Ladakh: Different Worlds of Pangong Tso and Nubra
My third article on Ladakh would cover two prominent and popular tourist spots: Pangong Tso (Tso=Lake) and Nubra Valley. The remarkableness of these two places was not just the places themselves but also the journeys to reach them - through mountain passes and spectacular landscapes.
Journeys to Pangong Tso and Nubra Valley passing through valleys, hilly rivers and mountain ranges, and experienced changing sights and fluctuating temperatures made them memorable. I liked the road to Pangong Tso better as it went the Changthang region of Ladakh across valleys dotted with small streams and, frozen and half frozen lakes. Chamthang was a high altitude plateau, lay mostly in Tibet. We saw wild horses, yaks, cows and dzos (cross between yaks and cows) grazing in these valleys. Some of the valleys had patches of green. A lot of the time my three co-travellers in the car were asleep. I was mostly gazing at the landscape. I think I was simply too excited to sleep.
To go to Pangong Tso from Leh, we crossed Chang La (La=Pass), which at 17,590 feet (5360 meters) was said to be the third highest motorable pass in the world. It was above the snow line. One got to see abundant snow for sure. The road to Nubra Valley from Leh passed through Khardung La, which at 18,379 feet (5602 meters) was referred to as the highest motorable pass in the world. Though there were controversies about the actual height of Khardung La and its rank as the highest motorable pass.
Pangong Tso was at more than 14000 feet (4350 meters) above mean sea level. The first glance of it was a moment of absolute delight. The lake was as blue as was talked about and surrounding ranges as picturesque as one can imagine. By the time I managed to visit the lake (after ‘checking in’ to our tents, having lunch and a bit of snoozing), it was cloudy. Pangong Tso was in hues of dark blue - still spectacular. At different spots of its bank, the colors looked different. A few brown-headed seagulls were wadding in the water, flying short distances and walking along the edge of the lake. I watched them jumping waves and playing with each other for a bit. In some time, the sky cleared up and the lake took a shade of azure blue. It was simply beautiful. I found some of my companions and, spent some more time by the lake hanging out with them and getting our photos taken. We left Pangong Tso the next morning after breakfast but not before I visited the lake again. It was early morning and bitter cold. Except for small birds walking on the banks of the lake, hardly anyone was in sight. Seagulls or any of my travel companions were missing from the scene.
Nubra Valley was exactly what Ladakh is known as – a high altitude cold desert. Nowhere else, the ruggedness was more apparent than in Nubra. The valley had miles of sand dunes. Normally when you speak of deserts, you visualise Rajasthan, Sahara, Karakoram or Gobi, most probably not high Himalayas. From Diskit Monastery, which was at a higher altitude than Nubra Valley, we could see vast expanses of sand and occasional sand storms. Nubra valley was at 10,000 feet (3048 meters) and Diskit a few hundred feet above the valley. When we were in Diskit, gentle sandstorms between high mountains and sunlight peeping from behind clouds created a mesmerising picture – the kinds I saw in Hollywood fantasy films (such as the Lord of the Rings!). Temperatures in Nubra were much more pleasant than that of Pangong Tso. Many of my co-travelers were happier than they were in Pangong. I was glad I went to both the places.
The two places told different stories and held different experiences. They also substantiated what people say about Ladakh. It is a land of contrasts. India is a land of contrasts.
Text and photos: Sanchita Chatterjee 2014