I had decided last night to get up early to photograph the sunrise from behind the Chang Chenmo mountains and sun’s reflections in the Pangong Lake. However things started going wrong from the night itself. I did not have a comfortable night. I kept on waking up almost after every hour, feeling lack of fresh air in my chest. After three or four long breaths, I would feel alright and would doze off again. This went on throughout the night. Since I have came to Ladakh, this is the only effect of high altitude, that I have felt. Pangong lake is at a height of about 14000 feet and I am told that this kind of uneasy sleep experience is not something that is abnormal. After waking up in the morning, I check my watch and confirm that I am still in time for the Sunrise. I decide to venture out just to check the weather. I find the weather just too cold for any photographic adventure and drop all my plans for a visit to the lake. From the window of my room, I can clearly see the mountain tops of Chang Chenmo range and decide to photograph the Sunrise only from my window. I fail again because the actual sunrise from behind the hills, happens so fast that there is no time for me to ready my camera and take the snap. Just in few seconds, the sun is so bright that any photograph is impossible.
Camp management serves sweetened hot tea in abundant quantity. I drink few cups to get some warmth and get ready. The sun is now up in the sky and weather improves considerably. I decide to make a final pilgrimage to the Lake. Since I am facing the sun, photography of the lake is rather difficult. I look for birds, but can not find any. After spending some time at the water front, I return to the camp. They are serving breakfast now. The menu is sumptuous. Cornflakes, toast, omelets and apricot jam. I finish off with more hot tea.
We are going back to Leh now. The Journey is quite uneventful. Even at Chang la, the weather is almost identical to yesterday. We join the Manali- Leh highway at Karu again. I remind Tundup that we have to go to Hemis to visit the Monastery there, The road to Hemis actually branches off at Karu village itself. We travel few Kilometers, yet there is no sign of a monastery anywhere in the sight. Hemis monastery is so well hidden in a gorge of the Zanskar mountains that it just can not be seen unless you are very near to it. I buy an entry ticket. The monastery is packed with people as annual festival is being celebrated. This festival is celebrated as a commemoration of the birth anniversary of Guru Padmasambhava. The monastery has a big courtyard, which has been covered with a huge Shamiyana to let visiting Buddhist disciples to sit down and relax. On the other end of the court yard, there is a new building which houses one of the best museums of Ladakh. The Museum is in basement and cameras are strictly not allowed. In fact they provide you with lockers to keep your cameras before you enter the museum. Hemis monastery is considered as the wealthiest monastery in Ladakh. It was established in 1630 and belongs to the Drupa order.
The array of items kept in the museum is really vast. A copper gilt statue of Buddha, several gold and silver stupas,sacred thankas (some of them as old as from second century), personal effects of Kings, ancient arms, items of ritual and daily use are well displayed in big glass cabinets with proper lighting. My only regret is that the museum does not provide any literature or brochure about the exhibits. I find some nice wall paintings on the outer wall of the museum.
We are back on the highway again. Our next stop is supposed to be Thiksey Gompa and the Shey palace complex. I look at the watch. I suddenly realize that I must reach Leh as early as possible as I have completely run out of money and must go and stand in the queue at an ATM machine to withdraw some cash. With great reluctance, I tell Tundup, that we would just stop at these two places to take some snaps and would not be able to visit the places.
There is however one important place which I want to visit in any case. The Sindhu Darshan ghat or Indus viewing place. This place has been built just 10 years back and consists of some nicely constructed shades and series of steps reaching down to the river bed. I go down to the river and wash my hands and face. The water is too muddy and looks grayish white. I do not dare to drink it. I fill a bottle with the water of Sindhu or Indus and carry it with me.
The car speeds to Leh. At the hotel I have to say good-bye to Tundup, who has done his job extremely well. I dump my backpack in my room and rush to the market where there are two ATM machines. There is a queue of about 15/20 people even in the hot sun. I wait patiently for about three quarters of hour. My turn comes and this time, thank God, I am just lucky. Machine releases money to me. I return back to the hotel to have some lunch.
In the evening, I manage to do some shopping finally. My travel agent comes to meet me in the evening. I thank him for a job well done. I still have to pack, get some sleep and be ready early morning tomorrow. Our flight leaves for Delhi at about 8 AM and airport security at Leh airport being very tight , I must reach there by 6.30 AM
I really do not know whether I would ever be able to visit again this beautiful place. Yet, the Ladakh that I have seen over last seven or eight days, is permanently etched in my memory and in my camera. There is no doubt in my mind that I shall always remember and cherish these memories.
28th August 2011