My Travelogue in Deccan Herald. The breathtaking snaps by Adityavikram More
News updated at 8:12 PM IST
BY AREFA TEHSIN, March 1, 2015, DHNS
Serene confines (From top) Beautiful colours of Pangong Tso; playful marmots; a tranquil morning at the lake. Photos by ADITYAVIKRAM MORE
“The cure for anything is salt water — sweat, tears or the sea,” Isak Dinesen once said. May I take the liberty to add Pangong Tso to it? The salt water lake, situated at a height of about 14,250 feet in the trans-Himalayan region, can be a cure for many things including your private demons. It is a remedy for the ailing, and also for the ones who are assured of their well-being. But this curing tso or lake takes all the labour of love you can muster to reach.
The clean shaven mountains, that don’t even have a stubble as yet, are the newest fold mountains of the world. All they sport is a cap of snow. As their heights would reduce with growing age, perhaps one day they’d be sporting hair and beards like the older mountain ranges of the world now covered with trees. After you’ve travelled for days and weeks in the barren, imposing landscape of the Himalayas, the first peek at the splash of deep blue is no less than moksha.
On the road
The original plan of our self-drive trip in the Himalayas was to head to Leh from Nubra Valley — popularly known as the Cold Desert — stay for a couple of nights, and then go to Pangong Tso. But the prospect of again braving Khardung La, the highest mountain pass of the world at 18,380 feet, made us change our plan. We decided to go directly from Nubra Valley to Pangong Tso. But we had little idea that there is no easy route to the fortified Pangong flanked by colossal mountains.
Instead of one Khardung La, we had to cross two passes — Wari La and Chang La. Wari La, a long desolate and isolated pass with no men or beasts for hours at end, leaves you completely at the mercy of nature. Not just the driver, but the vehicle itself can be hit by Altitude Mountain Sickness. You might have to step down, the cold clawing at your bones, and let the most trusted driver of the group make the empty, oxygen starved vehicle chug up the slopes.
You come out alive of Wari La, thinking about the signboard which read, “Nature never did betray the heart that loved her.” But your day is not done. There is the mighty Chang La awaiting you. Crossing Chang La and reaching the small village of Tangste, you feel you’ve indeed arrived.
After a short drive the next day, the first glimpse of Pangong Tso, made famous by the last scene of the movie The Three Idiots, strikes you dumb; and you may feel like an idiot yourself. Nestled in the Himalayas above the tree line, with 60 per cent of the lake in China, Pangong might just be the most exquisite thing you’ve beheld in your life.
Since it is near a disputed territory and the Line of Actual Control passes through the lake, you need a special permit to visit it. The 134-km-long lake changes colour each hour of the day, with each shade of the sun and moon and loafing clouds. “And when the shadow fades and is no more, the light that lingers becomes a shadow to another light,” Khalil Gibran had observed. Although Gibran never visited Pangong Tso, you can see his words taking form every hour of the day on the utterly silent and youthful waters.
There is little vegetation or aquatic life in this brackish lake, although you may see a gull stomping on the shore or a bar-headed goose swimming in the lake. Both migratory and resident birds breed around the lake, which serves as an important breeding ground. Some shrubs and herbs grow on the shore and the surrounding marshes.
By the lake
You can sit gazing ahead at the still night waters from the bonfire at your camp, and above at the trusting Himalayan night sky showing off a million stars, constellations, shooting stars and satellites that your city sky is forever wary of revealing.
There are numerous camps on the shore, as construction is not allowed around it, and small eateries which are open between May and September. For security reasons, there is no boating or swimming allowed in the lake. It is literally untouched, except the imaginary Line of Actual Control running over this “long, narrow, enchanted lake.”
I glanced at the last hint of the lake as we turned to go, like I was seeing the last trace of a dream when you are almost awake but don’t want to let go. Yes, Mr Poe, what you said was right on the mark — “All that we see or seem, is but a dream within a dream.” The prospect of the five-hour mountainous drive to Leh, although scenic and dramatic, fails to reconcile you to the splendour that you’ve just left behind.
Your heart weighs heavy and pushes you to the ground and its realities, but not for long. Marmots playfully frolicking with their little ones on the side of the road lift your spirit again, making you feel light once more.
After the trip, you might upload the snaps on social media and revel in the comments — gorgeous, stunning and the whole rest of the unimaginative Facebook lingo. But, secretly, you will know that the lake was not just beautiful, but sensational; and no adjective can do justice to it. The ghost of Tso’s memory will haunt you lifelong. You have descended from the Himalayas wiser, and will always know that if there is a heaven, it must be Pangong blue.
How to get there: A five-hour drive from Leh passing Chang La (mountain pass).
Places to stay: Only tented accommodation is available as it’s a no construction zone.
Requirement: An Inner Line Permit as the Line of Actual Control passes through the lake.
Best time to travel: From June to September, as the lake is frozen in winters.