5th July 2011
Our destination of the day was Pangong Tso Lake. We had to start early as the journey was expected to be long. By 7:30AM, we were all ready and promptly departed from Deskit. New day and new destination!!
There are three routes from Nubra valley to Pangong:
1. Via Leh: Go back to Leh via Khardungla. Then take the road via Karu->Shakti->Chang La->Thangtse->Pangong Tso. Most of the travelers use this route and requires one night stay at Leh.
2. Via Shyok. A road goes along Shyok River (Diversion after Khalasar on the way to Leh). The route is Deskit->Agham->Shyok->Durbuk->Thangtse->Pangong Tso. This is the shortest route opened just a couple of years ago. But last year’s flood has washed out most of the road between Agham and Shyok. It is not yet repaired.
3. Via Wari La. This route goes to Agham where we need take deviation to Wari La. This finally reaches Shakti village on Leh->Pangong road.
We wanted to avoid travelling on the same road and hence route 1 was ruled out. Route 2 was closed and hence we opted for route 3. This was very less travelled road. Even our driver mentioned that he would be travelling on this route for the first time!! A surprise considering that he has been driving for past 6 years.
The drive till the deviation of Agham was uneventful. The beginning stretch of Agham road was bad. At few places, it was drive on river bed. It is at this bad stretch we saw a red fox. We could have got a good photo if we had a fast lens. Anyway, that was the only fox we found during our entire Ladakh trip.
After initial bad stretch, it was a plain drive till Agham village. The road was perfect black and fun to drive. Number of photo stops was increased and the progress was slow.
Agham turned out to be a very small village with just couple of houses. Near Agham, we had to cross several streams. It would be a daunting task to cross if the streams are in full flow. That is one of the reasons for fewer vehicles on this road. Luckily for us, the streams were all manageable. On the way we confirmed with a villager whether Wari La was fine for travel. He reply was affirmative.
We reached a small village called Tangyar. The climb to Wari La starts from here. Until now, we had not even seen a single vehicle on this stretch. Sometimes, no traffic also causes worry!! The worst part is vehicle breakdown at such places.
The climb to Wari La was very steep. Even the Scorpio found it difficult at some places. At one place, the vehicle slipped a bit while it was on a sheet of ice. But our competent driver managed it well. Just before Wari La, we encountered a group of Nomads who were grazing Yaks. One of them was on his way to Shakti village. We picked him up.
Wari La is at a height of about 17,200 ft. Shakti village is 29km from the summit of the pass. The road was completely downwards and annoyingly curvy. Even our driver lost patience and took short cuts between hairpin bends!!
Finally, at 11PM we had reached Shakti village. For the stretch of 87 km from Agham deviation, we had seen only one vehicle!! That was a BRO truck. Indeed, a very less travelled road.
Shakti is a big village spanning over couple of valleys. The climb to Chang La begins after Shakti. The road was superb thanks to tar put recently. But then we had to wait for more than 30 minutes as the tar was being laid. The weather was hot!!
As we started ascend to Chang La, troubles arose with the vehicle. Some strange sound coming from the front tire. Driver stops the vehicle, puts the jack and removes the tire. A piece of tar was struck in the wheel base producing such a sound!! We were relieved as it was a simple issue. Driver did it all in a jiffy.
The road turned worse as we neared top of the pass. The hot weather compounded by bad roads made us extremely tired. We were all hungry and waiting for a break. Finally at about 1:30PM, we are on top of Chang La. Chang La at the height of 17, 590 ft is said to be the third highest pass in the region. We silently had our lunch of “Maggie noodles” at a restaurant!! You can survive in Ladakh if you can eat Maggie noodles!!!!
As expected, it was all downhill roads from Chang La. The brown and dry mountains looked monotonous. At Thangtse village, our permits were checked.
During previous years, people had a harrowing time in crossing a stream called “Pagal nallah”. After noon, the stream would rise thanks to melting snows. This was a major hurdle before reaching Pangong Tso. But now there is a new bridge constructed!!
And then we had the first view of Pangong Tso!! Wow!!!! What a sight. We were waiting for this moment for many years and here was it!! A blue lake in the middle of nowhere at an altitude of 14,000 ft. The tiredness was gone and our joy knew no bounds.
Pangong Tso is a lake that is about 150km long and 5 km wide. About 40% (or less) lies in India and the rest in China (that includes Aksai Chin, area annexed by China from India). Being a sensitive area, it is closely guarded by Army.
The climax scene of “3 idiots” was shot at this lake. In a Bollywood crazy country, such a move increases the popularity of the place!! And hence number of visitors has shot up in recent years. So, I was expecting a huge crowd at the lake. But I was surprised to see very less people at Lukong village on the banks of the lake. Most of the people visiting this lake are day visitors from Leh. It was 4PM and all of them had departed. Good for us!!
We spent few minutes photographing the late and then proceeded to Spangmik village 7km away. On the way, we spent few minutes at “3 idiots” spot. They had chosen the best spot!!
We took a tented accommodation very near to lake at Spangmik. Without wasting much time, we headed towards the lake. It was the most beautiful lake I had ever seen. If there are some places that one should not miss, Pangong Tso stands at the top of it.
The temperature dropped dramatically after sunset and we had to head towards our tents. It was quite windy. A satellite phone was available which I used to make a call to my Home. Later, tent people served us nice dinner. We also heard stories from an old Tibetan refugee. He was extremely happy that we were from Karnataka. He has stayed at Bylakukke camp for many years before settling at Pangong Lake.
I had a peaceful sleep during the night but other had some issues with that. 14,000 ft was quite a high altitude for stay.
What an exciting day!! And an equally great day awaited us!!!!