We begin this story in the middle.
Six of us have just clambered over last rocks onto the crater rim of the planet's highest free standing mountain. We felt like we were on top of the world, standing there with a cup of tea, with the sun rising behind us with Mawenze in sillhouette, a full moon on the western horizon and a cutting wind blowing from glaciers the next generation might not get to see. And for me & Kavi it was one hell of an anniversary!
The night seemed like a distant dream, from where we were. We'd started walking sometime before midnight, from School hut down in the east of the mountain. At first progress was slow and measured, legs freezing up as we took stops. Over the night we had left Navdha behind at Hans Meyer cave because she couldn't keep pace with the rest of us. She was going to make it too, but that was no place for waiting. We had to push on towards the peak on the west.
At Stella Point, we dropped off all our backpacks and headed up. Sleep deprivation was competing with the oxygen withdrawal at this point and with unsteady legs we got to the very top. Not that there's anything to see there, just a board and tickmark on your list. But it did mark a very important point in the whole trip. From this moment now, everything would be downhill.
As much as I could feel proud about that moment, we were there thanks to the efforts of 32 people who were behind us and often ahead of us to set up camp & welcome us with hot food in every camp. To them, I'd like to say Ahsante Sana!
Look back six nights back and you'd find a different sentiment among as we settled down in our first night at the Big Tree camp. The comforts of the city was still fresh on our minds, everything seemed uphill. Sure, we were full of popcorn, warm chai and not too worse for wear. But in a crowded campsite, we had trouble sleeping and the Diamox ensured I was waking up every two hours to pee. And in the near zero temperatures, we were thankful for the zippered toilet tents.
The second day was a jaunt through the rainforest too. But this time the mountain decided to rain on our parade. Never before have I regretted not carrying a poncho so much. After moving my camera under Partha's poncho, I decided to ignore the damp pants and walk it off. By the time we reached our camp, the Sun had come out of the clouds, but the rain had dampened more than our spirits. Our sleeping bag liners were wet, as were my waterproof pants in my bag. After drying some of that in the cooks' tent, we settled in for what turned out to be a really cold night. We were already on the smallest mountain of the trio that makes up Kilimanjaro - Shira. And for the very first time, we could see the giant we were out to climb - Kibo.
The night at Shira 1 camp, the temperatures dropped below freezing. I knew this because my stomach decided to void itself at 2 AM, leaving little choice but to follow the call of nature. By early morning, the tents had started to sweat on the inside from the moisture in our breath. A thin sheet of ice had started to form on the roof, which would melt once the Sun came out and drip back onto our faces as we got dressed up.
The walk to Shira 2 camp across the plateau was rather uneventful. We split up into groups, with Partha (the fittest among us, also the oldest) leading in, with Navdha in the rear and the rest of us distributed in the middle. This was a rest day of sorts, so we landed up at the camp around lunch time and settled in for a nap. We were out of the clouds and we had entered the heather.
The walk from Shira 2 to Moir hut was perhaps the easiest of the trip. We had all acclimatized well. Given a flat approach to the next camp, I took off and tried to catch up with Partha who had moved ahead. But Kavi was having trouble and had to grab her inhaler. The rest of the section was covered comfortably, but in rather good time. This was the last part we had in common with the Lemosho route, so we we took the evening to do some more climbing to try and breathe some air at 4000 metres. Navdha had trouble climbing, so we sent her back and headed up the rock to watch a brilliant sunset. Unfortunately, that meant that we had to do our climb down using headlamps - but we were in a good mood all of us.
The switch over from Moir hut to the Northern Circuit was what followed the next day. A bright sunny day for walking, but the guides had convinced us that it was shorter than it was. After a number of "camp is beyond that ridge", we finally got to the Pofu camp. I think we lost trust in guides a bit that day. Eventually even after we saw the cample, the walk took us an hour to finish even after because of the ridges and switchbacks slowing us down a bit. This seemed like a temporary campsite, because we were the only ones there. And being out of the wind, I took this opportunity to actually use my camera in the night. And the D300 doesn't feel like it was meant to be used with gloves on - I had to leave my gloves off to twist the aperture dials. But the small amount of skin off my fingers was a price worth paying for those pictures.
By now we had settled into a nice rhythm & perhaps had forgotten how the world down below the clouds were. The air had dried up a lot, but the sparks that flew when we used our silk sheets inside the sleeping bag was just something normal that we had come to expect. The tent had become our home, the morning wake up routine had kicked in, energy bars and quick snacks were the norm, headlamps were enough light to live with and we were all comfortable to some extent. To reach camp every evening was coming home.
We stopped over at the Third Cave campsite next. The camp was near a dry riverbed (or flood path). The night was brilliant and full of moon light. Most of my long exposures ended up looking as if they were shot in daylight. By now Kilimanjaro was looking like a small hill to our right. If not for the altitude, we felt like we could just run up the mountain in half a day. But without anything to provide scale, the distances were not apparent and we had more than a vertical km left to go up before we got up there.
School hut was the last camp we were in. By now we could really taste the victory. The mountain was right there - but the cold was starting to really get to me. The final ascent was to be done in the darkness of night. The gloves weren't helping and neither did the lack of sleep. We headed out with Navdha leading in front and setting the pace. The boys stuck to the back of the group. We had wrapped all our water bottles in socks, but I had an excessively gatoraded pouch of water hidden under my jackets. The water in the bottles froze up pretty quickly - the sipper was kept free of ice by blowing air back into the tube to push the water away from the valve. But the cold wind was hard to bear as the windchill dropped below -20.
We walked single file up the hill, but too slowly for us to actually get warmed up. Frequent stops didn't help that either - I kept running into the backpacks in front. The guides picked up the girls' backpacks pretty soon. The moon was high in the sky as we slowly started to turn off our headlamps. We started to really sleepwalk uphill in some pretty steep trails leading up to the Hans Meyer cave. There we stopped for a short break out of the wind, when the decision was made by Jimmy, our lead guide, to split the group up into six and two.
So the six of us trudged on, picking up a fair amount of speed and a couple of hour's lead on the stragglers. And then the sun rose behind us as we made a final push to reach the lip of the crater.
Downhill was hard challenge for my knees. The lack of water was turning into a big problem, the heat was picking up in the morning, but the ice in our bottles remained frozen. We pretty much slid down entire hillsides full of scree to the bottom. In the middle, we ducked into a cave, got a few minutes of sleep. Even though we could see the Barafu camp at 8 AM, it took us till 1 PM to actually get to the spot. Dehydration, lack of sleep and the effort of the previous night was starting to catch up to me - my camera was cutting into my shoulder muscles which were starting to seize up and turned into a glowing ball of pain. I had to get one of the guides to carry it downhill.
Barafu wasn't our final destination still. We had just bivouacked at the camp, waiting for the other two. Lunch was being prepared and the tents were up so that we could get an hour's worth of sleep. We heard over the radio that Navdha is coming down the rescue path instead of the regular trail, with two porters who will carry her if she can't walk. Finally they caught up with us and joined us for lunch.
Somewhere around 4 PM, we headed down towards the Millenium camp which was our resting place for the night. By now Navdha had completely lost the ability and the will to walk. She had to be carried downhill on a stretcher from Barafu to the final campsite at Millenium camp. The walk was pleasant beyond belief, the lower altitudes were filling our lungs with oxygen and the brain was on a pleasure trip after days of being oxygen starved. It was unbelievable to see the mountain above the clouds that day and realize that a few hours ago we were on top of that.
We had walked for about 16 hours out of the last 24 and 20+ out of the last 48.
The rest of the journey was made in some pain by me. My knees were gone, the downhill steps were hurting every bit of the way and unlike uphill there was no reward at the end of this trail. Sullenly, I somehow got to the bottom to find folks selling coca cola for all those who associated it with their normal life. For Navdha, they had arranged an ambulance pickup from somewhere up on a 4x4 trail, so we headed for the lodge as soon as she got dropped off. The moment we got back to the lodge, I took a hot & unnecessarily long shower and slept off. The crazy people I travel with ended up going to Moshi town to shop instead, with their sunburns covering their noses glowing pink.
It has been an incredible experience to leave civilization behind, leave all the comforts behind in the quest of this one singular goal. Somehwere in the back of my mind, I want to go back and do it all over again. Perhaps in 20 years, after Kilimanjaro erupts again.--
"Because it's there."
-- George Mallory (on climbing Everest)
This was the trip that almost didn't happen. Decided to go to Africa on the 24th of August. The complications were everything from ICICI causing a fuss about a wire transfer, the yellow fever vaccines, to just plain bad timing of a bank holiday tying up my local funds & foreign exchange.
But it all came together in the end and it was AWESOME!
This trip was a goldmine of interesting sights (and interesting stories). I'm slowly going through the pics and uploading them to flickr .--
Nobody succeeds beyond their wildest expectations unless he or she begins with some wild expectations.
-- Ralph Charell
What a month! First week spent far far away from my worries in Ladakh, a week of mourning my grandmother's death in Cochin, a week (hardly enough) in Bangalore and now I'm in Portland. Trying to adjust my sleep-cycle with the help of coffee and the lack-there-of. Wasn't too bad though, the CX flight had episodes of Life in Cold Blood, Scrubs and The Ali G Show. A potent combination which mixes all that my mind craves - fun, information and philosophy, though not necessarily in that order.
So, I guess it's time I stopped saying that "I hate travel". I don't quite mind the results.--
How often I found where I should be going only by setting out for somewhere else.
-- R. Buckminster Fuller
Had an awesome time in Ladakh - rented bullets to drive around, went white water rafting, camped out near Tso Moriri, rode 100-odd km in a car without brakes, night vigils on a bridge over the roaring Indus and last but not least bicycling down at 55 kmph from the highest paved road on the planet.
But now, I'm back in b'lore and in process of getting myself back into the same 'ol rut. Already got side swiped on the road by an idiot (or whatever the female equivalent is) and now limping along with a toenail torn off.
Trust me on this, Bangalore roads are more dangerous than anything the himalayas could throw up. More on this later.--
It is the business of the future to be dangerous.
The Yeti, actually. By the time you're reading this, I'll probably be in the high himalayas, gasping for breath.
Planning to mountain bike around the place, will be back soon. After all I've seen all the sights before.--
The road to Hades is easy to travel.
Yes, the whole trip was full of stupid memes, mostly thanks to Gora. The trip to Manali took a good 20 hours and we spent most of the evening & night talking shop, making jokes and discussing "stuff". But there were times when the conversation was more interesting.
gora: you like someone because of, you *love* someone in spite of.
Somehow in those few words, the distinction between those two words is glaring and obvious (oh, yeah "love is blind"). After the flow of reason stopped, I went to sleep in in the aisle of the bus, as usual. Except this time when the bus braked hard downhill, I slid down nearly half the length of the aisle. Anyway, I had an otherwise uneventful journey to reach our hotel in Naggar, about 20-odd kms away from Manali proper.
The hills were really beautful this time of the year. The sunsets were brilliant and the weather stayed pleasant all through out. It was perhaps a tad too cold, with temperatures slightly below 10 C in the nights.
We went up to Rohtang pass to see some snow and the whole hillside had a mild smattering of snow. It was dark and gloomy, but that didn't dampen anybody's spirits during the snowball fight. But having run out of breath and energy, everyone pretty much settled down to quiet contemplation soon. After a protracted lunch, we headed downhill back into valleys.
And then the jokes started in earnest.
B: Uh... my nose hurts G: Oh, noes! ... *dyslexia discussion* *me thinks "On the internet, nobody knows you're a goD" G: Oh snoe, I'm dyslexic!
But there's more - we invented the concept of CVS Suppositories. And by we, I mean OldMonk, Dr. Gora (*heh*) and plain old me. We'd discovered the ideal version control system for bad code - CVS.
Me: *laughing* ... and if you need your own copy, cvs up yours!
After several jokes about upstreams, branching, merging and of course, the possibility of a flush command, we all retired into bed. And that was the end of that.
To be rather brief about the rest of the trip - we went, we saw, we had fun.--
The writing of history is largely a process of diversion.
-- Chapterhouse Dune
Now that I think, it was all like a dream - not a particularly good one, but the one you wake up & forget all about, on a monday morning. Roaming around San Francisco, Monterey and Palo Alto in Premshree's Pontiac, with Sachin snoring in the back seat, despite Chris Cornell's shrieks from the CD player. It takes an occasional look back at my photos to remind myself that no dream it was. I'll let the photographs do the talking.
And in a fleeting glimpse, I saw the clouds blow a heart to the city.
And then came the climb down and then I saw the city. And the blue, blue sea.
Sat down on the green green grass and let the world pass me by. And pass by it did.
Walked along the beach, spent perhaps the most peaceful hour of my visit watching the aerial acrobatics of the kite surfers - jumping twenty feet up and sliding along the water, masters of the wind and water.
And then next week, spent hours staring at the Jellyfish tanks at Monterey.
And that's all there is.--
The trouble with telling a good story is that it invariably reminds the listener of a dull one.
-- Sid Caesar
Once I had recovered from my jet-lag with the aid of Red Bull, double-shot espressos and a bit of napping, Portland nights were starting to become fun. Just like every other conference I've been to, the fun to be had is after 6 PM in some pub nearby. So I tagged along with the knowledgable crowd, who always know a nice place right around the corner, anywhere in the civilized world.
And then, there was the Oregon beer festival. Despite the fact that I don't drink, I headed out there to lose a bit of my inhibitions, purely by kindred spirit rather than the liquid version. The festival on the waterfront park was an amazing place to just sit down on the grass, chill out with a mug of free "designated driver" root beer.
After the dust settled at OSCON, I had nearly three full days to explore Portland. What really impressed me about the city was the very efficent public transport system. The light rail was my primary mode of transportation and it got me everywhere I wanted to. After wandering around the saturday market, I found myself gravitating towards the waterfront, to just spend the late evening sunshine in.
I spend Sunday exploring the north west and south west of the city, from the Pearl District to Washington park, on foot. Eventually, I ended up at the Rose gardens in the late evening. The roses were in nearly full bloom and spring was literally in the air (unfortunately, so was the pollen).
And then while walking around the Washington Park station, I saw something interesting carved into the wall. Maybe a yellow Post-It could've done the job ?
Portland ... hmm, if it were a house, it would have a doormat with "Welcome" on it.--
There is nothing stranger in a strange land than the stranger who comes to visit.
Been a while since I got back, but somehow it feels like a let-down to be back home. Add to that four interminably long hops, after which I've travelled from the northern most state of India, to nearly the southern most tip (tinymap). That doesn't make for a good mood. But still, as I sit here, most of what happened seems like a distant blurry day dream.
So, in short, I did a bunch of things, took a lot of interesting pictures (more to come) and had a lot of fun.
Still haven't gotten rid of the "your work is worthless" back-of-the-mind "why bother" voice (yes, the one which keeps saying "you'll get paid anyway" and "they don't pay you nearly enough for that") - eventually I'll have to shake off that coders' block & make work fun again.
Except for that extra bit, the rest of me is back, as expected :)--
Removing the straw that broke the camel's back does not necessarily allow the camel to walk again.
By the time you're reading this, I'll probably be in the high himalayas, gasping for breath.
Will be back soon, with a lot of pictures, memories and a nice travelogue - just like last year.--
Travel gives you the illusion that you're getting somewhere.
But half the time, you're just coming back.
Back in boring old Bangalore. And it is a mess - a bigger mess than usual, when placed against the clinical sterility of Singapore or the warmth of coastal Sydney. Due to the power cut in Bangalore last week, my machine had been powered down and I suspect a couple of the misbehaving machines have had data losses. And APC seems to be acting up on some dual CPU machines. There seems to be a whole Heisenberg & Schrodinger effect to the whole bug - waiting for me to be on vacation before actually exploding into tiny bits. The last time APC had serious issues, I was somewhere in Ladakh.
But generally put, I'm back ! Got a lot of things to blog about, an even larger number of photos to upload. But before all that, I got me some code to write !--
The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land;
it is at last to set foot on one's own country as a foreign land.
-- G.K. Chesterton
If you wanted to get high in Sydney, there's no other place to go other than the Sydney Tower - and I did on monday evening. The tower is located in downtown Sydney and we took a bus there. The tower itself is bang in the middle of a lot of buildings, which sort of destroy the effect from the ground, but after we got to the top, the tower dwarfs them and clears up the entire skyline for 360 degrees. Since we ended up a little late, we were just in time to see the city lights go up all around us.
After coming down from the tower, we headed out to Hyde park which is just below the tower. Hyde park is named after the one in London and has a beautiful fountain and full of greenery. There were opposums roaming the grounds and had a sanctuary feel to it in the midst of the city.
Eventually, I ended up at the hostel, continuing to bitch about the lack of WiFi there.--
I used to get high on life but lately I've built up a resistance.
I ended up in Sydney on saturday night, with the flight arriving on time. Shehjar and Hal picked me up from the airport and for the night I crashed out at Shejhar's place. I got myself a good night's sleep and woke up late on Sunday.
First up, I went to the New College hostel to dump all my stuff. The hostel has a prison cell feel to it, with white brick walls and my room had a window facing Anzac Parade. Was quite eager to get out of there and headed out immediately to the nearby Coogee beach.
And it was a sunny day, a very very sunny day. After reaching the beach, found it to be really crowded (being a sunday afternoon, not surprised). Went up to the cliffs for a few moments of solitude, sat around up there in the shade till about 6 PM. Went down to the beach, for a quick dip (can never resist beaches).
Went back to New College in the hopes of finding someone headed to the Rocks. But the hostel is not quite geared up to be a social gathering place, unlike the sofa pit we had in Unicol hostel last year. Eventually, got on a bus to Circular Quay, alone.
After nearly an hour of being lost in George Street, I ended up at the restaurant - but being vegetarian and a non-drinker, German food is not quite my thing. And I showed up there quite late in the evening, eventually got back to New College.
But my room was too near the road and the vehicles woke me up way earlier than I would have otherwise - so LCA was a few naps away.--
Love the sea? I dote upon it -- from the beach.
'Tis time I ended journalling this trip.
The trip to Nubra Valley had taken a day less than we had expected, so the previous night had been mostly wasted in bed. So we were up early on 28th morning and were ready before 8:15. And Janina, who'd taken the same jeep with us from Manali, joined us on this trip, along with another girl. She turned out to be scottish and was doing a thesis on attitude differences across the generations in ladakh. We headed towards likir, only pausing to visit Pathar Sahib and a couple of stops where the Zanskar meets Indus.
Likir proved to be a tiny village on the Indus valley, all green and gold with fields of Alfa-Alfa. The gonpa is on a hilltop, with a golden buddha statue. The statue is known as Buddha Coming or something like that, because the statue's feet touch the ground instead of being the usual cross-legged position.
Post Likir, we headed along the Indus river bank to Thingmosgang, passing through but not stopping at Bazgo. Thingmosgang is a small picturesque village, nestled in a valley protected by the elements and fed by meltwater from the glaciers above. The gonpa was deserted, but the view from the top was beyond words. You are struck speechless by beauty of the green fields and terraces, from the vantage point of the monastery.
After we passed out of Thingmosgang, passing through Saspol, we stopped over at Khalstse, which is where our driver was from. Except for the three kids running around, the lunch was completely uneventful. We reached Lamayuru, in the late evening. The monastery is very visibly alive, with kids playing cricket in their saffron robes of monkhood.
We all climbed to the top of the hill on which Lamayuru stands and decided to watch the sunset from the summit. A couple of officers on an evening walk approached us, while we were up there. The officer, of the Sikhla (?) regiment advised us to go back through the Kashmir valley instead of back via Leh. The sunsets so far have been hardly anything to write home about and this one was no different.
We headed back to our rooms before it got too dark and tried to find us some grub. But after a bit of wandering, we decided that the best option we had was to eat at the guesthouse we were in.
I woke up early, though not early enough to attend the morning puja. Since we had plans to visit Bazgo and Alchi on the way back, we hurried out of Lamayuru. But we were stopped mid-way by some blasting work that was going on. After nearly an hour of dilly-dallying, we were finally let through and we proceeded to Alchi gonpa.
Alchi is probably one of the oldest gonpas we visited, so far. Photography was generally discouraged, which was perfectly OK with me there. The road to Alchi, however was quite interesting, it was almost absolute ruler straight, with a nice fork in the road to the monastery. And there was green barley all around the place. We found a nice restaurant with a view and sat down to eat a late lunch.
After heading out of Alchi, we retraced our steps to Bazgo. Bazgo looks like a mud fort in ruins, but when you look closer you can see the solid blocks of stone over which centuries of plastering has created the appearance of soft mud. It is being restored and most of it was closed for us. But the structure did leave a sense of awe about people who'd build such a structure in such an inaccessible place.
After all our adventures in Kargil district, we headed back to Leh to civilization, warm beds and honey lemon ginger tea. But the trip back was no less enchanting in the fading evening light.
After some butter tea, darpu and a bit of shopping, headed back to the hotel for dinner. I'd had bought some Yak cheese to bring back to Bangalore, dried apricots and a jar of apricot jam. Our dinner was hot maggi noodles, with a lot of vegetables. We bid adieu to our fellow travellers and hit the sacks early.
And then we took the flight to Delhi. End of journey.--
What makes the universe so hard to comprehend is that there's nothing to compare it with.
We started off late with me waking up first, at 9 AM. But by ten O'clock we'd had breakfast and were ready to roll. The cab came to us after picking up everybody else. After leaving Leh at around 10:30, we spent the next two hours steadily climbing uphill to 18,380 feetto the highest motorable road in the world - Khardung La. Unfortunately, it has been converted into a touristy place with families and grandmothers climbing up melting snow or sliding down pulling down two sons, one holding each hand.
I did climb up to the top of the peak, nearby. The snow was slippery and I walked up by digging my heel in with each step into the snow. The way up was the easy part, as I would discover later. The view from the top wasn't that different, but I'm easy to please when mountains are concerned. I was feeling euphoric and was slowly making my way down when I realized that there was a faster path down than walking. I went down that hill sitting on my left foot and steering with my right heel. After all that excitement and a cup of cinnamon tea later, we headed downhill into Nubra valley.
The word Nubra means green and the valley was only slowly turning green under the bright summer sun. The glimpses of green in the valley was amazing after the dry desolation on the other side of the mountain range. We kept moving till we got to the village of Khalsar, which was our designated lunch spot.
In the village of Khalsar, I had the most amazing momos I have ever had. They were soya momos and with a simple chutney. I don't know if it was just because we were hungry, but we gobbled up as many momos as the lady could bake. After lunch, we headed out to the Shyok and Nubra confluence, which we would cross to reach Diskit. The bridge across the river is small, yet controlled by army personell.
Finally, we ended up in Diskit and dumped out bags and stuff at a slightly upmarket place called Olthang. While Vinayak & Co were visiting the gonpa nearby, I went walking along the streams which passed near our hotel. Rishi , on the other hand, was watching kids throw water at passing vehicles. One german lady who got wet, also got indignant. Probably needed a camera for the moment when she asked Rishi - are you a monk ?. After all this fun, we headed out for the dunes of Hundar before it became too dark.
Hundar is a stretch of sand dunes, with a stream (or river) flowing through the middle. After the standard shoes off operations, we had a few chases up the sheer slope of a dune. The sand was hard rock sand, quite unlike the beach sand I'm familiar with. Walking barefoot was probably a bad idea as I ended up hobbling across the thorny bushes on the way back. But more than compensated for that by just letting myself go into the warm (not cold) water. After a bit of splashing around, we headed back to the warm beds of the hotel.
27th June: At around 7 AM, I was woken up by the driver. He wasn't upto date with our plans and I was too sleepy to explain. Two hours later, all of us slowly started waking up. After a slush bowl of corn flakes with hot milk, we all pulled ourselves together and moved onto to the other side of the valley. We had to go halfway till Khalsar before we'd take the other fork in the road which would take us to Sumur and Pangmik.
After going down the Khalsar loops down to the valley floor, we passed through Sumur towards Panamik. Panamik is probably the northernmost point in Indian soil that I can put foot without a military permit and escort. The hot springs of Panamik, though were a disappointment. The springs were literally trickles down the hill with the smell of ammonia and algae covering the entire stream bed. But the top of the hill gave us an excellent view of the valley below.
After visiting the Sumur gonpa, we bid adieu to Nubra valley and began our return to Khardung La. We stopped over at Khalsar yet again to have lunch, but the momos had run out. As evening set in, the air was shimmering with the fading light of the summer day. We climbed up into the upper reaches of the mountain, racing against the clock. Since our plans had included a third day in Nubra valley intially, we were sort of cutting it close by shrinking it to a two day trip.
We went up Khardung la, just minutes before 5 'O clock. The entire snow cap was bright with the late evening light. As we watched the mountain grow bigger and bigger, we could see the thin line the hand of man had scratched on this mighty mountain - the scar line of a surfaced road. And up we went.
K-Top was nearly deserted when we arrived. There wasn't any of the swarms of tourists we had seen on the way up. After the customary cup of chai, we took our trip downwards and onto the warm comfy beds in Leh. Our trip to Nubra valley was a couple of hours short of completion. Not here the red and orange glows of the sea shore, but the the golden sun was turning the mountainside into a veritable feast for the eyes.
A dinner that went wrong, though the food was ok when it eventually arrived, and the day ended as it began - with me in a bed.--
If the grass is greener on the other side, there's obviously more shit there.
Words fail me. To explain the grandeur of this lake, I find my vocabulary lacking and my prose insufficent. To compare it with anything else I have seen would be in vain. But to do justice to this travelogue, I should at least make an attempt. The Pangong Tsu is one of the must-see sights in all of Ladakh.
All six of us, headed out of Leh towards Pangong Tsu sometime around nine. After a good hours's drive out, we passed Shey palace and through the familiar roads we had passed yesterday. We stopped at Karu to buy provisions and stock up on food. After leaving behind Karu, we speeded up and made good time on the valley floor while the going was good. We passed through some interesting country, past a few military camps (Chusul Warriors and Eagles), on our way up to the high passes. This region, being so close to China, is a highly militarized zone. The army presence however is hardly obstrusive and caused no hassles for us. We, of course, had an inner line permit for travel this close to the border.
Sometime near noon, we started climbing up to Chang La, which after Khardung La and Taglang la, is the third highest motorable road in the world. But this time around, we were properly acclimatized, properly clothed and the sun was shining bright. After a couple of half-hearted snow fights (yes, I had bought gloves for this trip) and a hot cup of cinnamon tea, we descended into the greener valleys beyond.
The valley was beautiful, green and had wild horses grazing all over. We even saw a small herd of domesticated yaks. After passing through a few streams and past muddy plains, we reached a valley unlike any other we'd seen so far. The valley floor was covered in sand, looking not quite unlike a beach, but without an ocean to match. We really wanted to go down and investigate, but we were eager to reach the lake and find accomodation.
But we soon found the missing ocean. The Pangong lake is salty, though not in a sea salt way. This lake tasted more of potassium salts than the usual sodium chloride. The lake has no drainage and has fresh glacial water flowing into it. There are hardly any fish in this lake and even fewer algae. All this results in a crystal clear, blue lake of picture perfection.
The place we had landed up was called Lukung and there was a guesthouse there with three rooms. And due to all our hurrying on the way (oh, I kid) we were the first ones to get there. Our guesthouse was hardly half a kilometre away from the lake, though you wouldn't feel the distance because there are no trees to give you a sense of scale. Basically it felt like you were next door to the lake.
To complete the illusion of the sea, there were sea gulls here, which feed on the crustaceans who seem to be thriving in the shallows. We wasted some time skimming stones on the flat surface of the lake. After sending enough stones skimming through the lake's flat surface, three of us took off our shoes and stepped into the water. There is a bay formation around the corner where we were and the water was shallow for as far as I could see. The first few minutes felt cold, then it was as if my body had adjusted to the fact that I was going to go ankle deep into cold water.
Having wet our feet and generally enjoying the water, we climed out and decided to get higher before the sunset. We climbed the nearby hillock and got to a higher view point to watch the entire curve of the bay from above. As we watched the sun set behind us, what we were seeing turned into a moonscape of sorts. The salt deposited by the lake on the flood plain turned the ground into this bright white surface while the dark blue of the lake made for contrast.
There are no power lines in Lukung. We couldn't charge our cameras, nor could we transfer the photos out of our cameras. The dinner consisted of maggi instant noodles, cooked watery and omlettes. We at that in the dim candle light and decided to call it a day. But one step outside and we were stunned by what we saw in the sky.
Whole sky was lit and in the clear air of the high altitude, I could see more stars than I have ever done before. As we tried to identify the stars, we were unable to find the Orion in the night sky. There were too many stars to actually spot the characteristic three star belt of orion. But as we were hunting for Orion, we saw something move very quickly across the sky. The reddish spot moving from South east to North west was probably a sattelite. And in a few minutes, we spotted a couple more of the sattelites moving in polar orbits. As we were scanning the skies for more, a shooting star passed by in the N.W sky. We spent the good part of the next thirty minutes watching the meteors expend themselves in the atmosphere. It was a star gazer's dream and I shall not forget that sky for a while.
The guesthouse was sheltered behind a hillock and safely out of the cold wind. Without any heating of any sort, by midnight all of us were feeling hot inside our blankets. But generally I had a good night's sleep. We had planned to wake up really early to see the sunrise and I had my alarms set for quarter past five.
I woke up sometime past five and discovered that the sky was too cloudy for a good sunrise. Vinayak and Rishi were already out on the bay, scaring birds (*heh*) and trying to photograph the rising sun. After a few more minutes of procrastination, I walked up to the bay and watched the light reflect off the lake surface. It was brilliant - to watch a lake turn into pure silver and slowly darken into a brilliant azure.
I took a walk along the length of the bay. It was a really windy day and the lake ripples were becoming nearly full-fledged waves. I took an hour long walk towards Pangmik, though turned back because I had no idea of when we would be leaving camp. My only lasting regret is that I didn't climb the zig zag trail up on the mountain nearby.
After a bit more time of non-commital wandering, I had breakfast and finished catching up on my journal. We headed back to Tang-Tse and passed by those sand drifts. But this time around, we went down and I even took a small bag back for Premshree. At Tang-Tse, we ran into an archery competition. After watching the archers for a while and having had lunch, we headed back up Chang La. Except for running into a Himalayan Marmot sunning itself on a rock, the rest of the journey was uneventful.
On the way to Leh, we had an amazing idea. Why not stop at Thiksey and enjoy the hospitality of the Chamba restaurant. I had honey pancakes and they were just awesome. After all that, we finally got back to the guesthouse. And we had a few laughs on the way thanks to the B.R.O's sense of humour.
We had gotten to the hotel a bit early and were not quite ready to turn in yet. So we sat out there in the courtyard talking to the other guests. There was a french dude and a british dude playing the guitar and an irish couple. There were some quite interesting conversations about a lot of things. Then something weird happened. The irish couple were smoking something and quite out of nowhere, started passing around the cigarrete. The blonde girl sitting next me offered me a drag and I said NO. The french guy shrugged, the brit said good for you ! and *then* the girl said "When I saw your hair, I thought you smoked pot". And somebody said that right now I looked like a pot plant. Anyway, the dinner had arrived, which I promptly bolted and called it a day (because a day it had been).--
You can't judge a book by the way it wears its hair.