… I gathered all the courage and kept up with all of my endurance & determination to leave for Padum at 5 am next day.
Padum – One of the biggest reasons I started my whole trip. Ever since I first stepped here for Chadar Trek, I knew I would return to this place soon. I didn’t know it will be this soon enough though. This fortitude to get up every time and move on is very strong within me only because of Padum. It feels as though a part of me belongs here. Perhaps, that is why I travel so far to find myself.
“Kya madam 10 min se wait kar raha hu. Late ho jayega. 16 – 17 ghante lagte hai pahuchne ko”. Wangyal, the cab driver, said loudly. He was already waiting for me outside with 7 more guys. I was nervous and uptight initially but as we registered ourselves at the check-post, I was relieved from all the worries.
TIP: TRAVELING TO LADAKH AND ZANSKAR IS SAFE MAJORLY DUE TO OUR ARMY CHECK POSTS AT EVERY POINT. THEY NEED TO MAKE SURE THAT EVERY PERSON IS TRACKED AND RECORDED. THIS BECOMES PRIME REASON FOR LESS CRIME.
At 5 am, helter-skelter I wake up, get ready and leave for a new journey to a not so foreign land.
As I embark for this ride, I notice there is another cab accompanying us. It was only when we paused for breakfast, I got to meet Anisha and Masood. Traveling to Padum is not as conventional as Leh and definitely not a common sight to do this by public transport. This place is often reconnoitre by bikers to only cross few passes and nothing more. Not only it was rare that we all three met at the right time and right place, but I also learnt that Anisha stays close to my home in Mumbai and Masood is from my second home, Bangalore. Some affairs are just meant to happen and I am so glad about this one.
After exchanging our travel plans for Padum and Leh, we proceed to pay the bill. As I chit chat with the restaurant owner, I spot this map under the glass of his table, that I have been searching since a very long time.
TIP - DO NOT TRUST GOOGLE MAPS. TRUST THE ONE BELOW.
While we continue to ride, we cross one of the mountains in Parkachik. To me, it looked like just another peak. But Wangyal explained that it was one of the biggest glaciers once upon a time. It was so hard to believe that this colossal chunk of ice has been melted down inch by inch to only just another snow crest.
What an alarming Global Warming condition it is. Parkachik Glacier – a majestic mass of ice moving slowly down the Nun-Kun slopes. Such a shame on us! Such a shame!
I am on a 240 km metalled road connecting Kargil town to the headquarters of Zanskar – Padum. A road which is open only for 4 months in a year between May and October. I always wondered how 230 kms can take 17 hours to reach. But have a look at the rugged, rickety, bald and stony roads then you will never ask this question again. If at all you can see ‘roads’ here.
But then, the beauty of this landscape makes you forget almost everything. The fresh air, sky scraping Himalayan range, jewel blue streams of Shuru River, and endless infinite roads to Zanskar.
And then you meet some wonderful creatures of this region – Mormots, herd of sheep and mules.
“What more can any one ask for?” Once again I utter these words in my mind and once again the hunger strikes in. We break off for lunch at La Himalaya Restaurant in Rangdum which is stationed at a height of 3800 mts.
Rangdum – brings back a lot of memories from January when I came here for Chadar trek. It is only from Rangdum I realised that one can connect to a place at a deeper lever when you return there as a homecoming.
It was already going perfect with the view, the drive, the food and new friends but that was not enough for the good to happen I guess. After Rangdum, driver asked if anyone knows how to drive. I was the first and only one to babel – ‘Yes’. Thereafter, I get to ride all the way long till Penzila pass.
Penzi-La – Perched at the height of 4,400 m (14,436 ft) is The Gateway to Zanskar. The pass offers a sensational panorama view of the mighty Himalayas.
As you pause here and walk around a bit, you can witness two lakes atop this pass STAT TSO and LAM TSO. I consider myself fortuitous to experience heart stirring artistry of Penzi-La.
Followed by Penzi Pass was The Drang Drung Glacier to the eastern flank of Pensi La. It is likely to be the largest glacier in Ladakh other than the Siachen Glacier with a length of 23 kilometres at an average elevation of 4,780 m (15,680 feet). Drand Drung is a long river of ice and snow and the source of Stod or Doda River which flows into the Padum Valley, and joins with Tsarap Chu to form the mighty Zanskar River. I could not give credence to what I was viewing. The car accelerates as I keep gazing and admiring this spine tingling magnificent show of nature.
Not only the composition was captivating, the drive on icy rutted roads was an experience in itself.
Its was six in the evening and my heart was already palpitating for a restful sleep. But, there were miles to go today before I sleep. However drained and exhausted I was, these miraculous and inexplicable vista did not allow my eyes to even flutter for once.
Akshow – The first village of your encounter in Zanskar when you start from Kargil. Nestled in between the gigantic meadows of bewildering Himalayas, few other villages were Hamling, Mandla village, Shagar village, Shilatse village to name a few.
Unfortunately, these villagers need to travel to Padum for any sort of basic requirements of the life. Many have to walk for miles to meet the ends as simple as going to school.
By this route, I saw a glimpse of Karsha Monestary. Aghast and Breathless, I closed my eyes and behold all the memories of Karsha from January this year.
At last, we set foot in Padum at 19:30 and I see Mont Blanc. I had traveled 2700 kms and 5 days on back breaking heart throbbing ride just to be here, to meet Yangdom didi and her adorable family.
Yangdom had to stay tonight at her husband’s home. For the night I join her and spend time with her kids. I knew I was coming to meet her, so I framed Norgun’s pic and gifted her. Surprisingly enough, the kids remember me still. I shared cherries with them, have Maggi and I doze off right after that.
Next day, I had a deja-vu. I was reliving my memories and wandering in the foreign land like an inhabitant…