We woke up in Nyoma after a cold but comfortable night’s sleep. The water in the bucket was frozen and after bearing the excruciating cold of the last few days, it was decided to let go of adventure and to seek comfort! Thus, our motive for the day at the early hour of 9 am was clear. I had in mind just the perfect place to sit and chill and relax. From my absolute failure of a day earlier in the year in July, there had been a silver lining from that trip. I had found a guest house in Chumathang and the kind lady and uncle remarked that they had made good use of the natural hot water springs and made a natural heating system for the rooms with pipes!
We thanked the gentleman in Nyoma, paid more than we he asked for and started walking towards the main road at around 9 am. It felt nice to walk in the sun but waiting in the shade turned out to be a difficult task. A lot of people started gathering at the two shops on the main road; and almost everyone was waiting for the bus. The locals informed us that the bus to Leh will come after 1030 am. We almost got confused whether we should head back to Leh and skip the idea of Chumathang.
Sometimes, when you don’t have fixed plans the choice of options can prove to be a daunting challenge.
Thankfully, the predicament never came to pass and we get a ride in a sumo headed to Chumathang. The scenery is surreal and the Indus river to the left is entirely frozen. It is surprising that even after spending a good amount of time in offbeat lands across Ladakh on this trip; we are in awe of the stark barren landscape near Mahe Bridge as we neared Chumathang. I am fascinated to come across a Losar ritual of the Changpa nomads, they have their rebo tents near the road. The biggest festival for the Ladakhis – Losar (Ladakhi new year) is round the corner and all of Ladakh is gearing up to celebrate Losar.
The sumo makes a few stops to drop a few locals and pick up some passengers too. It turned out to be a sort of shared taxi and we figured that we would also pay money after reaching Chumathang. We are dropped at the tiny market of Chumathang on the road at about 1230 pm and I begin my search for Zotpa Uncle at Lamying Restaurant and General Store and the aunty.
They were at the restaurant itself and aunty immediately recognised me from my furry hat. I reminded her that I had come there in July and fondly recollected those moments. We discuss the price for the room and ask her if the room would be warm or not? Uncle tells us that the homestay room is exceptionally warm and that there is running hot water in the bathroom. It felt too good to be true and we agreed to pay 1200 Rupees including all meals. It is amazing when a few more locals from Chumathang come by and recognise me from my hat!
We put our bags in the room and quickly go to the glass restaurant for lunch. Aunty makes delicious food and we enjoy a welcome relaxed time! Apparently, there is no electricity in Chumathang and the abundant sunshine will disappear across the hill at about 230 pm. I am keen on having a hot water bath (the previous opportunity was almost a week or so ago in Panamik) and locals direct us to the hot water spring bath in Chumathang. The common rooms are located on a side of the frozen Indus river and there is a big pipe coming directly from the hot water springs.
It turns out to be an ok-ok experience with the hot water as the flow of the water is not consistent and I end up having a short bath. I figure the bath is best had in our own bathroom that is with the room. The family switches on the generator and it results in an epic time to see running water coming out from a tap after what feels like an eternity. Uncle also shows us how to set the heating temperature inside the room and we are ecstatic to realise that this sort of central heating would cost more than 5000 Rupees in a hotel in Leh.
I was overjoyed to be able to experience this indigenous system of local heating using the natural geothermal energy and the thought of a relaxing evening felt so inviting!
We head to a wooden bridge across the Indus River that led to homes in Chumathang village. A new bridge had also been constructed and it seemed like locals hardly used the old wooden bridge in Chumathang. It was surrounded by prayer flags and with the frozen Indus river beneath us felt like the perfect setting. The sun had already gone for the day and even though it was nice and bright, the breeze that blew was so cold that I thought my fingers would come off!
The bridge made a creaking sound when we walked and it was fun to click pictures, make a short video and just sit on the bridge and observe the patterns of the Indus river. The houses of Chumathang village are visible and the sunlight is falling directly on a small monastery located nearby on a hillock. As it got colder after the clock crossed 4 pm, we decided to call it a day in terms of adventure and headed back to the homestay.
The bed was super comfortable and the sheets and blankets were super clean. The room was already warm and we lie down and reflected on what an epic winter trip this had been! It felt unbelievable that the natural hot water spring was being put to good use! There were still 3 days for our return flight from Leh to Delhi and we were also looking forward to witnessing the Losar Celebrations in Leh.
We opted for an early dinner at 7 pm and as usual aunty made delicious food. There was dall, aloo-gobhi, chapati and rice and I made it a point to eat as if it was a feast! Even the restaurant was heated with pipes running through the corners. There were a few cats roaming around the area; they were home cats of aunty and uncle! We chatted with uncle for a while and thanked him for letting us stay. He also mentioned that he was constructing a new building that would serve as a hotel in Chumathang.
We went back to the room and were super surprised to see it was quite warm. I am chuckling as I write this but I change into a tee-shirt and shorts. We felt that we deserved every bit of luxury that was on offer!
A million stars shined in Chumathang in the night when the generator was switched off. The temperature close to the frozen Indus river would have easily crossed -30 degree celsius that night.
We snored happily.