Day 9Today we had to check out of hotel.Target: Leh city – Pangong Lake (156 kms)Route:There is just 1 route!Weather:Sunny with shades of clouds. Temperature around 23°C when we started from Leh.We left hotel after having breakfast as we had the full day to reach Pangong lake so thought, no need to hurry. We also had our Tent (there are no hotels there) previously booked so that was sorted too. From Leh city to Karu was a very smooth ride.PS: Karu has the last petrol pump. After that till Pangong & back (246 kms both ways), there’s none.We got our car topped up & tires checked for air. But then came the trouble. After around 10-12 kms, bad road started, actually the right word would be there was no road at all. And there comes the 1st trouble with our car. It got stopped at a slope & just wouldn’t go up. I was driving, so I revved it up more & again but it just disagreed with me. Shamik got out & took the steering but it just won’t move. We saw that just behind us, there was another swift which was struggling on the same issue. Then one Sardarji from that car walked upto us & we chatted on how to make our cars move. Then we saw 2 cars coming down from the top. People from one car(wagonR) advised us to go back as they said the road ahead is way more damaged & there water on the road because of which their car’s clutch is broken too. After listening to their ordeals, I start to get restless too. I looked at Shamik & he gave me his patented Shamik look. However, the Sardarji’s family decided to go back & not to pursue Pangong lake. Now, looking at my ordeal, Shamik decided to stop at the tea shop to reconsider. We met 3 kashmiri youth who asked us where we were headed & got to know that they were headed to Pangong lake too. They said they have been there before in their Ecosport & faced the same issue but this time they have got Alto 800 to go up as it is a better vehicle. Me & Shamik had the most confusing look on our face. Anyhow, Shamik was determined to go up but he was worried as why our car couldn’t do a regular slope. So he decided to open up the bonnet & just checked the Engine Oil status. Surprisingly, it was really low. Now as we aren’t the experts, he topped up the oil again & now ready to give it a try. These Kashmiri guys, offered to pay for our tea too as one of them said that we were their guests in Kashmir. (sweet, isn’t it). Now they started to go along with us in their car so that if required they can help us on the way.This time, our companion agreed to take our order & crossed the slope smoothly, so we assumed it was due to Engine Oil only.However, that was just the onset of incoming battle. Road was bad throughout & it got worse before Chang-La pass. We stopped there for a while catch a breath. The road was not only in patches with gravels (big & small) but also had the water flowing due to melting of ice. There were some patches so bad that it felt like we were crossing an actual water stream with all the gravels. We hit the second set of issue, the car stopped in the middle of such stream & revving it at both 1st & 2nd gear wasn’t helping. Shamik had to rev it so much that I could see some smoke coming out of the car now. Anyway, it got out after much struggle. We also had to stop a lot of times because of Army trucks convoy as at one time only one vehicle could cross on those road & army trucks convoy was never less than 50 trucks. So everyone had to stop till it completely passed through. There was another time when our car got struck in water & gravel area. It was certainly the most tiring drive of approx. 80 kms of our trip so far. Finally just before 60 kms before Pangong lake we hit some good road. Once we could see Pangong lake at a distance & the bad road hit again. We had our tent booked at Spangmik which was around 5 kms ahead from the start of Pangong lake. Throughout bad road.Finally we spotted our Tents & by that time it was 6 pm. So, we covered 158 kms in 9 hours. That wisely explains our hardship of the day. But I was relieved that we finally were able to see the beautiful & famous Pangong Lake. Now was the time to relax but the temp. was around 5-6°C here so we had to do our jackets to view the beauty sitting outside our tent.We finally had much awaited tea & iconic Maggi & spent the rest of the evening glancing at the beauty of place & listening to the stories of a really talkative but funny monk. With that we called it a day.Oh, those Kashmiri boys, they stopped somewhere in between to have lunch & after that we lost them.Tent Booked:The Nature’s Nest Pangong Camp, Spangmik. The Lake is 100 meters from the tents.Cost: Rs. 6000/night with breakfast & Dinner.Review: The beds & blanket/Quilts were clean. The electricity is only available between 7 pm – 10 pm. No phone networks as expected. The hot water is also available at a specific time in the morning. Food was OK. In staff, there were only two people, both humble.PS: Take printout of your booking, as there is no Internet & they ask to specifically see the mail confirmation.Take Away:Get the car checked even if it’s a brand new one before going to Khardungla/Changla & any other passes.Keep car accessories handyCarry warm clothes while travelling to Pangong
It was our third day in Leh and we had already got enough chances of acclimatization by then. So we kept the long journey to Pangong and back on a single day. We finished a quick breakfast around 7:30 am as it will take around 5 & 1/2 hours to reach and the same to come back. It took another half hour for other necessary arrangements. Sufficient number of bottles of water, a big hotcase packed with freshly prepared roasted chicken and sandwiches and a big oxygen cylinder went into the car boot. Our enthusiasm was beyond any limit. As Pangong is close to Indo-china border (In fact almost 3/4th of it lies in China) an Inner line permit is required for the Indian citizens. Generally, the hotel arranges for the permit and hands it over on your arrival. For that, you need to fax the required documents such as1. Self attested photocopy of a govt.recognized ID poof.2.travel itinerary(specially the part where you need to travel with the ILP and how long will you stay there must be clearly mentioned.)The permit costs around Rs.420 (400 for environment fee + 20 for ILP) per person for visiting selected parts of Ladakh for four days.Leh to Pangong via Chang La is the most trodden as it is the least time consuming route to reach the place. Tourists also travel via Nubra and Tso Moriri in summer if they want to cover the entire trip in a single loop. Ours was the journey limited to visiting Pangong only, and it was of almost 160 km. The route was something like this.Leh - Shey - Karu - Sakti - Zingral - Chang La - Tso Ltak - Durbuk -Tangste - Pangong TsoFirst we took the Leh-Manali highway, crossed the Shey village, Sindhu Ghat and the Rancho’s school once again and drove to Karu in almost one hour. From Karu we took the road towards Chang La. From Sakti we started to ascend. The view outside was breathtaking. The yellowish brown hills resembled huge sand dunes and our car was tracing the ribbon like roads wrapped around them. It was around 10 am. when we stopped at Zingral. It was around 15 thousand feet elevation.As Zingral is not a regular tourist destination only one tea shop was open. We were carrying some snacks and hot “Kahwa” with us. Soon we resumed our journey to Changla which was still 13km away.The Tibetan name Chang-La means" The pass towards south". We reached there around 10:30 am. Chang-la is at an elevation of 17,300 ft. We needed to reach Pangong as early as possible so that we can spend some leisure moments there. So our driver advised us to stop at Chang-la on our way back. We deferred our photo session in front of the signboard reading “The third highest motorable road in Ladakh”. We carried on with the drive towards Pangong and started to decend towards DurbukThe road towards Chang-la was fully covered with snow and ice from almost 1 km. before the pass and the road remains icy at least 1 to 2 km after crossing it. As we were reaching the pass the snow walls on both sides of the road were becoming taller. The road after Chang-la was quite rough and hence it was taking longer time to decend. Almost 2 km. after crossing the pass we found ourselves driving through a valley surrounded again by brown and black hills. On one side of the road there was a huge meadow that extended to the base of the hills. It was full of dry yellow grasses with patches of white ice. We spotted some “Kang” or Tibetan wild ass grazing on the grass. It was amazing to know that this was the Tso-Ltak plain located at an elevation of 16,618 ft. Tso-Ltak is one of the lesser known lakes of Ladakh which remains unnoticed in the hectic itinerary of a busy traveler. Though it looked like a vast span of grassland with patches of snow and ice during then, but in summer this place transforms into a beautiful blue lake to be found just 15 to 20 min after crossing Chang La.Chang la to Tangtse, the biggest village of this route is around 52 km. As we drove downhill towards Durbuk and Tangtse we crossed varied landscapes. Sometimes series of barren hills of different shades such as of yellowish brown, grey, black, maroon and even purple were standing in endless queue under the azure blue sky. Sometimes barren rocky hills were guarding huge meadows of bushes and shrubs withered after long harsh winter. We drove alone through hills and valleys and that was the most unique experience of this trip. It was a rendezvous with nature. Not a single folk- neither a single bird nor a single green Leaf- we came across in our entire journey except those few Kangs of the Tso Ltak plain. At times it felt as if we were driving through some surreal landscape outside the human world or we had magically entered into a beautiful painting while watching it endlessly.Though the roads are beautifully maintained here by BRO our driver informed that it is very hard to maintain them due to the harsh climate. Often in rainy season the water from melting glaciers coming down through the slopes of these lofty peaks create huge surge of water in the nearby springs and the roads get washed away. At some places fields were covered with rocks and boulders brought down by the flash floods.Around 12 o’clock we crossed Durbuk. Tangtse was still 22 km away. Surrounded by hills. Tangtse village lies on the flat,arid valley floor of the Harong stream. The road crosses the stream and goes eastward towards Pangong Tso.From here onwards a frozen stream started accompanying us. Tangtse houses few shops, hotels and homestays. But during March these hotels and lodges were all closed. Around 2 km after the police check post we found an access lane to reach the Tangtse monastery. Though it would have been an unique experience to visit a monastery in the middle of nowhere we had to omit it for our strict itinerary. This area is also part of the Hemis National Park. The sides of the road were covered by occasional sheets of snow for a pretty long time. My daughter’s sudden query push me to notice the snow more closely. It was only then I found the transformation. It was white sand instead of snow.After Tangtse it was only a drive of 1 & 1/2 hrs. From Lukung we suddenly caught the first glimpse of the enchanted lake. We yelled with joy. As we drove downhill it disappeared on a bend. After a few more twists and turns for almost 10 more minutes we finally arrived at the shore of the Pangong Tso.The lake was really" enchanting". We didn’t feel tired even after such a long drive. The cold wind was piercing our faces. Although it was 1pm. in the afternoon, the temperature was sub -zero. As expected the huge lake was completely frozen. In peak winter people even drive their cars and motorcycles on the ice. But since it was early spring our driver cautioned us that the ice has started melting and hence we should be careful while walking on it. We walked a little near the shore with care.Though the deep azure colour for which the lake is so famous was not to be seen, still it was a celestial experience to stand near it amidst absolute serenity with no soul around us. We did miss the azure blue look of the lake resembling the sky above, but the vast frozen stretch surrounded by lofty barren hills at such an altitude was also a lifetime experience.It was time for lunch. It was an equally amazing experience to have piping hot lunch seating cozily inside a heated car taking refuge from the icy winds. After lunch we took a stroll along the bank. All the dhabas, restaurants and souvenir shops were shut down. Some pieces of land were marked for tents. It seemed as if the whole place was just waiting for the tourist boom of the summer. We could imagine how the place would look in summer- the shops running in full swing, the tents being fully occupied with tourists. The serene bank full of fast food corners, ice cream shops and photo props like the famous yellow scooter of the popular movie. We compared that with the complete solitude and the absolute serenity that we were experienncing at that pristine bank . We were happy to have made the trip when all these could be avoided.
We went to Pangong lake to enjoy its beauty in the morning. The boys had planned to take a dip so they were on their own.
Another magical experience in its own is Pangong Tso. The journey is more beautiful than the destination, while it stands true for most of Ladakh, the Pangong lake is simply magnificent. You can reach here directly from Nubra to save time. It is advisable to arrive after sunset, spend the night in a tent and then wake up at sunrise to this divine beauty.