10 Jan 2012

Pictures and Memories - The Ladakh Journey - V

Leaving Leh around 8.00am, we travelled the Leh-Manali Highway to Upshi, crossed the Indus at the Mahe bridge and drove along the Indus towards Puga. We reached the Puga Sumdoh (literally meaning ‘the crossing at Puga’) in the afternoon. The sumdoh near Puga village is an important 3-way intersection, leading to Leh, Tso Moriri and Tso Kar (and onward to Manali via Rohtang). Of course, there are no road signs and nor many souls to seek directions. We reached Tso Moriri late early in the evening.
(Click images to enlarge)
Flocks of Bar-Headed Geese rested with their chicks along the water’s edge. The geese lay eggs and raise their young here during the summer and migrate to the Indian plains in winter. I have myself seen Bar-Headed Geese at the Veer reservoir near Pune (Maharashtra) and at Kaziranga (Assam) during the winter. Marshes on the periphery of the lake support rich avifauna and is now protected as a wetland bio-reserve.

The next day, we retraced the road till Puga Sumdoh and turned to Tso Kar. There are geo-thermal springs near Thukjey village not far from Puga and the smell of sulphur filled the air as we neared. In the wetlands to the left of the road were flocks of water birds, mostly waders. In the distance were two pairs of black-necked cranes, too far out to be photographed. We stopped more than half an hour to watch the cranes waltzing and feeding. Native to the Tibetan plateau and revered by locals, these cranes are now endangered due to loss of habitat in their homeland and poaching during their winter migration to the Indian plains.

There were marmots (the Long-Tailed Marmot and the Himalayan Marmot) aplenty on the way, as well as packs of wild yak. Near Polokongka La, we saw the first lone kiang – the Tibetan wild ass. The valley was strewn with clumps of wild summer bloom.
We drove past settlements of the Changpa nomads at the pass and the valley around. These nomads raise yaks and graze their flocks of sheep in the rolling arid valleys.   
We reached Tso Kar in the afternoon.
The water of Tso Kar is crystal-clear and brackish. There is a dusty trail on the edge of the lake.  
As we drove around the lake, a herd of about 11 Kiangs galloped across the trail ahead of our vehicle, They stood in a line, alert and watching us from a distance. After sometime, they adjudged us harmless and dispersed to forage. The wetlands on the water’s edge had plenty of waders.
Next morning we took the Leh-Manali highway driving across the large plateau called the More Plain, to reach Pang.
Pang is a cluster of tents in summer where bikers rest overnight on their drive to Leh.
The tents at Pang offer the basics of life to the traveller, including a cot and blankets at Rs.100/= per night.  
Lachulung La at 16,616 feet is the last of the high altitude passes en-route Manali.
The air is chilly and sheet ice glistens under the midday summer sun at the pass.
Landslides on the mountain roads are constant reminders of our struggle against the forces of nature. Road repair crews from the nearest Border Roads Organization (BRO) staff lines appear almost from nowhere to clear debris and keep roads motorable. Once again, hats off to the BRO and its incessant efforts, that we managed to adhere to our travel plan. 
(Travelogue to be concluded)

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