Chapter 5: Pangong Tso

May 31-June 1

Since Ravi had not done any of the exploring with us so far, we wanted to do something with him. All he had talked about up to this point was seeing Pangong Tso, a salt-water lake that sits at 14,000 feet and lies both in India and China. We have to get special permission to go, so we can’t leave till Monday morning at almost 11:00 AM. The driver, wearing aviator sunglasses and skinny blue-jeans, takes us up the forever-winding road, feeling each of the curves with his body like I used to do playing racing video games as a kid. Jamming to an eclectic mix of music, from Celine Dion and Lady Gaga to System of a Down and plenty of Hindi songs, he brings us closer to the spotless blue sky with every turn till we reach Chang La, the third highest motorable pass in the world at 17,500 feet. Surrounded by snowy peaks, soldiers team about the place. A sign invites us into a building for free tea. I don’t know if it’s just because of the elevation or what, but that is the best tea I’ve ever had. Delicious. (If you ever get offered Kashmiri Kava tea, take it).
Chang La Pass, 17,590 ft, the highest I’ve ever been

Don’t stop here, more story and images inside —>>

Ravi’s first chance to really play in snow!

We stop in what looks like a dry lakebed with the finest brown sand. Our legs enjoy the stretching. Wild horses graze in the distance between the bases of the brown, rocky hills. (On the return trip we pass this place, I do not recognize it because the sand completely changed shape.)

Ravi inciting his usual imaginative games

One of my favorite shots from the entire trip

Cammy being athletic

Carrie wondered off again

More horses

Carrie working her poses

Seizing the opportunity to do a quick product shot with Cammy’s Merrells

In a sea of brown the first sighting of the blue water takes your breath away, a beauty that cannot be properly stated by words. The thin lake stretches off into the distance, into China, lined by peaks of different shades of brown on one side and snowcaps on the other. The small waves shimmer in the sunlight, reflecting the flawless sky. Round, flat pebbles dance underneath the surface, as clear as if you were holding them in your hand. The others roll their pants up and splash in the freezing water while I wander off trying to find how to properly capture such a scene.

Carrie and Taylor feeling out the freezing water

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f/1.4, love it or hate it, there it is

Tstanzin, the driver

We eat a quick lunch of mostly pastries Taylor picked up in Leh, then explore more of the area. The driver, somewhat impatiently asks us if we are ready to leave. The light is going, so must we. I use the spectacular location and the availability of a beautiful subject to practice my adventure sport photography, getting exciting photos of Cammy running along the shore.

My favorite kind of self portrait, shadow

The light dances playfully off he desert floor, falling lower the closer we get. The pass is mostly deserted, and the sun is mostly gone. With the last light the stars appear, too numerous to count and too many to find most western constellations. Orion’s Belt disappears into the abyss of countless sets of three stars in a straight line. We had talked of going to Nubra Valley the next day, but it proved dangerous to Ravi’s schedule if just one thing went wrong. I voted against it because my body couldn’t take another daylong car ride. Ravi decides to leave the next day and the girls end up leaving Wednesday.

The girls and I go visit the stupa in Leh

Carrie challenged me to do slap push ups

Don’t stop here, read the next chapter, “The Open Road”.