After what seemed like a great escape from the clutches of the police officer in Chushul, we were in Tsaga village for the night. Details of the ordeal of Chushul and the escape appear in my book, ‘The Goodness of Strangers’.
When we woke up next morning at the homestay in Tsaga, the weather turns bad and the sun decides to have a day off. Our water bottle was kept outside the room and we noticed that it was completely frozen! There is a festive atmosphere in the village and an archery competition is going to be held. A few of the locals took us to the venue, which was a covered area since the wind blowing otherwise would take the arrows anywhere.
Read the previous posts from this journey :
I was pretty excited to see the archery competition and even waited for a while for it to start. Finally the sun peeked through the clouds, and I thought that could rush things up. We left from Tsaga village at around 10 am and the festival was still getting started at that time! The home guy, Gyurmed has a pickup camper and agrees to drop us till the Loma Bend. He has some work at the Tara ITBP Check post and we pay him 500 INR. He is kind and also gives us basic breakfast at home even though his sister had to go out for some work.
I am very keen on making it to Hanle and Gyurmed suggests he can drop us to Hanle but we don’t want to trouble him further and decide to get down at Loma Bend itself. The scenery is epic here; the semi-frozen Indus River makes an appearance and the road to Rhongo and Hanle goes past a bridge over the Indus river at Loma. It is a photograph for the purists and my camera refuses to work and only clicks blank photographs! I wonder if it has something to do with the cold of the previous night.
Loma Bend is an army and ITBP Check Post and has a sizeable camp since it is strategically located at a 3 way junction. The road continues straight for Mahe bridge from Loma Bend and another goes to Chushul, while crossing the bridge would mean heading into Rhongo, Koyul, Demchok and Hanle. We have the required permits to head to Hanle, and simply wait for a ride. Thats our only target of the day and finding a homestay to stay at Hanle.
We keep our backpacks on a bench near the check post and chat up intermittently with the army guys. The clock keeps ticking and crosses noon and then 1 pm and all the vehicles that have come till now have only gone to either Chushul side or Mahe side. Not even one vehicle has crossed the bridge. Since it is a manned check-post, the army guys have told us that we should get a ride in any of the vehicles that comes since they all have to compulsorily stop.
It seems our luck with hitching rides in winter in Ladakh has finally run out in the last few days and we embrace the difficulty with grace. One of the senior Army officers sees us waiting since morning and asks us to have lunch at one of the Army domes. We are grateful to him and tell the check post guy to make sure to stop if there’s a vehicle heading to Hanle. The food is excellent and we are served dal makhani loaded with ghee, a vegetable curry and chapati. We relish the delicious food and thank them!
The officer comes and chats with us for a bit and offers us dairy milk chocolates. We tell him the food is incredibly tasty and he tells us that since it is a harsh climate, they make sure to eat ghee in the winter. We take 2 dairy milk chocolates from him and resume our waiting at Loma Bend Check Post. With food in my belly, I walk around for a bit and see the dust flying when the wind speed increases. It starts getting dangerously cold once the sun starts shifting from above.
We wonder till what time should be wait at Loma Bend and run the risk of not getting any ride to anywhere in the evening. Would the army guys help us with the stay there if such a scenario happened? All such thoughts run through our heads and we decide to make sure we go to the other side of Mahe if we are not able to get a ride across the bridge in due course of time.
At 3 pm, a bus headed to Koyul comes by and we decide to jump on it. There are many villagers from Koyul on the bus and we are hopeful of finding a homestay there. Since Losar Celebrations are beginning, the locals tell us that they are currently hosting relatives and that we shouldn’t come. It is a simple indication for us and even though a camper going to Rhongo comes later, we decide to not sit in the open space in the carrier since the wind has already become unforgivingly cold.
Now, we are looking for a ride to any of the villages on the Mahe side. The check post guys are confused but we tell them sometimes things don’t work out the way you want them to; so we have to make do with an alternate plan. It is past 330 pm and seems like all the vehicles for the day have gone!
We spot a jeep coming from Tsaga side and get excited when it is headed to Mahe. It is an Army jeep and is occupied by an Army officer who is in charge of the flag meet with the Chinese. He has just come back from the flat meet itself that happens somewhere around Chushul and is especially kind to give us a ride. He is surprised to see tourists braving it out in these remote regions in the winter in Ladakh and perhaps takes pity on us.
We wave thanks to the Loma Bend check post guys and continue in the jeep. I ask the officer to drop us outside Nyoma village (on the road itself) and that we will be able to find a homestay since it is a sizeable village. He is a thorough gentleman and gets down from the jeep at one of the shops on the main road near Nyoma village and asks the locals about a homestay. We are given the name of one Tenzin Chospa in Nyoma.
We thank the Army officer with our hearts and tell him we will find a homestay in Nyoma and not to worry about us. Nyoma village is a 15 minute walk from where we are and see the perfectly perched monastery on a cliff and continue walking. A few locals are also walking and we get lucky to get a ride in a local’s maruti 800 car. We ask him about the homestay of one Tenzin Chospa and he tells us that he knows the home.
We reach the main square in Nyoma village which is just a small cluster of shops and the gentleman simply continues and takes us to his house. It is utterly confusing for us when he gives us tea. The time is around 430 pm and after a long day of waiting, we want to get to a homestay and just be. He is an old man and only when his young daughter comes, we realise he has already decided to host us in a newly built annexe.
We are floored by the helpful nature of the Ladakhi locals and I have tears in my eyes. Uncle’s behaviour is a bit confusing but he is very kind and takes us to the very comfortable room in a newly built concrete building. The room is quite cold but heavy quilts and a gas powered heater are kept. He also fills water in the bucket in the bathroom. We fold our hands and thank him.
His home is quite old and was built in the traditional Ladakhi home style. The kitchen was very small and maybe thats why he offered to send our dinner in the room itself. We implored him to not take any trouble but he said it will be easier for them to serve us dinner in the room and we accepted the same.
We lie down in bed and just recollected what a monumental a day it had been! Even though it might appear that we were not able to get to our destination of Hanle in the winter, the village of Nyoma was just as well! The room becomes quite warm once the gas cylinder heater is powered on and dinner is served in hot casseroles. Food is very yummy and we have our fill.
It is a cold cold night but we sleep comfortably in the warm blankets. In the morning, the water in the bathroom is frozen; but it doesn’t matter.
Our hearts have been warmed.
We thank the homestay family; pay them and take their leave. We walk to the main road and sit at the dhaba at about 9 am. There is also a petrol pump here which looks surreal in the vast outdoors. We plan to reach Chumathang, hardly 20 kms away – a town with hot water springs and a heated ‘hotel’. We decide our adventure in Ladakhi winters is over even though there are still 5 days for our return flight. We want some basic comforts now and I happen to know just the right place in Chumathang!
There are omelettes for breakfast and we gobble them up. The bus to Chumathang comes at 1030 am.