And I am back with part two of the record breaking road trip – The Highest Blogger Meet. Before you start reading about this part of the journey, I would suggest you get to know my co-travelers first and read about the first part of my journey too . You can also read all about the things that ScoutMyTrip didn’t do but were planned initially.
Now that all the plug-ins are out of the way, let’s head to the #HighestBloggerMeet. As we negotiated the curves to Khardung La, the air got thinner. Once we reached there, Vineet and Deepak had a tough time gathering everyone for the meet & official photo session. While everybody was exploring the pass, all I could think of was, “Why the hell are they playing Garba music at Khardung La? Have I come so far for this?” Any way, we moved on to the venue of the meet, a peaceful Buddha park surrounded by mountains, just a few minutes from Khardung La. The meet lasted 2 hours and everyone started getting fidgety and restless towards the end as the altitude started getting to people. We quickly said our good byes to the OYO team and to the bloggers who were flying back from Leh itself. Also we welcomed two new road trippers, Swati and Shubham, for the onward journey.
Our plan was to hit Hunder by evening and enjoy the double humped camel ride. There was also something about seeing the tallest or highest statue of Buddha along the way, but it was all very confusing because everything is marked highest in Leh. Even Indian Oil writes ‘highest gas filling station in the world’. The landscape gradually changed from mountains to plains with sand dunes. We reached our hotel in Hunder by evening. Some of the bloggers were excited to explore Nubra Valley but when they reached the valley, the excitement went down the drain. The tourist count there could give Goa a run for its money. Disappointed, the bloggers could only manage a couple of shots.
We were all at the hotel at a reasonable hour, so we got together for drinks and dinner. There was so much joy on everyone’s faces, there was a feeling of contentment, a feeling of accomplishment. Conversations turned into jamming session, crass jokes, sleazy songs. Neha (My God, what a sweetheart! What a lovely voice! Such a good soul!) gave me company and I keep telling everybody, I am now a big fan of hers. In my mind I was thinking, “Now we are all on the same page. Nobody is a blogger, a scout or ScoutMyTrip member. We are one big group of friends who just want to have a good time.” What followed that night has been written by my fellow-travelers. What they haven’t written is how much that night helped everyone warm up to each other! From here on, the team dynamics changed.
Next morning, there were no more formal pleasantries. All I could see was genuine smiles and friendly banter going on. We left for Pangong Tso via Leh, since the Wari La route was closed. This was an additional 110 kms on that terrain! I was quite happy with my gang; Ami, Abhinav and Swati, a yogini and absolutely delightful dance partner with a heavy Delhi accent. Changing my fellow passengers was non-negotiable. We had lunch at Karu and filled up our cars as well as jerry cans with diesel as here onwards for two days, we would have to forget the word ‘civilization’. We waited for Nanu Seth’s Bolero (Pratik Jain aka Nanu Seth, very restless & brilliant behind the wheels. I am jealous of his swag). Medhavi and her ‘spirit’ stories from the mountains kept us entertained till then.
Next we realized that Dada’s car was overheating. After a lot of discussion and arguments, Deepak and Vineet went back to Leh to get it repaired. Dada, the master of mountains, continued with the convoy. This meant 5 passengers in each car once again! Raza Rahil (Udaipur boy and kickass video creator) joined our car now. As we moved forward, tar was non-existent now. All we crossed was gravel & streams. We reached Chang La, which honestly, was a more difficult pass than Khardung La. After a quick break for black tea offered by the Army, we continued. Now it was dark and not a single soul was in sight.
Honestly though, I was having the time of my life. It was just us and the headlights guiding the way on the meandering path. My adrenaline was at its peak, with just a little fear of breakdown or accidentally entering Chinese territory. If somebody shone a torch on my face, they would see an expression of a kid getting his favorite toy as a surprise gift. We had a great time listening to retro songs and singing along like nobody was listening (literally). I was also hoping that Medhavi’s friendly spirit would make a visit just to spice things up. We made it to Pangong Tso in the dead of the night. After dinner, we retired to our rooms. At the stroke of midnight, the guys came in with a cake singing Happy Birthday! I was overwhelmed as there were no calls due to no network but these guys made my birthday special!
What a morning I had next day! The moment I opened my tent, a giant sapphire-like object lying in the plains greeted me. The sparkling blue water of Pangong tso took away my need for morning tea. I could just look at it the whole day! Karan, an avid bird watcher and one of the livelier guys, gifted me a t shirt, a sweet gesture which I will never forget. Moving on, we stopped for a bit at the lake. I had my heart in my mouth when I discovered how close to the lake I had driven the previous night! While everyone was busy taking photographs, and having a gala time, I simply basked in the sunrays. I looked around capturing the moment in my mind, and felt that it was comforting as a mother’s lap.
We continued the off-road driving to Tso Moriri. There was a quick stop at Renzang La War Memorial for 1962 martyrs. Post that, we were treading on what could only be described as a love child of a desert safari and glacier. There was sand, there was gushing water and there were Chinese snipers waiting for one wrong move from us. Amidst all this, we lost Nanu Seth’s Bolero. We went back 5 kms & found Nanu Seth looking at a punctured tyre and kicking the sand as he had not brought a spanner… and jack. An Army officer came to our rescue and we were on the move again, but not before pacifying our beloved Nanu for a good 15 minutes.
We made it to Tso Moriri around 6 PM. It is said that the colors of Tso Moriri are way better than that of Pangong Tso. But it was our misfortune that the rain Gods felt left out and hence, the sky got enveloped with dark clouds. No sunlight meant we were looking at a lake, just like any other, anywhere in India. Every cloud has a silver lining though. Remember I mentioned Dada’s car going back to Leh? In the middle of the night, I heard a very familiar beeping sound that Deepak, Vineet and I used back in our club days! Those buggers had driven all day from Leh to Tso Moriri, hoping that we were already there! Talk about road trippers and sanity. My birthday was again celebrated with my brothers and the whole gang! We slept, hoping for a clearer sky next day.
Nope! Not a chance, said Indra Dev, or his Chinese counterpart and partner in crime. So left cloudy Two Moriri after emptying the the Jerry cans into the cars. That was a task in itself! Now the convoy was complete and we went back to 4 guys in each car. As we started the downward journey towards Keylong, the roads got better & we hit the Morey plains in no time. Ami tried her luck and asked if she could drive. She was like a little kid enjoying merry-go-round when she was behind the wheel and I felt like a worried father, whose kids have not yet returned from party. We halted for lunch and lots of photo shoots. Raza risked his camera as we almost drove over it. Swati, for some reason beyond my comprehension, started doing Yoga poses on the road. Everybody was in a jolly mood, so was I. We were back to civilization and even wildlife was visible now. Ibex, wild horses, mules, sheep etc. could be seen everywhere. We even climbed down the famous Gata Loops with 21 hairpin turns. At 7 PM, we checked in to the Keylong hotel. The first hint of Wifi and everybody went mad! The hotel lobby had 20 people and yet, pin drop silence! Even libraries are noisier. Everyone checked messages, called their homes & then got together for dinner.
Next day, the plan was to fill up at Tandi. But the Tandi board said no fuel for the next 365 kms. The Bolero needed diesel badly! My car had half a tank, so Dada and I went in search of fuel. After crossing Tandi, Jispa and a landslide, we found fuel in Darcha (illegally). Filling up our cars and jerry cans, we headed back to Tandi, where the rest of the gang was enjoying card games in a dark hole of a dhaba. Tanked up, we left for Manali. After a forced stop at Rohtang Pass, we reached the Manali hotel by 6.30 PM. Boy! What a property! Right on the banks of a river, this hotel was luxurious! There was a DJ night there. So we all quickly gathered around there and had what could be described as one of the best nights of the trip! Booze, music and great company, what else do you need?
With slight reluctance, we left on our last leg, the home run. Honestly, none of us were excited about this one, so I will skip to night 10.30 PM at Murthal. After dinner, my navigator and favorite person, Ami was in-charge of Google maps. Delhi being Delhi, had a traffic jam at 12.30 AM too! Ami and I kept each other awake with the game “Are we there yet?” At 1.40 AM, we reached the Oyo flagship hotel. We off-loaded like zombies. Deepak suggested we have a nightcap, an offer I couldn’t refuse. This was one of the rare moments in the trip where Vineet, Deepak, Dada and I were alone with no blogger in sight, so we could vent everything out! Turns out, we had nothing to say. We would all sleep peacefully as the trip was over.
The next morning, we had one big event to attend, the event we had all had been waiting for, the India Books of Records was going to present the citation of the #HighestBloggerMeet. We all had wonderful things to share, especially Ami and Ajay summed it up perfectly when they said that this will be remembered for a long time. Back to our hotel, everybody gathered to relive those exciting moments and share photos. Nobody was happy with the fact that we had to say our goodbyes. All I could think was,” There was a time when I was wondering when Day 1 will get over, now can somebody answer how these 12 days passed by so quickly?”
I didn’t forget to take a selfie with everyone who was present at the citation ceremony!
“Are you back home?”
“Good, now I can sleep properly.”
Moms, I tell you!! Until next time, cheers and always go #aageseright!
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 unconditionally dedicated the second blog post to his wife, and has vowed to take her there very soon. He also learned the importance of giving image credits especially when bloggers are involved.
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.