World’s only alpine crane species, the elusive Black-necked crane breeds on the high-altitude Tibetan plateau and winters at lower wetlands, alpine meadows, and river marshes in China, Bhutan, Eastern Ladakh and Arunachal Pradesh in India. Now that Jammu & Kashmir and Ladakh in India are not a part of the same state, each will have to crown their own UT bird and for Ladakh, no other bird could be more appropriate than the magnificent Black Necked Crane, the king of birds in the Himalayas.
Set amidst fields of rice & corn, the iconic red Vietnamese flag dominates the stunning karst landscape at Lung Cu peak that marks Vietnam’s northern boundary with the Yunnan province of China. Untouched by mass tourism with only Home-stays for accommodation, Lung Cu, located in the remote Dong Van district of Ha Giang province, is the northernmost point of Vietnam.
Panoramic views of jagged green Karst Mountains jutting out endlessly till the horizon, winding roads lined with wildflowers passing through small towns & villages surrounded by terraced paddy and cornfields, it was an enchanting world floating in the mist, weathered by monsoons soaked in rain.
I remember the first time I saw Jupiter and its moons through a telescope that could fit in my backpack, I was spellbound! So when I got the opportunity to visit one of the highest astronomical observatories in the world that too in Ladakh, I was ecstatic and I wondered if we could see planets, stars or distant galaxies through the telescope at the observatory!
To reach a place as isolated in the Himalayas on motorbikes requires a heart full of courage and a spirit of adventure, other than a map of course or you could end up in China! Crossing some of the highest mountains passes in the world on broken, sometimes non-existing roads or mere dirt tracks to lead the way, it’s a challenging bone-chilling ride.
As we climbed higher it became cooler passing through breathtaking Himalayan scenery. Pristine white snow-covered mountain roads are a sight to behold but they’re a tough climb. Riding in thin cold air through wet & slushy ice on the road was a challenge and the potholes added to the bumpy ride. Adding to the excitement one of our motorbikes broke down on the slippery road a few meters from Chang La pass!
Before we set out on our road trip through the Central Highlands of Vietnam, I was nervous about riding for the first time in a new country. It took me a while to get comfortable on the motorbike and let my eyes off the road to enjoy the scenic views. But after riding more than 1300 km through half of the country, I am convinced there is no better way to travel in Vietnam than on a motorbike! And the freedom of exploring a place riding on my own adds to the depth of my travel experiences.
I remember being overwhelmed by the exquisite beauty & scale of the Himalayas after my first trip to Ladakh, a Ride of a lifetime! Waking up to stunning views of Pir Panjal mountains on the historic Mughal road and Aharbal with gorgeous landscapes of pine-covered Himalayas, rivers gushing through the mountains, orchards laden with fruit and heart warming people, this was my first time in Kashmir. Already in awe of its beauty I was looking forward to less explored Lolab valley.
Starting from bustling Ho Chi Minh City in the South to riding through the Vietnamese countryside with gorgeous landscapes of the Central highlands and paddy fields, rivers and emerald lakes, cruising through the misty cloud covered hills at Hai Van pass to the historic UNESCO cities of Hoi An & Hue in Central Vietnam, with excellent roads & amenities, delicious flavorful food, fresh Ca-Phe (coffee) and friendly Vietnamese people, it was an awesome experience to ride through half of Vietnam and experience the local way of life. The thrill of riding a motorbike and the freedom of going anywhere, was a dream realized… leaving me with yet another reverie, of the higher mountains of North Vietnam!
Other than mountain goats, sheep, horses and Yak that are commonly seen grazing around the pastures, the trans-Himalayan plateaus of Ladakh are home to several rare and endangered species of mammals and birds. The jaw-dropping scenery of Ladakh is mesmerizing enough and the exotic animals add magic (and perspective), to the scene!
Ladakh is famous for it’s stunning landscapes, peaceful & heartwarming people, dangerous mountain passes, extreme weather conditions, pristine high-altitude mountain lakes, unique wildlife and gorgeous ancient monasteries, but in this remote land there lies another hidden treasure thousands of years old…the prehistoric Rock Art paintings – some of the earliest expressions of our species, our artistic and cultural beginnings!