Journey To Heaven And Back

Keeping aside spiritualism, heaven can have a deep physical presence . According to human knowledge, heaven is an abysmal void situated towards the upper reaches of the sky. Hence people often look up - ‘ heavenwards’!!! This has both optimistic as well as derogatory innuendos.

Our journey to and from Pangong Tso Lake in Leh in the Ladakh region of Jammu and Kashmir, the northern most state of the Indian subcontinent, falls under one of those “ worst journeys of my life”. From Leh , we had hired a Chevrolet Tavera , in order to travel to the pristine lake. The lake is situated roughly around 18, 000 feet above the sea –level. Our driver, a local lad from the region, had said that if the weather permitted we would be back before sunset. The emphasis , one would notice , lay on the ‘if’. We had started at around eight in the morning . The journey required traversing the zigzag route in the mighty Himalayas. After sometime, we noticed that there were round blobs of ice accumulated like droplets around the foot of the mountains. Very soon , the tiny droplets were transformed into huge masses of ice , covering the entire heights of the mountains.

It was a very, very treacherous journey , both in terms of the peril it offered for the travellers as well as the amount of responsibility that lay for our driver-cum-guide. There were army patrols stationed at important junctions of the route. These army men were assisting people who fell into trouble - young and old irrespectively. Some started having stomach disorders like diarrhoea while others simply started vomiting. There were makeshift toilets, built by the Indian Army , but the water available in them - alas! - had solidified. We had also experienced a hailstorm on our journey towards the Pangong Tso Lake. All the cars had chains attached to their tyres in order to prevent skidding on the thick layers of ice accumulated all over the road . Our Tavera had a metallic chain too, sturdy, rock- solid , soldered onto the tyres.

‘ Pangong Tso’ in the Tibetan language means “ long, narrow , enchanted lake” and is an endorheic lake in the Himalayas , situated at a height of about 14,270 feet above the sea level and extends from India to Tibet. Roughly around sixty percent of the lake lies in Tibet. On our way there, we had to cross the Changla Pass , again manned by the Indian Army , where all the vehicles are thoroughly checked prior to further travel. Refreshments in the form of hot tea and crackers ( from the Army’s rationing) are offered to the travellers.

Once we arrived near the lake, all the tedium and nauseating lethargy began to vanish in an instant. The lake is all turquoise –blue waters with small birds ( tiny, white ones) in a raucous chirping broke all our barricades of ill-temper and caustic humour. Since we were slated to return by or before sunset, we could only stay there for an hour or two.

Despite the perils of a hazardous journey up the mighty Himalayas, the journey was thoroughly
worth it and ‘horrendously’ memorable!!

H D Ray

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