Suspended Timeout

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Part 4 - Pangong Tso

Pangong Tso (or Pangong Lake; Tso: Ladakhi for lake) is an endorheic lake in the Himalayas situated at a height of about 4,350 m (14,270 ft). It is 134 km (83 mi) long and extends from India to China. 60% of the length of the lake lies in China. The lake is 5 km (3.1 mi) wide at its broadest point. During winter the lake freezes completely, despite being saline water.

I have been to places far and beyond, I have traveled trails where nature draws a picture which is nirvana to the naked eye. I have not seen it all, but yes, I have seen Pangong changing its colours every minute in sunlight. A brakish lake at 4200+ meters above sea level. To confirm the fact that indeed there was a sea in-between the Indian peninsula and the Asian land mass.

We started very early for Pangong, it was 0700 HRS when we were ready to proceed, after a few small hiccups, we made it to the first check-point where our ILP (Inner line permits were checked). Michelle had been unwell throughout this trip with a bad stomach infection. She was feeling a bit better today and we pushed along.

We had to travel to the main route which involved the trip to Chang La (world's third highest morotable pass/road). We had heard that it had snowed heavy in Chang La the day before, however, our driver (Sonam) was confident that he could make it just like he did the day before. We were slowly climbing up and my Casio Pro-Trek was registering an 8% gradient with a steep incline - when Sonam just muttered.."Jam"

Immediately we approached two stationary SUVs, we just stood behind them and out man stepped out to check what was happening. We waited for a while, and then he came back, saying...."too much snow, not possible to move ahead without chains", then after a bit of a pause, "don't worry, I have chains". I asked the others to remain inside as I was feeling a bit better, I slowly stepped out, clicked a few pictures and quietly slid back in, and making sure I do not exhert. At this high an altitude, a bit of an exertion can be deadly.

The group of guys, honeymooners, casual tourists were already partying outside, some playing in the snow, others just loitering around. We decided to stay inside and relax. It had been more than 20 minutes and my head started aching a bit...I knew that the altitude was getting to me.

In the mean time, I stepped out again, guided Sonam while he fixed the chains onto he rear tires and once this was done, we were the first ones from the convoy to go up ahead of the rest. After overtaking around 10/12 cars, we stopped on the bottom of an incline...where a Qualis was busy trying to climb this incline but, in front of us slide 15 meters down when the driver slammed the breaks dead! it was skidding, and I had my camera on. It slide and hit the bank and became dead-still, just meters off the side of the mountain. It was scary for us as well! let alone the occupants of that car.

Once these guys stepped aside, we moved along and were the first to arrive at Chang La, the pass named after Changla Baba. It was cold! It was snowing and the clouds were moving in a out quickly. At a pass, the could move in and out quickly as this is some kind of a wind tunnel. The weather on one side of the pass is always different from the other side.

While there was fresh snow on one side, it was sunny and non windy the other side. We moved along and pushed along the winding road towards Tangste, which is 40 Kms from he lake. We passed many army camps and depots and came across a place where the road disappeared after every 50/10 meters - we knew that its the Pagal Nullah and we are extremely close. Pagal Nullah is 5 kms before the lake and is the main water source from the north end of lake. Every evening around 4 the nullah floods and till arounf 12 midnight to 2 AM there is water flowing constantly from this Nullah to the lake. However, during the day it is completely dry. There is a lot of wildlife here in this region - the Marmots, Kiangs (Wild Asses), Yaks, Wild Horses and also a variety of birds, however, I saving one tiny detail for the last :)

Our first sight of the lake made us all believe...that yes, we came here for this and EUREKA, this is just heaven. We have not seen anything so majestic in our lives and coming to this lake was simply amazing! There are no words to describe how we felt, experienced, and would cherish! It’s the place we can come and visit again and again. I won't type much, just enjoy the view....

Thats China on the far edge :)


Me and Mich

Neil and Evi

Migratory birds @ 4200 meters


After this was over, we just thought ... now the long journey back to Leh. We started, all of us feeling tired and drowsy. We wanted rest but could not sleep because of the high altitude. We were rushing back towards Chang La, the sun was beating

down and the snow was melting like crazy at the pass - there was literally rivers (streams) flowing down from all directions. We got delayed for a bit towards the pass and we made one too many rest stops. While descending from Chang La, all of us were tired and sleepy and just after a turn our driver yelled..."Oh Fox! Look" we all got up! and I shouted from the back seat..."it’s not a fox, it’s a Lynx!" all the others thought, "what is that?" it was the best wild-life sighting of the trip! The driver told us that he had not seen something like this ever! and he has been in Ladakh for over 15 years now. It was a rare sighting. Later in Leh we learned that Lynx sighting is not at all common and in this part of the world, the Eurasian Lynx exists. We were so glad that we did something which (we believe) only a few get to do!

This was the most successful day of the trip, beyond this...things did not act up well for us and we were slowly but surely stopped dead by the weather.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Part 3 - Leh arrival and visit to the various gompas

We were in Leh for a minimum of 7 days, however, due to the switch from the Manali approach to the Srinagar approach - the plan was still subject to minor change. We decided to meet our travel help guy for permits later in the evening, once we reached Leh itself. I called him over to the GH.

At the GH, were were initially being given room on the 3rd floor! we spoke, and convinced that we got adjacent rooms on the first floor itself. We shifted our luggage and started to relax. Relaxation is a must for Leh as the high altitude, nothing was planned for today apart from a light stroll towards the market area.

The GH had a Delhi dog, named Ganj :) who was brought as a pup from Darya Ganj to Leh by some foreign tourists. Its great to know that the dog has braved the Leh winters for over 3 years now!

Towards the evening, our man Mr Dorje arrived (every second man in Leh is either a Dorje, Stanzin or Namgiyal..) I had already spoken to him from Delhi and had fixed a plan so we wanted to confirm this with him. However, there was a slight change...due to the weather conditions and also the periodic nubra valley road rules...we had to ditch our Pangong night stya plan and look at Nubra for a Wednesday ascend - when cars are allowed to ply from Leh towards Nubra. Thursday...they are only allowed to come back.

We fixed the plan, tomorrow will be a ride to Hemis and other Gompas in that area, it will be a lighter day and the following day will be a day trip to Pangong, which will have to start early.

The evening was spend around the Changspa area in Leh, loitering, having fun, leisurely walks and a light meal. We returned to the GH and played taboo a game which Evi was carrying and is an awesome game! we played it and had lots of fun :)

Next morning, we started with ease towards the Hemis monastery. Its situated close to the Manali-Leh road, and we have to take a bridge across the Indus from a town called Karu. Its not very far from Leh and is around an hour's drive from our current location. The drive in the scorpio was fun, we had our breakfast before the trip and headed towards Karu, took the bridge and reached Hemis.

Hemis is the richest monastery in this region, with artifacts and memorabilia from over hundred of years and also scriptures and gifts from various kings and travelers to this region. We also paid a visit to the Hemis museum, where apart from this memorabilia, even some ancient artifacts were displayed.

Prayer wheels at Hemis

The road out of Hemis was beautiful, we stopped a few times to enjoy the view and also to let Evi fly (atleast pretend to).

Stakna monastery is very close to Leh, it is located on the Leh-Manali road, on the banks of the Indus river and just after Shey palace. It was a wonderful photo op for us, as the clouds were descending and the weather was changing from sunny to cloudy in the matter of minutes.

On route to Shey/Thiksey

Somewhere mid-way

Next stop was Ladhak's most beautiful monastery - Thiksey. The climb up to Thiksey was tiring after a long hard day but it was definitely worth it! I got an amazing view of the entire Indus basin from the top of the monastery, from the highest point of this structure.

Subject of the day :)

Inside Thiksey, the door leading to the roof of the monastery

View from the top of the Indus basin

Some of the beautiful flowers at Thiksey

The day was hectic as we covered three different places in less than 4 hours and we decided to invest time in taking some rest as the next day we were planning to make a dash trip to Pangong. Our plans to stay in Pangong were foiled after we got to know about the unpredictable weather and the schedules for vehicles to ply from Leh to Khardung La.

Little did we know that the Pangong visit will be the highlight of our trip!

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Part 2 - Srinagar to Kargil and then to Leh

Beep beep the alarm sounded off early in the morning, we had already packed our stuff the night before - we checked out from the HB and were in the ferry shikara. Off we go to the ghat, where the cab is waiting for us. Our driver, Tariq was an ex-delhite and was showing us places all along. I took the shotgun seat of the scorpio to enjoy the views and traditionally I was better accustomed to motion-sickness. The rest were hogging the back/middle seat with Evi bang in the middle doing a balancing act all along to strengthen her calf muscles.

The drive from Dal lake to Ganderbal, over there the shops were closed, lots of security forces and some commotion. We passed the place and Mich was really unwell, so we stopped for some light eats. A xylo was already at that dhaba, the driver mentioned that he passed the place 20 odd minutes before us and was caught in some stone pelting and we are lucky we did not face any. Phew! close

Mich was so unwell that the local dhaba guys told us about a local doctor close by, and that she should consult him. We decided to go ahead and consult him, the doc was decent and qualified, gave her some meds and she had them.

The drive till Sonmarg was also uneventful, after looking at the valley's greatness for a while, were were greeted with a sudden amass of civilization and millions (read thousands) of khacchars (mules). I got out, clicked a couple of pictures and without wasting any time, proceeded towards Zoji la.

Traffic jam before Sonmarg

Sonmarg Glacier

It was nice a sunny, but as we approached the pass, the clouds started gathering and it started raining, the clouds over the pass were looking really bad, pitch dark and maybe it was raining over the pass.

There was no traffic, just that the pass was extremely steep. One moment we see a road on the valley, next we are climbing and we are just ascending with a massive gradient. Zozi la's ascent is simply like .. opps there is a big rock wall, lets climb it and see what is on the other side. While climbing up, the chill factor increased, the slopes were snow covered.

The branch route from Sonmarg to Baltal (towards the Amarnat caves)

We climbed and crossed the 'India gate' there was little presence of Amry/armed forces here - the entire base/helipad was snow covered. This was out 1st pass of the trip.

Zoji la, snowed out .. minutes after the hail storm started

There were massive wall of cut snow greeting us. The road was not a good condition but still much better than what it was going to be once the snow melts. The apex of the pass was fabricated with fly ash bricks to strengthen the road surface, but this was only for a few meters.

Post Zozi la, we were mesmerized by the amazing views of the valley, it was out of this word. there was a sudden change of vegetation. From lush green valley trees, there was arid vegetation on the other side of the pass.

It was around 1230 and we approached Drass, the second coldest inhabited place in the world. For snacks, we had the local kulcha (or roti) there along with tea. It was delicious! Farook Abdullah's motorcade overtook us here.

Next stop was the Drass war memorial, where the saga of the Indian Armed Forces was profiled for the Kargil operations. They have done a lot for us somethings which can not be described in words at all!

Tololing Peak

Tiger Hill

We spent a good half an hour or more here, wanted to spend more time here but we had to head out immediately to Kargil for our night stop over. We needed rest, food, and water. Phones were not working here at all (unless you had a BSNL).

The road had a lot of sign posts whcih read "Beware, you are being monitored by the enemy" people stop right next to these and get their pictures clicked, in 1999, a few seconds were enough for them to be shot. Vehicles were allowed in the night only and that also with no headlights at all.

Reached Kargil @ 1500 and took some rest, more police, the Abdullahs were visiting this place and we just relaxed at the hotel, had food and took some rest. Next morning, we started much earlier 0730 we were outside the hotel ready to roll out. I started speaking to the hotel guys, told them that I had heard that some Tata Nano driver was doing this route, they showed me a sticker! the Tata Nano expedition guys stayed at this very hotel! small world eh!

Quick shot of the Kargil town from the other side of the Suru river

After a tank up, we were heading towards the picturesque Namika la, via Mulbekh. The scenery was amazing yet again! the trees were different and so were the mountains. We were seeing some natural colours now. With no pollution everything looks so different.

Moon rocks after Kargil

It was raining in Mulbekh

Namik la approach

Its raining on this pass as well!

Beyond Namik la

At Fotu la, with the hail storm, snow flakes and rain ... all three at the same time!

Lamayuru village road and the landscape beyond Fotu la

Lamayuru village landscape

Clouds out..

Clouds in..

Just outside the Khaltsi village

Along the Indus, approaching Leh

Near Alchi bridge

Quick stop at the Indus Zangskar sangam at the Nimu village. I had been at this very location 11 years ago, the place seems to have changed a bit with a lot of tourists coming over now and lot of garbage around here. After this, we made a stop at the Gurudwara Patthar Sahib, which also next to the Magnetic Hill. We did not have a rubber ball to test the authenticity of the hill's magnetic pull :P

Basgo Gompa complex

Finally, we reached our destination. Our man did not know where the GH is, I knew its next to the Shanti Stupa area. 11 years on, will I still know where to go? I just saw a few markers, with pure instinct, we were there at the location! bingo! 11 years on I still remember the roads! the place :)

We just got in the GH and the helper said, no rooms available!

--TO be contd.--