Day 9: 17 August 2013: Part 3: Deskit to Karu via Wari La

With the rains giving no reprieve, we decided to do something unthinkable… to proceed towards Karu crossing over Wari La during the evening.

Will we be able to reach Karu today going through a road less traversed and known to be difficult, driving through the unwanted part of the day? Stay tuned…

We started around 1530 from Deskit Gompa and decided to skip going back to the Deskit market for lunch. We’ll rather have something on the way as time is of essence now if we have to cross Wari La.

Sun playing games with the clouds

So we quickly cross the riverbed and go back on the same road that we traveled yesterday. At around 1600 hrs, we break at Khalsar for a bowl of maggi.

A closer look

approaching Khalsar

A notice-board at Khalsar proclaims that Nubra Valley has been declared a “no smoking” zone since 12 May 2013. However, I see many people freely roaming with ciggi in hand.

Aiwei photo.. take at the dhaba at Khalsar

Maggi devoured, we drive ahead to reach the same tri-junction of the road. The road ahead is easy. You just take left fork on the junction. Easy?

Not so though when you have 2 engineers, a lawyer and a mediaperson in the group. Just ahead, there is a checkpost which is empty and there is a road going past the checkpost and another one to another side. Is it the junction? We didn’t even noticed that the signages were missing! We take the left fork road and drive ahead. However, the road starts getting narrower and bad. There are no tyre tracks whatsoever. There is no one to let us know the correct way. After 4-5 kms, we see a Lama. We’re saved! We ask the Lama whether the road goes to Agham. Behold! The Lama doesn’t speaks Hindi or English. He probably speaks only in Ladakhi so we’re not sure whether he has understood us. We drive further and the road condition further deteriorates, with stones on the road – a clear sign of frequent shooting stones. Something is wrong.

Let’s go back, we decide, till the checkpost and wait for someone to guide. But the Cheetah can’t be driven for all these 15-16 kms in reverse! And there is no room on the road to turn the car! So we drive ahead to find a spot where we all get down except for Cheena and guide him to turn the car somehow. We then reach the checkpost, find no one and decide to drive on the right fork.

Finally, we reach the tri-junction with the signage marking the route to Leh and Agham. We realise our mistake! We had taken the road to Sumur/Panamik from the last point. There is an alternate route which is relatively in plains and mostly traversed. That route that we took was on mountains and hardly traversed and we had in fact covered most of the route by the time we turned back (the route is about 6.5 kms where the road from the plain meets it)!



Anyways, we take the left fork (of course the right route) now and drive ahead. The road is tarred, but there are lots of shooting stone area and signs of landslides are quite a couple. The composition of mountains is different here, it’s mostly pebbles and soil. A couple of kilometers on left of the road is all wetland area and it’s lush green.


There is some water flowing on the road, but it’s nothing to be concerned about.

The road generally is good with some interesting shapes in the mountains

and at times going straight

And as usual, Shyok is giving company.

We crossed Agham and meanwhile the Sun started playing hide-n-seek with the clouds.


Interesting formations


Remnants of streams flowing over the road. Although there is no water, still you have to steer your vehicle carefully under guidance so that to prevent underbelly hits.


And of course water streams flowing on the road

Intresting Shiv temple with a huge snake-head. Notice the switchbacks in the background

The clouds are descending..

Just then we notice a herd and two persons – one of them is a lady. The other one seems to be the shepherd. Having seen the first human being till this time, we stop for a chit-chat.

No! Wari La is still some distance. He’s wearing a camo pant. We inquire about it. This one he got when he was serving for GREF. Actually, GREF creates the first roads in this region and then hands it over to the parent organisation – BRO for maintenance. In Ladakh, BRO’s project Himank takes care of the maintenance of roads once handed over. This road hasn’t been handed over to BRO as yet, so it means you’re at your own risk if something happens. BRO won’t come to your rescue if you’re stuck in a landslide.
Cheena takes the break opportunity for a macro-shot


Take a look at the switchbacks


Prayer flags are strong, just as the belief in them

We take leave from the shepherd and off he goes.

The road is now engulfed by the clouds, so are the peaks


Some riders cross us. This is the first set of travelers that we’ve seen on this road.

We enter the clouds and cross them. And Lo! The scenario changes completely! The sky is predominantly blue splashed with white clouds, mountains brown with a layer of green grass and white snow on peaks. Moon is visible and together everything is creating a mesmerizing view. Some views

One for the Cheetah

Blue, brown and green

…and the Moon rises

lights & clouds


…and the moon…

molten ice running on road..

.. and the moon again

Some greenery against ice capped peak

Close-up to the peak. Ummm.. that’s the zoom in work, I didn’t climbed up. I swear!

Soaking in the vistas, around 1830 we reach the Wari La top. Interestingly enough, Wari La is not yet marked. It is a board for a canal to collect and distribute glacial waters and prayer flags that mark this pass. It wasn’t that tough after all! It is snowing, though very little, but the strong winds are making the conditions chilly. I’m comfortable though! I’m made for this weather!! 🙂


Photo-op! Comfortable in half-sleeves at Wari La

The flag

view to the other side and snow on road

Prayer flags


We spend around 20-25 minutes at the top and then proceed towards Sakthi. It’s getting darker, though there is some light remaining for the day and the pics are coming out great!

just soak in the colours

some sunlight…

available only on tops now

but things are visible

A random shot towards the rocks. It’s only later while analyzing pics that we realized – there was a group of Ibex, a full dozen of them!
Can you notice the difference between the rocks and the Ibex?

The Moon is now more clear

Last rays of the Sun are lighting some peaks and the view is AWESOME!


Closer look, the colours are dramatic!

By 1915, we notice some settlement far away in the faint last light of the day. Perhaps it is Sakthi.

Practically it is completely dark now and the only light available is from the Cheeta’s eyes. We drive carefully as the roads twists and turns. At many points, in the view of headlights, we see wild hare (or were they marmots?) jumping and leaping on the road and besides. No point trying clicking, there is no light, so cameras packed for the day.

Suddenly we notice something big leaping and galloping in front of the Cheetah for about 40-50 meters. Is it a dog? Ibex? “IT’S A SNOW LEOPARD”, I yell! For I noticed his head and the spots on the body. And immediately we go in frenzy to pull out the cameras. But then it is “The Lord of the Celestial Mountains” and “Master of Snowy Peaks”. It does what it likes. It gallops to right and in the meantime, only Tony had been able to put on his phone camera in video mode, but it has gone a bit distance.

Here’s the video, which captures the frenzy and a glimpse of the Lord. Can you see something moving from centre of the frame to left behind the rocks?

Just when we finished out trip, I remembered the event and thought that our car dvr must have captured it while it was galloping in front of the Cheetah. However, a little miscalculation on my part about the capacity of a 32GB card to record the entire journey erased all such possibilities. When taken out, the card had videos only from 21st August onwards. All previous videos were overwritten! 🙁

Elated on meeting the “Lord of the Celestial Mountains”, we drove ahead and again noticed wild hare jumping here and there. This is a perfect habitat for the leopard! With lots of pray in vicinity, there is no wonder we met him.

Around 1945 we reached Sakthi. It had grown pitch dark by then and I wasn’t in favour of driving ahead on the curvy roads in this condition. And in any case Karu was very near, which we can reach tomorrow as well. So we decided that we’ll stop at the first opportunity that we can get for stay. And not too far ahead, near a turn, we read the board of JKTDC guest house. Nothing can be better than this! Let’s grab the opportunity!! There is no light, and the guest house is lined by shrubs which are hiding the guest house.

Me and Avi walk to the guest house and meet the caretaker.. two gentlemen in traditional ladakhi dress. They barely understand Hindi or English. Luckily, they nod affirmative when we ask for room for stay for 4 people. Says that one of the room has no tap water in the toilet and another’s toilet is not in working condition. Great! But do we have a choice? Do we want to search some other place in this dark? No! We’ll manage. What about parking? So the gentleman comes with us and removes the big stone which is placed to hold the gate. Vehicle in, we ask the caretaker if we can have something for food and some tea. “Why not butter tea if possible?” I suggest. Yes, dal-chawal-sabji and butter tea can be done.

Good! So we occupy the rooms happily. But not ever after! While the room occupied by myself and Tony has no tap water in the toilet, at least some water is there in two buckets and the toilet flush is working. Cheena is talking over phone to someone. Afterall, you don’t get regular signals while in Ladakh, and is giving minute by minute account. And then AVI does the blunder! He opens the pandora’s box!! Ok, that’s a mythical story. Agreed. But he opens the toilet door of the other room and immediately closes it. It’s no less than Pandora’s box! The entire room and the gallery is filled with an unbearable stench! Urghhh…

Avi come to us and states the situation. In the meanwhile, Cheena is still talking over phone in the other stench-filled room. It’s all about mindset you know? If your neurons misfires, some sparks are not converted into electrical signals, and this is when you fail to receive the signal. And then you kick again! Talk over, Cheena comes rushing. Urghhh.. there is unbearable smell in the room. Really? You didn’t felt it for last 15 minutes that you were talking over phone! What shall we do. Come what may, we will not sleep in that room – Cheena and Avi declare. We talk to the caretaker. There is no other room! Ok, if he can arrange for spare mattresses and quilts, we’ll sleep in the single room. I’ll light some incense sticks in the room and that shall take away the stench. NO! That would not do. We want mattresses and quilts! And the caretaker goes away without any affirmative or negative word!

The other one comes with the Butter tea. Ok, let’s enjoy this. Ummm.. Yuk! I don’t like the taste, even the aroma, and it’s salty!!! Me too! Me three!!! What about me forth? Well, going by the feedback, I better don’t even take a sip. I better be devoid of this nectar of Ladakh. Poor me!!

We’re hungry, and now none of the caretakers are there. Avi goes in pursuit and returns with a news. The first one is in the toilet of the other room, probably cleaning it. 10 minutes later, he comes and proclaims that someone threw food items in the toilet which clogged it and then it started smelling as it has rotten inside, and that now he has cleaned it and going to put some more incense sticks. We tell him firmly that though we’ll pay for two rooms, we would still want to sleep in one room and would require mattresses and quilts. Finally he agrees. Settling this, we go for the dinner.

It’s thick rice, with some plain boiled pulses and boiled cauliflower with potato, some salt added for taste. Will make do… there is no other options. Otherwise also “jeene ke liye hi to khaate hain!”.

Two morsels down, Cheena picks up a cauliflower and notices a spider stuck. Urghhh… we all were about to puke, but then apart from Tony, aren’t we all omnivorous? What’s about a spider? Ok, we’ve had enough. We’ll go to sleep and take the first opportunity to get out of this disgusting place. Totally disgusting!!! 🙁

What next? of course the Pangong!! 🙂


Total Distance covered: Approx 126 kms

Total Distance covered during the day: Approx 217 kms

Driving Directions from Deskit to Serthi: Descending from Deskit Gompa, take a U-turn to take the road coming from Hunder/Turtuk and drive ahead. Further ahead, where the road bifurcates, take the right fork to go towards Khalsar (the left fork joins the road coming from Khalsar and goes towards Sumur/Panamik after crossing Shyok river). Drive ahead past Khalsar and again take the right fork at the bifurcation point. Just ahead, when the road bifurcates again, take the left fork going upwards and drive along the Shyok river (the right fork goes towards Khardung La and back to Leh). Drive past Agham village and take the right fork again to go towards Wari La (we took the left fork and when the road conditions detoriated, enquired and realised that we were taking Agham-Shyok route to Darbuk and hence took a U-turn to come back and then took the Wari La route). Be cautious as after Agham, there is hardly any settlement and you’d rarely come across any person to ask for directions. Drive ahead on the road for about 35 kms to arrive at the Wari La pass. Wari La has no boards announcing the pass and it is just a board from Department of Land Resources that is deemed as the marker. Drive further on the road for about 25 kms to pass by Taktok Gompa (also known as Serthi / Sakti Gompa). Driving on the same road for next 2.5 kms, you arrive at JKTDC Serthi.