13 June 2017

Ladakh The exhilarating: Khardungla and all

Everybody seems to know about it, but no on could confirm it. The Lama at Diskit Monastry told us, the tourist from Gujarat told us in Hunder, even the biker on the enviable Royal Enfield had heard about it. The mighty Khardungla Pass was closed. I accepted the news with extreme reluctance and agony. I was just hoping against hope that it must be just a rumour but our driver  quashed my hope by pointing out the ominous clouds over the snow capped peaks all around the picturesque Nubra Valley. It takes a bit of gullibility to expect one to believe that over ten feet of snow has fallen overnight on the Khardungla in early June! But then as the numerous road signs put by the venerable Border Roads Organisation (BRO): The experienced expect the unexpected! 
For all of its alleged inaccessibility, Ladakh has been at the cross roads of multiple civilisations and trade routes over much of the last two millenia. The current geopolitical situation just makes it look inaccessible and far. But it is barely an hour of flight from over the Western Himalayas takes you into Leh. Ladakh means the region of high mountain passes and surely it boasts of two of the three highest motorable roads in the world. This also makes it extremely susceptible to unpredictable closures. And I was stuck in the middle of one. I had to get back to Leh from Hunder, but the Khardongla had been closed due to heavy snowfall! 
Whenever one travels, the journey teaches you something. Ladakh teaches Fortitude, to take it on one's stride. The region is among the highest altitudes anywhere in the world. It has extreme cold climate and bizarre weather. To top it, history has not been kind to it with multiple wars and annexations by powers ranging from Mongols to Chinese to Tibetans to the Dogras. All this adversity has made the people of Ladakh one of the hardiest and most welcoming. Everyone greets you with a warm and heartening Jullay! And that is when one realises that the we landlubbers get so engrossed in the seemingly unsurmountable problems of immediacy that we forget to count the joys and blessings. 
So while I was wondering about where to head to and staring uncomprehendingly at my defunct smart phone (Outside phones do not work in the state of Jammu and Kashmir); my tour operator called on my driver's phone and told him to head directly to Pangong Tso, a good 160 kilometres and 6 hours gruelling drive along the river bed of the alluring Shyok river. The other option was to go back to Hunder and wait it out till the might Khardungla opens again. He told me that he would try to swing one room (actually a tent) at Pangong Tso. After an excruciating hour of waiting he again called back to say that something has been arranged! I felt literally on top of the world (actually I was above quite a bit of the world already!) because any way ahead is way forward. The journey to Pangong Tso is for post another day!

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