As you descend the 17,586 ft high Chang La to get to Pangong Tso (‘lake’), you see a sign at Durbuk: ‘Welcome to the land of beautiful mountains and blue water lake.’
It’s a sweet spot. Maintained in an eco-friendly manner. There’s a bright green litter bin yet some visitors throw food wrappers along the lake. People!
On a rocky patch, there’s another sign, ‘Ice hockey, the sport of Eastern Ladakh, promoted by Army’. The area is also the world’s highest army habitat it seems; only the sign read ‘Arty Habitat’. Creative, eh?
I met Kunchuk, 9, starting his 5 km walk to school, being seen off by his mother, grandfather and baby brother Phunsuk. The family subsists on a meagre agricultural income but they are always smiling, and Kunchuk just loves going to school.
On a rough strip of road, my car tyre ripped. And I still had the infamous Pagal Nala (‘mad stream’) to negotiate. It’s slippery and treacherous; you have to drive across it on tenterhooks. One wrong move and you’ll need a crane to pull you out. In the middle of nowhere. Cross it before noon because the sun melts the ice later and the slush is hell to drive on. A passenger bus had broken down there, so I had to go around on an even more perilous path.
But I made it. And the first view of the gorgeous glacial lake is more than worth it.
Read many more such features in Ajay Jain’s pictorial travelogue, Postcards from Ladakh.