Pangong Tso shaonlee bose & saurabh ganguli

"My head hurts” said Bikki - my boy had turned six earlier this month. Sitting inside a camp few meters away from Pangong Tso, I felt a sense of persistent anxiety. I tried to recollect all that I had read and gathered before I came for this trip, looking for ways to alleviate his pain. The reason we had put away this trip for four years was staring back at me now. Perhaps this was too early, I felt deeply guilty. What happens if this only increases? How far do I have to travel if I need to reach a medical facility? Should I administer oxygen from a can? How many times? The little fellow was struggling to adjust to the lack of oxygen in the air. The sub-zero temperature outside and the howling winds only compounded the problems.

I rummaged through the medicine kit to give him all that was recommended. He fell asleep quickly. The drive from Leh had worn him down. My 10-year-old-son, Ahaan, was reading his book nearby, he didn’t look ill, but wasn’t energetic and sprightly either. I give him some preventive medicines, already in total panic mode. Was it okay for one to sleep right after the medicines? I asked myself, sifting through my brains to recollect what I had read, and came up with nothing. Google had officially stopped working from Leh airport. There was absolutely no data services anywhere in Ladakh, no voice either. I did not know if I should let him sleep or wake him up, but I instinctively choose to let him rest and stepped out of the camp, partly because I needed to clear my head and party because the unseen, unruly breeze was taking shape of a persistent young adolescent, out drunk, one festive evening.

I walked towards the lake which looked like a massive blue jewel to me - the wind and the mist combined to create a most surreal play on the water. Waves crashed on the rocky beach, the multicolored mountain ranges on the other side seemed full of mystery and stories. No one knew what lies there…I told myself. I walked by a now deserted coastline, rocky but pristine and so deeply meditative that I was tempted to wander off despite the breathlessness and a restless little boy at the camp nearby.

A few photographers were wrapping up their gear, mine however was just getting started. The low light and the ‘golden hour’ are Saurabh’s favorite time for shoots. I saw him remove his jacket and gloves impatiently to point the camera at the distant horizon where I could not see anything. The light dimmed further and he started working faster. These were his ideal conditions - the cold fueled him, the vast emptiness surrounding us helped him think and compose, the failing light gave his work a magical silence that is both unique and refreshing. I sat afar observing him, obsessed with his craft and in a place far away, discovering new limits and building new stories.

The place induces a restful lull…by now I am a little less worried about acclimatization and headaches and food choices for dinner. I found it hard to look away from the lapping waves at my feet and looked at the distant. I told myself I will miss the dramatic expanse of multicolored mountain ranges, but by now I have made friends with that persistent young adolescent wind and his equally charming love – the tempestuous waves.

The morning after was bathed in golden sunlight – the sky was dotted with playful clouds and the bitter chill of the night swept away by the glorious sun. We spent hours by the lake, stacking pebbles and chucking them in the lake.

Ahaan and Bikki found a pair of cute horses to ride along the lake completely overwhelmed by the beauty all around them.

We avoided those “Three Idiots” inspired props that had made its way to the lakeside and walked by the coastline following soaring seagulls till we found some very gentle Yaks, by the lake, decorated in Ladakhi gear, waiting to ferry tourists around. The boys fell instantly in love with these gentle beasts. Bikki had forgotten his headache and they fussed around these mighty creatures like they were puppies in our backyard.

These unexpected bondings have a way of nudging itself into our hearts and staying there forever. From the look of it the boys were going to remember Chotu and Rancho, for a long time to come.

My ten-year-old son, Ahaan had read some books on Ladakh before we came for the trip. While we were focused on preparing ourselves for medical exigencies, packing the right gear, he spent all his time researching about wildlife and birds of Ladakh.

On top of the list, was the majestic black necked crane. In India, this bird is found only in Ladakh around marshy wetlands, although there have been some sightings in Arunachal Pradesh. Sadly, only a handful of them remain now. Some say in Ladakh, the population is less than 50 around this time of the year, mainly because loss and degradation of habitat, feral dogs and the fact that they only have one egg or two has seriously affected the population. A sighting in Pangong Tso was most probable, Ahaan told us. He had stayed up, looking out of the window throughout the journey. He wanted us to hire a bird watching camp and get up at 4 am to try and track them by the lake. We couldn’t find a bird watching camp for hire and 4 am in the morning was dark, dangerous and so cold that we couldn’t bear to step out of the camp. As we drove towards Leh, without seeing one, he seemed entirely dejected. Perhaps in our next trip, we consoled, but chances are the bird will get even more rare then, he told us quietly as his nose touched the floor of the car. We couldn’t argue with that.

To be continued…

about the authors

Some of our friends and family call us a clan of restless, wandering souls. We are always either making travel plans or living them. Sometimes we fight about the choice of destination – as each one of us has a list (including the little one), and we are all vociferously arguing our case. Rarely does all our choice coincide, but we are still a buzzing happy clan when we are out on the road, all feverish and impatient to see the unseen.

Created By
Shaonlee Bose


Saurabh Ganguli

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