From the moment I set eyes on the Indian Himalayas, I knew it was going to be a spectacular trip. Paradise beckoned with uncountable snow-capped peaks towering into the sky, flourishing green valleys and barren mountain sides. Being surrounded by so much natural beauty never got old and I could have spent my entire trip just staring at never-ending mountainous horizons.
You’d struggle to tire of the Himalayas as there’s so much going on, including: numerous multi-day hikes, mountain biking, white water rafting, sightseeing and of course relaxing in paradise.
I was joined by two friends from New Zealand, Neil and Kyra, and after spending the first couple of days acclimatising to the altitude in Leh, we started exploring Ladakh. We only scratched the surface of the activities available in the Indian Himalayas, but everything we did was so much fun and there was so many unforgettable experiences. Here’s what we got up to….
Leh is the hub of Ladakh, and all activity stems from here. Although it’s a small transfer town, there’s plenty to do with numerous restaurants, trendy coffee shops, souvenir shops and markets to explore. There’s also a monastery and a Buddhist Stupa on separate hillsides, which offer stunning sunset viewpoints. The climbs up are also great for getting used to the altitude, thanks to the sharp ascent.
Mountain biking down Khardungla Pass
Laying claim to being the highest motorable road in the world, Khardungla pass is 5,602m high and it offers magnificent vistas of the valleys below and of the surrounding mountain ranges.
A jeep took us up to the pass via a long and windy mountain road. Although short in distance, the drive took around 2 hours due to the uneven road surface, continuous blind corners and narrow roads barely wide enough to fit one car, let alone two!
After the obligatory snowball fight at the top, we rode mountain bikes all the way back to Leh. The first half of the ride was on bumpy dirt roads, which was definitely a highlight. Although my body was shaken to pieces by the unpredictable divitits and rocks, the adrenaline combined with the views was incredible. It was made even more enjoyable by hardly having to peddle, as gravity did all the hard work.
The only downside was my front brake broke on the decent, but thanks to some elastic and duck tape, I was soon back on the road.
As well as being a great adrenaline fix, we also saw Khardungla Pass, so this excursion definitely killed two birds with one stone. And how many people can say they’ve cycled down the highest road in the world?
Jingchen to Stok – 2 day trek
This trek takes you over the stunning Stok-la pass, which is 4,900m high offering a great challenge and even greater reward.
The first day of the trek was an easy (although very hot) 4 hour walk, as you passed through a beautiful green valley from Jingchen to Rumbak. Following a stream most of the way, it was easy to navigate as well as being a great coolant. The path started as a tarmac road but soon became a dust track, although all of it was easy going.
We got to Rumbak in the early afternoon, allowing us to take plenty of pictures and bask in the exquisite surroundings. There were plenty of home stays to be found in Rumbak and, although slightly on the pricey side at 1000 rupees (£12), dinner, breakfast and a packed lunch were also included.
We started walking soon after sunrise and began a long 5 hour continuous uphill walk to the top of Stok-la pass. This was no easy task, as the altitude made you breathless after a few steps and the steep gradient of the path would have been difficult even at sea level.
Exhausted and exhilarated we finally reached the summit, where we were rewarded by 360 degree views of vast mountainous landscape. It felt like you were looking down over the entirety of Ladakh from the vista, and it was hard to avert your eyes.
After eating a questionable packed lunch of boiled eggs and dry chapati, we began the long descent. This was also extremely tough, as landslides had wiped away large sections of the path, meaning we had to slip, scramble and slide our way down. Despite this, the scenery was stunning and it certainly could be appreciated more without having to gasp for oxygen.
After 11 hours of walking, we reached the picturesque village of Stok. The late evening sun cast the mountains in long shadows and golden light, making it feel like a mirage out of a dream. We didn’t make it further than the first homestay, but we were made very welcome by a super friendly family. They cooked us the most delicious dal and mixed vegetable curry, and even offered us some Fanta to wash it down with!
This was a great trek for us, as it was a challenging hike that only took two days, allowing us to see more of Ladakh in our short stay.
The saying goes that it’s not about the destination but the journey. This is certainly not true of the car journey to Pangong Lake, as it’s a back-breaking 7 hour ride offering very little pleasure. Although you cross the second highest mountain road in the world, Chang La pass (5,360m), the views are mediocre compared to the rest of the Himalayas and are hard to appreciate due to the routine pot holes and tight corners.
Once you arrive at Pangong Lake, the journey is soon forgotten as the vast body of water glistens in the sun and stretches further than the eye can see. The lake is so large that it stretches from India to Tibet, and through into China! The surrounding mountains are reflected in the water, making it easy to see why it’s a popular destination for Bollywood films. Thanks to the sun, the hue of the lake changes before your eyes, making it mesmerising to just sit and watch. The water was great to paddle in and as it was ice cold, it was super refreshing after the long drive.
We were lucky enough to see sunset and sunrise at the lake. The later was definitely my favourite, as the sun rose from behind the mountains opposite and the anticipation was electrifying. As soon as the sun came, the heat rose instantly and everyone was soon stripping over their several layers. The mist over the lake and the reflections at this time of day were also truly enchanting.
Another highlight was stargazing, as we could see what felt like the entire galaxy. There was barely a cloud in the sky meaning the sky was filled with uncountable stars. To top it off, we saw several shooting stars which appeared to cut the sky in half.
There’s not much to do at Pangong Lake, except take photographs and skim stones, so one night was sufficient (although that does mean two days back-to-back of long car journeys).
Likir to Temisgang – 2 day trek
Also known as the baby or Sham trek, this was meant to be an easy hike through Sham valley. Usually completed in three days, I decided to tackle it in two due to time constrictions. This would have been okay if I didn’t take a wrong turn at the start of the first day and ended up taking a 4 hour diversion over a steep mountain pass. At times, I had to scramble up on all fours as the ground fell away from below my feet.
Read my Sham Trek Blog Post to find out more about this hike.
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
- The homestays – you were always made to feel part of the family, as they would go out of their way to make sure you were comfortable and happy
- The people – Ladakhi’s were the friendliest people. They were always smiling and would happily stop for a chat
- The scenery – I never got used to turning a corner and being faced with another scene straight from a postcard
- The weather – although it was extremely hot in the day, it was dry heat so it was a lot more bearable to walk around in. The nights also cooled down drastically, making for some great nights sleep.
- Lack of internet – although it was nice to escape from modern day life, with wifi only working sporadically (and even then being really slow), it was very frustrating when you were trying to organise your next adventure.
- Ladakhi style toilets – they were literally a hole in the ground, which you could see straight into and the smell was something to behold. As the human excrement was used as manure, you had to shovel on dirt after every use. Great to know that my poo is helping plants grow though!