Quest Leh & Ladakh – Days 4 & 5 – MARATHON TIME – The Grand Finale

Day 4 came, and with, intense laziness at 5 AM,. I sat down, and contemplated my condition. I had gained 8 kg after my iliacus muscle tear, I was to run in an area which was 15000 feet above sea level, and to make things adventurous I was already a known patient of allergic bronchitis. I knew I had a capsule of acetazolamide last night, but I just took another in the morning for extra measure, reminding myself that I had to stay hydrated, or the medication would definitely cause severe cramps. I packed my steroid tablets as preventive measure against cerebral involvement in mountain sickness praying that I would not need to use them. My asthma puff was a life – saver, and I kept it in my pocket immediately.

We got ready, then headed down to the car by 545 AM, to take us to the starting point of the marathon. Unfortunately, they started turning away cars half way through, and I sent Sanju back with the car, while I walked in my tshirt, shorts and thermal wear, complete with beanie and marathon bib (which I had gotten at the end of day two from Rimo Travels, who were the organizers of the event).

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The chill was not as bad as I expected, and I walked briskly to the start point. Here was a grueling one hour wait, during which I was forced to kneel down after decades by the military who did this as a measure of preventing people from pushing forward to initiate the start of the marathon! When I guessed this was going to happen a second time, I slipped out of the crowd and headed back to a peaceful area, till the marathon started.

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The chill was penetrating to the bone, but with some brisk warm – ups and dynamic stretches, I trained my body to get used to the jarring cold. Soon the race started, and everyone were on their way.

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The first notable scene we passed was this:

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By this time four km were up, and things were actually looking easy. No sooner had I thought this, than I experienced a tugging feeling in my ankle. The extra ‘diamox’ had prevented me from getting sick, but was interfering with my muscles! Realizing I had better be careful, I hydrated myself well with gatorade at the refreshment point (this was one of them, and there were one for every three km)

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After crossing six km, I started using my inhaler for periodic puffs, and by 8 km, I had slowed down from 8kmph to a speed of 7 kmph. After I crossed the ten km mark, I stopped feeling ashamed of myself and settled for a brisk walk of 6 kmph, still managing to cross a few people and kids who had stopped running and were panting with their hands on their knees. Here were a few wonderful sights I crossed

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The last 7 km were perhaps the most grueling I had ever experienced in my life – it was a steep uphill road, and almost all the participants had resorted to walking. I realized if I kept this up, I had every chance of collapsing, even though I didn’t feel like it right then. I hailed the ever present ambulance, and used the oxygen mask twice, taking time to recuperate before beginning to walk again (Thank God for giving me this knowledge as a doctor, instead of blindly plunging on ahead like the others). Sanju, by this time, was at the finish line waiting for me and had taken the following awesome pictures:

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I managed to keep up the pace, and pushed my calves, practically pumping my rubbery legs to move forward at the last fifty meters. The result was a rather feeble jog and I ended up finishing in 3 hours and 22 minutes, which was almost half the time extra compared to my previous half marathons which I had completed before my muscle tear. I settled for the accomplishment of completing this event at the world’s highest rooftop (Leh). The award distribution function had its own perks, but after such a nerve and muscle wracking race, all I could think of was rest, rest and more rest. I took some more oxygen from the resting area, then Sanju & I took a ride back to our hotel, courtesy of Sonam. We slept after a meal from the restaurant, then took a walk, following which we rejoiced in our room after collecting the participation certificate and the medal from Rimo Travels.

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The event was finally over! I sipped on my tea, thinking of our last day at Leh the next day. Our dinner was awesome as usual before hitting the sheets.

Day FIVE:
We used this day to relax before starting our hard journey back. We used the morning to take a walk to town, where I bought an awesome soldier outfit, and a few more souvenirs from Tibetan refugee markets before having lunch.

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Deciding to try something different, we had lunch at a German bakery with restaurant attached right next to our Hotel Omasila. The soup was out of this world, but the steak was rather rubbery. All – in – all, it was a good experience, and we returned happily to our hotel.

And as always, all good things have to come to an end. With sad feelings, but happy memories, we started back to Delhi on day six. After a four hour wait, we got our flight to Bangalore, where our taxi was waiting. Salem invited us with open arms, and we embraced it, with so many wonderful memories of a beautiful, exciting, tiring, but also a mentally relaxing trip.

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Quest Leh & Ladakh – Phase THREE (Lake Pangong – An Adventure on the Ice)

It was day three – the alarm from my mobile rang shrilly, reminding us it was five thirty AM. After hurriedly preparing ourselves for our start at six AM, we hurried downstairs to find Sonam, our driver, already waiting for us. We were off to a good start by six fifteen AM. He stopped by the government hospital, and we saw a familiar sign related to ophthalmology that seemed to follow us wherever we went for the past seven years!

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A few more kilometers outside town we came across the Dalai Lama’s teaching grounds

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We then crossed an area running parallel to the Indus, and though freezing in the wee hours of morning, I took the pain to endure the chill winds and rushed to take some pictures.

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We crossed a monastery and a few villages before we decided to have breakfast somewhere near where we started our steep ascent.

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Following breakfast, we entered the area of B.R.O (Border Roads Organisation) , and I really enjoyed posing for this one.

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We crossed a checkpost, then headed toward a rather steep ascent. An hour later, it started to rain, and a little while down the lane of time, there was an alteration in the sound of the rain hitting the windshield, I squinted, and sure enough noticed something that looked like thermocol (polystyrene) bouncing off it. I looked back at Sanju who had never seen snow before and she was smiling. The sides of the roads started to get progressively whiter, and I realized we were at the ice caps which we had seen from the bottom and from the aeroplane. We got out, acclimatizing to the sudden increase in altitude, and had some fun.

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Soon, a victim of a full bladder, I got down at the world’s third highest pass, into shin – deep – snow to use the loo, Temperatures were well below zero now, and it was a miracle I didn’t freeze in the toilet like the way they expressively freeze fluids in animations like “Tom & Jerry”. It was too snowy to take any pictures at the Changla Pass, and hence decided to do that on the way back. So onward we went, crossing wildlife like yaks and wild sheep. To our relief, we started descending, and snow was replaced by beautiful colored vegetation and rocks with streams.

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Funnily enough, we had an otter – crossing soon, and we saw the guy sitting there stylishly waiting for his picture to be taken.

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The landscape of mountains admixed with greenery and rocks took my breath away, and there was just so much to see in that world of stillness and beauty – lines that even the best poet cannot frame, nor even the best writer pen.

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The last picture above was the prelude to a sharp turn, which brought us into view of the crystal blue waters of the magical lake of Pangong, 40 % of which was in India, the remaining 60% being in China. The whole place, being just two villages away from the Indo – China border made it all the more exciting, and the army base there exuded altruistic patriotism, with the Indian colors on the flag waving mightily

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The lake itself was such an awesome sight for sore eyes, and a change from the continuous scenery of brown, green and white. It was so unfortunate that entry to the lake side was prohibited.

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Sonam was courteous enough to take a picture of me and Sanju

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before taking us to the place quite famous in that area nicknamed as the “Three Idiots Shooting Spot” wherein the climax of that film supposedly occurred. This involved visiting the lake at a certain point where it wasn’t prohibited. Sonam took a few sharp turns, ran over some potholes and bumps with ease through the sands leading to the lake, creating his own path, taking us there with skill and precision. There was already a car there, ahead of us (A ‘Nike’ symbol was emblazoned on it) and I realized they were trying to shoot a sports commercial. I whistled to myself – wow, what a location! And, there it was, a beautiful strip of sand running into the crystal – blue waters, surrounded by mountains and blue sky. I got out, completely forgetting the degree of chill caused by the massive body of water. A blast of wind hit my face, and I was reminded of the -30 C cold I had faced in Canada. Though not as worse, it wasn’t possible to roam out here, even in the warmest of clothes. I shoved my hands in my pockets and looked at Sanju, but she had frozen and was shaking. We took a few pictures, walked briskly in a desperate effort to keep us warm, then returned to the car.

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I was a little irritated that we couldn’t spend anymore time in probably the most beautiful place I had ever seen in this world, because of the cold that was haunting both of us. Grinding our teeth, we raised the car windows, and the temperature magically shot back to normal. Sonam took us to a restaurant (most of the small ones in that area were renamed after the ‘Three Idiots’ movie), where we enjoyed a hot bowl of soup and some roti.

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I couldn’t take my eyes off this beautiful location, and took a few more pictures before we were off, back home.

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On the way back, as expected due to horribly rough roads we suffered a puncture, but for an experienced driver like ours, it was ‘no problemo’.

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In just ten minutes, he had the tyre replaced, and we were on our way. We passed a few beautiful sights,

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and were also relieved to see workers from the Border Roads Organisation dedicatedly removing snow and boulders from the narrow roads. We were soon at Chang La Pass, (the world’s 3rd highest) where we didn’t take pictures previously due to heavy snow. This was an apt opportunity for me, and so, Sonam was ready with my camera, and I gave a few memorable poses.

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We raced back to the car, and were soon rushing home at top speed, Sonam driving with ease. We were soon back at Hotel Omasila, the return journey being half an hour earlier than the previous one. Thanking him, we headed back in, for tea, dinner, and some good old rest, before the day of the marathon (the next day). I had asked Sonam to take us to the Shanti Stupa again at six AM, for which I needed a good rest. I closed my eyes, taking in all the sights I had seen that day, and found there were just too many to count. I continued to sleep with a smile on my face. Day THREE complete. Day FOUR – Marathon time!

Quest Leh & Ladakh – Phase TWO (Local sightseeing – Blending In)

Day Two started with a lazy breakfast, complimented by hot tea with spices at our restaurant in Hotel Omasila

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It was a thoroughly splendid morning or so we thought, until our driver Mr. Sonam took us to Shanti Stupa, which was about 300 meters higher from our present altitude above sea level. He fortunately remembered his gracious offer for our sim card, and we got the same for contacting him during emergencies. The sun shone strong, but the chill winds however paid no respect to it. The magnificence of the stupa surrounded by the stillness created an awesome aura.

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We paused for a minute at the worship room, before making our way slowly upward.

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We were feeling slightly more acclimatized compared to the previous day, but we decided to take no chances, and so, there we were, making our way in baby – like steps up a steep slope, toward the top – though this didn’t stop us from taking our share of poses.

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These are more photos around the dome of the monastery, including a sign about Leh Palace and its location, relative to Shanti Stupa.

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Our next stop was Phyang Gompa, a monastery 10 km from town. The road was narrow and adventurous. Temperature remained cold, and we were greeted by a beautiful mix of white and red, when we arrived at the scene.

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Since this was slightly higher than the stupa we visited previously, we again took a little time to catch our breaths before climbing even higher to appreciate the view. Unfortunately, and to our dismay, none of the monks were present since they had all gone to town to offer prayers for those affected by the floods at Jammu.

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Though I could have sat at this isolated place for hours just drowning myself in its serenity, I decided to move, and we headed back toward the car, and then to our next destination: Leh Palace.

On hearing the name, we were excited, expecting to see grand architecture and posh furnishing, but instead were greeted by a sight very much like Phyang Gompa which we had seen before, but on a far huger level. There were a few displays of art & pottery – again, though not on a magnificent level, I still liked, for their simplicity, mirroring the life of the royal people who had once lived there.

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The building had TEN STORIES, and most of the people who came stopped by the seventh level. The ‘Royal Apartment’ was also nothing else other than another shabby room devoid of furniture, but on the ninth level (the ascent was done by wooden steps up to the eighth level, then by a ladder, to the ninth.)

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I kept climbing up till the ninth, till I found that a proper passage had not yet been constructed to take me to the tenth level (Dang)

The local tour would not be complete without a visit to the marketplace (and also using the ATM!), and so, away we went. The market was neither too big nor too small, and for a person who doesn’t prefer too much shopping such as myself, it was indeed a freaking delight.

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After this much roaming around, we rushed back to the Hotel for the usual tea and dinner routine. We had booked our driver for the next two days, one day for the journey to Lake Pangong, and the other for the local marathon. Lake Pangong, being closer to the Indo – China border required a minimum of five hours travel. I figured this tough journey to extreme heights will help me to get acclimatized fully for the marathon – and indeed, what a journey THAT was! Onward to PHASE THREE!