11th August 2016
With great expectations, we were ready to leave for Pangong on the 5th day morning.
Located at a distance of 180 k.ms from Leh, Pangong is a high-altitude, blue water, salt lake, nearly 134 k.ms long, 20 k.ms of which is under the control of China. A part of the lake falls within the Tibet region. The lake is located at an altitude of 14270 feet. The lake freezes completely during the winter, though the water is saline. The road from Leh to Pangong passes through Chang La (Pass) at a height of 17688 feet, the second highest motorable road in the world. The Border Road Organization builds and maintains the road. As the lake is located in a sensitive and delicate border area between India and China, one can see the presence of army almost everywhere on the way to Pangong. The lake and the surrounding areas have remained the popular destination for shooting several movies, the most talked about being ‘3 Idiots’ and ‘Dil Se.’ The hills around the lake are also home to several wild animals.
Initially, we drove alongside the beautiful Indus River. There is a green village ‘Sakti’, straddled between the hills near Karu. After Karu, the road slopes upward quite steeply, all the way to Chang La. The drive through avalanche prone areas was very thrilling. Much to our surprise, the road was fairly well-laid, barring at a few places. Several small water streams were crisscrossing the road at many places. From Chang La, the road sloped steeply, down to the lake.
There were no restrooms or toilets on the way, except at Chang La;even there, the maintenance of the toilets was quite awful. We had some working lunch at Durbuk, arranged by Thomas Cook.
Everywhere, we saw signboards that said “JULLEY”, which meant ‘namasthe.’ We also greeted “Julley, Julley” to several onlookers and other passing vehicles, finding some entertainment for ourselves in the process.
Before we reached the lake, we stopped over at one of the most scenic stream-side to take pictures.
When we reached the lake, there was a gale (wind) blowing from the hills across the lake. There were no permanent structures around the lake. The gale threatened to blow off the temporary structures of several restaurants and tea shops. However, there was no damage.
We ran to the lake as we feared it could start raining anytime. All restaurants claimed ownership to the “3 Idiots” name. Such was the craze about the movie. A decent picture hoarding depicted Kareena Kapoor riding a scooter.
Suddenly, it started raining, and we ran back to the restaurants for shelter. But the rain didn’t last long, and the sun shone brightly once again.
Several adventurous young tourists had arrived at the lake, hiring motorbikes from Leh. We saw several motorcyclists on the way to Nubra valley too.
Yaseen drove along the uneven, pebbled lakeshore to reach the point where the “3 Idiots” movie was shot. As it was still raining and as we hadn’t carried any wind-cheater, we couldn’t get out of the vehicle. From there, another rough drive through another rough stretch of gravel path took us to our camping site.Our stay arrangement for the night was in the tents. There were several tents at an elevation, on the banks of the lake. There was a semi-permanent structure which served as the dining room. The tents were very elegant. Arrangements inside the tent were luxurious, by any standard, in that remote place. As our baggage went inside the tent, we suddenly noticed that two beautiful rainbows had appeared in the sky.
The dinner was fabulous, considering the fact that the provision materials reach them only once in three days from Leh. Soup, dhal, vegetable, fulka rotti, pappad and salad. There was no permanent electric power connection to the tents, and they were lighted only by generators. As the generators were switched off around 11 in the night, all the lights too went off in the tents till the next morning. We had a comfortable sleep in the tent. Much to our relief, it was only moderately cold inside the tent during the night.
We were reluctant to leave Pangong and its serenity. Yet, we knew we had to leave.
On our way back, we stopped at a few places to take pictures and to watch the wildlife – yak, marmot, mountain goats etc. There was a big convoy of army vehicles waiting at Chang La and we managed to pass over them to reach Leh. After finishing our lunch on the way back – some tasty prantas in a Punjabi restaurant – we reached back our hotel, after a brief visit to the school where the "3 Idiots" movie was shot, to take rest for the rest of the day.
In the evening, we went to the market, had some nice masala chai from a Punjabi restaurant, did some window shopping and returned back to the hotel. The night dinner was again different and tasty. The next day wasn’t supposed to be a heavy day, and so, we ate well and went to bed.
… ... sorry, one final episode remains.