Journey to the mystical lake
Great heights: We soon reached the Changla Pass, one of the highest mountain passes in India. This is usually a stopover for many on the way to Pangong Lake. Similar to the Khardungla Pass, the signboard here too was adorned with colourful Buddhist flags. The hot cups of tea served were more than welcome in the freezing temperatures.
Going yak yak yak: One of the wonders of the Himalayan region is its exotic fauna. Excitement soared as we spotted some of them. Standing in solitude amidst green pasturelands were the mighty yaks. They are a type of cattle with long hair reaching the ground, quite common in Tibet. They were quietly grazing, immersed in a world of their own. They appeared oblivious to everything around them and didn't bat an eyelid as we hunched closer to get a couple of photographs. As we drove further, we spotted a whole herd of them resting beneath rocks after a mid-morning brunch. They were gracious enough to click some pictures with us without a fuss.
A ball of wool: A little further, we noticed a shepherd with his flock of sheep and goats. It was an image out of Johanna Spyri's Heidi. From a distance, the flock looked like a big ball of wool moving up the hills.
Eating out of our hands: When our guide stopped the car beside a patch of scanty grass, we were surprised. However, the sight of a group of people crowding around a burrow aroused our curiosity. We were out of our vehicle in a jiffy as soon as we spotted the tiny brown creatures. As we ventured closer, we were delighted to see big black eyes looking shyly up at us. The stout Himalayan marmots resembled large squirrels. We handed out a biscuit or two to lure them out of their holes. After initially backing off, they were soon eating out of our hands, allowing us to pet and play with them. The 30 minutes spent in their company made the trip a memorable one.
Filmy lake: We spotted a large mass of blue in the distance. As we drew closer, we saw a crystallised water body surrounded by snow-capped mountains. We strolled around the lake and recollected the last scene of the Hindi film '3 Idiots', which was filmed here.
The steamed dishes served at the tented stalls were a treat in the freezing weather. We spotted a boat with army officers and waved. The lake was close to the Indo-China border; half of it is in Ladakh, and the other half in the Chinese-occupied region.
Magnetic hill: We were told that the volcanic-resembling mountain that we passed was a 'magnetic hill'. We were told to park the car in the middle of the flat road and watch it being pulled towards the mountain. We stood aside and watched, though we weren't convinced. It did look like the car was being pulled.
A holy shrine: Situated on the Leh-Kargil road was the beautiful Pathar Sahib Gurudwara constructed in the memory of Guru Nanak. It was the first time we were visiting a Gurudwara. As per custom, we covered our heads with a cloth given by the authorities and entered the holy shrine. Inside was a rock, which had a story behind it. According to local legend, it was the same rock which was hurled by a demon at Guru Nanak with the intention of killing him. However when the rock touched the sage, it turned into wax. The demon tried to push the rock with his foot and was surprised to see his imprint on it. Guru Nanak's powers changed the demon who begged for forgiveness. The local lamas considered this rock to be sacred and offer prayers to it.
Inner peace: The sense of tranquillity remained as we visited two more monasteries. The first, unlike the others was situated on lowland. This was the Alchi Gompa, which was well known for its wall paintings in Indian style. It has three-story high statues of Avalokiteshwara, Maitreya and Manjushree and is very preserved very well by the monks. The second monastery was situated on a hill top and is one of the oldest and largest Gompas in Ladakh. The Lamayuru Gompa houses about 150 Buddhist monks. The monastery once consisted of five buildings, out of which only the central one exists today. It had beautiful wall paintings carved inside. Masked dances are held here and monks from nearby monasteries participate in the celebrations.
Saluting the martyrs: Our last stop for the day was the Hall Of Fame dedicated to martyrs who gave their lives selflessly fighting for our nation. We looked at the photographs of our heroes and listened to accounts of their valour, grit and integrity with pride. There were maps of India-Pakistan and India-China borders and models of rifles used in the wars. In one corner were articles that provided a glimpse into the life and traditions of Ladakhis which gave us a good insight into their lives. It was a thrilling end to the day as we had the privilege of visiting the Hall of Fame on Independence Day. We returned with a stronger sense of patriotism and pride in our defence forces.
Ladakh offered us treacherous climbs and adventure; it also encompassed us in serenity which enabled us to rediscover ourselves. We left with treasured memories of this unique land.
One has the option of camping in Pangong Lake. The cost would be approximately Rs2,000 per person.
Entrance fees to the monasteries would amount to Rs50-100 per person.
To enter the Hall of Fame, it would cost Rs70, including a camera pass.
If camping at Pangong Lake, one needs warm clothing, a torch, and medications if one is prone to altitude sickness.
Please dress modestly while visiting the gompas