Further to what I had said in the earlier post, below is an Alpine Accentor, found in the high altitude region feasting on a noodle nibble discarded atop Khardung La. Polluting here is an serious issue and we all are responsible for it. Our way of contribution was to carry back our trash/plastics from such places to the nearest town for disposal.
After navigating the terrain twice through the mighty Khardung La, we got our vehicle checked once more before proceeding towards Pangong Tso and Tso Kar lakes as now the travel would be through remote places with fewer people and fewer facilities. Also, point to note is that you may need to carry additional fuel in cans if your travel is for more than 2 days from Leh, else you might face the probability of getting stranded in a no man’s land till you are rescued and in that eventuality, the highest possibility is of being rescued by one of those army truck convoys that keep moving between bases.
With the vehicle check getting delayed, we utilized the time to do some shopping and finally headed towards another high altitude pass, the mighty Chang La, world’s third highest pass located at 17688 FT. It was a long journey and we had multiple breaks on the way to gaze at some birds or to drink in the scenic views that was on offer. Stops for food/drinks was very limited and we had quite a long distance to cover before ending the day.
Birding on the way, we finally reached the top at around 3pm; quite late actually and stopped for a quick scan for the birds and to have the much needed Maggi in lieu of lunch that we had skipped. Compared to Khardung La, this pass is relatively less crowded and less noisy as most of the vehicles that pass here are the ones traveling to the remote Pangong Tso.
Snowfinches, Rosefinches, Accentors, Ravens, Choughs kept our binocs and cameras occupied till Chang La and thereafter a lone Red fox, numerous marmots and a few woolly hares kept us happy. The roads were pretty good except for few stretches here and there and we were soon approaching the magical lake, Pangong Tso. As stated earlier, there were hardly any souls or people moving and we were kind of traveling in isolation. A vehicle or two would pass us once a while, else it was only ourselves in the whole terrain. No people, no shops, no food, no water… absolutely nothing. You just keep following the dirt track till you reach your destination and in case you are stuck somewhere, keep praying that someone should find you!
Daytime in the mighty Himalayan region is lengthier and it used to get dark only post 19:00 hours, and this meant we had long days every day, wake up at odd hours in the morning and hit the bed late at night that meant only a few hours’ sleep every day literally. As we started descending towards Pangong Tso, we could clearly see the crystal clear blue lake from a far distance and the views were amazing, difficult to describe but worth experiencing. A huge fresh water lake at a high altitude of about 15000FT, 30% of it in Indian territory and the rest 70% in Tibet. The 30% of the lake that is in India itself is mighty huge and there are camps setup at strategic points for hosting the tourists. Choices vary from luxury to very basic and the food served across is almost the same. These camps wind up by October as the cold starts getting unbearable and they return back next summer just before the tourists start arriving. During winter, the whole lake is frozen and only a few hard souls choose to stay back in the area.
We had to do a little bit of searching and enquiring for accommodation and finally chose to stay in tents at Padma Hotel, a setup of cluster of tents and a small building for the host. We were walk in guests and luckily got some dinner and we feasted as we were without a proper meal through the day. Sleeping in tents in the bitter cold is a challenge and I had to use multiple layer of clothing and bedspreads to feel comfortable. In such cold weather, your activity freezes and you don’t feel like doing anything other than snuggling up in the bed.
Pangong and Chumathang up next…