18th August 2016
Sometime in May/June, this year, I was scrounging the internet for a Europe trip on our way back from the USA during June. However, my better-half threw cold water on my plans, citing her troubled knees and our long absence away from our home in India. However, I deftly managed to strike a deal with her that she wouldn’t object to a trip within India sometime during August. So, I was seriously searching the internet for a trip to Gujarat/Gangtok/Nepal, the places we had yet to explore and suddenly, an ad for a package tour to Ladakh (promoted by Thomas Cook India) popped up from nowhere. Immediately on glancing through the ad, I knew that Ladakh was the place we would be visiting, on our return to India. I seriously researched on a trip to Ladakh and collected some basic details.
Ladakh is a high altitude desert on the Himalayas and a part of the State of Jammu and Kashmere. The place, being a rain shadow area, is generally bereft of rains and green vegetation. The altitudes range from 9000 feet to 22000 feet resulting in low oxygen availability that visitors could be highly susceptible to the High Altitude Sickness, including breathing trouble. June to September is generally summer time there. The Ladakh region shares its international borders with both the Tibetan China and Pakistan. Leh and Kargil are the two main centers in Ladakh, and the population is divided between Muslims and Tibetan Buddhists, generally. Tourism happens to be the main business, lasting mostly through the summer months only. Winters could be extremely cold with snow fall. The Border Road Organization is doing a tremendous job, maintaining the roads in the most difficult conditions and terrain. The entire region seems more or less under the control of army, as one could see the army camps, units, and their movements almost everywhere. Indus is a major river in the upper Leh area and Zanskar is another important river.
Armed with the preliminary information, I searched for other tour packages too. I concluded Thomas Cook India and MakeMyTrip.com, both, offered decent tours. The costs were similar. I settled for the Thomas Cook package as it included the trip to the most attractive, high altitude, blue-water-lake at Pangong. I paid the initial advance for the tour from New Delhi. The package included flight from New Delhi to Leh and return, hotel accommodation, morning breakfast, dinner at nights, lunch for three days, pick-up and drop from and to the airport at Leh and transportation for the sightseeing places – lasting 7 Nights/8 Days. The tour included Leh, Nubra valley and Pangong Blue Water Lake.
The high altitude of Ladakh scared my wife, and she was quite apprehensive. Yet, she okayed the trip, for I knew she also loved traveling and seeing places. After all, we may have only one life, and we must see as many places as possible when we are still healthy and when our mobility is not seriously hampered by all sorts of ailments. This is my belief. Traveling and sightseeing is one of my favorite hobbies. We also read about a few scary details about the Ladakh region – landslides, rough road conditions, border troubles, lack of telecommunication facilities, inaccessibility etc., - and we started making preparations.
Torch light, umbrella, medicine for every known common illnesses like throat infection, back-pain, diarrhea, acidity, cold and flu etc., Diomax for high altitude sickness, winter clothing, snacks, etc., etc. Importantly, converting my BSNL prepaid mobile phone connection to Postpaid. BSNL was the only reliable service provider in Ladakh, it seemed.
Thomas Cook India didn’t send me the tickets, vouchers and other details well in advance and contended that it was their policy to send them only three days before the commencement of the tour. After a series of complaints and telephone calls to their Toll Free numbers, pointing out that I lived in a remote corner of Tamil Nadu and I didn’t intend to travel by flight to Delhi and that I didn’t wish to undertake a travel to Delhi without knowing anything about the tour, finally, they sent me the details a day before I left Tenkasi, where I live.
I travelled by the train to Chennai and then to New Delhi. After all, I have plenty of time with me and I don’t have to rush to reach Delhi by air. It saved money for me too. After a day’s stay in an OYO hotel in Karolbagh, New Delhi on the 6th, finally we were there at the New Delhi airport on the 7th early morning to catch our flight to Leh. There began one of the memorable and enjoyable ever trips we had undertaken in the last several years.
To be continued……..