Friday, July 16, 2010

Stok-Leh-Pangong (July 11-15)

I have a few hours before the bus, so I go chat with Gyatso at Vajra, go have some apricot juice at the Ecological Organic Products store (or something like that) – where the lovely girls now call me Ladakhi Didi – something along the lines of Ladakhi big sister, since the first time I went to the shop they assumed I was Ladakhi (I was wearing a kurta and had no bag with me) and spoke Ladakhi very quickly to me, and were so embarrassed when I told them I was Japanese/Chinese. I head back down to the bus stand and off I go to Stok. Kalden Guesthouse is directly underneath Stok Palace, and lovely Sonam and I have a nice chat, I go for a wander through the village, and it’s the perfect unwinding alone time that I need before I head back to Leh.

The next day, all this intense travel finally catches up to me and I head back to Leh, then take it easy for most of the day. Leh still retains a lot of charm, despite the crowds of tourists, honking, and the slowly but surely gathering rubbish. I book my trip to Pangong Tso with Gyatso, and the rest of the time I spend lounging around. Lots of apricot juice. Great.

Gyatso deserves a medal simply for how gracious he is with me and all the other tourists that demand so much from him. The story for Pangong changed each time I went to speak with him; first it was a price based on 3 people, then 5, then 4, then one night, then daytrip, then…who knows. In the end, I was with an American couple and got to ride shotgun the whole way, but since he had quoted me the price for 5 people, he stuck to it. Amazing guy. The ride to Pangong is beautiful for about the first 2-3 hours, then the rest, unfortunately for me, starts to get a bit repetitive. Not to mention the altitude is really kicking in – I think this was the most I felt in Ladakh, other than at Khardung-la on the way to Nubra Valley. The lake is certainly beautiful, constantly changing hues of blues, turquoise, and green, constantly mutating with the sunlight. It is an enormous lake, with more than half of it being in Tibet – we were very close to the border with China. In fact, Chinese citizens cannot go to Pangong Tso! The government doesn’t issue permits for them…

I found a lovely little basic homestay and spend the afternoon sitting by the windy lake, reading, strolling a bit, and then had a great dinner and off to bed. The next day sunrise was serene, and then we pretty much headed straight back to Leh. In Leh, it’s really quite endearing how even though there are such masses of short-term tourists passing through here, certain individuals in the town still really embrace you and take the time to get to know you. Saleem, from Srinagar, has a shop up in Upper Changspa and we have had some great long chats ranging a huge variety of topics, and are always laughing throughout. Now I have spent a lot of time with so many of the Kashmiri shopkeepers in Ladakh. They love that I’ve been to Kashmir. Not one of them has ever tried to sell me a single thing in their shops, not even a postcard. I love them for this – more than one of them has said that if they did try to sell me something, I would end up buying something. I tell them I have no doubt and thank them for sparing me from their (in)famous marketing. They really do seem to somehow categorize people; who to sell to, and who to befriend. And once they befriend you, it’s with that same fierce loyalty that I experienced in the Middle East, Kashmir, and what Mortenson talks about.

Tonight I leave Ladakh and head to Manali. It’s easy to see how so many people fall in love with Ladakh and Leh and stay here for a long time, but I feel like it’s time for me to move on.

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