Markha valley and ascent of Stok Kangri - August 2006
Day 3 - More acclimatizing: Driving up to the Khardung La (La means pass in Tibetan)
The Khardung La claims to be the highest motorable road in the world but it seems that this claim is wildly inflated. Still, even if it is not at an altitude of 5682m but 'only' 5359m it is high. We were doing this excursion as a further step to acclimatize to altitude.
The road is quite good (paved almost all the way up) because it is maintained by the Indian Army. It is strategically very important as it leads to the Nubra valley and beyond to the highest battleground on earth, the Siachen Glacier. So expect to see a lot of army trucks along the road!
The drive up is pleasant (if you are not stuck behind a column of army trucks spewing black diesel fumes) with great views of the Indus valley to the South.
The top is fairly ugly, with some army barracks and a little hill with tens of thousands of prayer flags. The views at the top are often restricted by clouds.
Driving back down (we didn't stay too long because my son was suffering from AMS) was nice because we paid attention to our surroundings and there were lots of interesting flowers growing everywhere. Also had our first sighting of marmots.
By the time we got back to the 'Khardung La frog' (a frog shaped rock that someone painted green) my son was well enough again to come out for a photo. That's the thing about AMS...you go up too fast (as you are bound to do when driving up) and you are at risk but going down gives you almost immediate relief.
In the afternoon I felt finally fit enough (read: less breathless) to walk up to the hill above Leh and sit around taking photographs until sunset.
It was nice up there but a little too full of tourists...Leh is a small place and there are not too many places to go to and spread around and it seemed that lots of them were gathering up here. I guess that late July is peak tourist season for Ladakh.