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.