The Road Trip which you can never forget - Manali-Leh Adventure

An unforgettable journey of Nisarg Kothari amidst the unparalleled beauties of the Himalayas

The Context

Heyy guys, Nisarg here, a third-year UG from Chemical Department, a very enthusiastic traveller, and willing to make trips to anywhere and everywhere (especially after buying my first DSLR XD). This road trip was probably the most impromptu trip that happened with some of my school friends and ended up being the most memorable and adventurous trip of my life.

I had been thinking of going on a long road trip especially to the north when I found out about this Ladakh trip which was being organised by T-trikon, a Mumbai based trek company. 2 weeks before the departure I decided to ask some of my very busy school friends if anyone was interested and we ended up with 7 people going for a trip together after a very long time.

DAY 0: 30th June, 2021 (MUMBAI - CHANDIGARH - MANALI)

After an exhausting yet exciting packing day we boarded an afternoon flight from Mumbai to Chandigarh, landing at about 6.30pm . We met some of our fellow travellers at the airport and after brief and awkward introductions set out for the overnight road haul to Manali. Who knew these awkward intros were going to turn into really good friendships over the course of the trip

DAY 1 : 1st July, 2021 (MANALI)

After a near sleepless night due to the twisted roads as well construction works on the Chandigarh-Manali Highway, it was about 5am in the morning when we passed through Kullu, which was just waking up. We reached our hotel which was about 10 kms from Manali early around 6.30am where we met our trip leader : Monil. We were given the rooms and the views were just wooaahh!

View from our rooms in Manali

After getting some sleep and having breakfast we set out on a short trail to a not so well known and hidden waterfall “The Sajla Waterfall” at around 9.30 am. On our way, we sat on the meadows, with the sun above us and a valley below, this was the perfect place to sit and have proper intros with everyone telling how they ended up on this trip. The trail was just beautiful, passing beside a small stream and totally surrounded by tall coniferous trees. We were accompanied by a very cute and furry group member, Mojo the dog.

The trail to Sajla falls
Trail from the top

We reached the falls before noon but our leader Monil took us up a small hike to a smaller yet completely lonely waterfall with a huge pool. Obviously we had to take a dip:) . The water was freezing and my feet went numb for a couple of seconds on entering that glacial pool. The force just below the waterfall was enormous, pushing you right down and drifting you away.

The pool and the offbeat waterfall
Waterfall Trails

With the sun exactly above us, we were shivering as we got out and made our way back to Sajla falls where we had Momos and ‘Sidu’, a local dish which has my mouth watering as and when I write this XD. After walking back to our hotel, we went to a nice open cafe during the golden hour with the sun just setting over some of the far off snow covered peaks. The day ended with us going to a private Natural Spring hot water bath and relaxing the entire day's hard work in a blissful pond of hot sulphuric water. Oh what a day!

DAY 2 : 2nd July, 2021 (MANALI - JISPA)

Woke up early to pack bags for Jispa. On the way we halted for the very sport that I had dreamt of doing, PARAGLIDING. Clear skies and an early morning, perfect for paragliding in Manali. Went up a hill to the start point along a very rough road to take in the views and spot a few really huge eagles gliding. With no one else in the sky we were among the first gliders that day. The experience cannot be truly described in words. The excitement, the adrenaline and the views were just overwhelming and overflowing. Probably 10 mins of pure bliss. Plus I could not refuse the trained pilot from doing stunts which included 360s and wingovers. I was literally screaming my lungs out while this happened.

Views from up above

After this amazing experience we had the most delicious Rajma Chawal for lunch from a nice dhaba/restaurant and a customary softy from Manali Mall road. We headed towards Jispa via the Atal Tunnel which kind of teleported us from one valley to an entirely different Lahaul Valley. We could feel the air getting colder and the very terrain changed from that of Manali. We came across the noisy Sissu waterfall which was visible from the other side of the river. We had snacks at an open Dhaba with just some really amazing views. Having Maggi and chai while sitting in front of huge snow capped mountains is an entirely different feeling probably every person going to the Himalayas must enjoy. Post snacks we climbed into a random cave on the way just above the highway overlooking the river and the road. (This is where I lost my sunglasses :( )

We reached Jispa by evening 6.30 pm and after having checked in to our hotel we went out for a stroll along the Bhag river before coming back for Dinner. It was chilly as the wind pierced right through our jackets. As evening set in, the valley went dark but the peaks were shining golden. Post dinner something magical happened. Some of us decided to go back to the riverside and as soon as we left our hotel, all we saw in the sky was stars. A complete BLANKET of STARS. Never had I ever witnessed stars in such glory. A moonless night and we could see the faint milky way. But my camera had other intentions. This was the first time I attempted capturing the stars and I could not wish for more. Content to my heart I took a warm water bath and went to sleep.

DAY 3 : 3rd July, 2021 (JISPA - LEH)

Woke up the next day to be greeted by rain. Yes it was really cold, cloudy and rainy here at Jispa. We set out back onto the Manali-Leh highway towards the first pass on the way. We came across Deepak Tal first which is a small lake right beside the highway. It shines blue usually but today’s weather was so cloudy, we could not see the lake in its full glory.

Cursing the weather we headed towards Bara-lacha La. We were in for a surprise. The weather was going to be a blessing. As we climbed, we realized we were going into a cloud. We could see patches of snow appearing alongside the road. What we did not expect was snowfall. It was snowing inside the cloud. YES, we were able to experience snowfall in the summer. Probably one of the best and most unexpected things that happened during the trip.

We crossed Suraj Tal lake, which is half frozen, a few kilometers before Bara-lacha but the cloud made it hardly visible. We soon crossed Bara-lacha La with most of us having a headache due to the very altitude of the pass. The weather soon cleared in the next valley as we headed towards the next pass : Nakeela Pass. The terrain had already started to change into the cold desert. On the way came Sarchu, the last village of Himachal before crossing into the union territory of Ladakh. After Sarchu came disaster! The road just after crossing Sarchu had been paved off in order to create a new, wider road. That meant what was left was a pure desert sand track with no particular path. What followed was DUST. Damn we wore those masks for the first time since the flight. In Spite of closing all the windows, dust had leaked in. The windscreen, and all of the windows were covered in DUST. The driver was driving on instinct! Hardly was ANYTHING visible. One of us had to get down and clean the windscreen to make things a bit more visible. With the taste of dust in our mouths we finally managed to hit the road and made our way to the famous Gata loops.

The Gata loops are a series of 21 continuous hairpin bends overlooking the river Tsarpa and climbing to the next pass on the way : Nakki La. On one of the loops was a shrine with a ton of plastic bottles filled with water lying around. Our driver had gotten out to put a bottle himself and on asking he told us about the myth of the ghost of Gata loops. It is said that a mechanic had once died while helping a truck driver fix his truck on the loops and had a last wish of drinking water which the truck driver wasn’t able to suffice. Since then the locals and regular drivers have believed that his ghost roams the loops and keeping a bottle at the shrine would keep them safe. Next came NakeeLa pass at a height of 15,547 ft. Soon we were greeted by another pass, Lachungla pass at a height of 16,616 ft. Crossing Lachungla we encountered a family of the rare wild “Blue sheep” which live among these regions. Soon we also crossed the famous arc of the leh manali highway. The terrain now had changed drastically and we could see these canyon like rocks all along the way.

It was around 5pm when we reached Pang, a small village mostly occupied by military camps. We hadn’t eaten since morning and our water had also run out since 2pm. We had hot soupy maggi at a Dhaba at Pang and finally had some proper washroom break after a continuous 9 hrs of road journey. The sun was getting low as we set out towards the plateau region which had a straight road for nearly 70 kms!

The sun setting over the mountains made this place so so beautiful that it could not be described in words.

We crossed the TanglangLa Pass at around 8.30pm in complete darkness. At an altitude of 17582 ft we could see the snow walls on the sides of the roads. After a very long and tiring journey we reached Leh at around 11.30 pm at night, nearly 15 hrs since we had started from Jispa. We had been completely disconnected for these 15 hrs with no signal and no internet connection on the way. After having a late dinner we went to sleep still excited for the next day!

DAY 4 : 4th July, 2021 (LEH)

Three of our friends who could not join us from Manali were going to arrive this morning directly via flight to Leh. Excited to meet and tell them everything that we did till now we woke up to have breakfast with them and many others who had joined on the same day. This was going to be a rest day because the newly arrived people had to become accustomed to the weather. After eating lunch and having introduction games for the afternoon we started our small climb to the Shanti Stupa which rests on a small hill towering above Leh city. It was a long fleet of stairs to the top and yes we were panting, really hard. The atmosphere was so thin that we could hardly climb a few steps at a time without taking a break. But yes, the arduous climb was worth it. The shanti stupa was truly beautiful in its white glory but the view was just beyond words. The entire city of Leh could be viewed from the stupa. And with the setting sun, the golden hour made it a sight to behold.

After the sunset we visited the meditation bhavan just next to the stupa. We sat there for 15 minutes, eyes closed and in perfect silence. I could really describe this feeling as tranquility. We met a stranger who told us the stories of the origin of various stupas around India. After sleeping on a random stone on our way down just to look at the stars, we headed back to the hotel and called it a day.

DAY 5 : 5th July, 2021 (LEH/ZANSKAR)

Today was THE Rafting Day. Woke up super excited. Some of us rented enfields today since the rafting point was just 70 kms from Leh. The road to the starting point was along the beautiful Indus river and the drive was just perfect. The very beautiful sangam of Zanskar and Indus was the highlight wow sight of the day.

The rafting guides handed us wet suits and shoes as we got dressed for one of the fondest memories of the trip.

We quickly learnt how freezing the water was after the first rapid drenched us completely. The river had a good number of rapids with twists, turns, bridges and of course the mountains making the views just otherworldly. The mountains had a purplish hue and the white water from the rapids made it a perfect blend.

One of the few things I will always remember during the rafting was when the raft leader of another boat climbed onto our boat and surprisingly pushed 2 people off the boat just for fun whereas our trek leader Monil pulled me down into the freezing water from the boat beside us XD. And me being me left the raft rope. Floating on, I drifted away from the raft and had to cling onto a rescue kayak to get back to my raft. The freezing water had left me panting. The rafting ended at the Sangam of Indus and Zanskar after a long and difficult yet rewarding 2 hours.

We visited the tranquil Gurudwara Pathar Sahib and the fascinating Magnetic Hill on our way back to Leh. We had a late lunch at around 5pm and the evening ended with us visiting the beautiful Leh market buying souvenirs for the trip.

DAY 6 : 6th July, 2021 (LEH - NUBRA)

We left early for Hunder, Nubra Valley via the mighty Khardung La, the highest motorable road in the world. The road was scenic as we reached the snow covered Khardung La. I had a real headache when we reached KhardungLa. I still remember one of our fellow travelers had brought an oximeter along and I read 67 at KhardungLa. We soon descended into the valley on the other side. The Nubra Valley is one truly unique place. Being a very broad valley and having some really clean air, you can literally see kilometers away. On our way to Hunder we could see the famous statue of Maitri Budhha at Diskit Monastery, situated at the sangam of Nubra and Shyok rivers, which we were going to visit the next day.

The mountain structures changed as most of them could be seen with long deep gorges and the terrain was truly magical. There was the river flowing, with greenery around some places and literally desert dunes at some. So the place had everything, desert, greenery, mountains, and snow on the capes, some really otherworldly combinations.

We reached our camps in Hunder at around 4 in the evening and after freshening up we headed straight to the dunes of Hunder. Some people of our group took the camel rides (2 humped camels only found here in the whole world) while the rest of us headed on foot to the dunes. We rolled down dunes and after being joined by our fellow travellers, we played games like kho-kho, dog and the bone, Dumbcharads, etc. sitting on the sand in a beautiful valley surrounded by mountains, feeling the chilly winds and witnessing one of the few most beautiful sunsets of my life. These moments were pure joy. No stress, no overthinking, nothing. Pure joy.

After returning back to our camps by around 7pm we all took baths (or rather just soaked our hands and feet because of the cold water) and ate dinner. Post that, the stars happened. Another day with these stars and I was able to capture a 10 minute star trail. Another day very well spent.

DAY 7 : 7th July, 2021 (NUBRA - PANGONG)

A lazy morning as I opted to not take a bath in the cold water. We were going to Pangong lake today. On our way we visited the famous Diskit Monastery and its very beautiful Maitri Budhha statue standing 108ft tall on a hillock above the rest of the valley. The road again ran parallel to the Shyok river with beautiful landscapes and long plateaued roads. After a late lunch the route took a different turn, with green meadows and horses along the road. By around 4pm we were close to Pangong and just a small glimpse of the blue lake from far had everyone in our bus go Woooowwww!

After a few turns the small blue spot from afar turned magnificently huge and just mesmerising. The colors were just indescribable. The reddish, purplish mountains and the contrasting deep blue. The lake gave literal eyegasms. Nothing I had witnessed was this beautiful. Instead of going to our camps we went to the lakeside first. It was very windy which made it quite cold. We were shocked to witness a few fanatics dipping into the cold water half naked. After the sun went behind the mountains we retired to our camps which was about 20 mins from the lakeside.

Post dinner we played 2 long games of Mafia (25 of us were playing altogether) and it was 11 pm already. The electricity usually goes around 10 but they were running a generator for us till 11. They soon shut down everything when a few of us decided to go to the lake side while the rest called it a day and unluckily went to sleep. They or as a matter of fact we hadn’t known that those who were going to sleep were going to miss the most amazing and unforgettable night.

9 of us including our leader Monil were walking to the lake side wearing 3 layers of clothes and with flashlights which Monil told us to switch off as we walked completely under starlight. The night sky was a full blanket of stars and only stars. I had never in my life seen these many stars. Just too too many. And the more you stared the more the number of stars increased. Even the band of the Milky Way galaxy was clearly visible from the naked eye and we could have spotted at least 20 shooting stars in an hour. With a speaker in our hands, listening to truly blissful feel good songs the vibe was nothing that can be explained. Otherworldly! We lay by the lakeside watching the stars, listening to music and wind. Other than these it was complete silence. And we were probably the only ones by the lake because no one else could be heard. It is moments like these when you realize how big this universe is and how small you are. A very small part. How small and mundane your worries, stresses and life problems are and in the long run they won’t even matter. Instead of cribbing about these, life has so much to give and enjoy.

I managed to click a series of shots of the milky way and another 10 min star trail. It was 1.30am when it started getting cold and we decided to go back to our camps. We could see a distant light almost from the direction we came from and recognized it to be our camps. After walking towards it for more than 20 minutes we realized something was wrong. It had only taken us 15 mins from camp to the lake. However we kept moving and trying to find where our camp was, since there was no network, no GPS, and not a soul anywhere around us. Our water bottles had already been exhausted and the wind was literally piercing our jackets to the chest.

After maybe an hour of walking and climbing we reached a road which was under construction and found an empty unlocked bulldozer. 5 of us huddled in to resist the wind, while 3 of our friends waited outside as our leader Monil went off in one direction to look for our camps. About 30 minutes and a small nap later he came back with no sign of our camp. Now going off in the other direction, we just hoped he would find the camp as the cold was becoming unbearable. After yet another 15 mins he came back having found the camps. We left our little friendly bulldozer walking back to our camps. As we walked slowly we could see light coming up from behind the mountains in front of us. It was still 4am in the morning and we hadn’t expected the sunrise to be so early. The sky had gotten quite bright but we were in for a surprise. We saw a circular yet crescent shaped bright “SUN”, which was actually the moon XD. It was literally so bright that we got confused. We had just witnessed a moon rise. This was just becoming better and better.

When we approached the camps at around 4.30 am, we realized that we had in fact climbed way above our camps in some other direction. After finding some empty wooden houses, we sat outside one of those now waiting for the sunrise. After about an hour of waiting, the sun had brightened up the entire sky but still remained hidden behind the enormous mountains in front of us. Tired, sleepy and cold, we could not wait any longer and decided to go and sleep. After only about 2 hours of sleep, we could not wait to share it with the entire group at breakfast how we had gotten LOST and how we spent this magical and incredible night at Pangong making memories that can never even be erased.

DAY 8 : 8th July, 2021 (PANGONG - LEH)

Today was a lazy day. After yesterday’s sleepless night I slept for most of the journey back to Leh. My camera battery had drained during the night. At around lunch time we reached the Thiksey monastery, a big and very colorful monastery of Ladakh. It is again located on a small hillock above the rest of Thiksey village. We were lucky to witness a parade of the monks which happens only monthly during the year. The interiors of this monastery were very beautiful and ancient. There was always this intense silence inside every monastery that we visited. The terrace of the monastery overlooked the beautiful valley.

Post lunch we did some souvenir shopping at a local Tibetan market. We reached Leh by 6pm. After some rest, we had dinner and got to drink some real tasty hot chocolate made by our fellow travellers. Half of our group was going to split the next day as some of us were going to stay in Leh while others were going on towards Kargil and Srinagar. We sat around a bonfire that night and scribbled up anonymous notes to each other to take home as memories.

DAY 9 : 9th July, 2021 (LEH - KHARDUNGLA - LEH)

Early today morning half our group left for Srinagar whereas some of us were going to cycle downhill from KhardungLa to Leh. After bidding goodbyes to the others and promising to meet them back in Mumbai, we went to the cycle rent store and tested out the cycles. They loaded our cycles onto their backup vehicle and we went uphill in their car to KhardungLa. We had some chai up top on the snowy KhardungLa and then began descending on that amazingly scenic route on our cycles. The adrenaline rush was just amazing as there were patches where the cycle went speeding downhill. Riding a cycle just gave some enormous panoramic views not possible ever in a vehicle. One of my friends also had a small accident as he fell off onto the road while trying to wave at my camera XD. Bled a little with scars left on his face as a memory but completed the ride downhill back to Leh. He even got VIP treatment from the army who accidentally saw him waiting on his cycle outside their camp and invited him over to dress up the wound and even motivating him to complete riding downhill.

Also on our way down me and some others crossed the end point and ended up going way down than what we had to. This ended up being a nightmare as we had to climb back up to the cycle point which left us completely breathless.

After coming back, our injured friend consulted someone at Leh Hospital who told him he would be fine. Another lazy evening hanging around Leh market and resting for the day.

DAY 10 : 10th July, 2021 (LEH - MUMBAI)

We left the hotel early at 6am for our flight from Leh airport to Mumbai. The views from the flight were just amazing as miles and miles of mountains and valleys and rivers. The trip had probably been one of the most memorable ones and it left me wanting for so much more. Arrived at home back in Mumbai at around 2pm narrating these tales ever since to anyone and everyone around.

You guys can find more of my clicks on @lensational01 . Feel free to ping me.


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