The Journey so far…
Day 4 (Second Half) | Tso Moriri – Sumdo – Mahe – Nyoma – Loma – Hanle
It was a great fun filled an hour or so, near the banks of Tso Moriri lake before we actually started towards Hanle, our night stop for the day at about 11.15 AM. Again the land was so barren and remote, made us feel right into the lap of mother nature and the Himalayas. Beauty, ever so serene, ever so bold, ever so barren and ever so harsh… Only few days in today’s modern age of life, you see or witness such things!! I was in a state of trance with the nature, floating in the dreams ogling at the beauty outside the car windows… We saw so many wild horses, running around, grazing… giving it a final touch of heaven :)… Once we crossed, Kiagar Tso finally after about 30 odd KMs the road appeared back and it was some sign of relief. Finally, some civilization as we saw a local of Sumdo Village standing in between road, asking for lift upto the village. We had space in the car so a “Juley” and got him with us and dropped him at Sumdo, a Juley again and with smiles, we moved on… Around 12.45 PM we reached Mahe bridge, which brought us back to main road. There is a small Dhabha at Mahe where we had black tea, Maggie and Thupka. After about half an hour we left for Hanle…
Hanle is about 150 KMs from Mahe and the road runs through Nyoma and then Loma, where you need to pass the bridge on right that takes you to Hanle further 50 KMs ahead of Loma. Hats off to BRO, that they have created such smooth roads in the cold desert at such high altitude and harsh conditions. As you move towards Hanle, the size of the mountains starts to decrease and you start witnessing a series of small mountains clustered together giving a feeling of a different world altogether. The journey to Nyoma – Loma and up to Hanle is extremely nice with beautiful vistas all around you and in fact it is one of those journeys which I can go ever and ever again… I had never been to such a beautiful place ever. Roads were freshly laid but with caution, do not cruise as there are inverted bumps left on the roads so that the water passes by, so be careful with the drive :)…
We passed through Nyoma, which is nothing a small village primarily the army settlement and recently was in news for Jawans and Seniors clash, we clicked few pictures and moved on. Another 30 minutes and we were at Loma, where the is a checkpost and one have to submit the permits there before moving ahead either towards Tsaga – Chusul – Pangong Tso route or want to go to Hanle. In both cases, permits need to be submitted at Loma checkpost. Again, army is extremely strict here and you cannot take the picture of any bridge including the Loma bridge. In fact, norms are such strict that there is no off-roading allowed in side whole of Changthang and is primarily on of the violations most people make, which lets DC office stop issuing the permits. Any ways back to story, we submitted the permits and didn’t dare to get out of the car due to some scary dogs watching at us 🙂 … We submitted the permits and moved into the interiors of the cold desert towards Hanle.
As we moved in, the vistas were becoming more and more beautiful, some of the mountains looked like pyramids of Egypt… The natural light play over the peaks was as majestic as the freshly laid roads. Finally, what I was looking for “Kiangs – The Tibetan Wild Asses”, who are pretty shy by nature and mostly feed upon the rarest of vegetation found in this harsh terrain. Kiangs are mostly found in Changthang region of Ladakh and Moore Plains at Manali – Leh Highway. They are extremely shy and runs away on blink of your eyes but nice to watch and shoot them. As soon as we saw, the Nikkor 70-300 came out of the bag and clicked few distant shots of them, all thanks to the Nikkor 70-300 to get those shots. We didn’t found a single person en-route so far and were traveling all alone. Around 15.15 PM we finally reached Hanle by passing the road that leads you to Photi La, soon to be the Highest Motorable Road in India. Photi La is about 18,130 odd feet by GPS and would ideally become of the highest one leaving behind Khardung La whose actual GPS height is about 17580 feet only. Semo La in Tibet (5565 m or 18,253 feet) is presently the Highest Motorable road of the World.
Hanle has a lovely Hanle Monastery offering some great aerial views of whole village that is a home of about 1000 people. The views from the top of monastery are just breath-taking. Even after hearing some scary stories of ghosts and all we decided to pay visit to this lovely monastery. It was too cold out and the approach road to monastery top was with full of loose gravel and rough. We were anyhow very much excited, took so many pictures of the mind-blowing backdrop (the way we cam from) and the front Aerial views of the Hanle village. The monk of the monastery came rushing on the pulsar, to let us see the inside of the monastery. We offered prayers, took so many pictures from the terrace and went towards monastery.
Hanle also houses an Indian Astronomical Observatory which is the world’s highest observatory in the world at a staggering height of 4500 Mtrs. The Hanle Observatory is operated by Indian Institute of Astrophysics, Bengaluru and has currently the currently the second highest optical telescope in the world, about 2.01 meters (6.5 feet) diameter. As we reached the top, wind was blowing with such force that we kept feeling of being blown away 😀 … Some how, gasping for breath we managed to reach the top from parking lot and went in to see the telescope. Reading starts at around 5.30 PM every evening and if you like can see how the telescope opens and starts reading the sky and witness its monster size. We were unlucky as the sky was not clear that day and control was taken by Bengaluru office. But, they offered to see us the vide recording in which we were not that much interested. We had the bookings for the Observatory guest house but was for next day and they did not took our request to manage it a day prior 🙁 … So, after some more pictures, outside and around, we went down to Khaldo Village at the foothill and started search for accommodation.
Accommodation at Hanle
There is Hanle observatory guest house which is the only decent accommodation available at Hanle. For bookings, you have to write to the Director, Indian Institute of Astrophysics at Bengaluru. If he agrees for the booking and approve your request then you can stay there but no alterations in the date would be entertained and hence, you will have to reach the same day when it has been booked.
Other options of stay at Hanle are homestays:
The homestay is at village Khaldo very very close to observatory. One homestay is near the start of the village and has a landline phone. Ask locals about homestay which has phone. The rooms are decent but the prices are hay-way as the owner is greedy types. There is one more homestay at the end of this village just before pasture land starts which is run by a lady named Padmadeskit (ask for this name). We stayed at this only and found it OK to stay. Do not expect too much out of a homestay. This one is more loyal to tourists as other one charge too much if he sees more tourists.
Rigzin was all that helpful in search the accommodation for us at Padmadeskit. We placed our baggage in the room and had cup of tea with biscuits. She also runs a shop in side the house as general store. As the evening set in, the coldness started to increase and we decided to have a long walk up to the grazing pasture lands at the back side of the guest house. So, many horses were grazing out there and it purely looked magical. After some pictures we were back to our room. It was getting colder and colder, so came up the layer of one more woollens. The toilet was outside the house and was ladakhi style dry pit, so we decided to use it as the last light of the day was left. After some rest it was time for the dinner and thankfully electricity came up which allowed us to eat in light and get our mobile/camera batteries charged up. The room where dinner was served had a bukhari running that kept the room very much warm and let us have the tasty dinner cooked by the lady. But, sitting in the bukhari room got us warm and once we came out, it was so cold that sudden change in temperatures got us shivering. Without wasting a second, we immediately went into the double quilts and after a while shivering settled to let us peacefully sleep for the rest of night with dazzling dreams of the day 🙂 !!
The Journey ahead…