Sunday, November 24, 2013

Ladakh - Visiting the famed Pangong Lake

Ladakh – the moonland of Monasteries
(Visiting Pangong Tso)

Panoramic view of Pangong Lake

After having returned from Nubra visit on the 20th June, 2013 afternoon, we were all refreshed and ready to head for the famed Pangong Tso on the 21st of June, 2013.  Our driver, Tashi had informed us that in case we were planning a day return from Pangong Tso, we required starting up early, as many a snow fed rivulets usually attain alarming rate of discharge after 2.00-3.00 P.M. and one has to stop till the flow rate reduces late in the evening.  In such a scenario, it could be very late and we would reach Leh at around 11.00 P.M. in the night.  We therefore, got up early and our journey began at 6.30 A.M. in the morning.  The route one takes is the Manali-Leh Road upto Karu, wherefrom it bifurcates towards Chang La.
En-route to Pangong Lake - the famed Chemrey Monastery on hill top
            The weather conditions were perfect and after going past Karu, we came across a green patch of land, a rarity in Ladakh that stretched for kilometers together on our left side and as we drove through the main road, the Chemrey monastery came into view, which is again a subsidiary of the famed Hemis Monastery and under the ‘Red hats’ or ‘Gelupga Sect’.  As drove further the road bifurcates again, one leads to the Sakti & further ahead to Tartok Gompa and to Nubra Valley and the other towards Chang La.  The literal meaning of ‘Chang La’ is "Pass towards the South" or "Pass in the South" in Tibetan language.  It is falsely claimed that the pass is named on Changla Baba, a myth propagated by the dedication of a temple at the pass.  Changla Pass is the main gateway for the Changthang region (not to be confused with Chumathang on way to Tso Moriri) of Ladakh. This Himalayan region is home to the nomadic tribes of the region, collectively known as the Changpa or Chang-pa.
Icicles on way to Changla Pass
Snow all around - near Changla Pass
How to beat the biting cold??? Eat snow!!  As this driver was doing at Changla Pass
Panoramic view of valley below and Khardungla range from Changla Pass
Close-up of the Khardungla range from Changla Pass
Baba temple at Changla Pass
            At 17,800 ft, Chang La claims to be the third highest motorable road in the world, the first and second being Khardung La (on the Leh–Nubra Valley road) and Tanglang La (on the Leh–Manali road), respectively.  It is at a distance of 44 Kms. from Leh.  The ascent to the peak was through a narrow and rocky road, because of the fresh snow fall in the region, we got mesmerized by the strikingly contrasting snow-clad mountains, breathtaking valleys and green villages. As we climbed further up, we had our second close encounter with snow, as the road near the pass had become very slippery and the tires of vehicles ahead were skidding.   After a brief wait, the road was cleared by the laborers and we got down and had a gala time, relishing every moment of it, the children played in the snow for a while.  At Chang La, there is a small roadside hall, run by the Indian army that offers black tea to reduce the effects of altitude sickness. There are also souvenirs like caps, clocks, Tee Shirts with logo of Chang La printed on each, to pick up. The Army has also put up public convenience facilities too. A board warns the over enthusiastic tourists not to stay for more than 20 minutes at that high altitude. After a brief photography session, we headed forward towards Pangong Tso/Lake.
Craggy stones landscape - just after crossing Chang la
The alpine sheep being bred for high quality wool
            The descent from Chang La presents a stark landscape. Snow-clad mountains are gone and dry and arid ones greet us, with some having a sprinkling of snow on the top. There a quite a few rivulets running alongside at a steady pace, but looks are often misleading, as come afternoon and rate of melting snow increases the volumes of water flowing downhill considerably. Brooks formed by melting snow breaches the long, winding roads at many places and create marshes, where the camps of Changpa nomads can been seen at elevated spots. These nomads rear yak, sheep, goats and horses that graze in the marshy grasslands.   After crossing the Chang La, the road continues to wind down for 32 kms., till one reaches Durbuk, which is a small village housing memorial in the honour of the Indian soldiers who laid down their lives in the 1962 China war.  Further 9 kms. ahead is Tangste, another military settlement, where the Inner line permit is checked by the authorities.  Traverse another 34 odd kms. and you have the first look of magical Pangong Tso.  
Mesmerizing landscape en-route Pangong Lake
The first view of Pangong Lake - a spot of blue at distance
           Perched at a height of about 13,900 ft, the name ‘Pangong Tso’ is a Tibetan word meaning "long, narrow, enchanted lake".  The first glimpse of the serene, bright blue waters and rocky lakeshore remains etched forever in the memory of tourists.  Pangong Tso is about 134 kms. long and extends from India to Tibet/China, whereas one third of the lake is in India, the remaining two thirds lies in Tibet, which is controlled by China. Majority of the streams which fill the lake are located on the Tibetan side.  The lake is 5 kms. wide at its broadest point and it covers 604 km2 area.  On October 20, 1962, Pangong Tso saw military action during the Sino-Indian border conflict.  Pangong Tso is still a delicate border point along the Line of Actual Control and for security reasons, boating is prohibited on the Indian side.  Owing to Pangong’s proximity to the border, tourists are only allowed to visit the lake upto the Spangmik village. For the hardcore adventure lovers, there are numerous camping sites on the shore of Pangong. But the weather tends to get harsh after dusk and coupled with the altitude factor, it is a place for the brave hearts & young fit people. The place is definitely a photographers’ delight and camping is the only option, if you wish to see the sunset and the sunrise, as it is said that the lake water changes colour or hues under different light conditions.
Brown headed Gulls in Pangong Lake
Another view of the Pangong Lake
During the harsh winters the lake freezes completely, despite being endorehic or saline lake.  It is said that the Pangong Lake had an outlet to Shyok River, a tributary of Indus River, but it was closed off due to natural damming.  The lake acts as an important breeding ground for a large variety of migratory birds like Brahmani Ducks, Rare black necked cranes and Brown headed Gulls. One can also spot Ladakhi Marmots, the rodent-like creatures which can grow up to the size of a small dog.  The place is under consideration for inclusion in Ramsar Convention for the conservation of wetlands. When it happens, Pangong Tso will be the first trans-boundary wetland in South Asia under the convention.
Reflections - the blue waters of Pangong Lake
Mesmerizing blues of Pangong Lake
Pangong Tso is a true natures’ colour palette. The blue expanse of water, flanked by barren mountains, with some snow capped ones, creates a visually stunning landscape. Sunrays tickle the tranquil water, making it shimmer and change colours. Seeing the Brown headed Gulls approaching you in anticipation of food and the splashing of water by their feet, intoxicates any nature lover. The feeling is so wonderful that we just wanted to remain there forever. But we have to rush back because, as the day grows old, the small brooks we crossed on the way might not remain small, as explained in the starting paragraph of the blog. A hot day, as on the date, could make the snow melt quicker and in more quantity, thus the brooks could swell up. Crossing them would become more difficult then. Getting stuck on the road and spending a chilly night out was not an exciting option. So we half-heartedly got ready, had a sumptuous lunch and headed back to Leh and were back by 7.00 P.M.
The super moon on 22nd June, 2013 as viewed from Leh, Ladakh
Is it the Mount Everest that towers over all?  View from Airplane
Aerial view of Pangong Lake & Tso Moriri
Aerial view - as river emanates from Himalayan glaciers
The next day we headed back to Delhi and as the weather by now had cleared up we had a spectacular view of the Himalayan ranges from the Aircraft and my son clicked some very good shots, which I am sharing here.

Here is the video for the destination -
1) Atop Changla Pass (Third highest motorable road)

2) Visiting Pangong Lake

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