This is the final part (Part 6) of a multi-post series covering our trip this summer to Ladakh, a remote region high up in the Indian Himalayas. You can read the other parts here.
Days 8 & 9, 1st and 2nd August – Leh to Pangong Tso and back
‘There! Did you see it?!’, N exclaimed.
‘You’re imagining things. Shooting stars are rare, you certainly did not see one.’, I replied nonchalantly.
But she insisted; made us lie down by the lake side, on the cold, pebbly shore, at near-freezing temperatures, looking up at the sky. It was an unending sheet of black bespeckled with an infinite number of twinkling stars. And there it was, I saw it. A shooting star. The first one in my recent memory.
‘It’s the alcohol doing its work, shooting stars are supposed to be rare.’, I told myself. I’m usually skeptical of all things that remind me of childhood and fairy tales. But then, there it was, another one. And another one. I must have counted at least 15 of them in a span of less than an hour that we were lying there (eight of us, no less), staring up in complete silence, only wondering about the little sub-atomic specks that our existences are, in the grand scheme of the universe.
Turns out, shooting stars are way more common that I thought. They’re just regular meteroids (little space rocks) and space dust entering the Earth’s atmosphere and lighting up! The reason why I couldn’t remember having seen one in years is rather sad – I’ve lived in large towns / cities which have heavy air and light pollution (forget shooting stars, I can’t even spot a single star for days); and I’ve just not been looking up at the sky enough. A little bit of internet research tells me that the specific night I saw this, did lie in the of one of the brighter annual meteor showers – Perseids, overlapped by the previous meteor shower that began in July, Delta Aquarids. (Yay! for unplanned bonuses)
Today, we were camping next to the Pangong Tso in Ladakh (‘Tso’ means Lake). About 250 kms from the capital, Leh and luckily, on a much smoother stretch of road than we had gotten used to in the last week. The journey took us about 5 hours, excluding the hour spent at the Thiksey Monastery along the way. Interestingly, Thiksey Monastery is modelled on the Potala Palace in Lhasa, the erstwhile capital of Tibet and houses a large bust of the Maitreya Buddha (Buddha of the Future).
Pangong Tso is a vast, 134-km long lake, with the clearest, bluest waters that I’d seen in a while – the hues of the water change throughout the day depending on how the sunlight falls on it. The lake is framed by dramatic, high mountains on almost all sides and interestingly, lies at the sensitive India-China (Tibet) border with the major part of the lake falling on the Chinese side (we didn’t spot any tourists on the Chinese side, as expected). Most of our day at the lake was spent taking pictures and sitting by its icy waters. Since our accommodation was in private tents very close to the lake shore, we went to sit by the lake even at night, when the lights had all gone out and we only had the stars to light things up for us. The complete silence and sense of solitude at night (after most of the other tourists had left) felt just a little bit (if I may use the word) – magical.
Practical tips – Carry your thick woollies if you’re camping overnight at Pangong as the temperatures at night, even in the summer tend to dip into the low single digits. I’d strongly recommend doing this for at least one night, just to experience the tranquility of the place without the compulsive need to pose for pictures all the time.
The camp staff and the drivers also recommended waking up to watch the sun rise over the lake, which was pretty, but personally, I felt that the rays lighting up the mountain peaks opposite the lake made for more impressive views.
The area around Pangong is a wildlife conservation zone and you can spot some native animals of the region like woolly yaks and Himalayan marmots. If you get lucky, you may even spot a rare red-necked Tibetan crane or two (we did spot a couple of them, but near Tso Moriri, not Pangong).
After a rather quiet ride back to Leh on Day 9 (2nd August) and our last day in Ladakh, we spent the rest of the day exploring the little by-lanes of Leh for some souvenir shopping and food explorations and also climbed up to the Shanti Stupa, which was just down the road from our B&B, Mantra Cottages.
We flew back to Mumbai the next morning, which took us almost half the day including a layover at the New Delhi airport. There are very few flight options and early flights can also get cancelled / delayed due to weather issues – preferably, take a flight that leaves not before 9 AM. The security procedures at the Leh airport tend to be rather lengthy and outdated but the view after take-off as you soar over some of the highest mountain peaks in the world, makes up for it.
There you have it – our epic Himalayan roadtrip gets concluded here – I hope some of you will consider giving this beautiful region a visit. Till our next trip – Juley, Ladakh!