Khardung La is not for the thin blooded. Although its an easy, winding climb up but its the sheer altitude which ensures that you don’t take it lightly. One minute you can be fine, posing in front of the 18,380 feet board, feeling giddy to be on top of the world & the next minute the “on top of the world” giddy feeling gets real & acute & you are slightly sick. Fortunately help is at hand & after some pure oxygen & piping hot tea, you make sure you get down to the lower reaches of mother earth ASAP! But it seems the lack of oxygen has addled our brains a bit because we can’t resist stopping again, some way down, to have an “icicle battle”. The melting snow has exposed them right along the road.
The descent on the other side seems lesser till we realize that the slope has plateaued before falling down into the serene valley & the turquoise Shyok winds its way at the bottom. Its a sunny, warm valley with the mighty Karakoram mountains flanking one side. Wow! One had only read about them in school books & now here we are…across the last range of the Himalayas & knocking on the doors of the next great range…Fantastic! One leg of the valley heads off towards Siachen & the other towards Turtuk. Due to paucity of time(Darn that factor again!) we make pit-stops nearby only. At the hot spring in Panamik, which is en route to Siachen, there is a basic structure with clean men’s & women’s sections. Its deserted & the water is hot & thankfully not smelly at all.
In the warm haze we see whirlwinds dancing across the valley floor near Diskit. The monastery seems to have grown organically from the mountainside. The imposing statue of Maitreya Buddha near it looms large as it looks benignly westwards. The monastery houses, apart from statues of some pretty fierce looking deities, a mummified head & an arm of a medieval soldier. It takes a little searching in that room full of ancient relics.
The popular touristy thing to do is to go to the dunes at Hundar & take a ride on a Bactrian camel, which looks quite pitiful while molting .
Turtuk sounds inviting. (The name as much as the place!) I just love the name but I keep confusing it with Tobruk..which is just a continent away..!Any how, we head in the opposite direction the next morning. As with all worthwhile places the journey is as alluring as the destination. The road runs initially in a seemingly straight line in the valley. Suddenly it all curves to one side & the road ceases to be one. Its not only that there is not a soul in sight but one can feel the isolation.
We make a picnic breakfast halt by the river & we spy this low small cloud at some distance in the valley & it seems to be raining in that teensy patch. Its a clear day otherwise. We keep a wary eye out, ready to make a dash back to the car. Other than the odd boulder there is no shelter. After some time on the move again the path gives up any pretensions of being one, sort of saying,”figure out your way!” At one place we navigate over a fresh mud slide, rocks, silt & all. Slipping & sliding, bumping over the half buried boulders I can say that we did figure out our own way! In the warmer months this route along the Shyok becomes impassable with landslides & higher water levels.
I’ve been craning my neck & looking all over the mountain sides trying to catch a glimpse of some wildlife & finally I am rewarded with a fat Chukar partridge…right on the road! So much for making all that effort! Suddenly we swerve off the main road (Yes, it has magically appeared again.) into this gully & reach Tangsey in a bit. I try to imagine the Shyok’s journey upstream between those lofty peaks, heading towards Daulat Beg Oldie. Now that is again a name which sounds inviting!