Saturday, January 27, 2018

Another Road Trip, Another Mountain Pass. Chang La.

Another road trip, another mountain pass, another selfie 😁

Original Post Date: July 1, 2017.

Today was suppose to be a start of a day trek but instead, we embarked on a road trip to Pangong Tso.  Since this was literally a last second change to our itinerary, I had not done any reading about what this road trip would be like.  I had no clue it would involve going over another really high altitude mountain pass!

Our drive out of Leh was in a southeast direction, heading towards the Leh-Manali Highway.  Before we hit the highway, we made two stops.  The first was at a road side stand to buy a bunch of bananas.  The banker aka Ayşe and I quickly jumped out of the car and made the purchase. We've really been short on fruits and veggies since we've been here.  Though we only wanted a few bananas, the vendor pulled off 12 because the price was 12 bananas for 100 rupees (about $1.60).  Cheap.

Today as a picture perfect summer's day in Ladakh.  When the weather is nice here, it's really nice.  As you might expect, there's not much humidity here and the air is fresh and clean....unless you are stuck in traffic....then the air quality is horrible because of all the exhaust fumes!

Our drive took us past Thiksey monastery which I have on my list of places while in Leh.  We also passed the town of Stok which is the place that Dorje calls him.  There's a palace here so may we'll visit if we have time.

From the Leh Manali Highway, we turned off on to the one and only road that leads to Pangong Tso.   We passed Chemrey Monastery.  I would've asked Dorje to take us there if not for the fact that I think we're quickly maxxing our appetite for monasteries that we have to now be more selective.  Thiksey.

We began our ascent towards the mountain pass.  More of those narrow, windy, bumpy roads that we've come accustomed to riding over.

In case you're wondering how the road looks, check out the zigzag pattern in the photo below.

It's only when the lush green landscape of the valley becomes a memory that our mountain road trip really begins for me.  It's like I've entered another world - one with no trees, just rocks and the occasional stream.

Thankfully for all of us, Ayşe is back to her same old self. A good night's rest did the trick and while she ate breakfast, it wasn't much.  The bananas are a good supplement; part of the reason why I wanted to get them.  She has learned her lesson the hard way though.  No exerting yourself when you're at reallly high altitudes!!  I know she won't be doing any running, up at the mountain pass, today!

Unfortunately, she's without her face mask today and when the fumes got bad, I handed my Tibetan scarf to her to use.  This is how she wrapped it around her face.  A very campy moment and we both had a good laugh over it.  I'm just surprised she let me take a photo.

Two hours after we left Leh, we arrived at the mountain pass - Chang La.  At an elevation of 5,360 meters (17,590 feet), it's the second highest motorable pass after Khardung La.  Pfft....easy peasy.  It's no problem here.....especially if you're doped with Diamox like I was :-)

Dorje gave us a short pitstop here so we all got out and walked around, taking a few photos here and there.

Everyone is taking pictures here.  Sometimes, you catch someone taking a shot of you so you return favor.  No one minds.

Of course, there were the usual requests for selfies.  This time the guys attempted to get Ayşe and I in the photo but as always, I managed to bow out....claiming I had to take a photo and so I did.

Then, I stood and watched while the guys took the selfie.  I escape another one....but that would not last long.

While Ayşe and I were busy taking photos with a smaller group of men, Chantale was busy with a much larger group!

After she did selfies with them, they insisted on a group photo including Ayşe and I.  I don't know who took the photo but it's the one that opens this blog post.  They were a super friendly and if I remember correctly, they were were Karnataka.  I only know Karnataka because Hampi is on my bucket list of places I have yet to visit in India. One day.  For sure.  They were so friendly that they even gifted Chantale with one of their t-shirts.  I have no idea what it says but from the image I'm guessing it was printed up to commemorate their road trip through Leh.

It's funny how they are not shy about being in photos.  The moment they spot you taking a picture, they stand in :-)

Photos over, we each found ourselves chatting with one or more members of the group.  As always, they were curious about us.  Is your first time in India?  hHow do you like India?  Where did you go in India?.....and on and on.  They kindly answered all my questions in return. I love these sorts of exchanges with people.  Without making human connections with locals, my trips would be utterly unfulfilling for me. I travel so I can understand the world and its people and you can't fully do that unless you engage with people when you travel.

Time truly does fly when you are having fun and we were having so much fun interacting with this group that we spent a half hour at Chang La.  Dorje was too kind to move us along but we quickly realized for us to go.  So we bid the group goodbye and safe journey and got back into the car to continue our drive to Pangong Tso.  It was more views of that stunning Ladakh landscape.  I am so glad I took all these photos so when I get home and am missing being the arms of pristine Mother Nature,  I can look back at the photos and dream of the day that I return.

A short drive later and we arrived into another checkpoint. This time, there was some sort of a procession taking place....with music.  While Dorje went off to do the needful with our passports and travel permits, we got out of the car to check out what was going on.

A group of villagers was walking and it didn't even dawn on me that perhaps they didn't speak English so I asked one man what was happening.  It was definitely a religious procession of some sort.  I asked him if it was a wedding and replied, "No".  At first I thought I heard him tell me that it was a "holiday" that they were celebrating but I thought what he really said was that it was a "holy day".  I though this because I noticed several of the men had what looked like Buddhist scriptures sandwiched between small planks of wood strapped to their backs.  Presumably, they were taking the scriptures either to or from the temple.  All this is sheer guessing on my part as I feel my questions and the guy's answers got a bit lost in translation.

One woman caught my attention.  It was her fuschia colored hat that I first noticed.  Seeing this woman made me realize that I had not a clue that are any tribes living in Ladakh.  See??  Pays to really do your pre-trip research cause had I known tribes existed here, I would have found a way to get to a village or two or may be even spend the night in a tribal village.  Based on her hat, this woman struck me as being very similar in appearance to these Perak woman as photographed by Jimmy Nelson.

Right across the street from all the villager activity going one was a group of Indian men on a work break.  I really feel sorry for these guys.  It's hard labor that they do and I'm sure all have left their families behind to come and work here.  I don't think they earn much at all - probably less than a US dollar a day.

Once Dorje was done and back in the car, we got back in as well.  Time to continue the drive.  More of that spectacular scenery.

Then, out of the blue I saw the trumpet sign.  Have not seen a single other road sign on the mountain road other than this one.  My guess is that it's a horn sign and hopefully, the drivers know why they need to use it.  I don't remember Dorje tooting the horn though.  Maybe he didn't see the sign?

Five hours after leaving Leh and I saw the first glimpse of turquoise blue in the far distance.  That is Pangong Tso.  We are about to arrive!