Ladakh in Winter – Chumathang , Loma and Back to Leh Part-2

Snowy Niyoma:


That’s the bridge forking out from main road towards Kyun Tso, wonderfully Indus appeared with water here:


This is a dream to drive such a road:


Road continues:


The special colors of Ladakh are peeping through snow covers:

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Where this road can lead to:


Dangerous Black Ice Section to Drive:


Mountains, snow, blue sky and lovely clouds – Big 4 to make Ladakh the most unique:


See the dangerous curve and what a deadly turn it is with black ice and slopes, you loose control slightly, on left Indus is waiting for you:


Approaching Mahe:


North Bound Journey started since we left Mahe and only small car we faced in whole journey, surely some locals were driving:


See the difference of colors in the mountains:


Indus water started coming up again as we approaches Chumathang:


Chumathang – Where we spent our coldest night of life, morning 9, temperature was –35 degree C


Small villages enroute:


The road goes through Canyon land:


As every good thing comes to end, we are bidding goodbye to our shadows leaving our soul there, promising we would return again:


What an amazing place, looks so beautiful even from sky


The mighty Himalayan from top:


Previous: Ladakh in Winter – Chumathang , Loma and Back to Leh Part-1

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Ladakh in Winter – Chumathang , Loma and Back to Leh Part-1

Day 5:

Last day was the best day and we could hardly write, describe, show you what we have seen and experienced and felt. It’s not just diesel, it’s time and part of lives frozen for ever in those mind blowing moments.

We got up early and saw the obscure windows completely layered with ice, Sanjay got all his courage to get out of the room to find the guys, we at least need some water to fresh us up but what we left in the bucket was transformed to ice, so good that once the power gone, inside temp was gone subzero and we were supposed to be acclimatized with the temperature at least. Sanjay somehow found Regzin who was also frantically trying to wake up hotel guys, we need some maggy at least before we can start, After yesterdays experience Som initially retired and declared he won’t be out for Loma drive and rather we would pick him up from Chumathang on our return trip. Probably later in the night good sense prevailed and he understood coming so far but not completing the journey when weather and luck both are favoring us would be a big mistake, also realized he won’t be anyway comfortable in the sub zero temp inside the room alone for long. By that time Regzin came with maggy, really never saw a more efficient person than him even in my professional life. In our corporate world every day we speak about customer satisfaction, client need, looking into bigger picture and make client understand what he really wants but if I ever understood and felt that how business could be done following those golden rules of management, it’s Regzin who taught me this. I don’t know how many of you could imagine that a driver would wake up at morning 5.30, then clear the ice from car, heat up the diesel, tried to wake up hotel guys, finally when he couldn’t he managed the keys of kitchen from them, supplied bucket of hot water (you are reading right, it was hot water) and then prepared maggy for us and did everything when outside temp was certainly below -20 degree C outside and literally prepared us for the trip well within time, 7.30 in morning. Without him this trip was never be possible and if by any means readers consider this report to be one of better reports of 2013, please note, the whole credit goes to that veteran ex Ladakh scout guy, who showed us (and you through this report) a completely unknown world to many of us, made me feel how diverse this country is, last year same time, I remember after spending 2 hours in Gokarn beach in Karnataka, I had to take rest for 2 hours in AC where as this year we had to boil ice to drink water.

Journey started and the Indus valley looking amazing with frozen Indus in the morning light. The Scorpio heater couldn’t start as the motor failed to start in that temperature. We reached Mahe Bridge soon and ourselves opened the barrier, Regzin himself gone inside the empty office room to enter the car details, (Thinking if really permit can be checked in odd hours of the day), Few road workers started coming into the region and waiting for the BRO pickup trucks and they said next 10km is a horrible stretch ahead and quite a few accident happened in that stretch in last one week. We realized soon, it was completely a stretch of black ice and only Regzin knew how he could drive in such a situation. The moment we took the left turn from Mahe Bridge the Loma the magic began, it was all white, a cliché to use here but believe me I am short of words what I have seen there in that stretch between Mahe bridge to Loma, it was not black and white, rather blue and white every where you can see.

Suddenly we felt a jerk, Scorpio jumped a little but anyway it was managed, we understood we hit somewhere where the ice was little loose and that was the reason of the bump, anyway we keep continuing, saw someone coming into a scooter, we slowed down and checked if it was Masterji again there but no it was not him (But I wont be surprised to meet him there too and finding a solo scooter trilogy in BCMTS soon ). When we almost reached Loma, could see the famous bridge (which they don’t even allow to photograph) Regzin complained about lack of traction in Scorpio. We also got surprised, the car which served us for last one week in all odds, what happened to him in Changthang, soon we realized it was not take any pickup and slowly stopped. Regzin and all of us gone out of the car in that ocean of ice to investigate and to our surprise Regzin diagnosed that the diesel was frozen completely. What?? Diesel frozen? in a running car?? Regzin was shots with lots of questions and we started telling him the car has started showing ages especially the odo touching 300 thousand km. Then Regzin explained us, it was that jerk we felt on the way because of loose ice, caught some ice into the transmission and tank and it slowly took its toll, freezing the whole system of the running car!!! I couldn’t believe but then he was Regzin, brought out a stove, lying on the fresh ice for some 45 mins under the car with that stove to make it workable. Only he could!! We couldn’t light up a cig, it was so windy with extreme chill and this guy was simply heating up the car lying on snow for 45 mins. Outside temp was -35 at least and our body temp gone close to 10 even when we were inside the Jeep.

Anyway we tried our best to take as many photos as we could take and once Regzin started the Scorpio again, we started our return journey, we were hardly a km away from Loma and thought it’s better to start return journey as we had to go to Leh with a lunch break at Chumathang. The return journey was equally fascinating and we finally reached Leh around 6.30 in evening. We had planned for Nubra valley on next day but then we knew a big WD was approaching, next day would be sunny but from evening the weather started turning bad. The next day was Thursday one of those 3 days you can go from Leh to Nubra on winter (It’s not open all days like summer months), so there was no possibility of day trip, also we thought simply a journey to Khardungla won’t match with what we have seen in Changthang and now after visiting Ladakh so many times, I think, nothing can match that region, it’s simply fabulous. Still I wanted to see the dunes of Nubra which are attractive too but obviously being a part of Taklamakan desert and being sandwiched between Kunlun, Karakoram and Ladakh range, it hardly receives any moisture and so there won’t be much snow in the valley. Also the extreme uncertainties of flight during that time (Alok’s case was fresh in mind) we decided finally to call of the rest of the trip. Rest means we were supposed to go to Nubra on Thursday, come back to Leh on Friday, kept a day in Leh on Saturday for Shanti Stupa and all, and our flight was booked on Sunday. Now when we saw back to back strong WD coming from Friday, we had no choice but to take a chance with Thursday flight. We made final call at 8.30 to catch a morning flight next day. Informed Regzin that we are going to give a try to leave tomorrow else we can foresee a week’s disruption at least. One more problem was by Sunday a lot of Chadar trekkers would be back and getting a ticket would be more difficult. Now at 9.00 in night we had all sorts of problems of extreme slow net connection, weak phone signal, no electricity what not!! But we knew we had to give our best, my office didn’t know anything on this adventure they still knew I was out of country. Som and Sanjay were pressed for time as well. Along with this we had several other problems, I booked my ticket from airlines website, one got it from Yatra, one brought it through net banking where as without credit cards you can’t change it over phone. Anyway let’s not get into details, with 3 long hours, with packets of cigs burnt, when we finished the job it was already Thursday, post midnight. Then we had to do some kind of adjustment in our luggage after all Leh is a high security airport. We finally gone to sleep after 1.00, what a day it was, starting from morning till end it was all filled with surprise and uncertainties.

Regzin was sad but being a Ladakhi he understands better than us what bad weather means, he arranged everything for our dinner on Friday but anyway there is always a next time. Starting from reaching there on 3 consecutive holidays and still getting the permit, visiting starting point of Chadar Trek, Dah Hanu Village, a drive on frozen pangong, a frozen tsomoriri with lone Kiyang and then finally the ice age at Loma, we got all what we wanted in extremely good weather. Ladakh never returned me without a good weather, I love this place so much and really don’t know how many more times I have to go there and keep you guys bored with all little things.

Next day flight departed a little late as from morning the day started cloudy and windy, as we could see in IMD.. but anyway we took off around 11.00 am saw clouds everywhere from top unlike what we saw the day we came. Reached Leh, spent some pathetic 5/6 hours in T3 after such an ambience in Leh and got the connecting flight to Kolkata and safely reached and after this adventurous trip, first victim was my driver when in Jan end he had to switch on the full AC once I stepped into Kolkata. I was born and brought up here and in 4 decades I never felt Kolkata so hot in January

PS: I kept watching the Jet website for the flight status between Leh-Delhi and we took Thursday’s flight, and next flight departed Leh after exactly one week on next Thursday, such was the impact of 2 back to back strong WD. So all well if it ends well as it happened every time with me in Ladakh!!

Let’s not talk more, share the last few snaps of this great trip and I think you won’t be disappointed.

Morning in Chumathang:


Way to Mahe Bridge:


The Ocean of snow:

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Work Horse, The Scorpio, note the side glasses are still completely frozen after 1 hour of heating and direct sunlight from outside:


Diesel Frozen, Regzin working it out:


Ice Age (Far away Loma Bridge):


A Dream Land, isn’t it?


Regzin posing:


Kingdom of Ice:

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See someone tried offroading even here:


Nyoma Air Base:


What a road to drive:


Lone Truck:


Frozen Indus on the left:


See the stylish Ladakhi cloud:


Nice 100 mtr black Top, looks so nice in the white background:


Approaching Niyoma:


That’s Nyoma, frozen and sleeping in January:


Previous: Ladakh In Winter – Chumathang, Tsomoriri

Next: Ladakh in Winter – Chumathang , Loma and Back to Leh Part-2

Ladakh In Winter – Chumathang, Tsomoriri

Day 4

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:

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Indus Water started becoming narrower:

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Road towards Mahe Bridge:


Read the BRO Board: Kashmir to Kanyakumari – India is One:


Mahe Bridge:


Both Sides from Mahe Bridge – Indus was completely frozen on top:

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Approaching Sumdo:


Sleeping in white blanket – Sumdo:


Tso Kiagar:


On the way to Tsomoriri:

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Tsomoriri – Frozen by all means:

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On the way back to Chumathang, a small pass:


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