After a stop at a café as our driver didn’t have his breakfast, we left for Khardung la top. All seemed fine; I was just looking for icicles, as I had miss taking a picture with it. My driver was reluctant to stop and I really couldn’t understand, but I made him stop. So I took a picture and I came back, we drove a little and then he stopped 400mts away from the khardung La top, and said now take as many pictures you want, now we are stuck. I couldn’t understand initially but then when I saw snow on the road, my fear started coming alive. The whole area read avalanche prone.
But I couldn’t understand, avalanche now, why?
And then I saw one right in front of my eyes. I was afraid, I have seen the videos, heard from many that avalanche is really strong, can take away the whole vehicle down. And getting a dozer to clear these huge rocks of snow was a task. Because already two dozers were at work, and there were no more. People from the other side got down from their cars and started hitting the snow on the road hoping to settle it down.
But it was just the beginning, I asked my driver when they will get it cleared, he said don’t know sometimes takes a whole day. We were near the Khardung la top just 400mts away from it, the road ahead were all clear so far.
Imagine our luck. My biggest fear was as the time will pass, it shouldn’t get difficult to breathe because we were at 18350 ft and on top of that anxiety started ruining our boastful acclimatization. My biggest concern was for my mother.
I asked my driver lets return to Nubra for today and as I said so, another avalanche happened just a few steps behind our car. Luck was running out, we all were so afraid, all of us started reciting God's name. People from the other side started walking towards our side, taking shelter underneath a huge rock.
It was only getting worse, another avalanche happened next to the people who were trying hard to clear the road. There was no news of the dozer till then; the only news was that two more avalanches took place behind us. Avalanche makes the ground beneath your feet to shake, I could feel it time and again, I was just praying and hoping that it’s not an earthquake. It was post 2 pm. No sound of dozer was there. Roads were only getting blocked, with more vehicles coming from the both side.
It’s always said go easy on the mountains, now I could understand it was not only the scorching heat which was melting the snow since past two days but it was also the burden of the trucks and vehicles the poor road and the mountains had to face. Then how couldn’t you expect such a thing to happen, wasn’t it obvious.
The army personnel came and gave us an option to walk down those 400mts to the Khardung la spot and rest. But he said medical centre at the top was not fully equipped, we thought we should walk, what if we walk at least we all will be safe, and can take a taxi from there for the other half and go. But it seemed impossible to get a driver who could adjust four of us till Leh.
Then we thought to walk till the spot. But our driver insisted, that you all safe inside this vehicle, he had parked it underneath a rock, so even if snow melt and comes over, it will get hurdle and might not fall. Now this was little logical but how sure one could be.
The people adjacent to our cars recommended not walking; if any one of us gets over exerted, then it would lead to another trouble.
So we decided to stay back in the car and we kept tossing, sometimes we stood out, sometimes we sat in the car.
My anger had no limits, on the fail system of our government or BRO “BORDER ROAD ORGANIZATION”. Why only two dozers, when they know these incidents are so common here. The tour guide next to our car told us that they have spent the whole night on this road waiting for the road to get cleared and fortunately this happened during day time (should I be thankful?).
Already 5 hours went by, our plan for the day ahead of visiting Shanti Stupa and Leh main market now were only farfetched dreams. Now the main concern was to reach our hotel back in health. To be stuck for 5 hours at a height of 18,350 ft. when you know how fit you are physically left me with no room for the doubt that why I was so apprehensive about this trip.
So now should I thank the BRO official who was coming from the other side or should I express my anger for the shortcomings?
Two dozer were finally in sight, we were so happy. The moment the road ahead of us got cleared, our driver yelled in joy, now the dozer behind can go back, we don’t need you, haha was the fate, so to our horror another avalanche happened just one car ahead of us could see the fear in our mom’s eyes, they both held each other’s hand and were literally about to jump out of the car, I somehow held them back.
Now what? Wait for more time.
So once all the roads got cleared, the traffic from other side was allowed first to move and there were around 20 vehicles or more and why because one of the BRO official was coming from this side. Imagine our 5 vehicles had to wait for another one hour before we could finally move, alas any more miss happening.
In one of the car which was behind ours had a lady patient with breathing difficulty, and that also didn’t deter the cars from the other side to wait. Finally I saw the jeep of BRO official, all the locals had the same expression, what to do ma’am, its same story every day. I was really upset and angry and could not hold myself back from stopping his jeep and shouting at the official, if only you could care more about the public instead.
And finally it was our turn to leave, with a happy heart; we left as soon as we could have.
As we kept descending we could see that the same roads that we had seen yesterday were all in a bad shape, most of the roads were broken, and big pile of rocks were lying on the road which might have fallen from the mountain above. The water from the melting snow only made the roads worse. You could see people struggling to cross the barriers and it didn’t deter their determination to reach khardungla at all. The way back to leh from the same road was nothing like yesterday, it only became more muddy and dusty as we approached Leh. Wonder what nature can do in a couple of hour’s time. I really want to thank one of my friends for suggesting camphor; it really helped us to tackle our anxiety at least.
We reached back to our hotel by 8 pm or so, physically and mentally exhausted, sharing our tales amongst other guests in the hotel. My mind kept worrying whether we should go to Pangong tomorrow or not.
Going to Pangong also meant facing the same kind of roads, as per the other guests. Our driver gave us a call and told us to be ready by 6 am for the roads to Pangong also got damaged due to the water and probably mud. The taste of adventure today already made me vigilant to check for an avalanche or anything falling from the top of the mountain. Imagine gazing continuously at the top of the adjacent slope throughout the drive, yes I was doing that till we reached to plane area.
One of the guests who were traveling with us via same tour operator had a lucky escape today so our driver and even I wanted to make sure that at least two cars move together just in case of any emergency and they happily agreed to move with us. Their driver insisted on leaving at 5 am instead, and I was in no mood to take a risk, so I had to agree and inform the rest of my gang.
The altitude even in Leh, has an effect on your appetite, I hardly ate during these four days, may be this is a part of your body acclimatizing process.
So we called it a night and prepared ourselves for the next day adventure. And I was glad and thankful that we all reached back to the hotel safely, and none of us call it a quit for the next day tour. That’s why they say moms are the strongest being on earth. The way they always support you, despite of your silly choices.
Day 5: PANGONG Tso via Changla (world’s third highest pass).
It was 5 am and we all were ready to leave for our day tour to one of the most beautiful lake “Pangong tso”. This was also 6-hour drive.
Initial roads looked fine, most of the roads were muddy and you could see that the whole mountains are made up of big rocks, no vegetation to support them practically, only held by mud. So again you have to be extra careful.
The current melting snow had a toll on these roads, the driver has to cross the turns filled with running water extra carefully else your car can get stuck. Unlike Khardung la, you can spot labor quite often, trying hard to make the roads as better as they could.
It’s a surprise and don’t know the exact reason, why BRO have employed the common people of ladhak as labor, you could hardly spot any BRO officer or for that matter any in charge in officer dress and these poor people work for almost full day with least amount of machinery. The best thing about Ladhak people is that, they greet each other with so much affection which reflects in their tone and eyes. You will hear this word “julley” so often; they greet each other even if they don’t know the other person. The local people are always on their toes to help the each other in case of any need. No driver was driving in a hurry; they made sure everyone crosses the hurdle after that only they drove ahead.
Our driver was of super nice nature, not only he was caring but I really loved his idea of thanking the labor for their help and hard work. Later he told me, since on this road you can see the labor really working hard, we make it a point to give some amount of money from our earnings every year. Wasn’t obvious? These are the people who were actually making the road safer to drive unlike the road sign of BRO guiding you to be gentle everywhere.
In Ladhak, you are not allowed to feed the wild animals, nor allowed to do fishing as well. They really take good measures to protect the environment and its endangered species.