Tour de Ladakh [Day 8-Part 1]: The Enchanting Pangong Tso

Many years from now, if everything goes as planned, a 50 years old me would be spending a lazy Sunday afternoon on my beach house in Goa, playing Call of Duty: Space Warfare 12 on my Sony PS7 constantly being disturbed by my two pet St. Bernard dogs, pestering me to take them on a ride in my ‘Vintage’ Pagani Zonda R, I would probably be reminiscing how well everything went. And I might as well sit down and make a list of all the beautiful places I visited around the world over the last three decades. And most definitely Pangong Tso would top that list. Day Dreams and Fantasies apart, Pangong Tso is one of those places which comes under the ‘See it to Believe it’ categories. The beauty of the place is impossible to be put to words even by the best poets of the world. I would never be impressed by Science until and unless someone invents a camera worthy enough to capture the unparalleled magnificence of this lake in the midst of heaven.

Pangong Tso (Literal Meaning: Long Enchanted Lake) at 14,270 ft. is a 134 km long saltwater lake in the Himalayas. This amazing lake lies on the disputed territory between India and China. As of status Quo, India controls a third of the lake in the western end and China controls the rest of it. This lake as seen a bloody conflict during the 1962 Sino-Indian war and today the Line of Actual Control (The Johnson Line) passes over the lake. Even today, some parts claimed by India are under the Chinese government’s control. In the winter the entire lake freezes and in the summer, it provides  the best possible natural eye candy. Flanked by mountains on both sides, this lake changes its shades of blue of the course of the day.

PANGONG TSO: HEAVEN ON EARTH

By the time we woke up, Neha and Robbin were up and ready. Today they will be heading back to Leh and Sukesh, Rahul and me would be riding alongside the lake and try our luck to reach Chushul. By 11 after saying goodbyes to Neha and Robbin and the fluffy little puppy who slept in our tent the night before, we left the Lukung campsite to witness the magic of Pangong Tso. We rode on the dirt roads on the banks of Pangong Tso which led to the next camp at Spangmik. The beauty of the lake was unimaginable. Here are a few pictures.

This fluffy little creature used those ‘Puppy Eyes’ to eat all our dinner yesterday!

Yes, this was the fist view we got when we stepped out of our tents that morning!

Destination Pangong Tso!

Riding on the banks of Pangong Tso.

Our three beasts enjoying the last of the proper roads. Things are going to get real tough for them soon.

The customary panoramic view.

Think Blue!

We didn’t even dream of the fact that we are going to love anything after witnessing Baralacha La. How wrong we were!

Not a single dull moment on the roads.

Blue lake on the left. White Mountains on the right. Perfect road.

Amazing!

Jaw dropping views!

Speechless

Soon we reached a spot, which probably was a tourist hot-spot just before Spangmik. This spot was made famous in Bollywood by the last scene of the movie, “3 Idiots” and “Rab ne Bana di Jodi” . We wanted to throw away our schedules, forget our plants, quit our jobs/colleges and just pitch in a tent here and live like hermits on the banks of heaven. Single most beautiful thing that we had witnessed till date. There we a few other tourists here. One of them was a brigadier and his family. We had a nice talk. Quite a few tourists out there were interested in the bikes and took turns taking photos with them with the lake in the background. So we were stranded on the banks longer than we had planned. But no one’s complaining! Soon after we saw a blast on the other side of the lake. At that time we thought that it was some routine army exercise. But later when we return to Leh, we would find reports of that mysterious blast on the local newspapers. Anyway, after an hour or so, we decided to proceed further.

A stop near Pangong.

Yes, that’s the 3 Idiots filming location!

That’s Sukesh Dash and Me.

The Magical Enchanted Lake. Note the difference in the color of the water.

The Narcissist Rahul Pant!

Sukesh tried to get inside the waters for a ‘Cool FB Cover Pic’. Ended up getting his bike stuck in the freeze water. Had a hell difficult time trying to get him out.

Rahul Pant. Here the clear distinction of the various colors of the water can be seen. No idea why this happens.

Migratory Birds.

Moving on to the roads less taken.

Weird colors happening to the water naturally!

My tiny bike among the great mountains.

Spectacular variations of color.

Not finding any roads, we were riding on the banks.

Looking back.

Such a shame that, people go back from Lukung and Spangmik without exploring these untouched gems of locations along Pangong.

Quick Game. Find my bike in this picture!

OFFROADING AND MAJOR BUTT-HURT!

Generally, tourists return from her on and head back to Leh. The main reason being that there is nothing else apart from Chushul to see ahead. And practically everyone wanting to go to Chushul are denied permits. So, there is absolutely no traffic ahead. Hence, there are NO ROADS ahead. Just some random Tank and Truck tracks left by the military. So basically, with no roads to tread on, we just followed these tank and truck tracks. Very often, these tracks would disappear as there would be just rocks and hence, no mud/sand to leave the tracks on. The first one hour was particularly tough. After the tracks would disappear, I would have to ride of the random rocky terrain, trying to locate the tracks. And quite a few time I would be stuck too. Eventually, we decided to stop, talk and take a decision as the ride was getting increasingly tough. I feared that the others might already be tired and I’m just pulling them along just because I wanted to visit Chushul. And on top of that, getting the permits for Chushul was just half of the job. Even the permit is useless if the Army turns you back in a check post (which happens to a majority of those who even manage to get a permit). Forget that, even this terrain was very tough to ride on and our bikes may not hold out for long. Turns out, the others though tired, were in the same lines as me. They were determined to make it till Chushul. So we decided that, we would just ride as close to the bank of Pangong as possible and eventually we would reach the check post at Mehruk which was around 20 KMs away.
Roads. No Roads. Who cares when you have that amazing lake for company on the left!
Long way till here. Long way to go.
On the way to Spangmik.
I guess that’s the Spangmik camp.
Those famous weird rocks! Who does them? The locals or the Travelers?
The dirt and gravel giving us a hard time on the roads. But the views are all worth the pain!
Where to now?!

THE SLOWEST AND THE BEST 40 KMS EVER!

I am so relieved that we didn’t give up at that point and decided to move on. Because the kind of beauty we came across was simply stupendous. As the day proceeded, Pangong Tso continued to take more darker shades of Blue. And after 10 KMs we finally found the rock and dirt path. This was equally as bad but at least we had the peace of mind that we aren’t lost and aren’t accidentally venturing into Chinese territory! Riding along the blue Pangong while listening to some Eagles music was one amazing experience. We reached some village named ‘Man’ which we mistook for ‘Mehruk’ initially. Didn’t find any check post or people there and we moved forward. Finally after battling a total of 3 hours of pure Off Roading we reached Mehruk.
Reached the village named ‘Man’. No Man (or Woman) in sight though.
Beautiful!
Now I have seen everything! No I can die in peace!
Who needs Autobahn when we got stunning roads like these! Joy to ride on.
No No. No more beauty please. My eyes had enough!
That tiny speck of black is Sukesh trying to find the way ahead.
Enough! I might abandon all modern lifestyle and become a hermit if this continues!
Sigh. I love the material world too much to quit everything and embrace these.

CHARMING MEHRUK

Mehruk seemed like a charming little village. Will neat small stone houses and twisty pathways. But we still didn’t see any check posts and people around. And there were elephants moshing in our stomach. We haven’t had anything since yesterday evening. Now it seemed that feeding all our dinner to that fluffy puppy in Pangong wasn’t a genius idea. Finally we met a nice couple who invited us to have lunch at their place. We had a nice long chat with the gentleman. He described now cold it gets here during the inter, how tough it is to get the rations then and how after Chushul being shut down for civilians there is no tourism on this side of the Pangong Tso. In fact according to him, we were the first ones going through that village this year. We waited outside his house, while his wife made us tea. Mehruk is a tiny tiny village. Even the policeman who mans the Mehruk Check post heard that we were in the village having dinner. He had come over to check our documents and permits. He himself was surprised that how come our permits were issued! In fact he said that we will be the first civilians to cross the Mehruk gate in over two years! We had a heavy lunch, thanked the lovely couple and started for our quest to Chushul.
Reached Mehruk
While waiting outside the Gentleman’s house. Note the small bunker near the outhouse. A bomb shelter or a shelter from the cold winters? Didn’t ask.
Sukesh and Rahul waiting outside the kitchen waiting for that Tea!
Yummy lunch inside the family’s cozy home!

TO BE CONTINUED…

3 thoughts on “Tour de Ladakh [Day 8-Part 1]: The Enchanting Pangong Tso

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