High Passes & Lakes of Ladakh

 In Sona’s Travel Diaries

We stayed at Leh for three days. When u go to high altitude regions, you need to acclimatize, otherwise you start feeling uncomfortable due to lower oxygen levels in the air. We had traveled to Leh by road, where we gradually climbed up the altitude, over a period of few days, so we didnt face any problems. Yet we preferred to stay in Leh for three days, relax, get familiar with local culture and do the sight seeing.

For those traveling to Ladakh, it is mandatory to obtain innerline permits to visit certain areas. We took inner line permissions to visit restricted areas like Chushul, Tsaga, Marsimik La, and Chumur from the DC office. You need to take attested copies of valid nationality proofs like Passport, Voter ID, or PAN Card while going for permissions..

There are very few fuel stations in Ladakh. As we left from Leh, we made it sure that we carried couple of extra diesel carbouys of 20L for safety. It was a relief that the tank capacity of our car was 70 litres. There is very little or zero mobile network connectivity, once you leave Leh to travel into the interiors of Ladakh. .Only BSNL network or service is available in very few areas. After leaving Leh, we were virtually cut off from the outside world till we reached back to Manali.

The day we left Leh, there was a change in the weather. Storm of previous evening was still there. The storm affected us in our next day’s journey. We fastened our belt for further journey towards the beautiful lakes of LADAKH.

Leaving Leh, for High Passes & Lakes…

During traveling, we must try and maintain some discipline in ourselves. Eating only the right food, having sufficient food and liquid intakes at regular intervals, getting enough sleep, and leaving on time as per the schedule, to ensure that you stick to the planned itinerary, are some of the disciplines to be religiously followed.

En route Khardung La

From Leh we left early morning for Nubra Valley, which is 159 kms. from Leh. It takes around 4 to 5 hours to reach Nubra Valley from Leh. As we left Leh, We could notice fresh snow fall on the peaks of the hills, which must be due to the disturbance in the weather. To reach Nubra we had to cross KHARDUNG LA which is 39 kms from Leh.
Khardung La is a mountain pass at the height of 18380 feet above sea level, and one of the highest motorable roads in the world.

Heavy Snow along the Roads

As we moved forward towards Khardung La ,we noticed upto 3 to 4 feet of fresh snow on both sides of roads. Further on, at round 15 kms from Leh roads were closed due to heavy snow fall and BRO was working on clearing the roads.

BRO working to clear roads

Weather was getting cooler. I was thrilled that we would be experiencing something new and exciting. Just before Khardung La, we got stuck in a long queue of vehicles for almost three hours. But all around us, there were white mountains and lovely views. It was all so magical and we all were enjoying the real Himalayan experience thoroughly. I took a small stool from my car and sat by the side of the road enjoying the nature.

Traffic Blockage amidst Lovely views

As hours passed many tourists started getting panicky. Many of them chose to return back to Leh. Many of them also advised us to return back because they believed that it would be riskier to travel with kids, and self driving on snowy roads is neither easy nor advisable. But we had decided to go further till the time we ourselves face any difficulties.We were confident and comfortable with the situation.

Waiting for roads to clear

We had carried enough food and water for two days, just in case we face such road block situations. We had even carried a tent, so we were cool and kept moving ahead with confidence and having fun.

Khardung La was a great experience. As we moved ahead, situation got tougher and tougher. BRO workers were working in those tough situations in freezing cold conditions. Snow got thicker and thicker on roads and by the sides of the roads. Many vehicles started struggling on snow covered roads. Drivers who couldn’t manage to drive, were parking by the sides of the roads, or few others were pushing their cars through snow where the cars were skidding.

Struggling vehicles on slippery roads

Due to snow covered roads vehicles were skidding, tyres were just rolling at many place. To drive in such terrain, it is advisable to drive 4×4 vehicle for safety. Indeed you need a brave and smart driver in such conditions. I still remember that one vehicle just ahead of us skid 180 degrees. We kept safe distance and kept on moving ahead. All Trucks & military vehicles were driving with chains tied to their tyres.

Managing the Snowy roads!

Snow mode in our SUV, helped us to drive through the snow, without skidding. The whole experience was great and full of thrill.

On the other side of the pass, we again entered a different terrain – which was dry and rough. We entered to the Cold desert region, the Nubra valley. LADAKH has got a range of diverse terrains, which we generally don’t get to see at any other place.

High altitude desert at Nubra

Nubra is a high altitude cold desert. Here Shyok river meets the Nubra river which is also called Siachen river. There is a huge river bed at Nubra Valley. We visited during early summer, so there was very little water in those rivers. HUNDER is a place in Nubra where cold desert is located. It is 12000 feet above sea level, which is one of the highest cold deserts. You find many Double Humped Bactrian Camels here.

Double Humped Bactrian camel

These camels are natives of central Asia. They were left behind here after the closure of the Silk Route.

Diskit Monastery

There is a monastery in Diskit, which is the oldest and largest in Nubra Valley. As we were visiting this beautiful place, I was so thrilled to see the cold desert at this height.

From Diskit town, I bought some cucumbers and tomatoes to eat raw in the car during further journey. In Diskit town, i saw a bus with the destination name plate of SIACHEN and I got so excited to see it because it is one the highest battle field in the world and pride post of the Indian Army.

Siachen River Bed at Nubra Valley

From Hunder, we went to Panamik, at PANAMIK there is a sulphur hot spring. They have built a small building and facility to bathe in the hot spring water tub. In Ladakh, there is great scarcity of power supply and due to which there was always an issue of getting enough Hot water for bathing once we left Leh. We hadn’t taken a good bath at our tent because it was extreme cold. So we grabbed this opportunity for a Hot natural springs bath and got fully relaxed.

At NUBRA VALLEY due to the river, some parts are green and fertile. Many beautiful flowers and trees are seen here.

Greenery in the Nubra Valley

We stayed at NUBRA for two nights and we moved ahead towards Pangong lake. Here again the terrain was different. We know that THE GREAT HIMALAYA is a result of irruption of the Ocean bed, and in fact here we could get to see the mountains made up of land similar to the bottom of the Ocean.

Hills made of pebbles

Hills are made of pebbles and layers of different colored soil or mud. To reach Pangong from Nubra, regular road is via Leh, but We took an internal route directly from Nubra to Pangong Lake, through the Shyok river bed, via Agam.

Shyok river bed

Hardly any tourist or even locals take this route as it is totally broken, and actually it drives through the Shyok river. We drove through the almost dry river. River bed was so huge, that it felt as if, an entire town could fit between its width.

Wide river bed of Shyok

On this back road, we crossed very few vehicles. No towns, no people around, and we couldn’t even find a bird for miles. This area was very dry and lonely but amazingly beautiful. As we passed ahead we saw some BRO workers working on hilly roads.

BRO working on roads

There a military vehicle crossed us, speed of both the vehicles was slow, and after few meters we realized that military vehicle had stopped and was looking at us. Both the vehicles reversed and we greeted each other. Military officer and his driver looked surprisingly happy to see us with our car number plate of MAHARASHTRA, as both the military men were from MAHARASHTRA. Then we parted ways and moved ahead.

Changthang Wildlife Sanctuary

We moved further ahead towards Changthang Valley. We crossed an army check-post, showed our permission to the officer and we moved ahead.There is a cold desert wild life sanctuary there, which is part of the HINDU KUSH HIMALAYA . The altitude is 14000 to 19000 ft. It has a natural grass lands and wide variety of more than 200 species of wild plants grow here.

First look of Pangong lake

As we arrived near Pangong Tso, we saw the first look of the lake, which was a breath taking view. It is such a beautiful lake surrounded by khakhi (light brown) coloured mountains.

Pangong Tso

The Pangong Tso is a situated at the height of 13910 feet , it covers an area of 134 Sq.kms in India and China. Approximately 60% of the length of the lake lies in China. The lake is 5 km wide at its broadest point. The water is salty but yet during the winters the water freezes.

Mesmerizing evening at Pangong Tso

Lake was so beautiful and mesmerizing, water was as clear as a glass. Closer to the shore, we could see the bottom of the lake. Wind created soft waves in the water of the lake. Place was very windy and freezing cold. The water of the lake looked same blue as that of the sky. Water kept changing colours with the time. Every hour the lake looked different.

Brown headed ducks

There were brown headed ducks in the lake. These were migratory birds. The Pangong Tso (TSO means lake) is so beautiful one can not describe in the words. We stayed there for two days in the tents. We enjoyed this place thoroughly .

Peaceful moments at Pangong Tso

From Pangong Tso, we moved towards Tso Moriri. Again we took an internal road to Tso Moriri, which is passing by the Indo china border almost parallelly. There were no roads, very less towns, no people around, totally lonely area.

En route Tso Moriri, along the banks of Pangong Tso

All you could see at a distance, were military bunkers on the hills along side. It was a sensitive area, very close to the border.

Military Bunkers atop mountains…

As we were crossing a small village of few homes, a gentleman on the road there, asked us as by which route we are going to Tso Moriri. He explained us how to reach there and told us about road conditions. He also advised us that after few kilometers, we would reach to a jungle and left hand side we would see a bridge but we strictly shouldn’t go that way, as there is Chinese check-post across that bridge.

Following the Tyremarks trail…

As we left Pangong Tso via the rugged backroad, there were no roads actually. We had to just locate tyre marks on the terrain, and keep moving forward. Road was along the Pangong lake. For many kilometers, Pangong Tso accompanied us and at one point we said goodbye to the lake, lake moved further ahead into the China side and we kept moving on our way to Tso Moriri.

Pangong turning into China…the last look

All around, there was only tableland and surrounded by mountains. At many places, it so happened that due to the wind there were no tyre marks, we had to stop for a while and then decide which route to take and move forward. There were no sign boards, no GPS or directions, it was surreal.

On the way we passed, Changthang Wildlife Sanctuary, where we saw many Kiangs, wild yak, Great Tibetan Sheeps, beavers, etc. Kiangs found in the open sandy tablelands live in herds and eat sturdy grasses. Black necked crane, Brahminy ducks, Bird-headed Geese, many other migratory birds breed here.

Rezang La War Memorial

On that road, there is war memorial at REZANG LA , in Chushul Valley. This valley is 3000 yards long and 2000 yards wide at the height of 16000 feet. The small memorial at Rezang La, is a site for paying respect to the martyrs of SINO-INDIAN war 1962.

En route to TSO MORIRI we saw another lake KYAGAR TSO. Again here, water of the lake is salty. We stopped over by the lake, but it was so windy that even our car was shaking. We were thinking to go near the lake but from far distance we noticed marshy land and could not go there.

Kyagar Tso

One vehicle with a localite passed through. He stopped by and started chitchatting with us. He advised us not to go near the lake. According to him, the water of the lake was full of sulphur, so if you touch it, there was a chance that you may get severely burnt. So we stayed there for a while and moved ahead to Tso Moriri.

Colorful land dues to minerals

We could see KYAGAR TSO from distance en route to TSO MORIRI. There were flat tablelands everywhere around us. At Kyagar Tso, We saw a concentric circles of many colors. There was a big round patch on the ground surrounded by parrot green and in the center it was nice bright pink. We kept moving, with full of joy and enthusiasm. A frozen rivulet was passing along side the road. Many nomads were there with their herds.

Frozen rivulet en route Tso Moriri

After 30 km or so we got to see Tso Moriri. This drive was very tough and draining. We came all the way through lonely dangerous roads. Finally we reached Tso Moriri by noon. Before entering the town, there is a check post. We showed our permission letter and moved towards the lake. Weather was much chillier here than earlier places.

Tso Moriri

It was too windy, very difficult to stand in the open in such conditions. But it is a very nice blue colored teared shaped lake. This lake is at the height of 14836 feet. It is the largest of the high altitude lakes entirely within India. It is about 26 km north to south in length and 3 to 5 km wide.

Korzok Village along Tso Moriri

Here weather conditions were very rough and harsh. During the day time, we enjoyed around the lake and by the evening we went back to our camp. By the evening weather started changing. It was getting stormy, so we preferred to stay in our camp only. In the camp, there was a dining area and they had gas heater. We kept ourselves warm, had our dinner and went to the tents.

We had booked two tents but after seeing the storm and extremely harsh weather, we preferred to stay in one tent only. It was very windy and scary too. The temperature started falling rapidly to sub-zero levels. I kept wondering that how these local villagers were surviving, especially without any electricity or heating. One small stream was passing by my tent. Next day morning that stream turned into a frozen stream. We had a plan to stay there for two days but weather condition was so terrible, that we decided to move ahead to Manali.

Next day morning, we asked a hotel boy to pack some food for us for the journey. We had our breakfast and moved towards Manali.

As we moved ahead, we passed a region which was looking like some other planet. There was very marshy land, river bed type grasslands and hot water springs.

Puga Geothermal field

Hot water from the springs was coming out with so much force from the ground, that it was scary. This area is called PUGA GEOTHERMAL FIELDS. It is a 12 km long valley with the width of 1 km.

Marshy Land – Puga valley

There was very marshy land along the road. One spring was by the side of the road, I wanted to take a picture of it. Temperature would be around 2 to 4 degree celsius. As I opened the car door, a strong smell of sulphur ran through my nose. I felt scared.

Hot Water spring – Puga Valley

That area was so lonely, there was no human settlement for miles & miles. I took many pictures of the springs from distance. Land around this valley was surprisingly colorful. We got to see many colors like pink, light green, all absolutely amazing. It was due to heavy portion of minerals in the soil.

As we crossed Puga Valley, we again came to tableland. From a distance we saw another lake. It was TSO KAR.

Tso Kar

This lake is famous for its size and depth. It is fluctuating salt lake situated in the Rupshu valley. Few years ago the lake was important source of salt. Changpa nomads used to export salt from here to Tibet. Climate is extreme here, in winter goes down to -40 C and in summer rise up to 30C.

Salt Layers at Tso Kar

Around the lake, we saw around 3 to 4 feet high piles of salt. Again there was very marshy land , around the lake and we could not go near the lake. We stopped there for while to enjoy the extremes of nature, but we remained in the car only because there were lots of mosquito around due to the marshy land. We clicked some pictures and moved ahead.

We passed through very rough route till we approached the Leh-Manali highway. In few hours by late noon we reached Pang in Himachal pradesh. At Pang we had nice Tibetan home food and moved ahead.

Changing Landscapes en route Manali

Now we entered the Himachal Pradesh, the land of the GOD. It was truly heavenly feeling after seeing so much dry and harsh area. As we entered Himachal Pradesh everything was again different. Lots of green mountains around and many more people than the Ladakh region.

Lachung La

We passed through LACHUNG LA ,which is at the height of 16616 feet and 24 kms from Pang. As we moved ahead towards Manali, we were again climbing steep mountains and passes were getting higher. Then we reached Baralacha La. This is my most favourite pass.

Baralacha La

That time of the year, it was fully covered with snow, with few brown rocks jetting out. All the mountains around were looking like heaps of vanilla ice-cream with choco chips sprinkled over it.

Snow-covered Mountains

It was a beautiful pass indeed. We were coming all the way from TSO MORIRI, and all were very tired. Even the roads were not so good, with hardly any places to come out of the car and relax a bit, due to heavy snow all around. Car was also moving at a very low pace. Temperature was around -2 to -5 degrees in the afternoon, we were all quite exhausted by that time, only the serene beauty all around kept us in some good spirits. We passed through a beautiful frozen lake, which was Vishal Taal.

Frozen Vishal Taal

After crossing Baralacha La ,we came to a place called Zingzingbar, which had a road building camp and there was a tea house. After the tiring journey, we got down from the car, had some tea and snack and further moved ahead to Jispa town for the last overnight stay before Manali.

We reached Jispa by evening 5pm. We stayed there for a night and next morning after breakfast, we left for Manali. After seeing the beauty of Baralacha-La, Rohtang pass was nothing. One must travel through Baralacha La pass during snowy season.

Finally we reached to Manali by 4pm. We stayed in Manali for three days.

Blissful Manali

In Manali, we just relaxed, and again re-charged our spirits for the grind of the city life, that was awaiting us. We bid adieu to the Himalayas and left for Chandigarh. We reached Chandigarh by night the same day. Stayed there for a night and next day after lunch we took a flight to Mumbai, and reached back home by late evening.

From Chandigarh our driver took a car from us and drove to Mumbai in three days.

This was our most memorable road journey, where we traveled from Mumbai to Ladakh and back, 6500 kilometers in 21 days. Hurray!!!!!!

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