For me, it was an eventful July this year. Actually, just calling it eventful would be an understatement, as I became a part of 2 new India records that were set up. These will be featured in the next release of India Book of Records. Read on to know the details – Road Tripping to Khardung La for the #HighestBloggerMeet.
This article has been carried in September 2017 issue of Smart Photography.
The Records and The Brains Behind Them
In the last week of June, Vineet Rajan of ScoutMyTrip (SMT) called and invited me for a road trip to Ladakh. During this preliminary call, he did not divulge the details. All he mentioned was the involvement of a hospitality chain. Although it was going to be my third trip to Ladakh, the excitement of road trip through this rugged terrain immediately engulfed me.
It was in a subsequent call that he talked about ScoutMyTrip’s ambitious plan of holding a travel blogger’s meet in Khardung La. OYO Rooms was sponsoring this never-before initiative. A successful execution of the plan would mean the creation of the records for the ‘First Blogger Meet at Khardung La’ and the ‘Highest Blogger Meet’ at an altitude of 17,562-ft. (Khardung La has wrongly attributed an altitude of 18,380-ft.).
The Roller Coaster of a Road Trip
A convoy of SUVs set out for Khardung La on 11th July 2017. SMT’s scouts were driving these vehicles. Their cumulative driving experience exceeded a million kilometres – much of it on tough mountainous terrains across the length and breadth of India.
The planned route for this 11-day trip was – Gurgaon-Jammu-Sonamarg-Kargil-Leh-Hundar-Pangong Tso-Tso Moriri-Keylong-Manali-Gurgaon. OYO Rooms had organised our stay along this entire itinerary, mostly in their own properties.
But as the saying goes – Man proposes; God disposes. While there was a planned itinerary, the turn of events along the way ensured not all would go as planned. Did I mention a roller coaster of a trip?
Come, travel with me
Our first day on the road was long as we made our way from Gurgaon to Jammu, with mandatory ‘Parantha’ stop at Moorthal. Once we reached Jammu, we heard the news of landslides after Banihal Pass. Despite that, next morning, we drove off early.
We got past the 9.2-km long Chenani-Nashri Tunnel (also called the Patnitop Tunnel) that was inaugurated by our Prime Minister in April 2017 and reached Ramban in good time.
And it was here that our plan changed. The J&K Police had stopped all traffic in Ramban because of continuing landslides between Ramban and Anantnag. Our Day 2 was mercilessly cut short!
After spending a night here, we moved out the next morning ditching our plan of staying at Sonamarg, and instead, decided to drive straight to Kargil. Besides a brief stop at Dal Lake in Srinagar, we also stopped by at the Kargil War Memorial to pay obeisance to the Kargil War martyrs. This was the day we crossed the famous Zoji La (Zoji Pass).
En route, near Sonamarg, we witnessed an overwhelming sight. From a viewpoint called Zero Point, we looked down and saw thousands of tents pitched along the River Drass. This encampment was a makeshift arrangement for the Amarnath pilgrims who had chosen this route over the usually followed Chandanwadi climb. As my friend Kuldip mentioned, this scene was an unusual combination of faith and fury.
As we drive on
The next day saw us driving towards Leh. Our first stop was Mulbekh (altitude: 10,839 ft.). Mulbekh is known for its 8th-century Chamba statue of Maitreya Buddha. It is one of the more revered sites for the Buddhists of this region.
Our next stops were the two passes on this route – Namika La and Fotu La. Both equally scenic! Incidentally, Fotu La is the highest pass on Srinagar-Leh Highway.
By lunchtime, we were in Lamayuru Monastery (altitude: 11,520 ft.) – one of the largest monasteries in Ladakh. Over 150 Buddhist monks have permanent residence in this monastery.
Before reaching Leh, we made two more stops – the Indus-Zanskar confluence and the Magnetic Hill.
Our Ladakh Story
The next day was our acclimatization day in Leh. Also, it was the day for the organisers to plan for the big event in Khardung La! Most of us took it easy catching up on social media and emails since we got access to Wi-fi after many days. For those who may not know, the Internet access in J&K is restricted often because of security reasons.
Some of us visited Thikse Monastery and Vishwa Shanti Stupa. These places are within a few kilometers of Leh. And these rank high – both, as Buddhist as well as tourist attractions.
(I had been to these places earlier. You may read about it in my earlier post – Ladakh – A Travel Photographer’s Delight).
Next morning, armed with skullcaps, sunscreens and earmuffs, we were to make our way to Khardung La.
Highest Blogger Meet
Here it was – the big day! For some of us who were to return after the meet, it was our last day with the group. ScoutMyTrip and OYO Rooms had immaculately planned this day. While all those who were proceeding to Hundar (Nubra Valley) after the meet loaded their bags, we just hauled ourselves out of our respective rooms and loaded ourselves into the vehicles.
During our drive to Khardung La, we gave lift to a bike’s pillion rider. Their bike was groaning with the strain of the steep climb to what is touted as the highest motor-able road in the world!
At Khardung La, after some photo clicking, the meet started at the signage that marks the highest point of the pass. The core of the discussion here was the record setting we were all involved in. After being there for the permitted 20-30 minutes, we all moved the venue a little away from the narrow mountain pass.
The meet continues
Our discussions continued at the Tsolding Buddha Park, an idyllic location that had a Buddha Temple and a small rivulet. As soon as we reached there, we spotted a dozen or so yaks crossing the little rivulet! Though we had climbed down a bit, the air still was rarified. While we chatted about the various blogging related issues, some helping hands cooked Maggi for us.
Here, OYO Rooms unveiled a unique programme for bloggers – OYONauts! This programme helps bloggers stay with OYO Rooms free of charge so long as they share their experience of the stay and being in the city on their blog.
After spending another 90 minutes here, the meet ended. Those who were proceeding on the road trip from here to Hundar, Pangong, Tso Moriri, Keylong, Manali and Gurgaon got into the #HighestBloggerMeet SUVs and continued, while the others made their way back to Leh in taxis, to get back to Delhi. It was the 16th of July 2017!
While I returned to Delhi on 17th, the entire set of bloggers who were on this record-creating odyssey reunited once again on 22nd July in Gurgaon. This was a big day! Ashok Kumar Sharma, Editor of India Book of Records was there to curate whether a record had been created. While we waited with a collective baited breath, he announced that we had created not one, but two records – the first-ever bloggers meet in Khardung La, as well as the Highest Blogger meet at an altitude of 17,562 ft.
Reading this little tale, I hope you would agree with my opening statement – July was truly an eventful month for me!
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