“Leh? Again? Why do you always crank up my BP?” said a frantic voice.
“Ma, it’s for ScoutMyTrip. We’re going in a car. Can’t say no.” I said nonchalantly.
“Even if I tell you not to, you won’t listen. Do whatever you like.” Phone slammed.
And this is how every road trip I embark upon starts. This was no different. Actually, come to think of it, this WAS different. Allow me to explain:
- This was to be done in a 4-wheeler
- We were taking along with us some 20 highly-rated travel bloggers
- There was an air of uncertainty as to how they will treat us
- My friends at ScoutMyTrip were being tight-lipped about post-drive unwinding using a compound found in liquid state which, when consumed, makes one say ‘Tu mera Bhai hai!’
- Words like records were being thrown around
Skeptical, I packed my bags within an hour, as unlike motorcycle rides, this required no elaborate planning. I was the first to reach Delhi and check into the Oyo flagship hotel in Gurugram, even before Deepak and Vineet, ScoutMyTrip co-founders and old friends. Once they arrived, we started preparing for the arrival of the ‘chosen ones’, preparing checklists and making plans for the briefing and flag-off. After the “Beta, tumse ho paayega ke nahi!” meeting with the OYO guys, I went over to Noida to drive back with one of the carriers, a White Scorpio. That car was to be my companion for the 12 days to come.
Back in the hotel, the bloggers and rest of the scouts had started checking in. We exchanged pleasantries and soon, it was time for briefing. Neeraj aka Dada, who incidentally had quit his corporate job that very day, briefed the entire audience about what lay ahead of us for the next 12 days.
At the Flag Off from OYO Flagship Gurgaon
Next morning, 5 SUVs were ready and loaded by 6 AM for our first lag at Jammu. I met the people allotted to my car and my first impression was:
- Ami Bhat – Seems friendly. Looks like a luxury traveler. Ah poor soul! Doesn’t know what she is getting into.
- Abhinav Singh – Local boy, I’m sure has a lot of attitude.
- Neha Kapoor – Oh! She looks like ‘Kaun hai yeh jisne Pooh ko phir se mud ke nahi dekha?’. This should be fun.
In my mind, I was thinking,”12 days man, just 12 days. Enjoy your twisties and off-road drive, then forget about them.” So we started our drive and after some initial awkward conversations, we reached Murthal for our breakfast. I was like ‘This day is never getting over!’. Bought an AUX cable for the car, the only solace I could get from the thick blanket of ice we were trying very hard to break.
I don’t know what wormhole we went into after that, and in no time, it was 3 PM and we stopped again, this time for lunch! As Shrimati Madonna once famously sang “Music makes the people come together”. I guess that sums it up! And boy! What a lunch we had! It was a small dhaba, and the guy served us with lots of love! By 9.30 PM, we reached our hotel in Jammu. Too tired and frustrated with driving on plains, we called it a day, hoping for better coordination the next day.
Our next lag was till Sonamarg and with one car less, there were 5 persons in each car. One car less because Dada’s car was not picking up power and hence, Deepak and Dada decided to stay back and get it repaired before the Ghats start. Suddenly the average age of my car went up several notches as Ajay Sood and Anuradha Goyal, two very well-travelled people and the eldest of the lot, joined Ami and me in the car. Medhavi Davda, was the 5th person.
As Ajay Sood kept everyone engrossed with his vast knowledge of photography, my mind was constantly searching for the mountains to arrive so that I could go nuts. Slowly, the road was getting more serpentine the smile on my face was proportionately broadening with our ascent to the mountains. However, this joy only lasted till we crossed the longest tunnel in Asia at Pir Panjal. A landslide at Ramban ensured we went nowhere near Sonamarg that day. After spending a restless night, we were back on the road and aiming to reach Kargil.
“They are now warming up to me and vice-versa. I can live with that” is what I was thinking while watching everyone posing for the photo shoot at Dal Lake. Lunch at Sonamarg gave Dada’s car enough time to catch up. I had a wicked smile and rubbed my hands in anticipation of entering Zojila Pass. The road had started giving way to gravel, sludge and streams. I was pleasantly surprised with how well my Scorpio was taking it, without any fuss! The photo-shoot breaks became more frequent now as we climbed up to the pass. I was seriously tempted to leave everyone there as the road (or the lack of it) was calling out to me to go crazy. Unfortunately, Anuradha felt unwell by the time we reached Zero Point.
We stopped at Kargil War Memorial at Drass and let me tell you, no words can do justice to what the place is and what has happened there. All I can say is everybody left a bit of their heart there, as we drove towards Kargil. Now from what I remembered of Kargil, it used to have very shady hotels back in the day. Hence I was pleasantly surprised to find a very lavish property in Kargil. We even appreciated small things like pillow cases and doors that could be locked! Icing on the cake was that we didn’t have to leave early the next day!
It was time for a reshuffle again next morning. So I got my old lot back. Ami turned out to be a brilliant co-driver, so I pulled some strings with the ScoutMyTrip management to retain her. Abhinav (I was wrong, the guy is cool) was back, along with Vineet. We had short stopovers at Mulbek and a couple of passes. By the time we reached Lamayuru monastery, Anuradha again wasn’t feeling well again. So we stopped there for Thukpa and noodles, a decision that would haunt ScoutMyTrip in the next couple of hours. By now the green covers on the mountains had vanished and barren lands welcomed us to the Ladakh. Anuradha was shifted to the Thar under the Dr. Amit’s supervision, who came all the way from Nagpur to had joined us a scout and doctor. By the way, have I mentioned the scouts and the cars they were driving? I am so full of myself! Anyway, it’s too late now. I will introduce them as we go #AageSeRight. Or you could read all about them here, a beautiful ode that Vineet has written to his co-travelers. We spent some time at the Indus-Zanskar confluence and Patthar Sahib Gurudwara & reached Leh by 9 PM. Some of the bloggers had flown directly to Leh and we met them there.
We had a free day in Leh for acclimatization and I was impressed that not too many people complained of AMS. People took a break after some sightseeing tours into Leh to the Hall of fame, Leh Palace & Shanti Stupa. Vineet and Deepak got busy with things like getting inner line permit and preparing goodie bags. Deepak and Dr. Amit tried doing the recce to the venue, but were sent back since the Dalai Lama was visiting Leh. Also as Anuradha was not getting better, it was decided that she would fly back home to recover. Everyone settled in for the night, eagerly looking forward to the next day. It was a big day for everyone in the group, what they had come for this far. The Highest Bloggers Meet was just a few hours away!
This is where I would take a break in the story, before I take you to Khardung La and beyond. Stay tuned, but you can always listen to my favorite song and a few more I will speaking about in the next part.
About Samarth Sankhla (The author and scout)
This was an attempt at how not to write a travel blog post by Samarth, a Scout who joined us from Pune for the road trip to the Highest Blogger Meet. He is a road junkie. and his penchant for Bollywood numbers specifically Amitabh songs and dancing is second to none. Samarth was probably the most sought after Scout in the entire team purely for the non-apologetic humor. Sam rides a Royal Enfield he calls Ashwamegh, an AVL 350 Thunderbird. For this trip, he drove a Scorpio mHawk. He has also uncondtionally dedicated this blog post to his wife.
If you have been living under a rock and didn’t know about the #HighestBloggerMeet, find out more about it. While you are on the site, do not forget to check out the fantastic road trips that others have planned. Plan a road trip of your own or just ping them on chat if you have any questions.