Days 5 & 6: Pangong Lake through Chang La
After our adventure to Nubra and back, we felt like homegrown Ladakhi lads and lasses and bravely decided to travel to Pangong lake the very next day. To get to Pangong, we traveled through Chang-la - the third highest motorable road (in the world, I think!). Ladakh is a region of extremes - if the weather is bad, it is horrendous, but if it is good, you wonder why you'd ever want to go back to Bombay. The colours are unimaginable - vivid greens, bright yellows, sparkling lapis lazuli blue, shades of burnt sienna - made brighter and more dazzling by the pure, crisp mountain air. The weather gods bestowed their heartiest blessings on us as we set off for Pangong.
After Khardung-la, Chang-la was a breeze. We stopped, took some pics and hurried towards Pangong. We took packed lunches with us - quaint lunches! Cardboard boxes with cucumber sandwiches, two biscuits packed in foil, a boiled egg (which of course I traded), a boiled potato (I got in return) and a kit-kat. Howzzat? We had lunch by a lovely bubbling brook an hour or so before Pangong (which is about 6 hours drive from Leh, at least). Military has a really strong presence en-route. It is heartening to see how the lives of the local villages there have been enhanced by military presence - regular supplies of essentials, primary health centres and a strong sense of security.
We were busy taking pictures of tall mountains and the bubbling brook that gave us company till we turned a corner - we were knocked out, I was speechless (an immense feat if you know me even slightly!) A lake with every imaginable shade of blue. Light blue,Sky Blue, Electric blue, Lapis Lazuli, Royal Blue, Indigo, Turquoise, Sapphire (any other variations?) What makes the entire picture even more striking is the range of mountains that create the border in the deepest shade of brown. The lake stretches a long way, parts of it are inaccessible except to local Ladakhis and the military. I was moved to tears by the pristine beauty. Felt I was in a calendar picture.
Pangong-Tso is a salty lake (Tso means lake in Ladakhi) About 80% of the water of the lake belongs to China and the remaining 20% to India (thank God we get to see atleast the 20%) From the banks of the lake one can see mountains and peaks in Tibet (which China now claims as part of its territory) We stayed in a JKTDC run resort (a fancy term to use for the basic acco) It has about 8 rooms and 6 tents and no running water in any loo(!!), also musty sheets and just 2 staff to run the show entirely. But every room has a huge window overlooking the lake and the staff (esp Mr.Raj Mukherjee) are REALLY courteous (the Hiltons of the world could learn some warmth and hospitality from him) We took a long walk alongside the shore. Its hard to describe how the beauty affected me, but for once I really forgot to carry the sorrows of my existence with me - I was filled with a deep happiness for the world and esp my partner. All that mattered was “us” and the blue lake. Felt invincible and strong, but insignificant and tearful at the same time (my Libran scales see-sawed wildly, you can see!)
The blue of the lake was scientifically explained to the distracted-me. Something about Raman's effect - thin air and the position of the sun causing the shades of blue. The three men in our group were excited about the physics and science behind it, and the two of us non-engg people (both women as well!) were mooning over such a lovely creation and ecology and the need to preserve it for the future generations. Differences, differences! Dinner there was a simple affair. The beauty of the night sky was another glorious sight. I wonder if you have really see the milky way, replete with cosmic dust? We actually saw it stretching into the distance. "Ten million saw I at a glance" (to misquote Mr.W's verse and reference) Every inch of the sky hosted a thousand stars. Our excitement levels crossed all previous limits.
We barely slept (mostly excitement, partly musty sheets) Were up and about in time to catch the sunrise. Then the other lady(G1) fell sick - violently. Food poisoning accentuated by lack of sleep. Another mis-adventure. We rushed to the nearby PHC. Got her some medicine and proceeded to Leh immediately. She got quickly better en-route; so we decided to gate crash at a village fair held in honour of His Holiness the Dalai Lama's b'day on the 6th of July. The entire area congregates at a grassy knoll on the banks of a stream (water from the Indus), pitches tents and sing, dance, make merry. They bring stoves to cook food as well. Men and women were dressed in traditional attire. Our guide added tongue-in-cheek that it was the best way to meet the most gorgeous women (for him!)
All in all we were feeling upto more Ladakh more than ever before. The next day was spent in traveling to local monasteries. We got a chance to take a peek into local life - but more on that on another day!
Spirituality is belief in recognizing and appreciating beauty, its creation and existence. We need to do our bit to preserve what has been handed over to us. Reduce using plastic.