Thursday, September 13, 2007

Pangong Tso

Up with the morning call to prayer, thank you Islam, I value the din every morning at 4am, as do all your followers who clearly get up and go to the mosque at this time. Not. Our pickup is at 6am. This is an issue, as I had very spicy food last night, and it needs to go, as it were. I’m trying all the usual tricks, drinking water etc, but nothing’s happening. It’s on its way though, I can feel it. We wait outside, and luckily the pickup is late. I dash back, and business is concluded. Thank goodness!

To be fair it started the day clean, this was taken later!

The jeep turns up, it’s a new Toyota. It has seatbelts, the first I’ve seen in India! It’s cold, and light now, but the sun’s not really up. Three others we pick up at the agent office, an Irish girl, French chap and Austrian girl. What’s your name, they ask Thuzar. “Thuzar”, she says. I cough and give her a look. We drive out of town on the relatively quiet streets – as I said before Indians are lazy, they go to bed early like most of Asia, but unlike most of Asia they don’t get up until Western times.

The driver has copies of the permit forms – four of them, needed for 5 checkpoints. I thought we just had one checkpoint?! We reach the first one shortly out of town. The driver asks us all for our passports. I claim we didn’t know we needed passports, we only have copies, and hand them over. He looks annoyed, and says this is sure to cause trouble. He’s gone for a while, longer than the other jeep driver who pulled up at the same time as us.

He comes back and tells us that as we don’t have our original passports, the guards would like to see us. Gulp. I smile and say no problem, and walk up to the checkpoint. We’re waved inside by an old chap. At a desk, a bearded chap is sitting holding our copies. We launch into smiling profuse apologies before he has a chance to say anything. I’m feeling nervous.

He looks at each copy in turn, the photo (gulp), me first – asks me my name. Samuel Crawley. Date of Birth. Then passport number. Now I know my passport number back to front, but I figure if I’m the sort of person who forgets his passport, I probably wouldn’t remember the number either. I “erm”, then say I think it begins with 45.. and has 99 in it. All true. He reads out the full number to me. Oh yeah, that’s it!

Then turns to Thuzar. I mean Hyun Ju. Date of birth. Passport number. She has no idea. I chip in that it begins with a JN. He reads it out to us, then hands us the sheets and tells us to remember the passports next time. Yes, Sir! We head back to the jeep. The driver doesn’t know what we’re up to, and we haven’t told the others in the group as we don’t want them worrying every time we go through a checkpoint.

We drive on, but there are four more checkpoints. Thankfully the next few just want the permit sheet, not passports, until the penultimate, where once more we have to show our faces. Again it’s okay – he’s more concerned about checking the visa and passport numbers against the permit than any personal information. I should mention here how incredible it is that we get away with this – to me, the passport photo looked nothing like Thuzar. I think it only worked because for Indians, all Orientals look the same. I think it’s the lack of familiarity. Having been to Korea and Myanmar, I have seen enough faces to be able to tell the difference between the two.

We hit ice. Wow, I’ve never seen snow, Thuzar says. That’s strange, I say, Korea’s quite cold, isn’t it? Cough! We pass Himalayan or “Choker” partridges who scuttle out of the road as we drive past. Tasty! Now we climb up to the Chang La, the third highest motorable road in the world, allegedly. The army guys stationed there are friendly, and give out free tea to passers by. It must be a boring existence during winter when there is almost no traffic along here. The army keep the road open in all conditions as it’s of strategic importance.

Significantly, they have a small temple here. We pop in, and I notice Guru Nanak and a picture of Shiva. I ask the guards about it, and they say it’s a temple of all faiths. How lovely is that? Why can the whole world not build temples of all faith? The Indian Army does have one thing to its credit – it brings together all the many religions of India apparently in harmony. I salute you all for that!

A busload of Indians arrives as we climb up the pass marker monument. We’re a bit out of breathe, but it is 5270m, or 17,300ft! Down the other side, the road is really bad, and in places quite slippery – our driver obviously knows this and slows right down, especially when streams cross our path. We pass through a couple of small villages, I snooze until we arrive. What a spot!

Pangong Lake

The place where we stop is a small spit of land, with a couple of tents set back from the water edge. The lake is lovely, stretching out as far as we can see towards Tibet.

Tibet’s somewhere up there

The driver leaves us by the water and heads up to the tents.


The thing which is remarkable are the multitude of blues on display as clouds drift overhead, blocking or partially obscuring the sun, and so changing the colours from deep royal blues to almost emerald turquoise.

I step in – the water’s cold but not unbearable. Supposedly there’s no life in the lake as it’s too salty, but the Irish girl scoops up some water in her hands with small shrimps darting about. We pose for various photos.

The gang

Up to the tents, and lunch turns out to be a substandard dal bhat.

Looks comfy

They seem to ignore what you ask for and give you a different combination of food, perhaps all the orders were out of sync or something.

Muppets at work

That out the way, we climb up the hill behind to a small lookout, which turns out to be an army dugout.

Still, it’s a good spot, with a commanding view over where we were standing, plus a view further round the long stretch, where the wind is lighter and so the water forming a shimmering mirror.


Climbing this small hill leaves us pretty out of breath from the altitude.

Back down, it’s time to go.

We offer a lift to an old Australian artist woman who stayed here last night and is looking to get back down.

The local guy didn’t like visitors

A change of seating leaves us in the back, where it’s especially bumpy, and somehow my rib actually gets bruised from being battered about all the way back.

Mysteriously Ali G had taken the place of our driver

We pass wild horses, then as we approach the pass, the girls suggest stopping so that Thuzar can get her first look at snow!

Parking up

Look! Ice!

We don’t realise why it’s such a strenuous exercise until we drive 30 seconds on and arrive at the high pass!

Later wew get some good shots of Thikse and other gompas on the way before returning.

Back home, we eat together at Wunderland upstairs in their open area. My salad is good, but I find at the end of the meal that someone has pinched my shoes! They are miraculously returned a couple of minutes later. Strange!

Lazy last day
Next day, our last in Leh, and it’s a hot one. Not much of a breeze in the air, and few clouds to block the intense sun at this altitude.

Breakfast across the road at Oasis Garden CafĂ© with our Nepali friend. It’s strange, everything closed. It turns out it’s because two monks were murdered in Aichi a couple of weeks ago. We assumed it was because everyone was being lazy, and Sunday lasts until Monday afternoon. As usual Thuzar doesn’t eat her food.

After we wander up to the Ecology centre, one of the places to shop with a conscience. I’m not impressed that as we arrive two jeeps with Ecology Centre logos on the side pull away from the building – so that’s where the profits go, huh? Inside..

We learn that there have been twin bomb attacks in Hyderabad, killing at least 42 and injuring many more. State authorities have blamed Pakistani and Bangladeshi groups. I hope this will not increase the tension too much around here. If I were in Srinagar or Kargil I would be feeling nervous.

We walk down to the post office for the usual amusing sticking of the stamps ritual. A bunch of French people have occupied all the benches around the glue, but do they make space? No. Once they’re gone I glue the stamps on to the cards and leave them in the sun for a few minutes to dry.

Next, t-shirt shopping. There are lots of cool Free Tibet and Yak Yak Yak t-shirts in town, but I’m loathe to haggle too much to buy them. The first shop we try is quite expensive. Only with the third do we get a good deal, so buy a few. Afterwards he tells me it was the first purchase of the day – I presume India is like other Asian countries, in that the first purchase of the day is significant to a shop-keeper, it prescribes luck for the rest of the day, so often they’re very keen to sell to you if you’re the first customer. This chap seems kind too, and gives us a good discount.

Internet next to the hotel is a total waste of time, time outs, almost impossible to read newspaper.

What does one do before a three day bus journey for food? Why, have really spicy food that you know your system can hardly cope with! Hurrah! To the Korean! Jeon Heejung, the cook, gives us her card, and we promise to visit next time, and possibly stay at Ame Go next year when they’ve got their guest house going.

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