We have woken up early today, by 6 AM we will leave for Pangong Lake.
SS had a lunch in a small town before the mountains started. As we start climbing the mountain, it has started snowing. For the first three days of our stay, we have seen snow, only on the mountains. Now we can experience it firsthand. The snow is getting heavy and our driver feels that the road may be blocked. We say never mind keep going. After the Scorpio slips a few times, the driver announces we will need to put chains on the tires. Well, I am new to this concept, but apparently it is very common. With our kind of luck, the chain keeps coming out every km for the next 10 km or so. We cannot differentiate the roads from the mountains as everything is drowned in a heavy snowfall. It is about more than feet deep and the Scorpio cannot move in. The driver takes out a spade and starts clearing the snow.
SS chips in, a capital mistake for which he will suffer badly. I try it but give it up, the air is way too thin here, and I cannot tire myself with digging snow. The driver throws down his cards; there is a possibility that we might get struck anywhere. Now I understand the principle behind depositing a challan at every check post. In case we get struck in snow, the army will come for our rescue. There is confidence in knowing that, just like the jumpers who know there is a net below, even they are not able to hold on their colleagues. If something goes wrong, the army will come for us. Thank you.
In the middle of the road or after reaching pangong, if the roads are declared closed we will be struck there. There is a village there where we can stay overnight in that case. We have an early morning flight back to Delhi and then another to Mumbai. We take our gamble; we go on at the risk of getting struck in the middle of now where or not coming back by the evening.
A few of the tourists have turned their back and have returned. Since we started pretty early, we are the first on the road and the falling chain causes us to fall behind another cab.
A few KMs hence, when it is too much to clean the snow ourselves, we see an army trawler clearing the path for us. SS‘s disposition is deteriorating, he has worked hard in gigging snow in where the weather does not suit us. We pass through changla, the second highest motorable pass in the world. For the last 50 km we climb down from the mountains. Now we are back in the desert with no snow around us. After a few KM we remove the chains on the tyres.
The last 20 kms are the most beautiful, we are right in the foothills of a valley , with a frozen river below us to give us company, we keep moving just a few meters above the river.
A few kms hence we see the first sight of pangong. We are more relieved when we reach pangong. A friend had described it as the cleanest lake I will ever see, when I end up boating there. But how does one row a boat in a frozen lake?. Pangong is frozen, but even then it is one of the most beautiful sight we have ever seen, there are mountains of different colours all around us. Pangong I guess is a 120km long lake, again I might be wrong with statistics, with 2/3rd of that distance in china.
As much as we want to walk on the lake, we are frightened and stay on the edges. A newly married couple and a 35ish couple give us company in Pangong. The newlywed groom shows his chivalry to the girl and we gather our courage and walk exactly where he had put his foot down.
We came back through the whiteout, this time the three cabs ran in formation, so that we could help each other. I also picked up a fight with a retailer for selling fruitjuice beyond its expiry date and he told me the roads are closed for 8 months, how do you expect me to keep everything with a good freshness index.
The next day we left Leh. As to say a thank you, it had snowed in the night, so we could find ample snow within our residence itself. We took leave of our host, the sweet lady who made breakfast for us every day and our guide and mentor. Btw the driver to pangong was his nephew, pretty aggressive driver. For the last 20 kms yesterday we were on a flat road and on every turn we felt like this is our last turn. It was fun to watch the snowflakes in the beam light of our car.