This post is in continuation with a previous one, detailing the preparation I made before leaving home for the Stok Kangri Trek. Please take a look at Stok Kangri Expedition Preparation and Itinerary Planning to read the previous part of the travelogue.
All I dreamt of was the vision of me standing tall at the Stok summit with a tough grin on my face & my not-so-frost-bitten hands holding the selfie stick up high capturing a 360-degree video with the endless Himalayas in the backdrop. Each frame spoke of the pain & rigor invested to get there; priceless! I just hoped I’d get there.
There are a handful of airlines that fly to Leh namely GoAir, Air India, Jet Airways, Spice Jet & most recently Vistara. I wanted to reach Leh in the bright Himalayan light, so I chose the early morning GoAir flight. It’s no surprise that the flight was full, for it was the season for visiting the crowned jewel of the Indian Himalayas.
The departure time was 05:30 am from the T1 terminal of the Indira Gandhi International airport. I reached the airport at 04:50 am, thanks to my Uber driver who took me for a stroll down the road to the T3 terminal. Somehow, I managed to reach the designated gate by 05:25 am, just to find the doors closed & the staff of GoAir looking at me in suspicion.
Long story short, I pleaded them to let me board the flight & after some persuasion, they did. It was the first time I had the flight doors shut behind my back seconds after boarding the flight. Lesson learned; always reach the airport on time!
Day 1 – Delhi to Leh
We took off & I couldn’t be happier. I was traveling towards my dream at a malignant speed to discover my own vigorous self. It felt numb but immensely satisfying. Needless to say, Delhi looked splendidly fabulous at dawn with mild lights spread across the city.
The flight was pleasant, not to mention I dozed off minutes after the takeoff. It has been imperative to me. I can’t sleep a night before I have to travel.
I had a sound sleep for a while before I woke up to acquaint with some of the most beautiful views of Himalayas, any flight in the world can offer. I’d only heard & read about the aloof & enormous landscapes of Himalayan canvas from the flights bound for Leh, this was my chance to get up close with them. The distant views of the white canvas resting precariously on the massive territorial grounds took my breath away.
The moment I moved to stare out the window, I realized I’d booked the seat on the wrong side of the aisle. But nevertheless, I managed to get glimpses of the magnificent colors down under. While the flight made its way through the pebbles of cold slate, there was utter silence in the cabin. Probably everyone was busy capturing the spectacular beauty of the Himalayas. It was a proud moment.
Here are some instances from the moments I captured sticking my camera at the heavens underneath.
Leh, Finally !!!
We landed at the humble Kushok Bakula Rimpochee Airport in Leh at 07:45 am. It was a bright morning with a plush blue outfit & the crimson-colored peaks surrounding the quaint airstrip. It was almost like we landed in the middle of a Star Wars movie.
The sight at the airport was different from any other airport I’d been to in the past. The bare minimum infrastructure & the limited number of luggage belts were apt for the crowd the city gets. It was a compact setting with hundreds of travelers, yet it was surprisingly charming.
The modest breeze added to the aroma of the air. I descended from the airplane & the first thing I noticed was the spectacular sight of the famous Stok ranges of Ladakh eyeing at me from a distance. It was then when I felt eager to step up & head for the peaks. Everything looked barren yet alive. The air was dry & chilly but was truthful to the harmony of the extravagant city of Leh. I mumbled to myself, “I’ve arrived”.
The sight was mesmerizing & at the same time the realization of the fact that I had to reach the summit seen in the distance in the next 5-6 days, kept me at ease. I was thrilled but content; overjoyed but yet calm. I asked a fellow passenger to click one photograph of me with the destination in the backdrop. I was longing for this picture for years, now was the moment. Here it is:
In the City
I noticed the air was clearer on the city roads. We made our way to the hotel I’d booked for the first 2 days of my stay in Leh. I learned from the driver that the Ladakh Marathon 2016 was due in some days & that settled my curiosity regarding the numerous people jogging along the tidy roads. I managed to capture the moments of the city roads in my GoPro camera; a compiled video of the same should be coming up soon.
It took us about 45 minutes to reach the Yangphel Guest House on Upper Tukcha Road. The guest house owner Priyanka greeted me with awe as she abruptly mentioned: “Are you here for the Stok Kangri trek?”. She said she could tell from my rucksack, trek pants & the rugged trekking shoes. I nodded in affirmation & smiled humbly.
I checked in & settled my luggage. It’s evident for the locals to meet trekkers headed for Stok Kangri or Zanskar Chadar trek when it’s the right time of the year. It was September, an apt time to scale down the Stok range.
I planned my travel such that I had two days to myself in the city of Leh before we take on the mammoth trek up the hill with the Bikat Adventures group. That would give me ample time to acclimatize to the attitude & breathe easy.
The Beautiful Market
Leh is perched at a little over 11,000 ft, so it is advisable to spend some relaxing time here before moving to higher grounds. After getting the lovely breakfast prepared by the in-house cook, Shankar, I stepped out to take a walk.
The guest house was just a 10-minute walk from the Leh market & the road conditions are reasonably good to walk on. I explored the local market, especially the local cuisine. The Himalayan Café on the main street in the Leh market is a must-visit if you wish to try out some amazing Ladakhi and Tibetan cuisines.
I clicked my way through the local shops & streets, soaking in the aura this delightful place had to offer. Scroll down for some clicks:
It was 5 pm in the evening & I realized I should at least visit the Shanti Stupa up the hill before dusk to appraise with the crimson-kissed sunset upon the valley. I marched towards the Shanti Stupa & as expected found a plethora of tourists crowding the holy attraction.
The way up to the Stupa is a vast staircase cut around the cliff. Those countless steps may seem difficult to counter at first, but the view from the top is outstanding. You get the best view of the Leh city from the Shanti Stupa with the lush green cover clouding the city & the flamboyant Stok ranges in the backdrop. Since it was a little hazy, I couldn’t witness the sunset clearly, but the colorful skies made my day.
From the warm crimson shades of the valley to the cold damp aura of the soil, the evening had everything I desired. And what better could have been than a wonderful cup of coffee at the café porched right under the ridge where the Stupa is sited.
I was there until it was dark enough to make descending down the stairs a little tricky. But it was blissful & the spirituality of the place had a captivating effect on the moments I spent there. And as is evident, I was busy clicking the way of life.
The First Day Ends
The first day in the enrapturing city closed with a mild dinner at the guest house on the rooftop with countless jewels in the feeble dark sky lighting up the gathering. The plan for the next day is to rent a mountain bike & explore the city on two wheels, just not in a hurry.
Plus, a visit to the Leh Palace up the ridge is a must. I tried to get a taste of the city’s locale, and on the go, learned heaps of facts.
Day 2 – Leh
The second day on the trip was the most relaxed one of the forthcoming times. I slept well & woke up to the bright sunshine gazing upon the curious city.
The Stok Kangri summit peeping from behind the haze looked spellbinding & for sure was enough for some morning motivation. Shankar prepared a delightful coffee that did the trick. I was up & running in no time, ready to wander in-n-around the humble streets.
I received a call from our trek lead, Sandeep Kumar from Bikat Adventures that they have arrived in Leh & were on their way to the guest house booked by the company. Sandeep was going to be our guide for Stok Kangri Trek.
The Gang Arrives
I checked out, inquired about the new place & started walking with my rucksack loaded on the back. It was fun strolling with a pack in the local streets, with everyone giving you a friendly respectful gaze. I greeted multiple folks on the go with a smile-assisted “Juley” & reached the guest house within half an hour.
It was the first time I met Sandeep, the young & energetic trek lead. It was wonderful him & the rest of the pack. We mingled, shared our stories that led us there & our aspirations from the expedition.
With the like-minded folks around me, I felt cared for & most importantly, at home. We enjoyed a lovely breakfast. I settled in & took a brief nap while some from the group headed for Khardung La sightseeing & others went into the city market. I stayed back to absorb the Himalayan air a little more before heading out for a stroll on a rented mountain bike.
Cycling in Leh City
Gotta say, riding a bike on those mildly crowded yet entrancing roads was one of the best experiences so far. One could find hawkers by the roadside selling Himalayan apple & other exotic fruits, and then there were countless Chinese & Tibetan cuisine stalls.
The sun was bearable for quite a while & I wandered around the airport road for some time. But by late noon, it started to get a little unpleasant, for I was wearing two layers of clothing given the chilly morning air. I settled in at a nearby café & gulped down a glass of fresh juice while I removed the woolen fleece I was hauling over a regular cotton T-Shirt.
I had a light lunch at 3 pm & returned the bike to the vendor in the market. From then on, I was on-foot, clicking my way through the busy roads on that warm Himalayan afternoon. I climbed up the hill to reach the Leh Palace, porched flamboyantly on top of the ridge.
One has to negotiate innumerable turns & stairs to reach the gateway to the palace. Once there, the splendid wings of the solitude open up. The palace eyes at the city from quite a height & one gets a clear view of the crowded construction of the Leh household.
Built by Tsewang Namgyal and completed by Sengge Namgyal, both from the Namgyal dynasty of Ladakh, the Leh Palace was the former Royal Palace of Ladakh. The sorted attraction boasts the medieval Tibetan architecture & is a popular hit among tourists. The view from the numerous balconies is overly picturesque.
Towards the back, the self-effacing view of Shanti Stupa resting peacefully on the hilltop makes up for tranquil scenery. And out front, the 270-degree view of the valley encompasses the true beauty of the Leh region. Here are some clicks from the majestic building:
Needless to mention, my true reason for this trip, the mighty Stok Kangri summit was clearly visible in the distance from there.
Anticipation & Excitement
I stayed there till the sun started dipping behind the dark mountain peaks upfront. It was 5:30 pm & they started vacating the place. I bought some essentials like protein bars, sunscreen & a couple of Red Bull cans for the journey ahead.
It was the last time we’d get to shop for the Stok Kangri trek. The next morning, we were heading for the extensive walk up the mountain. We got together for the last supper & turned in pretty early to be ready for the mammoth of a journey ahead.
Getting up close to the city life had a humbling effect on my senses. Out there in the middle of nowhere, the Ladakhi locals have a fulfilling lifestyle.
- Journey Ahead: Leh to Stok Village to Chang Ma – The Adventure Begins
Though the city receives an enormous number of obnoxious tourists every year, the age-old memories of the secluded valley still walk the soil. And if you’d like to experience this first-hand, I suggest you visit the old-fashioned valley & see for yourself.
Stok Kangri Trek Day 1 & 2 – Conclusion
Please click on the link above to continue reading the next part of this trek. If you have any questions or need any help planning your Stok Kangri Trek, please feel free to ask in the comments section below and I will be glad to answer.