' attraction for e.g. the gurudwara just before Leh, The confluence of river Zanskar and indus, etc. 
Then I reached the famous magnetic hill and saw a lot of people trying to experience the phenomena. I too tried but wasn't able to experience it. May be I was doing it in a wrong way.

 After unsuccessful try, I just decided to get just a photo of mine next to the board :D 

  Confluence of Zanskar and Indus river
There were a lot of hooligan kind of bikers around make a lot of noise my be to impress their fellow female pillion riders. I decided to push off from there and reach leh
Finally reached Leh in good time. 

Leh Valley from a distance
As soon as I reached Leh I started searching for a decent hotel to stay. I called up couple of contacts that I had in Leh to ask for places to stay but none of them were reachable. Then I decided to straightaway go  to place where I stayed the last time I came here. The hotel name is "Hotel Hills View", it is on the left hand side on the diagonal road that goes in the Leh city from the main petrol bunk junction.
The rooms pretty decent (don't expect starred hotel rooms), the owner charges 300/- per room per day. The thing I like about the hotel is that it has a nice parking place inside the hotel campus pretty much hidden from the outside traffic and people. Plus the owner of the hotel is very nice, humble, polite.

I checked in the hotel and met the owner. I was talking to him and asked if he remembers me from the last trip that we had. And surprisingly he remembered and told me that generally he won't remember the tourists coming to his hotel as there are so many frequently coming and going, but he remembered our whole group which was nice to know :)

Dumped all my luggage in my room, asked the hotel boys to get me hot water which they gave immediately, took bath, and went out for just roaming around and do some shopping.
Bought couple of things from the shop and went into a cyber cafe to check my email and stuff. By the time I got free it was dinner time. I tried contacting parents so that I can tell them my whereabouts but couldn't reach, there was some problem in the network in leh.

Located a punjabi dhaba and ordered some chapatis and curry for myself. I was having dinner when a guy came and sat on my table. As usual I started talking to him and he told that he is actually from Netherlands and has been touring India for over 9 months now. He told he has been to almost all parts of India except the north east. He didn't tell his name. I asked him how does he manage his finances when he is on the move all the time. He told that tries to spend very little on the travel by taking local transport, have food at cheap places plus for the first six months he had been working as a content writer for some firm. He would just join any group which will let him stay and spend the night. He also said one thing which was very interesting: "If you know how to manage, you can manage things without spending much".
The guy finished his dinner before me and said to me that he'll go and pay the bill on the counter itself. Before anybody could notice anything the guy vanished and not to be seen on the counter itself. Now there can be only two possibilities: One, the guy paid the bill quickly and left, and second the guy slipped through without paying the bill and probably showing me how it is practically done what he just said to me i.e. "If you know how to manage, you can manage things without spending much"

Well not thinking too much about it whether he paid the bill or not, I paid my food bill and returned to my hotel room. Next day was a rest day for me i.e. just be in Leh, get the permits for other places and visit Khardung la if possible. Then there was one small problem and that was, on 10 July Leh has a public holiday and I wasn't sure if the Commissioner's office will be open on that day or not. Didn't have any idea about it and hence decided to think over it the next day itself and also consult with the hotel owner who himself gets the permit work done for his customers.

So this is how my day 6 ended. A very good day indeed, I got to go through a very different route and visit some of the less visited places.
Below is the route for the day's travel. Though not an exact one as the mapping sites are not able to map the village Batalik, Darchik, etc...
Route on the Map
Visit my flickr album for better quality pics (selected ones) :  http://www.flickr.com/photos/sumitplall/

Day 5 Srinagar (manigram) to Kargil | Day 7 Leh City, permits and new route plan

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