A trip to Ladakh: Pangong Lake, Nubra Valley and Monastries
January 1, 1970
by Jaya Ramsinghani
My 4 day trip to Ladakh was one of the best travel experiences I’ve ever had. Ladakh displays the beauty of nature in its rawest form. Except for the scorching sun, there was absolutely nothing that hindered the trip. Following article covers the must-visit places in Ladakh and some information that could make your visit to Ladakh easy.
On the first day of our visit to Ladakh, I visited Pangong Tso. The way to Pangong Lake is one of the most dangerous mountain roads. Extremely narrow and still unconstructed, it can only allow one vehicle to move in one direction. The view from the top of these uphill roads is astonishing- a patch of green village amidst the cold, brown desert of Ladakh. The lake is situated at about 14,000 ft at the Indo- China border.
The excitement to see the lake was immense, thanks to the Bollywood movies. The way to this lake is via Chang La (La meaning pass). It is present at a height of about 17,000 ft. A small canteen is located even at this height to facilitate tourists, thanks to Border Road Organization (BRO). The sight of snow laded mountains along the way and especially at the pass is enlivening.
On my way to Pangong lake, I saw the famous Himalayan Marmot. An animal so cute, you would want to pick him up and take him home with you. He peeked at me from his burrow and came out. I stopped to see him and eventually, many more marmots joined him. Himalayan Marmots, about the size of a housecat, are herbivores and live in colonies in deep burrows. A happy squeak from me was enough to scare the marmots back to their burrows.
At the first sight of Pangong, it appeared grey. Moving downhill towards the lake, it changes colors from the most beautiful shades of green to sky blue and ink blue. Until I reached the lake and realized that the water is crystal clear and is reflecting the skies’ colors.
The water of the lake is salty and to much surprise, it still freezes in winters. The lake is not known to support any wildlife as of now, except for some few crustaceans. The water is cold enough to freeze your feet in a few seconds. 60% of the lake is situated in China and the Actual Line of Control passes through the lake beyond which, no civilian is allowed to pass. Unlike the other lakes in India which have been originated from one or the other major river, this lake is not known to originate from any of them.
Situated at a height of 10,000 ft, Nubra valley is one of the must visit in Ladakh. The way to Nubra valley is also quite dangerous, but owing to Border Road Organization, and the experienced drivers, no serious accidents occur there. The road crosses the Khardung La which is the world’s highest motorable peak. Khardung La is situated at a height of about 17,500 ft. The snow laded mountains are visible all along the way and Khardung La is the tip of all these mountains. There’s a canteen run by the BRO at the pass where you can have hot Maggie and coffee. The way after Khardung La is rocky but has the most alluring views of the snow mountain tops. Put your hand out the window and you can actually touch the snow from the mountains. The mountains stretch to the greenest grassland with streams of rivers cutting the grasslands in between- a view straight out of movies. This continues to huge rocky mountains with rocks of colors ranging from purple, green, blue, red, etc..
Nubra valley is one of the rarest landscapes in the world. It has grasslands, cold desert, river, and snow mountains at a distance, all in one view. There are many guest houses for tourists to spend the night at. Near the valley is also situated the highest statue of Lord Buddha in Diskit. Camel rides and safari in the cold desert is also available at the same place. An entire day can be spent exploring the valley and a night to stargaze amidst the grasslands and rivers.
It was almost time for the sun to set and when we saw the river from a distance, it reflected the sun rays and shone in the most spectacular way possible. Sangam is the meeting of two rivers- Zanskar and Indus. The two rivers do not seem to mix and move together further in the same current. Instead, they had their own currents and seemed to move back to their respective course from the point of their meeting.
The two rivers actually blend and flow towards Pakistan to meet the Arabian Sea. The Zanskar river was muddy and the Zanskar river was greenish in appearance. As the waters of Indus are warm, it never freezes, unlike the Zanskar river. You can also go for river rafting here, provided you reach there during the day, unlike us.
On the way back from Sangam River to Ladakh, is the Magnetic Hills. A board put up there says, “Put the car in neutral and experience it going uphill on its own.” I came out of the car and saw it happening with my own eyes. I was left speechless.
This, in fact, is an optical illusion. The road does not go uphill but creates an illusion of going uphill. It actually goes down and that is why the car moves.
Ending the day with stargazing and trying my hand at astrophotography, I clicked some terrible pictures of the beautiful sky. Honestly, no words or any picture could ever describe or help anyone understand how beautiful the night sky is at such a height.
Inaugurated by His Holiness, the Dalai Lama in 1985, it was built to celebrate 2500 years of Buddhism. It is a white colored, tall stupa with several statues on the walls. The statues and colorful scriptures get better and better with each step. The view from the top of the stupa is astonishing.
About 50 km from Leh, it is the largest and the richest monastery in Ladakh. It belongs to Dugpa Kargyutpa order, founded in 1630. A fascinating part of the monastery is the copper statues of Lord Buddha and the silver and gold stupas. The architecture and the walls of the monastery are exceptionally beautiful. The prayers of the monastery would make you want to sit there for hours and listen to it.
The beautiful statue of Maitreya (future Buddha) is the main attraction of Thiksey Monastery. The 40 ft. statue starts from the ground floor and ends on the first floor.
There’s another temple in the monastery dedicated to Goddess Tara. The temple has a huge number of statues on the walls depicting the emotions and avatars of the goddess. She apparently had a fascination with blue-green gems and jewelry. As a result, she wears it in each statue.