The road from 15 km before K-TOP was very bad with potholes with water, gravel, loose mud and stones all thrown in at random. Our progress was slow due to army convoy trucks as well. Finally after 2.5 hours from start we reached the K-TOP. It has a souvenir shop, temple and a canteen apart from various structures declaring the height and might of K-TOP. There was snow at K-TOP because of which it was chilly out there. I bought a hat and 5 key chains. After some coffee and smoke, we started down. Again the road was bad till North Pullu. The story of S&N Pullu is that earlier Yaks and caravan and now even army convoy cross over from North to South or vice-versa across K-TOP in a single day and rest for night after. From North Pullu, good road started but no respite from army trucks. Most of them were generous enough to give sides and we used to wave them to say thanks using left hand. In between we saw some yaks grazing in whatever green patches they could find.
Soon we reached Khardung village and settled in a tea shop. After laborious and lousy way of ordering we almost spent 2 hours there. I was insisting on leaving for Diskit but others were just passing time with nonsensical talks. We left Khardung village and continued from Khalsar village towards Diskit. After Khardung, the terrain started changing. We were loosing height in a great amount and soon saw Shyok river and its basin. The Shyok river is not one monolithic stream but several streams within its basin. It was quite below and we eventually had to come to its level. The river basin is basically the entire valley between two parallel mountain range. There were some green patches with trees, field and few houses among them.
The patch was actually around a tributary stream coming from high up from the mountain and meeting the Shyok river. We continued on the left bank of Shyok river which meets Nubra river coming from Siachen glacier. The confluence is not clear due to huge basin of both rivers meeting. Its hard to make out where the rivers meet. The basin otherwise is full of many streams, sand, stones and occasional greenery. After some driving close to Diskit we came to a location where we had to cross a flat patch of valley full of sand. When seen from top the road is just a think black strip among the field of sand. That stretch itself would be 2-3 kms. If we take out the mountains the road will look like coming directly from Jaisalmer in Thar desert.
We eventually reached Diskit and after seeing 2-3 hotel checked into Sand Dunes guest house. The guest house was quite comfortable with gorgeous flowers in full bloom and nice spread of food.
Apart from that Diskit had a road dotted with shops selling clothes, groceries, tailor, AV center and restaurants as well. There were cars and two-wheelers and lady drivers. It had school, hospital and even internet connection though it was not working. Surprisingly the shop-keepers were from plains a Rajasthani and Haryanvi. Prosperity of town could be attributed to presence of army as well. Due to army the roads to these towns are good and mostly accessible. Sometimes army adopts these border towns and villages which bolster the prosperity of town. Also these town are the only place for army personnel to come in contact with non-serviceman people. After a good nice dinner in the open, it was time to sleep.
At the dinner in Sezer restaurant we met a couple from Italy who were also staying in the same guesthouse. We talked a bit about India, Rajasthan and Ladakh region. The host was calling us people from India which I didn’t like as if they are not Indians. They also have a term from down for people coming from plains. After waiting for others for sometime, I decided to visit the hot springs myself. It was some 1/2 km down and some 100 mts up the hill. There were few concrete rooms and barricades. But neither was there anybody and the whole place was dirty, uninspiring and water was flowing everywhere. There was brown-green algae or Sulphur deposits that I didn’t know. The water was around 60-70 deg Celsius.
12th Aug (Panamik – Alchi)
In the morning, I was contemplating going to hot spring and taking bath there. But as it came out the host was getting hot water for our bath from one of the channels out of hot spring itself. Then I changed my mind and decided to have my bath at guest house only. I did accompany the host to the place from where he was fetching warm water. There I met a guy from Varanasi whose accent was more bihari. He was employed in ITBP in intelligence section. He was telling stories of how they feel glad on meeting people from down. He also came to the guesthouse and met others. He says the temp in winter drops to -35% C and how they sill feel cold. Some people suffer from HAPO (High Altitude Pulmonary Odeama) and they are sent back. When he heard that I came from Hyderabad he got interested as his brother was studying in CCMB (Center for Cellular Microbiology). He was asking how were the prospects & my opinion whether he should send the brother abroad. He told us that Panamik is on the road to Siachen base camp which is some 50 km away.
We left guesthouse in the late morning. We reached Khalsar among mountains with ominous looking clouds and mild rain.
And from there to Khardung, the same teashop where had tea while coming. From Khardung up to North Pullu, road was good but from there onwards road was bad also bolstered by army convoy. We reached K-TOP around 2PM. Descent from there was uneventful and generally easy. We went straight to Padmaling hotel where Vicky and Sandy had to settle bills. The host had promised to keep a room vacant for them on coming back from Nubra and that is why he did not take money when they left for Nubra. This stop delayed things. We further got delayed due to my companion went to make STD calls. By the time we left for Lamayuru, it was getting dark. We made a stop at Pathar Sahib Gurudwara hoping to get to eat in langar but it happens only on Sundays and today was Saturday. We left after getting darshan and prasad. We did not spot the magnetic strip on the Leh-Kargil road where vehicles are known to go up against gravity as it was dark. It was really dark and driving was getting difficult. It was pitch dark except occasional vehicle from other side and only headlights from our bikes piercing the dark. Once or twice we had to come back in search of each other. There was a problem in chain getting lose in my companion’s bike so we decided to take halt for night. We were at Saspol where there was no hotel. A shopkeeper directed us to go to Alchi which was just 6-7 kms. We heeded his advice and settled in a guesthouse in Alchi with a plan that we will start early and go all the way to Srinagar. There was a caveat that Zojila can be passed only up to 1 PM and is closed on Monday. The host of the guest house was nice as he woke up the cook who cooked a meal of fried rice which we gulped down and went to sleep.