Sunday, May 10, 2009

Pangong Tso – The most beautiful lake in the World

We were up early that day for a visit to the world famous Pangong Tso (Tso means a lake in the Ladakhi dialect) which is situated at a height of about 14200 feet above sea level. We had spent 8 days in Ladakh and were habituated to bad roads, but the roads this time were not just bad, they were pathetic. These roads are maintained by the Border Roads Organization (BRO) who does a commendable job in maintaining the roads but the frequent landslides, a common occurrence in this area irreparably damage the roads. However, the 160 km journey from Leh to Pangong Tso is an experience in itself. The drive took us through the villages of Karu, Tangste and Lukung giving us glimpses of the Ladakhi culture.

The car kept climbing upwards on curvaceous roads and soon we reached the third highest motor able road in the world, the Chang la (La means a Pass) situated at 17800 feet. Since we were nearing the Indo-China border, there was Indian army everywhere. At Chang La we realized what it is to be an Indian Army Jawan. The temperatures here are very low and breathing is very difficult. And in such biting cold, they smilingly welcome every traveler and are ready to pose for photographs. Some of them also welcomed us for a cup of tea. We befriended a jawan named Swamy from Karnataka. He told us that he had never been posted at such a high altitude before and his previous posting was in Rajasthan. It was difficult for him also to get used to such conditions. He also told us that Chang La was mostly frequented by foreigners and therefore he was happy to see Indian faces. We thanked him for the tea and moved forward. The road down passes through Tangste and many other small villages. We kept moving ahead and soon realized ours was the only car moving on that road and I must tell you there is no better feeling than travelling on endless roads.

Paagal Nala-The Crazy Stream

This is perhaps the biggest hurdle in reaching Pangong Tso and was one of the reasons why our driver, Thilley wouldn’t stop the vehicle on the way for us to take pictures. The scenery along the way was amazing and at one point of time we were angry at his reluctance to stop the car. We realized the problem when we actually reached here. The Paagal Nala is a stream of water running from melting glaciers. There is less water in the stream in the morning which keeps on increasing as the day progresses and therefore it is advisable to cross it early. Thilley told us that the dreaded Nala has stopped many travelers from visiting Pangong Lake and we were lucky since there was not much water when we reached. We were able to easily cross the cursed Nala easily.

The first glimpse

While we were about 4 kilometers away from Pangong Tso, a road sign read – The first glimpse of World Famous Pangong Lake. The glimpse of the lake itself was divine and beyond imagination. I immediately realized that this place had to be spectacular after all it was one of the nominations for the Seven Wonders of the earth competition last year. After taking few pictures, we headed towards the lake.

Pangong Lake- A Paragon of beauty

The Pangong Lake is about 135 kilometers long situated in the Changtang plateau of Ladakh. About One third of the lake lies in the Indian Territory and the rest of it in Tibet. It freezes completely in the winter season in spite of being a salt water lake. The water is crystal clear, and from a distance the unique combo of the sun and the water makes the pebbles inside resemble jewels. The pulchritude color of the lake is royal blue and presents a delightful sight. You look in any direction around the lake and you’d find a breath taking view. While we kept marveling the beauty, majesty and sacredness of nature; the sunrays painted different shades of blue and green on the lake as if there was a rainbow in the water. From further distance, the lake glistened like a path of diamonds. This was something we had never ever seen before. It was a fascinating phenomenon, a soul stirring experience. We felt it was God’s imagination at its best. It is a perfect get away for spiritual seekers who wish to step away from the complex world of continuous problems and conflicts. The beauty of the lake appeared formless, limitless and unfathomable. It created a million opportunities for us to capture the different shades and we merrily grabbed it. We took more than fifty pictures of the place. It was lunch time and we were carrying packed lunch with us. We had the expedient of having lunch in the car, by the lake-side, something that we would cherish our entire life.

The way back

After lunch we spent some moments of tranquility sitting at the banks of the lake and then Thilley sprung into action once again. He wanted to leave immediately as the Paagal Nala would overflow whereas we wanted to sit there to explore the post card worthy landscapes. We did perambulate through the ice cold water for some more time and pondered over some imponderables sitting there after which we reluctantly headed back and while the car kept speeding away, we kept looking back towards the lake, ogling at its beauty. The feelings were ineffable.

When we reached the Paagal Nala, the small stream that we had seen in the morning had become quite large. There were few cars already standing there before us who weren’t too keen on crossing it, neither was Thilley. Perhaps now we understood why he kept asking us to leave. We waited for about an hour doing nothing but the water in the stream kept increasing. Soon an army truck arrived. The driver of the truck without thinking too much took a plunge in the water and slowly began crossing the stream. Watching him Thilley also got excited and was ready to do the same. The car was stuck mid-way but thanks to his excellent driving skills, we managed to cross the stream and soon reached Leh. Next day we were to leave for New Delhi, but our minds were still thinking Blue. If I were a painter, I’d have painted the scene today also. I so vividly remember it. Pangong Tso has become a part of our collective memory.

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