PANGONG LAKE! Leh in Winters.
January 27, 2019
After having spent two days of December at Leh, [for details of 2 days read my last blog: Leh-A day trip], we were ready for the best of adventure. We had planned the day trip to Pangong Lake. We arranged for the cab through Dharma [our driver for the last 2 days], bypassing Mr. Mansoor [remember, Home Stay owner], though unintentionally, but we ended up saving Rs. 700 to Rs. 1000. The round trip in TATA Aria cost us Rs. 8000.
A day before, Dharma had got the online registration done for the Inner Line Permit [essential for going to Nubra, Khardung La, Pangong, Tso Moriri, Merak, Nyoma, Chushul, Turtuk etc.] through some cyber cafe near Leh market [You can also register yourself through: http://lahdclehpermit.in/]and took us to the DC office where we submitted the documents with photocopies of IDs [Don’t forget to carry the Photo Id of every member traveling along with you in original]. We paid Rs. 400 each [Less than 12 years can go for free] and received the ILP. [Get 3 copies of the ILP as you may be required to submit the permit enroute].
Next day, our cab driver, Tundup, was waiting at 7:00 am. It was -22 degrees and sun was about to rise. Dressed heavily from head to toe we made a quick walk to the warm inside of our cab.
[for clothing and other preparations read my blog: Why Leh in winters?]
. Making an easy and quick exit out of deserted morning roads of Leh through Shey and Thiksey, we reached Karu. From here the road bifurcates and the lower one, along the river Indus, takes you to Manali while the upper one goes to Pangong. We stopped here for a very light breakfast. Every time we made a halt we got a pack of dogs with expectations of being fed etched on their faces. I had been told some weird stories about dogs of Ladakh by locals but they were soon forgotten the moment we saw their faces.
Just beyond Karu is the first check point where we submitted the copy of ILP [as a usual practice, our driver did it for us]. Beyond, we began ascending and the human habitat was reduced to occasional sightings. We crossed Chemrey, famous for its 16th century monastery, which we could see from far, at around 10 am. The roads in patches were not so good but thanks to BRO, they were still in pretty good shape. Very soon we left the browns behind and entered whites, patchy initially but total and pure later. It was snow all around and even the road had a thin layer of white.
Around 10 am we were crossing Chang La [Chang means north and La means pass], the second highest pass of the world at a height of 5360 meters [17585 ft]. Tundup told us that we will take a halt at the pass in our return leg and he was the Boss! The last 5 kilometers of climb was bit scary and we did see a frozen crumbled car in a ditch but I can assure you that it wasn’t too intimidating [I have had more terrifying experiences]. Beyond Chang La, another 10 Kilometer was a steep descend over roads with snow and loose dirt. The serenity and the tranquility of the place was heavenly.
After the descent the demographics changed dramatically. Once again we were driving across open deserts. Our only companion was a totally frozen stream named Pagal Nallah [Crazy stream] that flowed or rather was stalled along. We had lucky sighting of yaks, pashmina sheep [mixed breed] and wild asses in otherwise desolate lands of Leh. At Durbuk check point we had to show our ILPs again. I was surprised to see small hamlets in the far flung areas where Ladakhis, resilient as ever, brave -30 degrees of winters. At around 12:30 we had the first sight of calm and colourful Pangong Tso Lake.
Pangong or high grassland lake is situated at 4350 meters [14270 ft] and is landlocked. We were told that it is about 134 Kilometers long but only around 50 Kms Is in India while the rest of 60% is in China. Although the lake is said to be saline, the eastern part primarily in India has fresh water.
As we entered the crest the superlative calmness was mesmerizing. It was inducing as the eyes explored the hues of orange, green and blue. It was -25 degrees and the sun was playing hide and seek. For an hour or so we walked along its shores hearing the splatter of lake water as it splashed against the ice layer of the coast and clicked randomly all around as every angle was full sheer beauty. After a warm tea from the only shack open there we left the place at 2 pm.
While returning back we stopped at Chang La. The halt was brief as it was snowing. The road was whiter and the glare of the fresh snow all around was a treat to the eyes. We also visited Thiksey Gompa and the school made famous by the movie, Three Idiots, just before entering Leh.
Last day we had reserved for some local exploration. We visited Leh Palace said to be built in 16th century and renovated recently, climbed up to Tsemo castle, had a glimpse of Jama Masjid and Datun Sahib, the Meswak Tree planted by Guru Nanak Ji, strolled the ever buzzing local Moti market and just wandered around the streets of Leh in freezing temperatures, trying to drench our eyes with the essence of the land. Next morning we returned with the sweetest of memories.