Leh – ‘the roof of the world’ is not just a spiritual town, interspersed with Buddhist monasteries and stupas but also an epitome of serenity, a quintessence of unparalleled unique beauty, which keeps changing with its mesmerizing views and seasons.
Any trip to India would be incomplete if you have not visited this desert of mountains. The hallmark of this place is its tranquility and simplicity, untouched and unexploited by commercial tourism. There is no mad race of fleecing the tourists like you may see at Srinagar or Manali.
It was a little unpopular due to lack of nightlife and poor digital connectivity but it is an extraordinary experience in itself. New luxury hotels (only a few) with all modern facilities and Wi-Fi have come up recently.
When we visited in 2011, the only centrally heated hotel was The Grand Dragon at old Leh road, Sheynam. If you are not very fond of crowded places, if you like trekking, biking, mountaineering and rafting, you can find all these activities here to make your trip more memorable.
When we checked the best time to visit Leh, we were told that April to June is the peak season. We decided to visit in mid April to avoid the summer rush but we found very few tourists, which made our trip all the more enjoyable.
We didn’t have to wait on the roads, which is a common spectacle on narrow hill roads. When we landed at Kushok Bakula Rimpochhe Airport, situated at the highest altitude in the world, the effect of winter could be seen all around in the form of bare trees and snow-clad Himalayan peaks, with no greenery around.
The landscape aroused a very distinctive feeling as if we had entered an absolutely new world of bare mountains. The view from our room was absolutely heavenly, with snowy mountains touching the horizon, a lower brownish range merging into the plains and few simple looking houses, which seemed sleepy!
A chilly breeze welcomed us in the morning as we stepped out to bask in the glorious sun, shining splendidly. Soaking in the sun, on the arid lawns of our hotel, we made the plans for the day, keeping in view the advice that we must get acclimatized to the high altitude before going further.
Pangong Lake was topmost on our list but it is 160 kms from Leh. As we were contemplating to order a taxi, another couple approached us and suggested that we could make this journey together. It appealed to us because we could split up the expenses and also have nice company for the day.
We decided that we would start early next morning as the journey to and fro would consume the whole day and nobody could stay at the height of 14,256 feet for the night. There are no hotels nearby to accommodate any tourists.
The journey by SUV cab was long, arduous but breathtaking. The snow had not melted and as we went uphill, cold kept creeping into our bones. As we travelled on the third highest motorable road in the world, covered with snow from all the four sides, we felt on top of the world.
The local driver knew exactly where to stop for refreshment and photography. Chang La Pass at the height of 17,585 feet was incredibly stunning with mounds of snow all around us. Indian army guards this pass as it is very close to China border and mythological Changla baba sits there to keep them warm and inspired.
Prayer flags could be seen all around Changla Baba temple. The stopover was very short, not more than 20 minutes due to high altitude, deficiency of oxygen, extreme cold and unpredictable weather.
This pass is the gateway to the Changthang Plateau and Pangong lake. The descent from this pass towards Darbuk is again very steep and the journey seems endless. Another amazing spectacle enroute Pangong Lake is a valley of rocks and boulders, formed by avalanches. You can’t see any greenery around though some pictures of late summer show it.
At last we could see the magnificent lake, surrounded by bare hills of various hues of brown, black and golden. We were told that it is 134 km (83mi) long and extends into China. Almost 60% of this lake is actually in China. Alas we couldn’t see its deep blue color as shown in the pictures because it was completely frozen! We walked on it and took some memorable pictures.
Then was the time to start the long journey back and we came back extremely tired but in high spirits for exploring other parts of Leh next morning.
To be continued…
Have you visited such an amazing place?
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I have seen many lakes – from the breathtaking Tshangu lake in Sikkim (India) near Chinese border to the amazing Pangong lake in Leh near Ladakh in the Himalayas, Dal lake, named as the “Jewel in the crown of Kashmir,” the finger lakes in Buffalo (New York) and many more.
None could elicit as speechless a response from me as the one I visited last week. None could inspire me to share my ethereal experience of being mesmerized by its view.
I have been looking for words to describe the beauty of Crater Lake ever since I set my eyes on this spectacular marvel of nature but words seem to fall apart…should I say exquisite…magnificient or a spiritual delight?
When I looked at it, the first word that came to my mind was WOW! Its pristine glory, its tranquility and its wondrous aura captivated me beyond words. I stood rooted to the ground, frozen, not by the gusty winds and sleet that welcomed us but by its celestial beauty.
“Crater Lake must be seen to be appreciated properly,” said Thomas J. Williams, former superintendent of Crater Lake National Park, “photographs simply cannot depict the majesty of the lake in its setting, the depth of the blue.”
The words of Author, Jack London that I happened to read at the Visitor center at Park Headquarters really resonate with me, “I thought I had gazed upon everything beautiful in nature as I have spent my years traveling thousands of miles to visit the beauty spots of the earth, but I have reached the climax. Never again can I gaze upon the beauty spots of the earth and enjoy them as being the finest thing I have ever seen. Crater Lake is above them above them all.”
Created out of fire, lava and smoke, this unique lake took many years to come to its present form. A caldera was formed when Mount Mazama (a volcano in south-central Oregon) collapsed. Lava eruptions created a central platform, Wizard island and Merriam Cone. Eventually the caldera cooled, allowing rain and snow to accumulate and form a lake.
We watched a 22-minute film about the park’s violent past and its present grandeur. It is shown at the Steel Visitor Center at Park Headquarters.
We drove around the east rim of the lake the day we arrived (many thanks to our amiable hostess who told us) because it was to be closed to vehicular traffic the next day for repairs. Rim drive, which was built in 1930s, is a 33-mile road that encircles Crater Lake. It offers ‘dramatic views’ of the lake and the park’s volcanic scenery.
Sun and mist played hide and seek and erased the deep blue color of the lake. Sunsets in the park are said to be amazing but we couldn’t savor them. A hushed desire to go again simmers within my heart.
Undeterred by sleet and rain, we hiked to Sun Notch to view The Phantom Ship, an island in the lake, that seems to be sailing away. From easy walks to challenging hikes, Crater National Park, which was established in 1902 has something for everyone – boat tours, trolley tours, camping, fishing, sky gazing, sunsets, wildlife viewing, food and dining in Crater Lake Lodge and even swimming in the ice-cold water of the lake!
We couldn’t enjoy all the activities due to early snow and bad weather on the day we chose to visit but the memories that we carried are permanently etched on our minds.
The drive through the park was a little scary but very beautiful, with thick forest on both sides of the road. We were caught unawares by a sudden snowfall when we decided to drive to Annie’s Restaurant for dinner and had to return empty stomach! But there were no regrets because we had had a sumptuous lunch at the Lodge restaurant and could drive through the thick snow on the slippery road.
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