Ladakh Vacation - Day 6 - Nubra Valley, Khardungla, Panamik
Our drive to Pangong lake had been a rushed one - partly due to the time constraints but largely because our driver was a impatient man in his early 30s who had been driving trucks in the region since he was 16 and wanted to be over and done with it as fast as the terrain would permit. As luck would have it, H. H. The Dalai Lama was due to deliver a sermon in Leh on the day of our journey. Our driver suddenly discovered that he had a spiritual side too, and decided to take a day off to nurture it there. We thus found ourselves being driven to Nubra Valley by a mild-mannered, amiable man in his late 40s.
Within 90 minutes of starting from Leh, we had left the Stok range far behind and were headed for Khardungla Top. As we moved higher, the roads that we had left behind began to look like they were mere lines carelessly traced by a child in sand. Looking at these photos three weeks later, even I find it hard to believe that these were huge mountains with roads built on them. Only the presence of the Stok range in the background manages to convey some sense of scale.
As you get closer to Khardungla you begin to see a few mountains with snow at their summit. And then, after turning behind a mountain, the pass itself makes itself visible. The scene at the pass is almost festive - with colorful player flags, a hubbub of tourists and the ritual photo-taking alongside the yellow board proclaiming Khardungla to be the world’s highest motor-able road.
The down-hill drive from here gets progressively easier and sceneic - with deep blue skies, the Karakoram range in front, an occasional patch of green and road signs that; given their picturesque settings, seem to convey succinct, Zen-like wisdom.
We were again staying at a camp-site and although the tents here were fancier, they were as unbearably warm during the day as the tents at Uley had been. Fortunately, the place was a veritable Eden (with apricots filling in for apples).
In the evening, we went for a short drive to Panamik to see the hot-water springs. Given the landscape so far, my imagination had run wild and I had a picture of grand endless planes sourrounded by mountains with pools of hot, bubbling springs spewing steam and jets of hot water. The reality is often much duller and Panamik was no exception. An odd geyser or two inside a concrete enclosure is hardly what I had in mind.
We were at our camp just before sunset - things had cooled down fast and the very tent that was an inferno in the afternoon was now a snug inviting thing. The sort of setting where sleep comes effortlessly.