The Indus river is the back bone of Ladakh. It is also the river India gets its name from. We explore the land the river travels through
A beautiful destination often results in major missing once you are back, but a trip to Ladakh can leave you with a permanent hangover. The real, raw and unadulterated beauty of Ladakh and its people never fails to touch the very core of your being.
My love for Ladakh has resulted in various spiritual, cultural, heritage and adventure tours. This time, however, it was somewhat different. I decided to follow the journey of the mighty Indus River through Leh-Ladakh, from where it starts and into the land that it bestows with natural beauty.
The Indus river originates from the North of the highly revered Mt. Kailash, enters India at Demchok in Changthang valley, flows through the remotest part of the Changthang valley for 670 km before it reaches Nimu, where it merges with the Zanskar river, creating a beautiful sangam, while continuing onwards to Pakistan.
I arrived in Leh on a beautiful morning. As soon as I touched down, I filled my eyes and heart with all of majestic Himalayas. I had booked myself at the Zaltak guesthouse, where a very matronly caretaker welcomed me. She treated me to my favourite Jasmine Kehwa, Ladakhi roti and the routine lunch.
In the afternoon, with the help of my Ladakhi friend, I was able to secure the innerline permit to travel to Changthang. Acclimatisation was necessary as Changthang is higher than Leh. I used the rest of the day to acclimatise and revisited my favourite spots in and around Leh. These spots – Leh Palace, Hemis, Spituk, Lamayuru and Alchi – are also located on the banks of the majestic Indus river.
Monasteries are a constant in Leh. A visit to any of these monasteries is a very peaceful experience. In their tranquil and calm environments stay the most compassionate and knowledgeable people – the monks. They go out of their way to make you feel at home. At Hemis Gompa, I ended up having a conversation with a Lama for hours on the importance of education and how technology can be used to fight global warming!
Post my monastery visit, I hitch-hiked to Nimu, the spot where I fell in love with the Indus. The sight of the blue Zanskar flowing into emerald green Indus, I was reminded of my earlier experience of taming the wild rapids of Indus during a rafting expedition. It was so easy to lose myself there while soaking the breathtaking views of the Ladakh and Zanskar ranges.
Enroute Leh, I made a halt at the Hall of Fame Museum, which houses many stories about ourbrave soldiers. I still get goosebumps when I think of Captain Vijayant Thapar’s last letter to his parents, days before he made the supreme sacrifice. The sunset was at the magnificent Shanti Stupa, the next pitstop on my way back. It carried a special message — stay majestic and gracious even in the slump.
I left for Chumangthang, a major junction in the Changthang region early next morning. For the entire 139 km journey, Indus kept me company. Frozen at some places, gushing though the canyons at the other. Chumangthang is asmall village that makes for the junction of many routes and is famous for hotsprings. After securing a comfortable stay, I set off to explore the village. I was introduced to the village Sarpanch, the most respected man in a village of 50 houses and also the owner of the Lamying Hotsprings Restaurant on the banks of the mighty Indus river.
Locals are the unsung heroes who turn good trips into great ones. The next two days were dedicated to visiting the most beautiful part of Changthang — The Changthang Wildlife Sanctuary. There was just one problem though — the lack of transport. It took a lot of persistence to make the Sarpanch agree!
Next morning, we left early for Chumur, the disputed village on Indo-China Line of Actual Control (LAC). The Sarpanch kept me entertained with his stories. According to him, there are 18 lakes in the region, all undiscovered. The famous three are Pangong Tso, Tso Moriri and Tso Kar. I broke my trip into two journeys and recommend the same to those visiting the region. These journeys proved to be very beatific and gratifying for a wanderer like me. I am sure you would love the experience as well.
Tale of Two Trails
We map out two beautiful journeys that you can undertake with Chumathang as your base
The drive from Chumathang to Demchok takes you through some of the best sights. The paradisiacal views of the meandering semi-frozen Indus River surrounded by the mighty Himalayas are a sight to behold. Demchok is the starting point of River Indus.
This drive up to Demchok is not an easy one. It can be slippery and slushy, depending upon the season, allowing your vehicle very little grip. We managed to reach the exact spot.
really isn’t the joy of reaching the destination that you relish when you embark on this one, but it is the joy of experiencing such an astounding journey that one can only dream of.
- Namshang La
It is a high mountain pass at an elevation of 4,960 m (16,273 ft) above the sea level. On the summit you will see hundreds of Buddhist prayer flags
The small collect of huts on the shore of Tso Moriri is called Korzok village. Here you must register and show your permit. You can pitch your tent here. There are no restrictions on camping.
Visiting Chumur is an experience for life. Standing on the actual LAC , it is difficult to decipher where India ends and where China begins.
Rebo Tent was my home for the night at Puga. In a harsh barren land where nothing grows, I was offered Ladakhi roti, satthu, yak soup and raw yak meat, embodying the true spirit of “atithi devo bhava”. The two places you must explore in Puga are the Puga Nomadic School and Puga Hotsprings.
- Tso Moriri
Tso Moriri is the largest of the high altitude lakes in India. During summer you can see an amazing variety of flora and fauna. This lake changes six to seven colours in a day.
Words By: Archana Singh