Shakuntlam: Mission Leh- A mission to be accomplished with the blessings of GOD

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We are group of office friends and have named our group ‘Shakuntlam’. I don’t know how it may sound to you. Whatever, we are a closely knit group that stands by each other in thick and thin. Our planning started from 2011 when XUV 500 was launched by Mahindra. However, it was found that there was huge booking and waiting period at the time of its launch and further on road price was almost more than 14 lac approximately at that time and was beyond reach as I was looking for a model which we could drive to Leh and should be petrol driven. We were always thinking of Leh tour, Even around three years back, when there was end of the season sale at Thapar in Connaught place, I purchased, woolen socks, gloves, inner etc keeping in mind our trip to Leh. Our active planning started last year in October 2015 when Hyundai launched Creta petrol model and was within reach as there was confusion also of NGT guidelines regarding age of diesel vehicle. So we booked Creta petrol base model and above all its ground clearance seemed to be sufficient for our proposed trip. After booking the Creta we started doing online research on Leh-Manali route. My first noting on the hard copy of the Leh-Manali highway of Wikipedia was ‘Mission Leh- A mission to be accomplished with the blessings of GOD. May God help us to achieve the same’. After that we started exploring routes to visit Leh. Whether we should go via Srinagar or via Manali, what medicines, food, biscuits, water, juices, woolen clothing, oxygen cylinders etc to be taken along and acclimatization process on the route. After a long wait and much persuasion Creta was delivered at the end of February 2016. After that real planning started. I nominated my dear friend Sh NK Singh who is around 10 years younger to me as captain of the ship. Reason behind the move was that every mission should have a leader who can lead from the front and Mr Singh had all the qualities of an outstanding leader and can do all the coordination amongst the members. He always had with him Plan A, B, C etc. His planning and execution was always perfect. Furthermore, there should always be one General as two Generals spoil the army.
We decided to move on 10th June 2016. A meeting was held at my residence to bifurcate and allocate the responsibility and work. Everything was included like first aid medicines, high altitude medicine if prescribed by doctor, biscuits, tea kettle, dry milk , chocolates, sugar, tea bags, juices, namkeens, maggi packets, small gas cylinders, utensils, dry fruits, movie and still camera, small oxygen cylinders, tyre puncture kit, towing wire, air filling pump for tyres, empty can for petrol, sufficient cash, original papers of car, Identity proofs in original and photocopies, self photographs in case need arose, sufficient woolens, inners as the altitude will rise to 18400 ft approximately. At the onset of program it was planned that one four wheeler Creta or THAR and three or four bullets will embark on this tour. Somehow it could not be materialized owing to inevitable circumstances. Ultimately, myself Rajinder Mohan Sharma, aged 60 years and Ramit Singh aged around 20 years under the leadership of Sh NK Singh aged around 50 years were destined to go to Leh via Srinagar and return via Manali. Ramit Singh is son of Sh NK Singh. Reason behind choosing route via Srinagar was acclimatization, as we will ascend gradually to Leh, acclimatization problem will not be there, as the route was Delhi, Jammu, Udhampur, Kud, Patnitop, Batote, Ramban, Banihal, Srinagar, Sonamarg, Kargil, Leh , Karu, Upshi, Pang, Sarchu, Kelong, Rohtang pass, Manali and back to Delhi.
In the whole tour, we left the bed at 3 AM in the morning and started our journey for next destination by around 5 AM except from Manali to Delhi. That way there was no hurry of night fall before we reach our next destination. We believed in BRO(Border Roads Organisation) advice which read as “START EARLY, DRIVE SLOWLY AND REACH SAFELY”.

Day one, date 10th June 2016, time 4.15 AM: Delhi to Udhampur
Day before my sisters, bhabhi and other family members wished me happy journey. I said bye to my wife and took blessings of my parents and GOD. As Mr NK Singh, residence is enroute to highway to Jammu, so I reached there in around 20 minutes and loaded their luggage in the Creta and after taking blessings of parents of my friend, journey was started and it was around 5 AM when we crossed the Mukarba Chowk, the bye pass for highway to Panipat, Ambala, Ludhiana, Jalandhar, Pathankot, Jammu and Udhampur. As my friend was to drive the car in the hills and he has mastered that skill. I drove the car up to Udhampur. From Jammu you will also come across tunnels. This is a toll road up to Udhampur as four lane roads are complete. We reached there by around 4 PM. A guest house was booked by my brother in law, so we moved there without any difficulty as it was located on the highway as we were bit tired we took tea and early dinner and went to bed by 9 PM and planned the next day journey.



{Delhi (Mukarba chowk) 5 AM, Jallandhar 10.30 AM, Pathankot 12 noon, Jammu bye pass Kunjwani, 2.15 PM, Udhampur 4 PM ( 2300 ft approx) {total distance travelled 670 Kms}

Day two, date 11th June 2016, time 5 AM: Udhampur to Srinagar

The person who was serving us dinner advised us to start the journey for Srinagar (5200 ft.) early as four lane work is going on up to Cheneni and beyond and there will be traffic jams if we venture late in the morning. So we took his advice seriously and started our journey early. We crossed the stretch under construction so did not face any problem of traffic jams. Enroute we saw trees of Cheer and Devdaaras depending on the altitude. We gradually ascended and gained altitude from Kud onwards Patnitop. During this whole journey you will see heavy police /military presence on the highway patrolling the area. That way one feels safe with their presence. Beyond Patnitop you will descend to Batote. After passing the Jawahar tunnel on the way you will enter Quazikund which is around 50 Kms from Srinagar and road beyond this point is plain and hilly region is over. It is very difficult to imagine whether we are travelling in Kashmir who is a first timer in the valley. Here also four lane work is under construction and in patches it is complete. For first timers it is a unique experience driving in the valley. Some person known to my friend had booked a four bed room in the hotel with parking facilities. We reached there around 3 PM and moved to our room, took some rest there went to a nearby restaurant. You may believe it or not, it was the best food we ate there during our entire journey. Both Vegeterian and Non-Vegeterian preparations were excellent. We thought to have a glimpse of city without any further delay. We took an auto and went to Dal Lake, took an half an hour boat ride in dal lake. During our journey to Dal, driver showed us the way to Shankracharya Temple on the top of the hill nearby Dal Lake. After boat ride, which are unique in its styling, we again took auto to the temple for to and fro journey. Auto took us to the nearest point from where you have to visit the temple by scaling several steps. In between one gets breathless. But after reaching there, view of the Srinagar is amazing and one gets to know the topography of the Srinagar. One gets to know how big the dal lake is and how the Jhelum river flows in Srinagar city and how the city could have been flooded during the last floods. We came back to our hotel as it was a Ramadan month; a bridge on Jhelum made of carved wood was well decorated with lights. We came across many families enjoying the evening there. After spending some quality time there, we came back to our hotel and took the dinner in the hotel itself.





{Udhampur, 5 AM, Banihal 10.15 AM, Jawahar tunnel, 11.40 AM, (2.5 Km long tunnel), Quazikund, 12.25 PM, Srinagar 3 PM {total distance travelled 246 Kms}

Day three, date 12th June 2016, time 5 AM: Srinagar to Kargil

As our hotel was near a mosque and owing to Ramadan month, there was a call from mosque before 3 AM and with that we also woke up at 3 AM. As said earlier during the whole period of tour, we started our car at around 5 AM with plus minus of five minutes. As I had seen some videos where bikers were shown going to Sonamarg via Dal Lake, we opted for that route. As it was early in the morning view of Dal Lake was beautiful. It is a huge lake; it took several minutes to cross the lake and come to Srinagar-Leh highway. After travelling few kilometers the route to Sonamarg is beautiful. I can describe it as scenic view at its best. This part of the Kashmir may be one of the reasons why Kashmir is called heaven on earth. If you have been to Kashmir and missed Sonamarg, then you have missed a lot. It is different world altogether. After beautiful Sonamarg, greenery, trees start vanishing and scenery changes considerably. Here roads are not in a very good condition. You come across Zoji la pass which is at about ( 11,640 ft.). It was told to us by my relative from Jammu that to avoid jams near this pass you have to leave Srinagar around 5 AM otherwise you will be struck in the jams for few hours. With God’s grace and blessings we came to know of the Zoji La Pass only after crossing it. After travelling some kilometers there was a tourist spot named ‘Zero Point’ where tourist were seen taking ride on snow bikes, skates etc. as our aim is Leh, we took some rest there refreshed ourselves with hot tea. Then there was small market and town named Drass. We took some rest and had lunch there. We also came across some Army café serving snacks, maggi, tea and cold drinks to the tourists at a very reasonable price in a very hygienic condition. Then you come across Kargil war memorial at Drass where nearby Kargil war was fought and won by our brave soldiers.


To visit and pay homage at the memorial is a ritual for every proud Indian. I bowed at the memorial and thanked all the brave soldiers who had laid their lives to save our country from enemy’s invasion. That was a very touching moments for our team.


I also purchased some T-shirts, Coffee Mugs as memorabilia. I was thinking whether I could be of any use to the army during war. We reached Kargil at around 3 PM. My friend had booked a guest house near a river for night stay. It was a beautiful sight. Kargil is small town but we should not confuse it with Kargil war. I think most of the war fought with Pakistan was near Drass. There was little police presence and almost no Para military or military presence in Kargil in contrast to Srinagar area. We took our dinner early went to bed. Here to be doubly sure to avoid high altitude sickness, I took Diamox 250 mg. I admit that was a mistake as my feet/legs started trembling and I had to go to washroom two-three times to relieve myself. My take is that without advice of doctor you should not take high altitude medicine.



{Srinagar, 5 AM, Sonamarg, 7.50 AM, 8950 ft., Zero point , tourist place, , Drass, 12.15 PM, Kargil war memorial 12.50 PM, Kargil city, (Biamthang) 3 PM {total distance travelled 218 Kms}

Day four, date 13th June 2016, time 5 AM: Kargil to Leh

As usual we started our journey at around 5 AM for Leh. From here onwards roads are almost in a good condition and journey is smooth. Comparison of road is always with Zoji la pass roads which are in very worse conditions. After around 110 kms from Kargil we come across small village/town Lamayuru. From here Leh is around 125 Kms. On the way you see magnetic hill where vehicles starts ascending from a particular points for few meters. We did not spend much time here. Some photographs were taken and that’s all. After travelling few kilometers from here, there is historical Sikh Gurudwara Paththar Sahib maintained by army. We went inside with heads covered and bowed before Guru Granth Sahib jee. We had Langar of tea and snacks. I took some dry Prasad from the Gurudwara also for distribution amongst my neighbors in Delhi. From here road is almost straight but like Sign Wave. Road seems to be straight but is dangerous if driven with speed. We reached Leh at 12.45 PM. Our guest house was near airport nearby to Leh city. After taking some rest in our guest house, we went to the market and had some rajma chawal, the famous cuisine of Jammu & Kashmir and saw the ancient Leh Palace which is nearby the market. Whole palace seems to be made of wood and was in much depilated condition. As it was our first day at Leh we did not want to exert much and came back to our guest house. Leh is a small city and distance from the market to the airport was hardly five to ten minutes depending upon the time of travel.


{Kargil, 5.10 AM, Army café 70 kms from Kargil, Magnetic hill 27 Kms from Leh, Shri Pathhar Sahib Gurudwara, 11.30 am, Leh ( Moon Land Govt. Guest House) 12.45 PM {total distance travelled 217 Kms}

Day Five, date 14th June 2016, time 4.50 AM: Leh to Pangong Lake

Departure for Pangong was by 4.50 AM as usual. As yesterday was less hectic, today it was planned to go to Pangong Lake famous for shooting of climax scene of three idiots and other movies. Pangong is about 150 kilometers from Leh. It took us around 12 hours for to and fro journey with around 01 hour or so stay at the lake. Out of 150 Kms one way, road up to Karu around 45 kms is very good. Although nobody asked us about the permit, but we are not sure about it. We did not come across anybody asking us for the permit for the region. Our early departure from Leh might be the reason behind it. We are not sure about it and may be cross checked with local DC’s office there. On the way there was Chang La at the height of about 17,800 feet. Road to Chang La reminds of tough road like Zoji La Pass but slightly better than that. From here decent begins and after descent you will come across a small village Tanksey, where we had breakfast and lunch in our to and fro journey to Pangong. Although the stay at the lake was for about one hour only but it was worth the grind. During our return journey a biker requested us to stop at Chang La and enquired about compressor pump for inflating tyres of bullet they had taken on rent as the tyre was slightly deflated, they were two persons on the bike. It is pertinent to mention here that my friendly neighbour Sh Raaj Kumar Arora sahib had gifted me with 12V compressor pump before start of journey from Delhi. So we readily helped them and told them we will follow them and if again need arose we will be coming behind them. After travelling some kilometers towards Leh again there was deflation of rear tyre of Enfield. We again inflated the tyre with the help of pump and to decrease the load on the bike we asked them that one of them may accompany us in our car to decrease the load on the Enfield bike. Nearest puncture shop was at Karu. So we will drop the person and their luggage in Karu. We did that. The thing is that if God has given you means and opportunity to help, do not think twice and help in need. After traversing around more than 300 kms in a day we were bit tired. But during our whole journey we never felt problem of lack of oxygen, suffocation, any high altitude sickness symptoms etc. I think it was because we acclimatized ourselves gradually in a slow and steady manner.

{Leh, 4.50 AM, Chang La pass, 17,866 ft, Pangong lake, 10.45 AM, Stay for 1 hr, Leh, 5.20 PM {total distance travelled 305 Kms}

Day Six, date 15th June 2016, time 5 AM: Leh to Khardung La

It was our last day at Leh, we had planned it in such a way to keep it less hectic. So we kept Nubra valley out of our itinerary. As the Khardung La was only 40 Kms from Leh. Half day was kept for local shopping and preparation for our next day long trip to Manali. We departed at about 5 AM in the morning. On the way we were stopped to enquire about the ownership of vehicle. As the vehicle was registered in my name, we did not face any problem and we were allowed to proceed. Actually local transport business hampers this way so they cross check the ownership of the vehicle. We reached Khardung La in around two and half hours. There was no body at that point of time. We parked our Creta and took some photographs of ourselves and with our Creta. For the first time in the tour I felt very cold out there although I was very packed with woolens. We had taken some readymade coffee from Leh which we consumed there. There was a nearby temple maintained by army. Pujari, the army person gave us Prasad. Condition of the road does not remain constant. Every year scenario will change, some roads will become better, and some roads may become worse or worst. I think in that region all roads are at God’s mercy. We had travelled in June. Next month what will be the conditions of roads, only God knows? There we saw people from the other part of the state working under BRO/Contractor under inhospitable conditions. Hats off to the BRO, Himank personnel and other people from the other part of the state working for maintenance and widening of these roads. We really salute them. As it was only 80 Kms to and fro journey, we came early and prepared our breakfast in our room only and also had lunch in our guest house itself. After some rest we ventured for local shopping and some mysterious sound was coming from Creta. We wanted to be doubly sure before embarking on our next day journey which was without any on the way support for long journey of about 500 Kms. There was a Hyundai showroom in the market, where we drove the car. Engineer/mechanic was a local person. We told him that after travelling to Khandung La some sound was coming from the vehicle. He was well aware of such problems in the cars, so he did not think twice and rectified it with any delay. Thereafter there was no such noise in the Creta. We had sighed of relief. Then we got the petrol tank refilled to capacity and we had a separate tank also and 20 liters extra petrol was also filled in case of emergency. Fuel is the most essential item for next day journey to Manali.



{Leh, 5 AM, Khardung La pass, 7 AM, Stay 30 minutes, Leh , 9.15 AM {total distance travelled 83Kms}

Day seven, date 16th June 2016, time 4.30 AM: Leh to Manali 

Our wake up time was the same i.e. 3 AM but we were quick on this day were ready for Manali by 4.30 AM after having our morning tea. That is why I was telling that at least you should have a electric kettle along with tea bags, coffee, dry milk, sugar etc so that you do not have to depend on the hotel/guest house kitchen to serve you tea very early in the morning and you should be self sufficient in that. On this big day we started our journey at about 4.30 in the morning for which we have dreamt for years together. Manali to Leh is around 490 Kms depending up the location of your stay in the Leh. We had thought of breaking of our journey at Sarchu or Keylong depending on the situation. The sky was cast with clouds and it was drizzling, so we were apprehensive about what is stored for us by God. At the same time we were optimistic we will make it in time. First around 150 kms roads were almost in good condition. On the way we met a group of bikers going to Manali. They seem to be very bindaas bikers, as only few of them were wearing proper bilking gears. We conversed with them and they told us they will reach Manali by 6 PM today itself and conveyed to us that if we drive continuously, we also might reach Manali by 8 PM. That conversation changed the mind and plan of our captain, Mr NK Singh. Although, he did not confided with us the changed plan. He decided to execute it, the nonstop journey to Manali. Weather God was also supporting us as without HIS help, you cannot execute your plan.
We reached Karu at 5.20 AM (35 Kms), Upshi at 5.35 AM, (15 Kms), Tangang La, 7 AM, 2nd highest pass (60 kms), best scenic beauty at is best on this route and you must stop here, 8.45 AM (170 kms from Leh), Pang, 9.35 AM (70 kms from Tangang La)(15,079 ft.), Sarchu, 12.30 PM (80 Kms), had our lunch there, 30 minutes stop, end of ladaakh region of J&K state, Jispa (10,900 ft) 85 kms, Kelong, 4.45 PM, 23 Kms, Petrol pump at Tandi (which is 371 Kms from Leh) reached Rohtang pass at about 6.45 PM. The whole route is very picturesque and every frame from any and every angle looks like a masterpiece. On the way you will also come across three or four fast gushing watercourse and require careful driving to cross the same. We have seen some bikers facing difficulty in the crossing the same. Be care full on the whole route rather till you reach home.
As we reached Rohtang pass, it started raining heavily and after some time it was pitch dark outside. Visibility became very poor over there and slowly pressure started building. But our hero of the expedition, Mr NK Singh was very cool and at the same time very determined. There was a HP number car in our front and we started trailing that car very very slowly. We reached Manali at about 9.45 PM and moved to our hotel at about 10 PM. The day was very very hectic and everybody was terribly tired. We settled in our room and after taking dinner it was already past 12. We decided that tomorrow we will take it easy and our normal departure schedule will be shifted by two or three hours.








Day eight, date 17th June 2016, time 7.10 AM: Manali to Delhi

We did not need to refill the petrol in Creta during our journey from Leh to Manali. Still there was around more than 20 liters petrol in the tank. It was around 480 Kms from Leh to Manali. So we filled the additional petrol with us in the tank which was around 20 liters. As a precautionary measure we had kept extra petrol tank of 20 liters. We started at 7.30 in the morning from Manali for Delhi. My friend, NK Singh drove up to Kulu and thereafter from Mandi where we had breakfast, I drove up to Delhi under his supervision. Traffic on the route is very heavy and before overtaking slow moving trucks you should be extra careful as from opposite side there is never lull in traffic. He is very strict and hard task master. He always guides you and will reprimand you whenever you commit some silly mistake and appreciate you at the same time if you drive smoothly. He always says that be extra careful and vigilante when the journey is near completion as at that point of time your mind and body may relax and that could be dangerous.

Be careful and vigilante always till the mission is accomplished.

For this whole circuit from Delhi, Jammu, Udhampur, Kud, Patnitop, Batote, Ramban, Banihal, Srinagar, Sonamarg, Kargil, Leh, Pangong lake, Khardung La, Leh, Karu, Upshi, Pang, Sarchu, Kelong, Rohtang pass, Manali and back to Delhi, a distance of 2820 Kms was covered from my residence in Delhi.

{Manali, 7.10 AM, Mandi 9.10 AM, stay 50 minutes, Kiratpur, 4.25 PM, Delhi 10.45 PM {total distance travelled 550 Kms}

Rajinder Mohan Sharma

Author is a Retired Indian Government Official and a Leisure Traveller.

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