It was finally here.. This was gonna be the most interesting part of our journey.. One for a reason that we were gonna be crossing the first high altitude pass of the journey.. second was the remote thought of us being able to touch snow 😉 and finally going to the world famous Pangong Tso lake. We had a slight challenge at hand before starting.. after checking the number of clicks on the Nikon, i was sure of running into some serious space issues on the storage card.. I had a word with Stanzin and he was more than kind to let me use his laptop to transfer the pics into my USB data storage.
We started off from the hotel at around 8 am.. After driving for a few miles outside the city, we took an unexpected U turn back to the hotel.. We had forgotten the Inner Line Permits (ILP) required to visit the lake.. Seemed like a miscommunication coz we were under the impression, the ILP was handed to the driver by the hotel staff and the driver thought we already had it with us. Anyways Paljor was kind enough not to throw a fuss around this and we were only glad we realised this now and not after we reached closer to the lake.. that would have been a bummer of sorts.
While driving through Shey, a few kilometers away from Leh.. Paljor and we were engrossed in conversation bout the recent cloud burst in ladakh which caused an absolute havoc in the livelihood of the people around. And how the goverment and various NGOs played a pivotal role in rehabilitation process. A lil distance away, he started talking to us bout the famous school which was picturized as Ranchos School in the bollywood movie 3 idiots. The school is called Druk Padma Karpo Institute. We decided to make a quick stop to check the place around. The school runs on various donations from the goverment and the local monasteries. The school receives very few tourists since not many people are aware of the place since most of the folks assume the school is close to the lake but the fact is the Pangong lake is about 120kms away from Shey. The school campus is quite huge spanning a few acres and has about 650 students half of whom are day scholars while the remaining stay in the residential campus. We were given a tour of the campus by an admin staff. She took us to the place where several scenes of the movie was shot including the one where “Chatur” gets electrocuted in his weener while taking a piss on the school wall 😛
We also managed to see a red necked lizard posing for us.. managed to capture it and soon after it hid away in the midst of the rocks. Soon after taking a tour of the campus and clicking a few pictures.. we went to the Ranchos Cafe and sipped on a chilled bottle of coke and were on our way to the famous Changla Pass. We also donated some money at the school before heading out. Made a quick stop at Karu checkpost and made sure our papers are in order and moved on with our journey.
The Chang La (el. 5,360 m or 17,590 ft) is a high mountain pass in Ladakh. It is the third highest motorable road in the world. The roads leading to the high altitude pass are in a very good condition except for the last few kilometers leading to and away from the pass. Since the area is an avalanche prone area, one needs to drive very carefully. The drive was very pleasant throughout however the last few kilometers, the temperature started dipping rapidly.. the altitude gave us a teaser of how difficult life can be at those great heights. I can hardly start imagining how the army manages to survive in thos regions thoughout the year. We made a short stop at the pass, clicked a few pictures , sipped on some complimentary green tea prepared at the army camp. Also bought some sovenirs before heading out towards Pangong Lake. We also took pictures of the Third Highest Cafe in the World.
Next stop enroute to the lake was a small town called Tangtse where there is a checkpost where one needs to show the permits. They also charged us 20 bucks each towards entry fee which was more like charges for environmental conservation, etc. At Tangtse, there is also an alternate route which leads to Chumathang and further towards Tso Moriri reserve. As much as i would have loved to go there, we had a time crunch and also budgetery constraints which prevented us from making that leg of the tour. While getting our permits checked at Tangtse we sipped on some hot chai and Parle G buiscits.
Tangtse to Pangong is roughly bout an hours drive with very good roads.. we passed through a small riverlet called Pagal Nala and headed out towards the lake. We were also lucky to spot some wildlife during the journey ocassionally spotting Bharals and Wild Ass. We also spotted the Himalayan Marmot posing for onlookers by the side of the road before running away up the moutain side into the bushes. The last few kilometers and at the distance we saw a board which read 4 kms to the famous lake.. took a few snaps and the excitement was something we couldnt control.. We had arrived at the Lake.. It was roughly around 4 pm.. We stopped at a local Dhaba by the name of Pangong Peaceful huts.. the views of the vast lake and the calmness mesmerized us. The blue color of the water and the blue shades of the sky seemed to encase the mountains around the lake. I have always been in love with the color blue but this was something i cannot explain. The virgin beauty of the region is something one needs to feel and cant be descirbed by me in words.
Pangong Tso lake is situated at a height of about 4,350 m (14,270 ft). It is 134 km (83 mi) long and extends from India to Tibet. 60% of the length of the lake lies in China. The lake is 5 km (3.1 mi) wide at its broadest point. All together it covers 604 sq. km. During winter the lake freezes completely, despite being saline water. Its not uncommon for the tourists to find the army speedboats patrolling the waters. One would also find the brown headed gulls around the lake side.
We had a bowl of Thukpa and moved further up towards Spangmik Village where we had our accommodation booked at Camp RedStart. Stanzin had helped us with the bookings. Spangmik is roughly 6-8 kms along the banks of the Pangong. Spangmik village has a wide variety of tented accomodations ranging from a few hundred rupees to a a few thousands for a deluxe tent. We preferred to take a delux tent which cost us bout Rs.2600 bucks for a MAP after discounts. The price got us a couple of buckets of hot water and extra blankets and clean sheets. We reached the camp and were given a warm welcome by Tenzin, the caretaker at the tent. Served us some cookies and coffee. Since we were tired after the journey, we decided to snooze for a lil while. The area near the lake is very windy and we could feel as though the tents would get blown away 😛 but we were wrong.. the tents have been built beautifully and skillfully to ensure they are always warm on the inside. After a short power nap, we stepped out of the tents only to realize how freezing cold the place was.. we immediately stepped inside again to wear our warm clothing and decided to take a short walk along side the lake. It was a full moon that night and the reflections of the moon on the lake waters was very romantic.. The only thing missing was a bonfire. The Camp is about 200m from the lake. Though there are several others much closer to the lake, their cleanliness was questionable.. we could find that some of the tents were damp and were very patchy. Since we were travelling towards the end of the holiday season, we saw most of the tents were running empty.
Dinner was served around 8 PM. The food was very good though limited options. Came with a buffet of Rotis (Indian bread), Curry made of Cottage Cheese, Some veggies, Salad, Rice, Sprouts and a Sweet dish. They also served some yummy hot sweetcorn soup. While we were having dinner, we realized we werent the only guests in the tent. We saw a two Russian families. While one of the older woman in the first family was struggling with the Rotis, my friend and i started discussing in Hindi bout how difficult it must be for them adjusting in India specially when it comes to food. And we continued to chat.. A few minutes later Tenzin gave them a flask with hot milk tea. Immediately one of the Russian guy tells him “Bhaiyya humne Black tea bola tha, aapne Milk tea diya hai. Aur humein breakfast 7 baje chahiye”. Thats probably the most precise hindi i have ever heard a russian speak. My friend and i just could not stop gazing at each other for the next few minutes. All we did was hope they hadnt heard our “Fun” conversation and quickly munched the remainder of what was left on our plates and headed back to the tent. We were given a bottle of hot water and a set of additional blankets. The lights went out at around 10:30pm.. The place was so calm around that we could hear the wind blowing outside the tent. Tightly tucked into the warm blankets, we dozed away to glory with an eagerness of catching the sunrise by the lake.
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