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Less travelled Leh in even less travelled Punto

Discussion in 'Travelogues & Experiences' started by ankush ganda, Sep 11, 2014.

  1. ankush ganda

    ankush ganda Timido

    jaipur - Rajasthan
    Hello Guys,

    I am Ankush Ganda ( Akki) - a civil engineer doing my own business and into the real estate world and I live in Jaipur. This travelogue is about my 12 days journey to my dream destination - Ladakh. The purpose of writing this is for the Fiat Grande Punto owners who just do not find enough information on internet to decide confidently to take Punto to Leh-Ladakh.

    It started one fine day. I was just doing some time pass and saw a new group on whatsapp created by my friend who is into software world in Blore. I was much amused to see that as i never expected the initiative to be taken by a female friend but i was happy and too excited. So the conversation started and i was very much clear that i wanted a road trip to Ladakh ( I found that others were also interested for the same). Soon people started to read the online blogs and there we find this site Devil On Wheels which had all the itinerary details , hotels, things to carry, route plan , time required, maps and everything we required for the trip.

    So after reading and seeing some videos online, people were thrilled for the trip and the tedious task of deciding the dates for the trip started. We wanted it to be in last week of June or early July as 15 persons were from Bangalore and just me ( Akki) and a college friend of mine Nikhil ( Nick) were from Jaipur and Delhi respectively. So on April 17, the Blore gang booked the air tickets and thats when the feeling that " Yes we are going to leh ladakh started coming".

    So took permission from my parents for a bike trip which unfortunately I could'nt get. But yes they settled that i can take my Grande Punto. I was more than happy for that. So now i will not discuss the boring part of the planning and will summarise it in a short table and will directly jump to the start of trip from Delhi on June 28.

    Day summary.jpg

    Day 1 - 28 June ( Delhi - Pathankot)

    Finally the day for the dream trip came and as it happens with most of the travellers, due to excitement I had a sleepless night. Still started off at 6:!5 in the morning and picked up rest of the 2 persons and then talked to Pao ( nickname) , just to discover that one of the friends parents has refused and they have gone to her house to console them. And the trip started with some delay and we could start from Rohini at 9:30 a.m. Total 17 persons, 6 in innova ( taxi), 5 in scorpio ( taxi) who will join us tomorrow, 4 in Punto including me the only driver for Punto and 2 on bullet .

    As we started from Rohini we were on highway within 5 minutes and were cruising at 70-80 kmph speed as there is a lot of traffic in NCR at office time.
    Soon the NCR ends and the excellent GT Road began and the speed increased to 100-110 kmph. The Punto feels veru stable on highway and it definitely asks you to push her harder. But I generally keep the speeds under 110 most of the time.

    After crossing Ambala and having buttery food of Punjab, contacted with the Innova gang just to find that the driver was driving at 80 kmph to get a better fuel economy and they were alomst 2 hrs behind us. So we decided to visit Golden Temple in Amritsar as it was adding only 80 kms extra to the travelling.

    So headed on for Amritsar, and as soon as we entered the city, we were caught by a Sikh cop who asked the car documents . Showed him all the documents and then he pointed that Yellow sticker on headlight is missing and you have to pay the penalty for it. Argued for some time with him, but found out that it was not worth as they will not leave Rajasthan state vehicle without penalty . So paid the penalty , wasted a good half an hour but to be optimistic saved 30 mins too.

    As soon as we entered the Golden Temple the weather changed and a light dust storm accompanied by a thunderstorm started. So visited the temple in a hurry , clicked some pictures for the memory lane and headed on for pathankot. Within 5 minutes found ourselves at a railway crossing which opened up after 45 minutes. Till then the Innova gang has reached Pathankot and headed for Jammu as they believed that the slow speed of the driver wont allow them to reach Srinagar the next day if they halted at Pathankot.


    It was 8 p.m when we left Amritsar and that train crossing and tried to reach pathankot and then decide whether we can reach Jammu or not. Soon after an hour of city and highway driving it started poring heavily with heavy winds and only then I noticed that the driver side viper blade was not functioning properly and was leaving a trail of water at the centre which was causing difficulty in driving as well as causing splitting of the high beams of the coming traffic on the 2 lane highway.

    Still we were driving slowly on the highway, until a branch broke off from nearby highway tree and flew in front of our car ( just like the movie Twister where a cow flew in front of there car). That was the time when we decided not to drive in that weather and stay even before Pathankot. Found a good Hotel in Gurdaspur and halted there at around 11 p.m covering 545 kms for the first day.

    Decided to leave before 9 tomorrow as I was dead tired and wanted to have a good night sleep.

    Day 2 - Gurdaspur to Srinagar

    As i was driving for almost 17 hours the previous day, we had decided to get up somewhat late. But at morning 6 I wake up because curtain was left a little open and light was coming directly on my face. The day started with an annoying feeling. View attachment 70893 Tried to catch some more sleep but could not sleep.

    So got ready, had tea and biscuits and left the hotel by 9.( I am that kind of person who needs around 2 hours to do proper heavy breakfast). Meanwhile took the number of FIAT Dealer from the website and tried calling him but it was way too early and no one picked the call so thought to get the wiper blade replaced in Srinagar.

    As we moved on the highway , we reached pathankot by 10 and just took the bypass to go to Srinagar. There got Punto refuelled after travelling 580 kms just to note that diesel was cheaper in Punjab too. After refuelling Punto it was turn for the travellers to get refuelled so had aloo parantha at a dhabha in Pathankot and the food was simply delicious.

    Back to the highway, we took the Udhampur route to save on some 60 kms of the trip but army has closed the route due to traffic jam because of some anonymous reason which they did not want to disclose. So had to forcibly take the Jammu route. Reached Kuat 12:30 and enquired to find that innova gang was around 2 hrs (80 kms) ahead of us. As we were already late and a freshly laid express way was very much inviting, so stepped up on the Gas a little bit and in no time the speed buzzer that was set for 130 kph rang. Slowed down a little bit and kept cruising and decided to do lunch at Patnitop and feast on the snacks, dates and chocolates that were kept reserved for bad situation. The highway and roads are a pleasure to drive and the landscape makes it much more adorable.
    Were about to reach Patnitop and it was arond 2:45 when we encountered the first big traffic jam. It was almost 20-25 km long and we were crawling at a snails pace with most of the time struck at a place. Later found out that the road construction work was in progress and hence at a time one side traffic was kept open. So finally stopped at a roadside dhabha around 10 km ahead of Patnitop and it was 6:30 p.m. Yes you read it right. It took us almost 4 hrs to cross that traffic jam. Gulped on the food as everyone was hungry and enquired the locals about the highway and traffic conditions ahead ( speciaaly Jawahar Tunnel which i knew closes in the evening but later recognised it was 2003 when i last visited Srinagar and it has changed a lot since then) and they told before 11 you will be able to reach Srinagar. I already add 1 hour to that as have seen the rash drivers of J&K in the daytime and proceeded for Srinagar.

    Crossed Jawahar Tunnel and reached the Titanic Point which you can see in the picture looks absolutely stunning at night View attachment 70894 Innova Gang were lucky enough that they did not stuck in the traffic for 4 hours and they reached Srinagar around 10:30 and got the hotel booked for all of us. So we were a little bit relaxed as we know where to reach in Srinagar. Finally reached the hotel at 12:45 in the night and drove for 16 hrs again covering 480 kms.

    Till then Scorpio and Bullet Gang has also reached hotel and now all 17 of us met for the first time. We had our dinner and could sleep only by 2:00 a.m. 1 more hectic day of the trip and this was the time i started expecting the unexpected ( Famous Ladakhi saying).

    Day 3 - Srinagar to Drass

    After getting up at 8:30 found that rest of the guys had gone to see the Dal lake. I preferred to sleep as i was the only driver so got up lazily and got ready by 9:30 to start the day 3. Enquired from locals about the Viper blade as there is no authorised dealer of Fiat in Srinagar. So went to Maisuma Market which has all the cars and accessory shops. Enquired many shops but most of them did not have driver side viper. Finally a shop had it but it did not fit. So he told to go to Tata showroom which sent us to Fiat Showroom ( I forgot the name). Unfortunately they also did not have driver side viper and sent us to Bosch which became our last hope. But they also did not have the viper blade and told us that there is a mechanic named Shaukat in the next lane and he can do some JUGAAD.

    So went to him , and he told to wait for 20 mins as he was going for Namaaz. Waited for him eagerly and when he came he took some elfy, some rubber and sponge and did something magical. The metal now was not scratching the wind-shield instead leaving a small trail of water which was manageable. So paid him Rs 100 and prayed that it could last complete trip and could bear the bad weather of Leh in case we find any and started from Srinagar but to our surprise the time just flew and it was 2:30 pm already.

    Had to ask many time the route to catch the Sonmarg road and as soon as we reached the highway , we could smell petrol in the car ( which we took for the bullet guys as they forgot to take jerry can). So stopped and put some polythene and rubber bands over its mouth and started yet again. As we had done breakfast quite late so decided to skip the lunch.

    The highway is just magical and IAF and BRO has maintained it awesomely. Its pure pleasure to drive in those terrain and the lovely surrounding. Soon we were surrounded by Snowy mountains and it became somewhat cold. Were about to reach Sonmarg when Army diverted us from highway but when we told we were going to Leh, he saw 4 of us with a suspicious look as it was already 5:20 pm. Soon we were at Sonmarg, stopped and clicked some pictures with the fast flowing Jhelum and went ahead.

    The next challenge was Zoji La pass which was 25 km from Sonmarg. We were all excited as it was the first high pass of our trip and is said to be the most difficult pass of Srinagar - Leh Highway . We started the accent for Zoji La which became a mud road very soon with small potholes and road turning worst with every rotation of wheel. Zoji la is the pass from where the monsoon enters so most of the time roads are not there.

    Soon there were two roads and we thought to move straight but stopped to enquire from someone who told us that we are on the wrong route. Thanks to other guys who could see that route as i missed it completely. Took a U-turn and followed that route soon enough to discover some small water crossings which seemed to cause no problem to Punto having SUV like 185 mm ground clearance. The petrol smell was still coming and the back seat persons were complaining so we decided to put one more polythene and to tighten the cap more. We stopped at a big crossing as i went to see the way to take out Punto. Luck was in our favour and a car came from opposite side so i let it cross to see the way. It crossed easily and came and stop near us and the driver told to take the route which is on the upward side ( you can see in the pictures 2 roads) as there was a lot of Trucks struck ahead which were unable to manage the high slopes coupled with slush at water crossings.

    So after travelling approximately 6 kms and 20 mins on that rough road took a U-Turn and the person guided us to the beginning of the upward route. We felt so angry because that was the route we took earlier. Anyway could not do anything and started on that route which was definitely better than the previous one and soon we reached Zozi La Pass without much difficulty. Although we were advised not to stop anywhere on the road for last 5 kms as its a landslide prone area and we saw a landslide happening. It was 8:00 p.m till then.

    Soon after clicking some pictures started and found an army camp where we enquired about the route as I did not want to drive in night. He told us to reach Drass first but advised not to travel Drass - Kargil route at night as its not much safer and advisable. The route till Drass was quite bad for around 35 km which took maximum time to reach there. In the way, around 10 km before Drass there was an army camp and after that the road turns left. As the road condition was very bad ( in fact it should not even be called a road) , we were moving very slowly.

    We were moving straight after turning, but the road started descending and there were lot of stones, so I became suspicious and stopped the car to find whether that was our way. We were shocked to see that straight path would have taken directly into a deep valley and the road was turning exactly 90 degrees. That is the reason one should avoid night driving at such places even if you have visited the place before. So decided to call off the day by staying in Drass. Found a hotel which gave the room for four persons for Rs 1600 and had a good dinner there. The rest of the gang has already reached Kargil .

    Day summary - 8 hrs , 210 kms

    Day 4 - Drass to Leh

    Got up at 6:30 around and everyone was ready till 8:00. Decided to wash the Punto as there was a stream of water available nearby the hotel. Cleaned it and left Drass at 9:00 am. The highway from Drass to Kargil is just heaven, road quality is superior than the current NH-8 , Jaipur - Delhi stretch with all the road markings, lane markings and crash barriers installed and excellent greenery along the river bed but barren mountains accompanying you all the time. Stopped in between to have the breakfast and had Maggi and tea. Was feeling tonsils and fever so decided to have one ezythromycin for tonsils and continue the journey.


    Reached The Future Buddha in Kargil and took a stop in front of it to have some tea as my throat was paining badly to find rest of the gang there. So after a tea left the place at around 12 and then proceeded towards Lumayuru. On the way came Namik La at 1:30, a relatively empty pass. Today we were quite relaxed and clicked lots of pics. Proceeded ahead and within an hour reached Fotula Pass - the highest pass on Srinagar - Leh highway. Its a beautiful pass, much colder than rest and quite windy too. Enjoyed the beauty, clicked some nice pics of the amazing view you get from the top and proceeded further. In between Nakila and Fotula, i was feeling very much sleepy due to the medicines so took a power nap of around 10-15 minutes on the drivers seat only as I was the only driver. View attachment 70896



    Reached Lumayuru in half an hour and had lunch there near the monastery. Soup was awesome and quite soothing to throat but the flat lunch was not at all appealing to a Rajasthani person who is always high on spices. Anyway had to deal with it as no other option was available. Next stop was for the natures call as we had started drinking lots of water after reading all the blogs about AMS. Had a photography session there too as the highway is all the time inviting you for the clicks.



    Winded up with the session as soon as possible and started ahead and reached a freshly laid awesome highway in between a desert surrounded by mountains with snowy peaks. Now that is called a stunning landscape. So just after 15 mins driving stopped again for 30 mins to capture the nature and than only realized that it was the same location that has been captured in movie FUGLY too. Had some good clicks with Punto, highway and the mountains and started at 7:00.




    Half an hour drive and another natural wonder forces you to stop. Have seen on internet, different density and different coloured water in some ocean of the world which does not mix up at all. Encountered the same phenomenon en-route to find later that the place is called SANGAM ( true justification to the name). Clicked some pics and started again as it was already 7:30 pm . The place is in Nimmu district I guess.


    10 mins drive from Sangam and you reach another famous place called as Magnetic Hill which is the biggest attraction on the highway. Has read so much of the blogs and seen so many images and videos that I could recognise the place from a distance. Although I was not much interested in the magnetic hill, I was more interested in the hill bang opposite and just wanted to see how well the Punto handles the climb. Asked all the fellow members to let me try the climb alone as I did not want to risk others if something bad happens as its somewhat risky if you make some mistake or loose control of the vehicle. Was pretty much excited for it and Punto did quite well stopping some distance short of what 4X4 could do.

    Came down and let the adrenaline rush cool down a bit to start ahead. A crowd had gathered below who were just anxious and mixing the hill climb with the magnetic hill phenomenon. A guy was passing us in Fortuner and stopped to see a Punto doing a hill climb. So he too attempted it and in his 4X4 with 4H/4L function could easily surpass us ( see in the video).

    After this final stoppage, started and reached Leh at 8:30 where rest of the gang has already booked the hotel. This was the most exciting day till now with everyone relaxed and in a complete photography mood.

    Day sumaary - 290 kms , 12 hours

    Day 5,6 - Leh - Chang La - Pangong Tso (Lukung) - Leh

    One thing I noticed in the mountains is that night starts really late at 8:30 pm and day starts too early 5:00 am. Could not understand this but its really annoying. Still had some sleep. Today for the first time all 17 were together for the breakfast, and the discussion began. As we had decided for Pangong Tso stay today and stay at Turtuk for tomorrow ( via Wari La) we had to collect permits from DC office for Wari La route. Went there and they told no permits is needed so proceed directly. Informed others, Refuelled the Punto , got air pressure in tyres checked and started the journey via Leh - Manali route.

    Crossed Shey Monestry which was looking beautiful on a hill top, but did not went inside. The landscape is just awesome and it was joyous to drive in that terrain. While moving to Karu saw a pathway made on a deserted hill and decided to do some off-roading. It was an awesome fun to drive on the sandy plain reaching the hill and it was nice to do some drifting with 4 persons on board. Surprisingly the multi-jet engine never felt under powered and Punto is very stable. Although we got struck in half tyre deep sand way before the steep slope of the hill. Evacuated the Punto, and tried to set free the beauty but the tyres were spinning. So did not try too hard, instead started giving jerks so that car started moving too and fro in the tyre marks already made. When sufficient momentum was built up pulled off in back gear as we were on an ascent and it came out in one go. Travelled some distance in back gear only to come out of the deep sand and then only turned the car.

    So all seated again came out on the tarmac highway and just at the exit, read on the hill that it was on off road practice track of Indian Army. View attachment 70905 Soon we were at Karu (35 kms from Leh) and had tea at a road side dhabha, clicked some pictures with Army, enquired the way and were set for mighty Chang La. It was 1:00 pm when we started from Karu.

    Soon we were at Sarkti, which marks the begining of the 32 km ascent for the Mighty CHANG LA. The road is excellent and you just praise BRO the whole time you are driving on that beauty. Soon the Green valley aside us started looking distant and we were climbing fast to reach the Top. We stopped at a turn to click the beautiful landscape and the height at which we have reached. But after more climb it looks as if that was the base camp for Chang La. Started drinking lots of water and so the number of stops also increased.



    Soon everyone started complaining of a little head ache with the increasing height and the road condition started deteriorating. The time taken started increasing and the water crossing became a pain to cross because of round stones, slight slush offering no grip. At one crossing asked the friends to cross it as Punto was struggling on the ascent to reach the water crossing with all 4 on board. But it pulled off quite well with only me inside. At the same time a bastard came descending and even after giving him dipper and asking him to stop he did not stop. I was in no position to stop my car, and we both got struck right in the middle of water crossing. He was a local driver so was talking in such an arrogant tone, and had a good argument with that person who was unwilling take his car back. PAO (nickname) was complaining of sevre headache so did not mess up with him more and just took out the Punto anyhow and wanted to pass Chang La as soon as possible.

    Next stop was at the Changla Top for a group pic, a solo and the most important thing nature's call. Did not stop more than 5 minutes there and started descending and asking Pao to drink water and have some dates/ chocolates but the headache did not reduce. So after descending found Chang La army camp where we consulted the Doctor and they checked the Blood Oxygen Level which was 62% only. It meant the adventurous trip has become serious all of a sudden. Oxygen was supplied and blood oxygen level brought to 100%. Doctor gave the medicines too and asked to take only after lunch as we were empty stomach according to them. They advised not to stay there as the altitude was 17000 feet.



    So we headed for Tangste, had Maggi , Dal Chawal and some tea but Pao eat only some spoons maggi. Took all 4 tablets as prescribed by the Doctor and within no time she puked everything out. Some army men standing there offered us Hajmola so that she does not puke more. Now only thing in our mind was to reach Pangong, book an accomodation and make her rest.

    But as its said, Problem always come together. We reached Pangong to enquire rains, heavy winds and extreme cold weather which took a turn that afternoon only. Enquired about tents, waited for others to reach , and wasted 3 hours in all this. Till then asked her to rest in a hotel and drink soop with another friend Uttu. Finally took tents bang opposite Pangong and booked only single room left for Pao ( as tents were cloder).

    But she could not eat anything and was getting almost unconscious, so decided to admit her to army hospital. Wearing sweaters and jacket, wrapped up in blanket, took her to hospital and again the Blood oxygen level was 55 %. Now the alarms were ringing in our minds. Got the oxygen replenished, and Army told us to leave Pangong early morning and board the first flight from Leh to reach to Delhi as they feared AMS could turn into HAPO which can life threatening. They told the only remedy to AMS is drink plenty of water ( 4-5 litres a day) and keep eating chocolates/dates/nuts in short intervals and DO NOT EAT BISCUITS IN MOUNTAINS WHEN ILL.

    So went back to hotel, prayed everything gets OK and slept at 2:00 am. Thankfully she drank lots of water and did not puke. Got her checked once again at the same camp, got diffused oxygen this time. After seeing her, rest of us also got Blood Oxygen Level checked but were normal. So we started off at 11:00 to Leh. Stopped in between for lunch and replenished the oxygen at lower altitude Zingral and without taking much stops this time reached Leh in evening around 6:00.

    We went to the heaven called Pangong, but could not even got a feel of it and returned. That means a next trip to Leh is coming in the near future.

    After reaching hotels, enquired about flights and booked it for Nick and Pao as she could not travel alone.

    Day summary - It was so messed up and situation so tensed that did not even notice the km and odometer. But according to google maps 320 kms in 2 days is what you can expect.

    Day 7 - Leh - Khardung La - Leh

    Day started on a low note as went to drop Nick and Pao to airport for there flight scheduled at 7:40 am. Returned to the hotel, got ready, had breakfast and were able to leave for Khardungla at 10;00 am. Had to repeatedly ask the way. Were just at the outskirts of Leh, when found the road closed as some road repair work was going on. Asked a local who dropped us to a diversion which would bring us to the same road again. As soon as the ascent for Khardungla starts, you are greeted by a sign board saying "you are on the World's Highest Motorable road". You can feel the adrenaline rush simply by reading that sign board.

    The road to Khardungla is equally good to other roads, perfect in quality ( only the road near the peaks is in bad shape as it is snow covered for most of the time). Were climbing easily with 4 persons on board and Punto felt effortless. Took a small stop to refill the water bottles from the Camper, as we have taken Luke warm water from hotel after being advised from IAF. Started again and soon reached a view point where we clicked some pics.

    Had moved some distance and reached South Pullu to find a traffic jam. Enquired with the people struck and they told they were struck for almost 45 minutes and a landslide has happened. We became somewhat worried as we were struck at 15500 feet altitude ( had just crossed South Pullu 15300 feet).
    So we decided that we will see for 1 hour whether the traffic open up or not. So roamed here and there, climbed the mountains, clicked some pics and had enough water View attachment 70910

    We were struck at a place and moving in between at a snail's pace and this happened for a km or so after which the traffic cleared ans we were able to move freely. This also happened for a while and till we could enjoy the glorious mountain roads the conditions started worsening and the roads turned dramatically into crater like potholes which was always hunting for your car underbody. Thank God 185 mm ground clearance ensured it remains scratc proof. The ascent increased which coupled with the wet mud and rock road made it worse to pull off Punto in a start stop traffic.

    With car choking in at high altitude, pulling it off from stand still was proving pain. So i decided to let the turbo kick in and then pull it off, but to my surprise, even in a "pedal to the metal" situation Punto could not cross 1500 RPM every time when stand still. Add to that the bloody Tempo Traveller local drivers who just keep inches distance from your bumper, so that you just touch them and they come firing upon you to ask the compensation for the loss.

    As Khardung La was quite nearby managed some how to finish the climb and reach the top at 2:30 p.m. And what a view you get at the top, snow covered mountains greeting you from one side and beautiful panoramic view of Leh town on another (though its quite distant). Had some good clicks at the top, had a nice Maggi and hot tea at probably the World's Highest Canteen . As the diesel fumes were choking me up, asked every one to hurry up a little bit. It was becoming almost intolerable for me, so we decided to move from there.

    The moment we stepped out and moved towards our car, guess what? Snowfall Started. Yes, at the World Highest Road witnessing first snowfall of your life was truly mesmerising and all the suffocation was lost in front of the nature's surprise. So spent some additional 20 minutes there and finally took a U-Turn to head to Leh. Went straight away and got the air filter cleaned as it had done almost 14000 km and I had not taken a new one because of the advice of FIAT guys.

    From there moved on to Hall of Fame museum and "awesome" is the word which can describe it completely. Covering the beautiful Landscape model of Leh and surrounding valleys, History and life in Leh, Flora & Fauna, places to visit nearby to the importance of Leh it was beautifully done. But the more important thing it covers is the contribution of IAF and the soldiers who protects us in a hostile environment everyday so that we can live peacefully and visit places like Leh and admire its natural beauty . Hats off to our soldiers.

    After the visit to the museum and paying tribute to those who have died serving the Matra Bhoomi , moved again to the hotel. Got the car refuelled and air pressure checked on the way. Dropped the car at hotel and moved to explore the local market but most was closed/ closing as it was already 9:00 pm.
    So had an awesome dinner of Veg Momos and Chopsy and went to sleep early as we wanted to do Leh-Keylong/Jipsa tomorrow.

    Day 8 - Leh - Sarchu

    Wake up and left the hotel at 9:00 am and stopped as soon as we touched the highway to had an awesome yummy breakfast comprising of Aloo Parantha, the specially prepared Maggi by locals which is quite different in taste and tea. Had it in hurry and proceeded on Leh-Manali highway which is rated as the most beautiful road in India. So the excitement level was quite high, and keeping it in control reached Karu quite soon and then soon were on an arrow straight well paved road to Upshi. Its so inviting to push the car hard, but you need to keep the speed in check as the road contains sudden depression in between which can give a serious jerk to the shockers and can prove spine cracking. So try not to exceed 80-90 kph with complete focus on driving as it can prove dangerous even if you lose on a single depression.

    So crossed Upshi and were on the smooth roads driving pleasently enjoying the true beauty of the highway. After some time found a sign board greeting us " You are just 24 km away from the World's Second Highest Pass - TangLang La" which force you to take a break from the journey and get clicked with it. So soon after taking some pics, moved on to the ascent of TangLang La on even more smoother Tarmac you can imagine on a high altitude mountain pass. But that feeling of DRIVE OFF THE ROAD was gushing inside us so took an off road route. Yes that may sound crazy. Off road route on the ascent of World's Second highest pass that too in a hatchback.

    And believe me, it was more crazier than it sounds. The twisting off road track became more steeper with every rotation of the wheel and finally it became so steep that Punto gave up and refused to climb any further. Took a U-turn somehow, and as we were exiting to join the smooth tarmac again, an Innova guy saw us coming from that track and his expressions were worth noting. He seems to be shocked to see a hatch coming out from that route. Soon we overtook him and climbed fast till the top. TangLang La is the pass with the best road till the top sparing only 2 km off the top which is a mud road but well compacted to make the drive a butter ride.

    At the top clicked some photographs, met a couple from France who had been cycling from 1 March 2014 ( starting from Mumbai) and had reached there on 5 July 2014 crossing the hottest states ( Rajastha, Delhi , Haryana) in mid may. Had some talks with them and they told " The condition of these mountain roads is better than some of the highways of France". So together we said HATS OFF to BRO & IAF and proceeded ahead. At time I realized we always see the shortcomings/ issues which our country is facing but in that process does not see how much good things it has in it.

    Anyway crossed TangLang La at 1:00 pm and within half an hour drive descended to my favourite More Plains at an average altitude of 15000 feet. The plains in between the high mountains looks wonderful with sky kissing it in a distance. You can gaze at the shadows of moving cloud in the plains. We captured those moments, did some off roading as the place allows you ample of choices for that and had the traditional lunch of Dal chawal with sabji which is available at most of the road side dhabhas. Gulped a tea and move ahead in our journey towards the next destination Pang La.

    The road in the More plains was not at all good, with no signs of Tarmac ( although some blogs tell of well paved arrow straight tarmac). But as you proceed towards Pang the road becomes confidence inspiring and you can easily cruise at 90-100 kph. After about 45 minutes of drive from More Plains you reach a place from where you can see a wide river basin but it was actually totally dry at our time. And just after that there is a place which I almost mistook as Gata Loops but later recalled that Gata Loops would come after Pang. Some clicks there and we are off to Pang which we reached around 3:45/4:00.

    As we had planned to reach Jispa, so we decided that now we would take less/short stops and try to cover as much distance as possible. And as soon as we proceeded ahead of Pang suddenly the hell broke loose on the roads. The beautiful, glorious , smooth tarmac roads suddenly became full of crater like potholes, single lane only and mountains hanging on your head ready to engulf your car. This was the worst route of the trip. Very challenging and tiring for the driver as you have to keep negotiating those potholes.

    After a drive of an hour reached the lonely and windy Lachulungla Pass at an altitude of 16616 feets. The pass was so lonely that within our stay of 10 minutes we did not encounter even a single vehicle passing us from either side. So took off from Lachulung La and within half an hour we were at Nakee La pass but we opted not to stop and drive as we wanted to reach Sarchu asap and decide from there whether to proceed for jispa or not as the roads were a disaster after Pang.

    After a drive of half an hour we reached the much famous Gata Loops which are truly beautiful. The 21 hair pin bends provide an excellent scenic view and its a photographers paradise. We too stopped and clicked a few. In between we saw a mysterious thing, there was a place with many water bottles stacked out of which many were sealed and new while some were old. As we did not know about it so we proceeded further and after the trip I researched it and found the story of Ghost of Gata Loops. It was sad to hear the story.

    So we proceeded and as we were descending it was excellent quality of road at such hair pins and steep slope that surprised us. In India where there are good roads, you will definitely find a rash driver too even if that Leh-Ladakh. So we encountered a tempo traveller who just at the begining of a hair pin bend was behind me and visible in the rear view mirror but in between took a short cut ( there are many at Gata Loops, we also tried one but at the start of short cut its such a deadly slope that you seems to ride down a mountain so dropped the idea of taking another) and just beefore the hair pin would finish crossed us at 90 degrees to take another connecting short cuts. So guys do pay full attention to driving even when you are driving in heaven.

    Anyway after Gata Loops the road is better than the previous so proceeded ahead and crossed some golden mountains that were glowing gloriously in the setting sun and reached Sarchu crossing at around 7:30 pm. Did the entry of the vehicle and asked the army personnel about whether to proceed for Jispa or not to which he refused and told the road is twice more bad then what you have encountered. So decided to halt at Sarchu only and found tents for complete gang just before the check post for Rs 500 per person with dinner included.

    Decided to stop there and took it asap as heavy winds were blowing and the weather turned more drastic with rains at night. It was damn chilling and the Indian tents could not cope much to provide heat insulation so had a sleep deprived night.

    Day 9 - Sarchu - Mandi

    Due to sleepless night wake up at around 6;00 next morning and were off from Sarchu quite early. Had the national breakfast of Leh Province ( Maggi and Tea) and enquired the local persons who told it must have been sub zero or close last night. Soon enough we started the journey, we could feel that army personnel guided us perfectly. The roads were too bad and had many water crossings. We wondered when the water crossing were active that early, there must have been 1-2 feet water in the evening. So kept on moving and soon the ascent for the toughest pass Baralacha La started, greeting us with water crossings, potholes almost equivalent to the road width with water filled making the driver completely clueless about the depth. Tried to wade through them protecting the under belly of Punto but missed out at some and could hear the scratching noise and feel the pain.A little more travel and we found a Himalayan Marmot road side and clicked some pics of it crossing the road and then reached the top within minutes of driving.

    Some clicks and we proceeded to find a traffic jam at the top. Went ahead and saw to find a truck broken down obstructing the lane with traffic towards manali keeping only one lane open to traffic. That lane was covered with 1-1.5 feet of snow, and a xylo trying to cross that got struck with wheels spinning freely because of no grip. Due to the jam, a crowd had gathered which had a lot of IAF men too. We were seeing the struck up Xylo, when some 15-20 army men came and until our slow human body could react and take out a mobile/camera to record the stunning incident, they lifted the bulky over 2 tonne Machine and kept it on road some 15 feet ahead.

    We were watching this dumbstruck, and then we started cheering and hooting for IAF ( Indian Army ki Jai) . This made them so energetic they cleared the snow with some steel plates with still a good amount of snow left which was hitting the bumpers. Next vehicle again was a xylo, which got struck but with army men pushing cleared it. Third vehicle was Punto with me on driving seat, for which an army men said " its a small car, will get struck. lets keep it aside and let others cross" but the other said " will lift it up if it gets struck". So I took charge and to every one's surprise I cleared the snow driving on the previous tire marks. So one more experience to drive on snow also gets attached to Leh.

    Soon descended the pass, and could see another beautiful semi frozen Suraj Tal Lake. Half of the lake had floating ice while the rest had a thin sheet of ice on its surface making it more picturesque. Captured the beauty and a 10 minutes drive made us to stop as there has been a landslide and Bro was clearing the road. While we were waiting we could see small landslides still happening . Within 15 minutes the road was cleared after which we stopped for tea at ZingZing Bar.

    Crossed Jispa and keylong and reached Tandi ( place famous for the last fuel station if you are travelling from Manali-Leh) , clicked the world famous IOCL sign board and moved on to have lunch. After lunch proceeded ahead and started the ascent for Rohtang which had very bad roads but thank god it did not rained and roads were dry. The rohtang roads are famous for slush formation and causing huge traffic jams even on slightest of rains. So were climbing continuously and it took us almost 2 hrs to complete the climb and reach Rohtang pass at 4:00 pm. The roads in the end were pretty good with little water which eventually cleaned the Punto a bit too. View attachment 70911

    After having a Bhutta (corn) in rohtang, moved further as it has started raining and I did not want to get struck up in Rohtang's traffic jam. So headed off to Manali and we were praising the road quality as it was excellent to drive. Light drizzling, all green around ( after the snowy peaks of rohtang vanished) , butter smooth roads are the best combination you can find on a road trip. So reached manali without even a little fatigue as weather has cleared it all. Proceeded further and stopped for Tea at a road side hotel who told us " Himachal aaye aur thupka nahi khaya" ( You come to Himachal and you did not have a Thupka). So ordered a thuoka with chai and Parle G. Thupka can be refereed to as Soupy Noodles but the difference is that the soupy part is a spicy indian curry soup which makes the dish a pure delite.

    After it headed towards Mandi, which is 70 km from Manali but at night its a pure foolishness to drive in Himachal Pradesh with 99/100 drivers just not knowing/following the basic driving rules. Everyone drives on a high beam and no one understands the purpose of Dipper. I had to stop thrice on the way to Mandi because could not see anything on the valley road. So reached mandi, thanked God that I could take the beating of the Himachal drivers and decided to call off the day as it was already 8:00 pm.

    Final Day - Mandi - Delhi

    After the breakfast we left the hotel at around 9:00 am as we were not in a hurry today. Drove through Mandi and were cruising on a nice NH1 and reached Ambala till lunch time. Stopped on a roadside dhabha to have the best Dal makhani I ever had in my life. Now as we were in the plains, we could feel the merciless Sun beating on us. After lunch we were on the boring highway again and simply kept driving to reach Sonepat at around 5:30 where we took a 45 min break at Haldiram and gulped on Rabdi Faluda. Reached Delhi ( South ex) at around 9:30 and it marked the end of the dream trip which was an awesome experience.

    To sum up the experience I would like to say and would like to thanks the mods of DOW where we could find a lot of useful information that is required for the trip.

    From the jam packed Delhi roads, To the empty Zanskar valley roads,
    From driving in 43+ temperature, To driving in sub zero temperature,
    Whether its a desert or a river basin,
    Sun is beating on u or hailstorm on d roof,
    A moment u gulping on d molten chocolate bar, and the next moment you find urself surrounded by a snowfall,
    Touching 130+ on the barren Kashmir roads to hardly crawling on barely there roads.
    Leh-Ladakh has got everything. So don't think Get Leh,d !!!!
  2. miteshpunjani

    miteshpunjani Amatore

    Superb and Crisp description. LEH is really an awesome experience. We traveled there in November 2011, the winter had sat in and there were very few tourists. Through your travelogue I could relive all those places that we had been to. Thanks for that. I also have a dream of going there again in My Punto. Lets hope i Do get that opportunity.
  3. Ravi

    Ravi Staff Member Janitor

    Grande Punto 1.3
  4. Viny

    Viny Esperto

    Welcome to TFI, great start :)
    Good to see punto doing Leh Circuit:)
  5. Pranob Mukharjee

    Pranob Mukharjee Novizio

    Superb writing :), Warm welcome to TFI.
  6. ankush ganda

    ankush ganda Timido

    jaipur - Rajasthan
    @miteshpunjani thanks for the lovely comment. Its great that I could revive you with the old memories. And I hope you accomplish your dream quite soon. Keep travelling.
    --- Double Post Merged, Sep 16, 2014, Original Post Date: Sep 16, 2014 ---
    @Ravi Yes its always glad to see similar people doing tough things :). Yes i could not upload the pics properly. Adding up more now.

    Captions for pics
    At More Plains
    At More Plains
    Lachungla - The lonely Pass
    Golden Mountains - Near Sarchu
    Himalayan Marmot
    Frozen Suraj Tal Lake - My Favourite
    Mr. Lonely
    Count the number of roads
    Tandi - world famous fuel station
    Rohtang Pass
    Landslide Clearing at BaralachLa Pass
    Enroute Rohtang-Manali
    Random Road
    At Future Buddha
    Maggi @ Future Buddha

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    unleash_thunder and Ravi like this.
  7. ankush ganda

    ankush ganda Timido

    jaipur - Rajasthan
    @Viny @Pranob Mukharjee Thanks a lot both :) sorry for some what late reply.

    here are some more pics. with captions
    Enroute kargil-leh
    Enroute kargil-leh
    Enroute kargil-leh
    The pics show the awesome roads with clear road markings and crash barriers. Hats off BRO
    Punto doing some off roading and ground clearance test
    some yaks
    First view of Pangong
    @ pangong Tso
    Punto stuck in sand
    Pangong Tso
    Three pics of mighty Chang La
    World's Highest Motorable Road
    Beautiful roads leading to Khardung La
    Traffic Jam near South Pullu
    Leh Ladakh has some serious AAshiq truck drivers
    Almost at TOP...roads indicate that too
    Salute to our soldiers..Hall of Fame @ Leh
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    SHASHANKREDDY and Ravi like this.


    Grande Punto 1.3
    Welcome Ankush...what a start !!! . Congratulations on LEH trip on your super offroader 'Grande Punto' :).
    ankush ganda likes this.
  9. ccprakash

    ccprakash Regolare

    Pictures are very good..now a days people are going to leh. Travelling in those circuits is not a joke. But i wish one day i could do those.
  10. ankush ganda

    ankush ganda Timido

    jaipur - Rajasthan
    @SHASHANKREDDY Thansk a lot brother!! More to come in near future. :D
    @ccprakash Yes many of my friends went this year. You can do that. Have faith in you, Know some mountain driving rules and have a trip to Himachals before Leh if you have not driven in mountains. Thats it. Best of Luck and hope you get Leh'd quite soon. :smug:

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