6/11/2009 to 6/25/2009 | India , Ladakh

Around Leh and Pangong Lake with Karin & Jeff

I was excited to leave Delhi for Leh, not only for the obvious weather considerations, and I was certainly anxious to leave the heat of Delhi for the cool crisp mountain air of Ladakh, but rather to see sister, Karin, and brother-in-law, Jeff, who were coming to visit. I had not seen them since they visited a year and a half ago. Apparently various gastrointestinal illnesses, being dragged around on Indian public transportation, and nights in very “budget” accommodation on there first visit had not dissuaded them from returning. Either married life has led to short term memory loss or they really like me. My aunts and my cousin, Josh (who has notably not inquired about returning to Asia since our trip together in China and Tibet), were questioning the sanity of returning for more “punishment,” at the hands of this third world junky. It did take a little bit of a harder sell to get Jeff to agree; perhaps he was still slightly traumatized from seeing pigs dive into his diarrhea on an al natural toilet run in a village in Rajasthan, or having flashbacks of a long flight back to the states with a case of Delhi Belly, assuring ample use of both the vomit bag and the lavatory at the rear of the plane. Ah yes, India, the country that follows you home. Nevertheless, I was very happy they had decided to return and join me in Ladakh.

Our fist couple days we spent visiting monasteries around Leh including Spituk, Shey, and we also caught the morning prayer ceremony at Thiksey. After a couple days letting Karin and Jeff adjust to the altitude in Leh we took a 2 day trip to Pangong Lake via a shared jeep arranged by my friend Mohan, who was working as a travel agent in Leh. There were 6 of us in the jeep the three of us, a British guy, and a couple of Swiss girls. Apparently the road up to the Chang La, was somewhat stressful for the uninitiated in travel along the mountain roads of Asia. I personally did think it was that bad, but Jeff wrote afterwards in an email to friends and family:

“For me, the toughest part of the excursion was the jeep ride to the lake. In order to get there we had to cross a 5,380 meter pass (17,646 feet) – the highest altitude we’ve reached. Although I felt a bit light headed, it was my nerves that were shot! The bulk of that ascent (keep in mind Leh is at about 3,500 meters) was climbed over switchbacks on virtually a one lane road (which I’m sure the Indians call a two lane road) with no guard rails, and on average a 1,000 foot drop to your death with one small mistake by our driver…whom we all had decided wasn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer. Nevertheless, among the oncoming traffic and the blind turns around the mountain, we made it to the top – I’m convinced the mild altitude sickness was due to dehydration after losing gallons of water of sweat through my palms. ”

This no doubt only added to the growing lore back in the states that I try to kill anyone who is kind enough to come out and visit me, my cousin Josh having already spread, throughout my extended family, numerous versions of our “exciting” trip back from Ganzi in China. Maybe the scarier thought should be that all of my close calls came when I was traveling alone and the aforementioned incidents would even come close to making the top 10.

After we had descended from the pass we were slightly delayed by the motorcade of a high Lama who was traveling the same route. The villagers and nomads along the way were dressed in their finest attire to receive the important guest. Along one roadside stop after the Lama had left, we were graciously offered the “leftovers,” warm sweet yak’s milk and biscuits. Well not really yak’s milk because a yak is a male (kind of like saying bull’s milk) but the female yak whose name I always forget, anyway you get the picture.

I had not been to Pangong on my previous trip to Ladakh, which was why I had included it our itinerary. In addition I thought it would be good for acclimatization for Karin and Jeff to sleep at 4300 m (14,100 ft) before we started our trek. The 130 km long lake straddles the line of control between India and China, the eastern half of the lake was taken by China in the 1962 war and the exact border is still disputed. The deep blue water is in stark contrast with the surrounding barren desert mountains. As spectacular as the scenery by day was, equally impressive was the night sky from this high arid vantage point during the new moon. After eating we all stood outside for a good half hour despite the cold staring up in wonder at the star filled sky.

It seems I can’t go anywhere without hiking up higher to get a better view point, every pass I cross I always scale the ridge to one side. The lake was no exception, and since we arrived at Pangong I had my eye on a hill that rose up about 700 m (~2300 ft) behind the village of Spangmik, where we were staying. I had informed the others of my plans to climb it the next morning with open offer for anyone to join me. Despite a tepid and skeptical response the night before everyone in our group decided to make the hike. It took about 2 hours in the high altitude but everyone made it to the top and appreciated the sweeping panoramic view of the lake.

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