1st Feb, 2022
We had been in Ladakh for almost 7 months and had never seen the Pangong Lake. In summers, we thought we would love to see the lake with the onset of winters, when there are less tourists in the area. However, when the winters came knocking at our door step, we were overwhelmed and it took us almost 2 months to get used to the brutal cold and the challenges it brings with itself. In the beginning of January, we thought of attempting the dangerous route to Pangong but our spirit broke down thinking about the unexpected. However, finally towards the end of Jan, (to be exact on 31st Jan), we gave up all the hesitations and decided to go on this expedition and here is a small coup d’œil of our trip.
Our plan was to leave in the morning and return on the same day. However, just to be on the safer side, we packed our stove, some maggi and soup. We also packed our sleeping bags that can sustain even the brutal temperatures upto -30 degrees celsius. We thought, in case we got delayed and couldn’t cross Chang La in the day light, we will spend the night inside our car and leave with the first ray of light the next morning. Usually Pangong has many homestays and campsites as the place is famous for its sunrise and hence people do stay overnight. However, in winters everything is closed. So we were prepared for the worst.
We started our ascent to Chang La around 10:15 am and made it to the top by 11:30am, with a lot of slips and glides. The entire road was covered with snow starting a little ahead of Sakti village. Whenever we got stuck, we switched to our 4X4 and got out of there. Once we reached the top, driving down hill seemed even more difficult. And also the Indian Army personnel posted on the pass suggested that we install our snow chains. So, that’s what we did. And since it was our first time, the Jawans helped us through it. 🙂
We reached the Lake around 3pm and there are not enough words to define what we saw. We consider ourselves lucky that we got to witness a very unique and beautiful side of this place. The lake was completely frozen and hence looked like a white sheet on the ground with many frozen waves on the shore and all this surrounded by the snow covered mountains. It almost felt unreal and out of an artist’s imagination. We spent 45 minutes simply sitting and admiring the beauty around us. There were no tourists, which made the place even more peaceful and serene than it already was. It was like a charm that made us forget about the time. And when the spell broke, it was already 4:00 pm and no way we could return and cross Chang La in day light.
In circumstances like these generally a person would worry about where to spend the night as car definitely wouldn’t have been a safe option in temperatures like -30 degrees celsius or for that matter even in a tent. But this is something that we have experienced in our 1.5 years in mountains, what Dumbledore said in Harry Potter “Help will always be given at Hogwarts to those who ask for it”. Whenever we have asked for help from someone, we have always gotten more than we needed or expected. Not for once we were worried about finding a place to spend the night. And very confidently we decided to drive to the next village along the lake to look for homestays or ask a local for a shelter for the night. As we drove to the next village Man, we found an uncle walking on the road and we asked him if there is any place we can spend night at. And luckily, the uncle was himself was the owner of a homestay, which although was shut but since we were open to the non-luxury kind of stay, he agreed to host us. We were greeted by hot ginger tea and for dinner we had Timok and Dal.
In winters, when you travel to some place remote in Ladakh..be open to some basic and no luxurious way of living. For example, instead of flush toilets you will have to use the dry – compost toilets, there won’t be running water and hence you will have to fill a bucket from the closest water source (generally a stream or sometimes bore-well tank) and use it, there won’t be a centralized heating system and hence either a fire place/ Bukhari or electric heater will be available. However, electricity only comes for a few hours so keep that in mind too. Its the basic and simple way of living in harmony with the nature.
We had a cozy and peaceful sleep in the night. Next day, we woke up at 6am without an alarm and dressed in all our layers to go out and witness the precious and beautiful sunrise on the lake. It was cloudy and hence we saw so many wonderful colors like orange, pink and yellow in the sky surrounding the lake. It was so peaceful that we could only hear the chirping sounds of the birds along with the flapping of their wings and the whistling sound of the wind moving very swiftly. That morning will stay in our memory forever. We had tea and breakfast and decided to drive to the next village too, Merak and then start the drive back to Leh.
We left from Merak around 11 am. This is where the lake is the widest and you can see so many beautiful mountains surrounding the area in a semi circle. We took many pictures and made a lot of videos here and it was super fun.
On the way back it had snowed the previous night. So, right after Durbuk, from the uphill climb itself we had to install snow chains and removed them only after reaching Sakti village. It was a beautiful drive as it was snowing on the Chang La. We reached Leh at 7pm and were so tired that we had some maggi and dozed off.
I hope you enjoyed reading our little adventure story.
The Seeking Soul