We have packed overnight bags for an overnight stay at Pangong but take our cases anyway – poor Tashi has a task to pack everything into the boot, given that we also seem to be carrying an extra large picnic. Danish is worried we won’t be properly fed and looked after at Pangong but I suspect it will be more the type of place we are all used to!
Today feels much cooler – very pleasant. When we ask Tashi the temperature, expecting there to be a thermometer on the dashboard, he waves his arm out the window and announces confidently it is between 12 and 15 Celsius though, as always, it feels warmer in the rarefied air. Our first stop is on the main road at Igu. This time, John is able to identify the contact between the Granitoid batholiths and Indus Molasse on either side of the suture easily. At Karu we have to show our passports and permits before we can cross into the army controlled zone but Tashi deals with this, and all proceeds smoothly.
From here we head off northwards into the mountains, at first in a flat side valley off the Indus past Chemre monastery. The contrast between the green, terraced valley bottom and the steep, bone-dry mountains is stark. Soon the road starts to climb, zig-zagging across the face of the mountains for maybe 20 km until we finally reach the top of Chang La Pass at 17688 ft. We are just about on the snow line here, as John demonstrates when I am bending down photographing flowers and lichens! The views are superb but the air is very thin and we probably spend a bit longer than we should here.
Chang La pass
We drop down below Tangtse for lunch – from here it is a fairly flat 30 km or so to Pangong and we are amidst some spectacular gneiss mountains. The sun is leaving the valley fast and there is quite a breeze so we eat our biryani quickly – much more like normal UK picnic conditions!
We drive through the very impressive remains of a glacier before Pangong Tso. This is textbook geology – a glacier lake, moraines and glacial erratics. In fact, today’s route is a great way to get a clear picture of the whole rock cycle in action.
There are obvious salt deposits in the bottom of the valley where evaporating water has pulled these to the surface and these no doubt affect the plants that grow here, though there isn’t really time to stop and look today. The other interesting adaptation is the bright red hue of many of the plants growing at this altitude, including the lichens. They have their own built in sunscreen in the form of carotenoid pigments.
Our first glimpse of Pangong lake in the last of the sun is spectacular – an unbelievable blue against a backdrop of marbled mountains. Tashi points out that the mountains we see at the far end of the lake are in Tibet.
Looking towards Tibet
We drive along the lake for a few km to Pangong Resort where we are relieved to find we have rooms in the building rather than one of the many tents dotted around. These would be lovely in summer, but it’s distinctly chilly this evening. The two duvets on each bed gives us a clue of what to expect!
We have a welcome cup of tea, then Helen and I take a short walk down to the lake to scope out a diatom sampling site for tomorrow morning in the last of the sun’s glow. Dinner is a buffet, as seems the norm, but there is plenty of good food on offer so I’m not quite sure why Danish was concerned. The accommodation is basic but fine and the staff friendly. After dinner we wrap up warmly and venture out again to have a look at the stars. The Milky Way is clearly visible and the plethora of stars incredibly twinkly in the clear air. We are up at around 14 000 ft tonight and it’s noticeably harder to multitask – walking and talking is something of a problem!