Day 2 of Ladakh Adventures: Pangong Lake via Changla Pass on 27-Jan-2018
Started from ITBP Officers’ Mess at Choglamsar by 7.15 am, taking the Leh-Manali highway upto Karu. Our driver-cum-guide Mr. Jigmet Dorjey stopped for taking fuel after a kilometer, which took more than normal time as even diesel thickens at sub-zero temperatures (it was around -15 degrees). On the way, we stopped for capturing some scenic beauties near Stakna, Shey and Thiksey villages. I had earlier seen this area during July-August-September but winters were totally different, trees were bare, it was looking absolutely brownish grey all around but still looked beautiful.
We stopped for breakfast at Special Old Punjabi Dhaba, just before Karu Check post. A young couple, hailing from Punjabi speaking area of Jammu is running this place. The young lady was cooking paranthas on a gas stove, with bhajans being played from her mobile phone connected to speakers. Her husband was busy serving customers, we three and two more at that time, as it was still too early at 8 am! Pricing was just Rs.50/- per plate of two piping hot paranthas with Rajma and fresh curd.
It was already 8.30 am and we had a long way to go, crossed Chemdey village and monastery, Sakti village and started advancing to Changla pass. The terrain changed from villages, fields and frozen water streams to barren mountains and later snow started appearing on the rocky terrain, initially scantily and later fully covered roads and mountains.
Finally, we reached the highest point on this route, Changla Pass, at a height of 17,688 feet or 5,391.30 meters (however notice board showed 5,360 meters, which is equal to 15,585.3 feet). Temperature at this place was around minus – 25 degrees Celsius and with wind blowing fast, it seemed like – 30. Came out of the warm car on our way for few minutes to enjoy the chill, under bright sunlight.
We crossed a young couple, travelling in a taxi (Toyota Innova), whose driver was struggling to put chains on tyres but later on, while returning we found from their tyre marks on snow that they took a U turn and went back.
We had hardly move a few kilometers when a long convoy of army trucks came from the opposite side. I had asked driver to stop at a safe zone and let them pass but being a local, his level of confidence was obviously higher, he kept driving and at one point he turned a little to the left to give space to passing truck and the front left tyre got trapped in a snowy ditch. When he tried to reverse the vehicle, the rear right Tyre started to spin. Me and my son came out and tried our best to dislodge this big car (TATA Aria) by pushing from the front but could not move it more than few inches. After waiting for about 20 minutes, another taxi (TATA Aria) came and the driver helped us by placing 5-6 heavy stones in the boot and three of us (myself, son Rohan and the other driver) sat in the rear seat, closer to the rear right tyre, which brought the vehicle out in reverse gear. Must watch this clip to see this action:
After moving few more kilometers, the terrain again changed to barren mountains, with rocky terrain and sand rising up into a sand storm. We had crossed Durbuk village and were on our way to Tangtse Valley, which has facilities of Border Roads Organisation, who have been doing this amazing feet of keeping the roads operational in such difficult environment. We saw a wolf roaming around in this cold weather, our first sighting of any wild animal in this area.
After crossing Tagtse, our driver told us to be ready for first glimpse of the famous Pangong Tso (or Lake), which was indeed breathtaking. When we reached our destination, tried to locate the car driver, who helped us near Changla Pass, and kept on driving another 2-3 kilometers ahead from the tourist area, which has most of the restaurants and hotels. This place provided us an opportunity to look at Pangong Lake from a different angle. We came out of the vehicle despite skies getting cloudy and temperatures dipping down to -25 or so. We were amazed to find geese on sub-zero waters of Pangong Lake. Generally, these birds fly away to warmer places during winters. We had already spent nearly half an hour in the open and our fingers and toes started to get numb due to extreme temperatures, got back inside the vehicle, took out warm sandwiches, having filling of masala potatoes and filled our glasses with Kashmiri Kahva, which is mixed with almond powder.
After warming up a bit, we started our return journey. Weather was getting bad due to overcast sky and fast blowing winds, creating sand storms at some places. I had come across sand storms and sand dunes in Jaisalmer but in Ladakh area, this was my first ever experience. Most surprising scene was frozen Changla river in this area, which was dry otherwise. It appeared as if water simply froze wherever it was, even if it was falling down from a small slope.
When we started our uphill journey towards Changla Pass, crossing snow clad mountains, we came across few people who were moving uphill with their ponies/donkeys, carrying water jerrycans. In such extreme temperatures, when all water sources are frozen, there are still some springs, which keep life running in these areas. Crossed a group of women dressed in traditional Ladakhi dress.
Reached guest house by 5.30 pm, rested for a while and then recorded a small conversation with our driver-cum-guide Mr. Jigmet Dorjey about issues related with tourism in this area. He shared with us that about 20-25 years ago, only foreigners would visit this area, with few exceptions of Indians travellers. But these days the number of Indian tourists has grown too far, which is playing havoc with the fragile ecology of this area as these tourists have no sense about cleanliness or disposal of plastic waste bottles etc. Jigmet Dorjey also had reservations about removal of Article 370 as he feels that mighty rich people will set up big hotels and harm ecology and people of this area. He told us that a large number of drivers from Leh voluntarily visited Leh to clear the area of waste water bottles and other plastic waste. Another point he made was that many tourists from Western India come in buses and bring their own foodstuff, including water. These tourists simply stop at any open area and start cooking, leaving trash behind them. I made a small clip and going to share it with the authorities, which might take appropriate action against such people.
We left for New Delhi on the next day from Kushak Bakula Rimpoche Airport, Leh where we saw many tourists from different states/nationalities and age groups, in sharp contrast to only majorly foreigners in 1995, when I visited Leh for the first time.
Lastly, a friendly advise to all: I always book my air-tickets atleast 2 months in advance and make stay arrangements at places where charges are reasonable, making such trips within my budget.