The road to Pangong lake in Ladakh is like nothing you’ve ever seen before. It’s a five or six-hour drive from the city of Leh, an absolutely spellbinding journey. We drove through all sorts of rough and dramatic terrain… streams and lush meadows with flowers, sandy dunes, ice-covered peaks, black rocks, and dusty brown mountains.
The shutter button on my camera clicked almost incessantly, capturing the transitions in the scenery. A huge monastery, the houses creeping up an entire mountain range. Streams of green mosaic cascading between valleys of unforgiving black stone. Arid, barren plateaus that looked like the surface of the moon. The whole landscape looked untouched. Unreal.
The motorways are narrow in Ladakh, and sometimes it felt like the car was just clinging onto the edge of a steep drop. The roads were built by the Indian Army’s Border Roads Organisation (BRO). Every few kilometres, I was highly amused by creative road signs that read ‘BRO: go slow’, ‘Be gentle on my curves’, ‘It is not a rally, enjoy the valley’ and some humorous ones like ‘Darling I like you, but not so fast’.
Finally, after endless snaking over and around mountainsides, we turned a corner and caught a glimpse, a flash of brilliant blue. It was just for a moment, a teaser, as the narrow road turned and left us looking again at dull brown mountains. A few twists and turns later, we broke out into an open space, where the entire lake stretched out before us. I rolled down the car window and literally had the breath knocked out of me. I don’t know whether it was the force of the wind or the infinite beautiful blue-ness that did it. “It’s so blue!” was all I could manage to gasp. And it is indeed a crazy, gleaming, incredible blue. It’s almost impossibly blue. That magical blue, with the grey-brown mountains encircling it, and stunning blue skies with fluffy clouds above, is just something from another world.
Even though I had seen countless pictures of the lake before, nothing prepared me for how breathtakingly beautiful it is when you actually see it yourself. I felt light-headed, just looking at it. Maybe it was the altitude… after all, we were up at 14,000 feet. But it was definitely one of those views, those moments that you would remember your whole life. And it’s quiet. So quiet. Down by the shore of the lake, I could just hear the waves lapping against the pebbles and the gulls screeching overhead.
Pangong Tso is Tibetan for “long, narrow, enchanted lake” in Ladakh. A third of the lake is situated in India and two-thirds in China. The funny thing it, the lake changes colour as the day progresses… once the sun goes down, it transforms to a dull grey. It’s only at its blue-est best when the sun is strong. I wondered if the lake was just reflecting the blue skies overhead. I realized that the place is absurdly beautiful but also harsh… if you’re not prepared for the weather, you will get badly sunburned during the day, and freeze when the temperatures drop at night.
But even when there’s no sun, at night all you have to do is turn your eyes to the heavens. The skies are so clear, and we were so high up, that the stars just overwhelmed the darkness. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many stars at once before. I don’t think I’ve ever seen the milky way before. It’s dizzying, to realize that there are so many millions of stars, so many celestial bodies floating around in the galaxy and that you are just a speck on one such planet. I felt engulfed by the enormity of it all. But I also felt connected, like a part of something. A cosmic energy, a force. The universe and me.
( This Blog post first appeared on gypseatrip )