Landing in the disputed land of Changthang – Chumur
I didn’t long for a white-knuckle adventure, but snowbound Changthang happened to be one. In Extreme Road Tripping in Changthang, Ladakh – I of this travelogue series I shared how my unflinching love for the Himalayas took me to the remotest part of the world. This post talks about how I traversed through the vistas of staggering snow-capped mountains and arid high-altitude plains while discovering some breathtaking sights and people.
The destination is a powerful motivator for the journey but mostly, it is the journey that matters. A journey to the Changthang Plateau, the rooftop of the world, is not only a stunning salute to the power of nature but also a constant struggle to contain it. Join in to relive this treasured journey.
After I convinced the Sarpanch to be my unsuspecting partner in the trip, I set out in a 4×2 vehicle to Chumathang. Before the journey, he visited the altar room, lit the butter lamp and the incense sticks, and offered water to the great protector of Ladakh. The altar room, with its Buddhist statues and thangkas, was the most important part of his house. In Buddhism, religion is a remedy for coping with tragedies. The tragedy is explained and overcome through ritual and prayers.
We started with a plan to visit Tso Moriri but being a sucker for unexplored trails, my plans changed midway. And the credit goes to Sarpanch. His stories about the difficult life of living in the disputed Indo-China land and live mummy at Chumur Gompa were good enough reasons to change my mind.
My route for two days of travel was:
Chumathang – Mahe Bridge – Sumdo – Namshang La – Kiagar Tso – Korzok – Chumur – Puga –Sumdo – Tso Moriri – Chumathang
We took the kaccha (unpaved) road passing through his village, where he proudly showed me a 100 years old monastery, a relatively new monastery as per Ladakhi standard. During our drive through the craggy and desolate mountains, he kept talking about the accompanying mountain peaks and what lay behind them. He spoke about the 18 lakes in the region, all of which are not yet discovered. He was particularly fond of Choku La peak (5,560m), a revered peak as per Buddhism. From Mahe Bridge, we started climbing towards the rustic Sumdo village, located downstream from the Puga Hotsprings.
This village is completely inhabited by the Chang Pas (Tibetan pastoral nomads) who moved here in 1963. From Sumdo, the road climbed up to the prayer flags draped Namashang La pass (5000m). Being a steadfast devotee of the mountain god, Sarpanch offered prayers to the Namashang La. The legend says if you take a round around the pass then mountain god protects you. We did our job and the god did his. After the Namashang La, we passed through the beautiful Kiagar Tso Lake, which was completely frozen. It was impossible to tell where the lake was and where the valley lay. I was enjoying the heart-stopping artistry of the ultimate artist. I was so engrossed in the beauty that I had forgotten to click pictures. Sarpanch knew my love for pictures and reminded me. Call it living in the moment 🙂
LANDING IN THE DISPUTED LAND OF CHUMUR
After Kiagar Tso, we finally started descending down to Korzok. Barren mountains stretched in every direction, casting shadows over the barely-there road. After reaching the Korzok Bridge, we took a left to continue our drive to Chumur. The 51 km journey from Korzok to Chumur was so awe-inspiring that I easily shrugged off the discomforts and the many heart-in-mouth moments that came as a package deal. After four hours I was finally in Chumur, the tri-junction of Ladakh, Himachal Pradesh and China. This village has been the bone of contention between India and China for the last couple of years. Earlier pastoral nomads could walk into Chinese part while grazing their livestock but now they are not allowed near the border. Standing on the actual LAC, it was difficult to decipher where India was and where China was. Why are we humans so hell-bent on creating borders where none exist!
Next on my agenda was to visit ‘the Gompa with the live Mummy’. There are two stories about live mummy. One story says the Lama’s body was embalmed and kept inside the monastery forever because that was his only wish. Every year they have to trim his nails and beard. Another legend says a witch was punished by having her hands dismembered, embalmed and kept in the Gompa as a warning to the people to not take law in their hands. Whatever might be the real story, mountains are full of such folklores. Sometimes they create these stories just to keep the fear alive in people.
Visiting Chumur, a village of thirty houses, was an experience for life. The village seemed to belong to a bygone era, an era that we seemed to have left far behind. I wanted to spend a bit more time there but Sarpanch warned me that we might get stuck if we didn’t leave in time so we decided to return to Puga.
- Best time: June to September is the best time to explore the scenic beauty, high altitude lakes and abundant wildlife of Changthang region
- Journey: Chumur can be reached within 3-4 hours from Chumathang. Start early to reach by 10 am. Either return the same day or stay at Korzok or TsoMoriri
- Permit: You need an inner line permit to go there and you are not allowed to visit the area near actual LAC. Don’t forget to visit the alive mummy of the lama
- Tank up: Before you start your journey ensure your fuel tank is full and the vehicle is in good shape. There are no petrol pumps and help on the way
- Carry food and water: In summers you can find a Dhaba at Korzok but in winters there is nothing. So carry your refills