The Zanskar Odyssey - Kargil to Rangdum
Day 3 of the trip
After a long journey from Leh to Kargil and the pleasant surprise at Mulbekh monastery, we slept peacefully on day 2 and had planned to start our day 3 at 4:30 in the morning. We were going to travel from Kargil to Rangdum. Though the distance is just about 130 kms, the roads are close to non-existent and with a team of all time energetic photographers; it was difficult to reach Rangdum sooner than than 11-12 hours. As we started from Kargil, our first place of visit on the way was Imambara - a beautiful mosque in the Trespone village, oddly 20 kms away from Kargil. The mosque is located on a hilltop and reflects a quaint mix of Islamic and Tibetan elements in its construction style and location. It was so cold that we sighted water vapor coming out of mouth as we breathed. As the mosque was closed, we quickly moved. It was amazing to see some sun rays cutting through the might of Himalayas. Our next stop was at a village called Sankoo where shops had opened giving us an opportunity to have breakfast as well as some early morning street action.
Next we drove another 45 kms to Panikhar which is a huge green expanse of Suru Valley. The beauty of this area was amplified by 2 beautiful snow-capped peaks emerging out of Himalayas ahead of us. We realized these were the Nun-Kun towering high and building a majestic skyline. The twin peaks of Nun and Kun, around 23,000 feet high (Around 6000 feet short of Mt. Everest) are the highest in the Zanskar range in Ladakh and are separated by a snowy plateau of about 4 km in length. A green patch of grass besides the road, Suru river passing calmly making the only sounds we could here apart from the wind rustling our hair, cold piercing our jackets as the white twins ahead of us commanded our undivided attention. We had to take a group photo here.
After much reluctance to leave such an amazing place, we moved on. We kept stopping briefly at number of villages on our way which gave us some photographic opportunities to capture the village houses as well as some cute kids on their way to school. Since there would be one school for various nearby villages, we could see really young kids walking few miles everyday to reach their school, some posed for us, some were scared of us.
Driving 15 more kms accompanied by the Suru river, we reached the hill slopes of Parkachik-La. Parkachik Glacier is a majestic mass of ice moving slowly down the Nun-Kun slopes. This ice mass falls finally into the Suru River, providing a magnificent view of the huge ice-fall. After Panikhar the road became an unmetalled dirt track; such that we were leisurely driving at a pace averaging about 15-20 km/ hr. All along the way from Kargil, the Suru River kept us company. The roadside was adorned by fall colored grass and shrubs. This added a unique dimension to the scene. Slowly the greenery started getting sparse and all life that was left were patches of grass valleys here and there along the sides of the river. We took a break near another snow clad mountain, a point where we saw the first stupa on the way with some Tibetan prayer flags. The point marked the end of Islamic area of Kargil and beginning of Buddhist area of Zanskar.
We next stopped someplace on the way with a lot of horses grazing besides the river cutting through the snow-capped mountains. Lots of food around, pure water to drink, views that people pay thousands to see, no one except a few enthusiastic photographers to disturb them and not a thing in the world to care about... What a life these horses might have! We also saw some sheep and not to forget the cute little marmots. Marmots are large squirrels found only around mountainous areas. All they do is sunbath lazily on rocks and live under the ground. We found many marmots sunbathing and giving a loud whistle on seeing us which is a danger call to fellow marmots.
As we moved on we came across some beautiful lakes with sparkling fresh pristine waters. The landscape was stunning that we almost wanted to stay there for rest of our lives. There were very few villages on the way and they too had a handful of houses. We wondered how people might live here, middle of nowhere befriending tyrannical mountains and bitter climate. The roads kept worsening as the unmetalled dirt track we were on since Parkachik gave way to barely visible trail. Tiredness was now giving way to aches everywhere. We were soon on a flatland full of stones where vehicles could create their own paths and streams of water could be found anywhere. We could see few mountains at distance with a strange pattern on it, as if nature created wavy lines on rocks by brushing its fingers on them. We saw a small hill at the bottom of the textured mountains with a monastery on top. Rangdum was finally in sight.
We reached Rangdum late in the afternoon and charged ourselves with one of the best Dal-Chawal servings at the only restaurant located in the vast plains of the area of Rangdum. The poor road condition has preserved the virgin beauty of this place as not many tourists care or rather dare to visit Rangdum. We reached our place of stay for the night which was a lovely campsite located amidst the barren mountains on all the sides. Some of us were still very energetic after a long day travel to visit Rangdum monastery nearby while others were dead tired after an extremely bumpy ride. In the night, we were served a sumptuous dinner which was to our surprise very delicious and fulfilling. This charged us up to try out some night photography. Since remote places such as this hardly have any artificial lights, it calls for some high exposure shots. The sky was spoiled by the moon as it became difficult to capture what we desired but nonetheless we kept trying to get some good shots of the enormous mountains and an alien landscape. Soon everyone was asleep except me and all lights were out except the moon. It felt bizarre as if standing on a different planet thousands of miles away from home in an almost hostile environment with a severe headache. It suddenly hit me how lucky I feel to have visited this place, to be here and witness a different face of nature, to experience how infinitesimally minuscule I am in this vast universe and yet how much there is to do in my life. Thoughts of wonder, admiration, fascination and probably confusion took me to bed.
A day full of adventurous journey which introduced us to newer and fascinating landscapes came to end under a sky full of stars. We were so taken aback by the amazing things the day showed us that Kargil and Leh now seemed a distant past though we were there just yesterday.
Stay tuned to discover our journey to the highest point of our trip, the second largest glacier in Himalayas, meeting some awesome people and seeing some stunning places as we move on to Padum, the capital of Zanskar on the Day 4 of our trip.