A trip to Pangong Lake will remain one of the most memorable travel episodes. The moment was right, and so were my travel companions. We were a group of mismatched travellers, who got along so well together that I couldn’t have asked for anything better than this! Travel agencies in Leh do a fine job by arranging shared taxis that will take you to many tourist places. I booked a two day trip to Pangong Lake with five other travellers, strangers to be precise. It was a bit awkward to sit next to a stranger and I began to feel terrible; imagining the long journey we were about to undertake. This thought must have struck others too. So as to conceal the awkwardness we began to interact and gradually our conversation became effortless.
By the time we stopped for breakfast, we were acquaintances. It was a two days ride and the trip was going to be a lot easier with a good company. I was thus, relieved. We were a group of six people; 3 Indians and 3 foreigners.
We started off around 8 am from Leh and passed some popular tourist destinations including the Choglamsar, a place where Dalai Lama stays whenever he visits Leh, and Shey, an old capital of upper Ladakh. Shey was built in 1655 by Ladakhi king Deldan Namgyal. The old city and its ruins attract tourists. It is a hot seat of the Buddhist and is known for monasteries and gompas. We also passed Thikse Monastery, some 19 km east of Leh. The monastery is built on a small hill and resembles the Potola in Tibet. It is the largest monastery in the central Ladakh. Another impressive monastery is at the base of the hill towards Changla Pass, the world’s third highest motorable road.
The monastery looks beautiful with green fields in the foreground and perfect brown mountains in the backdrop. Such contrasting landscapes define Ladakh. A rather narrow road meanders up towards Changla Pass. The view of the valley was priceless. It is also one of the roads which is frequented by bikers. Slush of fresh mud and streams became more frequent as we neared Changla Pass. The mountains were more snowy and turned blinding white near Changla Pass, and I wished I had carried a pair of goggles along with me!
The Changla Pass is at an altitude of 5,360 meters. The temperature dropped considerably even on a bright day. The army runs a small canteen at the pass and sells momos and other eatables and offers a hot cup of black tea for free. It was a nice gesture on their part for the travellers to acclimatize with the weather.
Pangong Lake is and 6-7 hours drive from Leh depending on the road. After crossing the Changla Pass the road curves down to the lower valley surrounded by daunting mountains on either sides. We stopped for a tea break again, had some snacks and lemon tea. By this time, our group had bonded so well. There were so many things to talk about and we began to enjoy each other’s company.
The last stretch of climb towards Pangong Lake has some mesmerizing sights of mountains and valley covered with rock debris from continuous avalanche. More welcoming sight was that of swamp like grassland and water. Greenery was a rare sight and was always spotted with cattle grazing on them. With very little grasses for food, shepherds must have developed ways of taking their cattle to different spots and giving enough time for the grasses to recover from the excessive grazing.
I was elated to spot some wild horses and yaks on one of the green valleys. I’ve always associated horses with freedom and it was, indeed, a liberating sight. But these horses live a hard life and many die during the harsh cold winter, due to cold and insufficient food.
The Lake was nearing. Eddie, who sat next to me, was most intrigued by signboard on the road. He would laugh out or smile broadly and I would look out of the window to see what he had seen. Just before entering the Lake, was a broad signboard that reads, 'Think clean.' We all rolled down our window, twist in our seats to get the best view of the deep blue water, bluer than anything I had seen.
After travelling for 6 hours we had arrived at our destination. But I’ve always noted; it is not just the destination but the whole journey that makes travelling so much fun.