It was freezing cold at night with the temperatures dropping near zero but we were warm under two heavy blankets each and protected from the wind by a metal room. I was happy that sanDRina was starting so easily in the cold weather and she was actually running much better now at high altitude compared to riding on the hot plains. I think she also prefers to be in the mountains.
From Sarchu, the route headed to the Gata Loops, a series of 21 hair-pin bends that raise the elevation quickly by 460 m (1,509 ft). From there, the route slowly wound up to Nakee La at 4,920 m (16,138 ft), with stunning views of snow-capped peaks all around. The sky was also different now. It was a very deep blue that looked almost unreal. That effect comes about as there is hardly any water vapour in the air that produces the haze in the sky that we are all too familiar with when looking at the sky near the horizon on the plains. But up here, with the humidity so low, the rich, cobalt blue of the sky was a sight to behold, especially with no clouds whatsoever. And it made the contrast with the brown and red mountains all that much more vivid. A feast for the eyes and the camera lens.
Watch the video postcard:
After coming down from Nakee La, the route quickly wound back up to Lachung La at 5,080 m (16,663 ft). It felt amazing to cross 5,000 m in elevation; my first time since the high Andes of Bolivia. The air is so rarefied up here and humans are not meant to be up at this altitude, but here we are having built a road for regular traffic to pass through.
Knowing that today would be another short day, the three of us took a break by a glacier stream and just enjoyed being in the middle of nowhere surrounded by pristine beauty. We spent maybe an hour by the stream and in that time we saw it change. When we arrived, the water was clear and I filled up my water bottle and enjoyed the pure taste. By the time we left, it was infused with sediment and didn't look drinkable anymore. I'm guessing that as the sun heats up more of the snow, it flows faster from the peaks and takes more sediment along with it downstream. A wonderful experience to witness a small change in nature.
From there, it was a short ride to Pang at 4,520 m (14,826 ft). This would be the highest place that I've slept at. Pang is nothing more than a collection of temporary dhabas with beds for sleeping in the back but the dhaba we were at had a separate tent on the side and we took the whole tent for the three of us. The air was chilly but the afternoon sun was strong. I layered up with sunscreen as the UV rays are much stronger at higher altitude than lower down.
The afternoon was spent drinking lots of chai and playing cards while watching the life in this small gathering in the remote Himalayas. With my passable Hindi, I could muster that most of the families running the dhabas were Nepalis who set up these shelters each season to cater to truckers and passing travelers. In their spare time, they were knitting woolen caps and gloves. After a hearty dinner of vegetable chowmein and momos, we tucked in for an early night.
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