Suitcase and World: Stunning Beauty. Pangong Tso.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Stunning Beauty. Pangong Tso.

Five hours after we left Leh, we arrived into Pangong Tso, gorgeous turquoise colored water lake nestled in the Himalayas. Situated at an elevation of about 4,420 meters (14,500 feet), about a quarter of the lake is located with the borders of India, the rest is in China. It is considered a sacred by Tibetans. For me, it was just a breath taking sight.  I am so glad that we gave up the trek, which would have been might torturous for me, to come here.  The lake reminds me a lot of Yamdrok Tso which is a lake I visited when I was in Tibet in 2007.  For the gals, this is the first time they've ever seen scenery like this and I know they will not soon forget it.

We drove along the lakeshore for a while before arriving into a fairly area where there were a few pop up restaurants and what looked to be a couple of small, but permanent homestays.  There were plenty of tourists here, pretty much all Indians.  With the exception of a couple of European tourists I crossed paths with at the toilet facilities at Khardung La, I have not seen any non-Indian tourists other than the three of us.  That has made me very happy!

Dorje parked the car alongside several others and while walked off towards one of the pop up restaurants, all three of us headed up to a small hill in hopes for a nice view of the lake.  It was also opportunity to check out one of the guesthouses so we would have an idea of what type of accommodations are available here.  Very simple accommodations and okay for a night.

As we walked back down the hill, the girls noticed Dorje waving them towards him so they made their way towards the restaurant.....Momo Hut.  Gee, I wonder what they serve. 😁

Here's the menu.  Pretty much the same thing that all the other pop up restaurants were serving.

There were a few chairs and tables outside but the girls decided it was a bit too chilly for an al fresco lunch so inside we went.  The tent was quite spacious.  Aside from the three of us, there was no else eating.  Dorje had found himself at the rear of tent, where there was a comfortable bench to sit on.  He was enjoying a cup of warm yak butter tea and was waiting for a bowl of ramen to be served up.

Thankfully, the menu is in English and even though some of the words maybe lost in translation, it was good enough to figure out what our meal options were.  Not a whole lot of variety in meals here.

In the meantime, we ordered up our meals.

For the past few days, I have stuck with my reliable go-to meal.....veggie ramen with hot tea.

After we ate, we used the toilet facilities, bought a bag of potato chips for snacking later on and paid the bill.  Then, it was down to the lakeshore.

There were a few enterprising vendors with their yaks available for you to sit on and have your photo taken....for a fee of course.  There was also a yellow motorbike parked alongside a sign that read "3 Idiots Shooting Point".  

Update:  July 3, 2017.  The 3 Idiots reference is to a 2009 Bollywood movie that was filmed here.  The yellow scooter recalls the one that was ridden by one of the film's this exact spot at Pangong Tso.  So, again for a small fee, you can sit astride the motorbike, put on a helmet and recreate the scene from the movie.

I artfully dodged all the vendors so I could simply enjoy the view.   Now, if I can only get all the people around me to shut up so I can have sheer peace and quiet, that would be heaven.

I eventually walked to a spot where the nearest person was way, way, way off in the distance.  The only sound I heard was silence.  With the stunning beauty of the landscape filling my eyes and my ears free of distracting sounds, I was finally at place of peace and tranquility.

After a few minutes on my own, I spotted Ayşe and walked towards here.  A group of Indian men were trying to convince her to take a selfie with them but she literally turned the cellphone on them, offering to take their photo instead.  They were happy with that so she got out of being in the selfie.

Of course, she was happy to pose for a photo.  It wasn't hard to convince her.  How could she say no to this extraordinary backdrop?

I walked around the lake a bit - enough to take in this view of the small lot of pop up tent restaurants of which the Momo Hut is one.

There was also a stupa and what I would presume is a small temple situated on the shore of the lake.  I was too lazy to go and check it out but Chantale did.  The buildings were not open to visitors and the stupa was not much to look at.  I was surprised it was not painted white as that's the traditional color of Tibetan stupas so perhaps this one is just being built....not yet painted.

All three of us had scattered off into different directions but eventually we all met back up with each other and when we were ready to go, walked back together to the car.  Dorje was already waiting for us.  I think lunch and some rest did him good.  He looks like he's got some pep back.

Next, Dorje took us to a place where you can supposedly catch sight of many of the birds that call this lake home.  I'm always happy to see wildlife though when he said birds, it actually dawned on me that I hadn't noticed any birds flying around.  I had just attributed that to the altitude but relatively speaking, 14,500 feet is not that high up in elevation as far as birds are concerned.  After all, we saw flamingos at about the same elevations in the Atacama Desert in Chile.

As we drove along, I rolled down the window to shoot the snippet of video. There was just enough wind to drown out my words but do enjoy the view as we did!

Enroute to our destination, Chantale spotted a small group of photographers....the tripods were the sign, perched out on a view point.  She was curious they were up to so she asked Dorje to pull over.

Turns out they had their cameras set up to do a timelapse video of the clouds moving over the lake.  Of course, she and they immediately bonded.  We found out the three men and one woman are all friends from Bangladesh.  Two of the men and the woman are architects and the one man works in telecommuniciations.

The gang of four is traveling together through Ladakh and are heading towards Leh.

Update:  January 2018.  Shortly after I returned home from Ladakh, I got Facebook friend requests from two of the young Bangladeshis - the woman whose name is Safa Binte Safiullah and the telecomm guy - Shahria Alam Khan.  Shahria recently posted up a link to the timelapse video he did on his trip through Ladakh.  It includes a segment of video shot at Pangong Tso.

Here's his video. 

When Chantale discovered that the foursome would be returning to this very same spot, at sunset, she decided she would join them so with that plan in hand, we bid them "see you later" and continued our drive to what was suppose to be our bird viewing area.

Well, the bird viewing area turned out to be a bust - I didn't see a single winged creature hovering in the skies above me.  After a few minutes of trying to spot something moving in the air above me, I gave up and just took in more of the views around me.

I had brought along my 360fly camera with me in hopes I would get amazing 360 degree views of this place but I was running into one problem after another using it and eventually gave up.  I think I need a lot more practice using it - homework assignment for when I get home.  In the meantime, I resorted to just taking a serial sequence of photos which I then stitched together to produce this panoramic view of the mountains.  The sliver of turquoise on the left is Pangong Tso.   One of the cars parked on the far right of the photo is ours.

Pangong Tso, Ladakh, India
Panoramic view of the area around Pangong Tso. Use the horizontal scroll bars to pan to see the entire photo.

With no birds to admire, we didn't stay long here.  Our next task was to find our resting spot for the night.

Dorje drove us to a Tibetan homestay and the girls checked it out.  In fact, I let the girls do all the checking because for me, as long as the bed and bathroom are clean, I'm okay and even if the bathroom is not attached, I'm okay.  I can really rough it!  The owner wanted 300 rupees for each of us and there was no attached bathroom.  The girls were not keen on the *no attached bathroom* idea, so we moved on.  Next, we checked out one of the camp sites.  The camps here are quite nice and the tents look comfortable.  The owner wanted 4000 rupees....with no attached bathroom....where would you have a bathroom attached to a tent??  So, we went back to another Tibetan homestay.  This time, the owner wanted 600 rupees for a room with no attached bathroom; 1200 rupees (about $18 USD) for a room with an attached bath.  Only caveat was that there was just one bed with two pillows at the moment; the owner with bring in a 3rd pillow.  So we talked it over.  I told them it was their decision.  They decided with the second homestay - the room with the attached bath.  For $18 USD, this is what they put up in. 😁

Our digs at Pangong Tso.

The door to our room is behind that cloth fencing....just where you see the bamboo poles.

Open door to our room on the right.

The bed sans the one extra pillow.

The attached bathroom.  We paid the extra $9 for this 😁

The view from our window.  I think the tents would have been nicer accommodations for the night.

Happy for now....

She broke her only pair of glasses so I tried to repair them with a BandAid. 😁

We didn't have much to relax in the room.  That was probably a good thing as there wasn't anything to do here.  Before we knew it, it was time to get ready to head back outside to meet up with the Bangladeshis.  We prepared for real cold, pretty much wearing every item of clothing we had brought along.

I lost count after 3 layers. 😁

Chantale even borrowed Ayşe's rain jacket to add an extra layer. 

I'm not much of a sunset photographer so my plan was to just shoot a few photos and then stay inside the car.  Chantale would be outside more so she really needed to bundle up!   What adventure travel fashionistas we are! 😁

By the time we arrived back at the view point,  the Bangladheshis were already there.  I don't know that they ever left the spot.  In any case, the sun was quickly making its way down the horizon so it was perfect timing as it meant Chantale still have enough time to set up her tripod and camera.

It was windy and cold when we got out of the car.  For sure I was not going to be spending much time outside the car!

I took exactly three photos of the lake against the setting sun.  Here's one of the three shots.

Then, it was just a matter of waiting for the sun to go down, the magical blue hour to appear and then we would be done. 

Safa chattng with Chantale.

I wanted to take a group shot and ordinarily, I have very steady hands but with the wind and the cold, my only group shot turned out fuzzy 😒

From left to right:  Shahria, Chantale, Safa, Ayşe and the other two guys whose names I never got.

Once I snapped the photo, I dashed back to the car where it was much warmer.  Dorje had leaned his seat back and was taking a nap.  I just watched the activity taking place outside the car.

It wasn't long before the blue hour came and went.  The Bangladeshis were planning to stay on to try and capture shots of the Milky Way.  Chantale would have stayed on as well if not for the fact that she really properly dressed to deal with the cold - the temperature would continue to drop as night settled in.

We decided to bid the Bangladeshis goodbye - Chantale had already exchanged contact info with them as she plans to meet up with them in Leh.  Turns out that Shahria is a space buff and Chantale wants to give him one of the NASA medallions that she had brought along with her to hand out as gifts.  He's one of the lucky recipients and I told her that at least it's going to someone who will truly appreciate it.

Update:  November 2017.  Sharia proudly showing off the NASA medallion that Chantale gifted him.  He indicated that one day he will pass along to someone who aspires to be the first astronaut from Bangladesh.  Wouldn't it be cool if the medallion ended up back on the moon?

Dorje dropped us of outside our room and we stepped inside just briefly to use the facilities.  It was time to head out in search of some place to have dinner.  Well, there aren't a lot of choices here.  In fact, there was only one place here.  Our homestay owner had pointed out the place when he stopped by earlier in the afternoon, with the extra pillow.

From our room, we made our way over to another tented building.  Outside of our room, there were no lights; we had our flashlights and headlamps to shine the way to the *restaurant*. 

Loud music was blaring from a speaker as we stepped inside the chilly room that was filled with just a few small plastic tables and chairs.  I thought I had taken pictures of the place but I can't find them anywhere in my photo album.  Needless to say, it wasn't a place of interest.  There were two young guys working behind the counter; they were the cooks too. We placed our orders for bowls of ramen and plates of rice.  You can imagine how quickly we downed our food.  I think we were back in our room in less than 20 minutes.

It was 9:45p when we got back to our room and well, with pretty much nothing else to occupy us, we decided to hit the sack.  Good idea as tonight it would take the girls longer to get ready to get into bed that it usually would.  First, we each had to wait our turn to use the bathroom.  Things didn't work so well in there.  Like the water faucet.  Turn it on and instead of draining into a pipe, it just flowed down the stem of the sink onto the floor.  Hmmm....  Luckily, the toilet flushed okay.  No need to bother with whether or not the shower would work as none of the three of us was planning to use it.  Too cold for a shower!

Then it was time for the girls to get into their Cocoon Silk Mummy Liners (silk liners for mummy sleeping bags) which I had strongly recommended they purchase for this trip and which they wisely took my advice.  Of course, I died laughing watching them get into the cocoons.

Then, they had to figure out how to get themselves from standing position into sleeping position.  More laughter from me. 

One lump aka Ayşe down for the night.

The bed had been made with several layers of blankets.  I knew I didn't need all the layers so I laid the extra ones atop the two of them.  I also got the side of the bed where I could open up the window a sliver to bring in some fresh air.  I thought I had packed in my Silk Cocoon Mummy Liner as well but I could not find it at all in my suitcase.  I just hope I didn't lose it somewhere along the way as it's not a cheap item to buy.  In any case, I had no problems slipping into bed and once I laid my head down on the pillow, with a bit of cool air drafting over my face, I knew it would be a good night's rest for me. 
Two lumps aka Ayşe and Chantale down for the night.

Tomorrow, we are heading back to Leh.  Prayers and wishes that our journey will not be delayed by avalanches!

Goodnight from Pangong Tso!