19 June 2017

Nubra to Pangong Tso

One of the annoyances of travel in Ladakh is the uncertainty due to bad weather. But it can be a great opportunity to explore newer routes. So, when making a return journey from Nubra Valley back to Leh, we were informed that the Khardungla is closed, we decided to pitch in our luck and go to Pangong Tso through the mostly dirt track from Khalsar via Agyam, Shyok and Dubruk. The road, initially as good as one can find in Ladakh, runs just beside the Shyok river. Sometimes whirling to climb up the mountains abutting the narrow valley and at other times snaking along the river bed. Agyam advertises itself on many milestones prior to its arrival and one can be excused for thinking that it is a major town. It boasts of a narrow steel bridge decked with multiple tibetan prayer flags and a tea stall. Also, there is a bifurcating road that connects it to Shakti on the Leh Manali highway. Beyond Agyam, the road leaves all pretentions of being one, mostly a dirt track and later on just a desire path on the stones of the riverbed. For dozens of kilometres there is no sign of human activity. One just has the river and the bare brown intimidating mountains for company. Once in a while the mandatory BRO road signs appear with their peculiar mischievious humour. It is possibly one of the most desolate drives. An occasional biker appears with a SUV support vehicle. The biker veers dangerously on the slippery dust laden stones of the river bed. One just waits for Shyok to appear. It must be a big town, after all it gives its name to this major river. It turns out that Shyok is half a dozen houses, a few Chortens and a restaurant with a makeshift toilet. But it is kind of relieving to see some human presence in what is otherwise just a lonely drive. Beyond Shyok, the scenery changes, the mountains grow taller and somewhat less intimidating and one hits the military town of Dubrok & Tang tse. It boasts of a reasonably metalled road and curious road signs ... "Only the best of friends and the worst of enemies visit us" and more ominously "It is perhaps the only place where one can suffer heat stroke and frost bite simultaneously". It has a small bazaar where one can buy bottled water, biscuits and Maggi. The road to Pangong Tso from here moves in a narrow green valley where one can spot timid looking yaks, occasional herds of the critically endangered wild ass and sometimes a bus full of tourists. The first sight of Pangong Tso as a crystalline blue lake against the ochre brown mountians seems surreal. Soon one encounters the inimitable black headed gulls and numerous restaurants featuring photos of the Aamir Khan's bollywood blockbuster, 3 Idiots. We stop and have hot Maggi. Seems like redemption for the long drive. The altitude is much higher than Nubra and Leh, so it is better to catch one's breath before moving on.
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