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The Vaishnodevi Experience 2023

My first trip to Vaishnodevi was unimpressive. Climbing was hard, and it only served to highlight how badly out of shape I was, while my in-laws managed to cope so much better. Further, I hadn’t quite realized that the cave experience wouldn’t be the same as I had imagined, since the original cave was only opened at certain times a year, and that we only entered a newly created tunnel, one far easier to access, and hence more manageable with the crowds that thronged the mountain shrine. The resulting experience at the shrine, for barely a fraction of a second, hardly compared to what I had expected / imagined / heard about. So, for me, Vaishnodevi was like any other temple, nothing to write home about, something that was reflected (though not explicitly mentioned) in the blog post I wrote then.

Ladakh Diaries Part 7: Pangong Lake

Pangong Tso, or Pangong Lake, situated at an elevation of about 4,300m (around 14,000ft), is the highest saltwater lake in the world. It is 134km long and covers an area of over 600 square metres. Only 40% of the lake lies within Ladakh. The rest is controlled by China. The lake is a picturesque sight, and is one of the most popular destinations in Ladakh.

We set off from Leh at 9 AM, eager to be on the road once again. Passing the 17th century Chemrey monastery along the way, I realized just how little of Ladakh we were actually seeing on this trip.

We crossed the pass at Chang La (~17,000ft) and saw a different facet of Ladakh. The mountains were the constant, but now rivers and sandy beds alternated every now and then with muddy areas and lush green patches of vegetation.

Spots of colour were added by wildflowers, yet another difference on this route.

We spotted a number of yaks and horses grazing along the road, and were told that while the yaks belonged to herders, the horses once belonged to the army, and were now retired, and had been let out to pasture. The horses indeed seemed to have gone wild, with long manes and unruly tails, happily grazing in the lush greenery, barely lifting their head as cars whizzed by.

Somewhere along the route, we entered the Changthang Wildlife sanctuary, home to, among other animals, the Kiang (Tibetan wild ass) and the Himalayan Marmot. The sanctuary is also home to a number of migratory birds. The sanctuary deserves a trip by itself, and I made a mental note to remember this, if I ever managed to visit Ladakh again!

The wildflowers and pastures soon gave way to sand. At one place, sand was blowing around in the wind, like a small dust storm. We hadn’t seen anything like this even among the sand dunes of Nubra!

After such a varied landscape, the Pangong lake was still a surprise, the beautiful shade of blue peeking between the mountains.

The road took us along the lake for quite a distance before we reached the campsite. It was around 2 PM when we reached, and, we couldn’t wait to stow our luggage in the tent and head towards the lake.

The campsite stretched across the banks of the lake, and I shuddered to think of the crowds that would gather. Thankfully, there weren’t too many people around when we  visited, and we were able to enjoy our solitude.

It was like staying on a beach camp, with more pebbles than sand! We spent most of our time either walking along the water line, or sitting on one of the rocks with our feet in the water. Small waves washed our feet, and even in summer, it was cold! The water was cold, and the temperature was far lower than what we had experienced through the entire trip. This was the only place my winter wear felt inadequate.

Through the afternoon, we enjoyed the sight of the water, admiring the colours. As the sun began to set, we watched the light move across the mountains, and wondered what it would look like, from the other side of the lake, which is off-limits. 

By the time it got dark, I was cold and decided to head back to the tent for some warmth, and to update my diary. Shankar stayed out far longer, and sometime late in the night, was lucky enough to spot shooting stars! I haven’t yet forgiven him for not waking me up!

We woke up early in the morning to watch the sun rise. This was the one time I wished I had a better camera, and better photography skills. Still, I managed as best as I could… take a look at what it looked like…

We left soon after breakfast to make our way back to Leh. We were leaving the next day and had to settle our accounts.

We had spent around 30 hours at Pangong, most of which was spent simply staring at the lake and the mountains. Never before have I sat still for so long, simply watching the water and the mountains with nothing to distract me – no birds, no crustaceans, no people. Even today, the memories of that time are so strong. I can simply close my eyes and be transported back there. I just find myself wishing that could really happen, and that I could go back, and enjoy it all over again!

On our way back, we managed to spot the Himalayan Marmots – rodent-like creatures which are endemic to the region. The animals have obviously learnt that tourists are excellent sources of food, and turn up to beg for food.

We had thought that this would be the end of the adventures on this trip, but how wrong we were. We were about 40 km from Leh, passing by a monastery, when we were hailed by an old man standing on the side of the road, asking for a lift. By now, we had gotten used to this, and having a big car with the just the two of us travelling, we had offered lifts to many people, and had a lot of interesting conversations too. Thus, we were happy to offer the old man a lift. What a surprise it was to us, that he turned out to be a Padmashri awardee, for his social work. Mr. Tashi Tundop had received the award back in 2014, and at 82 years of age, was still active. It was inspiring to meet someone like him, working even at this age, for the improvement of the community. 


  1. Amazing article. Your blog helped me to append myself in many ways thanks for sharing this nice of wonderful informative blogs in enliven.

  2. Great piece. Luckily stumbled across this article. Will read all your parts..planning to visit Ladakh this month. Can't ask for a more informative piece. Thanks a lot .Kannan


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