The wet land we hit within minutes of leaving Tangsey would be a birder’s paradise in warmer months. There is a village on the far side as we drive eastwards on the barest incline & cross corrals of goats & yaks grazing. The herders seem to be throwing down roots. The road winds it’s way up in the perfect U- shaped valley at a leisurely pace along a marshy stream that seems to lose its purpose & direction & seems to muddle along, going in the opposite direction to the lake left behind. We spot a marmot or two, the first of the distinctive Bar Headed geese & Brahminy ducks & for the others I spotted I’d need the expertise of a bird book or/& and a birder!
At the crest we realize it has been quite a climb because the other side is a loopy way down. The village of Chushul has the feel of an outpost – dusty & worn out. The first of the two memorials outside the village stand as sentinels, guarding the memories of the fierce battles fought here, man against man, man against nature. The road had disappeared many miles back & an apology of a track hugs the range on the Indian side. You can take off in any direction, its so flat, & it would feel the same… mildly bumpy! Soon we hit a rocky stream of melting snow looking slightly impassable. We go downwards to cross it only to realize that the lack of rocks has made it too boggy to cross. There is nary a soul to rescue us in case we get stuck. So we go up along the stream & finally gingerly rock & roll our way across! We come across a deserted campsite, or so we think till we see this massive dog run in our direction. What a beauty! He gives chase, running along, not looking like he reciprocates the love…
We go over a rise & on the other side we get a close up look at a herd of yaks, most camera unfriendly. The track now has the most amazing tourmaline pink colour to it. The valley is broad & pebbly, so wide, flat & straight I can imagine those herds of wild ponies on a full gallop here. We seem to heading straight towards this multi-hued mountain on a road now (They’re have a mind of their own here, the roads..suddenly they are there & just as suddenly they decide they’ve had enough of travelling!) which seems peppered with turquoise stones. The kind that one finds in the silver trinkets in Leh. I can’t get over these iridescent roads! We near the mountain & there is a stream skirting it’s base. The road turns & we leave the wide valley & the imaginary horses. The stream accompanies us, meandering, creating huge wetlands & we spy pairs of Brahminy ducks & the first of many Kiangs! Finally!! It looks nothing like the donkey from my first trip. There is a campsite of herders on the other side. As we near Nyoma the stream reveals its full form as the Indus. But here it is still winding its way leisurely, gathering power, not yet intent to get going. The valley is wide, sweeping & as sandy as the Thar. It looks like the background of a Thangka painting. The hills keep up the play of colours intermittently, now burnt pink, now mossy green, the dullest mauve. By the time we reach Chumathang it has been a long, slightly bone-rattling haul & I am grateful for the steaming hot spring water soak at the end of it all. Now that & the brandy that followed are the way to end a road trip.
Now that it is all coming to a close, I wish I could start all over again. The solitude has been profound & a most welcome change. Even Leh seems crowded now! Each valley has had a distinct feel to it, its own character. The colour palette so rich & full, the sweeping vistas &, in our case even the meager wildlife have been a visual feast. The next trip is on the cards….