Vintage Pictures of Ladakh

Ever wondered how the Himalayan kingdom of Ladakh looked like in the 1990’s, at a time when tourism was still not popular and no proper roads existed into this spectacularly barren and rugged wonderland? In a time when tourism has exploded across the region, and more and more tourists and travellers arrive in droves to this region, the feeling, the charm, and nostalgia of the place seems to be missing. You will hear old travellers talk with much fondness of their times in Ladakh when it was calm, quiet, and not over run by anyone and everyone looking to take a few days off to visit the usual tourist attractions. But, gone are those days….

Vintage pictures are refreshing. They are simple, and sophisticated at the same time.

Satya Rao Komanna, a friend of mine has been an adventurer, motorcyclist and a traveller from what little I can make of him. So, when I saw his pictures of riding to Ladakh in 1994, at a time when there was no proper infrastructure in place, nor the knowledge about such places, I knew that I had to share it with other fellow travellers. The bike he used, a 2 stroke Yamaha RD350, got him there and back again. For people who are not acquainted with this legendary 2-stroker, take a look at this article to understand why so many bikers hold this motorcycle in high regard.

All the pictures were shot on a film reel camera, and scanned for uploading. All credits go to Satya for the pictures.

zoji la ladakh pictures 1994
Traversing the ‘notorious’ Zoji La just outside Sonamarg and enroute to Drass/Kargil!
drass kashmir 1994 RD350
The mighty Drass Himalayas beckon in the distance!
Exiting Drass! Regretfully photographs of Drass town were NOT allowed during the times of the J&K violence!
Deep inside the Kargil-Padum route in the lesser traveled Zanskar valley!
Flowery welcome to the ‘faithful’ Yamaha into the heart of Zanskar!
That’s Amit the ‘Shepherd’ and the ONLY soul I ever met ‘on the road’ on this 300-Kms run towards Padum -an act that regretfully culminated at the Rangdum Monastery as the terrain and the RD ‘guzzled’ gallons of gas. The 10-Lts that I hauled off Kargil just would NOT suffice to reach Padum and revert to Kargil! And those days Padum had NO stocks of petrol!
Rangdum Monastery in the background where I spent the night courtesy the Humble Lamas!
The swiftly flowing river(!) across the road near Rangdum Monastery where the RD ‘drifted’ with the current of that ice-melt and in the melee ALL my gear, camera, film, sleeping bag et all got soaked forcing me to spend the night at Rangdum before beating the retreat -back to Kargil with whatever gas I had with me! Barely reaching Kargil!
The ‘God-send’ lamas who took pity on me -seeing my sorry state and even gave me supper and place to sleep. According to an inscription the monastery was built by Gelek Yashy Takpa during the reign of King Tsewang Mangyul of Ladakh about 200 years ago!
Rangdum valley at 05:00 hours!
The transit town of Kargil during those days! Today its a different story though!
Atop Namika La!
The long winding road across Ladakh!
The Gata-Loops!
Show bound in winter and barren at other times! That’s Ladakh!
Lamayuru Monastery!
One of the Frescoes inside Lamayuru Monastery!
A bikers paradise but a a truckies nightmare! The Hangro-Loops a.k.a the ‘Jilebi-Mode’* with 20 odd reverse bends in as many kilometers! *Jilebi is a Indian sweet, and is round and twisty in appearance.
Time for a breather!
The l-o-n-g highway to Leh across the Himalayan desert!
The climb upto Khardung La!
The bone-shaking 45-kms stretch from Leh to Khardung was like THIS until BRO & GREF bulldozed more of the mountains and have now laid a 24 x 7 x 365 ALL weather ‘tarmac’ route! Traveling time thus reducing from 5-hours to mere 1.5 hours!
The ‘then’ Chai-Shop run by the TF/RCC dishing out ‘free’ steaming cups of tea and biscuits too to the weary travelers with a request to ‘please’ have the same! Now-a-days YOU got to pay for everything though!
The then ‘India-Gate’ passage and the road to/from the K-Top!
On the long road to Paang & Jispa! And you can see gas in the cans too since there were no petrol-pumps between Leh to Gramphoo/Manali ; a distance of 475-Kms.
The Paang campsite & tented ‘bed & breakfast’ lodges run by the Tibetans!
The then ‘road'(so called) across the stunningly scenic Bara-Lacha La!
The very ‘summit’ of Bara-Lacha La @ 16,040 Ft!
The winding road to Manali in Himachal-Pradesh!
A small hurdle in the form of a Land-Slide where after 5-hours of waiting(for that stuck truck to go through!) I rode down to Manali (in Himachal Pradesh) exhausted and starved!
Water fall..?!? Nope, it was virtually a roaring river across the route as we ventured into the Spiti valley!
The CHAMBA HOTEL/DHABHA @ Batal, H.P., run by a couple! I stayed there for a night and incidentally after 15 long years as I re-visited the place in 2009 the hotel as also the couple were still around; albeit aged and all greyed-up but welcomed me/us with open arms, never-the-less!
The long dirt-road as the mighty mountains beckon in the distance!
The then town of KAZA with the Durga-Temple perched high up the mountain and overlooking Kaza!
The remote MIKKEM valley -the land of the ‘elusive’ Snow-Leopard and the Ibex!
On the ancient ‘Hindustan-Tibet’ route!
The ‘roar’ of this mighty river stream had to be seen to believed! The wooden planks on that bridge used to rattle/vibrate endlessly! Regret though that as of year 2009 the BRO/GREF personnel had gone ahead and, sort of, ‘re-engineered’ this section and this here water fall has now been ‘tamed’ to gently flow…more like another of ’em Himalayan rivers!
Descending the mighty Himalayas and into the plains towards N.Delhi! The adventure comes to an end. For now.

In a time where beautifully captured and post processed pictures from DSLRs rule the roost, old pictures like these are a refreshing change. Next time, I guess I would make a side by side comparison of the various places, then and now.

Satya, my friend, you are a trail blazer!

Take a look at vintage pictures of Pangong Tso, when Satya took his RD350 into terrain it was not meant to be taken.

Ever wondered how Ladakh was in the 1930s. Astonishing black-and-white photographs capture the spirit of the ‘Kingdom of Gods and humans’. Take a look!

Disclaimer: Cover image source. All other images and captions belong to Satya Rao Kommana and are reproduced with permission. Please contact Satya directly for more information, or to share the pictures.

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31 thoughts on “Vintage Pictures of Ladakh

  1. Bhai…. awesome…….. we visited Ladakh with great support of Bro guys but you have visited real ladakh…… still a path of Nubra valley through Agahm to Pangong Lake has a way to catch up what you have gone through years ago…. awesome offroading there with noone for miles to help or guide you and you have to find your own way there…..

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    1. The path from Agham to Nubra Valley goes through Wari-La. One of the toughest roads (or not-a-road) I have attempted. Waist deep water crossings in the evenings and huge yaks for company! Check out the post on Motorcycling India. Many more pictures there. Cheers!

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  2. Beautiful pictures. Thankfully nothing much has changed- and hope it doesn’t even with increased bombarding of tourists.

    Thanks so much for sharing your adventure.

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  3. Satya ๐Ÿ‘๐Ÿ‘Œlovely pics of u & Gods creation,Mel & our friends still talk about u,let’s hope to meet & do a ride sometime,miss all the rides so much
    Cheers

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  4. Beautiful pics! How lucky to have smelled the air and taken in the views of Ladakh 20 years back! Amazing…!

    OT: The header part of your web page (logo, title and subtitle) takes up a lot of area leaving less space for the actual content. It would be good to reduce the header height.

    Like

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