At 6:30 am, an altitude of 13000 ft and sub-zero temperature, all we could ask for was a steamy hot cup of chai to salvage us from the biting arid cold of Thangu Valley. This would be the last civilian village on the way to Gurudongmar Lake (17500 ft); so we waited rather patiently as the two nice ladies who ran the food stall took their own sweet time to cater to cranky, cold and qualmish touristy patrons. I found myself a corner by the stove where I warmed my frozen fingertips and mentally cursed myself for not bringing thicker and warmer boots. The chai got cold within half a minute of being served; and I knew Thangu valley was just a precursor to the unforgivingly cold Gurudongmar Lake.
The roads from Lachen to Thangu Valley had not been the most encouraging, yet we persevered. And then we encountered a stretch of ice covered road; and at least twenty cabs stranded and waiting for the sunlight to melt the ice and make way for the vehicles. This is a usual thing here, our driver told us. A few adventurous drivers tried to cross the icy stretch and got stuck in the middle of it. The sun was feeble and the only hope it seemed was heavy military vehicles with snow chained tires to crush the ice. And then we spotted one.
It came, it crushed, it left. And yet we remained stranded; the ice was too thick. Several trucks came and went; most cabs retracted back to Lachen. Two cabs, part with luck, part with technique, were able to cross the ice. Seeing that, our driver took a shot too. Our xylo skidded a little and the tire landed in mud. A few good fellas soiled their hands helping us to get our car out of the mud and after almost an hour of hit and trial techniques, we were able to cross the ice.
After the ice impasse, the roads were spic and spectacular. The landscape was arid but vast and crystalline. Things were suddenly looking up; we reached the Gurudongmar lake where the temperature was -13 degree celsius and the oxygen levels were low. It is not recommended to stay there for more than thirty minutes and I could barely make five. The overload of thermals and the shift in altitude and oxygen levels was getting to me and making me feel slightly breathless, and yet I could not stop gushing at how spectacular the lake was. Before long, it was time to go back, with the beautiful view etched in memory for life.