Day zero: 10th July 2017. There is an old adage that the mountains keep calling out to us. Well, the joke’s on us because the mountains could very well be alone but it’s us who cannot stay away from them. That’s what I was thinking while I waited for everyone to gather at the OYO Flagship in Gurgaon. The exuberance in the air was unmistakable. Everyone was arriving from different parts of the country. All those days (and nights) of planning and preparations had finally led here. At the start of the most epic trip of our lives. The trip to Ladakh to attend the Highest Blogger Meet (#HighestBloggerMeet) at Khardung La.
Now I had been to Ladakh before. With friends, on my trusted steed, Laetitia. This time was different, though. We were traveling in sturdy SUVs to the mountains. We had experienced Scouts who were avid road trippers, leading the trip. And I was not driving. The last part was the toughest to get used to but I made my peace with it and was all geared up for the passenger’s seat.
Another important aspect of this trip was that we were traveling as a big group, bloggers, scouts, the ScoutMyTrip team, the OYO Rooms team. We wanted the entire group to travel safe but at the same time have lots fun. I personally know of groups that go to the mountains and come back as bitter foes. The altitude can do that to the best of us. So during the briefing session, we kept it very simple – Respect the mountains and all will be fine. Gallivanting around without any acclimatization could have been disastrous, for the individual and for the group.
I would love to tell you the many stories I came back with from this amazing trip. This being the first post of the #HighestBloggerMeet series, I thought I would start with the lesser known aspects of the road trip, the best laid plans that never saw the light of day. The next post, coming this weekend, is all about the people. The many people who worked very hard to make this happen. Each and every member of the road trip. And the amazing bloggers. So if you are reading this, come back and read the next part. I promise you it will be worth it!
Now let’s take you #aageseright to the elements of the road trip which went into planning initially but never saw the light of day!
How do we get to Ladakh – The Route
We were initially planning to take the Manali route from Delhi to Leh. This route takes you on a steep climb via Keylong, Sarchu and finally Leh. We decided against it due to two main reasons. The first reason was acclimatization. A lot of people are known to end up with AMS (Acute Main Sickness) when they take this route as they do not get enough time to acclimatize. In a group of 20+ people, the probability of that happening was high
The second reason was entry permits to cross Rohtang Jot. The way it works is that one can apply for the permits two days in advance and limited number of vehicles are allowed through each day (800 petrol and 400 diesel). We had 5 diesel SUVs, and we couldn’t take the chance of even one getting left behind. So we chose the Srinagar route that took us through Jammu, Sonamarg and Kargil on the way to Leh.
Who will drive to Ladakh – The Scouts
Another idea that didn’t go through was traveling in self-drive rentals. It was a bad idea to begin with because the Leh Taxi Union does not allow (that’s a fact) self-driven cars from outside Leh. It ended up working out very well for us, because we could dip into our community to reach out to Scouts – Samarth, Pratik, Amit and Shakeel – (who were the real stars of the drive).
Ladakh = Bike Territory
One idea which we toyed around with was Deepak and me, travelling with the rest of the group, but riding along on our bikes. It would have been a great idea because we would have had spare seats for bloggers to sit more comfortably. Actually who am I kidding, that wasn’t the real reason. In reality, both of us could not come to terms with the fact that we would have to sit in a cage in Ladakh. Ladakh is bike territory; and that’s the best way to explore it. You are exposed to the elements and that brings out the real you. However, like I said before, we were traveling with a group of amazing people and we wanted to be in the heat of things, enjoying the trip with all of them. SO, we ditched our bikes, and pride to sit quietly in the passenger seats of the cars.
When do we go to Ladakh – June or July
The trip was originally planned during June. But why did we do it in July? Other than the fact that folk at OYO Rooms were super awesome, our lead captain Neeraj was not available. You wondering why? Well, Neeraj bid his corporate life goodbye and joined us for good on 10th July 2017. Mark the date, people. That’s when we got 10x more awesome. So on 11th July, we started for the #HighestBloggerMeet with Neeraj, who incidentally has a new nickname. Hitchki or Hiccups because his bike is called Toothless. Go figure.
Where do we host the #HighestBloggerMeet – Marsimek La v/s Khardung La
The first location of choice for the highest blogger meet was Marsimek La which is at an altitude of 5,582m above sea level and a detour on the way to Pangong Tso. You can read more about it on the wiki link. You can also check out the other high motorable roads in the world here in a very well researched article by my old friend Dheeraj Sharma of Devil on Wheels.
We zeroed in on Khardung La and went ahead with it as the awe-inspiring venue of the Highest Blogger Meet as it was a better managed and logistically sound location
Who tails and who leads?
We had initially planned to keep the XUV 500 driven by Shakeel as the trailing car and lead car would be he Thar which would been the slowest on the highway and extremely adept in the mountain roads. However, once we were on the road, it was everybody’s game.
How long is the epic road trip?
The Ladakh road trip was initially meant to be 17 days but we cut it down to 12 days on the road from Delhi. True, we had to stretch on a few days but it all worked out really well. The 17-day plan had Turtuk, Sumur Panamik, Siachen base camp, Chandratal on the return journey and Hanle. Think you missed out on all this? There’s always next year!
How many bloggers do we invite – From 9 to 20
The initial road trip plan had only 9 bloggers as part of the team; but we increased the number when we noticed the level of excitement in the blogging community. The other reason was the terms set out by India Book of Records to have a minimum of 20 bloggers at the blogger meet. So, we just upped our game and the rest is history!
Nubra Valley – To go or not to go
Nubra Valley was not on the first list of places to see because the Agam-Shyok sector was closed for repairs due of excessive rains. We still pushed for it knowing Neeraj and the Scouts will see us through to Pangong Tso via Leh. In hindsight, this was one of the best calls. The memorable evening spent over drinks in Nubra was what brought the whole group together and there was no looking back. I think each one would have got a new nickname that evening. It was also the first live performance by Samarth during the trip.
Rebo-tents – An experience for the next trip
We were also planning to spend a night in a traditional Ladakhi dhabha (slightly evolved rebo tents) which has basic facilities like bed & warm covers and just a hole in the floor for a bathroom. Debring was on our minds to give the real Ladakh road trip experience to all the travelers; but we decided to keep it for another day. Should we have done it? Leave a comment and let us know.
That’s it from me for now. The Highest Blogger Meet was an adventurous initiative for ScoutMyTrip so we would love to hear more from you. Let us know your thoughts about the decisions we took and leave any suggestions that you may have. This is first of a series of blog posts, so stay tuned for the next.
If you are planning a trip to Ladakh or just about any where else in India, check out our planning page or just chat with us, and we are sure you would have an exciting time on the road.