India: Tso Moriri Lake

Friday, Hannah and I awoke early to a cold and drizzly morning, rounded up our friends Jon and Brian, and after breakfast, we headed down to the Virgo travel agency to meet up with the others for our two-day camping trip to Pangang Lake. Altogether, there were thirteen of us (the other nine were boisterous Israelis), and after my quick scurry to a nearby shop to score some gloves and socks, we boarded two separate jeeps for the six-hour drive to the lake.

Just an hour into our journey, we were stopped by approaching cars that informed us that the road ahead was impassable due to heavy snows. Therefore, after several phone conversations with the tour operator in Leh, we unanimously voted to head to a different lake and campsite, Lake Tso Moriri, which was about five hours in the other direction and an additional 150 rupees more each. We had to wait for an hour for the tour operator to bring us extra sleeping bags (we were supposed to meet up with a returning jeep for supplies). Our next predicament came when, just an hour from our destination, we were refused the right to pass through a police barricade because the tour operator had made a mistake with one of the Isreali’s passport numbers (police barricades are ubiquitous in this northern region of India, thanks to all the fighting in Kashmir). Finally, after obtaining permission from a superior officer, we were allowed to pass.

We finally arrived at Tso Moriri Lake just at sunset (we were due to arrive around 2:00 pm), appalled to find that we were to set up our tents in a nasty campground full of cow poo and trash. We opted to move to a more desolate spot beside a little stream, but that meant we were far from any view of the lake (which I would liken to the Atlantic, while the photos of Pangang Lake were reminicent of the Caribbean). Oh, and the surprises just kept on coming…we quickly allocated ourselves jobs…some people set up the tent (yes, tent…singular…the tour operator forgot to give us two tents, so that meant there would be thirteen people in one tent…if you want to even call an old, thin, hole-riddled parachute a tent!), some prepared dinner, some pretended to work, and I layered on as much clothing as possible…it was freezing! We had been promised firewood, but apparently the village around the lake did not have wood, so my search for something to burn came back with a big bag of cow dung…Indian firewood.

Finally, the tent was set up, the thirteen sleeping bags (some of which would not zip up) and mats miraculously just fit inside (we decided that no one would sleep in the jeeps…we would all tough it out together and keep as much body heat inside the para-tent/tent-a-chute as possible), and a candlelight dinner of mushy pasta, Israeli salad, bread, tea, and fried bananas was served. Around 11:00 pm, after scarfing down the delicious meal, we curled up in our sleeping bags and prepared for a long, freezing night (we found out later it went down to around 15 degrees F!). As soon as I set my head down on my makeshift pillow, I was wide awake. Finally, around 4:15 am, after hours of tossing and turning and two miserable bathroom trips outside, I gave up trying to sleep and waited for the sun to rise.

By 6:00 Saturday morning everyone was awake, and we began cleaning up the campsite while some of the Israelis cooked breakfast. After eating eggs, tomatoes, cucumbers, and potatoes, we packed everything away, wearily dragged our numb bodies into the jeeps, and made our way back to Leh. We arrived just after lunchtime, and after a semi-peaceful chat with the tour operator (we refused to pay the extra 150 Rupees), we finally made it back to the guesthouse.

I have to say, even though we encountered too many mishaps and problems, not to mention that I was completely underdressed for the extreme, below-freezing weather, I had a great time. I love camping, and I love any experience that makes for a good story…otherwise, it would have just been another, unforgettable jeep ride to a lake!

Last night we ate dinner and watched a bit of soccer (I only managed to witness the first ten minutes of the USA match before finally succumbing to my exhaustion). This morning Hannah, Jon and I, along with Stu (another fellow from the UK), took a taxi to a nearby gompa, or Buddhist monastery. We wandered around and snapped some photos in the crisp air before coming back to Leh. Tomorrow, Stu and I are taking a bus up north to Lamayuru, home of one of the largest and most famous Gompas in the Ladakhi region, and Wednesday we will travel to the little village of Alchi before making our way back to meet the others in Leh on Thursday. I am excited to do some exploring!

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