IMD suggested 2 more sunny days before another WD hits, so we were cheerful about our changthang expedition, though what we heard from Alok / Jasdeep was not at all promising. They had a nightmarish experience which would be narrated in their log but that description on spot would be enough to send a spike of chill across your spine. We had two hopes to be honest, first the clear weather prediction of IMD which usually gets very accurate in 48 hours span and second is Regzin. We knew so long Regzin was with us, we would be safe and happy. Somehow he has some lucky charm at least it worked with me be it crossing Photula, or entering Demchok or crossing the stream in Chumur or loosing our way to Tsomoriri or even when bridge was removed in Khaltse. I don’t know it’s because of his army background or what but he really could keep immense calm and composure whenever he is pushed to corner, so we didn’t think much started our journey quite early. It was first time we were checking out of Leh hotel after our 4 days of stay. We had our breakfast ready on time by hotel guys, they were really helpful, cooperated with us every time whenever we needed. The morning was really beautiful as we were running through Leh – Manali highway in cold morning of Jan, semi frozen Indus was with us and the morning sun glowing at its best on some of the famous monasteries like Thiksey and Spituk.
We reached Upashi quite quickly and had a tea break there, Som tried coffee, wonderful surroundings with bright sun and chilling ambience was gripping. Now it was time for us to leave Leh-Manali highway and take the road towards Mahe via Chumathang, following Indus all across. In my last trip to Ladakh, I covered almost all of the Ladakh where road had reached but somehow missed out the stretch between Upashi to Loma as I took Spangmik – Loma – Hanle – Chumur – Tsomoriri – Tanglangla – Leh during my last trip. So for me and Som it was a new venture where as Sanjay has already covered this stretch. The road entered into the Indus Canyon and the color of the red canyons were quite similar to those of Arizona just may be at 5 times height with Indus flowing in between. It was an amazing journey across the colorful canyons with semi frozen Indus. The more we were going, the water on top was reducing leaving places to ice on Indus.
We reached Chumathang and the restaurant there was covered in all glass, was giving a green house effect, amazingly warm and I had my best lunch in winter Leh just with Maggie. I noticed clearly that upper portion of the hot springs are all frozen at 2.00pm in afternoon. So that was enough to give a clue of the night we are going to stay there. As Sanjay mentioned, with the advice of Alok/Jasdeep, we secured the electric heater for us at least till 10.00 (till power remains) and then after finishing the lunch we started proceeding for Mahe Bridge. Now the road ceased to exist, it’s all ice, only the difference of height demarcated the road and Indus. We reached the Mahe Bridge and at 2.30, I simply couldn’t stand on Mahe Bridge to take more than 2 shots. This part was terribly windy and after showing permit at Mahe Bridge as we proceeded towards Sumdo, we found an Army Gypsy there trying its best to navigate through ice. This part from Mahe to Sumdo was the worst with all black ice and the army vehicle was wildly swinging, when we overtook it, the driver asked Regzin how far Sumdo was and would the road be improved, they were going to the village for a route check but looking at their driving skill, we understood why Regzin stood apart even in comparison to the army drivers. I doubted if the Gypsy at all reached Sumdo as we didn’t see it any more till our journey and we took lots of photo breaks in between. It’s skill with confidence and calm head that makes the difference in these difficult conditions and Regzin was master of all. The Sumdo village was sleeping in frozen time it seems, we took left turn and spotted the jackal on the top, how it survives -40/-45 of Changthang, what it hunts then, God only know.
The journey was turning more adventurous as Regzin was describing his last visit to Tsomoriri in first week of Jan when there was no ice at all and even the lake was not frozen. In this journey we couldn’t spot the road except the tyre marks. As I mentioned Regzin had some lucky charms, somehow we found a JCB was coming clearing the ice and I am almost sure as was Regzin, without that solitary touch of God coming from nowhere, we might not able to reach Tsomoriri. Later we linked the thread as we met few army men in Chumathang who were waiting to be transported to Chumur and it was for the army truck to pass, the JCB was in action. So it’s all about the time and luck when you venture in winter Ladakh, even best possible plan would fail and best possible backup won’t work and that’s the beauty of the place.
We reached Tso Kiagar which was completely frozen, took few snaps and then drove straight to Tsomoriri which was also completely frozen, couldn’t just believe my eyes that such a gorgeous lake can be frozen and all blue turned in white miraculously. The whole Changthang which is so lively in summer months seems to be sleeping in a magic touch of white. We didn’t have time to wait for long as the evening was approaching, cold wind was blowing furiously and sun was hiding in back of the mountains, clouds were coming from all around. We started our return journey and reached Chumathang before it was dark. That evening we hopelessly tried to take some night shots but understood 2 things clearly, first you shouldn’t challenge Changthang temp after sun is down and second, whatever Nikon says, it can’t sustain extremities of Ladakh winter at night. The fabulous D7000 of Sanjay started malfunctioning after a long exposure of 20mins and I didn’t dare to risk my old and feeble D80 after that. We took probably 3 blankets each on top of whatever layers of dresses we had and slept.
Morning at Thiksey:
Gorgeous location of Spituk Monastery:
At Upashi from bridge on Indus:
Colorful canyons on the way to Chumathang:
Indus Water started becoming narrower:
Road towards Mahe Bridge:
Read the BRO Board: Kashmir to Kanyakumari – India is One:
Both Sides from Mahe Bridge – Indus was completely frozen on top:
Sleeping in white blanket – Sumdo:
On the way to Tsomoriri:
Tsomoriri – Frozen by all means:
On the way back to Chumathang, a small pass: