LAND ABOVE THE CLOUDS
To many, Ladakh is a vacation. For me, it was a journey.....
I dreamt of traveling to Ladakh for many years, and so when the opportunity arose in August 2011 with the prospect of traveling with a group of professional and semi-pro photographers, I grabbed it! I knew it would be physically and mentally challenging especially because I would give myself no time to acclimatise to the altitude. Most of Ladakh is at an altitude of 12,000 feet and the locations we would be traveling to, the magnificent high altitude lakes, Tso Moriri (Tso:Lake) and Tso Kar both lie at altitudes between 14,000 feet and 15,500 feet; getting to and from these places meant crossing passes as high as 18,000 ft. Oxygen levels at this altitude would be 63% that of sea level and the landscape is a barren high-altitude desert. Through the 5 days I was there I rarely saw any trees, and three of the 5 days, no trees at all.
The photos I clicked capture a land that is barren, but gorgeous at the same time. The many colors of the Indus Valley where most of the 150,000 people live, is to behold. The superb blues of Tso Moriri contrasting in a fabulous way with the browns of the barren surrounding land and the mighty 6000 meter snow-capped peaks were a sight for sore eyes.
However, nothing prepared me for the harshness of Tso Kar, a salt water lake between the Changthang (Norther Plains of Tibet) and the Leh-Manali Highway. We walked many kilometers of the dry and salty lake bed looking for many rare species of birds. We were fortunate to have a cloudy day else the sun would have accentuated the harshness. Faces burnt, lungs gasped, muscles wore down, as we trudged the vast distances, where no shade gave us reprieve, lugging our heavy camera equipment. The salty breeze and the brine water made it even more formidable.
I hope these photos ably describe the many colors of this magnificent place, of the wonderful people we met along the way, living the pristine life of the mountain-buddhists, unchanged for generations even today. I hope you enjoy these photos as much as I enjoyed taking them. Each photo was captured with
great emotion, emotion that, I hope, is ably represented in the images, such is the magnetism of this land. A land truly inspiring. The Land of the High Passes.
UPDATE: December 2014
I returned back to Ladakh after the pangs of seeing the Himalayas kept gnawing harder. This time I covered Pangong Tso, a region that I missed the last time round. I wanted to experience the harshness of a Ladakh winter and was a bit disappointed to see that it was a warmer winter this year. Temperatures hovered around -6 C at night and around 1 C during the day. The average for this time of the year is a low of -15 C! Pangong, at 14,200 ft, was gorgeous and the skies were blue; crossing the Chang La pass at 17,688 ft was an adventure with freezing winds and low oxygen levels. The lake was icing around the edges but, because of the India-China border tensions, we could not travel very close to the border.