2014 Mahindra Adventure Monastery Escape - Leg 2

  • Sep 01, 2014
[caption id="attachment_14308" align="alignnone" width="1000"]2014 Mahindra Adventure Monastery Escape 2014 Mahindra Adventure Monastery Escape[/caption]

Since time immemorial travel, has been a source of inspiration for some of the greatest minds, and indeed for people everywhere. People once bitten by the travel bug feel the need to wander at every opportunity they get or make. Now, the well traveled lot will agree that our nation has some of the most unique landscapes and breath taking destinations spread all around.

As for me, its been a while since I have been longing to visit the beautiful region of Ladakh, and explore the calm and serene landscape that attracts travelers from around the world.

Coincidentally, Leg 2 of the 2014 Mahindra Adventure Monastery Escape was spread over the Independence Day weekend, making it the perfect getaway from the hustle and bustle of daily life. And I was only more than happy to join this expedition across the region of Ladakh.

[caption id="attachment_14364" align="alignnone" width="1000"]Modified Mahindra Thar 2014 Moastery Escape Modified Mahindra Thar 2014 Moastery Escape[/caption]

But before we begin, let me give you a brief backgrounder about Mahindra Adventure. The initiative belongs to homegrown car maker Mahindra, that established the Adventure brand in 2011. Over the years, the initiative has given the opportunity to numerous satisfied adventurers to travel across various parts of the country under different Adventure banners, as well as take Mahindra vehicles to their limits off-road.

The Monastery Escape expedition kicked off in the year 2011 and has seen five successful editions till date. The name of this division of Mahindra Adventure could not be more apt as the journey is spread across the mystique landscape of the Ladakh region in Jammu and Kashmir, that is sparsely populated and its culture is closely related to that of Tibet.

[caption id="attachment_14313" align="alignnone" width="1000"]2014 Mahindra Monastery Escape flagoff 2014 Mahindra Monastery Escape flagoff[/caption]

Day 1 Srinagar

Coming back to Leg 2 of the 2014 Mahindra Adventure Monastery Escape, the edition kicked off on the 9th of August 2014 when all participants flew down to the city of Srinagar. And what a way to kick off the expedition it was, as we were allotted accommodation aboard the famous Shikara house boats on Nigeen Lake. As we settled into the evening, the view from the verandas of the Shikara was just the perfect getaway from our busy lives as we gazed into the sunset in pin drop silence. To keep the continuity of the calm, dinner was served aboard the boat.

[caption id="attachment_14351" align="alignnone" width="1000"]Shikara houseboats Srinagar Shikara houseboats Srinagar[/caption]

[caption id="attachment_14346" align="alignnone" width="1000"]Nigeen lake Srinagar Nigeen lake Srinagar[/caption]

[caption id="attachment_14345" align="alignnone" width="1400"]Nigeen lake Nigeen lake[/caption]

At this point it’s worth mentioning that these Shikara house boats are rather well maintained. As you can see from the photos here, the interior of the boats are in good condition and offer a luxurious experience with a well furnished living room that even had a little collection of books and novels.

[caption id="attachment_14350" align="alignnone" width="1000"]Shikara Srinagar Shikara Srinagar[/caption]

By the time dinner was done, I retired to the my room to take a nice shower that had running hot water in the washroom too.

[caption id="attachment_14317" align="alignnone" width="1400"]Gulmarg, Srinagar Gulmarg, Srinagar[/caption]

Day 2 - Srinagar to Gulmarg and back (Distance: 103 km)

The next morning over breakfast we started our dose of a medicine called Diamox that helps in curbing altitude sickness. The convoy then drove up to the hills of Gulmarg that is located a few kilometers off the Line of Control between India and Pakistan. It is also a popular skiing destination during the winters. Although, there was no snow, we did take a scenic cable car ride referred to as ‘Gondola’ to the top of the hill, where we grabbed some lunch and then hitched a ride back.

[caption id="attachment_14316" align="alignnone" width="1000"]Gulmarg gondola ride Gulmarg gondola ride[/caption]

During this short drive, some of us realized that the side effect of Diamox is more frequent visits to the loo! At the same time, we were advised to drink a lot of water to stay hydrated.

All cars were fitted with wireless communication sets and the Mahindra officials kept the convoy well connected with directions over the radio as well as making light conversation to make everyone feel connected and comfortable over the length of the road trip.

By the time we got back to Srinagar, dusk had fallen. For dinner we decided to go to one of the recommended restaurants in the city called Adhoo’s, known to serve some of the best local cuisine. And we did try a variety of dishes among which the specialty was a mutton dish called Tabak Maaz which is a Kashmiri fried lamb ribs dish. While the meal was delicious on its own, we discovered that the street food in Srinagar is to die for. Enroute, we had stopped at a local kebabwala and we all agreed that the mutton and chicken kebabs we tried were the most delicious dishes we had that evening.

[caption id="attachment_14341" align="alignnone" width="1000"]Modified Mahindra Thar Modified Mahindra Thar[/caption]


Day 3 - Srinagar to Leh (Distance: 425 km)

An early morning departure saw us grab a quick breakfast aboard our Shikaras and the 25 car convoy rolled off towards our destination of Leh that lay 425 kilometers away. The convoy led by a heavily modified Mahindra Thar was quite the sight to have on the road, with identically branded Mahindra Scorpios following suit. Two Ssangyong Rextons and two Mahindra Scorpio Getaway pick-up trucks were also part of the convoy, one acting as the float vehicle (to move up and down the convoy as the need be) and the other as the service vehicle with essential spares, fuel and a bunch of Mahindra mechanics on-board.

[caption id="attachment_14329" align="alignnone" width="1000"]Mahindra Adventure Scorpio Mahindra Adventure Scorpio[/caption]

As we began our climb uphill towards the destination of Zojila pass (13,000 feet), there was plenty of greenery and the sight of the snow covered mountains caps was the perfect start to the drive. The single lane roads were wide and in good condition. There were certain gravel sections on the way, but on the whole it has to be said that the roads were in commendable condition. As we reached Zojila, the landscape was changing and there was less greenery, during the winters ofcourse it is covered in dense snow.

[caption id="attachment_14331" align="alignnone" width="1000"]Mahindra Ladakh Mahindra Ladakh[/caption]

After a couple hours of driving we reached the Army War memorial at Drass (that also happens to be the second coldest place of inhabitation during winters, after Siberia). Here a young Soldier gave us a speech about the 1999 Kargil war and the brave encounters faced by our soldiers and officers of the Indian Army. By the end of the speech, there was absolute silence in memory of the brave hearts that we lost during the war and in admiration of those who continue to live on, as well as serve the nation.

[caption id="attachment_14320" align="alignnone" width="1000"]Kargil war memorial Kargil war memorial[/caption]

Having crossed the town of Kargil, we drove ahead through the winding mountains, the landscape had become completely barren by now. The afternoon sun shone on the glistening barren mountains that were rich in minerals. By now we were far away from civilization. Driving through these endless mountain ranges that I had been hoping to see for a while now was enchanting to say the least. It sort of frees up your mind from all thoughts and a sense of freedom sets in. Every curve you take, the landscape makes you take a silent gasp in appreciation of the beauty ahead.

[caption id="attachment_14325" align="alignnone" width="1000"]Magnetic hill Ladakh Magnetic hill Ladakh[/caption]

Now getting closer to the city of Leh, the convoy then came to the famous section of the magnetic hill. Where we did park our vehicle in the marked box, placed it in neutral with the hand brake down. And lo and behold! My Scorpio did appear to roll uphill in a gravity defying manner. In reality though, this is an optical illusion due to the layout of the surrounding hills.

[caption id="attachment_14332" align="alignnone" width="1000"]Mahindra Monastery Escape Ladakh Mahindra Monastery Escape Ladakh[/caption]

By the time we reached Leh, the sun had set and we retired to our hotel where we were to stay for the next three nights. After the 400+ kilometer drive through the hills everybody quickly retired to their rooms post dinner in anticipation of the day ahead.

In the journey from Srinagar from Leh I had realized how a sense of calm had taken over my mind and body. The fact that we were in Ladakh had a lot to do with it. The people were calmer just like their place of worship.

[caption id="attachment_14318" align="alignnone" width="1000"]Hemis Monastery Hemis Monastery[/caption]

Day 4 : Leh - Hemis monastery and Shanti Stupa

The next morning we decided to drive up to the oldest monastery in the region, Hemis. Once we got there, it’s easy to see what influences the mindset of the people around. Inside, there is absolute silence as people offer their prayers.

Having observed a long spell of silence and soaked in a healthy amount of inner peace, we decided to walk around the monastery and were pleasantly surprised to find out how well the place that was founded in the 1672 A.D. has been maintained.

[caption id="attachment_14319" align="alignnone" width="1000"]Hemis Monastery Ladakh Hemis Monastery Ladakh[/caption]

Later in the evening we returned to Leh and went up to a Buddhist stupa called Shanti Stupa located on a hilltop in Chanspa (one can get there by a 5 kilometer drive from the city below or climb up 500 steps (no guesses for which route we took). From here, one can see the city of Leh below that appears to be surrounded by a patch of greenery in the middle of the barren landscape. The panoramic view of the mountain ranges around is a sight to see as the sun sets onto the backdrop of the hills.

[caption id="attachment_14362" align="alignnone" width="2000"]Leh Leh[/caption]

That night, Mahindra Adventure had organised a get together at the hotel. Everyone caught up with each other and discussed their journey and highlights of the trip. Along with eager questions of the next day thrown in.

[caption id="attachment_14330" align="alignnone" width="1000"]Mahindra Scorpio 4x4 Mahindra Scorpio 4x4[/caption]

Day 5 - Leh to Pangong Tso lake and back (Distance:340 km)

On the fifth day of our road trip the convoy drove up to the magnificent Pangong Tso lake. Halfway to the lake, the road surface turned to gravel with rocks and steep inclines. But that was no problem for the Scorpio 4x4. Shift to four-wheel drive high and the Scorpio simply clambered up the rocky terrain in commendable pace, its suspension absorbing all the undulations with aplomb, apart for a bumpy ride, especially for rear seat passengers. On the way, we made a pit stop at the Changla pass that lies at 17,688 ft.

[caption id="attachment_14314" align="alignnone" width="1000"]Changla Changla[/caption]

After a long and hard off road stretch we finally approached the lake. But before you get there, you catch a glimpse of it from between the valley of mountains. Nature’s way of building up suspense for the breathtaking view that lies ahead.

[caption id="attachment_14348" align="alignnone" width="1500"]Pangong Tso lake Pangong Tso lake[/caption]

A couple of bends later, I was staring straight at what is one of the prettiest sights I have ever seen. Pristine blue water between an absolutely barren range of mountains. With the winds gushing past me, standing there in the middle of nowhere I found absolute peace once again. And I was glad that this region was on the top of my travel bucket list.

[caption id="attachment_14349" align="alignnone" width="1000"]Pangong Tso lake Mahindra Monastery-Escape Pangong Tso lake Mahindra Monastery-Escape[/caption]

Having spent a good deal of time just enjoying the beauty of the place, we grabbed a quick lunch across the lake at some of the local shops and decided to embark on our journey back to Leh. In anticipation of the majestic Pangong Tso lake, I had overlooked some of the beautiful scenery on the way there, this I caught up on the way back. Green patches in between mountains, healthy wild horses with their shimmering coats, grazing in the distance is something that scenic paintings are made of. But to witness this in person with the smell of the fresh air blowing on your face is something else.

[caption id="attachment_14339" align="alignnone" width="1000"]Mahindra Scorpio 4x4 fording Mahindra Scorpio 4x4 fording[/caption]

Later that evening, we spent time unwinding in the hotel and spoke about our next destination of Sarchu (14,070 ft) that was the highest altitude we would be staying at during this trip.

[caption id="attachment_14328" align="alignnone" width="1000"]Mahindra Adventure Monastery Escape Mahindra Adventure Monastery Escape[/caption]

Day 6 - Leh to Sarchu (Distance 251 km)

The drive from Leh to Sarchu was a 251 km drive and we were advised to tank up our cars for the next three days. We left the city of Leh early in the morning. The relatively short distance as compared to the Srinagar to Leh drive meant that it was a leisurely drive across the hills to our destination for the day.

En route, we crosses the scenic mountain pass of Tanglang La at an altitude of 17,582 ft where ofcourse stopped for a photo opportunity. Having taken in another section of breathtaking scenery we continued towards Sarchu.

[caption id="attachment_14352" align="alignnone" width="1000"]Tanglanla pass Tanglanla pass[/caption]

The road was a mix of tarmac and gravel stretches but on the whole an easy going stretch with wide roads. As the convoy made its way to Sarchu I gazed at the surreal landscape all around in admiration. By mid-day we touched the famous More Plains that is a 40 kilometer flat stretch and lies at an elevation of 13,123 ft. Here in the middle of the exotic landscape we lined up our convoy of cars for a fantastic photo opportunity and as you can see below, we were quite the sight in this valley.

[caption id="attachment_14344" align="alignnone" width="1000"]More plains Mahindra Monastery Escape More plains Mahindra Monastery Escape[/caption]


A short while later, we arrived at our lunch stop in Pang, where we came across some really old drinks. The colour less soda called Citra as well as Campa Cola, that I remember as a child were available here in this remote part of the world. I could not believe they were still being bottled today! (And yes, I did check the manufacturing date!).

After our lunch break, we continued through the valley of mountains towards our destination and I began to wonder what this region would look like when it is covered in snow during the winters. Something, that definitely seems to be a tempting travel destination in the future for me. It's worth mentioning at this point in time that whenever we got down to click photos of the convoy and made a beeline for the right spots, we did feel shortness in breath due to the high altitude. But as long as you don’t rush it, the altitude really does not trouble you at all.

[caption id="attachment_14343" align="alignnone" width="1000"]Monastery Escape Monastery Escape[/caption]

The convoy arrived in Sarchu under daylight. The location we were staying at was a flat stretch in between the mountains that was covered in greenery and was rather scenic indeed. The only accommodation available here are tents but with attached clean washrooms. Having grabbed a cup of hot tea I walked over to the other side of the road and the sprawling greenery only to discover a river flowing way below. The absolute quiet with just the river flowing below and the wind gushing by with no one to see till the end of the visible horizon was truly an elevating experience.

[caption id="attachment_14360" align="alignnone" width="1000"]Sarchu Sarchu[/caption]

Shortly afterwards, we saw dark clouds approaching with lightning in the distance. This gave me goosebumps instantly as I heard someone whisper, ‘snowfall’! I was as excited as anybody else and was hoping for snowfall, but that’s for another time.

[caption id="attachment_14361" align="alignnone" width="1000"]Sarchu tent accomodation Sarchu tent accomodation[/caption]

By the time darkness had fallen, the chilly winds made us retreat to the cover of our tents where we caught up with the Mahindra Adventure officials and spent the rest of the evening talking and laughing about all the experiences we had thus far during the road trip.


[caption id="attachment_14340" align="alignnone" width="1000"]Mahindra Scropio Getaway Mahindra Scropio Getaway[/caption]

Day 7 - Sarchu to Jispa (Distance: 79 km)

I’am pretty sure I woke up to the sound of a whistle, although not sure where it came from. I think from the owners of the accommodation. I stuck my head out of the tent and realized how pretty, but cold it was outside. Having put on a sufficient number of woolens, I stepped out onto the valley with my camera and walked into the horizon in complete quiet. Having taken a nice long walk and photographed the landscape and spotted some Marmots in the distance, I returned to the tents for a quick breakfast.

This also happened to be India’s 68th Independence day. Mahindra had organised a ceremonial flag hoisting ceremony in the location and we all sang the National Anthem with our heads held high, proud to be a part of this great, vast and diverse nation.

[caption id="attachment_14337" align="alignnone" width="1000"]Mahindra Monastery Escape convoy Mahindra Monastery Escape convoy[/caption]

Another Indian flag was mounted on one of the Mahindra Scorpio Getaways and we departed Sarchu on our way to Jispa with the Getaway leading the convoy and grabbing the attention and admiration of people on the way.

[caption id="attachment_14312" align="alignnone" width="1000"]2014 Mahindra Monastery Escape convoy 2014 Mahindra Monastery Escape convoy[/caption]

The distance from Sarchu to Jispa was only a 79 km stretch. And as we descended to Jispa (10,500 ft), vegetation was increasing across the mountain ranges. On our way we crossed the mountain pass of Baralacha La (16,040 ft). We arrived in Jispa by early afternoon. Still bottled with a lot of energy, we walked over to the river behind the resort and back before lunch was served.

During lunch we were told that there would be a bonfire for the group in the evening. And what an evening it was. There was a bonfire, there was music, dancing and lots of merry making with all the participants, as well as the lively bunch of Mahindra and XSO officials joining into the happiness of the evening.

[caption id="attachment_14327" align="alignnone" width="1000"]Mahindra Adventure Ladakh Mahindra Adventure Ladakh[/caption]

Day 8 - Jispa to Manali (Distance: 140 km)

On the 8th day of the road trip, the journey was stretched over 140 km from Jispa to Manali. This time during our early morning drive, we were driving amongst the green mountains with snow covered mountain peaks in the distance. There were some really tight sections of road where we needed to reverse our cars to let approaching traffic pass by. As we approached Rohtang pass, we hit wide tarmac sections of road again. And the view was absolutely mesmerizing, green mountains all around with snow covered peaks at the top and streams flowing down without a sign of human interference.

[caption id="attachment_14323" align="alignnone" width="1000"]Ladakh mountain ranges Ladakh mountain ranges[/caption]

Unfortunately, as we hit Rohtang pass (13,054 ft) we got stuck in a massive traffic jam with tourists climbing uphill from the opposite direction of Manali.. We spent our time eating corn cobs and looking at thrilled tourists for two hours until we were free of the traffic.

Shortly after descending from Rohtang Pass, At the lunch spot, I was amused to find that there was a portable set of washrooms on a trailer that had waste disposal! Alas, bio breaks had seen a new meaning for a bunch of us.

[caption id="attachment_14359" align="alignnone" width="600"]Portable washrooms Portable washrooms[/caption]

The rest of the journey was pleasant as usual as we drove downhill to our destination of Manali, which we reached shortly afterwards. Having checked in and freshened up, we all went our separate ways to wander about the town of Manali.

[caption id="attachment_14309" align="alignnone" width="1000"]2014 Mahindra Monastery Escape convoy 2014 Mahindra Monastery Escape convoy[/caption]

Day 9 - Manali

The next day too was spent wandering about the town, lazing in cafes in old Manali, sitting by the riverside and basically just unwinding and talking about the epic road trip that we had been a part of. A lot of banter made a perfect relaxed day, something all of us appreciated. And we all blessed Manali for the great food in the bakeries.

In the evening there was a get together where the winners who had given the best original travel slogans were gifted Carrera sunglasses. This was followed by a dance night and dinner. We called it an early night as a 534 kilometer from Manali to Delhi lay in front of us.

[caption id="attachment_14311" align="alignnone" width="1000"]Mahindra Monastery Escape convoy Mahindra Monastery Escape convoy[/caption]

Day 10 - Manali to Delhi (Distance: 534 km)

A 3:00 am wake up call and 4:00 am departure from Manali meant that we had our share of packed breakfast at sun rise in a cliff side tea stall and continued on our downhill journey towards our final destination of our memorable 9 day road trip.

This was a quiet journey with little talk over the radio. The road was in very poor condition with potholes the size of craters in places, but our vehicles soldiered on quietly while dealing with the difficult terrain.

[caption id="attachment_14326" align="alignnone" width="1000"]Mahindra Adventure Mahindra Adventure[/caption]

As we touched the plains, the roads did get better, but the weather predictably got worse with the mercury rising since it was still the summer season and we were in north India. The lunch break and bio breaks were made along the many restaurants spread on either side of the highway leading to Delhi.

By the time we entered Delhi, it was dark and we headed to our destination in Mayur Vihar where we caught up on a final dinner and said our goodbyes to the participants as well as thanked the organisers of the expedition from Mahindra and XSO for carrying out a perfectly planned and executed expedition across Ladakh. At no point in time did anyone experience any sort of discomfort or face any problem during the length of the road trip.

The friendly organising team took great care to keep the convoy’s spirits up at all times and ensure everyone’s safety. As for the vehicles, some of these expedition Mahindra Scorpios had clocked over 58,000 kilometers of adventurous driving over different terrain. But they have all been well looked after, every vehicle made it from start to finish in good condition.


[caption id="attachment_14315" align="alignnone" width="1000"]Mahindra Monastery Escape 2014 convoy Mahindra Monastery Escape 2014 convoy[/caption]

As a concluding remark, I would recommend the Mahindra Adventure Monastery Escape to every travel enthusiast and to every person who loves to drive if you have not visited the Ladakh region. For it is a drive of a lifetime. You get to visit and see some of the most beautiful and unique landscapes on the planet. All the while knowing that you are in the company of people who have traveled the place extensively, and have got your back for the entire duration of the road trip. There are few other ways of traveling in this kind of comfort and peace of mind over the region and you simply can’t overlook Mahindra Adventure for holding the experience of carrying out multiple successful editions of the Monastery Escape thus far.

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