Gabi: Skip told me the view was spectacular. He even had photos to prove it. I was sitting right next to him but didn’t see a bit of it. All I saw was the 50 foot stretch in front of our car as we climbed rapidly into the Himalayas on the narrow road that became more and more terrifying with every blind curve and hairpin bend.
Struck with sheer panic as the few feet of guardrail disappeared and the road angled sharply upward, I experienced most of this memorable drive to Pagong Lake with sweaty palms, heart palpitations and a trembling vice-like grip on the door handle (as if it would magically anchor me to safety if our car plummeted off the cliff).
Ahead, the road climbed deeper and deeper into the mountains, snow-capped peaks in the distance and multi-coloured rocks tinged with brown, gold, grey and red all around. For me, however, relaxing was impossible. Enjoyment was even more so. The mental part of me battled with the physical side as I told myself the fear was all in my mind. But my mind wouldn’t block out images of cars plummeting off cliffs and people never being heard of again. Then, about an hour into our four-hour drive, the tarmac ran out.
Now, not only were we perched on the edge of a narrow road thousands of feet up, but we were driving over loose boulders, gravel and sand – at times getting precariously close to the edge and at times driving over small rock-filled rivers, some a couple of feet deep.
After two hours we reached the pinnacle – the Chang La pass – which, at 17,856 feet is the third highest in the world. There we met an incredible young woman named Shirine Taylor who hailed from Canada and had just bicycled up from Leh and was planning on taking three years to cycle around the world. Hunbling indeed. And a little embarrassing to admit my discomfort when all I did was sit in a car.
When we left the pass to head for the lake, the road turned even worse and led downhill over rocks, gaping holes and loose gravel on every corner. But eventually we got what we came for: the gorgeous Pangong Lake – a pristine aquamarine lake buried in the Himalayas, surrounded by jagged mountains that looked purple in the afternoon sun and a smattering of brilliant snow which still remained in these summer months.
I wish I could say the ride down was better. It wasn’t. In fact, there were some parts where I was close to tears, when the beauty of white-capped mountains was replaced by the horror of white knuckles.
Am I happy I went? Absolutely. It was the experience of a lifetime seeing this incredible lake and journeying into a part of the world that most people don’t even hear about.
Would I do it again? I’ll leave it to you to answer that one.