Thursday, June 17, 2010

Chang La - 17586ft

I haven't written for so long!! Don't know where all the time went. In studying, running around to get projects for the next sem, working on my US visa (YES, finally!!!), cramming for the compres, completing more formalities and fighting with half of Bangalore (as usual x-(… ), packing and repacking to get everything less than 23 kilos and travelling ad settling down in nothing less than a new country and a new continent! Whew!! Experiences galore and no time to write. Well finally I'm going to catch up as much as I can since I promised to keep folks back home updated on what's happening so here goes. Last we left in Uleytokpo… Cut to 2 days later in a new hotel gobbling down breakfast to leave for Pangong!

This was the best ride I have had yet! We were so excited already as we would be going to the third highest pass in the world. So we start of early for the long ride and the sun and chill air greets us. The climb to the pass starts a little away from Leh in a new direction from the previous trip. We had an amazing melody of Hindi songs for company we blissfully started the climb. Then comes the checkpost at 15000-odd feet. Till now, note that the cars windows were open, we were enjoying the wind, with ears popping due to a steep climb. Of course, the layers Mom was weaing were growing every few thousand feet that we rose but Dad and I decided to wing it! Boy! was that crazy of us. We get down at the checkpost for a relief break and the chilness hit me full force. Goosebumps break out the shivers compared to the heebee-jeebies you get at the worst horror movies. Of course, that didn’t stop me from half trotting to the mobile restroom (The army guys are sweet enough to keep one for civillians and women too!). Then I felt the world go tipsy!! The oxygen is very low even at that altitude and I half jumped out of my skin which still didn’t help to set the world right! Then the advice to take medication for high altitudes made sense! We popped some as soon as we reached the car!!!

Then we moved on through quite treacherous roads. Simply because the snow on these levels erode the road put by the Army. It was extremely bumpy and slow and we could see snow peeking from crevices a little higher than us on our mountain! As we rode higher, it only got better. We could now see those crevices lower than us!! We were actually higher than some remnant snow!! To the amusement of our driver, we asked about snow (again!) at the passes and he coolly asked us to wait and watch or that he would get us some from near the pass :)… Then we approach near the pass and the saw the best was still to come! The peak right next to the road was a white carpet of snow we were really tempted to carry home! To ski on that slope would have been unimaginable wonderful.

Then we finally reached the pass - Chang La - 17586ft, the 3rd highest pass in the world! We had never been this high ever before in our lives. It was exhilarating to breath there. See and understand the achievement of our army to succeed in some awesome engineering and make road at this altitude. The army is very friendly to civilians here. They have a small stall where the keep hot, sweet, elaichi chai with dalchini. Its like elixir in the cold, gives your body the kick to breathe harder and deal with the altitude. There are also biscuits (Parle G of course) and raisins and cashews - free for all on the table. The army guys are also chatty here, happy to see other humans in a place with a population density of 2/km. One can't thank them enough! There is a temple at these passes, dedicated mostly to Shiva to guard everyone at the pass. And one is advised not to spend more than half an hour at these passes as the body is not trained to take it.

As we moved on, thoroughly satisfied, there was still more to come! Snow right by the road and in places, higher than the car (and this was a Sumo type car we are talking about). I could almost touch and the endless delight was just too much to contain so all I could do was whip out the camera and not stop clicking everything. Those images are burnt into my head now… so hard did I want to remember it! Imagine a small muddy bumpy curvy road, 1.5 car lengths wide with not much runoff. One side, the dark mountain's mud slopes and on the other, a steep drop into ravines. And on the mountain, snow, glistening in the sun, a shimmer here and then there all the way to the top. A carpet you could sink into sometimes covered with the dust blown from the mountains. And a carpet that has been left with the footprints of a herd of giants! Heaven couldn't get much more satisfying than what I felt then.

As we moved down the pass on the other side, the snow stuck on the flat part of the mountain was a likening to the Hanging gardens of Babylon. A beautiful sight, you couldn’t peel your ice from. Then more of nature's surprises come out from a frozen lake at a much lower altitude and even a half frozen one! Then it was all about going down, down and down some more till you suddenly hit the valleys seen from above. Then all you see is brown barren land and huge mountains rising from nowhere. Nestled among them further behind are white sheets of snow on which are delightful to spot for fleeting seconds as the car races on the plain flat roads. Another checkpost later, we realize the song collection had changed! The Australian group we had met at Uleytokpo were coming to Pangong too in a minibus. Our drivers had exchanged their collection to suit our needs. The collection was just superb! Made the ride all the more fun. The landscape was changing and the excitement to reach Pangong was
rising... More on that soon...