Ideas of exploring the unknown can come from unexpected quarters. A tweet that I read somewhere led me on the way to ‘Chushul’ about 36kms ahead of Pangong Tso. Chushul was the place where the 1962 Indo – China war was fought. It is the foremost settlement before the Line of Actual Control . (The armymen will get offended when you call it a border. There are strong sentiments towards Chinese occupied territory as the armymen claim). Further unexpected bliss came in the form of our driver who told us that locals use a route along the Pangong for about 30kms from where the ‘tourist’ spots end. He promised us bliss and so we got as you would see in the post to follow
We embarked on our journey from Leh (our base camp of sorts) to Pangong comfortably post breakfast. The road is only about 130 kms to Spagmik on the banks of the majestic Pangong but it takes good 5 hours to reach the lake with adequate and requisite halts. There are various monasteries like the Shey palace, Thiksey monastery and the Chemrey monastery. Since we had a monastery and a local sight-seeing trip planned for a separate day we pushed straight ahead for Chang La. By official records it is the second highest motatable road on the world (17590 ft). Approx 15kms road on both sides is probably only mountains cut with no signs of a road and is sure to break your back. A sheet of ice in all its splendor greets you with lack of oxygen. So the widely popular ‘need to acclimatize’ comes in handy. Some pictures late we shot straight to the trophy – Pangong. The sights on the way are worthy of hearing some shutters clicking. The photos are proof enough.
The moment you sight Pangong the anticipation changes to instant excitement and hands on the doors to open and rush to the lake as soon as the car stops as if a cardinal sin would be washed out just by visiting this place. The first stop on the lake is a ‘fake’ shooting point of a popular Bollywood flick ‘3 idiots’. The tourists would return back from here as in popular notions, rest of the lake has nothing more to offer. A few of them would go a little ahead to the point where the actual shooting was done. We went further to ‘Spagmik’ and found our guest house for the night.
Further from here is where the fun starts. The tourists die down, very few locals and possibly nil assistance in the event of an emergency. The road starts travelling along the Pangong offering beautiful sights and various colours of the same salt water lake. At points the car even wades through shallow lake water giving the feeling of off-roading on a untreaded path. There is sign of grass in some places while in some places the waves lash the stony ‘beach’. Waves in a lake are possible because of the 130km long lake in the valley of Pangong, sort of unusual sight for somebody like me. The waves were like a calm day on the sea.
A few kilometers later we saw a beautiful village ‘Merak’. Sparsely laid out houses, beautiful wired fences, stone compound walls and running water streams were a delight and like a dream scenario. The houses built-in traditional Ladkahi style just augmented the already breathtaking landscape and the backdrop of the Pangong. What caught my fancy was the stone compound walls. The walls set in between the lush greenery and the lake somehow reminded me of the English countryside. The cherry was the river stream flowing along the road and the small bridge on top. The eye candy was complete. On further enquiry we came to know that the village is dependent on Solar power ad has an independent grid within the village. No post office, no satellite / telephone connection made us realize how far ahead we were. The village missed an entire generation of technology and moved on directly to solar energy and possibly will move on direct to cellphone networks.
It was quite late post that to head to Chushul and as pointed out earlier there was no assistance. So in our safety reasons and I swear to god we saw a board ‘ No visitors beyond this point’ we took a U-turn and headed back to Spagmik only to sleep under the stars. A sight that we urban dwellers spend huge amounts for. The cherry on the cake was that I was finally, after 7 years of owning a DSLR able to click a photo of the starry night.