25 Dec 2011

Pictures and Memories - The Ladakh Journey - IV

Our next excursion was for Tso Pangong (Pangong Lake). Driving from Leh we crossed the Chang La pass to reach Pangong. We encountered summer snowfall on the way
Chang La top had the now-familiar gompa (shrine) draped in prayer flags
An army convoy began rolling out from the top as we parked
The road downhill from Chang La - wet patches are from melting snow deposited by vehicle wheels
Onward to Tso Pangong…
A gaggle of black-headed gulls greet visitors at the water’s edge at Tso Pangong. One of the largest lakes in Ladakh, Pangong is more than 130km long and about 5km at its widest. A land-locked endorheic lake, The Pangong does not flow out into any river or stream, water being lost only to evaporation and seepage. About 60% of the lake lies in China
The water of the lake changes hues with reflected light throughout the day…
There are a few basic tented accommodations on the bank of the lake. The double-bedded field tents are sturdy and well-secured to stand-up to the chilly winds that blow down the hills and across the water. The wind carries pale dust as fine as talcum powder, that is continuously deposited on all exposed surfaces
The rocks are mossy, the water crystal clear and extremely salty. Evaporation continuously increases the concentration of minerals in the water. The salinity of the water is a surprise, given that we usually expect lakes to be freshwater !
As everywhere, the faithful build prayer columns beside the lake
Moving on - Tso Kiagar, en route Tso Moriri
The drive to Tso Moriri, through hills of slithering gravel
Tso Moriri is reached mostly by following tracks. There are no roads, roadsigns or residents to provide directions…

9 Dec 2011

Pictures and Memories - The Ladakh Journey - III

The next leg of our Ladakh trip took us north of Leh to the Nubra valley via Khardung La. Khardung La is the highest motorable road in the country, cutting through the mountain ranges at 18,380 feet. The pass has a shrine engulfed in a cloud of fluttering prayer flags, offered by passing devotees.
The Srinagar-Leh National Highway (NH-1D) is cleared of snow and opened to civilian traffic only around mid-June every year, remaining snow-bound and inaccessible for more than half the year. Journeying across Ladakh, one is humbled by the untiring effort and commitment of the Army and the Border Roads Organization that ensure roads remain motorable in remote mountainous terrain, through hostile climate and inclement weather conditions.

We were forewarned not to halt too long at the Khardung La, in order to avoid ill effects of the rarefied air. The pass has a small canteen run by the Army regiment posted in the area, that sells hot black ‘masala chai’, veg momos and of course, piping hot Maggi. Posters on the wall script the virtues of drinking black tea and eating Maggi !         

The 'JULLY' (pronounced - jooley) in the poster is the local equivalent of 'namastey'. Everyone begins a conversation - specially with a visitor - with this greeting. It was recommended that we use this greeting frequently in our conversations with friendly locals.
Travelling across the mountains in our MUV, we were amazed to pass teams of cyclists pedalling up steep gradients in the rarified air laden with their camping gear - including ladies and gents who appeared to be riding on their own. Most of these intrepid cyclists were visiting foreigners. Chatting with them I was amazed to know that some of them have made repeated cycling expeditions to Ladakh.
Ladakh is a veritable paradise for geologist and geography students, with varied topography and rock formations, some of which are possibly unique in India. We travelled beyond Diskit to see the high altitude sand dunes, on the banks of the river Shyok near Hunder. Sand dunes at an elevation of over 10,000 feet are awe inspiring.

The Shyok is just a shallow stream at Hunder, as it flows down the valley. Summer is a blessed relief and time for celebrations in snow-bound Ladakh. We found a bus-full of school children frolicking in the chilled water - some dipped in the minimum of clothing, while a couple of small boys were into the water in their school uniform - shoes, ties, blazer and all. Clicking them would make a mockery of their unhindered jubilation, I felt.  
The glacier-fed Shyok, a tributary of the mighty Indus, flows subdued through the wide Hunder valley.
A drive along the vast sandy riverbed allows one to appreciate how wide and mighty the river may have once been. It would be fascinating to understand the reasons for this spectacular transformation.    
The sun is intense on a summer day - but peeling off clothing and putting ones foot into the flowing stream may not be as pleasant as expected. Ladakh is one of those fascinating places where one can get sunburnt and chilled, at the same time. High altitude UV radiation quickly burns the skin and the flowing water in the stream comes from melting glaciers, so cold that the foot goes numb. Full-sleeves and a heavy sunscreen is recommended and as well as trying the water before dipping !
Downstream, the Shyok joins the river Nubra and the confluence flows into the scenic Nubra valley.
The well-irrigated Nubra valley stands out as a green oasis amidst the barren Ladakhi landscape. The woods and thickets in the valley support rich avifauna, with the black-billed magpie conspicuous all around.
While there were summer clouds in parts of Ladakh during our visit, rains were very light drizzles, at most. This frame was shot facing east, with the sun dazzling behind heavy clouds hanging over the Nubra valley. Our speeding vehicle blurred the foreground.
Ladakh lies on the leeward side of the Karakoram ranges and is therefore deprived of heavy showers, leaving the land parched and barren. This landscape near Tirich Tso, is typical. People have painstakingly laid stones to mark out a track
Almost the entire annual precipitation in Ladakh is in the form of snowfall. 
But Trust the ‘RainMan’. I must share that we received rainfall with all the flash and bang, during our second night in the Nubra valley. It rained so heavily that I woke up in the dark of the night, alarmed if our tent would cave in. I became worried whether roads would get snowed-over, delaying our return to Leh. The weather-proof tent held through the rain and wind. And in the bright blue morning, the only trace of overnight rain was the damp soil and the glistening sheet of fresh snow on the hilltops all around.

This frame taken while returning to Leh from the Nubra valley is another typical topography. The land is hard-baked almost to stone, the ‘rain-bearing’ clouds are surreal, deceptive and the soil erosion is due to water run-off from melting winter snow.