After 6 hours of uphill driving, passing by one of the highest roads in the world, Chang La, Lina and I feel the air around Pangong Lake. A fortress of mountains around us acts like a bowl which seems to hold us gently and lay us softly on the mildly meandering lake. This is the place that we had a tryst with; where we can feel the sheer chill of the water, watch gem-like pebbles through Pangong’s translucent water and behold the firmament that showers cold winds with a soothing sunshine.
We are miles away from the town of Leh, Ladakh’s capital in northern India. A stone’s throw away from the banks of Pangong is the Indian Army’s station, but that’s the soldiers’ permanent home; no threat to your free wings. Our backs still ache from the unpaved road’s zigzag rhythm; our plans of finding that vantage tripod position and spotting a different angle of the lake go invalid for the moment. The varying hues of the lake, – now blue, now grey, now turquoise – according to differing levels of sun exposure, mesmerise us at once. Lina gets down to a narrow dyke-like formation created with pebbles beside the lake’s bank. She picks up a shiny pebble, tosses it once or twice in the air, looks at the Himalayan ranges in the distance; then ululates in unbridled excitement before throwing the pebble directed toward the mountains. The pebble shoots up and then after a few seconds, somewhere far from us creates a hardly audible plop in the water. I haven’t seen her so loosened up in a foreign realm.
And then from where it is, a tiny flock of brown-headed gulls alights on the dyke, inches from where Lina and I stand fixed in the lap of a divine beauty. No trees nor resting place. Did they appear from the air’s nothingness or flew out of the mountain’s recesses? They start hopping from one place to another, staying within safe distance from us. We sit on the dyke; watching the gulls and occasionally admiring the peaks of the mountains and rolling ripples of the lake. For some slippery moments we think that it’s our home; that the mountains, the lake and the gulls, and of course, the pebbles are in our prime possession. We feel as free as the gulls who call Pangong home.
Time trickily slithers into afternoon. The sun somewhat regains his might, lending the water more beauty and saturation. The blue spread on one side and turquoise on the other get equally captivating. I drive my fingers in the cold, freezing water for a while. Lina fixes her eyes on the eastern side where the lake connects to China.
Ah! China! Within close reach of the Indian waters and we don’t have any sense of animosity generated by crude political shenanigans. In the waters of Pangong lie reflected eternal vibrations of peace. Not just us; hardly any tourist on the banks of Pangong thinks about border tensions. For Pangong is a paradise of freedom where your soul is immune to machinations of governments.
Ammo and Prakash, our Ladakhi guides grow curious about our just-earned, immeasurable joy. Till we had the first glimpse of the lake through a wedge between the slopes of two mountains on our way Ammo was the interlocutor and we were mute listeners barring occasional clarifications. At the lake’s edge we forgot everything; and everyone. I even wonder: is this how some travellers get lost and strange travelogues are penned?
Ammo tries to be back in the scene, telling us of a popular Bollywood film shot at Pangong. She is grateful to the filmmakers as they brought in more tourists to Ladakh and to this 40 mile-stretch lake more than half of which flows in China. “Whether it be in India or China, the lake knows no difference, nor the mountains change their imposing stature and magnitude”, Ammo produces a statement of optimism which is not expected out of a tourist guide’s explanatory talk. Soon we realise the Ladakhis’ pride of their region; their land in the mountains and their close proximity to one another though living in scattered villages in the valleys and on the hills. I recollect Prakash waving and even stopping by on our way here to greet the local folks each time we came across Ladakhis. Do Prakash and Ammo know all of them? Do all Ladakhis know each other? What a contrast to our chained world of inhibition!
Lina and I turn our eyes toward the snows on the mountains. We see its white glare on the azure water down on the lake. The sun seems to slowly wester away. The gathering clouds from China accumulate. We watch and dine.
About the author: I am Pramod Kanakath, an Indian national living and working in Indonesia. During my holidays I take a break from my teaching career and wander among lakes, beaches, mountains and jungles. I write about them and use my Canon DSLR to freeze some of the scenes.
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