Although the lure of becoming the first official tourist to explore the other side of Nubra Valley was immense, murky skies had necessitated that I take a logical decision and go back to Leh. We were only allowed till Ensa Gompa earlier on the Panamik and Sumur side, the district administration in Diskit informed me that tourists could now go as far as Stongstet.
The mention of obscure and unpronounceable names of places has always fascinated me and the villagers egged me on, my heart beat wild with excitement. This was turning out to be a winter to remember and almost held the happiness of spring with it.
An air of nonchalance hung across the entire Nubra Valley, locals were gung-ho and drunk on chhang after the final match of a big 20-20 tournament had just concluded. The winning team and supporters sang boisterously and danced while playing loud Ladakhi music in the cavalcade of vehicles that was being paraded around Diskit.
I weighed my options, on one hand was the chance of becoming an explorer and see an unknown land in the midst of an unknown people magically dotted with timeless Gompas – while the storm clouds that gathered in the far distance told me that I had better make an escape, and also make it soon. After all, Khardung La is an unforgiving pass and any sort of mistake in the winter would mean certain death.
I was alone, but yet it seemed like the entire force of the universe was with me. No road had seemed too difficult, and rides – courtesy of locals came easily, I had travelled to all parts of Ladakh in the winters : Surviving on the banks of the frozen Pangong Tso, reaching the 15th Century village of Phiyang Gompa, marvelling at the Masked Lamas dancing at the Spituk Gustor, walking like a lunatic to the Snow Leopard country of Hemis National Park, then stumbling, slipping and falling across a frozen river while trekking from Rumbak to Yurutse and was returning after having explored Turtuk : A small part of Indian Baltistan reclaimed from Pakistan in 1971.
It hadn’t been all good as it may seem, a stupid decision to alight in Hunder from the Turtuk – Diskit (solitary bus of the day) meant I was very hungry after having explored Hunder Gompa and the ancient looking chortens on a nearby hillock on a relatively empty stomach. On top of that no vehicle came and I had to walk for 10 kilometres along the sand dunes (minus the Bactrian camels) to somehow make it to Diskit in one piece. I couldn’t find a guest house that was keen to serve a lone traveller and finally collapsed in happiness when I found refuge at a homestay located at the far end of Diskit town.
At around 7 in the morning I stood on the road in anticipation, and prayed. A messiah in the form of a Maruti Dzire stopped and a hand indicated me to get in for the usual price of 400 Rupees. I shall let the pictures do the talking now 🙂
The gentleman giving me the ride had kept a bag of sand in the car, to be used if the car got stuck in the snow.
It was all gloom and doom; it is only in retrospect I realise how lucky I was to get a ride at the right time in the right car with the right person. Life is a glorious mix of uncertainties. Maybe I am alive because of some good karma.
Just after crossing Khardung Village, the full fury of the snowstorm was to be unleashed upon us. We munched apples sitting in the car at 5000m when life had come to a standstill.
Nothing seemed more important than the present moment. I could listen to my heart beat. Although the local was supremely confident of making across Khardung La to Leh safely, in my mind I had almost began to say my last prayers.
Sometimes it felt like a dream. Everything was white, like a fairytale. We were stuck for what seemed like an eternity when a vehicle had got stuck with its tyres deep in snow. Furious winds blew and carried powdered snow with it. I came out of the vehicle and nearly died in happiness.
Did the army allow us to go ahead from North Pullu and across the Khardung La pass to Leh? For more photographs and snippets from my diary do not forget to tune in to Part 2 of Khardung La in Winter. (That was cheesy, ain’t it!)
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