The Journey so far…
Day 3 | Leh – Stakna – Hemis – Chumathang
It was 6 AM in the morning and I woke up with some great sunrise views of Stok Kangri range from the window. The night was pleasant and in fact did even knew when sleep took over the senses. Weather was again little dark and we have to leave by 8 AM. Today was an important day as we were all set to leave Leh for next 5 days in order to explore the remote parts of Changthang region of Ladakh better called Cold Desert. Excitement was raising day by day even though I was not getting the pictures of popped clouds with blue background due to overcast conditions but personal experience was just exhilarating. I decided to take a bath in the cold conditions even with whatever lukewarm water we had in our guest house. Immediately after the bath I realized that I had done a mistake 😀 … Soon, both Tejas and Himanshu were also ready and we went out for breakfast at about 7.30 AM to Lamayuru restaurant Like last night food, we had an awesome breakfast too and fell into love with the taste of Lamayuru. Soon the call came from Rigzin asking the whereabouts and we were all set for the remotest journey of our lives…
We paid Rs 1000 to the owner lady at Glacier View Guest House, for two days, thanked her and Juley!! Rigzin was all smiling again and since, Chang La was closed last day we decided to do the circuit in reverse direction starting from Tso Moriri rather as earlier planned via Pangong Tso. Hence, the planned target for overnight stay became Chumathang rather than Tangste On the way, we decided to cover few monasteries that falls on the way including Shey Palace, Thicksey Monastery, Stakna Monastery and Hemis Monastery We told Rigzin that we will cover any two on the way towards Tso Moriri and remaining two on the way back from Pangong Tso Rigzin decided to skip Shey and Thicksey and headed to Stakna Monastery.
We moved along Manali – Leh Highway towards Karu / Upshi leaving Shey Palace and Thicksey monastery behind. Just after Thicksey about 25 KMs from Leh, there is right diversion that goes over Indus River through a lovely bridge to Stakna monastery. It was founded way back in 16th century by Bhutanese scholar and its name literally means “tiger’s nose” being built on top of a hill shaped like Tiger. Monastery houses the remains of the scholar’s wardrobe, equipment used, beautiful scriptures and fine art painting over the whole walls of monastery gives it a great charm. We explored how they preserve their books in an organized and peculiar way. It was an extremely insightful session by the monk present in the monastery. The view of Thicksey monastery from outside Stakna monastery complex was a treat to the eyes as aqua coloured Indus River flows at the bottom of the scene. After spending some good amount of time we left for Hemis Monastery.
Instead of taking route along Karu, (main road) Rigzin took the shortcut through the pasture lands behind Stakna Monastery. The road was in very bad shape at most places but somehow we managed to reach the ascending roads to Hemis monastery. The ascend was quite steep and for the first time I started to have a mild headache as we reached Hemis. Hemis monastery is about 47 KMs from from Leh was developed way back 11th century but was re-established back again in 1672. Hemis houses a a museum where you can see the beautiful art work, wardrobes, equipment, arms used by deities in Buddhist mythologies. This monastery also hosts a famous festival honouring Padmasambhava every year in early June. We paid the entry fee of Rs 50 per person and entered the complex where the preparation for the festival was going on as monks were dancing to the soothing music. We explored the museum quickly as it was pretty cold down in the basement and feet were getting almost numb due to coldness down there. We quickly cam out and headed back to our vehicle and called up Rigzin to get going again. Meanwhile Rigzin came in we got a chance to change the long lens and shoot the Lord buddha statue present atop of a hill in front of Hemis complex. In came Rigzin and we were all set to head toward Chumathang now. As we descended, the headache started to lower but still I was not feeling 100% fit and this was not a good sign when you ascend to high altitude 🙁
Upshi – Chumathang Hot Springs
We decided to halt for lunch at Upshi, which is about 60 Ms from Leh, as Rigzin was hungry and we also wanted a bit rest before you start the long part of the journey. As we ordered food for Rigzin we decided to have some black tea which settled my headache a bit. It was cold, shall I say very cold. We bought some wafers and biscuits as well so as to keep ourselves fine upto 4 PM types as Chumathang was about 88 KMs from Upshi. At Upshi, we had to leave the Manali – Leh Highway which goes to right towards Taglang La and Manali where as Chumathang is on the left side road which further goes to Loma, Hanle into the Changthang region of Ladakh.
As we ran few KMs into the road towards Tso Moriri, we just had a landslide ahead and waited for it to get cleared. After about half an hour, it was cleared and we were again all set to run towards the Chumathang There is no civilians settlement before Chumathang where you can get something to eat so Wafers and Biscuits we just bought was a perfect decision. The vistas enroute are much like you are running between the canyons because of narrow valley like terrain. The Indus river flows aside you and so as the mountains on both the sides. The color of the Indus River was almost green and at many places it was still frozen into white snow. There came a ruined bridge where we stopped for a while and had nice photo session. We tried to step over the bridge but didn’t have the courage to do so apart from Rigzin who jumped across it in no time 🙂 … After some smiling moments, off we were again on road.
Sadly, after a while the road widening operation was under way and bulldozers were at work to completely throw huge wall of rocks below. This wasn’t going to get over soon, so wafers were the rescue here as it took about 1 Hr to get the clearance from the BRO guys. We started again and my headache was back again. Not sure, what it was, AMS or the side effects of morning bath, perhaps the latter. In between, as we passed Kiary hamlet, an idiot had placed his truck leaving almost very little space to let other vehicle pass by aside the gorge. He was drilling into the mountain to plant the blasts for blasting and as Rigzin asked him to give the side, some exchange of helping verbs between the GREF guys and Rigzin and soon between us. The idiot was not ready to give the space even when there was plenty on the side of mountain where he was drilling. As we were having words with him, Rigzin in frustration took the risk and in one go, got the vehicle from the narrow space aside 😯 … I could not believe my eyes as the tiers were almost on the edge of the cliff at one stage and Tejas who was only sitting with him had his heart in the mouth 😀 … Ahh!! We took some easy breathes and again threw some helping verbs to the idiot GREF guys and helped one more Xylo behind us to get through and were back on the way to Chumathang. The conditions were pretty cold and the cold wind was making the matters worse but scenery held us along 🙂 We took some clicks at the “3 Idiots” shooting point near the bridge as well.
Soon, we reached Chumathang where the Dhabha/restaurant owner runs a basic guest house and a general store that almost had everything on offer, be it baby’s Lactogen/Farex or be it boy’s old monk 😉 and everything in between… All the army jawans around come over to dhabha for any such requirements 😀 … He asked us to select the room and we decided onto one and were surprised to see the Bathtub (though self made) but it was there 😯 … The room was pretty basic but that is what we only needed, a place to sleep. Chumathang has natural hot springs and the water coming out of it was super hot!! I was surprised to see such hot water even in such cold conditions, thank god I put my hands into is cautiously. I put on a layer of thermals more as it was getting colder and colder, even Rigzin had a headache there as my trouble kept increasing. We tried to sleep for a while before ordering food for the night at late evening. As we stepped out around 6 PM, whooaaa… the super cold wind was almost trying to sweep us with it. Quickly we ran to the restaurant where the ladies started preparing dinner for us as the sunset concludes. The headache was troubling me alot but there was no other sign of nausea or fatigue which was a good signal as it might not be AMS but the cold wind into my wet head 🙁 … I was cursing myself why I took the bath!! Within half an hour, dinner was ready and as we had it, wow, it was very tasty and almost gave us the feeling of home. Dal, Mutter Paneer, Curd, Rice and Tawa Roties were much welcomed as we concluded the dinner with black tea. Juley to everyone including the ladies who cooked such nice food and we were back to our room for a good night sleep.
I knew it was not going to be easy night to sleep and I took a doze of a headache medicine and slept in sitting posture for about 3-4 Hrs. Finally, the sweet sleep set into the senses and I was dreaming for the next day for colours of Tso Moriri lake…
The Journey ahead…