Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Ladakh July 2010: Part 2 (Pangong and Nubra)

In Part 1, I described the first 2 days of our trip – in and around Leh. In part 2, I describe the trips to Pangong and Nubra – 2 days each.

By the way, check out some more snaps here. And don't miss the Travel Tips at the end of this post.

Day 3: Mon, 19th Jul – Leh-Pangong.
Trashi was bang on time and at 7 he cranked the engine. We had got breakfast packed by our hosts (Ladakhi bread with butter and jam). The route took us in the valley for the first hour or so. We had to stop to show our permits at Karu. The climb started after Sakti, and it continued for over an hour. It seemed never-ending but the scenery more than made up for the bad roads. At one point, we saw a herd of yaks and stopped to take snaps.

Eventually, we reached Chang-La, the third highest pass in the world. We stopped here to play in the snow and click snaps. We met a couple of army jawans from Karnataka, and they were very happy to find Kannada-speaking people. One of them told us about the conditions there, and also showed us some snaps of Siachen. We cannot even begin to imagine how being a military man must be!

After a 20-minute chat we continued, downhill this time. At one point we had run out of drinking water, and asked Trashi to stop at the next shop. He did better. He stopped at the next stream instead, where we collected water in our bottles. Trust me when I say that water doesn't get purer than this. And it is plentiful in Ladakh! Who needs mineral water.

We were now getting into Tangtse valley. We started getting glimpses of the wildlife here – wild ass, horses and ibex. The landscape started showing hints of sand in addition to the normal streams and mountains. We even saw a small frozen lake.

We rolled into Pangong by noon (well, not literally). I almost lost my senses when I saw the beauty of the place. I didn't know whether to take snaps or take in the scenery or to shout out aloud with sheer exhilaration of seeing this unimaginably scenic place. There was a half hour photo session here when the cameras must have been breathless, poor things.

Most tourists make a day trip to Pangong. After a few hours by the lake, at the “main area” (I don't know what else to call it), they return back to Leh. Not us. We had booked ourselves at the Water Camp which is a 20 minute ride further down the lake shore. On our way there, we helped a Tata Safari that was stuck in the sand to break free. Our good deed for the day done, we arrived at the camp around 1, just in time for lunch. Our accommodation consisted of a single tent with attached bathroom – a luxury I say!

Lunch and a short rest later, we set out for a long walk along the lake. It was the most amazing experience – taking in the multiple shades of blue and green that the lake assumed, the absolutely bare mountains on the other side, the cotton-white clouds hovering just above, the breeze. What I loved most about it was the isolation. Not a soul in sight, no fixed “destination” to walk to. Just three friends in the lap of mother nature.

It turned out to be quite a long walk. We returned to camp only around 6:30. The light was still strong. But about an hour later as the sun started going down, it started getting really chilly. The wind was picking up by now and that only sent the mercury further down. We got into our warm clothes and were enjoying the serenity when dinner was ready. The dinner tent was surprisingly warm on the inside. There's nothing like a bowl of steaming hot soup in these conditions, I tell you.

We wanted to mingle with the others in the camp but were too tired. In what would be a “trend” for most of the trip, we turned in pretty early and by 10 we were fast asleep.

Day 4: Tue, 20th July – Pangong-Leh
In what would be yet another trend for most of the remainder, we woke up pretty early too. By 5 to be exact. We wanted to catch the sunrise which supposedly cast a magic glow over the lake and surrounding mountains. Alas! The clouds had other plans for us. We did get good views but none of the actual sunrise itself. It was a disappointed trio that munched on cereal for breakfast that morning. At 7 we bid good-bye to the camp. But we still wanted to have one last quick photo session at the “main area”. This time the we had the place entirely to ourselves, unlike the previous day when it was brimming with cars and tourists. So we clicked a few snaps and were on our way back to Leh.

Back in the Tangtse valley, we had an encounter with what we thought was a beaver-like creature (but what we later realized is called a Himalayan Marmot and belongs to the squirrel family). These were shy creatures who would scurry into their burrows when we got near. But there was one of them – an old female (who must have been used to the human adulation). She accepted biscuits and carrots and posed for quite a few snaps. Boy did she enjoy the attention we showered on her!

So yes, we continued to Leh, this time we did not stop at Chang La. There was a half-hour delay because the road was broken by a stream at one point, and drivers were placing large stones to pave a way. I must mention here that drivers cooperate with each other very well. They must – else they would never be able to drive on these narrow roads.

We were in town by half past noon. We took bath (remember – the camp had only cold water – impossible to bathe in at that early hour) , lunch and some rest. In the evening we again went to town but this time on foot. We had a leisurely stroll through the main city and were back by 7:30, our stomachs full of snacks. Needless to say, dinner was very light. And, since we had to hit the road early the next morning for Nubra valley, we went to bed pretty early too.

Day 5: Wed, 21st July – Leh-Nubra Valley
Trashi was waiting for us by 6:45, and at 7 we were on our way, this time to Nubra valley. The Dalai Lama was visiting Nubra at this time and hence there was very heavy traffic headed in the same direction as us. There was a 20-minute delay due to a traffic jam at a check point.

We reached Khardung-La pass – what India claims is the highest motorable road in the world – by 9 am. But because of the delay we did not stop here. We reserved that for the return trip. The road condition here is much worse than the Pangong route. It was almost 10:30 when we hit the Nubra valley. Boy, is the valley vast or what (at least that's how it looks). For a change, we saw signs of civilization – villages, schools, flat roads – even a 3-road T junction (a rarity in these parts of the world).

We went straight to Sumoor where there is a grand Gompa. This place was very crowded in anticipation of the Dalai Lama's visit. People were dressed in traditional Ladakhi attire. We wanted to visit the temple but due to security reasons we weren't allowed in. We tried to find out about the timing of Dalai Lama's visit but couldn't get much information. Finally, at 12:45, we decided there was no point in just waiting. We decided to leave Sumoor.

We wanted to go to check out the hot water springs at Panamik – but came to know that there was waterlogging at one point and hence the road was closed. So we went to Diskit instead. We reached Diskit by 1:30. Quite a big chunk of the way consists of flat, long straights on the valley floor. We checked in to the Hotel Olthang. The guy who allotted us our room was a very strange guy – he was very polite to us, he even carried the bags of one foreigner; but he was very rude to our driver. Wonder why this attitude. He wasn't a local for sure – you don't find thins kind of behaviour among Ladakhis.

Anyway, we had lunch and some rest, after which we went to Hunder for the camel rides. Hunder is just 20 minutes from Diskit. You see some proper sand dunes on the way here. You might think you are in Rajasthan – only when you look up and see the mountains are you reminded of where exactly you are. There was a big crowd at the camel ride. To add to it, we did not like the way the camels were being treated. It appeared that they were not taken care of. We did not ride them. Later, we came to know by talking to people that these double-humped camels, which are unique to Ladakh and Gobi desert in Mongolia, are actually seen in the wild here. During the tourist season, these “trainers” bring them in for rides, and during winters, they just leave the camels in the wild – without feeding them properly. This made us really sad. I don't know whether to believe this – but it looks like there is some amount of truth there.

So – we did not ride the camels but spent some time on the dunes. After that, we returned to Diskit and headed to the Gompa there. The Gompa is situated high on a mountain overlooking the valley. The views from this Gompa were the best ones of the Nubra valley. The valley floor is really wide (like 5-6 kms wide), and the Gompa offered a panorama of it all. To add to it, there were the clouds hovering over the peaks nearby giving the impression of icing on the cake!

There is a brand new 80-ft tall statue of Lord Buddha here. We were impressed by the place. We spent quite some time, braving the winds which were getting stronger. After returning to hotel, we again set out for a leisurely walk through the village. A very long dinner later, we had this urge to take a post-dinner walk. We did start off on one, but it started drizzling and it was so dark that our torches were hopelessly inadequate. So we returned after just 15 minutes and called it a day.

Day 6: Thurs, 22nd July - Nubra-Leh
For a change we had a leisurely departure. We left Diskit by 8:30. This is because we weren't expecting Khardung-La pass to be open for Leh-bound traffic until noon. However, to our surprise, we found it open. We reached KhardungLa top by 11. We purchased souvenirs here, did some bit of snow-fighting, clicked the mandatory snaps and in half an hour we were on our way. It's a good thing we left soon since the weather had begun to deteriorate and it even looked like it'd snow.

We reached Leh by 1 pm, went out for lunch and then walked to the main town to withdraw money from the ATM. After lunch, we rested a bit and headed to our favourite spot in Leh – our stream. We would be leaving Leh the next morning and wanted to spend as much time here as possible. Sandy sang a few songs while Santhu sat and wrote some poetry. This is as close as it gets to heaven!

What then? We had another stroll in the city and were back to the Guest House. We clicked snaps of the host family. After that we had dinner and went to sleep.

Stay tuned for Part 3 :)

Travel Tips
  • Keep a dozen xerox copies of you permits ready. You don't get photocopy machines anywhere other than Leh.
  • For Pangong, it is best to have a wide angle lens for your camera. You can get amazing results with one.
  • Pack in extra set of batteries – you never know how long the power will be available for charging.
  • It could get real cold up at the passes (Chang La, Khardung La). It is advisable to keep the jackets handy when you are getting out of the vehicle there
  • When the car is climbing up the pass, it is best to keep the windows up. Else, you feel heavy-headed due to the lack of oxygen, and as Trashi told us, you could faint as soon as you step out at the top.
  • Day trips are possible to both Pangong and Nubra. But if you have the time and budget, then I suggest camping at Pangong. I guarantee you it will be unlike any experience you've ever had.
  • Remember you will not get hot water at the camps. It is either cold water bath or no bath!
  • In Nubra, stay options are available at Diskit, Sumoor and Hunder.
  • You do get BSNL network in Nubra valley – but no Airtel. Pangong is way out of reach of any mobile network. So do call up your folks on your way out of Leh and let them know you won't be within reach for the next so-and-so days.
  • Pack in eatables, biscuits, fruit, dry-fruits when you leave Leh. Drinking water is not necessary though. You can collect water from any of the zillion streams. And rest assured – they are purer than any “mineral water” that money can buy.


malavika said...

Awesome blog!! And ya pretty useful tips too:)

Deepak said...

Awesome man, I must appreciate how you remember each and everything and compile that in the blog. Good one again.

Sandy said...

Very good narration Kiran!!! Bringing back the ladakh in front of me

Prajakta Kashalkar-Joshi said...

Hello Kiran,

Nice ! You actually painted a beautiful picture of Leh-Ladakh here. Looking forward for part 3!


Aquatic Static said...

Love your blog! Inspired to visit Ladhak now.